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Book Review: Le Grand Meaulnes

grandmeaulnesAwww, man! I loved Le Grand Meaulnes. I'd say it's the best book I've read all year, but I guess I don't have much with which to compare it. I don’t remember exactly where I came across it, but I think it might have been in the introduction to John Fowles’s The Magus. He listed Le Grand Meaulnes as an influence. What’s funny is that so far, I’ve tl;dr-ed The Magus because it’s so long (though I don’t think I can hold it off for much longer), but I’d heard of Le Grand Meaulnes somewhere else, too, and the Goodreads blurb sounded intriguing, so I figured I’d look it up.

And boy was I impressed. I enjoyed every minute of this one.

It’s basically a French coming-of-age novel set in the 1890s and very early 20th century. The narrator, Francois, meets Meaulnes, at school. Both are roughly seventeen. One day, Meaulnes runs off and gets lost in the countryside, where he finds this grand estate and crashes a wedding party. The whole thing seems magical, sprinkled with fairy dust. While he’s there, he meets the most beautiful woman he could imagine. The party ends abruptly, and he’s forced to leave without seeing her again. He returns to school but becomes obsessed with finding her. He tells Francois his story, and both boys work to discover clues about the estate’s location (the English translation I read is titled The Lost Estate) and what happened to the girl.

Oh, it was so good, and it’s clear how it influenced several novels I’ve read, probably including Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Alain-Fournier’s story is amazing, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a good translation. That makes all the difference. Le Grand Meaulnes really makes me want to dig in to The Magus to see the influence.


Book Review: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

absalomNow, here's a hard one to write about. It's also my favorite book so far this year, though I'm sure this review will in no way reflect that, as I tend to make my favorite books sound like I (should) hate them. Anyway.

Along with being my favorite, Absalom, Absalom! is also the most difficult book I've read in a long time. I'd rank it up there with Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch - or Faulkner's own The Sound and the Fury, for that matter. The story is jumbled in a similar way, at least.

It's set in Yoknapatawpha County, as most of Faulkner's novels are. Thomas Sutpen, a man with no clear past but who is determined to make a name for himself, to make himself East Egg when he's really a West Egger - and he doesn't even have the money yet. (Get the reference? More on that in a minute.) He's also determined to have a son to inherit the vast wealth he plans to accrue. Sutpen's actions destroy his family and those of others with which he becomes involved. Which is not a spoiler because I'm pretty sure you learn all of that in the first five pages, or so, if you're paying attention.

And this novel requires a lot of attention.

If you're up for a battle, this is your book. It doesn't have that much to do with Faulkner's other novels, though most of it is narrated by Quentin Compson, who you might recognize from The Sound and the Fury. It does, though, deal with one of his favorite subjects, decaying southern families. Like the Compsons.

One of my high school teachers had a master's degree in English. Her thesis was on the American Dream in Absalom, Absalom! and The Great Gatsby (get the earlier reference now?). Somehow, I had never read Absalom, Absalom!, but I wondered for years what a Faulkner novel could have to do with Gatsby. A few pages in, and it's obvious: Sutpen is trying to fulfill Ye Olde American Dream, and the result is disastrous. Read both novels (if you haven't already), and think about it.

To summarize: If you want a challenge, get a copy of Absalom, Absalom!, and settle down for a long, intense read. It's totally worth it.

Check it out!


Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card

Earth UnawareEarth Unaware is the latest book in the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. The story takes place 100 years before the award-winning 1985 novel. I’m a huge fan of Ender’s Game. The first time I read it, I fell in love with the main character,  Ender Wiggin. If you haven’t read it, go get it. It’s still in my all-time top 5. You may have heard the buzz about the film adaptation of the book coming out next year. For Ender’s Game fans, it’s been a long time in the making. Again, read Ender’s Game.

Since that first novel, Card has expanded the universe, writing 12 novels. The story centers on the interactions between humans and ant-like aliens known as Buggers, or the Formic. Over many years and wars, the two civilizations struggle to destroy each other. The series is written out of chronological order, taking readers from one end of time and space to another. For me, Ender’s Game has always been the best.

Earth Unaware is the 13th novel and first book in a new prequel series. The series focuses on the start of the first Formic War. This prequel doesn’t include the main character from the other novels, Ender, who hasn’t been born yet. Instead, you have the crew from the old independent mining space ship El Cavador and a slick new Jukes corporate mining ship. These two mining ships find themselves in competition for the same territory. Meanwhile, something large and moving impossibly fast is moving toward them and in the direction of Earth.

I enjoyed immersing myself in the mining culture, the tech, and the frontier lifestyle of those living and working on the edge of the solar system. However, as a follow-up book to one of my favorite books of all time, it seemed a little weak. First, Ender Wiggin is nowhere in sight. For me, that’s like making a Bond movie without James Bond. Second, there were some great characters introduced in the novel, but there was very little character development.

However, this is just the first of a new prequel series. I have high hopes for the next novel, Earth Afire, due out in June of 2013.


Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is another departure from my usual reading habits. But it's about books! you say. Yes, but it's also a thriller, of sorts, in a bestseller-y sort of way. And I absolutely loved it.

It's about a bookstore clerk named Clay Jannon, who notices strange patterns as he works: people occasionally wander into the bookstore to buy books from the front. Much more often, regular patrons come in and ask for a specific text, written in code, and returning another book in exchange for it. Clay becomes curious and makes a 3D model of the store on his computer, eventually keeping track of who checks out what. Enthralled by the visual pattern, he enlists the help of a Google employee who uses their vast computer network to analyze the pattern. Then Things Get Interesting.

This novel isn't really what I expected. In fact, when I wasn't even halfway through, I gave a copy to a coworker. Then it got pretty technical (Google scanning, etc), and I was like, Oh noes! It's too technical! She won't like it! Which, according to her, wasn't the case, but she was probably just being nice.

Which doesn't mean that Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore isn't awesome. 'Cause it is. It's just for people interested in books and technology, or at least people who like books and aren't entirely technologically illiterate. It was definitely a fun read, and I'll look forward to more from Robin Sloan in the future.

Book Review: Skylark by Desző Kosztolányi

SkylarkI ran across Skylark in a post on one of my favorite book blogs, Literary Trashcan. (Okay, it’s really just a Tumblr in which this guy posts books, art, etc, that he finds interesting. I guess I think it’s interesting, too.) It’s a short Hungarian novel by Desző Kosztolányi, whose name I had to copy and paste and couldn’t pronounce if my life depended on it. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s about two older parents and their 30ish-year-old spinster daughter, Skylark, who lives with them and takes care of them. They adore her and let her run the house. A family member invites them to his house in the country, and only Skylark goes, leaving her parents to fend for themselves for a week. At first, they miss Skylark terribly and appreciate all of the things she does for them. Then, eating out instead of eating Skylark’s cooking, they begin to rejoin their social circle at restaurants. They discover that life without Skylark isn’t so bad, after all, and that they can have lives of their own that aren’t totally overrun by her world.

Oh, I loved this book. It’s another one that I enjoyed the act of reading. The translation is beautiful and readable, and it’s a good book. I don’t really have much to say about it beyond that, but you should definitely check it out. It’s well worth your time.

SML doesn't have this one, but the Louisiana State Library does, so you can use interlibrary loan to get it.


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