Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Despite the enormous physical and mental challenge of solo round the world yacht racing, it doesn't make especially interesting reading. That's why, if you only ever read one round-the-world account in your life, you should make it Moitessier's.
On 28th May 1967 Francis Chichester sailed into Plymouth in the South of England. He had been at sea for 226 days and in that time he had circumnavigated the globe stopping only once in Australia for repairs. Chichester was knighted by the Queen for his achievement. His voyage captured the imagination not just of the sailing fraternity but the public at large and plans were immediately laid to establish a race to tackle the last great challenge of solo yacht racing: a solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world.
Moitessier was an experienced sailor unlike many of the other competitors in the race. He was born in French Indochina and he had grown up in and around boats. He had also just returned from a return trip to Tahiti in his custom built steel ketch, Joshua. The Long Way begins just as he is leaving Plymouth and tells the story of his voyage.
At times this book can be slow. The story of any ocean voyage is inevitably the story of the weather and the wind. If you want to know what the weather was like in the southern ocean in 1968-9 then this is the book for you. Having said that, this is no simple day-by-day account. Moitessier mixes in personal recollections and philosophies as well as a keen appreciation of the nature which he encounters along the way.
The story takes an unexpected turn at the end. Moitessier, although he didn't know it, was in the lead as he made his way up the Atlantic when he suddenly decided to abandon the race and head for the Pacific again. He finally arrived in Tahiti on 21 June 1969 having been one and a half times around the world and having spent almost a year at sea.
One of the more extreme aspects of his voyage was that the only method he had of sending messages was by catapult. He deliberately did not take a radio. Instead he would photograph his log and then catapult the film onto the deck of any ships he met. In his whole voyage he only sent three such messages in almost a year at sea. He had a transistor radio but he never heard word of any of the other competitors and gave up listening to it in the Pacific.
The story itself is only 180 pages long but it is followed by a 70 page appendix about the technicalities of his voyage which I found very interesting. These were the days before GPS so Moitessier was navigating using methods which had been around for hundreds of years. Readers of Longitude might be surprised to realise that a clock was still crucial to navigation in 1968. Moitessier didn't like using his compass which was lucky because it rarely worked in his steel boat.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
This is a book that cried out for some rigorous editing; but perhaps the translator was too reverential in approaching the work. Indeed, I lay a lot of the blame for the quality of the writing on the translator: there may be problems with the structure, the tone, the repetitiveness of the original, or with the paucity of its vocabulary - but this book just isn't written in very good English. Even at the level of basic copy-editing, there are numerous flaws - places where the English is inelegant, inept, or, occasionally, outright grammatically incorrect (and there is at least one instance where the wrong word is printed - "kept away" for "kept awake"; this kind of thing should not happen). One example of inexplicably poor writing that began to irritate me early on was the repeated use of the word 'chilled'. To my mind, certain drinks are 'chilled' - or perhaps the ambience of a trendy bar, or the demeanour of a laidback person. White wine is 'chilled'; sweat, urine, sweat, a lover's shoulder blade, sweat, gnat's piss (well, I think it's actually cicada's piss - but yes, all of these examples occur within a few pages of each other) are not 'chilled'; they might be 'chill', 'chilly', 'chilling', 'cool', or just plain 'cold', but they are not 'chilled'. Another bizarre ineptitude is that Zhang Kou the minstrel is two or three times described as 'strumming' his instrument; you play the erhu (a two-stringed upright fiddle) with a bow, you don't 'strum' it. I find this kind of thing quite flabbergasting.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
At the end of the 10th century, two friends--a spindly blonde Frankish scarecrow of a young man with a narrow sword, and a giant grey-haired African warrior with an axe (and both Jewish! Who would have guessed?)--make their way along the westernmost fringes of the silkroad, where they fall in with an angry young prince who has been dispossessed of his kingdom.
I think perhaps Mr. Chabon has been writing a bit too quickly. This book did not rock my world the way KAVALIER & CLAY or YIDDISH POLICEMEN did (I know it's tacky to compare an author's work to itself, but this book does strike me as a lackluster or at least only half-achieved novel in his oeuvre). There was so much potential for world recreation, dazzling adventure, deep emotional significance. Instead, the writing left so much of the plot implied (as opposed to expressed) that it was often hard engage with the narrative or to connect dots between events. The book was short--too short for the ambitious plot, in my opinion, and I rarely complain that a book is too short. I'm actually really sad, because I think there was a lot of potential for this novel to be much more. As it was, I actually had trouble getting through because the narrative was so shallow.
It was, however, a beautiful package--nice two-color typesetting, beautiful initial capitals and a border decoration on chapter openers, nice drawings throughout. That doesn't, you know, save the story.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
the book starts with fifteen year old barbara. she is taken care of by her grandmother in the english countryside. when her mother, who is known for her loose ways and heavy spending, visits, it's never good news. this time, she tells barbara she is to marry roger devane--a handsome and rich bachelor more than twice her age.
roger shares a long history with barbara's grandfather, the duke, a war hero. and the duchess (her grandmother) was always fond of roger, tho something about the match stirs a faint sense of worry within her. what is she forgetting about roger's past? or the gossip that may have surrounded him? everyone knows he is incapable of committing to one woman, and wanders from bed to bed among the powerful and rich women in society.
barbara, however, is delighted by this match. she believes she has loved roger ever since she was a little girl, when the dashing man would visit their country home and be kind to her with a word or present from london. barbara does have her way in the end, despite family sabotage. she marries roger, and that is where everything begins to unravel. she must navigate her way through the french court while trying to ingratiate herself into roger's life.
koen does a fine job of developing her characters from our young heroine to her grandmother the matriarch, to her selfish mother and roger, the love of barbara's life who carries too many secrets of his own. the tension within the story, the marriage between barbara and roger, innocence juxtaposed with his past, is so well done. and no one is all good or all bad. every charcter has a heroic moment as well as her/his foible.
i believe the book is very well written and has an epic feel. this is a debut novel by koen and she has followed with a prequel and sequel to the book. she is a strong prose writer, tho i admit to skipping many sections where she goes into furnishings in detail. =X she definitely knows how to bring to life the period of 18th century france and england. better still, she brings her characters to life. i recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy historical novels.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
What is the essence of time but the perrenial river that stumbles past every pebble?
What difference would it make which way the river flowed? Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis is a manipulative novel. I mean this in a good way. (Isn’t it sad that some words are forever canonized into having a negative connotation?) The book starts off with a man in a hospital, paralyzed and unable to move. This is the point where most novels would decide to end the story. Man born, grows up, falls in love, makes futile attempts at procreation, and is paralyzed by the humiliation of his inability. However this is where his novel begins in reverse.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Monday, January 7, 2008
Etsuko, a Japanese woman who grew up in pre-War Nagasaki, lives alone in England. Her English daughter, Niki, comes to for a short visit, and Niki's visit prompts a chain of thoughts and memories, both of Etsuko's first marriage in post-War Nagasaki (and a solitary single mother with whom she became friendly) and of the recent suicide of her oldest daughter, Keiko.
I liked this book. Ishiguro has a way of overstating the most mundane elements of his story, thus investing them with ambivalent morality, darkness, and implications. I found Etsuko extremely persuasive as a narrator--interesting to me, since all the other books I've read by Ishiguro thus far have had male narrators of a certain self-interested ilk.
I read Ishiguro for two reasons. The first is that he truly is a (or the) master of the first-person narrator. He is unembarrassed of reality, even the most unattractive reality, and recreates unflinchingly (yet manages never to bore). Hence the masterpiece that is THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. But my other reason, which is maybe less univeral among his readers, is that I'm really compelled by what he has to say about Japan. In his books, as in many other works of literature, cinema, etc, by both Japanese writers/expats and international writers of Japanese descent, there is a theme of The War--it always comes back to The War, no matter how far removed you think a subject is. I hope Ishiguro wouldn't think I'm simplifying any of his complex and sophisticated books by saying this; I just think it's very easy for English language readers to forget (or never know about) the devastation of the War in the Pacific, and its very strange two-sided psychological damage to the Japanese people (rather different from the one-sided psychological damage it wreaked on the rest of Asia VIA the Japanese government). Ishiguro's Japanese characters are plagued with both devastation and guilt. The bomb destroyed their lives and they talk about how excited they are to move forward out of the ashes but there is the ever-present underlying fog of the past, of what they lost, and of how responsible they were for losing it.
I want to open up further conversation about this book with other people who have read it, but I don't want to introduce any spoilers. I'm going to make a different post called "A Pale View of Hills Book Club" and then post all my [spoiler-laden] ideas in the comments section. Please share your thoughts with me if you've read this--I'm very very curious to see what other people think.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
The book is set in England during the time of Oliver Cromwell, and that's probably some sort of social metaphor far beyond the capacities of my perfunctory skimming during my flight to North Carolina, but there you have it. It's alternating narrators, one a giantess whose stature has given her unusual insight into the human condition, the other her son, an explorer who brings the banana and the pineapple to English soil for the first time much to the consternation of the pale-faces. That's about as plot-heavy as it gets--most of the book is filled with queered retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Artemis, etc. It's so fantastical and atmospheric it was just a pleasure to read. There are a lot of ideas embedded here--mob mentality the "frontier," the gender construct...but again, they're more loosely strung together than wound into one cohesive thesis. In short, this book is a perfect subway read because you can stop and start whenever and it doesn't matter much.
My sister says of the three, she dislikes Eclipse the most. She says, quote, "It sucks." I didn't think it was nearly that bad, and I think her dislike has something to do with all the war/battling strategy in there. Not really her area of interest, I don't think.
The reason that I didn't like this one as much as the first, possibly even the second (though I'm not sure about that), is that the melodrama is hyped up a notch in this one. Edward is OBSESSIVE and OVERPROTECTIVE to the point that I want to SMACK HIM, and Bella is a little too clingy and crazy for me. It borders on making them unsympathetic, although I think Stephenie Meyer has done a good enough job in the first two (esp the first) that I still give them the leeway, remembering who they were in the beginning. But really. Those two need to stop. Also, it sort of bothers me that Bella is willing to throw away everything -- forget her family -- for this guy. I'm sure that Meyer is being pretty true to the self-absorption of teenagers across the world, and that eventually she'll have some moral kick in (I can already see it in bits, actually), but coupled with Bella and Edward's OBSESSION with each other, it's a little disconcerting. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I'm too parenting. But the two of them are starting to drive me a little nuts, because they remind me of the type of couples I can't stand. Needy to the nth degree. And their flowery love for each other. Sometimes I want to be like, GOD YOU'RE SEVENTEEN! But I guess that's what it was like being a teenager.
So. My sister had asked about Edward vs. Jacob right? By the end of this novel, Edward wins still but only marginally. Only because Jacob's got the worse temper. But what made Edward endearing, mysterious and enticing in the first novel is starting to wane. Now he just seems like a control freak, the kind of boyfriend I never want.
My sister tells me that book 5 (the one after the next one) will be written from Edward's point of view. I hope it sheds some light on him and makes him much more sympathetic again.
Everything else though? I really like the werewolf legends thing. It gives the books a really cool unique quality that I commend Meyer for thinking up. I loved that. The whole werewolves mindsharing thing is awesome too. I'm starting to really enjoy them.
Yeah, okay. You know now I'm going to read the rest before passing them to my sister. Speaking of, I had to steal my sister's copy of Eclipse to finish reading on the plane, even though I was only 150 pages away from finishing, and now my sister won't get it back til I go back to China next summer. Hehe.
New Moon is my sister's favorite of the three. She's read it twice already, and I only just brought it back to her in mid-December, when I went to China. I think the star-crossed lovers thing has something to do with it; my sister will deny it, but she's a hopeless romantic underneath all her layers of teenage cynicism.
Me? I missed Edward in this one for the most part. And -- and maybe this is where my adult sense kicks in and why this is better for the teenagers -- I found it a bit melodramatic. The guy breaks up with her in the beginning and she falls into a pit of despair for months. Okay, I remember my first breakup, and yeah, it was sort of all-consuming. But to be like that? Am I just forgetting what the emotional roller coaster was like as a teen? Because it seems crazy to extremes, in a way I almost don't condone. I don't like the whole, I can't live without you thing, not when you're seventeen. It was too over the top for me, and I think that was my biggest quabble with the book, given its premise. Everything else was good. I liked the development of Jacob Black as a character, and the new turn (and addition of cool new mythical creatures) that it took. I also liked the end, the collision of events that causes them to go to Italy. It's pretty crazy, yet believable and it made it hard to put the book down (yet again).
My sister kept asking me who I liked better, Edward or Jacob? And when she first asked me, I'd only just started New Moon, and so I said Edward, because he really was breathtaking that first book. By the end of New Moon, I said the same thing, but with reservations. I don't know if it's the author's intention to make us feel that way -- the same way Bella must -- if so, good job. So, I liked this one, but not nearly as much as I liked the first.
[I just read all three of the books in this series in a row, thanks to my little sister. I wrote reviews on them on my own blog, which I think are short enough for me to post up here, so that's what I'm doing, verbatim.]
Okay, my next three posts have to do with the Stephenie Meyer Twilight trilogy. My little sister has been bugging me to read them, so that's what I did -- over a span of a few days. She is obssessed (she's 14). I thought to lump them in all in one post, but that sort of goes against how I do things here, so we'll do one for each.
First up, Twilight.
I surprised myself by really enjoying this. No seriously. What in particular got to me was how incredibly mesmerizing Edward is. Like, hel-lo, I could totally fall in love with Edward too! Hee hee. Really though, what I found myself drawn in by was how Edward was completely mysterious and incredible, enough that I could completely see how Bella would fall for him even not knowing a thing about him. Stephenie Meyer is skillful in her depiction of him, and I found myself paying close attention to her technique - how she manages to make him so attractive and compelling. Mostly because I have a character in my book that I'd like to make mysterious but also make it clear the attraction my protagonist has for her. So I kept wondering how she did it. How did she make me fall in love with this seventeen year old vampire too?
This was the most compelling book of the three so far, I think, because of the mystery, and also because it's where we're first introduced to this world of vampires, dissimilar from the Dracula-esque types we're used to. Who doesn't love getting a new fantastical world in bits and pieces and compiling it together? And she does a really good job of making this place seem very real. It doesn't seem impossible that these fantastical creatures live where we do. It's haunting and beautiful in a way. I was completely convinced by Bella's obsession with Edward and the danger that she's in.
Okay, so I'll confess. I really enjoyed it. I was up til late late reading the damn book. It felt most appropriate to read at night, and I couldn't stop turning the pages once I started. Yes. Call me a teeny bopper. Go. I won't take it back. It was an awesome guilty pleasure.
I had a lot of hangups with this book, though plotwise, it was interesting. I felt that it was engineered to discuss a TOPIC, and was less about the story itself. I disliked the structure of the book, written entirely in letters, I felt the narrator was pretentious and unsympathetic, and I found it hard to "buy" the authenticity of many of the characters. Also, I guessed the "surprise" ending too easily. I really like the school shooting idea -- I've thought about writing a novel to that effect myself -- and I also like the nurture vs. nature question, but I felt this book had too many pitfalls. The letter structure overclouded all the good parts. Scenes depicted were actually compelling but because it was in letter format, there weren't a LOT of scenes, and there was too much THINKING and NARRATIVE and also it just didn't feel REAL because it was within a letter. The plot itself was interesting, and it wasn't a hard read in that sense, but I just found myself getting frustrated at the author more than necessary. I wish she had done it in some other way.
Because I have a bunch of books to write about here, I'm going to zip through the following reviews. If you want a little bit more depth, I've also written on all of these on my own blog.
First up, Middlesex. I thought it was a really good book, fresh in concept -- who would think to intertwine the idea of intersex with a Greek family saga? It's engaging, well-written, creative. The first person narrator also happens to be omniscient, which threw me off at first, but I ultimately bought because of the fresh voice of the narrator. The scenes are rendered well -- as if we were watching it on a screen as opposed to reading on a page, making everything very alive. And ultimately, we care about what happens in the family. We care about how everything happens so that the narrator becomes what he is. It is sprawling, but a unique view of what it means to become American. It really is a very good book, although I guess it didn't click with me personally as much as other books do. Which is the primary reason why this book gets a good and not a great rating. Personal taste, even though it was an enjoyable read.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Author:- Salman Rushdie
Publisher:- Viking Press
ISBN Number:- 0-312-27082-8
Rushdie's astonishing powers of invention are at their best in this Booker Prize shortlist and Whitbread Prize winner. Salman Rushdie is the author of Midnight's Children, winner of the 1981 Booker Prize, and Shame.
It tells the story of the enchanting Gibreel Farishta who rises from being a pauper in Bombay to a popular filmstar playing Hindu deities in Bollywood mythologicals. The humor in the novel commences when Gibreel refuses to make love to his female admirers with the elephant snout on, which he has used as a prop for playing Lord Ganesha in a movie and which his fans have come to fancy. He complains that an acting career in Bombay is quite less of acting and much more of frantic travel between studios trying to keep schedules.
It also tells the story of the misplaced Saladin Chamcha, who develops an English accent so refined and immaculate that he lends his voice to British radio shows. He shuns his father who loathes books and had sent him away from Bombay to study in Britain. He returns after a long period of absence only to find that the city of his childhood has changed in a quintessential measure.
On his return trip to UK, Saladin Chamcha meets Gibreel Farishta who has absconded in order to meet his flame Annie Cone, the Mount Everest conquerer whom he courted in Bombay. The plane gets hijacked and all but the two protagonists of the novel - Chamcha and Farishta - are dead. The two are washed ashore on the waves of the English Channel, only to find that there has been a major change of roles. Gibreel thereafter suffers hallucinations of being an archangel, while Saladin is transformed into a chimera representing the devil.
Saladin miraculously recovers from the transmogrification and plots his revenge against Gibreel for refusing recognition and help when Saladin was led into custody by policemen. Like Iago, he plots the murder of Annie Cone at the hands of the suspicious and jealous Gibreel Farishta himself. In the climax, Gibreel shoots himself when he realizes what a mistake he has committed.
The novel also runs the course of three mini-plots: The first comprises the tale of Mahound's revelations from Archangel Gibreel, Hind - Mahound's fiercest opponent and Baal - the irreverent poet. The second speaks of the Imam and his gang of terrorists. And the third and most beautiful story is that of Ayesha, the girl who leads poor villagers on a Haj pilgrimage after convincing them that if God willed it, the waters of the Arabian Sea would part to make way for them.
The novel has ample instances of Rushdie-style humor and sarcasm. The narrative though broken into four parallel threads of narration is held together in a very cohesive manner. Rushdie's implicit commentary on the racism prevalent in UK is commendable and should have been the focus of attention, rather than the much publicized and denounced fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against him. However, the novel is not as erudite as it could have been. It is in no way grand or profound, and does not seek to reveal something that the reader is unaware of. Definitely not one of Rushdie's better novels.
The book was banned in many countries including Iran and India, for propagating the theory of The Satanic Verses - those verses of the Holy Quran which were revealed to the Prophet by the Satan and which he later retracted as being part of the Holy Book of the Moslems. It was fortunate that Salman Rushdie survived the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, since the Japanese translator Igarashi was murdered, and the Italian translator Capriolo suffered serious physical injuries due to being stabbed.
Friday, January 4, 2008
In 1939, 17-year-old Sammy Clayman is forced (in the middle of the night) to give up half his bed to his just-arrived Czech refugee cousin Joe, who, at 19, managed to escape the Nazi crackdown in Prague through a no less than magic. Sammy, who has elaborate plans for fame and fortune as a comic book creator, sees his artist cousin as a ticket to fast-lane success. Joe, who is obsessed with his remaining family who are still stuck in Prague, sees Sammy's plans as a way to the fast dough he thinks will help him bring them to America. Thus the perfect partnership is born.
For lack of a more accurate way to put this... Michael Chabon rocks my world.
I read and loved YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION this summer, and that sponsored a whole flurry of Amazon orders. I stalled with KAVALIER & CLAY because I was initially put off by the length (636 pages looked like a time suck) but I genuinely felt great grief when I got to the end that there weren't another 1000 pages for me to keep reading.
Why do I love Chabon so? His ideas are often extremely original, which certainly helps, but his language is just so very well thought-out and brilliantly executed. Almost every sentence tickles somehow--he puts things in a way you never heard before but, once you read it, you can't understand why everyone doesn't describe the world that way, since it's such an obvious comparison.
Chabon is also and artfully researched author. He is a prize historical recreator: he establishes his lost city down to its temperatures and smells, teaches his audience lost Americana, and yet never beats you over the head with his showy knowledge or bores you with static details.
Despite the high reality of the description and place setting, there is a technicolor dreaminess to the plot that invokes the whole comic book genre. Sammy and Joe are superheroes themselves, with dramatic childhoods, struggles with their inner monsters, and amazing acts of derring-do. Not all readers will find this an unmitigated pro--for me, it occasionally detracted a little, since it made certain pieces of an otherwise sophisticated and well-wrought book emotionally simple. At the same time, I do appreciate the way Chabon designed his execution to reflect his topic, and the overall product affected me deeply.
I know it's easy to fall into the habit of comparing works by the same author (it's almost irresistible!) but I'm going to try really hard to resist here. I liked both of these a lot and would recommend either to anyone.
I did notice one interesting thing, though, having read both. I've been reading Chabon's books in reverse chronological order (not through any planning on my part or anything) and as a result have been able to see his themes in reverse. It seems that in a way Chabon uses each novel as a stomping ground and inspiration for the next novel he ends up working on (Sam Clay asks the detective he meets, Detective Lieber, "So, are they making Jews detectives these days?" and some of Joe Kavalier's collected drawings reminded me sharply of Chabon's descriptions of the "prophet" Elijah in YPU. And this is just the beginning.). So if you haven't read any of Chabon's stuff, you, too, might consider reading in reverse for added enjoyment.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
How did Santa know? Because I made a list, of course, and made a point of putting Roth's latest Zuckerman novel on it. It was hard to put down, if ultimately a bit of a let-down. But, hey -- what can you say about an aging writer (Zuckerman, that is) who is impotent and incontinent? In the end, it's not exactly going to be a spirit-riser.
A sequel of sorts to The Ghost Writer, the first of Roth's novels about his fictional and literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The two novels bookend the Zuckerman series -- the first about the young Zuckerman, a sprinter in the literary race, and the last about the 71-year-old Zuckerman (the age Roth was in 2004, the year the events in the book take place), nearing the end of the long marathon, a prostate cancer survivor who has distanced himself from the world but is swept by a last wave of (imagined) passion for a much younger woman. All while being revisited, almost 50 years later, by his youthful encounter with the novelist E. I Lonoff, his wife Hope, and Lonoff's young lover Amy Bellette, portrayed in The Ghost Writer. There's also a subplot about Lonoff's biographer that allows Roth to vent about the exploitive and reductionist aspects of the genre as it's currently practiced. In the end, Zuckerman once again retreats from the world, but not before life, fiction and fantasy have become hopelessly muddled, demonstrating that writers like Zuckerman never really stop writing, if only for themselves.
Often humorous, sometimes poignant, frequently depressing and written in Roth's characteristically supple, effortlessly fluid style -- it has a lot of the Roth elements, even though the plotting is slapdash and almost incidental, and the book succeeds more as an essay on the loss of creative powers than as a novel. Roth is one of the greats, and he just keeps on keeping on -- one of my favorite writers. Appropriately, the jacket design is by another cool older dude who just keeps on keeping on -- 78-year-old Milton Glaser.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
the book centers around the play the peony pavilion, a story that caused stir among the chinese of that period because the herione actually chose her own fate in life as well as in love. the play is a favorite of the heroine's, also named peony. her father stages the play and allows her to view it from above behind a screen for her sixteenth birthday.
during the play, peony glimpses a handsome young man sitting below in the audience, and the two meet outside when peony steps out to get some air. the young man and she discuss the play. he is interested in a young woman's thoughts on the story, and urges her to meet with him in secret again. breaking all rules of decorum, peony does so, twice. alas, her father announces she is betrothed on the last day of the performance, and peony, believing herself to be in love with the stranger she had met, refuses to look through the screen at her future groom.
her mother, strict and abiding by tradition, suspects peony's transgression and locks her in her room. peony rebells by making commentary on the peony pavilion play, while refusing to eat and wasting away. when she finally learns her betrothed is in fact, the young man she had secretly met in the gardens of their estate, it is to late. she is too weakened from lack of food, and dies.
i found it really difficult to read through the first part of this novel for several reasons :
1. many times, it seems like see is trying to lecture us on the peony pavilion play as well as chinese traditions. every paragraph seems to be an explanation of some ritual or meaning. i understand that readers may read this book to immerse themselves in the culture, but i found it rather heavy-handed in parts.
2. i knew the twist was peony would die and spend the second half of the novel as a ghost in the mortal realm. i don't particularly enjoy reading about heroine's who kill themselves, whether it be intentional or not, and found the "waiting for her to croak it" unappleaing as i read to that inevitable end.
3. peony was not sympathetic to me. maybe i'm too modern, but the whole not eating love-sickness thing annoyed me on a certain level.
wow. am i being harsh?
on the upside, after our heroine kicks the bucket, i found the story easier to read and more enjoyable. i did find her state as a "hungry ghost" interesting and her escapdes and intrusions in the mortal realm, as she hangs around her almost groom's home.
my biggest complaint would be that the reason peony remained trapped in the mortal realm (her spirit tablet remained undotted) seemed a flimsy plot point to me, as she was able to manipulate the mortal's thoughts and movements around her, she couldn't get her tablet dotted? the ending was also a bit...anti-climactic. overall, i would recommend the book if you are interested in a tale that is more fantastic than snow flower, steeped in the traditions of china from the 17th century centered around the peony pavilion play. the book does address a woman's place in society of that time, and the challenges imposd upon them due to changing expectations.