2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: Harvest #2

HarvestRating: 2.0
Harvest
A Novel by Jim Crace
2013 / 224 pages

I feel like I have been transported back in time! It is 1987 and Mrs. Edmunson has assigned us Harvest by Jim Crace for grade 12 novel study. “You must read it so try to enjoy it” she says. “Come on! There are some great things in here! There is violence and witches and even magic mushrooms!”

Start to read. Ah. The harvest is done, there is going to be a celebration.

~~I wonder what we are going to do for Anthony’s birthday next Friday. Veronica wants to take the bus to his house. Better ask my mom~~

Oh. Walter Thirsk, he’s an odd duck. Kind of lame and boring.

~~Do I have any money? Duran Duran AND David Bowie in T.O.??? We are GOING! We ARE GOING!! WE ARE GOING!!!!~~ $(KGrHqNHJEgFButCzFv3BQiVP7yj3!~~60_35

Well, a fire. This should get things going.

~~”No one move a muscle as the dead come home!” Who sings that song? That video scares me. Shriekback! Yep, it was Shreikback!~~

1306417I don’t think they are punishing the right people! Mob mentality? This reminds me of The Lottery.

~~What grade did we read The Lottery in? Grade 8? Miss Bailey? Is that you?!!~~

ūüė¶ ¬†Poor horse! Sad that he was killed. Skipjack? Willowjack? Slap that?

~~Buddha is purring! She is trying to lay down on my book. Kitty cat marching!! SO CUTE when she gets ready to sleep!~~

Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Mr. Quill, Master Kent. Bedlam. Bedlam. Bedlam. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And then it was over. Back to 2013– I have to mop my kitchen floor this Saturday.

This one really felt like a school assignment that I was forced to read (sorry to steal your line Mike!) and I was day-dreaming the entire time I was reading. I feel like I should have gotten a lot more out of this one but, alas, I did not! The best thing about this book was our fellow BookerMarker, Jen’s awesome graphic diagram in the Why It Will Win series (here).

2 stars (at Literary Hoarders this means: Bad. But not without merit– the merit being that the prose of this absolutely boring book was beautiful ~~sigh~~)

Scan 48This review was posted simultaneously on BookerMarks.

Review: The Cat’s Table

This was my first time reading Ondaatje.¬† I confess that seeing The English Patient film years back led me to steer clear.¬† (For those of you who have not seen The English Patient, and I think there might be 4 of you, let me tell you that it‚Äôs a sanctimonious hell on the big screen.¬† I like to refer to it as the ‚Äúbeige movie.‚ÄĚ)

Sorry.  I digress.

The Cat‚Äôs Table is the story of a boy who boards a ship called the Oronsay, which travels from Sri Lanka to England in the early 1950s.¬† The boy, Michael (nicknamed Mynah), is 11 years old, and is traveling alone on this 3-week voyage.¬† He soon meets up with two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, and their adventures begin.¬† The book is about how that 3-week voyage managed to shape the life of the boy, and the story eventually hops back and forth between his pre-teen adventure and his adult life.¬† The trip had great impact on him.¬† Three weeks can change everything.¬† I quickly got the message that no one should ever ‚Äúfeel unimportant in the scheme of things,‚ÄĚ which is certainly a thought that anyone can appreciate.

Ondaatje’s observations are acute.  There are passages that make a distinct impression, such as my personal favorite below:

‚ÄúMr. Fonseka would not be a wealthy man.¬† And it would be a spare life he would be certain to lead as a schoolteacher in some urban location.¬† But he had a serenity that came with the choice of the life he wanted to live.¬† And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armour of books close by.‚ÄĚ

Love that reference to books.  But I’m digressing again.

The trouble that I had with this book is that I started to feel like he was writing in sound bites.¬† I wanted more from the story.¬†¬† I started to grow impatient with Ondaatje‚Äôs musings, because they started becoming more important than the advancement of the plot.¬† The story felt disjointed, and for me, the “darker” ending seemed to have very little to do with the main character‚Äôs on-ship interactions with a series of recurring characters. ¬†Overall, I felt like I was supposed to admire the profound writing more than the story, which left me disappointed.¬† Only 2 stars for me.

Book Review: The End of the World as We Know It

This was recommended to me and I in turn recommended reading A Wolf at the Table.¬† I have been all set to give a fairly blistering review given that I was so not impressed with this story. I’m still giving it a 2-star rating, only in that he made the reader’s endure almost to the very end the source of his pain and reason why he became such a raging alcoholic and sad, pathetic man.

I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to continue reading this story until the end. I felt that the only point coming across loud and clear was Goolrick’s¬†incessant complaints about his parent’s alcoholism. Then it felt as though he couldn’t figure out if he hated or loved them for it as he spent so much of his story romanticizing about their alcoholism! And romanticizing how later he became such a raging alcoholic himself.¬†I just rolled my eyes and endured on as he would describe times of his drunkeness like falling off an airport stool, passing out in his room, etc. All I kept wondering was, “Where’s the abuse here?”¬†and I’m not feeling his story¬†warrants sympathy from me, at this point.

Goolrick¬†changes between romancing how wonderful cocktail hour was in their home growing up, from talking about how wonderful it was when their mother would twirl her taffeta evening dresses and the glorious sound of the ice-cracker signalling the start of cocktail hour in the home. He spends a great deal of time stating how remiss we are¬†in our current times,¬†that we don’t have the flair these men had pouring drinks with their snappy names at house parties that were a never-ending spectacle in his home. Then he’ll lament that his parents were so drunk most of the time they didn’t pay attention to him. As she was once yelling at her son, “The tirade went on so long my father had to refill their drinks several times, the ice tapper tapping out its familiar sound.” (page 80).

For the most of this book he comes across as a petulant, whiny and¬† bitter, angry man that blames his parent’s¬†alcoholism for his own. There were a great number of times when I just declared Goolrick as the biggest a-hole.¬†And yet, he would continue to recall his parent’s drinking in almost a wistful manner. I was definitely not moved, touched or haunted. A review on the back claims, “Goolrick is clearly a victim of his parents’ brutal abuse.” Excuse me? Brutal?¬† You want to read about abuse and neglect? Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. You want to see abuse and neglect and someone that can overcomes such harrowing living conditions to lead a successful life?

The story continues on in much the same vain. He wrote a book about his parents and described a moment where his mother was so drunk she had burned a cigarette hole in her pretty party dress. His parent’s didn’t like that. “There was a family law that we didn’t talk about the family outside the world, didn’t reveal the slightest crack in the facade, and I had broken the law. I couldn’t afford to have it typed in New York, so I had a red-haired girl I’d grown up with type it at home. I paid her a hundred dollars. My mother kept bugging her, so she showed the first hundred pages to my parents, and that was when all hell broke loose. The phone calls stopped. The letters stopped, my mother’s frequent and charming letters. My father had already disinherited me – not that he had any money to leave, but, two years before, I had been living in Greece and I wanted to borrow three hundred dollars to get home. I wrote to my father, who responded that I was a disgusting lazy pig and “never in my lifetime or after will you receive a penny of my money.” See? I had paid for my own college education, with scholarships and borrowed money, I had won a fellowship to study in Europe, won it twice in fact, and still I was the one who was a disgusting pig.” (page 75)

“How did they go on making ends meet, giving us birthday parties, making marvelous cakes shaped like lambs and covered with coconut for Easter…helping us with the intricacies of algebra, watching us as we made grades that would make any parent proud…my sister…she was so beautiful, and giving her riding lessons, and sending my brother and sister off to dancing school, my sister in white gloves, where they learned to waltz and fox-trot and do the box step, but not me, leaving me out of it, leaving me to watch as my friends went to dancing school and I didn’t, when all the nice children in town went to dancing school in suits and ties and crinolines and white gloves when they were twelve..(page 146).

And then, on page 165, with only 1/3¬† left in this book that has spent 164 pages driveling and whining (in my opinion) he lays it out to the viewers WHY he’s the man he is today. After romantically telling us the story of how drunk his parents can get, he (finally?? Is that right to say?) states¬†a time¬†when he was four years old,¬†when he was sleeping in the same bed as his mother and father and his father is so drunk, he “accidently” (again I don’t want to make it sound flippant) has sex with his son, mistakingly thinking¬†he’s with his wife. This never happens again and his parents absolutely refuse to acknowledge, explain or deal with it. And herein lays the horror and confusion for Goolrick. For the rest of his life, he remains a confused, sad man that cannot maintain any type of relationship. He is completely confused, angered and bitter.¬†¬†And you can’t blame him for that.

This is indeed, a horrible moment in his very young life, but I cannot seem to get past this feeling that he went and approached his autobiography “all wrong”. If that makes any sense at all. I’m sorry, it was hard to muster as much sympathy as this horrible incident deeply deserves,¬†since he had just presented himself in 165 pages in such a way that makes it hard for me to express deep sympathy for him. Sorry Robert. I truly, truly¬†am, but your autobiography, as it was written for The End of the World as We Know it, fails to illicit this¬†strong feeling of remorse. (Wow, I really hope that came across right.)

The book itself, not his life, is still a 2-star read.

Review: The Borrower

So, remember a few posts back where I was exclaiming that you must absolutely read this? Well, please ignore that because unfortunately, sigh, what started out with such brilliance and promise quickly flatlined and resulted in a frustrating, boring and annoying tale that was dragged on for far too many chapters. By the middle to the end, I was screaming in agony for this to end. I continued to torture myself because, hey, I had just given high praise for it – maybe it improves? Sadly, no.

Lucy Hull is a children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, a job she kind of landed because of her alumni contacts – no experience needed, just please come in and fill this position. Her very favourite patron is Ian, a 10-year-old boy that is causing much concern because of his apparent “gayness”. His mother is the “villain” as she gives Lucy an enormous list of what NOT to read, all the while choosing a library as the place to dump her child for free babysitting needs. Lucy is there to champion the right to read and enlarge your imagination. In the beginning we see Lucy’s father, a Russian immigrant, with marvelous and amusing¬†commentary about the American governments Patriot Act and the fate of librarians everywhere, how America is founded by runaways, how no one seems to be happy with their career choices, this sense that everyone is always looking for something better.

At any rate, sigh, it had such tremendous promise in the beginning 7 or 8 chapters but then unfortunately went on and on and on and on for an additional 35+ chapters. I was so deeply in love with the beginning of this book – made me smile, oh how it made me smile and chuckle, and then Lucy takes Ian from the library, where he’s found camping out and the rest makes for one frustratingly loooong painful journey where you realize that Lucy is no heroine, just this ridiculous and whiny individual that allows a confused 10-year-old boy to make the decisions. I found myself screaming at her ridiculousness and to just take the friggen boy home! It was one asthma attack after another and she STILL leaves the decision of where to go next – including the Canadian border – up to Ian.

I first resisted this book because I thought I would be a little creeped out that the story is about this woman that takes a boy and they disappear for about 2 weeks. But as I said, in the beginning it was very amusing, well constructed and I thought I would be wrong. But no…right up until the very end I was completely frustrated and weirded out that this 26-year-old girl having an identity crisis makes off with a confused little boy that she’s convinced herself she’s saving. And she lets it go on and on and on and on. NOTHING in their travels¬†is of interest at all. Just a lot of hand-wringing on¬†Lucy’s part and whining about who she is, what will happen to her next.

AND…she gets away with it! – plops the kid on the Greyhound bus in the end and continues her disappearing act while she very whiningly tries to figure out who she is and what she’s doing. Even in the end she continues to believe that she is “saving” Ian, and what may be thought of as kind of neat and going along with the beginning¬†premise of the book, (she secretly gives him a reading list for the rest of his years) is actually still incredibly creepy since she can’t leave this 10-year-old boy alone.

I did like Lucy’s Russian father though. Good stuff there, but as to trying to sync the Russian life of torment and running away with Lucy’s current American life – falls seriously and utterly flat.

The book finally, finally came to an end and I no longer had to scream at Lucy for being such a stupid moron anymore. And I am so happy about that. So in the beginning where I shout from the rooftops – you must read this! Please ignore. Save yourself. It is so not worth it.