Tag Archive for Literary Fiction

Book Review: The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope Much too long a book for so little to happen in it.

Book Review: New Grub Street by George Gissing

New Grub Street by George Gissing

I struggled with this book a little at first, especially when I had a hard time liking some of the main characters. Most of the men in the book were quite unpleasant or even despicable in some way, whereas the women seemed more interesting to me, as they struggled to be independent of and respected by the men in their lives.

The story focuses on a number of people with some connection to writing or publishing in some form. Some of them are struggling to do good work, while others just want to gain some notoriety. I found some of the “industry” issues interesting, as a few might as well be happening today (the idea of writing shorter, easier to read pieces for a less attentive audience, for example).

I did have a hard time seeing this as happening in the 1880s though, mainly because the writing style seemed a little more modern to me, at least compared to other works from this time. I kept thinking they were in the 1900s at the very least, or perhaps a little later. I also kept making comparisons between some of the characters and those in The Forsyte Chronicles (Alfred Yule and Soames Forsyte, Jasper Milvain and Michael Mont, etc.).

The writing style, although it felt a little more modern, was a bit of a slog at points. The dialogue between certain characters felt extremely formal and overdone, and not enough like natural language. And some of the philosophical tangents were a bit dull and heavy-handed.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting, albeit not very uplifting or happy, book, but I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to. But I think I’ll still look into some of Gissing’s other books, after this initial introduction.

Article: You Should Seriously Read “Stoner” Right Now

You Should Seriously Read “Stoner” Right Now

As a fictional hero, William Stoner will have to dwell in obscurity forever. But that, too, is our destiny. Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption.

(From New York Times, May 11, 2014)

I read Stoner back in 2009, and here’s the review I wrote at the time:

“A moving story, but also awfully depressing. I had a hard time continuing on at points, especially when the author made it so clear that better things could have happened. After following the main character through his life though, I was sad to see how it all came to an end.”

Perhaps I’ll re-read it sometime, especially after reading this piece about it. I just don’t know if I need something potentially depressing right now.

Article: Study: Reading Literary Fiction Can Make You Less Racist

Study: Reading Literary Fiction Can Make You Less Racist

“The benefits of reading literary fiction are many, ranging from making us more comfortable with ambiguity to honing our ability to pick up on the emotional states of others. Newly published research adds yet another positive outcome to that list: It can make us at least a little less racist.”

(From Pacific Standard, March 10, 2014)

Book Review: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass I read at least part of this book in college — in the original German — but I’d forgotten just how strange and twisted of a book it is. It’s rather intense overall, especially with the style it’s written in. It’s quite detailed and rather heavy at times, but it’s well-written almost throughout. There were only a few parts, especially towards the end, where I didn’t feel as captivated, usually when there was repetition of certain events.

As for the story itself, it’s quite difficult in many ways, and quite often. Disturbing, emotional, twisted, tragic, and lots of other “fun” stuff. Not surprising given our narrator, who seems to be precocious and talented, but also wicked and a bit insane as well. The other characters are all quite intriguing in their own ways, but you end up questioning how much you can trust the narrator in all of this, especially given the things he does to the others.

I think I’m glad I read (or re-read) this book, but I don’t know that I will be re-reading this in future. It’s such an intense book, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but I think I’ve had my fill, for now at least.

Article: Literary Fiction Helps Us Read People

Literary Fiction Helps Us Read People

(From Pacific Standard, October 03, 2013)

“New research suggests reading literature increases our ability to pick up on the subjective states of others.”

Book Review: The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov

The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this book, especially after the writing style seemed a little too full of itself, maybe even pretentious. And full of unfamiliar words — either outdated or foreign to me — that required a quick search of the dictionary to keep me going. It reminded me of other German historical fiction books I’d tried to read and quit on, but I kept going.

I am glad that I persisted, because it really was an enjoyable read. Not having known anything about Sir Richard Francis Burton, I became intrigued by this English explorer who was curious about the world and the people in it, and set himself apart from his fellow explorers in many ways.

The story is split into three main sections, each focusing on a different place Burton visited: India and Pakistan, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. Each section switches between Burton and other individuals, either servants who helped him in his travels or outsiders trying to figure him out. We see his attempts to learn more about the places he visits and the people he meets, including his difficulty in sharing his interest and curiosity with his fellow Englishmen.

The only downside to the book is that it can take some work to get through, so don’t expect a bit of light reading. Some sections get a bit weighty in philosophy or theology, either due to the content or the flowery writing. And it’s best to have a dictionary (or the Internet) handy, since the included glossary — which I found a bit too late — didn’t have definitions for everything, and sometimes the meaning isn’t clear from the context.

That said, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that features traveling or a great adventure as the main theme. Although it wavers a bit towards the end, the story is a pretty intriguing one that kept my interest throughout.

Book Review: Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman

Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman Definitely a strange book. Part historical fiction, part literary fiction, with a touch of creepiness mixed in as well. I’m not sure it’s entirely successful though, but I wouldn’t say it was entirely bad either.

First and foremost, the writing was a mixed bag. At times, I really liked the way the author described things and set the scene for the reader. But often, that feeling would be ruined by long, boring, and overly detailed stretches of scene descriptions or inner dialogues. And I’d often stumble on a sentence that felt like it was dancing around the meaning, requiring a few rereads that didn’t always clear things up. It felt like the author was sometimes referencing things I couldn’t identify, but really I think they were things only she got, like an inside joke amongst friends. Simpler language would help with a lot of these issues.

As for the story, not much happens. Things meandered for a very long time — touching upon a lot of characters without fully developing most of them — and then eventually, very near the end of the book, a lot of big events happen, one right after the other. It was a bit too much really, despite all the build-up, and it didn’t feel like enough of a reward for having slogged through the rest of the book to get there. I have the feeling that this book started as a short story, but wasn’t really enough to work well as a full book, which is a shame.

That said, I did like some aspects of the book, so I don’t feel this was a complete waste of time. I think this author has some strong skills, but with some room for improvement. The setting and story of this book are certainly unique, and it’s not a book that is easily fit into a single category. I might read some other pieces of her work, but maybe not right away.