Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Eye of Jade Review

The Eye of Jade (A Mei Wang Mystery, #1)The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Argh! I was really hoping this would be a new Maltese Falcon noir story set in 21st century China. It starts that way! And then it very very quickly becomes a sort of chick-lit thingy about mother-daughter relationships and sisterly relationships and lost-love regret.

But it had so much promise! The twist on the detective/secretary flirtation; the mysterious missing rare object; the setting! Modern Beijing with a backstory in post-revolutionary craziness; the unexpected family involvement; the dashing lover from the past. Too many good devices squandered on touchy-feeliness. Boo.

It feels a lot like Diane Wei Liang chickened out on really going to town on Maoists and the current Chinese government. Considering she lives in Chicago, this is pretty unacceptable.

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The Blind Assassin Review

The Blind AssassinThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first Margaret Atwood novel for me. I've been going back and forth on whether I wanted to bother, since her commentary on other things outside of books has always seemed snobbish to me. But I picked up a copy of this at a charity shop for practically nothing and gave it a go.

It's extremely skillfully written, there is no doubt. The very first pages are somewhat tiresome in that they are purposefully vague and mysterious. But they quickly give way to an elaborately detailed family chronicle, with well-crafted sentences throughout.

But there is much about this book I found annoying. MUCH. 1) The newspaper articles that jut into the narrative at odd moments, never having anything to do with what is happening in the story at that moment. I don't really understand their purpose except to perhaps give an outsider's point of view on the family? Or to bludgeon the reader with the foreshadowing stick? Not sure. 2)The fact that fundamentally the chronicle being told is dreadfully boring. Not just boring at times, but deeply inconsequential. It could have been about the relationship between sisters, and I think it tries for that, but there is a major stumbling block: Laura's ethereality. It makes her into what the Onion AV Club calls a manic pixie dream girl, essentially a completely one-dimensional character who charms everyone by a highly affected, but earnest and mad sensitivity. So the story instead is about one young woman and a sister concept.


3)Related to the pointlessness of the story is that you wait for the twist, for the big reveal at the end and....tada! There isn't one. The only kind of surprise is who is actually screwing the anarchist, but unless you are numb to the force of the foreshadowing stick, that becomes obvious way before the end. 4) Also related to the pointlessness: Iris's completely mundane approach to life. What is the purpose of writing a story if it is simply an account of the ordinary and acceptance of the status quo? How deeply boring.

Sometimes I wonder if this desire of mine for accounts of personal change or interesting plot developments or unusual circumstances makes me a shallow reader. I actually have occasional (though very slight) anxiety over this. Sad, I know. But right now I'm taking a stand and saying no, this does not make me a shallow reader. It makes me an interested consumer of novels. And a novel that isn't about anything has no business being published, no matter how well-crafted. There are loads of shitty plot vehicles that are badly written, and I don't necessarily approve of those except as junk food for the brain (beach reads and that kind of thing). But they have value in their revelation of the limitlessness of imagination if not as demonstrations of skilled artwork. I guess what I'm saying is that this book feels like it was written for a grad school class. It shows off Atwood's abilities to build sentences, but it gives so little of her imagination, it's disappointing. It's like a printer who can create a highly detailed, realistic representation of a brilliant conceptual painter's work. You can't help but assign the bulk of the artistic talent to the painter who conceived the work, rather than to the skill of the reproduction printer, no matter how much skill was involved in creating the copies.

Fortunately all this makes me feel that Atwood probably can do better, so I'm up for a second try.

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Jules et Jim Review

Jules et JimJules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roché

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strange book. I had a hard time relating to the fact that it is set early in the 20th century, since it feels like it's set in the Sixties. Roche gives exceedingly little detail, yet I felt like I was well acquainted with the characters almost straight away. There isn't much dialogue, but the tone of conversations is easily imagined.

Kate is as exciting a character as any, but she is so selfish, she feels unreal. She'd have been a reality tv star if she were written for 2011. Everything she does is grossly over the top, and done with a stage wink to whomever she deems to be her current audience. She flaunts everything. The people around her seem to think that this means she lives life to the full (and maybe she thinks it herself or is striving toward that end), but her existence is vapid. She is hateful.

The book arouses lots of emotions in very few pages. An odd little read.

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