I did a lot of reading last month, getting through most of my planned list and even adding an extra book.
→ LONG DRIVE HOME by Will Allison - This novel starts with a fatal car accident, and the situation just gets worse from there. At the beginning of the book, the narrator is driving his daughter home from school when a chain of incidents leads to an accident in which a stranger dies. The accident is a fluke, but the narrator isn't entirely without fault, and in his attempt to cover up the truth, his life spins out of control. I inhaled this story in about twenty-four hours and then wondered why I've read so many depressing books lately. The writing is powerful and heart-breaking. Recommended if you're up for a harrowing read.
→ JANE EYRE by Charlotte Brontë - I keep feeling uncultured because there are so many classics I've never read. Then when I do read a classic, I feel uncultured because I usually don't like it very much. So although it may not reflect well on my tastes, I must confess that I wasn't a big fan of JANE EYRE.
I did enjoy some aspects of the novel: Jane is an interesting character and narrator. I was fascinated to learn about life in mid-1800s England, particularly the strong class distinctions and very different etiquette (it apparently wasn't rude to openly comment on someone's unattractiveness). The middle section of the book has a quite engaging story.
Unfortunately, the overall pacing left me and my modern expectations bored and impatient. For example, if I were editing this book, I'd cut out Jane's entire childhood (one-fifth of the book) and start the story with her arrival at Thornfield. I'd explain to Charlotte Brontë that all that backstory about Jane's abused childhood and education is great for her to know as the author, and that she could sprinkle references to it throughout the novel, but that the reader doesn't need to see it all unfold on the page since the incidents have little specific relevance to the plot and only offer some insights into Jane's character.
Like I said, my expectations are modern ones. JANE EYRE will still be revered as a classic long after my work has been forgotten, even if I don't understand why. I'm interested in understanding, though, so I still hope to discuss the book with some more enthusiastic readers and learn what I'm overlooking.
→ THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde - After I finished JANE EYRE, I realized that it's featured in this first book about literary detective Thursday Next, so this was a perfect time to check out Fforde's series, which I've heard a lot of good things about. What I knew was that this is a humorous mystery series set in an alternate world where books are both more important to society and less separated from reality than in our world.
I know I've already alienated a bunch of readers with my disrespectful remarks about JANE EYRE, and now, alas, I must provoke the disappointment of some more: I wasn't impressed by THE EYRE AFFAIR. The book wasn't as funny or clever as I'd been led to expect, but more than that, I found it unfocused and uneven. There were intriguing concepts, such as the whole mechanism behind the villain's evil plot, and some great scenes, like the brilliant Rocky Horror Picture Show-style performance of Richard III. But the story took too long to get to the point, and it went off into many unrelated tangents that irritated me.
Here again, I'd like to hear from fans who can tell me what I'm missing. This is the first book in a long series -- maybe they get better, or I'd appreciate this book more in the context of the whole?
→ BLUE MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - I didn't make much progress this month because I was busy with the other books.
→ ZONE ONE by Colson Whitehead - I've read about a quarter of the book so far, and I'm enjoying it. This is a zombie novel, but it's the farthest possible book from the other zombie novels I read this year, the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, which I've praised and ranted about for being an exciting story poorly told. ZONE ONE, on the other hand, is unequivocally a work of literary fiction, with the requisite long, carefully crafted paragraphs and an endlessly musing protagonist. Those are the facts about the style, and maybe it doesn't make this book sound very compelling, but I assure you that I'm fascinated by the main character and his post-apocalyptic world, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ At Beyond the Margins, Stuart Horwitz tackles the difficult problem of story endings in How Not To End Things: "For those of us who have struggled to end a piece of writing, we know that there are a series of pitfalls that the ending can fall into."