Month: July 2008

Two Women by Marianne Fredriksson

Date of Publication: 1999, Ballantine Books

Number of Pages: 195

Synopsis (from back cover): They meet on a spring day in the local garden center: Inge, a native Swede, lovely and refined, a woman ruled by reason and her own deeply held moral beliefs; Mira, a Chilean immigrant who still feels out of place in the cold Scandinavian north. Through many shared afternoons in Inge’s garden, Mira slowly reveals the horrors of a shadowed past and the heartbreak involving her beloved daughter. As Mira and her family begin a wrenching journey of discovery, Inge unwittingly uncovers secrets in her own life that make her question the very order of her world. An elegant novel of time and memory, love and distance, and the wounds they create and conceal, Two Women is Marianne Fredriksson’s most affecting work of fiction to date.

Review: There are many novels out there that deal with relationships between women, but Two Women is unlike any of them. This book deals with extraordinary issues, like rape, torture, and incest, as well as the usual issues, like marriage, sex, and trust. Inge and Mira are very different. One is restrained by her logic, while the other is caught in a web of violent emotions stemming from her tragic past. Important questions arise early: Should the past remain buried? Or should it be sought? How easily should we trust other people? At what point does love become a burden?

Like all Fredriksson’s books, love is dealt with openly and frankly, almost unrealistically. There’s none of the common coyness that one usually encounters, both in books and in the real world. Instead, people are heartbreakingly honest with each other, if not entirely honest with themselves. Lessons are learned by everyone, and often in unexpected ways. One character finds his true self by learning  to paraglide, while another finds rebirth in a violent storm. In the end, the two families are strengthened by their connection, yet their imperfections persist, making them believable. Any reader will find themselves relating to these characters, despite their sometimes extraordinary circumstances.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Emma by Jane Austen

Date of Publication: 1815 (Wordsworth Classics)

Number of Pages: 350

Synopsis (from back cover): Jane Austen teased readers with the idea of a “heroine whom no one but myself will much like”: but Emma is irresistible. “Handsome, clever, and rich”, Emma is also an “imaginist”, “on fire with speculation and foresight.” She sees signs of romance all around her, but thinks she will never be married. Her matchmaking maps out relationships that Jane Austen ironically tweaks into a clearer perspective. Judgment and imagination are matched in games the reader too can enjoy, and the end is a triumph of understanding.

Review: For some reason, I always think of Emma, which is the July/August selection for The Book Club Forum’s Jane Austen Book Group, as my least favorite Austen, but I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it. Emma is a very imperfect heroine, but Jane Austen was wrong in supposing that no one but herself would like her. I find Emma to be refreshing as a heroine, and she stands is stark contrast to Fanny Price in Mansfield Park (my least favorite Austen heroine). There is none of Fanny’s timidness or inability to stand up for herself. Emma is independent and strong, and much more modern than other female characters in classic literature. Her mistakes in pride and arrogance are such as we all make on a daily basis. She presumes to understand people’s emotions and thoughts and thinks she has a right to order things as she would have them be…very type “A”, in my opinion. But, as her intentions in every case are good, as she only wants those she loves to be happy and prosperous, one cannot really blame her.

The other characters in this book are also very satisfying, particularly Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley. Jane is the poor orphan on whom everyone in Highbury, the village in which Emma lives, dotes upon. Emma, of course, can’t stand her at first, but only because of the knowledge that Jane is superior to her in many ways. How many of us have declared that we don’t like someone simply because they’re better at something than we are? Mr. Knightley, Emma’s neighbor and long-time family friend, is her conscience, calling attention to those errors in judgment that Emma constantly seems to make. He often lectures her, but only in an attempt to set her on a better course. When faced with the prospect of losing him, Emma must confront her own feelings and question her own situation in life.

It’s altogether an enjoyable read, with plenty of twists and blunders, and should appeal to any fan of Jane Austen…or just anyone who wants to read the real version of the movie “Clueless”.

Rating: 10/10

Booking Through Thursday: Doomsday!

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit? [posted on July 10, 2008]

My answer: I think that because I’m living in an area with no character, it wouldn’t matter much if the Borders at the mall here closed down. I’d be annoyed, but I would just go to Barnes and Noble. But, if I heard that Eagle Harbor Books in my hometown of Bainbridge Island, WA had burned down, I’d be devastated! It’s the only bookstore on the island, and is a great place to hang out. I also buy a lot of books from Amazon, and the only real consequence I can see if they shut down would be that I would buy a lot fewer books. Good for my bank account!

Booking Through Thursday: Holiday Reading

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple – What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading? July 3, 2008

My answer: Since I have to work both Saturday and Sunday this holiday weekend, I’m not attempting anything heavy. I’m doing a re-read of Emma by Jane Austen, which is the July/August selection for the Jane Austen Book Group on The Book Club Forum. I’ve read it before, at least two times, but it’s been a while since it’s not my favorite Austen. However, I’m enjoying it a lot this time around. I’ve also got a couple of good books on my immediate TBR list:

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Possession by A.S. Byatt

I’ve got a lot of great books to look forward to!