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Monday, July 6, 2009

Reviews: On Beauty, Middlesex, The Apprentice's Masterpiece

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Reason for Reading: Recommendation
Rating: 2/5

1 paragraph plot summary: This book is about the intertwining lives of the Belsey and the Kipps family. Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, both college professors at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have long been enemies. But things become complicated. Howard's son, Jerome, a newly born-again Christian goes to intern with the Kipps and ends up falling in love with Victoria Kipps. Monty gets a job teaching at the same college as Howard, and their wives become friends. Kiki, Howard's wife, is trying to come to grips with the revelation that Howard cheated on her.

1 paragraph review: with all due respect to all of the awards this book has won, I was pretty much left cold by this book. It is a character study without much plot, and there were isolated passages that I thought showed extreme insight into the characters' lives and motivations, but I couldn't get too interested in any of the characters, and there was no resolution. None. Howard, who was in many respects, the main character, thought way too highly of himself. I liked Kiki, who is probably the most sympathetic character, but even so I was having trouble with the lack of a plot. I think what really brought it home for me was that when I was reading reviews, I kept hearing this book referred to as a comedy. I never really saw it as a funny read, and in fact, it was pretty sad throughout.

Should I read it? Maybe. It might be more to your taste than mine.

Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation from Nymeth I believe

1 paragraph plot summary: I'm going to just quote the opening line of the novel to clue you into what it is about: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." This, like On Beauty, is a much-awarded, much-touted literary novel, but I had about the exact opposite reaction to this book. Also a book full of well-developed characters, I couldn't put this book down. Middlesex is undeniably about Cal, the narrator who discovers she is intersexed at the tender age of 14, but it is also about her grandparents, who began life as brother and sister in Greece but had become husband and wife by the time they arrived in America. It's about Cal's parents, Tessa and Milton, who open a chain of Greek-flavored hot-dog stands. It's about Cal's childhood living as a girl, and the events that lead up to her emergency room revelation. It's about the summer Cal fell in love. Middlesex is an engaging read that hooks you and doesn't let you go.

Should I read it? Yes, please do.

The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: Interest in books set in Spain

1 paragraph plot summary: Set against the backdrop of fifteenth century Spain, when the Inquisition was just getting into full swing and religious intolerance was reaching new heights is the story of Ramon, who came from a converso, or formerly Jewish family, and Amir, a Muslim who is also forced to give up his faith to blend in with society. A drama about friendship and betrayal while living in turbulent times.

1 paragraph review: I wasn't sure what I was going to think about this YA novel, which was written in poetry form, about life during the Spanish Inquisition. But after a few chapters, I stopped even noticing the fact that the book was split up into verses, I was just drawn into the narrative of two boys who both must deal with prejudice. For anyone who has ever learned about the era of Ferdinand, Isabella, and Columbus with the glossed over idea that the fifteenth century was Spain's glory age, this book shines a light into the dirty underside. The wars that were financed by taking money, property, and land from so-called heretics (mostly Jews or those accused of being Jews for the most tenuous of reason), the devastation of the Muslim culture when the Moors were expelled... I could go on, but then I wouldn't leave anything for you to enjoy when you pick up this delightful little book.

Should I read it? Ignore the fact it's written in verse form. It's a powerful read none-the-less.


Chris said...

You know I started Middlesex a while ago and haven't gone back to it :/ It was just bad timing for me. I really liked what I read though...I really need to finish that!! Or else Nymeth might hurt me >_>

Literary Feline said...

I am so glad you liked Middlesex, Kim. That's one of my favorites. I haven't read the other two you mention, although On Beauty is sitting in my TBR room at the moment. I'm sorry it wasn't better for you.

Alice Teh said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Middlesex. I really must get into it soon. Soon.

Nymeth said...

I loved On Beauty :( *cries in the corner*

I'm glad you enjoyed Middlesex, though, or else I might REALLY cry :P (And Chris...I'm going after you, mwahahahaha)

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I started On Beauty, but didn't get into it right away. I'm planning to try again, someday... and I've always wanted to read Middlesex. I'm glad you thought that one is as good as I've heard it is :)

Rhinoa said...

I read Middlesex on Nymeth's recommendation as well and loved it. I am sorry though that you didn't enjoy On Beauty more. I really like that and White Teeth by Smith.