Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Lucy is a short novel by Jamaica Kincaid that was first published in 1990. It tells the story of Lucy Josephine Potter, a nineteen-year-old girl who leaves her home in the West Indies to be a nanny in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Lucy feels she has escaped her home and expresses hatred for it. At the same time, she compares all of her new observations to the standards of her early life.

Lucy is young, but she seems more immature than others her age. She announces disgust for anything she dislikes without consideration. Lucy’s disarming honestly is a strength at times, but more frequently it’s a sign that she wants to shock others and keep people away from her by lashing out. Kincaid never gives the reader a clear reason for why Lucy behaves in this way.

One interesting aspect of the story was Lucy’s relationship with her mother. Lucy despises her mother and her choices and refuses to read her letters. Moreover, she refuses to see her mother and treats her with contempt when it is clear that her mother needs her. Still, at times, Lucy seems to crave her mother’s company, although she turns away from her. While this behavior may be a form of rebellion, there appears to be more to their relationship. Unfortunately, Lucy’s detachment from her mother was left unresolved at the novella’s conclusion.

Lucy is dissatisfied with her life although she has a wonderful position caring for sweet children. She has a friendly employer Mariah (whose own marriage is crumbling). It’s hard to understand Lucy’s dissatisfaction and choices. She drops her evening nursing studies and attaches herself to a man, who is described by her friend Penny as a pervert. Lucy is even hostile towards Penny, the only friend she has that’s her own age. Instead of growing and maturing to become a stronger woman, Lucy acts more self-absorbed, stunted, and lost at the end of the story than at the beginning making this an unusual coming-of-age story.

Purchase and read books by Jamaica Kincaid:

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding is a realistic look at a sometimes shallow 30-something-year-old woman. The story gives us a yearlong view into Bridget’s life through her diary. Her records are an attempt to honestly appraise her self-worth.

Bridget has excellent, lovable friends. She can find a job, she gets invited to parties, and she can find a date. Bridget could realize her value, but she wallows in self-doubt. She obsesses over her weight, tallying her calories along with her massive drink and tobacco consumption. This daily tallying of her vices grows tiring quickly. While most of us have dark moments, Bridget’s seem eternal. Bridget’s idea of her life in her diary and the way she defines herself are entirely different from her potential.

Despite these discrepancies, I still rooted for Bridget. It’s easy to identify with her neuroses and humor on some level because we’re all searching for what makes us happy. Sometimes the situations Bridget gets herself into are ridiculous and funny. At other times, her thoughts are crushing and full of despair.

As I read the story, I hoped that Bridget would find some happiness, but I had no worries. I knew that Fielding’s plot was derived from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so Bridget’s happy ending was guaranteed.

It’s rare that I prefer a film to the book it is based upon, but that's the case for Bridget Jones's Diary. I like the 2001 film version of Bridget Jones's Diary starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant better than the novel. Bridget Jones's Diary is actually one of only two books where I like the movie version better than the book—the other being Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Purchase and read books by Helen Fielding:

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: A Novel by Helen Fielding Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding Bridget Jones's Baby: The Diaries by Helen Fielding

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams is a science fiction and comedy novel about Arthur Dent, a Englishman who survives after the destruction of Earth. The story begins when Earth is destroyed. Arthur is rescued by an alien named Ford Prefect, and the pair begin hitchhiking through the galaxy on a Vogon spacecraft. Ford is a researcher for the revised edition of a reference book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is stored on a device similar to a palm pilot. Then their adventures begin as they travel through the galaxy.

It’s a unique story that is imaginative and very humorous. It’s also a very quick read. I wish I had read the book earlier while I was in high school and my friends were hyping it up, so I would have been able to joke about mice, Deep Thought, and 42 along with them.

Purchase and read books by Douglas Adams:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins

All I Wanted Was Company
(1999) is a short novel by John Hopkins. In the story, the protagonist Norman searches for companionship and peace of mind.

The novel begins when Norman leaves America for a trip to Tangier, Morocco with his older girlfriend Alice. They settle in, buying a house there. Norman is plagued by asthma, and fails to notice that Alice is ill as well. Alice eventually leaves Morocco and returns to New York City, while Norman recovers and waits for her return. Then, Norman hears that Alice’s illness is severe, and he travels to America, but he is too late to see her.

Feeling lost, Norman returns to his home in Tangier. He befriends Harry, an Englishman, and then finds love again with Miss Toledano, an older woman from Morocco. When she leaves him, and Harry dies, Norman decides to leave for the desert.

Though the plot is sparse, John Hopkins’s storytelling makes you feel in some ways as though a friend is talking to you and telling you a story while showing you pictures. Still, you are left feeling incomplete, without a full understanding of why the characters are the way they are.

Purchase and read books by John Hopkins:

All I Wanted Was Company by John Hopkins The Tangier Diaries, 1962-1979 by John Hopkins The South American Diaries by John Hopkins The White Nile Diaries by John Hopkins

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

María, A South American Romance by Jorge Isaacs

María, A South American Romance by Jorge Isaacs

María, A South American Romance was written by Jorge Isaacs, a Colombian writer, journalist, and politician. Published in 1867, this famous Latin American novel is part of the Romantic literary movement.

The story María was recommended to me, and it took me a full month to track down an English translation from the original Spanish. Luckily, through an interlibrary loan, I checked out a translation of Jorge Isaacs's story by Rollo Ogden, which was published in New York by Harper & Brothers in 1890. I was excited to be able to read the novel.

The story is told by a man named Efraín, who is reminiscing about his youth. Efraín describes his return home from college. He is in love with María, a girl raised by his family. Efraín wants to declare his love to María, but his parents forbid him from doing so until he completes his medical education in Europe.

Meanwhile, María is suffering from a rare form of epilepsy that killed her mother. Efraín's parents and María's doctors feel that a declaration from Efraín would result in a severe attack and have dangerous consequences for María's health. This belief plays into his parents' reasoning.

In the meantime, Efraín and María’s flirtation continues and their misunderstandings grow. Social factors and their obedience to their elders prevent them from speaking honestly to one another about their feelings. As Efraín and María suffer in silence, their elders respect them more. Efraín and María are young, but they take pride in their honesty and highly value their promises. The two have clear motivations, but must act in a specific societal order. The description of their romance felt so different from the present day in which people are free to act on their whims.

My favorite part was when an immature Efraín threw away flowers he intended to give María because she had not arranged flowers for him in his room. This misunderstanding affected them both greatly because their small acts of affection were so important to them. After this misunderstanding, they had to truly speak to one another to resolve their ill feelings and insecurities. I thought Efraín was very sweet when he and María were shyly flirting. I liked how they both thought that their romance was a secret, while it was clear that the whole family knew what was going on.

As I read the novel, I sensed that it would end tragically. Efraín was reminiscing about a short period of time. His voice sounded old and melancholic, as if that period was the time of his greatest joy. It felt like Efraín had gone over that stretch of time so often that he remembered every detail. He could describe María's dresses and her scarf and the food they ate. I felt that if Efraín and María had been happy together for 30 years, then he might not have placed such weight on those small details.

The novel does end tragically. It was not a shock to me that María died, but I felt sad that she and Efraín did not have a final meeting. I wondered how old Efrain was when he was telling his story and whether he ever found happiness in life. Overall, the novel is a very sweet and romantic story that captures young love, tragedy, and family dynamics. It is a shame that this book is not currently available as in English.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin (1957) is a funny and heartbreaking book by Vladimir Nabokov. It is the story of Timofey Pnin, a Russian professor at Waindell College. Unknowingly, Pnin is mocked for not mastering English and for his social fumbles. The reader empathizes with Pnin and cheers him on as he finds his place on campus and in life.

Once you reach the end of the story, you can never read it again in quite the same light. Was the story accurate or a manipulation? What are the narrator's motivations? This turn of events makes you want to read the story again for clues and for the truth.

External Links:
"Exiles in a small world" by David Lodge, The Guardian (Saturday May 8, 2004)
A Resolved Discord (Pnin) by Gennady Barabtarlo

Purchase and read books by Vladimir Nabokov:

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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