Sunday, December 15, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Wesley Stace's Misfortune

Misfortune by Wesley Stace
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: January 1st, 2005
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

A young baby boy is being thrown out with the trash. Unwanted and alone a chance of fate has him picked up by the richest Lord in the land, Lord Loveall. Lord Loveall has been mourning all his life for his dear departed sister and when he sees this baby he assumes it to be female and a chance to have his sister back. But Lord Loveall can't just miraculously have an heir, a quick marriage is arranged with his sister's old governess, Anonyma, who has stayed on as librarian at Love Hall to catalog the works of her icon, the poetess Mary Day. Anonyma agrees to raising "Rose" female because the poetess had some interesting theories on gender and Anonyma sees it as an experiment. For many years they are able to keep up this farce, until one day the world crashes down on them and Rose can no longer hide who he is.

The familial vultures swoop in to claim what they have always lusted after. A scandal would be so unbecoming, so Anonyma withdraws... what does she have now that Rose has fled? Rose left in the night without a trace, unable to face what he is. Through awkward sexual awakenings, near death fever dreams, chance encounters, and a twist that you hopefully won't see coming, Rose embraces the odd life that he has been given in this strange world and the companions in his journey who truly love him.

Misfortune is a Dickensian tale with at LGBTQ mindset. Full of interesting incestuous characters I felt that it never quite lived up to it's full potential due to the shifting narrative that, in the end, opted for a shorter, sleeker, story with annoying time jumps, instead of becoming a book of true Dickensian girth. Now I'm not saying that I wanted every detail on Rose's debauched journey to Turkey, but covering such an expanse of time as a fever dream seemed indulgent of the author. In fact, that might be the crux of my problem, the modern sensibilities thrust into this Victorian age by Stace's whim alienates me from the story. Stace says in an interview in the back of the book that he didn't want to be drawn into the trappings of the time period, a carriage is a carriage, not a barouche, not a gig. By having Misfortune be a modern book set in the past he seems to be wanting to make the book more of a post modern statement piece then a quality read.

By breaking convention he is writing a book that will appeal more to those who have never read Dickens or historical fiction while leaving those of us who love 19th century literature and period pieces cold. Coupled with the fact that he pulls a complete Dickensian HEA that was obvious from page one, his tendency to use some literary tropes and abandon others just goes to show that he was gratifying himself instead of his audience, plus exactly HOW was Rose to inherit... she being a she? Many such little questions bothered me throughout. Though my biggest problem with the book that has nothing to do with Stace might just be a side effect of this lack of interest in the historical details. This problem being that the cover illustration shows clothes incorrect to 1820. Yes, I know I should let this go, but the thing is, I remember the day I picked up this book on a table in Barnes and Noble and it was those lovely Regency clothes that sold me on it...

Yet in the end, Rose is problematical to me. Firstly, the sheer self centered delusions indulged by her parents scares the shit out of me. That two adults could contrive to raise a boy as a girl is just wrong to me. I know in this day and age there are a lot of people who talk about wanting to raise their children gender neutral so that they can come into their sexuality on their own. Personally, I think this is bullshit. It takes awhile for children to become aware of things, just look to Rose for an example, and by at least not setting down for them the basics, well, you are going to get one f'd up kid, again, look to Rose. Children need to understand the world around them in order to find their place, wherever that may be. By taking away Rose's knowledge of the world around her with regard to her body, that's just so many levels of wrong. At least her father Geoffroy has some excuse, obviously being insane, but Anonyma, the cold calculated way she sees changing her child's sex as an experiment just makes me want to slap her so hard. While yes, this does lead to some amusing situations, in the end, I felt such sorrow and pity for Rose that at times the book became hard to read.

But the collusion to keep this lie up. Gaw, the rage in me. Personally, the fact that they were able to pull it off for so long makes me a little awestruck. I personally don't see how they did it. I liked that they mentioned that all paintings with genitals shown were hidden, because that was a problem I really had. How, in an English Country House, with the great artwork that is usually in said houses, were they able to keep Rose in the dark? The secluded environment helped, but still, how? Recent studies have shown that people in the 19th century weren't so repressed sexually as we like to imagine. Yes the book has Anonyma lecturing a young Rose on what is private and what is public, and never stripping or lifting of skirts... but still... how? Rose was raised with two other children and they never once lifted a skirt or whipped it out of their pants? That is giving those kids some amazing, I would say unbelievable restraint. Were they sewn into their clothes? Because that's the only way I see this happening, otherwise, I just don't buy it. And if I can't buy this, well, then the book has a major flaw... or shall I just say, it's a flawed book?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Picking Next Month's Book

Miss Eliza's Book Review - H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Published by: Dover
Publication Date: 1896
Format: Paperback, 104 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Edward Prendick was shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Some would call it luck that he was picked up by a passing ship, but after what happened to him, perhaps death would have been preferable. He is plucked from the ocean by a man named Montgomery who has a strange animalistic servant, M'ling. The hired crew of the ship don't trust Montgomery and when they get to his destination they abandon Prendick with him. The island is a scientific research station of Dr. Moreau, who Prendick remembers reading about... he was involved in some rather unethical researches if he remembers rightly, vivisection.

Prendick soon learns that Moreau has retreated to this island to continue his work on his Beast Folk, the work others don't understand. His genetic mutations of man and beast drive him and have driven Prendick to flee into the forest to escape Moreau, yet this could be more dangerous then he knows. Moreau has strict laws that his creations must abide by. Besides being as human as possible, walking only on two legs, they must avoid meat and blood. Yet someone hasn't been following the laws... soon Predick's behaviour is secondary to the danger that looms ahead of them. What if the Beast Folk fall prey to their animal instincts?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s if you were a discerning girl there is no excuse for not having the biggest crush on Val Kilmer. I seriously do not know how many times I saw Willow in the theatre, but I know I spent more time watching that movie in the summer of 1988 then doing anything else. Of course this crush meant that after Willow there were many westerns I watched, perhaps the oddest of the Batman movies and then there was The Island of Dr. Moreau. This movie was released right after I got out of high school and I was hoping for it to be the highpoint of my very busy summer. Firstly there was Val Kilmer, secondly there was Fairuza Balk, star of The Worst Witch, the coolest and tackiest movie about witchcraft ever, and then there was Marlon Brando wearing an ice bucket. The movie is so bizarre that there is really no way anyone could categorize it. I just watched it again after reading the book and still, it's just so odd and full of camp and oddly Professor Lupin, that there's really nothing more to say. The Island of Dr. Moreau was just on the cusp of my obsession with reading the book and then going to see the movie. Therefore I had picked up a cheap Dover paperback of the book after I watched the movie and kind of put the book aside thinking I might read it one day.

It took seventeen years but I finally got around to reading the book. And you know what? I rather liked it. The descriptions of the island are so beautiful and poetic that the lack of plot or motivations for the characters makes you wish that Wells had spent more time rounding out the story versus having them run around the island like headless chickens. Also the fact that Prendick, who, let's face it, his name sums up the fact he truly is a dick, seems ok with animal experimentation and vivisection, but as soon as you bring a human or something human esque into it, he gets a bit squeamish. Bit of a double standard there dick boy. Sure it is probably the more acceptable opinion of the times, but, dude, no, just no to the animal experimentation.

Wells has always been heralded as a kind of Nostradamus, and reading this book it is eerie as all get out. He wrote this in 1896! The kind of science he describes would be used by the Nazis in World War II, and if you think about the cloning and gene splicing and steam cells and the use of pig valves in human hearts today, wow. Sure it's a bit squeamish that Wells himself was an advocate of eugenics... but for scientists it's more just a creepy "hands on" Darwinism. Moreau might have been a monster in the eyes of Prendick and the world, but he was a genius that presaged what was to come in the realms of science rather accurately. Makes me openly wonder if perhaps Wells happened to create a time machine and take a quick jaunt into the future... he did strongly believe that the science of this book could be accomplished... he didn't happen to have an island no one knew about did he?

To bring it full circle, let's go back to that weird ass movie adaptation... you know what? I can actually see the framework of the book in the movie, I can also see where it went wrong. I'm not talking about Brando getting to be crazy on set or Val Kilmer's Montgomery shooting up drugs. These things were modernisations of the situations on the island. Where they went wrong was going for ultra violence and trying to make it as a blockbuster with a love interest and all. If they had toned it down, then the little things, the horror of finding the dead bunny would have played better. Let the actors be overstated in the movie and the story be understated... I see now that this movie could have been awesome, and it makes me sad that they had a chance to update a strangely prescient book and failed in the attempt.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: January 1st, 2000
Format: Paperback, 709 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Johnny Truant comes into possession of a very odd manuscript written by a man named Zampano. Zampano had spent his life assembling the definitive study of the documentary film The Navidson Record, about the Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Will Navidson and his companion Karen Green who move into a house on Ash Tree Lane with their two young children. The film deals with the startling realization that their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. At first it's just little discrepancies, but soon a door appears. Behind the door is a large and every changing labyrinth thats size is incalculable. They soon start to film their discoveries and even mount a expedition into the depths of the house. The assembled footage is what makes up The Navidson Record.

Only Johnny Truant finds that The Navidson Record apparently doesn't exist. Johnny soon becomes obsessed with finishing Zampano's work, but at the same time he is descending into the same madness that claimed the old man. Johnny is attaching tape measures to the floors and walls of his apartment to make sure they don't move. He rarely ventures out anymore. He is a man obsessed. He finds that above all, he needs to find the house. Finding the house might solve everything.

This book has been logically categorized as if The Blair Witch Project was a book. That is about the quickest way to sum up this book without driving your listener insane. The book is a weird post-modernist twist on literature wherein all the narrators are unreliable and some of them might not even be real. This leads me to the question that is of paramount importance to me, is House of Leaves a parody or is it deadly serious? Are all the copious and minuscule footnotes a parody on academic writing? Is the layout meant to be fun, interactive, and slightly off putting? These two diametrically opposed opinions make the book either good or bad. Because if it's parody it's genius, but if it's deadly seriously, I want to cut the author. It's a dense book that is a slow read because there is so much going on with at least four stories being told simultaneously, and of those I really only like one of them. From a design standpoint it's amazingly done, but design alone doesn't make a book work.

This book is insanely layered and nuanced, meaning, the more you read, the more you find. But the problem I had was that the only storyline I wanted to follow was The Navidson Record. I didn't care about Johnny and his lifestyle of dissipation, or of Zampano, who, let's face it, is seriously just a figment of Johnny's imagination. I don't come by that theory lightly. If you skip ahead and read the letters to Johnny from his institutionalized mother who always believes in the power of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary and marking letters that haven't been tampered with with a check mark and then go back to earlier in the book, there's an entry where Zampano quotes directly from the COED and in the lower corner... is that a check mark? Basically proving beyond a shadow of doubt in my mind that Johnny is writing all Zampano's stuff because he is Zampano.

But narrative aside, I don't think this book was good for my health. You know how there are some books that make you feel what it's like to be insane, to be in the shoes of the character, the thing is, I think this book was actually setting out to make me insane and scarily enough succeeding. Hundreds of pages of tiny footnotes just listing photographers or artists or architectural styles gets to you... and yes, I did read them all. Also, all those architectural styles listed to laboriously drill home and prove that the house wasn't like any other architecture but then having the stairs have a banister and the doors frames... that's contradictory... and yes, this are the little things that seeped into my head in the small hours. Seriously, how long before the cardboard and tinfoil and egg cartoons start decorating my room... Not to even mention how the design made you feel like you had fallen into the book and were trapped in some weird Lewis Carroll world and you where never going to get out and you where never going to be free... I got into some bleak trains of thought with this book, none of them good.

Yet the design of this book is meticulous. If it wasn't for the design you wouldn't have that vertiginous sensation that you were falling into the book. Of course the previous one hundred pages of dense type that softened up your mind to fully lose it was more likely to be affected by stretches of blank pages where there was sometimes only a word per page. One week I would only get through a hundred pages and then the next day I'd get through one hundred and fifty more because of the design. The different fonts to identify authorship made it easy to distinguish whose voice I was listening to and did help to make the book less obtuse. Plus, the subtle blue at every use of the word house and all the minotaur references being in red was pretty darn awesome. But as I said above, design doesn't make a book, unless it's a design book I should point out... the design should support a quality narrative not surpass it. They need to be equal and go hand in glove. I shouldn't be giving a full star to the design and the other star just to the one plot line I liked. This book could have been amazing. Could have been is the key for me. Instead I think I'm a little more off balance then before.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Zadie Smith's White Teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: March 19th, 1999
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

On New Year's Eve 1974 Archie Jones sets out to kill himself but ends up being unsuccessful, yet like a butterfly leaving the cocoon, he leaves that gas filled car a new man. A new life and a new wife await him! His old army buddy Samad Iqbal has been saying to him for awhile that what he needs is a new young wife, like his own Alsana. That night Archie meets Clara Bowden and by Valentine's Day they are man and wife. Archie is escaping the life left in that car and Clara is escaping her mother, Hortense, whose religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness have stifled Clara's life. It isn't long before the middle aged men are fathers. Archie has a lovely daughter, Irie, and Samad has twins boys, Magid and Millat, who couldn't be more different.

It is 1984 and now Samad's life is about to change forever. He falls hard for his son's music teacher, Poppy Burt-Jones. The lust stirred in Samad has him questioning everything. But the attraction is mutual, and soon he has a new outlet for his lust. Yet his religious beliefs and the sin he is committing because, as he claims, the lure of the Western world has seduced him, leads him to do something that his wife will never forgive him for. He feels that if he could be degraded in this way, his sons are in even worse danger. He wants to send them back to Bangladesh, but only has the financial resources to send one of them. Magid and Millat are separated and Alsana can never forgive him until Magid is returned to her.

The 90s have come and Irie is grown up and in love with Millat. Millat has indeed fallen prey to the lure of the West as his father feared. He sleeps around, does drugs, gets into fights, and is still somehow the object of Irie's affection, which he doesn't return. One day at school Irie is confronting Millat near resident nerd Josh Chalfen when there is a drugs bust. The three of them get brought before the principal for Millat's marijuana. In the hope that Josh and his illustrious family, his mother Joyce is an author, his father Marcus is a genetic engineer, will be a good influence on Irie and Millat, they are to go to the Chalfens once a week and have Josh tutor them. Soon it's everyday. Joyce takes an extreme interest in Millat while Irie starts to work for Marcus as an assistant. Even Magid, back in Bangladesh, befriends Marcus and decides to return to England. But the life of Chalfenism is divisive, and soon Josh has joined an animals rights group, FATE, to protest his father's genetic engineering of FutureMouse, while Millat has joined a fundamentalist Islamic group, KEVIN, to turn his back on his old life and the fact that Marcus prefers Magid. On the eve of the new millennium, everyone gathers to herald the arrival of FutureMouse... most with differing ideas as to how the evening will go.

From the little blurb I have assembled above you might be drawn to the false conclusion that this book actually has a plot. It doesn't. Well... it kind of does at the very end where Zadie Smith apparently realized she needed one and just threw in a handful of new characters and a whole bunch of organizations with stupid acronyms and built to an unsatisfying conclusion with guns and Nazis and genetically engineered mice. That is right, she brought in Nazis. And I think that's the problem, she brought in whatever she wanted randomly and then just threw it aside when she got bored. Though she never seemed to get bored of slightly tweaking the reader with little asides in some random post modern moments of incomprehensibility. So the book actually feels like a bunch of interconnected short stories, some of which might have been good if they hadn't been thrown in with the morass of crap and depravity that makes up the majority of this book.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend and she asked me if I had read Zadie Smith's On Beauty. I replied that I had, mainly because it was a loosely, if failed, reimagining of Howards End, and was mentioned on The Vicar of Dibley. She was wondering if I was put off by the very detailed descriptions of one of the character's nipples. I honestly said that I had no recollection of this, most likely I had blocked it from my memory. I can honestly say though, after reading White Teeth, I will never forget Zadie Smith's obsession with nipples ever again. In fact, this book can be summed up as very boring with a veneer of eww. If I wasn't bored senseless I was quite literally wanting to throw up. Thirty pages of a 57 year old man masturbating (another friend claims it might have been more, perhaps I'm preemptively blocking this out). Domestic abuse, where the children are placing bets on their parents. Teenagers marrying men in their 40s (proving Smith has daddy issues). A father of Irie's classmate calling her a big black goddess and ruminating about her breasts, when she's only what, fourteen! The aforementioned nipples, except for multiple characters, not just one. I wanted to wash my brain after reading this book.

Now, you're thinking that I missed the point, that the book wasn't about these accumulated repugnant and repulsive moments. I totally get that the book is about heritage and ancestry and genetics and what limitations we are burdened with, nature, nurture, fate. The second generation versus the first generation. You would have to be blind to miss this, especially once we get to FutureMouse. But the truth is, I can't, I couldn't, give a tinker's damn. It doesn't matter if you set out to write the most amazing, most profound story, if your characters are not only unlikeable, but reprehensible, then there is no way I will care. With all this ick as I will pejoratively call everything in this book, there wasn't a redeemable character or any reason to even finish reading this book except for the fact that I am incapable of leaving a book unfinished. So I finished. I read ever last work she wrote and I hated it. Mine is an educated hate, you can't say fairer then that!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Ernest Cline's Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: April 16th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

James Halliday is the creator of the OASIS. In all immersive MMO that allows everyone on Earth to escape the horrors of what has become of the world in the near future and go to school, party, or just explore and level their avatar. Halliday was the biggest geek there was and he wanted his passions to be your passions, and his main passion was the 1980s, the time when he was a teenager. When he died he left no heirs and created a treasure hunt within the OASIS to decide who would be worthy of being his successor. His Willy Wonka test was neigh on indecipherable with a little video he made which ended up being nicknamed Anorak's Invitation, after his Avatar, Anorak. Soon a culture of hunters, called gunters, form with the sole purpose of memorizing the minutiae of Halliday and the 80s and finding Halliday's fortune.

Wade Watts is a gunter with the handle Parzival. He has spent five years of his life learning everything there is to know about James Halliday. For five long years no one has made the least bit of headway with the quest until Parzival stumbles on the answer while sitting in his virtual classroom. Within hours two people have passed through the first of three gates that lead to Halliday's egg. It soon becomes clear to Parzival that this is going to end sooner then anyone thought, with more dangers then he could imagine. Now that the first hurtle is passed, it won't be long before things come to a head. While Parzival has troubles trusting the other gunters he's come to view as his friends, the real danger is IOI, a rival organization who wants to win the game, not to win, but to control the OASIS.

As many people have started their review with "this book was written just for my generation and me in particular," well, I figure, I will reiterate that sentiment. Yes, this book was written for me. I was born in 1978, so a little younger then Halliday, and Cline himself, but of the same generation, so to speak. I will not go on and then say that this book is just wonderful and marvelous and just spoke to me, because, well, it just didn't. You know, it actually kind of enrages me that this book is so well regarded and lauded. It isn't the book itself you can be in love with, it just can't be, with it's bland prose riddled with errors, and it's dry clinical writing style, making it almost like a history book, though written by someone with an ego who is very self impressed that they have all this knowledge at their fingertips.

You're in love with the memories this book evokes, the connection it forges using emotional cues from your past. You say "Pac-Man" and I'm a little kid again down at the Brat and Brau feeding quarters into their "Ms. Pac-Man" machine in the few spare minutes I had before the food arrived and my grandmother started piling the A-1 on her dinner. That dark and dingy little restaurant that had the cliched wooden panelling that my basement had and made the restaurant part rathskeller, part sports bar. Side note, I didn't need to read a whole chapter on every level of "Pac-Man" and how the final screen is only half there, I knew that, move on. Cline has taped into the zeitgeist of an era and has just info dumped on us, using touchstones like the Whedonverse to make little geeks and wannabes sqwee with joy. There is nothing that it makes me think of more then the episode of Community "Regional Holiday Music" which they did as a skewering of Glee. One of the songs, to entice Pierce to enter into the singing spirit, was called "Baby Boomer Santa." As Annie said in the episode "Pierce, they're just trying to pander to your demographics documented historical vanity. Resist!" The song is nothing more then a list of things that would appeal to Pierce, from Coca-Cola to The Beatles, Woodstock to Vietnam. This is what Ready Player One does! It just lists things from the 80s that we connect to from Galaga to WarGames and all the hipsters and 80s geeks and everyone is sucked in. To that I echo Annie Edison! RESIST!

This info dump mentality makes the book like the carrion of literature displaying the largest lack of imagination I have seen in a book. Ready Player One is part Willy Wonka, part Ender's Game with John Hughes doing the adaptation. I defy you to find something actually original in this book. All the humor and originality is directly lifted from other sources. Why is the final battle Parzival faces so funny? Because he's in Monty Python and the Holy Grail! The entire action, the entire everything is Monty Python's genius, NOT Ernest Cline's! This happens again and again throughout the book. And then there's Halliday and Morrow. Let's talk about James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, or as they really are, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Even if Cline hadn't laboriously pointed that the "fictitious characters" had been compared to these two real men, there is no grey area here. They are 100% these two men. Halliday even dies! Add to that the fact that Ready Player One goes into Phone Phreaking a lot, and Wozniak was part of this phenomenon, and they just get more and more similar. Then, in the, really, you really had to do that, bash my head against the wall, make me want to light the book on fire, there's the fact that the Wozniak character, Ogden, had the nickname Og, like Wozniak with Woz. Seriously? I mean seriously? It's not funny, it's a joke that is flat. Also, let's keep in mind that everyone knows that Woz is the one who was more, how shall I say, fun and relaxed of the two, so he wouldn't be litigious, even though he's spinning tunes as a DJ in a glass bubble before shooting lightning out of his fingers (yes, this seriously happens, and if it was me, I'd have my lawyer on speed dial). This is just degrading to me and in my mind to him, a man I very much admire. Sure he was on Dancing with the Stars, but you know what, he had a choice in that. I have a strong feeling, that while Halliday is never depicted negatively, if Jobs hadn't been on his deathbed, there might have been some serious legal action on this book.

If I where to just talk about Cline's writing, I would have to go back to the major flaw in this book in that Cline NEVER sticks to his own internal rules he has created. One minute there's never been a game like the WarGames simulation in the first gate, the next second Wade is on a date with Art3mis and they're in a Goonies rendition that is exactly like the simulation no one had ever thought of. When he's getting ready to clear the first gate, it's a Thursday night, clearly stated as Thursday, because he says he only has one more day of school before the weekend. Because of clearing the gate he sleeps through school, but then gets up bright and early the next day and goes to school... on a Saturday? Then the stupid Fyndoro whatever can only be used once in 24 hours, and then they use it like 6 hours later? Um, if you're going to phone in half your book by ripping other, better, people off, the least, the very very least you could do is get your own writing right. To step further away from all the things that are like or ripped off from other sources, let's talk about the part of the book that is Cline's. It's like he doesn't know what he wants his world to be. Is it dystopian, well yes, but then he drastically shifts away from this interesting study of the poor Wade and his living in "the stacks" and goes 180 and it becomes about this "affluent" kid that Wade has become, lured by the gadgets money has bought him. Which takes the soul out of the book. And then it just becomes the typical "Big Brother" story about a company trying to take control of the OASIS at any cost, deaths allowed. So, now the book is a thriller with corporate espionage? Really, Cline, you needed to keep a similar feel and a through line through this book. Instead you made Wade a douche and then I almost wanted the bad guys to win. And in the end, what was the moral? Stop playing games and get a real life? Because, Halliday just had these gunters waste SIX YEARS of their lives to learn that lesson. Douche Halliday. Also, you kind of made me never want to go near a computer again. And what fantasy world is this where a company would actually keep your information private, cause it's not ours? Now that is pure fiction.

To finalize what I refer to now as my ranty rant. There are just so many books and movies and music that Cline has mined, all of which are more original and better, so just go and give credit to the original, not the wannabe. Also, if you want something that actually captures the feeling I think Cline was aiming for, go read or watch Scott Pilgrim. As I read in another review among those fellow haters, I think Sissyneck on goodreads summed it up perfectly. "In a nice manifestation of the novel's lack of self-awareness, Cline at one point derides the villains of the book for simply using "Johnny 5" style robots from Short Circuit instead [of] coming up with their own design. This appropriation, he explains, demonstrates "a lack of imagination," a valid criticism that only too accurately applies to the ostensible heroes of the book, as well as to Cline himself." Right on Sissyneck! And here's a little Pierce Hawthrone to sing us out...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Stephen King's The Shining

The Shining by Stephen King
Published by: Pocket Books
Publication Date: January 28th, 1977
Format: Paperback, 683 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Jack Torrence has one last chance. Despite giving up on the drinking, his life has continued a downward spiral, sending him away from his prestigious job at a Vermont Prep school, to Colorado, where he is almost begging for a job as the winter caretaker of The Overlook Hotel. He has his wife and child to think of. Poor Wendy, who has stood by him through everything, even when he broke their Danny's arm, though he has a suspicion she will never forgive him for that. Then there's Danny. He's not like other children. He knows things before they happen. He claims that his friend Tony shows him things, which invariably lead to Danny passing out. Danny isn't the invisible friend they assume him to be. Danny has "the shine." He knows things he shouldn't, and that can be unnerving.

When the family arrive at The Overlook, they think it's just what they all need. Several months together to reunite them. Jack has no access to alcohol and has time to finish the play he always says he's working on. Yet the cook warns Danny that there are things in the hotel. Dick Hallorann also has "the shine." But he naively tells Danny that what he sees in the hotel is like a book, nasty images, but they can't hurt you... the day the snow traps them in, the hotel proves that Mr. Hallorann is very wrong. The hotel has a different plan for the Torrence family, and they will do whatever it takes to get Danny.

In this day and age there is no way that you have lived in this world without knowledge of The Shining. Of course this is more to do with the film's popularity then the phenomenal success of King as a writer. Which, seen from King's point of view, would be irksome. But still, the image of the two Grady girls at the end of the hallway, or more importantly, Jack Nicholson hacking down the bathroom door with an axe, have become part of our shared cultural experiences. As has "redrum." Therefore, going into the novel, much of the suspense as to the horrific future visions that Tony shows Danny are nullified by the fact that we know the monster with the roque mallet is his father and that the mysterious "redrum" is "murder" backwards. So, the question is, was I able to enjoy the book knowing so much about it in advance? Yes I was.

In mentioning his influences for the book King sighted Shirley Jackson, and right from the start, I could feel that vibe at work. The supernatural elements combined with the darker elements of human nature strongly remind me of Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Yet, at some point in the book, King takes a wrong turn and decides that to fully bring across the "haunting" that it is better to show then tell. This is where I think The Shining looses some of it's punch. While I will agree with King that there is distinctly a supernatural element, not Kubrick's take as a malignancy from within Jack creating the "ghosts," despite how fucked up I think Jack to be and how some of my feelings do align with Kubrick's interpretation, there is a point where it's better to leave things to the imagination. What we can create in our head is far more terrifying then ghosts in dog suits barking at you. Little things, like the elevator running on it's own in the night, a cat party mask appearing on the floor, sounds of a party... these things, if never fully explained would have scared me far more then having to endure Jack at a party talking to these long dead people. How about we see the party like we did later, only from Wendy and Danny's point of view? They just hear Jack talking to himself and some general party noises. This would be more disturbing, and leave the whole issue of what is happening to Jack up for debate. Take a cue from Shirley Jackson, the queen of ambiguity. The most horrific scene in The Shining, the mysterious evil presence in the cement tubes on the playground... never explained, deliciously evil.

There is also the issue of Wendy and Jack. Because the book delves into Jack's past and his violent tendencies, the eventual manifestation of his attacking his family seemed a foregone conclusion, even if Tony's "visions" didn't tip you off. All I kept thinking the entire book was how ineffectual Wendy is. Yes, she is also depicted as such in the movie, but in the book you realize how really stupid she is. I mean, the warning signs were all there, why didn't she just leave her husband? Why did it take a hotel trying to go after her son through her husband to realize his abusive tendencies could be fatal. I mean he breaks her back, literally!?! But before that there was the years of drinking, and the fact that his violent outbursts were worse after he gave up drinking... well, sorry Wendy honey, you should have left long ago, before the snow made it impossible. Also, if you're so worried about your son and his health that you use all your extra money to get a phone line installed in your apartment and then agree to be snowbound for six months, you are really a shitty parent, just fyi.

In the final analysis though, the one major flaw of the book was that it needed to be edited. Cull about half the book and you would have had a taut, terrifying, horrific book, and I would have loved every minute of it. As it is... well... there were peaks and troughs. Did Jack Torrence really need to wipe his mouth, oh, let's say fifty million times, because that's how it felt? No, he didn't. Did we need to hear about the Torrence's sex life, which I'm guessing is the only (and very selfish) reason Wendy stayed around? Again, a resounding no. Did we need to follow Dick Hallorann every single step along the way back to Colorado from Florida? Hell no. Finally, did we need chapters and chapters of Jack in the basement sifting though old magazines and newspapers? Another resounding no. Tighter, tauter, more effective. Though I think this is a flaw that we will never cure King of...

Yet, despite all the flaws, this book holds up particularly well. It was a fun read to pick up on a hot summer night when snow actually sounded appealing. What helped was that it was a long time since I had watched the movie, so there was a nice fuzziness around the corners of my memory that helped me enjoy the book. As mentioned before, this book can not be taken out of context to the movie. So how do the two work together? I found it interesting how Kubrick hinted at the back story and how the Grady girls ghosts were added, which seemed like a natural inclusion that the book omitted. The two are interesting to compare side by side because there are things King did better and there are things Kubrick did better, and, there's a wish I have deep down that perhaps if Kubrick had been willing to take more of King's help that maybe the film would have benefited from it, in it's narrative not imagery, because, as King has said, the movie has very memorable imagery. Though, I think it may shock some, but in the end, if I had to chose between the two, well, I'd choose the book. Hands down.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Scribner
Publication Date: 1971
Format: Paperback, 184 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

George Orr has been abusing drugs. He doesn't want to escape his life, he wants to prevent his dreams. George's dreams have the power to effect the real world. Not all of his dreams and not in any way you'd expect, but every once in awhile he has an "effective dream" and he wakes up to a changed world. It could be as simple as his aunt being dead instead of alive, or more complicated, like the existence of aliens on the moon; yet George remembers all timelines and sometimes gets muddled. He is sent to a psychiatrist, Dr. Haber. Haber specializes in dreams. Haber uses a machine he has invented, the Augmentor, to force George to have effective dreams. At first George doesn't know if Haber realizes what he is doing and he contacts a lawyer, Heather Lelache, to advocate for him. Soon it becomes obvious that Haber knows exactly what he is doing... and he has an endgame.

I can easily see why this is one of the staples of the science fiction genre. The prophetic nature of the book is at times a little spooky. I had a hard time reminding myself that this book was written over forty years ago. The crisis in the Middle East, Global Warming (or Global Extremism as I like to call it), even the reactivation of a volcanic mountain in the Cascade Range... it was spooky. It was this prophetic nature and the book's distinct dystopian setting that made the book strike a cord in me. I was drawn to the 1984 Big Brother vibe, so when the book would veer into aliens and grey skinned people, I was a little put off. I wish the book hadn't gone so overtly sci-fi. While I agree with members of my book club that a turtle like alien selling antiques is funny and brought in a William S. Burroughs and at times a Philip K. Dick feel to the story, I still long for Le Guin to have grounded it a bit more in reality. Now I'm not saying the power to change the world with your dreams IS grounded in reality, it's just that having this one element changing things and concentrating more on the moral ramifications of someone trying to change the world in this way appeals to me more then aliens selling Beatles LP singles.

I should also say that this book doesn't make for the best bedtime reading because, to put it mildly, it seemed to create a need in my subconscious to go out of it's way to give me crack dreams. Which brings me to Dr. Haber. The arrogance to believe that you can control someone's dreams is so foolish that I wonder how he thought he could bottle this lightning. George himself has had the "gift" for many years and it is a curse that made him seek drugs. If George can't control or understand his own mind, how egotistical is Dr. Haber to think he can do so so quickly. Plus, even with just a subtle change in wording the effective dream could be disastrous. Aliens could land on Earth! George doesn't even know how his subconscious chooses which aspect of the dream will be effective.

Ok, to take this idea further, let's look at a dream I had falling asleep after reading this book. I was at a fancy museum with Benedict Cumberbatch as my "date" (I don't think we were dating, though I wish, but it was more a group of Bright Young Things hanging together). I had an amazing black silk dress that was cut low in the front and a black necklace that had strands that hung in cords, like a beaded curtain, and it shimmered so lovely. I was also looking to find a silver fox stole, though I didn't think it would perfectly match my dress, it would go with a cream one in my closet better (yes, I do have bizarrely detailed dreams). So there was something in the basement of the museum, a threat that we all went to investigate. There was like a catacombs, and below or beside that, an interior space that was also outside, and it was a cemetery. All through this cemetery there were zombies. I had to fight them off and get to the other side where the wall was black, which turned out to be a curtain and I fell down a giant hill on the other side to a weird furnace like area. Now what would be the effective part of this dream? I mean it's a crap shoot. I could just as easily end up with a lovely silver fox stole as I could zombies overrunning the earth... that's just something to think on.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Tamora Pierce's First Test

First Test (Protector of the Small Book 1) by Tamora Pierce
Published by: Bluefire
Publication Date: June 7th, 1999
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Ten years since the proclamation that girls might attempt a page's training in the hopes of one day being a knight there has been no candidates. Then one day Keladry, known as Kel, applies. The Royal Training Master wants to reject her application, but his hand is forced because of the proclamation. Therefore he sneaks in a rider. Kel will be on probation for a year. At the end of that time, if she is up to snuff, she may stay. The boys make it anything but easy for Kel, teasing her constantly and pulling merciless pranks. Yet Kel refuses to give up. She was trained in the Yamani Islands to fight and hide her emotions. No boys can break her. She not only has the sparrows on her window ledge to brighten everyday, a special patron that sends her presents, and dresses to wear to every dinner to make sure the boys know she is one of them but not one of them. Soon Kel has her own posse of students that take out vengeance with fists against those older students who are a bit thuggish. Though, her only thought is that after a year, when the Training Master calls her name, it won't have probationary in front of it anymore.

People have been telling me to read Tamora Pierce for years, and after reading this book I don't know if it was just because I started with the wrong book or I didn't get introduced to her at a young enough age, but it was derivative and predictable. Also, I wouldn't categorize this book as YA, but strictly Y... if I read this when I was ten, maybe I would have thought it cool... maybe. Kel's journey has been written in a hundred different ways by a hundred different authors, all who did it better. There's Harry Potter in there, there's Arya's journey in Game of Thrones, and if you really want to see magical schooling done right for a far more adult audience, there is Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. The fact that this is the first in a Quartet made the ending inevitable. Obviously she's going to get past her "first test" and go on to be a page and squire and then a "lady" knight, because obviously, the word knight needed a qualifier, much like she needed "probationary" added to her name. And this rant is just in the general since. I mean, how many badly written training sequences with staffs and quatrains can you jam into a short book? Well, a lot if there really isn't a plot to the book. Also, what does this book teach? Bullying is ok if you fight back and never tell anyone? What the hell!?!

The there's just stupid and sloppy world building. Yamani, well, let's just call it Japan, because, well, it's Japan. Do I really need a glossary for all the stupid animals and people in the world? No. You know why? Because I couldn't care who these people are. I divided them into those for Kel and those against Kel, which members of my book club didn't even bother doing, because they were that bored with the book. And how about those Immortals. Well... yeah, didn't need them. It's like Pierce had to have some villain, some enemy that was so obviously defined, that this Immortals, these, half human crazy things that eat kittens will do. And YES, the Lord of the Rings ripped off Spider people ATE KITTENS! And now that I'm on the topic of animals, what the hell is Kel's connection with animals? She supposedly doesn't have any magic, though her tendency to gather animals around her would indicate that she has wildmagic. Not that I care if she has it, it's just, if you're to introduce this concept and then have her have ALL the traits, just admit it already. I mean the freaking birds are showing her where enemies are and are alerting her to the boys pranking her when she's using the bathroom. Um, excuse me? Sparrows protect me while I urinate? Then, in the preview for the next book she gets what, a dog? Is this freaking Bremen town musicians? She's going to have a whole menagerie following her around like a butch Disney princess?

I just couldn't like this book. There was nothing redeemable, except it's brevity. I also had this weird feeling that I had read this book before, and this is aside from Pierce being a magpie off everyone else. Then it struck me, this book was totally like the bad 80s movie Troop Beverly Hills. Misfit girl(s), fighting against the establishment despite being allowed in, then big dramatic denouement in nature. And you know what? I'd rather watch Troop Beverly Hills any day then read this book again.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 30th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 355 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Rapture has happened. Or at least an event that looks so much like the rapture that it makes no difference, except to those who are offended by the choices made as to those taken. How could they take the idolaters and not the true believers? Yet one thing is certain, with so many people now gone, everyones life has changed. Kevin Garvey's wife has left him to go and be a part of the new cult The Guilty Remnant, where she keeps silent and smokes all day while accusing her fellow citizens with her mere presence. Their daughter Jill has sunk into sex and drugs with her sexy new friend Aimee who walks around the Garvey house in almost nothing. Their son has joined another cult, the Healing Hug Movement, that seems to put a lot of stock into their holy leader, Wayne. Yet Nora Durst is the one suffering most, as she lost her husband and her children. While the town gathers to mourn those who have left, each of these people will continue on their own painful journey while the world seems to be in limbo, allowing grief to rule the day years later. Yet their journeys will cross, and in those brief moments, maybe they can try to move on.

The concept of this book is genius, the execution is another thing. Instead of finding the humor in his topic, Perrotta seems to have thought the book was an excuse to wallow in a midlife crisis and dwell overly long on grief. Add to that characters that are so shallow they verge on being less then one dimensional, especially the women, whose only way to deal with grief or their emotional traumas is to do something to their hair. Because obviously, all women are superficial and only skin deep. Whereas the male lead, Kevin Garvey, is living, in my opinion, Perrotta's dream life. His family has all deserted him, he has his daughter's hot friend living in the house, obviously every woman wants him because he has power as the mayor, and therefore his life is good. If Perrotta had been skewering this perception of male wish fulfilment, that might have been something, but it appears to be in earnest.

That's the whole problem in the book. It's earnest. Instead of lampooning weird end of days cults and the new mentality of the human race, we get people who have been given an excuse to wallow in their grief. Hundreds of pages of shallow wallowing. Because nothing is ever analysed, it just is. Nora Durst lost her family, so here's a hundred pages of her riding a bike and not thinking about the tragedy. Jill ditches school and does some tame drugs, oh, now that's a totally revolutionary way for a teenager to revolt now isn't it? This book is so shallow that if I were to throw it into the deep end of a pool it would come out without even moisture on it.

The Guilty Remnant and Holy Wayne with his Healing Hug Movement seemed to have potential, but instead it's basically Jim Jones and his "Kool-Aid" at work. Though there is no analysis of the parallels, no plugging into the zeitgeist that makes such organizations form. Everything is just surface. If you actually want humor and Jim Jones, go read Armistead Maupin's third Tales of the City book, Further Tales of the City. In fact, thinking of Maupin has now made me sadder, because there is a true comedic American writer and I'm sure given the same basic plot of this book he could have written a satire that pierced the American way of life while also tackling grief.

Needless to say this will be the first and last book by Perrotta that I ever read. He is mostly known for the book the classic Reese Witherspoon movie Election is based on, a fact that he himself is mighty proud of in his Q&A at the end of the book. Well Mr. Perrotta, you shouldn't be that full of yourself. You wrote a superficial little novel that reads as a pathetic roman a clef of yourself. I've seen into you and you are a trifling writer of meagre and bland talents and you have wasted my time with a book that was unable to deliver on it's premise. Also, just as a final note, if you only "rapture" up a small number of the population of the earth, there really can't be that many people missing from one small town in New Jersey now can there? Just saying, basic math!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - John Scalzi's Redshirts

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: June 5th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Five disparate young officers have been assigned to the Universal Union's Capital Ship Intrepid. Very quickly they realize this ship isn't like other ships. Everyone seems really busy all the time and capable of the most amazing disappearing feats whenever certain of the officers appear. Also, everyone is really jumpy about "away missions." Looking into it, the newbies erstwhile ringleader, Ensign Andrew Dahl, soon discovers that the "away missions" seem to have a very high mortality rate. Someone ALWAYS dies. Depending on which officer is with them, it might be quite a few someones. In the last five years the death rate has grown staggeringly high on the Intrepid versus other ships in the Dub U. The deaths though aren't the only weird thing. During moments of drama or high action, people's personalities change and they do some of the stupidest things, therefore ending up dead. Convinced that there is some reason for this, Dahl and his gang stumble upon something that could explain everything... but you also have to be batshit crazy to think it plausible.

As I sit typing this review I am wearing a Star Trek V: The Final Frontier T-Shirt, vintage from 1989, not a silly reprint. To my left is a Doctor Who poster, David Tennant if you please, as well as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer clock, which I made myself, and a wall display of Harry Potter wands, Dumbledore's Army, if you must know. Sitting over my left speaker and glaring at me, oddly in a non menacing manner, is Mr. Flibble. To my right there is geekery galore, framed Firefly comics signed by Alan Tudyk and John Cassiday, Daleks and Cylon raiders, a teeny tiny Starbug, Buffy maquettes and even a mini Sheldon Cooper. Why am I telling you all this? Well, in case you didn't know, this would very clearly demonstrate that I am a geek. Not the casual kind either, the going to conventions, waiting hours in line, spending way too much money on memorabilia kind. So, now that I have secured your knowledge of my geekiness... let's talk Redshirts...

This book was written with me in mind. Unless you are familiar with the idea of what a redshirt is, there is little chance you would pick up this book. A redshirt was always the newbie, the character you never knew who beamed down to the planet on Star Trek with Kirk and all the rest and very quickly died in order to show the gravity or danger of the situation. This word has become so ubiquitous in geek culture that in the card game Munchkin, you can have a redshirt minion who will sacrifice themselves so that you will survive a battle. It's a joke my kind get, and it's funny. Redshirts and death are one. The most memorable scene in any movie, in my mind, perfectly encapsulating the fate of a redshirt is Sam Rockwell's breakdown in Galaxy Quest.

What I think my problem with the book was, with movies like Galaxy Quest and shows like Red Dwarf and Hyperdrive and all the rest, if you are likely to pick up Redshirts you are likely to have seen all these other shows and movies based on the same joke. Because, while this book starts out promising, and quickly starts handling the meta issues of the fact that somehow the Intrepid is either a tv show or a tv show is imposing itself on their timeline forcing untold carnage and dramatic scenes before cutting away to a commercial break, it very quickly gets to the point where I was thinking of all the other people who had done this better. Because this is parody sci-fi.

The gold standard in my mind of parody sci-fi is Red Dwarf. This show was not only consistently funny (I'm ignoring the existence of season eight) but, with it's return in 2009 with "Back to Earth," it willingly embraced the meta of comedy shows today, the strongest contender in this category being Community, which started the same year. Yet the meta in Redshirts was written in such a way as to not tax your brain and almost seemed dumbed down. In other words, you could pound out this book in a few hours and it will probably leave no lasting impression. The main turning point for me was when our little gang of rebels with targets on their backs headed back to "modern day" Earth... at this point it's basically "Back to Earth" but without any connection to the characters. It's as if Scalzi  jumped off a cliff and just started ripping everyone off. For the audience this book is targeting, we have watched all the same shows, we know meta, and this book became insufferable and infuriating.

Though, while at this point I didn't think I could want to smack Scalzi more for his lack of originality, he succeeded with the codas to a whole new level of annoyance. Three codas, three POVs, three styles of writing... gaw, how pretentious are you to actually write the second coda in a very unsuccessful attempt at second person narration? Also the first coda, I'm guessing that's you thinly veiled as the "shows" author who comes across as a pretentious prick, and then with the third coda, you rip out my heart and gleefully dance on it. Guess what Scalzi? I'm going to tell everyone I know to just skip this book and watch Red Dwarf... same thing really, only one's actually well written, and it's not by you.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Jonathan Lethem's Fear of Music

Fear of Musicby Jonathan Letham
Published by: Continuum
Publication Date: March 24th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 160 Pages
Rating: ★
Don't Buy

I find it ironic that the most solipsistic book I have EVER read uses the word so many times. I would hate to know Jonathan Lethem, a man who is such a self centered pretentious ass that a book about the Talking Heads became a book about himself... though if I ever meet him, he's paying me back for buying this book, which deserves no stars and no reviews written because it would waste even more of my time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Sarah Waters' Fingersmith

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by: Riverhead
Publication Date: October 1st, 2002
Format: Paperback, 548 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Sue Trinder has grown up in Lant Street. She has never left the slummy Borough of London, and has never wanted to. She has lived her entire life in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, who makes her living farming babies. Sue was the only baby that ever mattered to Mrs. Sucksby. They live with Mr. Ibbs, who makes his living in the roundabout manner or taking in dubious goods through the back door and sending it out the front in a slightly different form. The rest of the household is made up of Mr. Ibbs' invalid sister and John Vroom, a man with a love for dog skins, and his simple girl Dainty. This is Sue's world entire.

One day an acquaintance, known to all as Gentleman, arrives with a plan, to make their fortune using Sue. Mrs. Sucksby has always told Sue that she would be the making of them all and now she has her chance. Gentleman has been posing as an artist, Mr. Rivers, for a Mr. Lilly, who lives out west in the Thames Valley. Mr. Lilly has a niece, Maud. Maud is where their fortune will be found. Gentleman has been seducing the isolated girl but has hit a brick wall. Maud's maid, who was the chaperon, has taken ill and now Maud isn't allowed in the presence of Gentleman. Gentleman has decided to fix that. By installing not only a new chaperon, but one that will help him pursue his interests with the Maud, it is a win win situation.

They will compromise Maud, throw her in an insane asylum, and split her vast fortune and live like toffs. What could possibly go wrong? In a world where there are plots within plots, games within games and you don't know who's playing who, there are a lot of ways this could play out... and perhaps it won't be to everyone's liking.

This was an amazing book, if you only read the first part. Divided into three parts, each subsequent section downgraded it a full star, and some might say downgrading only one star per section is generous, seeing as after the first section Waters has shown us she is capable of so much more. But for some reason I think being overly long and taking the narrative straight into "I don't care land" is a staple of true Victorian writing, or Victorian-esque in this case. Like Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, which Fingersmith strongly emulates, it overstays it's welcome. Looking back onto the other Waters book I've read, The Little Stranger, I realize now that that book really did have the perfect ending. You weren't sure what happened and it ended a bit mysterious. If Waters had done that with this book, ending on a cliffhanger and being all mysterious, I would have been blown away and ranked it up there with some of the finest short fiction with the likes of Shirley Jackson.

Waters does an amazing job of capturing the seamy side of Victorian London. Sometimes you're reading about other times and think, now that would be a nice place to visit. Not here, not this world. And I think that's what makes the world of the book so real. You feel as if this is probably the most accurate description you've ever read of this time period. It's filth and dirt, it's creaking corset stays on a large woman who never washes herself and the secrets she hides within her bodice. Maud's penchant for gloves, though not of her own doing, at least is some kind of barrier to the grotesques that are discussed. But even they are tainted. Yet it's the unrelenting depravity and filth combined with characters who you don't just dislike, but who have nothing good or nice ever happen to them that wears you down in the end. Sure a little history of Victorian pornography is well and good, but after awhile, you say enough is enough. This book grinds you down, and in the end, you are relieved that it is done.

But the single biggest failing of the book is the repetitive storytelling. By having two different narrators with Sue and Maud, we see the exact same events twice. With part two I was almost skipping pages going, ok, read this all already from Sue's point of view, let's get to the part where we left off with Sue so that I get to the forward progression of the narration. Though once we move forward, it's back to Sue, and back to the ending of part one! We have learned so much from Maud that it is painful to then have to live through Sue's excruciatingly slow journey to learn all that we now know. One step forward, two steps back. That cliffhanger to end part one... it will blow you away. Yet it is soon nullified and made pointless by all the other twists and turns and cliffhangers that come after it. The impact is lost in the dragging narrative. It got to the point where it was like watching M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, I kept not only waiting for the next not really shocking twist, but I got good at predicting what it would be, and in the end you really didn't care. So, by all means, read this book, just don't read past part one... you'll thank me.