The Cider House Rules

I believe The Cider House Rules is the third John Irving novel I have read, and although the story is quite different to what I remember of The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire, there is something about it that is still very classically Irving. I think the best word for it is “unapologetic”. He really lays the story out — guts and all — and doesn’t sugarcoat or censor anything.

The other very Irving thing about TCHR and the other novels is that although the events seem rather bizarre and absurd at times, the characters feel so real, and so the events surrounding and involving them also feel real. I think it also has something to do with how fluid his writing is. The story flows effortlessly so that I’m turning the page before I have time to question the plausibility of what is happening. All I want is to keep reading.

[Spoilers ahead — you have been warned]

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Nickleby

Today I finished reading Nicholas Nickleby, which I started reading so long ago that I don’t remember exactly when I started it, but just have a vague notion that it was around the middle of the year last year, and so I must have been reading this epic tome for about eight months, give or take a few weeks.

To be fair, it was certainly not the only book I was reading in that time – there were several Book Club books scattered throughout, and attempts to re-read The Hobbit as well as re-read Sabriel (both of which are favourites from my adolescence) – not to mention interception of my time by other pursuits, most notably Farsi and piano.

But Nicholas Nickleby is finished now – all 777 pages of it – and, because it is as masterfully written as any Charles Dickens classic, I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite what the 8-month reading of it would suggest).

[If you choose to read on, be warned there are some very minor spoilers.] Continue reading

All the Light We Cannot See

I bought All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr) a few years ago, after seeing it mentioned on a blog. (I think I also had some loyalty points to use, or maybe a gift card, but that’s beside the point.) However, as always, I had too many other books I wanted to read first, so All the Light just stood on my bedside table for ages, held up between two book-ends and a number of other novels.

Last month, after I finished reading The Idiot, I felt a bit disorientated, and wasn’t sure what to read next. It was also a time when a lot was happening — a very close friend was moving interstate, several other close friends were taking extended holidays to travel, work was getting busier, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word — so I was finding it hard to become absorbed in reading. I actually tried to start two or three other books before I picked up All the Light.

Once I got started, though, it was really hard to put down! I can’t remember the last time I read a book so quickly (I mean, quick by my standards). I suppose it helped that we’ve had a few long week-ends and public holidays recently, but even so… Probably the last book I was so enraptured by was Anna Karenina — not that I read that that quickly, but I was positively besotted by the story and the characters and the writing. Continue reading

The Idiot

Last week I finished reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I think it took me about four months to finish it — not just because it’s a difficult book, but because I haven’t had a lot of time and energy for reading, which, in itself, is a shame.

This is not the first Dostoevsky I’ve read, but it’s the first I’ve read in over ten years. I read both Notes from Underground and The Grand Inquisitor while I was still in high school, and found it fascinating (or so my notes at the time say), but my reading tastes went in other directions, and didn’t return to classic Russian literature until I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a couple of years ago.

Although I tried to allow a bit of space between these two tomes, my mind is naturally going to compare the two. This, of course, might be quite unfair, especially since I rank Anna Karenina as one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Continue reading

chronic romanticism and letter writing

The week-end before last, I finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) on a flight home from interstate. I finished reading it about half an hour before we were due to descend, and I spent this time staring out the window (I always choose a window seat if I can), reflecting on the events and characters of the novel, and also contemplating any parallels with my own life.

One of the principal characters, Florentino Ariza, is what most would call a hopeless romantic. At one or two points in the novel, his mother proclaims that the only ailment he ever truly suffered was love. Indeed, he is lovesick to the highest degree, as he waits over half a century for the woman he loves, even after she rejected him and married another man.  Continue reading

little-known stories

All That I Am is largely about the life of Dora Fabian, told from the perspectives of her cousin Ruth, and playwright Ernst Toller (with whom Dora had close relations). The main story takes place between the end of WWI and the start of WWII.

Dora, Ruth, Ernst, and many of their friends and associates flee Germany after Hitler comes to power. In the time that follows, they learn, by various sources, how Hitler is preparing for war with the rest of Europe. However, their refugee status in England prevents them from legally participating in political activism, and their exile from Germany means any anti-Nazi activity could put their lives at risk.

Still, they find ways, and they do what they can to disseminate information.  Continue reading