Bruno’s Dream

Murdoch, Iris. Bruno’s Dream. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., 1969.

Reason read: Murdoch was born in the month of July (7/15/1919); read Bruno’s Dream in her honor.

Someone once said Murdoch’s books are full of passion and disaster. Exactly! At the center of Bruno’s Dream is the complication of family and all the confusing dynamics that can happen between members. The lust and the hate and everything in between spill out of Murdoch’s stories. The relationships surrounding protagonist Bruno are sticky, web-like, and ensnaring (pun totally intended as Bruno is a philatelist and arachnologist of sorts). Much like a spider in a web, he lays bedridden and dying, waiting for people to come to him. Most loyal to Bruno is Nigel. Of all the characters Nigel is the simplest. Throughout the story he remains uncoupled despite his best attempts. Knowing Bruno doesn’t have long to live, he urges Bruno’s estranged son, Miles, to visit his dying father. Son and father have been apart since Miles married an Indian woman much to Bruno’s disapproval. After the death of his first wife Miles remarries but his father has never met the second wife, Diana, due to the prejudicial falling out. Diana’s sister, Lisa, complicates Miles’s household when she arrives and Miles can’t help but seduce her. When it comes to women, Miles is a very busy man. More loyal to Bruno than his own son is son-in-law Danby, once married to Bruno’s daughter, Gwen. Gwen died before the reader picks up the story. As an aside, if you would like to keep track, three wives have died: Bruno’s wife, Miles’s first wife, and Danby’s wife. Danby at some point carried on a secret affair with Adelaide, Bruno’s nurse, but doesn’t stay faithful to her. Adelaide and Nigel’s twin brother also have an affair. Lots and lots of partner switching.
As an aside, I felt that nearly everyone in Bruno’s Dream was crazy. I didn’t really care for any of them.

Interesting lines, “The television had been banished with its false sadness and its images of war” (p 5), and “The flake of rust, the speck of dust, the invisible slit in the skin through which it all sinks down and runs away” (p 27). I’m not even sure I know what Iris is talking about here.

Author fact: Iris is not Murdoch’s true first name. It’s Jean. Like myself, she chose to go by her middle name.

Book trivia: Bruno’s Dream is Murdoch’s twelfth book and was short listed for the Booker Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl placed an asterisk by Bruno’s Dream to indicate it’s one of her favorites.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).


So Long a Letter

Ba, Mariama. So Long a Letter. Translated by Modupe Bode-Thomas. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.

Reason read: June is considered a wedding month. Read in honor of marriages of all kinds.

What does it mean to be a Senegalese woman living in a society dominated by male attitudes? Where does self worth and fulfillment fit in? Just because a society condones polygamy doesn’t mean every individual expects it, embraces it, or even wants to practice it. When Ramatoulaye’s husband of thirty plus years takes a new (much younger) wife  her emotions run the gamut. Baffled (Wasn’t she a good wife?). Stunned (They have twelve children together. Wasn’t she a good mother?). Embarrassed (What will the community think of her being replaced?). Insecure (Exactly what is her place in society now?). When Madou leaves her a widow, in a long letter to her friend Aissatou, Ramatoulaye recounts her life with Madou. She is, at times, reminiscent and even wistful for a life gone by. In the end, it is a new tragedy that sets Ramatoulaye on a new path of acceptance.

Lines that stayed with me, “My loins beat to the rhythm of childbirth” (p 2), “To warp a soul is an much a sacrilege as murder” (p 23), and “To overcome distress when it sits upon you demands strong will” (p 43).

Author fact: So Long a Letter was Mariama Ba’s first novel. It goes without saying it is semi-autobiographical.

Book trivia: So Long a Letter was the first African novel to win the Noma Award in 1980.

Nancy said: Not much. Pearl just describes the plot in one sentence.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the early chapter called “African Literature in English” (p 16).


Damage

Hart, Josephine. Damage. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

Damage was on my list as a Father’s Day read, if you can believe it. I read it over two lunch breaks. Some father! Told from the point of view of a doctor turned politician who has an affair with his son’s girlfriend-turned-fiancee. What makes this (short, only 200 or so pages) story so intoxicating is the slow descent into hell this man willingly makes. When he first introduces us to his life he had been a well-to-do man who has a seemingly perfect family.  Two smart and beautiful adult children, Martyn and Sally, a gorgeous wife Ingrid and a stable, well respected career. He does not deny that he had a good life…pre-Anna, his son’s girlfriend. Then he meets Anna and all hell breaks loose in a slow unraveling sort of way. Inexplicably there is an instant attraction between the two of them and an affair ignites abruptly. While the physical relationship is spontaneous the mental obsession builds gradually until it is all consuming…for both of them.

There is a sense of foreshadowing, a warning of sorts in the line “Can’t you sense, smell, taste disaster waiting in the corners of the house?” (p 36).
Anna’s explanation as to why she is the way she is, “I have been damaged. Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive” (p 42) is probably the most often quoted in reviews.

Book Trivia: Damage was made into a movie in 1992 starring Jeremy Irons. Yet another one I haven’t seen.

Author Fact: Josephine Hart died of cancer in 2011.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers and Sons” (p 85).


Madame Bovary

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

I should have had Madame Bovary on my list as a reread. I should have read this in high school or college or somewhere. I’m not really sure why I didn’t.

This book should have been the mister rather than the missus Bovary. In my opinion Charles Bovary is what you would call a nineteenth century sad sack. When we first meet Charles (for he starts and ends the book as you’ll soon see) he is a shy student who grows up to become a second rate doctor (more on that later). He has an overbearing mother who convinces him to marry a much older, supposedly rich, but nevertheless nagging woman who makes him miserable. oh yeah, and add insult to injury, she’s nowhere near wealthy. After the lying lady’s death Charles meets Emma Rouault (our ahem – heroine), the daughter of Charles’s patient. He falls in love and wins her heart only to have her mope about because her life soon after the wedding isn’t exciting or wealthy enough. Poor Charles! But, the sad tale of Charles Bovary doesn’t stop here. There’s more! As mentioned before he is a second rate doctor so his attempts to heal a clubfooted patient fail miserably. That failure only irritates our dear Emma even more. She soon convinces herself she deserves better in the way of the company of other more exciting and accomplished men and by spending Charles’s money. Emma convinces herself adultery isn’t a sin because it’s cloaked in beauty and romance and how can those things be bad? And isn’t she, as Charles’s wife, entitled to Charles’s money? So, Charles is in debt and his father dies. What’s left? Emma attempts suicide and our Doctor Bovary (irony of ironies) can’t save her. After her death he finds her illicit love letters and learns of her infidelity…then he dies. The end.
Nope. Not a stitch of happiness in this classic.

Early in the story there is this sense for foreshadowing: “One moment she would be gay and wide-eyed; the next, she would half shut her eyelids and seem to be drowned in boredom, her thoughts miles away” (p 22). Charles should have seen this odd behavior and run away, very far away.

Author Fact: Gustave Flaubert is expelled from school at the age of 18 for helping organize a protest.

Book Trivia: Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s first book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), and again in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 231).


Nothing Right

Nelson, Antonya. Nothing Right: short stories. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Antonya Nelson’s humor comes at you in a slow and subtle way, almost like a Mona Lisa sly smirk. The entire collection of short stories is what a peepshow is to an adolescent boy; the reader is allowed in the living rooms and lives of the characters for only so long before the curtain is dropped and the scene goes dark. Nothing Right leaves you wanting more and always asking, “what happened next?” The perfect hook for a sequel. The one drawback to leaving so much to the imagination? The characters didn’t stay long enough for me to truly garner an interest in them personally. I wanted to know what happened next in terms of plot but not character. All of the stories circle around family dynamics; the good, the bad and most certainly, the ugly.

  • “Nothing Right” (title story) starts tongue-in-cheek although the reader is yet to see the irony. Hannah stares at brochures about taking care of babies while her own baby, 15 year old trouble-maker Leo, sees the district attorney  about a bomb threat he made at school. Hannah’s troubles only deepen when Leo goes on to father a child…
  • “Party of One” is a rather bizarre story about a woman trying to convince a married man to end his affair…with her sister.
  • “Obo” bothered me the most. I didn’t understand Abby at all. A pathological liar, she convinces her professor to take her to his wife’s family home for Christmas; all because she has fallen in love with the professor’s wife.
  • “Falsetto” – Michelle tries to cope with her parents’s devastating car accident while caring for her much younger brother and simultaneously re-evaluating her perfect relationship with her boyfriend.
  • “Kansas” is about a family’s drama when 17 year-old niece Kay-Kay disappears with her three year-old cousin.
  • “Biodegradable” is about a married woman who has an affair with a scientist.
  • “DWI” is about a married woman who loses her lover in a drunk-driving accident.
  • “Shauntrelle” is about a married woman who admits to an affair thinking her lover will be happy with taking her in. She is wrong and loses both men.
  • “Or Else” is about a man who misses the life he had with his childhood friend’s family so much that he pretends he is still part of their lives.
  • “We and They” is about a family in competition with their neighbors until they adopt a child who sides with the enemy.
  • People People” is about two sisters who couldn’t be any more different from one another.

Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Literary Classics, 1987.

I had to write a book report on this in high school (who didn’t?) then I had to write a critical analysis complete with symbolic meaning and themes in college. I don’t remember what grade I got on the high school paper. Not to brag, but I’m sure it was an A because high school lit classes were easy. In college my paper received a B+/A- because a) I didn’t quote the professor teaching the class (he was an authority on The Scarlet Letter apparently), and b) I didn’t delve deeper in the sexual side of Hester. 19 year old me wanted to concentrate on sin and the effects of that sin on everyone. To me, that’s exactly what The Scarlet Letter is all about.

The Scarlet Letter opens with Hester Prynne being led to the stocks. She is the sinner and as a result is being publicly ridiculed. Her crime is having an adulterous affair that resulted in the birth of a baby girl. She not only won’t disclose the father of her child, but she won’t repent for her affair. She is condemned to wear the letter ‘A’ as a punishment, as a constant reminder to the community that she is an adulteress. While there is residual shame, Roger Chillingworth does not want the public to know Hester is his wife. There is honor in Hester’s scandal – because she refuses to give up the name of her lover. Dignity prevails and she outwardly bears the burden of shame alone. Her lover also shoulders the guilt of sin in his own way as he plays an important part of the community.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144). Second, “Wayward Wives” (p 231).


Snobs

Fellowes, Julian. Snobs. New York: St. Martin Press, 2004.

This seems like an odd choice for a Christmas season pick. After all, this is supposed to be peace on Earth, goodwill towards men time. With a name like Snobs it doesn’t seem to fit, but this is in honor of one of Nancy Pearl’s gift choices for the holidays.

Edith Lavery is middle class society with big upper class ambitions. When she inadvertently meets the Earl of Broughton, Charles, it is with an admission ticket to tour his home in her hand. Little does she know, but the introduction, with her good looks, is also her ticket to upper echelon snobbery. Soon Edith works her way into the aristocratic family by marrying Charles. As his wife she discovers the high life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and finds herself becoming bored. The real trouble begins when Edith’s wandering eye settles on a less than successful actor. Things turn from bad to worse when it’s more than Edith’s eye that starts to wander. What makes this hungry-for-status story so funny is the wicked clashes of culture. Julian Fellowes seductively pokes fun at all types of cliques: actors, the fashion world, the genders, society, but none are funnier than the English.

Sarcastically good lines: “To an outsider it seems a vital ingredient of many marriages that each partner should support the illusions of the other” (p 5).
“…Mrs Lavery was passionately snobbish to a degree verging on insanity…” (p 12).
“Edith rolled her eyes. ‘She’s beside herself. She’s afraid she’ll find Bobby in the shower and it’ll all have been a dream” (p 40).
“At least he seemed to feel that something momentous had taken place, even if her body had never left the station…” (p71).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


Disgrace

I’ll call this book my “spur of the moment, read in one day, can’t put it down” book. I’ll also call it Weather Front. It started out sunny and seemingly harmless and carefree. Then the clouds roll in, the rain comes in sheets. The poison seeps in. When the winds pick up to the point of hurricane force it is nothing short of violent and tragic, destructive and disgraceful. After the storm people pick up the pieces, healing yet hurting and more storm clouds can be seen, rumbling in the distance.
In the beginning everything seems fine. Professor Lurie is happy teaching literature in South Africa. But, almost immediately Professor Lurie makes a mistake in seducing a young student. His fall from grace is swift and absolute. Having lost all his social and professional connections he reconnects with the one person who can’t turn her back on him – his flesh and blood daughter. The rest of the story is how Lurie and his daughter deal with their already strained relationship. How Lurie tries to redeems himself is baffling. I found myself asking if he was really worth redemption at all. Maybe it was the name Lurie – too close to the word lurid.

My favorite line, “Affection may not be love, but at least its cousin” (p 2).

BooklustTwist: From Book Lust and the chapter called ” Families in Trouble” (p 82).

Warning: If you are an animal lover you may not want to read this book. What happens to humans is tragic enough, but what happens to the dogs is even worse. I know it’s a fact of life but the end of this book was hard to take. Nobel prize or not.