Monday, October 24, 2011

Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. This week the focus will be on  Don't Look Now, another book by du Maurier that I read last year as part of the NYRB Reading Week.

From a blog post dated November 9,, 2010:

I'm not a fan of short stories and that's probably why I've been avoiding Daphne du Maurier's short story collections. However, I must say that I'm quickly being converted. Don't Look Now is probably the first short story collection that I've read straight through. This is an excellent book of just nine stories dealing with the creepy, the sinister and the macabre.

I was already familiar with the first and title story, Don't Look Now, having seen the spine-tingling film from the 70s starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. A couple getting over the death of their daughter are on holiday in Venice and encounter two elderly women with psychic powers. This was my favorite story from the entire book and it makes me want to see the film again which was, in hindsight actually very true to the story and excellently done. This story is a masterpiece that will haunt you for a long time.

My next favorite was Monte Verita, an atmospheric and  very long short story about two men in love with a woman who escapes to a monastery that seems more otherworldly than real.

The Blue Lenses was a creepy and at times darkly humorous story about a woman who undergoes an eye operation only to wake up seeing the humans around her with animal heads. The animals depict the true natures of the persons they inhabit. A snake head for example for a sneaky and two-faced nurse who's having an affair with the patient's husband.

The Birds was made into a Hitchcock film in the 60s but this story is completely different from the movie. It's darker and completely chilling.

La Sainte-Verge is about a sailor's wife who loves her husband blindly and so obsessively that as she kneels in church and prays for her loved one's safe return she literally sees what she believes.

There are four other stories in this book that are worth reading. Each one is a page-turner and so different from the last. This is a  great collection that's worth having on your shelf because you'll definitely be rereading your favorites through the years. As usual, Du Maurier's writing is perfect. Her stories are original and well-crafted as well as vividly atmospheric. Plus to top it off, this wonderful NYRB edition includes an insightful introduction by the writer Patrick McGrath. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Thoughts on The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes received the Man Booker Prize yesterday. I think the award is deserved. I reviewed the book back in August and since then my post has received about 1,000 hits. Surprising I know. I think it's because this is a book that begs to be discussed and analyzed. Here's the link to my review. If you've read the book then do read the comments section because it's interesting to see how readers had different interpretations. Reading my review, I see that I had several questions at the time that were nagging at me  - Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony? What did Veronica mean by 'blood money?' What did the carer mean by 'especially now?' Why did Barnes leave so many questions unanswered?

I still don't have the answers to these questions but since reading the book I saw for the second time the brilliant movie Caché (Hidden). It's a French-Austrian film written and directed by Michael Haneke. It has nothing whatsoever in common with The Sense of an Ending except for having unanswered questions in the end. After seeing the movie, I read an interview with Michael Haneke who said that if you  'come out wanting to know who (the culprit is), you didn't understand the film. To ask this question is to avoid asking the real question the film raises. Films that are entertainment give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think. If there are more answers at the end, then surely it is a richer experience.'

After seeing that movie, I thought again of The Sense of an Ending and realized that Haneke's words could be applied to Barnes' book. It was Barnes intention not to give all the answers but to actually leave more questions. However, I was asking all the wrong questions. Maybe the right ones are - What is memory? Do we accurately remember events in our past? Could we unintentionally have blocked out some memories?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier

Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. This week the focus will be on The House on the Strand, a book I read last year and even included in my  best of 2010 list. Below is an excerpt from my review.

From a blog post dated April 29, 2010:

Reading The House on the Strand reminded me why I love Daphne Du Maurier's writing so much. She's a wonderfully atmospheric author who can easily transport her reader to any time and place and the best example of this is probably her masterpiece, Rebecca, one of my favourite novels. Many of her books are set in Cornwall which for years has been on my list of places to visit one day. Maybe it's because of Daphne's descriptions of its beautiful, romantic and sometimes moody scenery. 

The House on the Strand is another one of du Maurier's novels that's set in her beloved Cornwall. It's a time travel story about Dick Young, who's staying at the home of his scientist friend, Magnus. In fact, the house mentioned in the title is Kilmarth which was Daphne's home during the last decades of her life. It served as the inspiration for this novel because it was the home of Roger Kylman, a medieval steward in 1327. At the opening of the book, Dick has just tried an experimental drug invented by Magnus which allows its user to mentally travel back to fourteenth century Cornwall. 

The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. (page 1)

However, there's one catch in this particular time travel story - Dick is only a witness and is unable to be seen, heard or touched by the people he observes which include a steward called Roger and a captivating lady known as Isolda Carminowe. As Dick quickly becomes fascinated by their lives, he starts to withdraw from the modern world and his family and retreats more and more into the past. His time travel visits soon become an addiction that begin to affect not only his sanity but his physical condition. 

This is a strange story but completely engrossing. I could understand Dick's fascination with the people he observed in his travels and the pull it had on his life and thus his addiction to the drug. The physical effects he experienced were believable - the loss of the sense of touch, enhanced sight, nausea and vertigo. Of course, the fact that both Magnus and Dick hallucinate about the same people and time period was pure fantasy but somehow du Maurier makes it all work and as a reader, it was easy to suspend disbelief and glide along with the story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Blog!

It's been such a busy week for me filled with Halloween activities and school events that I didn't even realize I celebrated my second blog birthday last October 13. So belated Happy Birthday dear blog! Thank you to all you readers and followers who drop by and read what I have to say.  Book blogging has been such a rewarding experience for me so here's to another year of reading and writing about wonderful books. Cheers!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Galadria by Miguel Lopez de Leon

Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage by Miguel Lopez de Leon turned out to be such a fun book! I'd never heard of it until a mom at my son's soccer class lent me a copy. In fact I was surprised that it was unknown to me since the author is Filipino and he recently just released his book last May in the United States. There hasn't been any mention of him at all in any of the book blogs I follow, local or otherwise. However, a quick google revealed some newspaper articles and a website. He even had several book launches in town just recently. I do suppose there is something lacking in the marketing of this novel and I wish it would get more buzz because it really is such a treat.

The book is for readers eight and up however if you're a child at heart then you will love this. It's been compared to Harry Potter although I think it's less scary. It's also light and funny and peopled with a cast of characters so charming and quirky that I can't quite forget them. Peter Huddleston leads a dull life in his hometown with his father and step-mother. His house is filled with bland beige furniture and his step-mother's cuisine can only be described as boring. When his long lost Aunt Gillian suddenly invites him to spend the summer at her 3000 room mansion, Peter can't help but be excited. There he meets a staff of loveable servants and learns from his aunt about his family legacy. To truly be the heir to the land of Galadria, Peter must pass four rites of passage.

I was hooked from page one. This is such an imaginative, fun and light-hearted novel filled with lots of adorable little details. For example, Peter has a box of chocolates called Creamers each with a different topping giving him a short-lived power to help him in his tasks. Will Peter be able to guess what each chocolate piece can give him? You'll just have to read the book to find out. The good news is this is only the first book in the series and the second one will be coming soon. I can't wait!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

"I hope that's not really the cover. That's really going to hurt sales." (Don Fey, Father of Tina Fey)

One of the things I love about being in a book club is that it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to read books I wouldn't normally pick up such as Bossypants by Tina Fey. Although I do like Tina Fey, I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan. I only know her from the Weekend Update at SNL and the Sarah Palin spoofs and oh yes, I did enjoy the movie Mean Girls which she wrote. I certainly wasn't expecting much from Bossypants but I surprisingly enjoyed reading it and laughed out loud several times. It's a mix of autobiography, life lessons, work lessons and funny anecdotes from her life and career.

One of the funniest parts in the book is Tina Fey's A Mother's Prayer which she wrote for her daughter. Although its been in quite a number of mommy sites (including my fellow book clubber Nona's blog), I have yet to see it on a book blog so here it is in case you missed it.

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the nearby subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock N’ Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. 

 Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, for Childhood is short — a Tiger flower blooming magenta for one day –and Adulthood is long and Dry-Humping in Cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers
And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, for I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 a.m., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “my mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Discovering Daphne in Pictures

Some of you may already know that Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. How can I not participate in this wonderful event when Daphne is one of my favorite authors? That said, there are still a few of her novels that I have yet to read so I hope to read at least one of them this month. I would also love to reread Rebecca sometime soon. So to help participate in this event, I plan to repost excerpts from some of my previous posts about her books.

From a blog post dated April 29, 2010:
Daphne du Maurier is certainly one case where the author's life is just as fascinating as her books. On the surface, Daphne can be said to have led a charmed life. She was born in 1907 into a lively and artistic family. Her father was the actor/manager Sir Gerald du Maurier who also wrote the classic novel, Trilby. Her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress. Daphne grew up in a large and happy London household where friends such as J.M.Barrie and Edgar Wallace visited often. She was only a teenager when her uncle, a magazine editor, published one of her stories and got her a literary agent.  In 1932 Daphne married Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Browning II, who was knighted for his service in World War II. They were married for thirty-three years and had three children. They lived in a fabulous house in Cornwall called Menabilly which was the inspiration for the Manderley house in Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier was made a dame in 1969 for her literary distinction. She died in 1989.

Though it does seem like she led a charmed life there is evidence that Daphne had an unhappy marriage where both parties were unfaithful. In 1947 Daphne fell in love with Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who remained her lifelong friend, She also had an affair with the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Her bisexuality was only disclosed after her death and is portrayed in the BBC film, Daphne. Interestingly enough, it was also recently revealed that she has a moratorium on her adolescent diaries. They can only be opened fifty years after her death. There's speculation that the diaries expose a young adolescent affair with a married man or maybe not. Kits, Daphne's son, believes that it's just filled with mundane stuff. "I think it's a tease," he said. "She loved mystery." You can read more about this at a Times Online article here.

For those interested, I also found a interesting article about how she wrote Rebecca (link here)  at the Telegraph website. Below are some pictures of Daphne du Maurier.

Daphne at the staircase at her beloved home, Menabilly which was the basis for the Manderley house in Rebecca

Daphne with her son Kits

Daphne with her husband and three children

Daphne writing at her desk in 1944 at Menabilly, the house in Cornwall which was made famous by her 1938 masterpiece Rebecca
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