Category: Fiction

Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel

Back in 2003 everyone was simply abuzz about Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. The word titillation comes to mind. Now Yanni is back at it again with Beatrice and Virgil, a story about an author who gives up writing after being rejected, but is drawn in by an irresistible figure with a strange request. Henry (le main charactere) is asked by his local taxidermist for help writing a play about a donkey (Beatrice) and a howler monkey (Virgil) and Henry is so entranced, nay engrossed, by these stuffed darlings that he returns again and again to the lair of the strange old man.

You may be thinking to yourself “That sounds weird, but you know, maybe it has potential. After all this guy wrote Life of Pi. Maybe there’s some hidden metaphor I’m missing like the donkey represents suffering and the monkey is the potential for evil in us all, like that tiger in the boat.” Okay so maybe you’re not thinking that, but that’s what I was thinking. I kept waiting for the turn at the end, where all of the pages of the monkey and the donkey prattling endlessly about the most inane things were going to suddenly become blinding brilliant bits of prose.

Then just as I was thinking Yann should really be called Yawn and mentally estimating the number of pages left-bam! Surprise stabbing! I guess maybe Yawn thought “Hey this book is going a little slow. I know what’ll pick things up: a good stabbing. (Click, clack, click, clack. Yawn is typing at the keys and humming the theme to Psycho) There! This won’t disorient the reader at all or make them feel like they’ve been dropped into the middle of a thriller after laboring through the donkey/monkey saga for the last few hundred pages. Now to end this with thirteen morbid jokes about the Holocaust.” Sometimes you just have to say WHAT THE WHAT?!

Reading it once was plenty


Firmin, Sam Savage

Now I’ve read plenty of books where the main character is a slightly depressed, cynical intellectual with artistic pretensions (it’s practically a genre by now), but it’s not often that character is a rat. Firmin, the rat after whom the book is named, (ya what’s up I just used the word whom. Did I use it appropriately? I don’t know. One of you grammaristas will have to tell me…anywhoo Firmin) starts off munching on pages which may have possibly done something to his brain and eventually he started reading them. Firmin tells his life story, starting from birth, his years living above a book store, and the destruction of Solay Square in Boston.  The book is a fast read and well written. What mostly attracted me to this book was the cover. The whole book has a bite mark in the side which actually makes for a nice little grip incidentally. I’ve read a lot of reviews of people who absolutely loved this book, but I was kind of meh. I just feel like I’ve read this character a million times, and the fact that he was a rat, well ya that’s a little different, but not as different as you might think. I wouldn’t be devastated if I never read it again so I’m giving it two books.

Reading it once was plenty

Blah’s Orchestra

La’s Orchestra Saves the World,  Alexander McCall Smith

This was one of those books. You know the ones-the ones you’re supposed to like, but you find them rather lacking. The premise promised to be uplifting. La, a woman living in a small English town during World War 2, decides to start a village orchestra to boost morale and show everyone the transformative and healing power of music. However, the book was much more focused on La’s rather mundane daily existence. There was no sense of who the characters in the orchestra were, how they interacted with each other, or how the music helped to hold them together. At various points the charcters tell us how great the orchestra was, but the reader never gets to witness it firsthand. And the ending just didn’t work for me. It’s a personal pet peeve when authors are too afraid to have an unhappy ending that they tack on something that doesn’t really fit with the story. I’d rather have taken something extremely depressing than the unlikely finish to this tale, because as most of us know second chances are pretty rare, and this one didn’t work.

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Reading it once was plenty

Wild Ride, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

This quirky novel features Mab, a socially challenged workaholic, who while restoring an amusement park discovers it’s actually a prison for five of the most powerful demons in the world, and she’s called upon to help keep the reluctant devils in lockdown.  The second half of this novel is where things really get fun. Crusie and Mayer spend the first half of the book developing their character profiles, but it’s when the characters finally get to play off each other that this book really becomes engaging. This is a light and funny read, especially for fans of paranormal thrillers. I’ve read that some of Crusie’s fans are disappointed with this work since it’s a deviation from her typical romance genre. While this book contains some romance it’s definitely more a campy blend of action, mystery, and oddball humor. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would pack it in my beach bag anyday (if I lived near one), but probably wouldn’t recommend it for the book club.

Passage, Connie Willis

I’m going to have to spoil a few things about this book. But since I recommend that you skip it I don’t feel too bad. Passage had a very interesting premise. The main character Dr. Joanna Lander is a research psychologist studying near death experiences and teams up with a partner who has found a way to chemically induce them without the pesky side effect of dying. Joanna eventually decides to go under herself in order to see what’s on the other side and she ends up…on the Titanic. Yep you read that correctly-iceberg ahead, I’m king of the world, never let go Jack-Titanic. Although Jack and Rose weren’t there. Even after that curveball I kept reading because while that was weird I hadn’t yet decided if it was good weird or weird weird. But after approximately 600 hundred pages I just stopped caring. I would like to nominate this book for the most protracted death scene I’ve ever read. It kept going until I was begging for the character to just die already. However, Willis’ prose was excellent in parts and because the wonderfully funny writer at recommended her I think I’ll give some of her other books a try.

Drop the book you are reading right now and pick up The Poisonwood Bible. It’s that good. Kingsolver’s fictional tale about a family of missionaries who travel to the Congo in 1959 is mermerizing. Poisonwood is broken up into a series of mini-chapters, each of which employs a  first-person narrative from one of the Price daughters. Each daughter is wildly different, yet compelling, as is their mother Orleanna.  While the characters and the story are interesting, it’s the prose that makes this a book to come back to again and again.  Kingsolver weaves a spell in words. Reading this was like feeling the heart of Africa beat in my chest.  Frankly I could spent a happy afternoon reading Kingsolver’s grocery list (especially after reading her informative memoir Animal, Vegetable, Mineral).  Poisonwood Bible is a heart-rending, heart-pounding delight.

I found this epistolary novel (written in a series of letters) absolutely charming. Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of the fictional island of Nollop whose denizens esteem language so highly that when letters start falling off a statue in the town square all of the citizens are prohibited from using their fallen fellows.  Mark Dunn has written a narrative love letter to the English language and the ways even the tiniest letters of the alphabet shape the way we express ourselves. I marveled at how Dunn could continue writing despite his alphabetic setbacks. The book would be worth reading just for that,  but Ella Minnow Pea also boasts a delightful protagonist and an exciting narrative. Word lovers everywhere will rejoice over this book.

Chances are you’ve heard something about this book (it was published in 1972).  Yes, it is about rabbits. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful and genuinely remarkable story.  There’s something about this rabbit world, filled with snippets of the unique rabbit language and mythology, that’s completely absorbing.  The characters are more developed and complex than most tales featuring human protagonists, and the narrative is a finely balanced mix of brisk action, competing emotions, and mythology. Pick up this book and keep an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.