Thursday, April 30, 2015

Only in Spain-Nellie Bennett

Only in Spain-Nellie Bennett
the facts
satisfaction: side/down
pages: 293
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2014
non fiction. Memoir.
Nellie escapes her superficial shopgirl life in Australia for a life dancing flamenco in Spain.


Maybe it's because I am Spanish and danced flamenco for at least seventeen years but. but.

In the end, I could not stand this memoir. Maybe I just found it naive. There are so many stereotypes and archetypes in here that I found myself wondering when Bennett was going to leave her own head. Ok, so the flamenco teacher in Sevilla is dark eyed and kisses her. The 'gypsys' in Madrid are dangerous but alluring (please see the entire canon of English folk songs about this very topic). The Latin American housemates are always having fun. No. I shall not go on. There is so much on the struggles of Bennett's life (and I can empathize, teaching English to survive is...no, it's never fun) but she also is on a quest for what she thinks flamenco and flamenco dancing should be. I'm more astounded that she found that idea in person but then, she probably interpreted much of the events according to this vision, this narrative she constructed about what the flamenco life is. And this, I think, is what I cannot forgive her. This is not a personal attack, I doubt that in real life this was what she and her life was like but this was clearly a narrative that was constructed out of that reality. A narrative that conforms to all the stereotypes and archetypes that foreigners ascribe to flamenco. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Warden-Anthony Trollope

The Warden-Anthony Trollope
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 336
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 1855
novel
A novel of manners in which a warden gets pushed from his post by slanderous anti-clerical actions and no one ends up all that happy.
This was definitely a I'm-too-stubborn-to-stop-reading novel. Trollope is a classic author, amongst the favorites of many of my favorite British writers but good lord, why on earth was I reading this? I despise novels of manners and I am not a fan of clerical intrigues. My favorite stories involving priests are usually supernatural (exorcism? darker un-Rome-approved orders? count me in!) or black & white films of priests doubting their faith (Diary of a Country Priest) or going on absurdly long treks (Andrei Rublev).
This is not one of those clerical stories. This is a prim and proper Church of England story with the daughter sacrificing it all for her father. Sigh. Her father meanwhile is suffering pangs because he thought he was a good enough man (non-spoiler alert: he is) and now he simply wishes to give in to save his honor. Oh I'm sorry, his church's honor.
Sigh.
I think I just sighed throughout. It's not that the story was badly managed. I was just so. bored. The prose didn't instill in me any sense of caring about the characters-they were just boring. By the end, it was like I was listening to one of those people who thinks everyone is good at heart, no matter what, which is actually something that irritates me. (caveat: I don't mean to say that everyone is evil at heart-that is just as irritating. I merely hold that everyone holds both tendencies at once and it's usually self-interest that wins.)

I was so happy though that Trollope's style is more for the simplistic side of the period or else I never would have made it even halfway through.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gutenberg's Apprentice-Alix Christie

Gutenberg’s Apprentice-Alix Christie
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 416
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A novelization of Gutenberg's workshop which places an emphasis on the complexity of Gutenberg rather than as an idealist, loner genius figure he is usually depicted as.

Gutenberg's printing press and the accompanying movable type are what we are told, over and over again, what makes modern books feasible. With good reason. As someone who has used the modern versions of the lead type presses and has a book making hobby, naturally I was drawn to this novel which did prove to give more dimension to the invention of the printing press than the lone genius narrative that so often dominates American historical narratives. There is minute attention given to the historical context. You do learn about the politics, the climate, and the apprentice system etc. Perhaps there was too much detail? I never would have guessed I'd fault a book for too much detail given to my favorite aspects of print making but here I am. It was just that it often felt like there was far too much attention given to what the characters did (a lot of arguments and bickering. loads!) and not enough to the inner life of them. Oh, they were excited that it was successful but that was qualified with almost whole chapters of complaining about each others' attitudes. Now, I work in a lab so I understand, the thrill of the hunt is usually bogged down by the daily grind at the side of people you're not sure you like but there is almost no introspection afforded here except towards the hypocrisy of Gutenberg. What a bunch of gossips!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Fair Fight-Anna Freeman

Fair Fight-Anna Freeman
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 448
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
A daughter of a prostitute finds out that she is an excellent boxer and the way she makes her way through the world.
My goodness, what a fiesty book. It starts a little slow but more than rewards persistence. I guess I was primed to enjoy this from the start when we met Ruth. A strong girl who ends up in the men's world of pugilism. Ohhhh. And she's not perfect (far from!) with strengths and weaknesses that fully flesh her out as a figure. Joining Ruth in the cast of characters stuck in the underworld is Ruth's sister who is pushed into prostitution. Then there are the aristocrats-the men in power and Charlotte, the woman under their thumbs. Seriously, the characterization is superb especially the women. You get two women narrators here who are real-not one dimensional or relying on tired tropes (not even Austen is over-evoked). No one is black and white or perfect though every reader will surely have a favorite. The setting is Victorian Bristol with just enough detail to make sure you understand why the world is set up as such.

As much as I adored the (female) characters, Freeman's real coup is the story telling. The pacing is well-suited for this plot which doesn't just tell a historical fiction story but tells a realistically gritty one without dwelling on the dirt. It's about how nothing will help you along but people will continue on nevertheless. Then there are the heavy themes of addiction and dependency. There is a depth here lacking from many other historical fiction novels. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inca's Death Cave-Bradford G. Wheler

Inca’s Death Cave-Bradford G. Wheler
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 394
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A professor jumps at the chance to investigate an Incan mystery.
Ok, so as you may have surmised from my previous reviews, I am an archaeologist. My 'guilty pleasure' is reading novels incorporating archaeology and then scoffing at the lazy archaeology wherein. This is not one of those. The archaeology in this novel is like... dream archaeology. Archaeology without a budget. An archaeologist with so many resources at his fingertips AND the ability to take advantage of them. There's probably no academic for whom this is not a treasured dream but archaeologists in my experience suffer an inordinate number of obstacles. So, that is what this novel feels like in the end-an academic's fantasy with a bit more adventure than reality would allow but also a better budget.

The archaeology is fantastic. I have no quibble with the techniques or archaeological story. It's the characters and how unbelievably perfect they were. The professor is always quick witted. The billionaire is just...unbelievable. His grad student is of course beautiful AND quick witted. The team bickers but works to absurd deadlines by selflessly redirecting their research. So much fantasy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club-Genevieve Valentine

Girls at the Kingfisher Club-Genevieve Valentine
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 277
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale set in 1920s Manhattan.

Other than the high number of girls, this novel has no real feel of the fairy tale it comes from. By setting the readers' focus on the girls themselves, Valentine manages to make this story of 'deception' into a wholly different tale and I always welcome more feminist interpretations! With more than twelve major characters, it is actually very impressive that Valentine still packed in some individualized characterization which combined with the prose style made suspension of belief very easy. As a dancer myself, I loved the central role of dancing as an activity that frees the dancer and the various frustrations that come from searching for that magical moment. Those frustrations made the historical setting much more real. The 1920s flapper/Prohibition club scenes tend to be written quite romantically and idealistically but Valentine's club scene is much more timeless. Perhaps what the novel suffers from is its own easy readability. I actually reread this one-a rare departure from my usual habits-but there is something a bit ephemeral about it in the end.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The True Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters-Michelle Louric

True Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters-Michelle Louric
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 466
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Seven sisters escape their poverty through the stage-specifically their long locks of hair.

What a surprise. I didn't really expect to enjoy this as much as I did. I mean, the oldest sister, Darcy, is one of the meanest and most horrible characters I've read in awhile who was not a murderer. The story is the eroticism of long hair (note that I wear my hair long-to my waist-and thus am tired of the eroticism of hair) and the exploitation of young uneducated. And I still enjoyed it? Maybe it was Manticory-the main narrator- and her charm and her own arc of overcoming the obstacles. This story is finely crafted with a turn of phrase that is occasionally outright arresting. Wrapped up in this fine language is a rural Irishness, the mix of the bawdy, crushing poverty, and repressive Catholicism which is a bit like presenting chicken as pheasant but Louric pulls it off.