One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Book Review (Sort of)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, copyright 1970.

Translated By: Gregory Rabassa

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 416

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

The Blurb:One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth, and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women – brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul – this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.”

D…N…F, what is there to say, this is going to be a very short review. Actually, I’m not sure that I’m really qualified to review this book, as I only read 50 of its over 400 pages. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a Columbian author and the 1982 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was to be my next stop on my journey through the Nobel Laureates. No such luck!

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, page 1.

I don’t really know what I was expecting here. I have heard some very good things about this book in the past from fellow book bloggers, though, at the moment, I can’t remember which ones (and perhaps that is best for those bloggers) The quote above is the first line of the book. It sounds fantastic and I was expecting a really phenomenal read, but as each page progressed to the next, I became more and more disheartened. I started to feel like I was reading about some sort of Spanish, Gypsy Middle Earth. One moment it seemed like this was a normal literary tale of a pioneering family in a new world and then the next there were gypsies popping out of the woodwork selling all sorts of weird magical items. I’ve said it before, I need my fiction to have some sort of basis in reality and, having only ventured 50 pages into this one, I had the distinct impression that the story was wandering continuously away from that realm. Yes, I realize that in the blurb it says it’s a mythical city, and I can handle mythical, but this was just getting too weird. Sorry…END RANT, I suppose!

I am determined to work my way through the Nobel Laureates, so if anyone has any suggests about other Marquez books, please let me know!


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The Year of the Goat – Margaret Hathaway – Book Review

The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway, copyright 2007.

Publisher: The Lyons Press

Pages: 204

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New from Munro’s Books

Reason for Reading: Recommendation from Billy

Did you hear the one about the sheep that took a book recommendation from a goat in the Year of the Rabbit? No? Hmmm…me neither!

Waaaaaaaaaay back in early 2010, before I had even begun blogging, The Year of the Goat was brought to my attention by everyone’s favourite book blogging goat, Billy, from Fizzy Thoughts. Since seeing the review, the book had been sitting, almost forgotten, on my TBBought list. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that my interest in goats is so enthusiastic that the purchase of this book would have ever come to fruition had I not discovered it on the discount rack at Munro’s Books. I am pleased, however, that it did, because aside from learning about all sorts of tasty goat products, this proved to be a very educational read.

In 2003, Margaret Hathaway and her then boyfriend, Karl Schatz, began a trek across America in search of a new way of life. Fed-up with the hussle and bussle of New York, the pair set out to discover if goats were their gateway to a slower, more rural and more local life. Their adventure took them to dairies, livestock auctions and family farms across the country as they sought the wonders of milking goats, meat goats and packing goats.

“We don’t simply want to make goat cheese. Rather, we want to center our lives around something both great and simple: producing food and devoting our lives to the pursuit and cultivation of real flavour, in every meaning of the word. Connecting the palate to the place suddenly seems the most perfect goal of our lives.” The Year of the Goat, page 114.

What they find along the way are people very much like themselves who are interested in a slower pace of life, people who want to develop a greater appreciation for the food that goes into their bodies and the place from which it comes.  Goat, Margaret and Karl learn, is the future and just may be their ticket to the lifestyle they are increasingly longing for.

I found the subtitle, “40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese,”(and the blurb) to be a little misleading. While the pair discover some truly amazing cheeses and other tasty goatables along the way, I never really got the impression that finding the perfect cheese was really their goal. Rather, it was to find the courage to give up everything they knew in exchange for a life they craved, but knew little about. That is the only flaw I can really find with this book. It was not overly exciting, but it was very informative and left me with a new understanding of the importance of goat in the global food chain.

If you care to see the fruition of their journey, and learn more about goats, you can visit Margaret and Karl at Ten Apple Farm.

RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd

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The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison – Book Review

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, copyright 1970

Publisher: Plume

Pages: 216

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

Toni Morrison is the latest dent in my mission to read my way through the Nobel Laureates. The Bluest Eye was not the chosen Morrison book for any special reason. The used book shop where I bought it had several of her novels and this one caught my eye for the very dark, nefarious looking black girl on the cover.

Pecola is a young black girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie in 1941. Ohioans, being in the North, pretend to look on their coloured population with less contempt than their southern neighbours, but in truth, no matter where blacks live in 1941, it’s an ugly world. An ugly child, the product of ugly parents, there is no beauty in Pecola’s life. Sent to live with a neighbouring family after her daddy burns down the family home and raped by the same father when he gets out of jail months later, Pecola wants nothing more than to escape. And the only way to do that, as far as Pecola is concerned, is to have blue eyes. If she could have peepers like Shirley Temple or the beautiful blue beamers of Rosemary Villanucci, the little white brat next door, she could be happy the rest of her days. We know it won’t happen, but we can’t help but pray that it does, for what is your life, when being raped by your father is the closest thing you have to feeling wanted?

“A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.” The Bluest Eye, page 204.

There were some very delicate and dark topics touched upon in this novel; they were not limited to the aforementioned rape and incest, but burgeoned far beyond that. There are passages of disturbing details littered throughout the book, details of ugly faces, ugly bodies, ugly actions and ugly events. There is not a glimmer of beauty in these pages, ugliness is truly what this story is about.

Pecola is the central character of the novel, but the chapters alternate between tales of Pecola’s life and the pasts of some of the adult characters. As the story progresses we come to see how the ugly, bitter pasts of the adults around Pecola have collided to make her childhood an especially detestable one. By the end of the story, I loathed nearly every one of the characters in it.

“…little boys were insulting, scary and stubborn, he further limited his interests to little girls. They were usually manageable and frequently seductive. His sexuality was anything but lewd; his patronage of little girls smacked of innocence and was associated in his mind with cleanliness. He was what one might call a very clean old man.” The Bluest Eye, pages 166-167.

Morrison does a flawless job of painting the depressing and revolting circumstances of one child’s existence. I came to truly understand the bleak, repugnant nature of Pecola’s life. I was able to imagine living in her world and the hell it would be. The story failed, however, to elicit any sympathy from me for Pecola because I felt that while I understood the circumstances of her life and was able to imagine how awful it would be to live with them, I didn’t feel I really had an opportunity to get to know her and develop a bond with her as a character. I came to know Pecola’s life, but I didn’t get to know the little girl inside.

For the most part, I found I really enjoyed Morrison’s writing. This book wasn’t quite what I had hoped it would be, but it still left me with a very positive impression of Morrison’s literary talents. She is an artist!

RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd

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Fun Home – Alison Bechdel – Book Review

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, copyright 2006.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Pages: 232

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New

Reason for Reading: Recommended by Wallace

Fun Home first came to my attention by way of this review at Unputdownables. Wallace gave the novel a favourable review and being that I had never ventured into the foray of graphic novels and given that this is an LGBT themed memoir, I thought it was a pretty good choice to start me off.

Alison Bechdel grew up in a very emotionally closed family. Her father, a mortician and high school English teacher, ran an abusive household and had a sweet tooth for teenage boys. Growing up in the lethal atmosphere of this deranged funeral home, or the Fun Home as they came to call it, was less than conducive to the spirit of a growing child. Alison developed all sorts of issues, including OCD, as she struggled to come to terms with her own sexuality. When Alison finally came out to her parents in a letter from college, her relationship with her dad began to blossom and she thought that this was truly her opportunity to make peace with the man she had loved-to-hate until, two weeks later, he stepped in front of a tractor trailer.

“Struck by the coincidence, I counted out their lifespans. The same number of months, the same number of weeks…but [F. Scott] Fitzgerald lived three days longer. For a wild moment, I entertained the idea that my father had timed his death with this in mind, as some sort of deranged tribute. But that would only confirm that his death was not my fault. That, in fact, it had nothing to do with me at all. And I’m reluctant to let go of that last, tenuous bond.” Fun Home, pages 85-86.

This was a very touching, raw memoir and, I think, a healing opportunity for Bechdel to come to terms with the fact that her father did not commit suicide because of her. The story cuts deeply to expose the rigid, taught fibers of a poisoned heart and examines the psychological devastation caused when tender and open communication are lacking in familial relationships. It is a stark reminder that no family is perfect and that understanding our own families can take a lifetime of hurt and healing. Fun Home is well deserving of the endless accolades showered upon it since its 2006 debut.

The format of the novel was an excellent opportunity to offer some comic relief to what may have otherwise been an overly depressing memoir. This graphic novel formatting, however, was also the only thing with which I had a bit of a tough time. I never got into comic books when I was a kid and perhaps that is the reason that I found this difficult to read. Make no mistake, I loved the story, but I found the format really distracting. Reading and then stopping to soak in the graphic pain,s reading and then stopping again. I’m not sure if I really ever got used to it. Also, I felt as though the prevalence of pictures did something to take away from my reading experience in some sense. It’s nice to get an unobstructed view of what the characters and details of the setting actually looked like, but it also left me with a sense of loss. One of the fundamental elements of reading fiction is that the reader is left to visualize the details in his/her own mind; every novel is a slightly different experience for each reader. The graphic novel somehow steals that from the reader.

All in all though, the drawbacks of the format were not enough to put me off graphic novels, but I think they will perhaps be only an occasional read, when I feel the need for something different. Fun Home  was certainly the right choice to help me get my feet wet; thanks Wallace for bringing the book to my attention.

RATING: Hard to Bleat

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Stowaway – Karen Hesse – Book Review

Stowaway by Karen Hesse, copyright 2000.

Illustrated by: Robert Andrew Parker

Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks

Pages: 315

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New from Munro’s Books

Reason for Reading: Recommendation of a Friend

Several months ago, I was inquiring on Pink Sheep Cafe about Young Adult reads. At the time, I hadn’t read a great deal of YA fiction and was asking for suggestions. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a primary school teacher, suggested Karen Hesse’s Stowaway. The book is a favourite with some of the kids she teaches. The recommendations I most enjoy taking are those from friends, though, unfortunately, I find they are seldom very good suggestions. Stowaway was an exception to that; it was quite good. I was also pleased to discover that it’s not actually a YA book, rather it’s geared to the 10-14 audience. I was thankful for that as well, as I have found myself somewhat exasperated with YA stuff as of late.

It’s common knowledge that Captain Cook made his first voyage with H.M.S Endeavour in 1768 to take astronomical readings in the Southern Hemisphere and to secretly search for a new continent. What is not common knowledge is that Endeavour carried an eleven-year-old stowaway by the name of Nick Young. This book is the fictional journal of the very real youngster and represents a true account of Cook’s journey. Nick has been running from things for most of his life. He ran away from school and he ran away from his apprenticeship as a butcher. Desperate to get away, he pays three sailors to hide him away on Endeavour. Once the ship is deemed to be far enough from land, so that Captain Cook will not dump him off and send him back to England, Nick comes out of hiding and is presented to the Captain. He is assigned to help the ship’s doctor and, having had some education, has great success in his new post. As the ship makes its way around the globe, Nick makes new friends, sees new lands and receives an important lesson in the value of family and hard work.

“We have a good wind and fine weather, my sea legs have been restored, and the Company is well pleased to be under sail. Tupia and Tarheto talk about a land to our south where demons live who dine on men and are violent in all things. I do not believe there are such demons. There were no monsters at Cape Horn, nor did the warriors of Bora Bora ever show their faces. I am not afraid.” Stowaway, page 104.

Previously, I had known something of Captain Cook’s later journeys, but knew very little of this first one. When I started reading the story, I mistook it for one of those later expeditions and kept waiting for Cook to be killed. Once I had looked it up on Wikipedia, and discovered that the Captain wasn’t going to die, the book lost something of its lustre. By the end though, I was really quite taken with the story.

Exploiting the story of Nick Young is a brilliant way to educate kids about the travels of a great explorer. While the journal itself is fictitious, Nick’s story is not. When kids know that something is truly possible for someone their own age, they sit up and take note. Hesse doesn’t do this in any sort of a boring fashion either. Nick’s journal is full of drama as the crew comes upon foreign lands, encounters fierce natives and faces the wrath of fatal diseases.

The only beef I really had with the book was that, occasionally, I found some of the details of the voyage to be a bit monotonous and my mind would drift off momentarily as I read. In that sense, the 300 pages used to tell this story probably could have done with a little trimming, but overall it wasn’t a problem.

RATING: Not Baaaaaaahd

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From Stone Orchard: A Collection of Memories – Timothy Findley – Book Review

From Stone Orchard: A Collection of Memories by Timothy Findley; copyright 1998 by Pebble Productions Inc.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 170

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: It’s Timothy Findley…Enough Said!

Sigh!! I love Timothy Findley…have I mentioned this before? If I could have literally wrapped myself up in this book, I would have; that was the sort of cozy feeling I experienced reading this, the second of Findley’s memoirs. Consider yourself warned and prepare yourself for A. long quotes and B. hearing me gush!!

“People in the community…hadn’t yet heard that I was an aspiring novelist or that Bill was preparing documentary scripts for radio and television. All they knew was, we spent most of our time at home. Hmm. No Visible mean of support – and they pick grapes. The local conclusion was inevitable. When Bill’s fairly strait-laced parents arrived from the West for their first visit, they stopped at the service station to ask for directions. Whitehead and Findley? Oh, you mean the bootleggers! Sure – you go down there and turn left… From Stone Orchard, page 52.

In 1964, Findley and his partner, fellow writer, William Whitehead purchased a fifty-acre farm at Cannington in rural Ontario. Sought out as a reprieve from the hussle and bussle of Toronto, Stone Orchard, so named for its primary crop, was to become the inspiration for much of Findley’s work. Having called the farm home for over thirty years, Findley wrote this memoir as a farewell tribute to the place and the people that provided the greatest impetus for his writing. Remembrances that will make you smile, cry, and laugh-out-loud, Findley’s memories are filled with a poignancy and love that will warm your heart and replenish your faith in humanity.

Having read so many of Findley’s novels, I found, on every page of this memoir, some reference to a real life person, object or event that was, in some way, mirrored in a Findley novel. Not Wanted on the Voyage, The Piano Man’s Daughter, Pilgrim, they are all here.

“We have…rules about the animals’ names: Rule #1: don’t put them in my novels. Three of our first cat’s initial litter became characters in my first novel, The Last of the Crazy People, and all three had perished before the book was finished. I’ve since wondered if I could hire myself out as a literary hit-man.” From Stone Orchard, page 75.

It was kind of uncanny; before reading this book, I felt I had an understanding of who Findley was and what he was like as a person. We all like to think this about our favourite authors, don’t we? Reading the memoir, though, somehow felt like an affirmation of those feelings. For me, From Stone Orchard was more than the memoir of a revered author; it was more akin to the diary of a dear friend. I was revisiting the details of a life that I knew no other place than in my heart.

The only thing I was shocked to find out was that Findley was something of an animal collector. Were he alive today, he would have been a perfect candidate for Animal Planet’s Animal Hoarders. At one point, he admits to having had thirty cats on the property. The animals, though, are at the heart of the farm; clearly they bring tremendous joy and purpose to Findley’s life and are one of the most compelling forces behind his hunger for life. The animals are also responsible for providing some of funniest memories:

“[On the train] the subject today is the recurring problem of competition between the birds and one of the cats [named Mother] for that precious spread of seeds. It is Bill who first mentions it. ‘Honestly, Tiff, I don’t know what to do. Did you notice? Just as we were about to leave, Mother shat in the bird feeder again.’…We both then lean back to ponder the problem, slowly becoming aware of what is happening around us. Copies of the The Globe and Mail are lowered. Accusing eyes are turned towards us, faces registering a mixture of horror and puzzlement.” From Stone Orchard, pages 77-78.

You don’t need to be a Findley fan to enjoy Stone Orchard. Everyone will get a kick out these thirty years worth of tender and tumultuous times in rural Ontario. For those that are familiar with Findley, however, this memoir will provide an often hilarious insight into the inspirations behind Findley’s best works.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Reading Experience

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The Outsider – Albert Camus – Book Review

The Outsider by Albert Camus, copyright 1942.

Translated from French by: Stuart Gilbert

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 120

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

I picked up The Outsider because I’m trying to work my way through the Nobel laureates and Camus won the prestigious award in 1957. After purchasing the book, it was recommended to me by a co-worker…one who’s literary recommendations I will no longer be taking!

“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday. I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.” The Outsider, page 13.

Never has one man cared so little about so much. Meursault, a colonial Algerian, is off to his mother’s funeral, to grieve, or perhaps not. Yes, he will sit by her coffin and hold vigil, but he will not cry as he smokes his cigarettes, drinks his coffee and nods off till morning. Several days after the funeral, Meursault’s apathy will get him into trouble when it leads him to get wrapped up in a dispute involving his neighbour. When his involvement lands him in court, on capital charges, the lacklustre Algerian finds himself wondering if he is on trial for the matter at hand, or for the death of his mother.

It sounds intriguing I know…but please…PLEASE, don’t read this book. This is without a doubt, the single worst novel/novella I have ever finished. It is supposed to be one of the most famous pieces of French writing; I certainly hope all French writing isn’t this awful.

Throughout the story, Meursault is calm and emotionless. I was convinced that he was a sociopath until, finally, at the end of the story, he finally breaks down. Until that point, all of his responses to stimuli are physiological. He has no emotional responses to anything and doesn’t even speak of ever having had any feelings about anything.

“To indicate, presumably, that the interview was over, the magistrate stood up. In the same weary tone he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done? After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation – I couldn’t find a better word for it. But he didn’t seem to understand.” The Outsider, page 74.

I think the calmness of Meursault and the lack of emotional response is supposed to provide some form of comic relief, and, to the author’s credit, there were a couple of instances in which I saw the humor, though I never found them funny enough to actually laugh. It is too difficult to make one’s way through a literary work without some means of investing emotionally in the characters. I cared as little for Meursault when the story finished as when it began.

I wish I could find something positive to say about this one, but I can’t. It’s put me off Alberta Camus for sure!

THE RATING: Ain’t Worth Mutton

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A Note To My Kid

I didn’t have the balls to make a video for the It Gets Better Project. As I sit here now thinking about it, I feel a sense of shame about that. (I’m crying right now thinking about it) As a gay man I have a responsibility to make one; I have a responsibility to let young people everywhere know that it’s ok to be gay and that no matter how tough life is for them right now, it won’t stay that way. I feel that by not having made a video I’ve let those people down. I don’t think that the Project is accepting videos anymore, but I am going to make one and post it on Youtube…I’ve got to! I’ll let you know when it’s done!

Anyway, that wasn’t what I was planning on saying. I wanted to bring another website to your attention. was started by Patrick Wallace and is similar to It Gets Better. A Note To My Kids is a place for parents of LGBT and questioning youth (and former youth too apparently) to post notes and letters to their kids letting them know how much they are loved and accepted. As the website says, it is a platform for unconditional love. This is, to me, even more fantastic than It Gets Better, because it is parents that kids need to hear the message from. The written format also makes it more likely that parents will take part; it’s far easier to write a letter than to create a video.

Please parents…if you have kids, don’t wait until they come out, don’t wait until you start to suspect they might be gay, just tell them!! Tell them you love them, tell them you love them for who they are, tell them you love no matter who they love, but, whatever you do, tell them now!!

And please EVERYONE, check out the website and tell all the parents you know about it!!

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy – Book Review

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Copyright 2006 by M-71, Ltd.

Publisher: Vintage International

Pages: 287

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

This is, by far, the longest book that I’ve read in a single sitting. I am normally a start-and-stop sort of reader and tend to take two to three days to get through a book. I found, though, that I couldn’t put The Road down. It is also the only book to every make my eyes water…notice I don’t use the c-word here. I’m quite sure it’s just because my eyes were getting tired by the end of the book. 😉

At the outset, I found myself rolling my eyes just a little, because I didn’t realize this was a dystopian story when I picked it up and I am NOT a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction at all! Why did I pick up then? I picked it up because I was perusing the used bookshop and when I saw the name Cormac McCarthy, something registered in my brain saying ‘this is a good book.’ I’m thrilled that I didn’t read the blurb when I picked it up, because I never would have purchased it and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read a book that I am pretty certain is going to be added to my all time favourites. I understand entirely why Cormac McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for this one.

A father and son make their way south across the barren wasteland that was once the United States. There is nowhere safe anymore; there is nobody to trust. The winter is nearly upon them and, with supplies running low, their only hope is to make it to the coast where, hopefully, they will find a slightly warmer climate and fewer dangers. Every day they trudge on, seeking food, seeking shelter and seeking to avoid any other living creatures. Ailing, the man begins to wonder how much longer he will have to take care of his son, who could not survive a day on his own. As each new day presents an ever bleaker future, and with only two bullets remaining in his gun, will he have the courage to do what he must when they can no longer go on?

The reason I don’t usually like dystopian fiction is because I find that it wavers too close to regular science fiction. I have said before that I need my reads to come with a heavy dose of reality. I always imagine dystopian novels degenerating into an orgy of zombies, aliens and giant man-eating squirrels. This wasn’t anything like that; everything in the story stayed within the confines of reality. McCarthy manages to avoid a lot of the potential deal busters in that regard by simply not talking about them. At the end of the story we still had no idea what catastrophe led to the bleak situation on Earth and that wasn’t a problem for me. Because this wasn’t a tale of post-apocalyptic America, it was a very dark tale of the bonds of family and the power of love, begging us to ponder just what we would do, and how far we would go, for the people we love the most. When we die, we worry about those we leave behind, but know that they will be cared for by others. How do you leave someone behind in a world in which there is no good?

“On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?” The Road, page 32.

That quote comprises a complete paragraph in The Road. There were frequently sections in the book in which several paragraphs like this appeared out of nowhere. They are most often short philosophical ponderances, remnants of dreams, or snippets of fading memories. Always, they are reminders that this is a very, very dark tale. These unannounced tidbits at first led me to feel that the story was quite disjointed, but as I worked through the pages I found those pieces became less distracting and more informative. They fill us in on missing details from the characters’ past or give us a tiny glimpse of the Earth before.

There are no chapters or breaks of any kind throughout the story and there are no long paragraphs. Occasionally there were some that would last a page or two, but for the most part, each page had several shorter paragraphs and this helped the plot to move along quickly and prevent any aspects of the story from becoming too mundane. It is also, perhaps, the reason I read the entire book in a single sitting; I found myself constantly saying, “just one more paragraph.” I thirsted for more of McCarthy’s words. He paints some vivid pictures with his prose, but without making the work overly literary.

“The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes.” The Road, page 181.

Honest to goodness, I can’t think of a single detail that I disliked about this novel and can think of no reason anyone else wouldn’t enjoy it.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Reading Experience

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The Quiet American – Graham Greene – Book Review

I’m going to be honest…this is slightly embarrassing to admit…but until about five years ago, I didn’t know that Graham Greene was an author. Every time I heard the name Graham Greene, I thought people were talking about this guy, the Canadian actor with the same name.

Once I understood that it was two completely different people, I was quite relieved. Since figuring this out, I have developed a soft spot for Greene the actor. He and I both know the heavy burden that comes along with growing up in the shadow of a famous writer. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Robbie, Robert Burns is far more famous than Graham Greene.’ 😉 And that may very well be so, but I am still certain that Greene was tormented in school too!

The Quiet American by Graham Greene, copyright 1955.

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 189

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Fiona @ Book Coop

It was a review by Fiona over at the Book Coop that finally convinced me that I needed to get around to Greene sooner rather than later. I send a big thank you out to Fiona, because, as it turns out, Greene is pretty darn fantastic.

Thomas Fowler is an older, British foreign correspondent for a London based newspaper and is in Indo-China covering the French war against the Vietminh.  An encounter with an American diplomat, Alden Pyle, leads to a tug-o-war between the two men for the affections of Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman. Despite the fact that Pyle is determined to win over Fowler’s girl, he is insistent that such an act should not impair relations between the two men. As the relationship and feud between the pair grows, Fowler begins to learn more about Pyle than he cares to know. It soon becomes apparent that the young American is taking advice on war tactics from questionable sources and is getting himself in deeper than he knows.

I have a tendency not to care very much for stories that are set in Eastern Asia, and, as such, I found myself somewhat less interested in the plot of this book as a result. One of the things I quite liked about The Quiet American, though, was the way in which Greene contrasted the ugliness of the war with the beauty of the country itself. I found it quite moving.

“From the bell tower of the Cathedral the battle was only picturesque, fixed like a panorama of the Boer War in an old Illustrated London News. An aeroplane was parachuting supplies to an isolated post in the calcaire, those strange weather-eroded mountains on the Annam border that look like piles of pumice, and because it always returned to the same place for its glide, it might never have moved, and the parachute was always there in the same spot, half-way to earth.” The Quiet American, page 46.

Greene would seem to be something of a master when it comes to the authenticity of his characters. He captures a believability that many other authors struggle to attain. Beyond that, I found Greene’s writing to be strikingly similar to Hemingway. The writing is both beautiful and forthright, but there is no dilly-dallying with the details. From early on in the novel I had a strange sensation that I was reading The Sun Also Rises. Both Greene and Hemingway have styles of writing that are quite flat; they lay everything on the table and, somehow, it moulds itself into something masterful.

I don’t have any other Graham Greene works on my TBR shelf, but I certainly will keep an eye out for him next time I am at the used book shop.

RATING: Hard to Bleat

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