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100 Greatest Novels: The Sheltering Sky, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Ginger Man & The Magnificent Amberson

Here it is! The final 100 Greatest Novels post! Can you believe it? I can’t. These last four novels bring us to the final. I posted the blog introducing this idea almost 4 years ago. We completed the first novel, Ulysses, and posted the blog in August 2012. We finished the first 50 books with Tropic of Cancer, the blog being posted on April 2014. So that brings us to today with the last four books. Let’s get to it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

ShelteringSkyThis novel shows that the idea of American tourist not knowing what the hell they’re doing in foreign countries isn’t new. The story follows an American couple from New York who travel to North Africa with a friend. The story starts off delving into the marital issues of the couple. They both want to get the spark in their relationship back but both are waiting for the other to make the move. They’re both desiring more while being complacent with how things are. But as the story progresses, their story somewhat takes the back-burner to the events around them. They’re interactions with the world around them become more and more dangerous as they get farther and farther from “civilization.” Interspersed throughout the story is incredibly moving descriptions of the Sahara Desert and the villages they come across.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cain_The_Postman_Always_Rings_TwiceIf you like quick reads and/or crime novels, this is the book for you. Around 100 pages, you can knock this one out in an afternoon. I never figured out what the longish title meant but I did really enjoy this short book. The story follows Frank Chambers, a man who roams around California. He stops at a diner and ends up working for the Greek man that owns it. Soon Chambers strikes up a relationship with the owner’s wife. It’s a tumultuous, passionate affair. Soon they come up with an idea to get rid of the husband and have a life together. When that fails, they try another plan. And then things start getting unnecessarily complex. Let’s just say the story ends with one of them on death row…

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

220px-GingerManThis fun novel was one of those stories where you almost hate the main character the whole time but love reading about him. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American student of law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He’s lazy, usually drunk and is horrible to his English wife and child. He spends all their rent money, he tries (and sometimes succeeds) to sleep with every woman that catches his eye. Him and all his friends are struggling to make their way in life, running out of money and wanting wives and wealth to just fall in their lap. The story was a crazy ride through pubs and cities and bedrooms and fights and screaming landlords. I heard a rumor that they’re making this into a movie starring Johnny Depp. I could get into that. It would be a lot of fun too watch. The only problem, he’s not ginger.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

TheMagnificentAmbersonsThis was a great book to end the list on. Not life changing, but a really solid read. The story follows the Amberson family through their rise and fall leading into the Industrial age of the American midwest. Focusing on the grandson of the patriarch, George Amberson Minafar, we see what happens when somebody grows up with wealth and position and no understanding of why. George’s arrogance and position blinds him to what’s going on around him. And through him falling in love with a young lady, and his mother falling in love with her father, we see the Amberson fortune be swept away by the rising tide of industrialism. The book does a great job of portraying this idea in so many ways. They actual health and wellbeing of the family, the quality of the houses they live in, the importance of the neighborhood they reside in and the modes of transportation they choose to use. All these aspects of the Ambersons show how they miss the oncoming transformation of the world and what happens because of this. And it’s all masterly done by Booth Tarkington.

I finished this book on the train to work last Friday morning. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last words. I’m not sure if it was because of the beautiful ending to the book or because of me finishing the last novel in this large task of reading the 100 greatest novels.

Either way, I did it. We did it. Thanks for being with me these past four years. Onto the next project…

 

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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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