review: oryx and crake

05 July 2014

book info:
on sale: now
book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 374
review written: 7.5.14
originally published: 2004

title: Oryx and Crake
author: Margaret Atwood
As the story opens, the narrator, who calls himself Snowman, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. In a world in which science-based corporations have recently taken mankind on an uncontrolled genetic-engineering ride, he now searches for supplies in a wasteland. Insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the Pleeblands, where oridinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is Snowman left with nothing but his bizarre memories--alone except for the more-than-perfect, green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster? He explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes--into his own past and back to Crake's high-tech bubble dome. (summary from back of book, a part edited out because it contained spoilers)







My thoughts:
I came upon this book with no idea what it was going to be about--I only just gleaned the summary above and got bored with the unknown words (how ironic) like Pleeblands and pigoons. I put it down after a year because the first chapter didn't interest me at all. But I started it again recently and finished it today.

The story begins with the introduction of Snowman, an ordinary man living it what appears to be a wasteland. What follows is a chapter of a time when Snowman was not called Snowman, but Jimmy. Like this, the story is divided into sections where one describes the circumstances surrounding Snowman, and the other surrounding Jimmy. At first, this arrangement confused me but after I got a quarter way through, I became accustomed to it. This arrangement allows the reader to unfold the story like a delicate rose--my emotions ranged from perplexion, to vague understanding, to an ending that had my mouth drop. Unlike starting from the beginning and telling a story to the end, Oryx and Crake starts with the result of the plot (the creation of a wasteland) and slowly continues to its origins. It's a little unconventional, but I think it allowed the book to be as amazing as it is. I think Atwood is masterful in how she writes the development--for some reason, although I was reluctant, I felt the writing compelled me to keep reading. It was almost amazing how I felt like I knew nothing of what was going on, yet when I reached the ending, everything pieced together. The small details from the beginning of the book, like Crake and Jimmy playing computer games like "Blood and Roses" all made sense in the end. It's an amazing feeling, that moment of enlightenment.

There are only three characters to really care about--Jimmy (Snowman), Crake, and Oryx. Only Jimmy and Crake, I feel, had a significant impact on the story. Once again, the only female character of note took the backseat in the book and for some reason, she somehow makes this story a romance. I don't see it as a romance at all. The female characters in this book were disappointing--one goes crazy, one does nothing but obey the man, and the others are just numerous girlfriends.

The character of Jimmy was refreshing. Every other character in the book was scientific, a person of numbers, and Jimmy was the only one of words. He places an importance on words, on history, and their value. I think it's what makes his narrative different than if it had been narrated from another character's point of view. His voice is sarcastic, humorous, and intelligent. He represents the "normal" in his little world of eccentric people.

I think the story raises a bunch of questions about our world today--morality, progress with a price, the power of corporations and our role in how it all functions. Yet these themes, I think ,were somewhat secondary to entertainment. Very little actual action occurred, yet I think that's what most of the book was. These questions, of morality, power, hierarchy, were all subtly woven into the story in a way that modern dystopia (last 5 years) is just not written anymore. In the books I've read, our present is always the distant past. "100 years ago the Great War took place" or something like that, and the fact that it's happened if often very clear within a few chapters. With Oryx and Crake, I was so perplexed. The events of our present was still lingering, and the post-dystopia society hadn't had time to develop into anything more than primitiveness and I loved it.

review: the medici boy

04 May 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: publisher
pages: 336
review written: 2.5.14
originally published: 2014
Barnes & Noble:  http://bit.ly/1kkIpLL
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title: The Medici Boy
author: John L'Heureux
The worlds of art, politics and passion collide in John L’Heureux’s masterful new novel, The Medici Boy. With rich composition, L’Heureux ingeniously transports the reader to Donatello’s Renaissance Italy—directly into his bottega, (workshop), as witnessed through the eyes of Luca Mattei, a devoted assistant. While creating his famous bronze of David and Goliath, Donatello’s passion for his enormously beautiful model and part time rent boy, Agnolo, ignites a dangerous jealousy that ultimately leads to Agnolo’s brutal murder. Luca, the complex and conflicted assistant, will sacrifice all to save the life of Donatello, even if it means the life of the master sculptor’s friend and great patron of art, Cosimo de’ Medici. John L’Heureux’s long-awaited novel delivers both a monumental and intimate narrative of the creative genius, Donatello, at the height of his powers. With incisive detail, L’Heureux beautifully renders the master sculptor’s forbidden homosexual passions, and the artistry that enthralled the powerful and highly competitive Medici and Albizzi families. The finished work is a sumptuously detailed historical novel that entertains while it delves deeply into both the sacred and the profane within one of the Italian Renaissance’s most consequential cities, fifteenth century Florence

My thoughts:
The title and the cover imply some mysterious paranormal historical fiction. The name "Medici" invokes drama and political ties and betrayal. I believed that the book would delve into the intricate complexities of the Medici family, a family we still remember today. Yet it focuses on unexpected "side" characters in the Medici life. The narrator is a plain boy turned man that narrates from a sort of third person limited point of view while himself playing an active role. A prostitute, a merchant, an adopted family, some friars--all relatively average characters for the book to bestow the name "The Medici Boy" Cosimi de' Medici makes a few appearances, but they're limited. His influence plays a part but not in the way one might think.

The main character (or rather, the narrator) tells the story of his master Donatello as he's involved with "sodomy". When the main character, Luca, was young he was adopted by a family that didn't care of him very well. So when one day, his "brother" (from that family), Agnolo shows up, it can only mean trouble. The story is less about art than it is about homosexuality. It was something that I hadn't expected when I picked up the book only knowing it was about Donatello--he who created the first free-standing sculpture in Renaissance Italy. His was like the precursor to Michelangelo. Yet I think there's enough mention of the art to interest art lovers.

The sodomy aspect of the story was fascinating to me because the only knowledge I have of "sodomy" with that term instead of "gay" is with what people tell me of the Bible. When I studied Renaissance Italy in my European History class, the Church played a role in sponsoring public art for the sake of bringing people to religion. And most art at the time was Christian. I mean, Donatello's first free standing bronze sculpture was of David defeating Goliath. Yet I had never considered how homosexuality was perceived at the time. Frankly, I thought the misinterpretation of the Bible occurred afterwards with the Gutenburg Bible. So L'Heureax's exploration of homosexuality was enlightening. The story, I think, is about the union between art and homosexuality with a lean towards the latter. I think The Medici Boy is unique in it's subject matter in this aspect.

Plot-wise, I think the story lacked "story". When I was reading, I was comparing it to The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, which is a book detailing the life of Michelangelo from his early life to his later years. It was close to a thousand pages long and went into detail the art and the intricate relationships that develop throughout life. I feel that with just three hundred and thirty six pages with font that's larger than the minuscule lettering of The Agony and the Ecstasy, that L'Heureax wasn't able to create a similar environment. The story jumped many years in between chapters. One minute he's seventeen and the next he's in his thirties. Also, I find the plot line was weak. Luca's unextraordinary and even boring in the first pages, and that part doesn't change. He works for his first master Donato and then for Donatello but nothing interesting happens. Luca observes homosexuality and worries that the Church will condemn his master and then his "brother" and so on and so forth. I think being the onlooker to someone else's story was too limiting. I would have rather the story been told from Agnolo's POV or a third person omniscient. In the end, I found myself skipping a couple of pages here and there for something to happen.

The characters too lacked development. Donatello was just some old guy. At least one can notice his depth in the later part of the book. Agnolo is just a brat, though I'm sure if his story was explored a bit further he would've made a brilliant character. Luca is shallow and flat. All the other side characters were BEYOND side characters. Luca's wife, for instance, is just there. Nothing to it. I guess I expected women to play a lesser role in a book about male homosexuality--but I don't like having that expectation. The characterisation was not the best it could be.

  Overall, this book wasn't remarkable. Literature-wise, it wasn't well done. But history-wise, I found the subject matter fascinating. I'm going to give this book 2 out of 6 umbrellas!

 

review: maurice

12 April 2014

Arthur Sales & Liuk Bass by Saverio Cardia

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 256
review written: 12.4.14
edition read: W. W. Norton & Company (2005)
originally published: 1971

title: Maurice
author: E. M. Forster

Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father's firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, "stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him": except that his is homosexual.

Written during 1913 and 1914, after an interlude of writer's block following the publication of Howards End, and not published until 1971, Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. "Happiness," Forster wrote, "is its keynote….In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him." (goodreads)

My thoughts:
Something interesting I'd like to point out is that E.M. Forster finished writing this book in 1914, the start of World War II. He resisted publication because of the views of same-sex marriage at the time. Maurice was published after his death by his trustees in a time where social attitudes about homosexuality were changing. The cover reveals an interesting perspective--the pink title and the velvet-cake deep red lace seems to indicate a feminine touch to the book while having the silhouette of two men talking. The main character, Maurice, has an aversion to women but his lover doesn't hate them as much as Maurice does. The role of women is a key point in this book for women remain to be the obstacle in Maurice's quest for love. An interesting cover, but one that I think could have been better. My Language teacher told me that this book was sad, but had a happy ending.

The book begins with an almost-fifteen year old schoolboy graduating from his boarding school in England. As a graduate on the last day, he has a talk with one of the teachers. The teacher preached to him "To love a noble woman, to protect and serve her--this was the crown of life" (14-15) to which Maurice responded "I think I shall not marry".
Thus begins the story of Maurice's realisation of his sexuality. He's cold towards his family, unloving almost, and firm with his beliefs. I think it's fascinating that as he realises his sexuality, he also questions his relationship with religion. He meets a friend at Cambridge, where he now attends college, and this friend, Clive Durham, says he's not a Christian. Maurice, an atheist and homosexual, must hide himself from his upper class family. He becomes alienated, but he is in love with his friend, to whom he shows his loving and caring side; a side he rarely ever shows to anyone.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Despite being written in 1914, I find that I can relate very much to the characters, not in regards to sexuality, but with religion. Maurice and Clive were about my age and proclaimed themselves atheists, which at the time was incredibly controversial. It's surprising that not many YA books nowadays questions religion-mostly every character is presumed to be Christian by default, or agnostic. Many characters remain ambiguous religion-wise, a position I find a bit annoying. But Maurice does a fine job in drawing parallels between the struggles of sexuality with religion. Even if one isn't a homosexual, the question of religion is universal. They're two of the same--one's religious status can almost be like one's homosexuality, except that the former can be changed while the latter is more or less permanent. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the characterisation. Maurice's character isn't exactly likeable, but that's exactly why I like him. It's too easy to write a likeable protagonist, but to write an unsavoury one? That takes talent. It's like the protagonist of The Enchanter by Nabokov. Not only is Maurice an un-likeable character, but so is literally every character in this book save for one, and it wasn't even a good one. But the way these characters are characterised is masterful and subtle. In just a couple of sentences, one could understand a mountain load of a character's personality. Along with issues and characterisation, the overall plot line was well done. There was a definitive structure and path with several unexpected twists and turns that makes the story interesting and enjoyable.

I couldn't help but to notice similarities between Maurice and other books. If you've read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, you'll find Maurice to be similar. I never understood when people told me that A Separate Peace has a homosexual sub-context, but now I realise it actually might. It was published before Maurice was published, which is fascinating. If you've read Catcher in the Rye, Maurice reminds me of Holden in their uncaring characters. Maurice intentionally hurts his family, as does Holden, and skives off classes to the point where he gets expelled, just like Holden.

I recommend this to older readers or more mature readers (I read deep stuff when I was twelve and thirteen) because the language is a just a bit thick, like all the books that are published in that century. I enjoyed the book, but my dislike of the characters and my own personal satisfaction wasn't quenched (like when you ship two characters in a T.V. show and it never becomes canon), and thus my ratings are affected by my judgemental bias.



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