30-Second Book Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

My rating: 4/10

On Amazon: 4.2/5

The plot in one sentence: Young country girl Tess is seduced by Alec, gets pregnant, retires to become a milkmaid, is fallen in love with by a gentleman named Angel, is married to him but, once confessing her earlier disgrace, is abandoned on her wedding night, is seduced back into the graces of the somewhat-reformed Alec, who makes her his mistress, is taken back by Angel, murders Alec, and finally enjoys a week on the run with Angel making sweet beautiful love in meadows before being caught by the police and hanged, Angel ending up getting together with her sister.

Am I a horrible person because I didn’t like this book? Does this make me a bad English major? Shall my status as a literary intellectual be revoked? Nah.

Things Hardy does masterfully: landscape descriptions.

Things Hardy does pretty well: characterizations.

Things Hardy sucks balls at: plot and pacing.

I think the main appeal of the book must be the idyllic world he creates. Aside from the ominous wickedness of Alec and his smile, the whole piece is pervaded by this sense of grace and blithesomeness, both of Tess and Angel and also as reflected in the landscape. Tess seems always to wear white; the grass is always pale green; there is always mist sparkling in the meadow; Tess’s hair is always charmingly and alluringly escaping in tendrils down her neck; Angel is always graceful and handsome and thinking profound, uplifting thoughts; the cows are always giving milk. And so on. Of course, when Tess experiences hardship, it suddenly becomes winter and the landscape is hostile. I get it, thanks.

I’m always one for a good romance, even a super sappy one, but the anticlimax of most of the romantic scenes here turned me off, as did the lengthy time spent describing the in-between action. Tess spends a lot of time reaping while Alec lasciviously watches her. She spends a lot of time trudging around the countryside while her life deteriorates. Angel spends a long time being vaguely ill in South America. It seems as though characters spend the vast majority of their time preparing to do things, or at least doing them very gradually. Things would have been a lot more enjoyable if each piece of action or advancement of plot were given a well-drawn, dramatic scene in which to occur, instead of occurring incrementally over the course of hundreds of pages. Perhaps Hardy should have taken notes from Charlotte Bronte.

30-Second Book Review: Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

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Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

My rating: 6/10

On Amazon: 3.9/5

 The plot in one sentence: Decades after a violent falling out, the protagonist (unnamed), is approached by his now cancer-ridden and rapidly dying friennemy Damian Baxter to identify the mother of his child from among a list of their former female friends and acquaintances.

 The best and worst thing I can say about this baby is that it’s Julian Fellowes being Julian Fellowes, doing what Julian Fellowes does best. I have to admit, before reading this, my only experience of Julian Fellowes was Downton Abbey, a show for which the charm lies in the care and detail with which each character is drawn, making them each a protagonist of their own plot; even the bad guys, Thomas and O’Brian, are compelling and sympathetic. Then, I watched Fellowes’ Gosford Park, and was sorely disappointed. Witty, complex, and historically accurate, yes, of course. But not a single one of the characters managed simply to be likeable. Everyone is mean, everyone is manipulative, and everyone has an agenda. Gosford Park is a story written with relentless cynicism, and Past Imperfect is just the same. The narrator, whose name I only just realized we never learn, is quietly (read: Englishly) snarky, and can’t seem to offer a compliment without backhanding it. According to him, who I can’t help but picture as Julian Fellowes himself typing away at a keyboard, no one was ever worth more than their money or their looks, and no one, looking from teenagerhood to late middle-age, seems to have reached their full potential. All is disappointment. Naturally the plot, which is simple and episodic, takes backseat to the encyclopedic knowledge Fellowes demonstrates about English high society in the 1960s and 70s. The wealth of detail is staggering and, although I know the man is brilliant, I think would have been quite impossible to replicate unless, like Fellowes, one has lived the life.

I must confess that, having not been able to squeeze in the last forty pages before moving to New Haven, I never actually discovered the identity of Damian Baxter’s baby momma. I don’t know; it’s a mystery.

I was readin’ some Literature, when all of a sudden…

This, from Hardy’s Tess:

“Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Var Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings” (Book 3, Chapter XXIV)

Can’t help but think of the intro to Chaucer’s prologue… #fertility

30-Second Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 8/10

On Amazon: 3.5/10

The plot in one sentence: Nick and Amy are broke and trapped in a dysfunctional, failing marriage, when on the morning of their fifth anniversary Nick returns home to find the door wide open, a struggle in the living room, blood all over the kitchen floor, and his wife gone. Dun dun DUN.

Finally, a vindication for the murder/thriller/suspense genre, screaming “What is suspenseful need not be fast-paced, what is murder mystery need not be hokey, and what is crime drama need not have two-dimensional characters!” Because Gillian Flynn has finally brought us a story that is as absorbing as an episode of Law and Order: SVU, with characters who are as developed and believable as George R. R. Martin’s. And this means we actually care what happened to Nick’s wife Amy when she disappears from their suburban Missouri home on the morning of their fifth anniversary. We begin to experience actual sympathy for him as the evidence starts to incriminate him, and then a slowly mounting sense of suspicion and horror as we read Amy’s diary entries about their failing marriage and find ourselves begin to suspect our own protagonist of murder. But the twist. Oh, the twist is so good. I won’t spoil it for you, but all I’ll say is that Flynn writes a great psychopath. Perhaps it takes one to know one.

2013 – The Bunny is Back to Blogging!

Picture it. A New Year’s resolution for 2013:

More writing of every kind. A blog post every other week, supplemented by catchy book reviews. Novels, the big stuff, it’s great, but don’t let the long-term goals rob you of short-term productivity. Can’t bring yourself to finish writing that chapter today? No problem, just write SOMETHING.

So that’s where we’re at. The Bunny is back in the US, and not doing much traveling just now, but that doesn’t mean her life isn’t full of adventures. Even if they’re only the ones happening inside her head!

Get ready for some content in 2013!

Puppets Singing Mozart – The Salzburger Marionettentheater

My hostel in Innsbruck was easily the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to stay in. I won’t subject you to a whole ranting post about it, but suffice it to say… It had bedbugs. My bed had bedbugs. After two nights, my shoulders and legs were covered with some two-dozen huge red bites that itched like crazy. I still can’t really wear shorts or tank tops in public, because it looks like I have some horrific rash…

So after the trials of Innsbruck, I really, really needed a break. Unfortunately, I saw almost nothing of Salzburg but the inside of the laundromat where I washed every article of clothing I own, including my purse and my whole backpack. Bedbugs spread because their eggs stick to anything that comes in contact with them, like, I don’t know, my pajamas, lots of my clothes, my bra, my underwear, my purse, my jacket, my fleece… I had to purge everything before my skin would stop crawling at the thought…

But one thing I did catch in Salzburg was an all-puppet version of Die Zauberflöte at the Salzburg Marionette Theater.

The famousest aria of them all! The Queen of the Night II, performed by a puppet!

And one of my favorite duets, between Papageno and Papagena. Papageno gives Papagena until the count of three to appear, and when she doesn’t, he tries to hang himself. But before he does, the three spirits stop him and produce his Papagena!

Unfortunately, this was not an all-out musical production of The Magic Flute. I’m almost positive that everything, including the dialogue, was prerecorded and that the only performing going on was the puppeteering. But they did a great job! Of course it can’t be completely realistic, but the number of body parts that they manage to manipulate is amazing, down to the characters’ eyebrows!

The puppet-crew at curtain call. The whole thing was done by only five puppeteers!

There’s a lot more to do in Salzburg than I had time or energy for – Mozart’s house, a castle, a palace, a cathedral, many theaters and concert halls, and of course the obligatory Sound of Music tours, but all that will have to wait for next time! And there will definitely be a next time. :)
Oh, and speaking of trippy fantasy plots and singing puppets… these two videos from Labyrinth. That’s all!

 

Yodeling and Beer – Tirolerabend in Innsbruck

So remember when I went to the lovely folk concert in Gimmelwald? The famous Tirolerabend in Innsbruck is the evil, commercialized twin sister of the one in Gimmelwald. It’s kind of the “don’t miss” thing to do in Innsbruck, though, and I guess it was a good way to spend the evening. “Tirolerabend” is so called because it’s in the evening (“abend”), and because Innsbruck is in the region of Austria called the Tirol, which is culturally very similar to Bavaria in Germany – you know, the beersteins, the buxom tavern-wench costumes for women, the lederhosen and green feathered hats for men…

They have entire department stores devoted to these sorts of costumes (mostly for women), and people just walk around Innsbruck dressed like this! Granted, I’m sure some of them are going to/coming from work, for which this is probably their uniform, but some of them were definitely just living their lives in regional costume…!

So since the whole city looks to be in a perpetual state of Oktoberfest, why not drink the koolaid and go to a concert of traditional music and dancing and beer?

Tirolerabend was actually pretty cool, considering how shamelessly it caters to groups of Japanese and American tourists. Well, the complimentary beer helped. But also, this particular family, Gundolf, has been putting on these folk concerts continuously since 1967, so I guess it’s even a tradition to go to a concert! And even if the performers were performing weird and traditional musical acts for a hundred-odd boorish tourists, the performers were still… performing weird and traditional musical acts!

The yodeling in particular was pretty impressive:

And my other favorite was the various dances performed by tall skinny men in lederhosen.
I’m sorry, I still can’t watch these without laughing…. They’re literally prancing.

I can’t decide if I prefer the guy on the right, who looks super femme and is really into it, or the guy on the left who has his top button undone and is somehow really going for “manly man…”

Annnnd one more video of the singing saw, which really does sound eerily like a human voice…

All in all a fun show, and it went perfectly with beer and sausages. Yummm.

I leave you now with two relevant and entertaining videos:

(be sure to listen at 1:47, as Snow White casually floats a high Eb. Like it’s no big deal.) (Oh dear, and also the blatant racism at 1:40… Womp.)

(and at around 1:55, Julie Andrews has a rather awesome yodel-y descant)

And that’s a good place to end because the next post will be from Salzburg (like Maria and the Von Trapps), and will also feature marionette puppets! Aufwiedersehen!