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Atwood and Gordimer

In January, I bemoaned the fact that I did not get into Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter. My failure bugged me in the following months. In April, I couldn’t take it any more and rechecked the two books from the library. I finally read them. And came away with the same opinions I had in January, which sucks. But, to be fair, no book is going to appeal to everyone. Atwood and Gordimer are great authors. One deserves her Nobel. And the other should have gotten a Nobel already.

I struggle with Margaret Atwood, to be honest. I first read Atwood’s The Robber Bride in my senior year of high school and reread the novel again about two or three years later. I enjoyed The Robber Bride greatly. Maybe it is the acceptance, at the end, of a minor character’s coming out. Maybe it is the fact that the three protagonists are amazing women struggling with an amazing antagonist. Maybe I was just in a phase of my life that favored literary novels over science fiction and fantasy. I don’t quite know. But, I haven’t reread The Robber Bride in over ten years.

Subsequently, I’ve read or attempted to read other works by Margaret Atwood. I read her 1991 collection Wilderness Tips and found it rather uneven. And I attempted to read The Blind Assassin while still in college. I did not like it and dropped it. Later I tried reading Cat’s Eye several times over the course of a few years. And recently, I have wanted to read The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace (for my historical novel reading challenge). As anyone who read my January reading post knows, I hated The Handmaid’s Tale.

On to my thoughts now that I finally finished Cat’s Eye. The novel is, for me, a dull affair that really doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do. It does have similar themes to The Robber Bride, but I don’t think Atwood quite captures the emotional power. I just really never connected to Elaine’s midlife identity crisis/ reformation or her obsession with Cordelia and her role in Elaine’s later character formation.

At least I’ve finally read Cat’s Eye. Sucks that I never got into it.

I am less familiar with Nadine Gordimer’s work, but I first read her novel The House Gun in my senior year of high school. And really enjoyed it. I just never really continued to read her work even as I bought her short story collection Jump. In January, I wanted to correct that oversight.

Burger’s Daughter is an experiment. Gordimer is transitioning from traditional dialogue to a more difficult and complicated, for author and read, technique for conveying conversation. In this regard, Burger’s Daughter is rather successful, but it does not work completely.

The key is characterization and maintaining each character’s individuality.

My problem with Burger’s Daughter is just that, Burger’s Daughter. Rosa Burger is defined by her father. And by her father’s struggle. She never quite comes into her own as a character. She is always defined in relation to her father. Even in the end, one must wonder how much her decisions are based on what she wants or what has been instilled in her to want.

The problem is that Rosa Burger is rather flat. Her characterization is, honestly, timid. Rosa Burger never quite emerges as a compelling character.

I am disappointed that I didn’t like Burger’s Daughter. But I am glad I read it. It is inspirational, though perhaps not in ways Gordimer intends.

Will I continue to seek out Margaret Atwood and Nadine Gordimer’s work? Yes. I might not like some of their books, but I am willing to bet that there are several of their books I will enjoy.


The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.