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Monday, March 23, 2015

***A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy,  1939-2012, an Irish novelist
Audiobook,  2013, read by Rosalyn Landor

Sunday, March 8, 2015

*****Evelina, by Frances Burney

  • Frances Burney, 1752-1840, England
  • Evelina  was Frances Burney's first and most famous novel
  • First published in England by Thomas Lowndes in January 1778. Burney's brother posed as the author after Frances was rejected by another publisher. 
  • Evelina was initially published anonymously in order to avoid censure by her father and literary critics. At that time, it was not considered acceptable for women to read books, let alone write them. Once her novel received public awareness and acceptance, Burney revealed to the public that she was the true author.
  • An epistolary novel
  • Satire, humor and melancholy all pervade this lovely, morality infused, novel.  
  • Setting:  18th century, (London) England
  • Themes: Social class snobbery, female delicacy, women's reputations,  male chivalry, London Society: vice and virtue

My Review
What a wonderful book! It was so well conceived from beginning to end. There was never a dull moment. Every turn added another new piece to the puzzle, another mystery or entanglement, but without any hint as to its final outcome.  At no time previous have I found myself so intensely rooting for a heroine’s good fortune. Whether I did so in vain, I will not disclose here. I will share this, the ending concludes perfectly. Not because it is happy or sad, but because it was handled superbly. A novel’s finale often leaves me disappointed. So much thought is given to the first two-thirds, or more, of a novel and then…poof! is as if the author was too exhausted with all other efforts to attend properly to his or her ending. I was not disappointed with Evelina, such was the strength of Burney’s emotionally charged drama. Unquestionably brilliant!

  • Mr. Villars of Evelina: "Never can I consent to have this dear and timid girl brought forward to the notice of the world by such a method; a method which will subject her to all the impertinence of curiosity, the sneers of conjecture, and the stings of ridicule."
  • "But really, I think there ought to be a book of the laws and customs, a-la-mode, presented to all young people upon their first introduction into public company."
  • "But alas, my dear child, we are the slaves of custom, the dupes of prejudice, and dare not stem the torrent of the opposing world, even though our judgments condemn our compliance! However, since the die is cast, we must endeavor to make the best of it.
  • "Generosity without delicacy, like wit without judgment, generally gives as much pain as pleasure."
  • Lord Orville to Sir Clement, regarding Evelina: "She is not, indeed, like most modern young ladies, to be known in half an hour; her modest worth, and fearful excellence, require both time and encouragement to show themselves. She does not, beautiful as she is, seize the soul by surprise, but, with more dangerous fascination, she steals it almost imperceptibly."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

****hausfrau, by jill alexander essbaum

  • Debut novel
  • Early Reviewer's edition
  • To be published on March 34, 2015
  • Author: American born - Texas 1971 - a published poet, writer and professor
  • Her poetry is known for its erotic and religious imagery, both central themes in Hausfrau.
  • Below is an example of a poem which was featured in a New York Time's article on January 5, 2012, written by Katherine Schulten. This piece is centered around time and our ephemeral lives.
by Jill Essbaum

The border
of a thing. 

Its edge
or hem.

The selvage,
the skirt,

a perimeter's 

The blow
of daylight's

end and

A fence

or a rim
a margin,

a fringe.
And this:

the grim,


the lapse
of passage

That slim

lip of land,
the liminal

that slips

you past
your brink.

and when

  • Setting
    • Dietlikon, Switzerland, which is close to Zurich
      • suburban home next to and over-shadowed by the Grossmunster Cathedral
    • Contemporary setting
  • Main Characters
    • Anna Benz, hausfrau, 29 yrs, born & raised in USA
    • Bruno Benz, husband, 35 yrs, born in Switzerland
    • 3 young Benz children:  Victor, Charles & Polly Jean
    • Ursula: Bruno's mother
    • Doktor Messerli, Anna's Jungian psychologist
    • various men - Anna's lovers
      • I have listed these lovers as one entity because it is not any one individual that is important. More so, it is the purpose they serve collectively to Anna psyche that is of primarily significance.
  • Vocabulary
    • hausfrau - German for 1. Housewife, homemaker. 2. A married woman
    • intumescent- state of being swollen or swelling up
    • milquetoast - a timid or spineless person, esp one capable of being intimidated
    • shibboleth  - a catchword or common saying Review
If you liked Portrait of a Lady, Madame Bovary, The Lover, Anna Karenina, Lady Chatterley's Lover, or the like, you will love Hausfrau.  The emotionally charged behavior portrayed through these heroines is similarly depicted in Hausfrau, Essbaum's character driven novel. You may or may not like the heroine, but are unable to pull oneself from the grip of her pathos.

Essbaum's background as a poet is evidenced by the lyric quality of her narrative. It is both eloquent and luminous. Despite the darkness of the subject matter it is quite beautifully written. The protagonist deconstructs at an escalating pace but with poetic grace. Depression and anxiety play back and forth between deeply insightful observations as the protagonist examines her life with help of her Jungian therapist.

In the end there are no clear-sighted conclusions, only consequences and possibilities, not all of which are strictly positive or negative.  Which way things unfold is left to the reader's imagination - not as a conclusive final course, but as a meditative reflection. One that looks back at us and the obsessions we partake in order to hide from our personal realities.

Hausfrau is an exceptional debut novel. I look forward to future literary works from this talented author.

  • Quotes (from uncorrected proof)
    • "Shame is psychic extortion. Shame lies. Shame a woman and she will believe she is fundamentally wrong, organically delinquent. The only confidence she will have will be in her failures. You will never convince her otherwise." 
    • "Novelty's a cloth that wears thin at an alarming rate."
    • "A lonely woman is a dangerous woman. A lonely woman is a bored woman.  Bored women act on impulse."
    • "No coincidence is chance. Synchronicity is the external manifestation of an inner reality."
    • "An obsession is a defense against feeling out of control. A compulsion is the failure of that defense."
    • "Where you were is never as relevant as where you are."
    • "Hubris is every heroine's assassin."
    •  Pain is an impatient customer. It isn't long before it demands attention.

***Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan

Published 2008
Read by Emily Janice Card

Grief and hope quietly take over the life of a family waiting to learn what happened to their daughter. Just weeks before she is to leave for college, she vanishes. O'Nan portrays the emotional roller-coaster family and friends experience between the time she disappears and the time of her return (do not worry, that was not a spoiler). Despite the subject matter, this story lacks a key element - the ability to evoke empathy. The reader does not feel the depth of the family's or friends' pain. It is a fundamental component that takes away from the quality of O'Nan's narrative. This is usually where the author excels. As a result, the novel drags on, leaving the reader bored through out most of the book. It is unfortunate, I have come to expect more from him.