Monthly Archives: October 2016

Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

This is my latest historical fiction group read. As I have been keen to read it for a while, I was quite looking forward to it. In my ‘normal’ book club we are not allowed to read anything Russian or with red in the title! Anyway, I have to be honest and say it was quite the slog.

Here’s the blurb …

This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.
Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.

My first issue, which is my problem and nothing to do with the quality of the novel, is the patronymic names. It took me a while to get the hang of that and for a long time I would think there was two characters when there was really only one.  This book is long – covering many years (revolutions) and characters. I did learn a lot about the Russian Revolution though – I had no idea it went on for so long. Or that the reds fought amongst themselves.

There were long rambling philosophical discussions that just got on my nerves – Zhivago was definitely a thinker rather than a man of action. And all of the waffling on about wanting to write – just do it.

And I have no idea why it is considered to be the greatest love story of all time. Zhivago just seemed to go with the flow of events – Tonya, then Lara and finally Marina. Clearly Lara was his first choice, but that didn’t stop him living (and having children) with Marina.

Having said that, it does bear witness to a turbulent and terrible time of Russian history. It was brutal and chaotic and life was cheap.

I am glad I read it, but I won’t be re-reading it any time soon. There is the chance my issues are all to do with translation. I read the version translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari, although this article implies it’s the better version (but maybe Pasternack is only ever good in Russian?).

More reviews …

https://newrepublic.com/article/115305/boris-pasternaks-doctor-zhivago-reviewed

Doctor Zhivago, Part One

Doctor Zhivago, Part Two

https://bookssnob.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/lost-in-over-translation-doctor-zhivago-deconstructed/

 

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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos - Dominic Smith

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith

This novel was recommended (very highly) by several people, so when I saw it in Target for $16 I thought why not? I am so glad I did it is one of my favourite books this year!

Here is the blurb …

This is what we long for: the profound pleasure of being swept into vivid new worlds, worlds peopled by characters so intriguing and real that we can’t shake them, even long after the reading’s done. In this extraordinary novel, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, US-based Australian writer Dominic Smith brilliantly bridges the historical and the contemporary, tracking a collision course between a rare landscape by a female Dutch painter of the Golden Age, an inheritor of the work in 1950s Manhattan, and a celebrated Australian art historian who painted a forgery of it in her youth.

In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke in Holland, the first woman to be so honoured. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to de Vos is known to remain-a haunting winter scene, At the Edge of a Wood, which hangs over the Manhattan bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner. An Australian grad student, Ellie Shipley, struggling to stay afloat in New York, agrees to paint a forgery of the landscape, a decision that will haunt her. Because now, half a century later, she’s curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive.

As the three threads intersect with increasing and exquisite suspense, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos mesmerises while it grapples with the demands of the artistic life, showing how the deceits of the past can forge the present.

I was swept away (just like the blurb said) I loved all of the different time periods – 17th century Holland, 1950s New York, and Sydney in 2000, all of the descriptions of art, painting and restoration. It was a very visual story and I would love to see it as a movie. It wasn’t just a pretty story though, it was about choices and consequences and responsibility. How lives impact on one another in both good and bad ways.

More reviews …

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/dominic-smiths-last-painting-of-sara-vos-paints-a-tender-portrait/news-story/ef2c6713d04af15760e8cefb3ae3f01b

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-last-painting-of-sara-de-vos-review-dominic-smiths-brilliant-art-novel-20160526-gp4sq3.html

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s4453040.htm

 

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A Patchwork Planet – Anne Tyler

A Patchwork Planet - Anne Tyler

A Patchwork Planet – Anne Tyler

I do like Anne Tyler novels, so when someone donated this one to the second hand book stall at my daughter’s school fete I had to have it. One of the perks of volunteering is that we see the books first. It was clearly a well-loved novel and might even have had a bath at some stage!

Here’s the blurb …

Barnaby Gaitlin is a loser – just short of thirty he’s the black sheep of a philanthropic Baltimore family. Once upon a time he had a home, a loving wife, a little family of his own; now he has an ex-wife, a 9-year-old daughter with attitude, a Corvette Sting Ray that’s a collectors item but unreliable, and he works as hired muscle for Rent-a-Back, doing heavy chores for old folks. He has an almost pathological curiosity about other people’s lives, which has got him into serious trouble in the past, and a hopeless charm which attracts the kind of angelic woman who wants to save him from himself. Tyler’s observation is more acute and more delicious than ever; her humour slyer and more irresistible; her characters so vividly realised that you feel you’ve known this quirky collection for ever. With perfect pitch and poise, humor and humanity, Anne Tyler chronicals, better than any writer today, the sublime and the ridiculous of everyday living, the foibles and frailties of the ordinary human heart.

At first I wondered what type of book I was reading, as Barnaby stalked a women he met at the train station, but my sympathy for Barnaby grew as the story progressed. He appeared to be a hopeless case – troubled youth, unskilled job  and divorced with a bad relationship with his daughter, but as the story unfolds you realise there is more to Barnaby than appears at first sight.

All of the Gaitlin men meet an ‘angel’ who changes the direction of their lives. Barnaby thinks the woman on the train, Sophia, might just be his angel. She does change the direction of his life, but not in the way you would expect. She finds him charming on the train and is intrigued (and attracted) by his job. So much so she encourages her ageing aunt to employ him several hours a week. Meanwhile we meet Barnaby’s mother a ‘poor girl who has married well’ who can’t let go of Barnaby’s mis-spent youth. Frequently reminding him of the money they had to spend to pay-off the neighbours after his thefts. Barnaby and Sophia embark on a relationship and Barnaby decides to pay his mother back the money and so free himself from her forever. The other interesting character is Martine Barnaby’s co-worker and friend (they have a lovely bantering relationship). Sophia’s aunt accuses Barnaby of stealing her money (everyone knows she keeps it in the flour tin). It turns out she moved it and then forgot, but Sophia replaces the money in the tin (therefore proving herself to doubt Barnaby). Sophia is originally attracted to Barnaby because of his job, but then she wants him to change – get a better job (perhaps at her bank) and keep the money his mother refuses to take to buy the occasional luxury.

This brings me to theme or idea that I have been thinking about since finishing this novel – life style choices and how hard it is to go against the conventional view of success. By all accounts Barnaby’s life is a failure – failed marriage, dead-end job and living in someone’s basement, but his job is valuable (and brings joy and companionship to the people he helps) and he doesn’t have extravagant needs or wants. He is content.

“The way I see it, everyone has a choice: living rich and working hard to pay for it, or living a plain uncomplicated life and taking it easy”

As with all Anne Tyler novels the writing is beautiful.

If I had to eat one more stewy-tasting, mixed and mingled, gray-colored one-dish meal, I’d croak!

More reviews …

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/04/19/reviews/980419.19shieldt.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/13/why-men-love-anne-tyler-novels

 

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Sweet Caress – William Boyd

Sweet Caress - William Boyd

Sweet Caress – William Boyd

This one was recommended by my Mother-In-Law – I think her book club read it.

I found it to be a quick easy read – better in some parts than in others. The parts in Berlin were particularly interesting.

Here’s the blurb …

When Amory Clay was born, in the decade before the Great War, her disappointed father gave her an androgynous name and announced the birth of a son. But this daughter was not one to let others define her; Amory became a woman who accepted no limits to what that could mean, and, from the time she picked up her first camera, one who would record her own version of events.

Moving freely between London and New York, between photojournalism and fashion photography, and between the men who love her on complicated terms, Amory establishes her reputation as a risk taker and a passionate life traveler. Her hunger for experience draws her to the decadence of Weimar Berlin and the violence of London’s blackshirt riots, to the Rhineland with Allied troops and into the political tangle of war-torn Vietnam. In her ambitious career, the seminal moments of the 20th century will become the unforgettable moments of her own biography, as well.

In Sweet Caress, Amory Clay comes wondrously to life, her vibrant personality enveloping the reader from the start. And, running through the novel, her photographs over the decades allow us to experience this vast story not only with Amory’s voice but with her vision. William Boyd’s Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

I have to say it reminded me of Forrest Gump – Amory just happened to be in the right place at the right historical time! Having said that though, it was interesting. Some sections appealed to me more than others – Berlin, working as a society photographer in the 20s and others less so – Vietnam, attempting to rescue her daughter from the ‘cult’. I suspect this novel will appeal to people of a certain age (i.e. baby boomers and older).

More reviews …

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/sweet-caress-by-william-boyd-book-review-the-novelists-new-mystery-is-his-best-in-years-10426858.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/06/sweet-caress-william-boyd-review-textual-hall-mirrors-brilliant-story-life-well-lived

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