Bookclub review – In the Skin of a Lion

This month, my book club theme was “Favorite City”, which I was pretty excited about. I’ve never picked a book solely on to it’s setting. While I don’t really have a favorite city (I have lots – San Francisco, London, Rome, everywhere in Turkey..), I thought I would pay tribute to my (potential) new home – Toronto. Turns out, not many books are set there. Some of Margaret Atwood’s books are, but I’ve read a fair amount of them and I wanted something new to me. Enter Michael Ondaatje and In the Skin of a Lion. This book is basically the prequel to The English Patient, which I haven’t read, but definitely want to now.

According to the dust jacket:

It is the 1920’s, and Patrick Lewis has arrived in the bustling city of Toronto, leaving behind his Canadian wilderness home. He immerses himself in the lives of the people who surround him, learning, from their stories, the history of the city itself. And he has his own adventures: searching for a missing millionaire, tunnelling beneath Lake Ontario, falling in love.

In the Skin of a Lion is a poetic piece of literature. If you like your novels, fast paced, point A to point B, this is not the book for you. This book is atmospheric, almost dream-like, with beautiful descriptions of early 20th century Toronto. The story starts out a bit disjointed, and jumps from one character to another. The characters are sparsely described, yet from the few descriptions provided, you gain an insight into each of them and by the end of the book I was attached to all of them. The best thing about the book (to me) was the language – one reviewer described it as, “lush and visceral and delicious” and I couldn’t agree more.

One of my favorite passages shows, in my opinion, his beautiful way with language:

“He had wanted to know her when she was old. At lunches she would argue her ideas against him, holding up her glass, “To impatience! To the evolving human!” while he was intent on her shoulder, romantic towards the dazzle of her hair. Her grin was always there when he spoke of growing old with her–as if she had made some other pact, as if there was another arrow of alliance. He couldn’t wait to know her when, in years to come, they would be solvent, sexually calmer, less like wildlife. There was always, he thought, this pleasure ahead of him, an ace of joy up his sleeve so he could say you can do anything to me, take everything away, put me in prison, but I will know Alice Gull when we are old. Even if we cannot be lovers I will come each afternoon, come as if courting, and over lunch we will share our thoughts, laughing, so this talk will be love.
He had wanted that. And what had she wanted?

Now there is a moat around her he will never cross again. He will not even cup his hands to drink its waters. As if, having travelled all that distance to enter the castle in order to learn its wisdom for the grand cause, he now turns and walks away.”

Poetic, heartbreaking and full of hauntingly beautiful passages – such as men skating on a frozen river at night, illuminated by torches – this book is full of dichotomies, light/dark, lush yet stark, past and present, immigrant and citizen.

Many reviewers didn’t like the disjointed timeline and the jumping from character to character, but I really enjoyed it once I got used to it. Ondaatje reminds me of Salman Rushdie in that he is a writer’s writer. Writing what is beautiful and what he wants rather than what the general, romance reading public would like.

The opening quote from Gilgamesh sets the scene quite nicely:

“The joyful will stoop with sorrow, and when
you have gone to the earth I will let my hair
grow long for your sake, I will wander through
the wilderness in the skin of a lion.”

To me, this book has everything – mystery, romance, excitement, beauty, and sadness. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to know what you thought. I’d like to know if you were like me and loved it, or if you absolutely hated it!

Book review: Wide Sargasso Sea

Now that I am an administrator for Forever Free Book club, there will be at least one book review per month here. If you don’t want to read a review, don’t read on! But really, it’s only one a month! 12 a year!

Forever Free Bookclub

Since the founding of the book club, I have been a busy little bee with a lot of behind the scenes work with Fiona, but I have managed to finish the first book – Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys! This is the only book that we assigned. I’m looking forward to next month because instead of being told which book to read, we are instead voting on a theme and then picking our own books within that theme. That means I don’t have to read what I don’t like. Or I can choose the lesser of the evils if I really don’t like the genre.

OK, onwards and upwards. Let’s get down to business and review this book. I apologize if this isn’t great, I haven’t had to write a book analysis/review since university and that was a few years back!

Wide Sargasso Sea is essentially a prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In it, Rhys tells the story of Mr. Rochester’s “mad” wife, Antoinette Cosway, as she is known. Rhys’ aim in the book seems to be to both vindicate young Antoinette as well as condemn Rochester, which, I thought, she accomplished to different degrees. Mr. Rochester renames Antoinette as Bertha, which acts as way to prove how domineering, arrogant and selfish Rhys has portrayed him. She definitely dislikes Mr. Rochester and paints a very different picture of him than I got from Jane Eyre. To me they seemed like two different characters, which I found distracted me from the story – I was struggling to combine the two men into the same being. Hard to do. Seeing as Rhys is Dominican-born, it’s easy to understand why she would sympathize with Antoinette. She makes you wonder whether she is actually mad because her inbreeding and mixed race or whether her circumstances have driven her to madness.

The book is split into 3 parts, in the first and third sections, Antoinette narrates and in the middle bit, Mr. Rochester narrates. In the first section, I got the impression that she was never “right”, there was always something off about her. Through the rest of the book it just continued. In Mr. Rochester’s section, the language was vague and ethereal and I found it hard to pin down what was actually going on, especially between Antoinette and Mr. Rochester. The third section was my favorite. It takes place in England, in familiar (if you’ve read Jane Eyre) Thornton Hall, and culminates in the iconic arson fire. There was something thrilling about experiencing the other side of Jane’s tale.

While the book was well written, and I enjoyed the idea of a backstory of Jane Eyre, I found this book a bit lacking. You can definitely tell that it was written in the heyday of feminism and this is very “in-your-face” and biased. While I’m not saying that feminism is bad (it’s totally awesome and I have nothing for respect for the women before me) I find that this is the kind of feminism which hates men and blames everything on them. In the words of someone else (I forgot where I saw it but I marked down the quote, stupid me) “Though it is beautifully written it is not a beautifully written book, but rather a well articulated attack on values which Rhys clearly fines offensive and archaic”. I agree with that completely and think it sums up the book really well.

If you agree with me, have more points to offer, or completely disagree with me, please let me know! I’d love to get other people’s opinion (which is why the book club was started!)

Introducing Forever Free Book Club!

*Cross Post!* I’ll have a review of a book once a month! Join in!

When Fiona asked if anyone knew of any (good) online book clubs, I decided that it would be good to start one. This way the books are all good ones and I’ve never read it ;) After emails back and forth, we finally have Forever Free Book Club. The name, “Forever Free” comes from Frederick Douglass who said,

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

This is our belief. That reading should take you out of your current situation and make you free. Cliche, probably, but cliche for a reason – because it’s true.

The books we like to read are “real” books – classics, critically-acclaimed novels, biographies, and the like. If you are looking for chick-lit, self-help books, or Twilight-esque books, you should move on because you won’t find them here.

To sum up the About Us page, each month members will submit reading themes (19th century English, American Classics, etc.) that will be put in a poll and voted on by members. Book reviews will be due by the end of the month, written up on personal blogs or on Goodreads (our group is here). The reviews will be compiled/linked to on this blog where we will comment for our “meetings”.

The submissions for themes will be 6 weeks before that book review is due. Because this is our first “meeting”, we are providing the first book - Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Don’t forget to submit a theme! They need to be submitted by Sunday 19 February!

On to the book, eh?

Book description: Jean Rhys’s late, literary masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea was inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and is set in the lush, beguiling landscape of Jamaica in the 1830s. Born into an oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. After their marriage the rumours begin, poisoning her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is driven towards madness.*

About the Author: Jean Rhys was born in Dominica in 1894. Coming to England aged 16, she drifted into various jobs before starting to write in Paris in the late ’20s. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie was written in 1930. Her early novels, often portraying women as underdogs out to exploit their sexualities, were ahead of their time and only modestly successful. From 1939 onwards she lived reclusively, and was largely forgotten when she made a sensational comeback with Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966. She died in 1979.*

If you want to join us, comment here and I’ll add you to the blogroll. We are still working out the kinks so please bear with us. We can’t wait to see where this club goes! If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc., let us know.

*Taken from Amazon

Les Miserables

A while back, I decided that I needed to read more “classic” books. Books that have spawned countless allusions as well as modern movies and spinoffs. One of these said classics that I purchased was Les Miserables. I was initially daunted by the challenge of reading a book that is as thick as it is wide, but I finally decided to dive in after I ran out of books here in London to read on my commute. So far, I am 369 pages in. In a normal book, I would be done, but in this behemoth, I am not even a quarter of the way through. Seriously, this bad boy has a whopping 1,463 pages. But I am absolutely loving it. Or, rather, I was. I finished the section with Fantine and M. Madeleine, which made me never want to get off the bus or tube, and now I am just finishing (hopefully) a minute by minute recap of Waterloo. 70 pages of which general went where, what the curves of the landscape was, the exact numbers of who died where.. It’s getting a bit tedious. But, I am assuming (hoping) that it will pick back up and get back into the amazing character development of the first section. The dialogue and story made me feel so bad for common people of the early 1800’s. Once convicted of anything, you were branded for life and people would shun you wherever you went… The way that Hugo describes his character is amazing. He can go on for 3 pages just about the way someone is walking. He really does paint you an exact picture of the person, from the inside out. So far, I would recommend the first section to anybody who needed a book to read, but now I might be a bit hesitant… Has anyone else read it (Jess) and can erase my doubts and tell me it gets back into it’s exciting pace again? Or does it get good in a different way? Someone please, I am really struggling right now!