So here’s what I read in January. I posted the options on facebook, in the reading group there, but forgot to mention them here. Did any of you manage to read along?
Book 1: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
My newly-discovered obsession with the latest movie adaptation of his novel got me through the holidays and about three million bouts of bronchitis, so reading the book again was a real treat. I love the film version with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, but it necessarily leaves things out. I think I learn something new every time I read it. This time I just admired again Jane’s strength of character and integrity, and I love how she insists on a marriage of love and equality. I admire how she derives her sense of self not from what others have told her she is, or in terms of any materialistic worth, but based on the fact that she is a human being. Her response to Rochester’s first proposal is perfect:
Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!
Her insistence elsewhere in the novel on respecting herself and acting in accordance with that respect is wonderful. Her honest (and inadvertantly cheeky) response to the pastor about how to avoid going to hell comes from her innate adherence to truth.
I was also interested by the implication in the introduction of my edition that Jane is a Christ figure. The writer of the introduction doesn’t argue the point, just takes it as already-agreed upon, so I can’t tell you why that may be. The thought had never occurred to me before, but it seems plausible. What do you think? Is Jane a Christ-figure to our poor benighted Mr. Rochester? Does that make Bertha then his own personal Satan? He certainly refers to her in demonic terms often enough… What are your thoughts?
I just can’t say enough good things about this book. Granted, Rochester’s and Jane’s connections to the slave trade industry are problematic, and the novel carries implications about race that are at odds with the virtue Jane’s self-proclaimed freedom. Bertha v. Jane is complicated and fascinating. It’s a tangle of a novel, and therefore perfect.
Book 2: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
So after The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I approached this novel bracing myself for the horrible and heartbreaking. There was plenty of tragedy, as Hosseini demonstrates good people trying to make the best choices they can in difficult circumstances. But, unless I’ve grossly misread, there was no child rape. This novel was moving and lovely. I loved the relationship between Abdullah and Pari, and I felt for her father. It’s so hard to know what’s best to do for my children, and we’re not facing starvation and probable death. I loved the conceit of the fairy tale corresponding to real life. A brilliant bit of foreshadowing on Hosseini’s part. And I loved how the perspective shifted from chapter to chapter. Highly recommend. The title comes from this poem by William Blake.
Book 3: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Since this book has been out since 1989, apparently EVERYONE BUT ME knows this is a horror story. There were plenty of quotable gems in the first third of this book, and I’m sure I missed a lot by quitting, but I just couldn’t. I’ve written before about how everyone has their limits, and good readers should approach books with an open mind, but have the sense to develop their own criteria for what is appropriate for them and what isn’t. This one, for me, wasn’t. From facebook:
Susan Jay Ok, so I have just started this book, and it is just ODD. Very unsettling. I mean, what else was I expecting given the above description? I don’t know, but not this, exactly. If you haven’t started reading yet and are a little on the fence, let me warn you that this book is a little creepy. Such is my impression 13 pages in, at any rate. Like Poe, but more so.
Susan Jay Page 137– I quit. Horror is not a genre for me, and this is definitely horror. Fascinating, beautifully written horror that I’m sure I could learn a lot from. On the other hand, I kind of feel like I’m watching some eat a mouthful of dirt and worms. If anyone else finishes this book, let me know what you think.
This whole book was one great big NOPE for me. I can see why some readers are so enthusiastic about it, though. It has a real cult following, totally justified. It’s well-written and thoughtful and says some important things about power, about gender, about seeing. It just gives my soul the creepy crawlies.
Check back soon for February recommendations.