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1001 Books Round-Up – July 2022

This months winners and losers….

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates – Other – What GR says: Joyce Carol Oates has taken a shocking story that has become an American myth and, from it, has created a novel of electrifying power and illumination. Kelly Kelleher is an idealistic, twenty-six-year-old “good girl” when she meets the Senator at a Fourth of July party. In a brilliantly woven narrative, we enter her past and her present, her mind and her body as she is fatally attracted to this older man, this hero, this soon-to-be-lover. Kelly becomes the very embodiment of the vulnerable, romantic dreams of bright and brave women, drawn to the power that certain men command—at a party that takes on the quality of a surreal nightmare; in a tragic car ride that we hope against hope will not end as we know it must end. One of the acknowledged masters of American fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has written a bold tour de force that parts the black water to reveal the profoundest depths of human truth. If like me you have no idea what event created this myth it is chappaquiddick incident I had to google this after reading the book and honestly I am not sure if it is better to go in blind if you can or to know what you are reading.

My Thoughts: Wow Oates certainly knows how to spin a story and there is so much captured here in a relatively low page count.

As she is trapped in the car in the black water dying Kelly’s life flashes before her but not in one cohesive flashback instead the reader sees the same series of events with just a little more shown each time to add to our understanding of what this young woman was doing in a car with a much older drunken man that would ultimately lead to her death.

We also have a brief snippet of his view of the accident and how his first thought is self -preservation all the while Kelly is imaging him with noble attributes trying to rescue her.

For me this is brilliantly written I love the fact that the man is referred to only as The Senator and is seen as a shadowy vain figure while Kelly is the central focus of the book, the person that actually matters, the person whose thoughts and flashbacks allow the reader to understand that she is a real person with her own hopes and dreams and not just the woman drowned in the car.

4 Stars – This is well worth reading especially as the power dynamic at play here is still relevant in today’s politics.

The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide. Other – What GR Says: Originally published in 1925, this book became known for the frank sexuality of its contents and its account of middle class French morality. The themes of the book explore the problem of morals, the problem of society and the problems facing writers. Hmmm

My Thoughts – This was my first book by Gide and I am not sure if I like it or not. The Counterfeiters is a clever title as it refers to a central event in the book as well as telling the reader not to put any faith in any of the characters as they are all pretending to one extent of another.

While the characters felt realistic, especially the way the children gang up against one boy, there were so many of them all interrelated that I found my mind drifting and forgetting who was who.

I liked the idea of the writer struggling to write his own book also called “The Counterfeiters” which is found inside the book and it was interesting when Gide inserted himself to give some extra information, however this book felt like it didn’t actually go anywhere by the time we got to the end I found it hard to point to a character and say yes they developed over the course of the story.

At the time it was published the subtle hints about gay relationships may have been revelatory but reading today it was tame, that is not the author’s fault it is just how society has moved on, the people behaving badly is also tame by today’s standard but did highlight the issue of morality at the time and to a certain degree the decadence and devil may care attitude of those with money.

3 Stars – This is easy enough to read with short chapters that change the viewpoint keeping things interesting, there are also some great one liners to discover.

Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Boll. Other – What GR Says: From Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Boll, an inventive & sardonic portrayal of the effects of the Nazi period on a group of ordinary people. Weaving together the stories of a diverse array of characters, Boll explores the often bizarre & always very human courses chosen by people attempting to survive in a world marked by political madness, absurdity & destruction. At the center of his tale is Leni Pfeiffer, a German woman whose secret romance with a Soviet prisoner of war both sustains & threatens her life. As the narrator interviews those who knew Pfeiffer, their stories come together in a dazzling mosaic, rich in satire, yet hinting at the promise of a saner world.  Hmmmm for the second time this month.

My Thoughts: This is an unpopular opinion but I just couldn’t get on with this book. When I was reading it I loved the way the narrative unfolded, the way the reader learns about Leni and her life purely from the opinions of other people who knew her and I thought the title was a really clever play on words, however when I put the book down it was a real struggle to force myself to pick it up again and as a result this took me an almost unheard of 2 weeks to complete.

3 Stars – Everyone else loved it so don’t listen to me.

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. Tackle the TBR. What GR says: One of Zola’s most famous realist novels, Therese Raquin is a clinically observed, sinister tale of adultery and murder among the lower classes in nineteenth-century Parisian society.

Set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dingy haberdasher’s shop in the passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris, this powerful novel tells how the heroine and her lover, Laurent, kill her husband, Camille, but are subsequently haunted by visions of the dead man, and prevented from enjoying the fruits of their crime.

Zola’s shocking tale dispassionately dissects the motivations of his characters–mere “human beasts”, who kill in order to satisfy their lust–and stands as a key manifesto of the French Naturalist movement, of which the author was the founding father. Published in 1867, this is Zola’s most important work before the Rougon-Macquart series and introduces many of the themes that can be traced through the later novel cycle. This is indeed what happens

My Thoughts: I really enjoy reading Zola and this book was no exception. In this story Zola takes the idea of justice and removes it from the realm of life and moves it to the spiritual realm. Therese and Laurent get away with murder, no-one suspects them, they have committed the perfect crime and Camille will get no justice in this life. This is not the whole story by a long shot after murdering Camille to be free to be together Therese and Camille find they cannot be happy together as they are haunted by the dead man, their sleep is disturbed, they find no joy with each other and they become increasingly suspicious that the other party is going to give away. Their crime doesn’t pay and by the end of the story both wish it had never been committed or that they had actually been punished for it.

4 Stars – a great moral read and as an added bonus the page count is just over 200


Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought

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