“The Comfort of Strangers”

Comfort of Strangers

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Ian McEwan’s second novel, published in 1981. I read a 1981 Simon and Schuster hardcover from the library.

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2.5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No, and despite the great cast, I have no interest in seeing this story played out again.

The Plot:

A vacationing couple meets a mysterious, violent man and his injured, submissive wife.

After enjoying The Cement Garden, I was hoping for more “Ian Macabre” with The Comfort of Strangers. It didn’t quite work out. The book is only 127 pages but I was struggling to stick with it after page 80.

The Comfort of Strangers is dark and moody but the good parts are weighed down by bloated, comma-laden ones. I don’t need to like every character but I have to at least find them interesting. By the end, I think we’re supposed to believe that Mary and Colin were soulmates (?); I didn’t even think they liked each other. McEwan keeps insisting they are in love but it just seems like good sex; their conversations are bizarre at best.

Their return to Robert and Caroline’s apartment is completely unexplained and unearned. Why would they go back after such a bizarre first visit? If they are worried about Caroline, reporting the situation to officials seems the better choice. Frankly, I’m paranoid enough that I would have gone home or changed hotels the moment I realized Robert had been photographing my balcony… Continue reading

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“Social Creature” (Post 2/2)

Social Creature 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

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[34] References:

She goes to the park (…) not Prospect Park but Carl Schurz, which is that little sliver of green by Gracie Mansion where you can see the East River and also there’s a statue of Peter Pan.

(p.103)

 

Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was a German revolutionary and an American statesman, journalist, and reformer. He emigrated to the United States after the German revolutions of 1848-49 and became a prominent member of the new Republican Party. Carl Schurz Park is a 14.9 acres park in New York City. Named for Schurz in 1910, it is the site of Gracie Mansion, the residence of the Mayor of New York since 1942 (and previously referenced in Son of Rosemary, note [25]).

[35]

For a second Louise thinks she has seen everything; her gut plummets. She did not know it was possible to be so afraid. She can taste her own heartbeat.

(p.108) Continue reading

“Social Creature” (Post 1/2)

Social Creature 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Tara Isabella Burton’s debut novel, published in 2018. I read a first edition Doubleday hardcover from the library.

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4.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: I would love to see a film version of this. Someone has to option it, if they haven’t already.

The Plot:

Struggling Louise is drawn into beautiful, wealthy twenty-three-year-old Lavinia’s world of NYC drinking, clubbing, and obsessive social media.

I read Social Creature in a single day, walking around with it in hand while making coffee and dinner, not wanting to put it down for a moment, basking in the glorious tension and terrible characters and delighted to finally, finally, find a modern equivalent of what I wanted from Brett Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk when I was a teen. It doesn’t matter if you already know the “twist,” because Burton lets you know what’s going to happen within the first thirty pages. The fun is in getting there and then seeing how Louise inevitably screws it up.

Burton writes in a blend of second- and third-person, present tense. I’m a hard sell on present tense. It has to be incredibly propulsive and engaging to grab me and Social Creature uses it so well; the story feels like a friend telling you an excellent story. And Louise and Lavinia are great characters – your feelings for them will flip and evolve throughout the tale; you’ll dislike them and mourn them, feel pity and envy.

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“The Cement Garden”

Cement Garden

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Ian McEwan’s debut novel, published in 1978. I read a first edition hardcover from the library.

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4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No. Had never heard of the movie until I checked the title on imdb. Seems very hard to get a copy of/watch these days.

The Plot:

Four orphaned siblings continue living in an abandoned neighborhood, telling no one where their mother really is.

This is my first McEwan book and I will definitely read more. His style is simple and straightforward (there’s shockingly little I needed to look up), his characters can do anything at any time. The siblings in The Cement Garden take horrific and disturbing events in stride but it feels oddly believable; children adapt, children have their own motivations and morals.

A disturbing grime permeates the pages as the house gets filthier and the smell from the basement becomes stronger. This is non-supernatural, non-murderous horror. Continue reading

“Mother Night”

Mother Night

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Kurt Vonnegut’s third novel, published in 1962. I read a 2009 Dial Press Trade Paperback from the library.

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3 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: There’s a movie? Weird. There’s a movie. Have not seen it, do not plan to.

The Plot:

American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who spent World War II promoting fascism and hate on German radio (while being a secret agent for the United States), explains how he ended up in an Israeli prison.

Kurt Vonnegut isn’t aging well. Or maybe I’m not aging well. Authors and books I used to love are leaving me irritated. When I read Mother Night four years ago, I gave it five stars. This time, it was a struggle to justify three.

Vonnegut tells us the moral of Mother Night in the introduction: “We are what we pretend to be” (p.v). Which means this tale is about a Nazi. Our sympathies are supposed to be with Howard Campbell and I have no idea why.

There are some very good scenes, all involving events during the war (the death of a dog, the hanging of Campbell’s father-in-law, and a scene in a bomb shelter), but the events and characters in the near-present are caricatures and punchlines. Fascist, racist people are portrayed as harmless buffoons and are given more humanity than Resi Noth, who wins the award for most depressing female character I’ve encountered this year (see note [51]).

By the halfway point, Mother Night had me wishing I’d picked up something else from the library.

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“Love”

Love

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Hanne Orstavik’s 1997 Norwegian novel. I read a 2018 Archipelago Books edition, translated by Martin Aiken and borrowed from my library.

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2.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Vibeke and her eight-year-old son, Jon, have moved to an isolated, wintry northern Norwegian town. But their relationship proves to be colder than their new home as Vibeke goes out for companionship while Jon wanders alone, believing his mother is preparing for his upcoming birthday.

Love feels twice as long as its 125 pages. There are section breaks but within those sections, the narrative (third person, present tense) switches between Vibeke and Jon without cues or warning.  It is an interesting experiment but feels gimmicky and inorganic to the story.

We are held at such a distance from the two leads and made to feel so suspicious of everyone they encounter that there is no chance to connect to anyone. Everyone feels dangerous but, ultimately, the greatest danger comes from within the family. Which makes the motivations of the carnival workers who pick up Vibeke and Jon completely nonsensical, especially the woman who Jon encounters. I have no idea what her purpose was. No idea at all. Is she Tom’s father? Is this a story of parallel mothers and sons? I’d love to speculate, but Ortavik doesn’t give enough information to back up a specific theory. Any theory would work because the text is so damned vague.

Ortavik’s greatest strength is in dream and fantasy sequences. Love has a very dreamlike quality of unease and nonsense and dread. Vibeke is a character very much in the Shirley Jackson mold but something is ultimately lacking in Love, which is too bad because this book starts with so much potential.

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