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100 Greatest Novels: Wide Sargasso Sea, Under the Net & Sophie’s Choice

Today we’re talking about three more of the 100 greatest novels. Two of them are by what is all too rare in this list, a woman! Finally. After this, I’ll probably only have one more post in this series for the last four books. Can you believe that!? Let’s get to it.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

JeanRhys_WideSargassoSeaThis book is somewhat unique (for this list, at least) because it was written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. If you’re familiar with that book, this novel is the background of Mr. Rochester’s marriage that Jane learns a little about. If you’re not familiar with Jane Eyre, don’t worry. It’s not necessary to read and/or enjoy this novel. The story follows Antoinette Cosway’s childhood in Jamaica into her unhappy marriage with Mr. Rochester. This quick and easy to read novel also delves into many heavy issues. Racial inequality, the relationship between men and women, colonialism, displacement, all this plays a part in this novel.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

UnderTheNetThis novel was a lot of fun to read. Set in London, it follows a young author as he’s kicked out of where he’s staying. His complex relationships with the lady who owned his flat and a pair of beautiful twins are thoroughly picked apart throughout his roaming. He get’s mixed up with the film rights of a French novel, philosophizes with an unnecessarily rich man, steals a movie star dog, almost becomes a Socialist, get’s an actual job for once, loses the job, makes a quick trip to Paris, decides he’s in love with a few different women…all in the few pages of this novel. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, this book was always entertaining.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

SophiesChoiceSome of you might be familiar with the movie that’s based off this novel featuring Meryl Streep. I haven’t seen the move so I can’t compare the two or tell you how closely one follows the other. Anyway, Sophie’s Choice. This was an incredibly fascinating novel for a few different reasons. First, one of the main characters, Sophie, is a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and the novel is set in 1947. I’m not too familiar with that many novels about Holocaust survivors just a few years after the end of WWII. Usually, it’s about their experiences during the war, not after. And although Sophie’s Choice touches on most of Sophie’s experiences in and before Auschwitz, it’s still very interesting to read about her issues with survival: guilt and physical health being too of the biggest issues.

I’m kind of jumping around…let me tell you a little what the book is about. It’s narrated by Stingo, a 23-year old aspiring writer who moves to Brooklyn. At his new boarding house, he gets drawn into the tumultuous relationship between Sophie and Nathan, an American Jew who seems to be a genius. They have some of the most violent and emotionally intense arguments, have unnecessarily loud sex above Stingo’s bedroom and deeply discuss classical music and literature. All of this with Stingo hovering on the edge of their story, falling madly in love with Sophie. Through the novel, we slowly learn about Sophie’s life before WWII and her experiences in Auschwitz. Her story during the war and her story in the Brooklyn boarding house both lead her to a “choice” she has to make. A choice between life and death for too many people she cares about. I’ll let you read the novel (or I guess watch the movie) to figure out what choices she has to make and what consequences they lead to.


That’s it for today. The next novel is The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. I have a few ideas for some other blogs. You might see a few of those before the final post in the 100 greatest novels series. Until next time.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Tobacco Road, Ironweed & The Magus

It doesn’t feel real to be this close to the end of the 100 greatest novels list. I truly can’t believe how close we’re getting. Today, I’m talking about three more: 91-93. Let’s go.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

220px-TobaccoRoadNovelThe first two novels we’ll be talking about were really quick reads from authors that I weren’t familiar with, both set in the Great Depression. First, we have this novel by Erskine (what a name!) Caldwell. Set in rural Georgia, the story follows a family of sharecroppers as they sink deeper and deeper into poverty and starvation. We meet an interesting swath of characters throughout the book. They’re all ignorant, stubborn and blindly religious. All the events are driven by their stupidity and are completely unnecessary. The dialogue is incredibly simplistic. The story is quick and fatalistic. Overall, I’d give it a big, “Eh…”

Ironweed by William Kennedy

220px-IronweedNovelOur second Great Depression novel, but this time in the North. Set in Albany, New York, this story follows an alcoholic homeless man when he returns to his hometown. He originally ran away because he accidentally killed his infant son. As he walks around his hometown looking for places to sleep, food to eat and quick jobs for a few bucks, he’s confronted with his past. He has hallucinations of deceased people from his past. Family members, people he killed and others all want to confront him. His mistakes with his family are weighing on him. His involvement with labor protests and strikes are being relived. And this all happens amongst more drinking and freezing nights on the street. This novel is the third book in a cycle of novels about Albany and I enjoyed it enough to want to read the other two. Maybe someday soon…

The Magus by John Fowles

Themagus_coverSo this book. I don’t even know where to start. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so intriguing, so frustrating, so pretentious, yet so enjoyable. Some pages I hated it, I hated Fowles with a passion. The next pages I would think he’s a genius, one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. But let me try to tell you a little about this book itself. So the story’s following this British dude named Nicholas Urfe who’s teaching English on a small Greek island. While bored and roaming around the island, he meets this rich eccentric named Maurice Conchis. While hearing the story of Conchis, Nicholas starts seeing ghosts and events from the past being performed. Assuming Conchis is playing some performance art of a game, he goes along with all he sees. Overtime he becomes more and more involved with the games until he’s a “performer” himself. I’ll let Wikipedia’s plot summary explain a little more because it’s written so well:

Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’s psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques. At first, Nicholas takes these posturings of Conchis, what the novel terms the “godgame,” to be a joke, but they grow more elaborate and intense. Nicholas loses his ability to determine what is real and what is artifice. Against his will and knowledge, he becomes a performer in the godgame. Eventually, Nicholas realises that the re-enactments of the Nazi occupation, the absurd playlets after de Sade, and the obscene parodies of Greek myths are not about Conchis’ life, but his own.

The further I went into the novel and Nicholas into the godgame, the more mysterious it all became. Everything was a lie, everybody’s performing. Every page proved the previous page wrong. Every event was more real and more absurd and more false than the last. Combined with hundreds of references to Greek mythology, British playwrights, French philosophers and other, this all becomes incredibly pretentious and frustrating. But what an adventure, for Nicholas and the reader.


So this brings us to #94, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. We only have two or three more blog posts left in this list. What will I do then!?

 

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