Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter and a Couple Book Reviews

I hope everyone is having a good weekend -- a holiday weekend for those who celebrate Easter.

Even though my posting has been quite sparse lately, I have been reading and keeping up with your blogs. I've recently finished Darling Jim, an arc from Library Thing and The Mrs. Dalloway Reader. I'm also finishing up A Lesson Before Dying for a book club on Tuesday. Hopefully, I won't wait so long to post my thoughts on that one.

First up, Darling Jim by Christian Moerk, which as I said is an arc from Library Thing. I purposely didn't read any of the reviews posted at LT. I'll go check them out after I get my thoughts down here. I'm always afraid I'll be influenced, even subconsciously, by reading reviews so close to finishing a book. I really enjoyed this one. For me, it started with a great cover, which looks like a torn piece of paper containing one of the diary entries of Fiona Walsh, one of the three Walsh sisters who live in modern day Dublin. They're all grown and lead relatively normal, happy lives even though they've had their fair share of past tragedy. Their parents died in an explosion, which left the sisters to the care of their aunt, Moira Hegarty. Moira is unstable but seemingly harmless, at least in the beginning. The sisters tolerate her quirks and continue to visit her weekly mostly out of a sense of obligation.

It's funny how one seemingly small event can drastically change the course of one's life. This is exactly what happens for the Walsh sisters and their aunt when a young, charismatic, itinerant storyteller finds his way to their village. Jim seems to be able to seduce virtually any woman of any age by telling them what they want to hear. He is a professional storyteller after all.

I enjoyed the mood and the atmosphere the author creates in this book. I also really liked the sections in which Jim tells his stories. I knew there was some type of connection between the story he was telling and his life, but I didn't figure it out right away. There were a couple of times in the book that I questioned the actions of one or more of the sisters. I just didn't believe anyone would react that way to the circumstances. I won't go into detail because it will spoil the story. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.

Now, The Mrs. Dalloway Reader couldn't be more different from the previous book. It contains the full text of the final version of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf along with critical essays, some of her short stories, an introduction by Francine Prose and Virginia Woolf's introduction to Mrs. Dalloway, as well as some of Woolf's correspondence. This is the first fiction I've read by Virginia Woolf. I recently read A Room of One's Own and fell in love with her nonfiction, which reads like fiction by the way. Any discussion I've ever heard about Woolf and her writing is pretty decisive. People seem to either love her or hate her. It's very difficult to come up with a concise way to describe this book because there really is no plot in the conventional sense of the word. The Mrs. Dalloway of the title is throwing a party and is on her way to buy flowers for the party as the book opens. We learn most everything about her and everyone else for that matter from interior dialogue. There is very little conventional dialogue. Rather, we learn what everyone is thinking and how they all relate to each other. Another note about her writing style -- she writes very long, complex sentences. It's not the kind of book that you can read without giving it the proper attention it requires. However, once I got into the flow of it, I found it quite easy to read. I know from this description, it sounds like a book in which nothing much happens, and that is true to a point. However, we learn a great deal about not only Mrs. Dalloway, but about her husband, her former suitor, childhood friend, as well as other people who she doesn't even know. Semptimus Warren Smith is a WWI veteran with shell shock who lives in London. I'm not sure how she does it, but Woolf interweaves his story into the world of Mrs. Dalloway. A friend of a friend mentions this young man at her party and it upsets Mrs. Dalloway that such a disturbing subject is broached at her party. I guess it is this seemingly simple premise, that once you actually look at it, makes you realize the extent of Woolf's literary talent.

I've heard several others say that To the Lighthouse is their favorite Virginia Woolf book, so that is probably the next book of hers that I'll read. If you haven't gotten around to reading Woolf or been somewhat intimidated by her (like I was), please give her a try. I think her writing is beautiful.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and Happy Easter!!


Becca said...

If you haven't read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, read it now while Mrs. Dalloway is fresh in your mind. I read them back to back recently, and was fascinated by the way he took the premise of Mrs. Dalloway and built another, complicated story around it.

Happy Easter :)

Danielle said...

I also have an ARE of Darling Jim , but have to admit I was struggling with it. It might be a matter of suspension of belief (which you sort of mention). I think it's also a matter of wrong book at the wrong time, so I set it aside. I finally picked it back up again and hope to get through the rest. I think taking a break was a good idea, as it seemed to grab me more this time around. I shouldn't read reviews, but I admit I did on this one. Most people seem to have really liked it, though, so I don't think it's clouding my vision! LOL

Sarah said...

Happy Easter to you.

I'm glad you enjoyed Mrs Dalloway and fall into the love-Woolf's-writing camp, as she's a favourite of mine. Jacob's Room is probably my favourite novel, and all her non-fiction is superb, especially A Room Of One's own and Three Guineas.

JoAnn said...

I'll admit to being intimidated by Virginia Woolf! Two of her books are on my shelf (Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse), but I just can't seem to pick them up. Woolf would be perfect for My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. Do you think it would be easier to start with A Room of One's Own?

Darling Jim sounds good, too!

Dorothy W. said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway -- isn't it wonderful? I love her nonfiction too. You might try some of her essays if you want to read more of it. And To the Lighthouse is really great too, so I'm sure you'll like it.

Nymeth said...

I will give her fiction a try sometime. I really will.

Happy Easter, Lisa!

Lisa said...

Becca, I really need to do that. There is an essay in the book that talks about how he arranged his story around Mrs. Dalloway. It sounds very interesting.

Danielle, I know what you mean about wrong book at the wrong time. It happens to me all the time. :)

Sarah, you can definitely count me as a Woolf fan now. Jacob's Room and To the Lighthouse are soon to be in the reading queue.

Joann, I definitely think starting with A Room of One's Own is a great idea. That's what I did. I think you just have to give yourself time to get into the rhythm of her writing and realize (with her fiction) that she is writing the way we all think -- so it's not always straightforward and organized. She'd be great the Year of Reading Dangerously. I actually used Mrs. Dalloway for that one, too.

Dorothy, I would love to try some of her essays. I really enjoyed the letters that were included in the collection I read. Do you have any suggestions of where to start?

Nymeth, I don't think you'll regret it if you do. But, I know there are just so many great authors and great books waiting that it is sometimes hard to break out and try something different. At least it has always been that way for me.