Brief Reviews

The form of the very brief review is working well for me these days, so I’ll do it again.

First, The Marriage Plot. I liked it just fine. But, but … I wanted to like it more than that and so felt a little disappointed. It’s a very absorbing story, and I read the novel quickly. Ultimately, though, I didn’t think it was doing anything terribly interesting. It was good but not great. I guess I don’t think the question the novel asks — what happens to the marriage plot in the modern age when marriage is so embattled? — is all that interesting. Forms of the marriage plot still exist, but it is radically changed and becomes something more like the relationship plot. But this is something tons of novels explore, right? I did like all the novel’s bookishness, Madeleine’s literature and theory courses and her obsession with A Lover’s Discourse. And I liked Mitchell and his religious explorations. I thought the ending was satisfying as well.

Also, Mariana, by Monica Dickens. Again, I liked it just fine, and again, it was good but not great. The story is episodic, recounting scenes from the main character Mary’s life from her girlhood up through her (early or mid?) adult years. She visits the country, she goes to school, she gets “engaged” as a child to a boy who takes the “engagement” much less seriously than she does, she slowly comes to face more grown-up worries. What makes the novel’s structure more interesting is the opening scene, which shows her as an adult during World War II waiting to find out whether her husband was drowned or not. After this, we move back into her girlhood and don’t find out what happened to the husband — or even who the husband is — until the novel’s end. This created enough suspense and interest to keep me going. The novel was charming and fun, but not something I was in a mood to fall in love with.

I’ve been in a mood to read fiction that’s a little more experimental and strange and not likely to be the kind of perfectly competent but not very exciting novel I’ve read recently, so I picked up David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Oblivion, and even though I’m not loving that book either, it is closer to what I’ve wanted. It is strange, certainly.

14 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

14 responses to “Brief Reviews

  1. I look forward to reading The Marriage Plot before the movie adaptation comes out. I’m always curious to see how filmmakers transpose intellectual materials onto the visual medium. Thanks for another two succinct reviews. And, I know what you mean by good, but not great, or, like but not love. Hard to find something that we can fully embrace and feel exhilarating about it, isn’t it?

  2. I think timing is really everything when it comes to books. If you are really in the mood for something experimental and are just reading regular sorts of stories they just won’t show in a good light–I find that myself when I push myself to read something I am not in the mood for. I’m not sure I’ll read the Eugenides–it does sound good but I seem to keep hearing mixed things about it. I did like Mariana and wouldn’t mind reading more of Monica Dickens’s books. Hope the Foster Wallace will be the right fit!

  3. The Call by Yannik Murphy unusual format beautifully written.

  4. Hmmm, I think both those books are too light for you. I’ve often noticed (over the years!) that you have quite a taste for dark reads. And complexity is good too! Have you ever read Don DeLillo? Or Christa Wolf? But what am I saying? I’ll bet you’ve got one or two books on the TBR pile already. :)

  5. Arti — yes, it certainly is hard to find truly exciting books! It’s been a bit harder for me lately, and I’m not sure why. Just a mood, I guess. I’m curious what you will think of The Marriage Plot. Who knows — I might like the film better!

    Danielle — you are right that timing is everything. I doesn’t work so well to push yourself to read something that’s not quite right. I’d still recommend The Marriage Plot if you want something absorbing and bookish. I don’t think it’s a must-read, but it still is satisfying in lots of ways. The Wallace stories aren’t perfect, but are much more what I’m in the mood for right now, so that’s good.

    Rhonda — thanks!

    Litlove — how great that we now have years of information about each other’s reading tastes! I appreciate your insight and agree that light reads often don’t work for me. Sometimes they are just what I need, but often not. It’s nice to have you say that to clarify the thought for me. I’ve read and enjoyed Delillo (White Noise especially), but Christa Wolf is not someone I have on my list right now. I will remedy that right away!

  6. I’m sorry The Marriage Plot was a disappointment for you. You make a good point that it isn’t doing anything too unusual, but I think that’s what l liked about it. I’m a bit weary at the moment of books that are trying too hard to be experimental–so it seems we’re in opposite moods :). I thought The Marriage Plot was just extremely well-executed, even if it was pretty straightforward. (The one bit of meta-fiction at the end seemed tacked on, almost out of obligation to the metafiction trend.)

  7. I wish I was a faster reader. Then I wouldn’t get so impatient with books that are just okay. But it isn’t easy to find books that are great, and of course people disagree on which ones they are!

  8. “Charming and fun” is exactly how I’d describe Mariana. It’s a book I always recommend to people when they’re in the mood for something “light,” and I know exactly what’s it’s like to read something when you’re in the wrong mood for it. Unfortunately, I’m not always sure what kind of mood I’m in until I get going with something, or sometimes, not even until I get to the end.

  9. There are quite a few perfectly competent but not very exciting novels being published these days, aren’t there? It gets to be rather depressing sometimes and I start to wonder, is it me? Glad the David Foster Wallace is better, but I hope you land on something you can really get into soon!

  10. I, like Lillian, get very impatient with a book I think is just okay rather than wonderful. While I’m reading a good, but not great, book, I keep thinking to myself, “Is there another Never Let Me Go in that TBR pile over there?” And the hope and desire that the answer is “yes” is unnerving.

  11. And by the way, I see you’re reading The Year of Magical Thinking. That was one of those “great” ones I’ve read.

  12. Couldn’t agree more about Mariana. The only part that amused me was the drama class. The rest was very average. I find I’m moving away from ‘cosy reads’ lately.

  13. I am very much a mood reader, and sometimes a book that I might have liked at one time just doesn’t do it for me at present. I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately as well — perhaps too busy/preoccupied to spend the time discovering something great? Or just overwhelmed by the pile of just okay I’ve been going through? Not sure. The most unusual one I’ve read lately was Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox — perhaps you’d like that one…

  14. Thank you for your comments re: Eugenides. I am planning to read his Middlesex with my Reading Partner soon.
    I have read two very engaging beauties recently and highly recommend them to you, astute reader that you are. The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt –and Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles.

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