Thursday, April 16, 2009

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my kind of history. If those shows on the history channel about medieval weapons are history for boys (Yes, Freud. It always comes back to sword length), this is history for us girlies. It feels like reading an 18th century tabloid. In a really good way. I could not put it down, not even to brush my hair. (I needed one of Marie's famous horse-hair wigs. Maybe the one with the model ship propped up in it as a hair accessory). 

I loved the politics, the history, and Fraser's analysis, liberally sprinkled with details about the cut and fabric of her gowns, the food on her table, and the horribly wacky rules of life at Versailles. These items are like the chips in the Tollhouse cookie of history: not so delicious all by themselves, but in context, they make the whole a divine creation.

I saw the movie, and liked it, cause it is gorgeous and has a fab soundtrack; but it doesn't bear much resemblance to the book.

If you like this, try Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (an across-the-pond contemporary of Marie's), and To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette. (And then visit Versailles, the Petit Trianon, and the Conciergerie). Also, try Fraser's The Wives of Henry VIII. I'm going to read Alison Weir's book about Henry and his ladies next. Also just bought The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline, by Flora Faser. Don't know if she is any relation to Antonia.

View all my reviews.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So, no. As it turns out, you can't judge an historical fiction book by its cover

So I think I need to quit buying books at Costco, when I have Tommy with me and do not have time to thoroughly examine the book. The picture on the front is NOT enough information, apparently.

This one, for example, turned out to be an historical romance about lesbians. Which I didn't catch onto until about page 150, at which point it became very clear.

So then, I put it here:

But I still like history, and a good love story. I guess I'm just a goblet half full of ale kind of girl. I don't give up easily. So I dove right into another historical romance: Mr. Darcy's Diary, our book club selection this month. I don't know if it is because I have over dosed on Jane Austen themed novels (who would have thought that gravy-training would become an entire genre?), or if it was that the writing wasn't so fab, but I was underwhelmed. 

Did you ever want to see inside Mr. Darcy's noggin while he was courting Elizabeth? Well, you are in luck, but I'll be honest, after about 100 pages, you might want out. You will soon see that Fitzwilliam really was the pompous jerk he seemed at the country dance where he first met the Bennetts in Pride and Prejudice, and that when he sat silent and brooding, it was much preferable to him speaking what (author Amanda Grange thought) was on his mind.

No, I'm being mean. It is mildly entertaining, and perfectly benign. If you like it, there are more: I saw Mr. Knightley's diary at the bookstore, too.

You know which series I'm also sort of embarrassed to have read, but secretly enjoy? Mr. Darcy's Daughters and all the sequels. 
The first was my least favorite, or maybe it just took that long to get over the fact that I was actually reading this stuff. I also read Letters from Pemberley, and then, yes, More letters from Pemberley, which are a little boring, but I recognized parts of Jane Austen's actual correspondance in them. I guess she was going for accuracy.

Now, if you choose to enter the world of Austen prequels, sequels and more, I warn you that there is and entire sub-genre in Austeniana called DARCY PORN. BEWARE the Darcy porn! I haven't run into any, but I have heard whispered stories of connubial bliss and physical congress in Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife.

Okay, then. You can't say you weren't warned. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Does Costco's lenient return policy include horrid books?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Seriously? Somebody gave this stinker a Pulitzer? I read more of it than I want to admit, before I cut my losses, and quit.  

Reminds of the time I tried to read A Confederacy of Dunces. 

It was better than Dunces. I'll give it that.
I learned lots of Spanish cuss words. His English profanity wasn't as interesting. Pretty much just the F-word, over and over. So tedious.

Sometimes, a book makes you wish you could poke out your mind's eye.

The end.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stuart: A Life Backwards

Okay, just finished Stuart: A Life Backwards.

What I learned: Don't sniff glue. No matter what kind of cruddy life you've got going. Is very bad news, people.

Stuart is a 'chaotic' English homeless man, drug addict, violent criminal. His biographer starts with his death (hit by a train at age 33), and works backwards. Which doesn't always work, but since Stuart is so confused, it sorta seems okay. And it is a fabulous idea. 

Stuart has a very nasty mouth. And since he is the subject, he gets quoted a great deal, as you might expect.

So in between the profanity and bizarre violent behavior, Start has some moments of semi-lucidity. But who knows if Stuart's take on it all is correct? I mean, he is crazy. 

He says stuff like this, which was interesting, and sounds like it could be true: before regular drug testing in prisons, most inmates' drug of choice was weed. But weed shows up in urine for weeks, so inmates switched to heroin, which is untraceable in 3 days. And so now, the drug problem in prisons is much, much worse than it ever was, thanks to drug testing.

As the book travels back in time, you learn of Stuart's unhappy childhood, and some of the reasons he is who he is. Or was who he was. Whatever. But even Stuart knows they don't totally add up. Many people go through the same stuff and don't end up like he does. This might sound crazy, but at the end, I honestly felt like Stuart was possessed. And I don't say that lightly. I don't jump to possession conclusions very often. Ask anybody.

So, although Stuart had some moments, I don't think it was worth the wallow. 

I won't recommend it, primarily because of the profanity. 

I hope I sound sensitive, and not prudy. I really felt for Stuart, and for others like him, with these horrible, intense, uncomfortable lives. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Okay, so my sister, Jenfari, gave me this book maybe 2 years ago. And I started it. And I put it down, in favor of more exciting books. And then I picked it up again, and I put it down. And normally, when I have this much trouble getting into a book, I give up, because, you know, life is too short to waste on nap-inducing fiction. (I feel like non-fiction is often worth ploughing through, pillow-drool or no.) Usually. But Gilead is so beautifully written, that some passages, boring or not, needed to be read aloud, for the sheer pleasure of the language. So I decided, enough circling my big toe in the shallows of Chapter 3, and I cannonballed in. 

And I was still pretty bored. 
But I am happy I finished it. 

And I would recommend it to you. Heartily, even! If you love yourself a perfectly written novel, with no nastiness at all. Which is very rare in modern literature, as you probably well know. The Venn diagram of perfectly written modern novels and no nastiness would intersect at Gilead. And maybe a few others. I can't think of any, right at this moment. 

Now that I think of it, it feels a lot like C.S. Lewis, actually. But prettier. Like C.S. Lewis poetry. Except, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and not poetry. Glad I cleared that up.

You're welcome.

I asked Jenfari, and she said she doesn't know what I am talking about. She wasn't bored at all. She thought there was plenty of plot. She totally hearted it.

Summary: The premise is that an old minister is about to die, and is writing a lengthy letter to his young son, who will not remember his father when he grows up. So the old man sets out to explain himself, and some of his history, and his family's history. And he wanders a lot, from one subject to another. And he talks about religion, and about his faith. And it is nice. 

So nice, in fact, that somebody gave it a Pulitzer Prize. In 2005. 

This is not a beach read. But worth it. I kept marking passages that really spoke to me, and I never do that. Except in the scriptures.

Let me give you an example:
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.
I know. Fantastic, right? Seriously, I'm getting all weepy. 

So, have you read it? Or anything else by this author? Or something else fantastic lately, that I can buy on Amazon used books for one cent plus shipping? Please discuss.