The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes a walk on the darker supernatural side in The Angel’s Game, his second installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Zafón’s Gothic tale is actually a prequel to his successful first book in the series, The Shadow of the Wind. If you haven’t read the first book, I highly recommend you do as it is still the best in the series in this writer’s opinion.

Still, The Angel’s Game is not to be missed as it returns the reader to Barcelona, Spain, this time in the 1920s, as well as the bookshop Sempere & Sons and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It also plunges the reader back into Zafón’s flamboyant style of storytelling with lots of dark and shadowy nights shrouded in mist.

The novel is the classic “make a deal with the devil” tale where the protagonist, David Martín, accepts an offer from a mysterious publisher to write a book that will present the world with a new religion. In doing so, Martín regains his health and earns an incredible amount of money. Soon, however, Martín discovers that he is not the first person to undertake this offer, and like his most recent predecessor, he fears he is losing his mind to the endeavor.

The Angel’s Game isn’t deeply theological or highly intellectual.  At its heart, it’s just great storytelling. Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible will recognize the references to the angel of light (one of the Adversary’s favorite ways to deceive mankind), the 6.66 pages a day our protagonist must write to achieve his goal (does that one even need explaining?), and the character Andreas Corelli (the name Old Nick chose to use for this sojourn among men) saying he’d been kicked out of his father’s house after a disagreement (which stands to reason when one challenges God for supremacy).

However, there are some questions that arose for me while reading. One of the thoughts on my mind was whether Zafón had written himself and/or his own wishes into the story. Is he speaking through Martín when the protagonist comments on how writers sell their soul for the dream of publication? Is Zafón, a writer of successful pulp fiction like Martín, consumed with the same desire his character is to write something he believes to be more worthy? And when a peripheral character tells Martín he has seen the angel brooch Andreas Corelli wears on Martín’s own lapel, is Zafón intimating that the demons writers struggle with come from within?

Another theme that Zafón floated was God as both good and evil, two halves of the same coin. I found this reinforced at the end of the book when Andreas Corelli, usually dressed in black, appears in white and offers Martín a blessing and a curse neatly packaged as one gift. But Zafón will have to forgive me if I feel no sympathy for the devil when he says, “…for once you will walk in my shoes and will feel what I feel.” Nor do I trouble myself believing the devil would ever admit he’s wrong such as Corelli did.

All this led to my second thought in which I speculated that Zafón was either a disgruntled former member of a particular belief system or he had written under the impression of said belief system. Or maybe he chucked religion all together and just created an intricately woven story sure to keep the reader up all night. Whatever the case me be, The Angel’s Game is a good story. The slightly far-fetched portions are barely noticeable when the book is taken as a whole, there is a slump in pacing near the end of the book, and the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as The Shadow of the Wind, but none of these factors are enough to keep me from pressing on with the series.

After the War by Alice Adams

After the War by Alice Adams is one of those rare books that defy the bad sequel status.  Ms. Adams seamlessly returns to the town of Pinehill and its colorful residents, all the gossip and speculation clashing with reality, fantasies fueled by emotional inner dialog, secret affairs of which everyone is aware, conversations attributed to no one in particular such as one would overhear at social functions, and she serves it up deliciously as if the reader is a neighbor with privileged insight into everyone’s private and public lives.

Ms. Adams addresses a new round of social and political issues through the different characters’ points of view, often having them use words deemed unacceptable in today’s society if not during the era in which the story takes place.  By doing so, she challenges her readers to reflect upon private thoughts and experiences, examine one’s upbringing and prejudices, and form an opinion.

As always, Ms. Adams’s prose is excellent, and she brilliantly breaks the rules of writing when she upsets the delicate balance of life in Pinehill with the unexpected death of a major character one third of the way into the story, draws the most peripheral of characters onto center stage, and begins or picks up storylines late in the novel only to conclude them with a satisfying ending.

After the War is masterful storytelling from a gifted writer gone too soon.

The Durrells in Corfu

My mother loves all things PBS and Masterpiece Theater, so when she mentioned a new series she was watching I listened politely, nodded, and didn’t watch it.  I’m more of the reading type, but every now and then I enjoy a good television show or movie.  Those seem to be few and far between.  Downton Abbey is no more, and while waiting for Poldark to return, I tried a couple of American TV shows I used to follow.  I believe I’ve outgrown them.

What was that series my mother mentioned?  Oh, yes:  The Durrells in Corfu.  She pronounced the family’s name in such a way as to rhyme with Purell, the hand sanitizer.  Turns out it was pronounced more like the word rural if you switched out the R for a D.  I requested the Season One from the library and couldn’t wait to be entertained by what Mother described as a charming series set on a Greek island.  She made it sound romantic and beautiful.

My husband and I watched the first episode, and while it wasn’t depressing, it wasn’t the delightful whirlwind adventure of picking up and moving to a Greek island that we thought it would be.  Widowed mother of four, Louisa Durrell, was at her wits end trying to make ends meet on her widow’s pension.  The idea to move to Corfu came from her oldest son, Larry, an estate agent who wants to be a writer but never writes.

Second son, Leslie, decided he’s going to quit school and find a job to help make ends meet.  Margot, his sister, announced that she, too, will quit school because she’s not that bright to begin with and school really wasn’t doing her any good.  Then there’s Jerry, the youngest son who loved anything to do with the animal kingdom and was rather odd.  This family was what one would describe as a hot mess.  In fact, by the third episode, husband and I looked at each other and wondered why we were still watching.

The Durrells were downright horrible to each other sometimes, especially Larry who delivered the harshest barbs to his mother and siblings. When they arrived in Corfu from England, they displayed the attitude of foreigners who couldn’t quite let go of their own culture to make the effort to fit in.  Throughout the first season, the worst character for this was the boorish Leslie who blathered on at the locals insisting they speak English even though it’s their country.  It was rather refreshing to know that Americans aren’t the only ones to do this even though we seem to be the only ones catching flack for it.

Larry finally took up writing, but this meant he wasn’t bringing in any money to help his mother.  In fact, none of the three eldest Durrells lifted a finger to help Louisa.  Leslie and Margot have clearly abandoned school, but they made no move to gets jobs.  I couldn’t feel bad for Louisa because she enabled them to be the slugs they were by constantly coddling them.  I turned my attention to weird little Jerry who also wasn’t attending school but provided himself the most amazing hands-on education by exploring the island for wildlife and building a personal zoo.

Still, I couldn’t quite connect with any of the Durrells.  It was time to focus on the peripheral characters.  I started with Lugaretzia, the Durrell’s housekeeper and cook who mumbled Greek to herself in such a way that even though one had no idea what she said understood that she, too, thought the Durrells were twits.  She took a liking to Leslie, who she declared the best son when he decided to learn Greek just so he could communicate with his girlfriend.

Then there was Theo Stephanides, the naturalist who assisted young Jerry in his pursuit of all things animal.  One couldn’t help but fall for the soft-spoken man as he guided Jerry through his makeshift education especially when he acted the part of a priest and presided over a bat funeral.  He and Jerry dug up the bat later so they could stuff it, but at least Jerry had a solid and intelligent father figure in his life.

Spiros Halikiopoulos was also a major favorite.  He was the type of person who believed he knew everything, yet he didn’t come across as arrogant because he actually did know everything.  The handsome taxi driver was always getting the Durrells out of scrapes and attempting to teach them how to be more Greek.  It was obvious he was sweet on Louisa, but he held back and was most gentlemanly toward her making him all the more desirable.

Another interesting peripheral character was Sven, the accordion-playing Swedish farmer.  Of the three men, he was the one Louisa fell for.  There’s a spoiler alert with Sven and Louisa’s story, so I’ll leave it up to my followers to either watch the series and/or discover what that was.  Sven was odd but likeable, handsome but practical.  He was a man of few words, and while he could be easily offended, he also forgave quickly to maintain the friendship.

Leslie Caron made a delightful cameo as the Countess Mavrodaki in the first season, and Jeremy Swift, who portrayed the unpleasant butler, Spratt, in Downtown Abbey, played her manservant, Dennis.  But with all these great peripheral characters, what about the Durrells?  It was, after all, their show.  My husband and I finished watching Season One and not for lack of something better to do.  We laughed several times over a couple of lines that were absolutely brilliant.  Kudos to the writers.

Still, what was it about the Durrells that kept us coming back?  In short, they were so true to real life, and we couldn’t wait to discover how things turned out for them.  We were actually quite pleased that the series didn’t end up being a piece of fluff.  We agreed that Leslie was our least favorite, that even though Margot was dim her family should probably stop telling her so, Larry was an ass (there’s no other way around it), and Jerry needed a bath in the worst way.  Yet when Season Two started last week, we were right there watching the Durrells stumble their way through life and learning the hard lessons.

Genius Indeed

Anyone who knows me knows that I read more than I watch movies.  It’s not that I have anything against movies, there are some excellent ones out there, but I love the place reading takes me.  A little prose to tantalize the senses, characters with whom I can relate or debate, description that draws me in:  I lose myself in the writing to the exclusion of everything around me.  But when a fellow book-snob recommends a movie, I seriously consider watching it.  Such was the case with Genius starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Laura Linney, and Nicole Kidman.  The movie chronicles Scribner’s editor, Max Perkins, as he oversees the careers of Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway with the emphasis on Wolfe.

The first three actors immediately caught my attention because they are among my favorites.  Turns out Nicole Kidman portrayed Aline Bernstein, Thomas Wolfe’s unofficial patron and jilted lover, with an incredible amount of skill.  She’s matured quite nicely as an actress beyond being a pretty foil for Tom Cruise’s macho-man roles.  When she asks Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe if he knows how hard she’s worked to look at him and feel nothing, her strength radiates from the screen.

As for Laura Linney, who never fails to please, I thought she was underused in this film in her role of Max Perkins’s wife, Louise.  Her character was strong when she stood up to her husband, demanding he spend more time with his five daughters and less with his author, Thomas Wolfe, but she seemed a titch on the peripheral.  I understand the movie focused on the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe, but why waste Linney’s talent on one impassioned plea and nothing more?

Colin Firth as Max Perkins appealed to me as a writer.  Firth’s portrayal was solid, marching steadily on as an editor, drawing lines with his red pencil through a writer’s work with the precision of a scalpel.  I thrilled and cringed all at once watching those scenes.  But the one that delighted me the most was when Firth/Perkins sat on a train reading Wolfe’s manuscript that would become Look Homeward, Angel and realized it was worthy of publication.  Again, I was drawn into the movie by Firth’s slight smile, drawn into his head to the point I could see the wheels turning because he knew he’d hit upon literary genius.  Ah, to be a writer in those days when the relationship between editor and author meant hashing out the chapters line by line while secluded in an office.

The first thing about the movie that caught my attention was the cinematography in the opening scenes depicting the 1920s.  Usually pictures or films from this era are shades of gray or sepia.  Such was the case with the movie until it slowly faded to color past the opening credits.  Only the coloring didn’t change all that much because the streets of 1920s New York were rather gray and brown anyhow.

Now think beyond the splash of color implied by jazz and flappers and you’ll realize this was a great technique to employ in a movie about writers.  You’ll see it throughout the movie from Max Perkins’s cigarette smoke-clouded office slanted with rays of sunshine, to Perkins’s white home against a plain background, to scenes of men in breadlines during the Depression.  This may sound rather boring, but I believe it was a skillful attempt to capture black words on a white page, i.e. writing.  In fact, the whole movie was so brilliantly black and white, that I must give high praise to whoever thought of transitioning the written word to the viewed image in such a way.

Make no mistake, however; the movie was anything but colorless.  Jude Law as the larger-than-life Thomas Wolfe was so over the top with his portrayal.  Clearly Wolfe was a genius, but I flinched every time he opened his mouth, romping around scenes like a Great Dane puppy, and baying his slightly crazy, writerly musings.  I could see why Wolfe needed reigning in and taming by Max Perkins.  Law was at his most unsophisticated, un-Jude-like self; I forgot that he was acting and not truly Thomas Wolfe.

Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway provide two nice cameos of the authors.  More exciting was the camera panning what looked to be first edition novels by said authors on the shelves in Max Perkins’s office.  Even if they weren’t, I’m sure I wasn’t the only writer salivating at the dream of getting my hands on a first edition of any of their works.

One small sidebar to the Perkins/Wolfe drama was the tiny restoration of my faith toward F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with F. Scott and banged him up pretty bad on my blog.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories, Dear Scott, Sincerely HL, Under the Influence).  The viewer is given a small glimpse of F. Scott as the tender caretaker of his mad wife, Zelda.  For me, this persona never came out in Fitzgerald’s writing.  To see him as something other than the money-grubbing, mad-for-fame author in pursuit of the “top girl” was refreshing.

I’ll not spoil the ending of the movie as it delivers more emotionally impactive word-to-image scenes, but I’ll close by saying it was the best movie I ever read.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

Have you ever read a book so good that you wanted to rush through it because you couldn’t wait to see how it ended only to stop the last three to five pages before the end because you suspected that it was about to finish on a heartbreaking, bittersweet note?  I have a feeling The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is going to haunt me for some time, but that’s all right because while I’ve read many good books lately, it’s been a while since I had one that stayed with me as this book did.

I suppose the reason this book affected me is that I couldn’t help looking at it from the romantic’s perspective.  The story is quite surreal, not fantasy and not science fiction, but written in such a way that I could completely suspend belief about what took place to the point that the story totally engrossed me.  Not to mention that Thomas Mullen is a natural born storyteller.

Mr. Mullen seamlessly weaves history from the Great Depression and the 1920s and ‘30s into his novel.  He also intersperses the stories with mention of famous gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barker Gang.  One can’t help getting caught up in daring bank robberies, wild police chases, the brokenness of the Hoovervilles, and the tenacity of the G-Men.

But then Mr. Mullen blurs the lines ever so slightly when these gangsters, along with his own fictional Firefly Brothers, earn legions of fans across the country for sticking it to the banks that foreclosed on property of poor, struggling farmers.  True, their craft was an art, but they were also murderers living high on the hog whose charity extended to them first and their families second.  Past that, most of what they did was pure myth.

So how does one separate fact from fiction, truth from lies, and good from evil when the intimidating fingers of governmental control was more than implied in this somewhat prophetic tale?  Factor in the development of what became the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, and it was like I read headlines from today regarding the American government and the NSA.  Perhaps we really are doomed to repeat history when we forget it.

And if you think I’m exaggerating the prophetic nature of the story, consider the following passage:

Part of the Bureau’s job, the Director had always explained, was to dictate reality—to investigate reality, fully understand it, and then, under the aegis of Mr. Hoover’s vigilant public persona, explain that reality to a public cowed by the depression and frightened by stories of gangsters and increasing lawlessness.  It was the Bureau’s job to reassure people that these shockingly hard times were merely speed bumps along the shared path to prosperity, and not a sign that the nation was spiraling into anarchy and madness.

I believe today we call that fake news.  What struck me about this passage was that even if J. Edgar Hoover never said these exact words or acted this way, even in 2010 when the novel was published, Mr. Mullen had understanding of where America was headed.  No doubt based on where we had already been.

At first I thought the novel promoted a lack of hope and something to believe in, but with further reading, I realized it toggled between this and hoping against hope to believe in the impossible as a means of survival.  Such amazing insight into the human condition and an unexpected source of inspiration from a novel is rare.  Another pleasant surprise was the concept of forgiveness, for others and for self, subtly entwined into the tale.

Long before I finished reading, I realized I was experiencing what I could only call a Literary Stockholm Syndrome in which I wanted the bad guys to succeed in their struggle against failure (whether real or perceived), to reconnect with their true loves, and escape.  I mentally pleaded with them to find their women and just disappear.  Nothing they were doing would actually work in the end, it was no longer about seeking justice, and they would most likely end up dead.

I’ve mentioned before how I wished an author would have finished a novel on a clearer, more positive note or would consider writing a sequel to undo the heartbreak and let me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a happy ending took place (Is It Ever Too Late?).  I mulled these thoughts over again at the end of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers.  Until Thomas Mullen tells me otherwise, I’ll wish for the impossible and believe in a favorable outcome.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I recently read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  If you follow me on Goodreads and you’ve read the book, you might think I’m rather rigid in my assessment of the memoir.  I’ve read other fiction and non-fiction accounts of the Great Depression in America as well as extremely poor people in Ireland, Appalachia, and other such places, and I must say that for a Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes did not strike me as exceptional in any way.

I’m not sure why the book is titled as it is when the story is predominantly about McCourt’s experiences as a child.  His parents’ courtship and marriage prior to his arrival was necessary to set the stage for what the entire family would endure due to his father’s alcoholism and eventual abandonment, but again, the bulk of what one reads focuses on young Frank.

The prose is pleasant (riddled with Irish slang, sayings, and swear words galore), but nothing poetic or beautifully descriptive.  Sometimes dialog is properly placed between quotes and employs commas, periods, or question marks where necessary, and other times it’s buried in long paragraphs of run-on sentences.

One saving grace from all the depressing tales McCourt relays is the hilarity of the situations he’s writing about.  The thing is, the humor is derived from circumstances that are simultaneously horrific.  Yet the reader has to laugh because the truth is almost unbelievable.  Sadly, some of these dreadful circumstances include the way adults in the story treat McCourt, his siblings, and friends.

It’s unacceptable when adults express the depth of frustration, prejudice, and ignorance-born hatred toward each other that McCourt conveys, but children should never have to suffer at this level.  Educators, employers, priests, nuns, relatives, and hospital administration inflict verbal and physical damage on par with child abuse.  It’s a wonder any child living in these conditions turned out normal.

Near the end of the book, Angela McCourt finally takes the self-sacrificing initiative to do something for her children’s welfare.  Prior to that she tolerates her alcoholic husband’s actions to the extreme detriment of her family by keeping her abuser front and center in her life.  Perhaps it was the era in which the story takes place, perhaps it’s that divorce still carried the stigma of shame back then, perhaps it’s that Angela suffered from some type of battered-woman syndrome (hers being in the form of neglect beyond all reason), but because she refused to rid their lives of her worthless husband’s presence, they underwent shame to an equal degree anyhow.

There comes a point in the book when, in my opinion, McCourt rushes through years thirteen to nineteen because to tell it in any more detail would read as more of the same depressing ground already covered over and over and over.  Things turn around for young Frank ever so slightly; he hops a boat to America, end of story.

I’d like to say that Angela’s Ashes is one of those books that just shouldn’t be missed, but I can’t.  I’m not sorry I read it, but if asked whether or not it is a worthy read, I’ll probably shrug my shoulders, suggest the reader try it, and make up his or her own mind.

Dear Scott, Sincerely HL

Dear Scott,

I was looking at my calendar and realized I haven’t read anything written by you or about you since December of last year.  Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have if my reading group facilitator hadn’t chosen The Great Gatsby as the July selection.

So yes, I finally read The Great Gatsby, and I must say a better title would have been Gatsby’s Folly.  My critique is probably going to sound quite harsh when I say I didn’t find anything particularly great about the character of Jay Gatsby or the story in general.  Certainly nothing new or exciting.  While Gatsby is heralded as your most successful novel, it was more of the same themes you wrote about repeatedly in many of your other works.

For this reason, my opinion of your writing hasn’t changed.  If you’re interested to know what those opinions are, because we’ve never discussed them in our correspondence, you may read them.  (Under the Influence & F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories)  If your agent and editor were alive today, they should be fired for letting you get away with this.  Then again, kudos for convincing them and the public that they were reading new material.  Well played, I suppose, but really Scott, you had such potential and could have done better.

Some minor issues I have with the novel include your pet word problem (in this book it was violent), the ridiculous names you assign your characters, the clichéd racist comments and characters, and your overuse of –ly adverbs.  Perhaps the prohibition on –ly adverbs being taught to writers today would surprise you, and we might actually find ourselves on the same side in regards to the issue.

Another way Gatsby is no different from your other works is that right on cue you presented characters that attended Princeton, Yale, or Harvard, played football, were “old money” or “new money,” and pursued the “top girl.”  All things you wanted for yourself.  Quit writing so much of yourself into your novels and short stories.  It comes across like a pathetic, autobiographical cry for help.

To write novels that are supposedly commentaries on the 1920s yet accept no responsibility for the debauchery that took place is imprudent.  You weren’t an innocent bystander, Scott; rather you were a major contributor to the post-war era of exploring new freedoms and sexuality.  We both know if you could have obtained the wealth and power that would have made you equal in the minds of those considered “old money,” you would have jumped at the chance feet first.  If we’re to believe you meant your novels as warnings, then I must ask what kind of person doesn’t heed his own advice?  A fool, I’d say.

On the up side, you may be pleasantly pleased to know that your unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, is being made into a series for television.  Too little, too late, wouldn’t you say?  Still, your name is being kept alive on people’s lips, so at least the fame you always craved is there.

As for the collection of your unpublished short stories, I’d Die for You, I admit that my opinion toward you softened somewhat when I discovered the stories didn’t sell because per Scribner, “Rather than permit changes and sanitising by his contemporary editors, Fitzgerald preferred to let his work remain unpublished, even at a time when he was in great need of money and review attention.”  Finally, you’re standing up for your work and not just trying to turn a quick buck.

But let’s not end on a bitter note, shall we, Scott?  I keep reading your work in the hopes that one piece will redeem you in some fashion if for no other reason than to thumb your nose at Ernest who deserves it.  Besides, I don’t want to keep feeling sorry for you.  I’d like to find a way to extend you some forgiveness for ruining your own career.  With that being said, I’m probably going to buy I’d Die for You.  I fear you shan’t see a penny from the sale.

All my best to Zelda and Scotty.

Sincerely,

HL Gibson

Dunkirk – Movie Review

An unusual movie, quite brilliant, and one for which you should probably come prepared, Dunkirk drops the viewer into the middle of action already far underway.  If you don’t know you World War II history, you’re going to spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out what’s going on.  Or perhaps you’ll give up and go with it, but you’ll be cheating yourself on the importance of what is taking place on the screen.  I’ll provide a small clue and tell you it’s a movie about survival and how far an individual and a group will go to achieve it.

The storyline doesn’t follow one particular character through his experiences and struggles during the war and evacuation.  Rather it presents the events taking place from multiple POVs, both military and civilian, thus providing a wonderful angle from which to view the scenes.  With this technique, the viewer is also treated to a variety of reactions about what is occurring.  Again, if you’re not familiar with World War II history, you may be surprised to find this isn’t an action movie with battle scenes like you were possibly expecting.

Dunkirk is an intense fusion of visuals and sounds.  At first I thought the cinematography looked too new, but the clarity of the shots appealed to me long before the movie was over.  When combined with an amazing soundtrack crafted by Hans Zimmer, the experience draws one in mind and body.  I found myself tensing up in my seat to the musical equivalent of the sound of gunfire, the groaning metal of a sinking destroyer, and a dive-bombing plane.

The movie doesn’t downplay the heroism of the men serving in France, but shares the valor with the civilians who rushed to their rescue for the evacuation effort.  And instead of presenting Germany as the soul antagonist, Dunkirk relays the various forces of antagonism that worked against the soldiers and civilians alike.

With a great cast of actors including Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is not for the casual movie goer.  However, if you’re a World War II history buff or a history buff in general, you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you walked every grueling step with the soldiers, and you’ll be glad you did.

The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding

The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding is one of those novels that brilliantly breaks the rules of writing.  You know, all those pesky rules about writing such as use only one POV, don’t head hop, don’t bookend your novel with a prologue or epilogue, and don’t use flashbacks.  The fact that the novel was published as recently as 2007 restores my faith in the industry.  With that being said, The Solitude of Thomas Cave is one of the best examples of literary fiction I’ve ever read.  It’s right up there with Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier.

The novel opens with the narrative of Thomas Goodlard, a sailing companion of Thomas Cave on the whaling ship, the Heartsease.  Young Goodlard relays the details of how Thomas Cave came to spend an entire year by himself on an Arctic island.  A rash bet between shipmates is sure to be the end of Cave, yet there is something more to his desire to stay alone in the frozen hell.

At this point, the novel slips into the POV of third person omniscient, describing Cave’s experiences.  Harding writes with clarity sharper than the frigid Arctic air, and she sucks the reader in with chilling description regarding the conditions in which Cave must survive.

Part of Cave’s solitude involves reflection on his relationship with the beautiful daughter of a shoemaker.  It’s a ghost story, really, and one that haunts Cave’s self-imposed exile to the point that he cannot separate dreams from reality.  He does, however, manage to keep his personal history out of the log he keeps for the Captain of the Heartsease, and we are treated to passages from said diary.  By having her protagonist hide some of the truth of his isolation, Harding supplies her readers with interesting details of Cave’s life that his fellow characters never know, and the reader is drawn deeper into his nightmare.

The history surrounding whaling practices is harsh, often brutal, to read.  It’s not a profession with which I am in agreement; Harding doesn’t back down from the gory truth.  It also isn’t long before one realizes Cave is eating whatever is necessary to survive.  As rough as conditions on a whaling ship might be, by the end of the novel they seem like the lap of luxury compared to Cave’s meager existence.

Harding surprises by not ending the book with what I assumed would be the natural conclusion.  At first I feared she would ramble on, simply trying to fulfill a word count.  But it is in this final section that she reveals a subtle yet powerful message.  She also reverts back to Thomas Goodlard’s POV and finishes the book with the truth that solitude isn’t just something we experience:  it is something we can carry inside because of our experiences.

A Little More Persuasion

So, having recently read Jane Austen’s Persuasion, naturally I had to watch the movies to see which one did the best job of capturing all that the novel is.  I’ll give the readers following my blog a few moments to finish laughing.  But seriously, if I had to choose one as my favorite, it would be the 1995 adaptation starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root.

With that being said, I must also admit that reading the book first will be extremely helpful because there is a large cast of characters and detailed storylines to keep track of.  Without the benefit of a reading, the movie might seem patchy, as if much is left unexplained.

I believe the reason no movie will ever completely depict Persuasion, or any book for that matter, but in particular Persuasion, is because much of the prose describes what the characters are thinking and feeling.  We have an in-depth view of Anne’s heart that can only be conveyed on screen by her expressions.  The same is true of Captain Wentworth.  However, when the characters do speak, there are no wasted words.

The thrill of romantic tension Jane Austen infused in her novel comes out well in the 1995 Persuasion.  Again I found myself wanting the movie to hurry up and relieve Anne’s and Wentworth’s agony, but just as quickly wishing to prolong the scenes so I could relish them over and over.  At the conclusion of the novel, I felt as if I was leaving dear friends behind, and the movie engendered the same emotions as well as put faces on said friends.

And then there is the kiss in the 1995 Persuasion when Anne and Wentworth finally overcome their insecurities and presumptions regarding each other.  Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root do it the best as we’re given the view from just over Wentworth’s shoulder as he’s leaning down to make contact with Anne’s lips, and she closes her eyes right before they touch.  Let the squealing and sighing commence because it is, in my humble opinion, the best onscreen kiss ever.

As for Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, they do a wonderful job portraying Wentworth and Anne.  He is classically handsome with high cheekbones and a regal bearing.  Never is Hinds’s Wentworth the pretty, spoiled rich boy next door.  Amanda Root’s Anne embodies Jane Austen’s own sentiment of being “almost too good for me.”  She is perfect as the plain but pretty woman past her bloom who later revives the blush upon her cheeks the closer she comes to her one true love.

The 2007 adaption of Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones is not bad, but it’s not great.  I would never dissuade you from watching to make up your own mind.  My biggest complaints are that some characters’ lines end up in the mouths of other characters and too many scenes are consolidated which lessens the impact of what takes place.  There is also a titch too much creative licensing going on and four times the director employs the technique of having Anne (Sally Hawkins) look directly at the camera as if making eye contact with the viewer thus conveying the depth of her feelings at the moment.  Once would have been sufficient to make us feel Anne’s pain.

Wentworth in this version is handsome but not dashing, and Anne’s hair looks as if it needs a good washing.  As for the kiss at the end, Anne has been running to catch up to Wentworth, and she pants too long and too hard.  Then the scene drags on forever, I have to assume because of the director’s instructions or perhaps to give Sally Hawkins time to catch her breath, and the moment is spoiled.  It is actually more embarrassing than romantic.

One saving grace is Anthony Head as Sir Walter, Anne’s father.  It’s almost frightening how well Head portrays the depth of shallowness and vanity to which Sir Walter has sunk, caring little or nothing for those around him who he deems worthless including his own dear daughter, Anne.  Kudos to Head for making me hate this character because I have to admit, sometimes I love a character I can hate.

There are a couple TV mini-series based on Persuasion from the ‘60s and 70’s and a modern adaptation all of which I’m sure I’ll miss.  Until a glowing review for one of them comes from a friend or follower, I’ll stay with the novel and the 1995 movie.

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