Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Siblings 2.0 ('The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag' by Alan Bradley AND 'The Immortalists' by Chloe Benjamin)

I am writing about these two books in one post because of two common factors: I started out disliking both of them, and siblings are involved in both. Other than that, the differences between the two books will leave some of my friends open-mouthed and amazed that I paired up the two. I'm not sure I came to truly like either of them, but I did move both to a range of interest beyond one star, "I hate the book" rating.

I started reading the second book of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, 'The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag' on the third day of January (hence the holiday mug in the picture), and didn't finish it until the end of January, dragging my eyeballs all along the way. I wasn't overflowing with love for the first book in the series; however, it grew on me enough to consider reading books 2-4 in order to fulfill "three books by the same author" on the 2019 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge.

However, protagonist Flavia's love of poison and the treatment of the three sisters toward each other annoyed me from the beginning of the book. Also, unlike the first book, I didn't like the mystery to be solved. Still I kept on for reasons I don't even know. Possibly it is because I didn't realize until I wrote up above "three books by the same author" that the challenge wasn't to read "three books in a series by the same author". Since I could not think of another series, I keep plodding along. Then, I reached the point where a character I do like entered the story: Inspector Hewitt. Unfortunately, he is not in this particular story often. I also like the author's writing skills, excellent vocabulary, and wonderful allusions to other literary works. Sometimes Bradley even has a witty or thought-provoking quote such as this: "...I have learned that under certain circumstances, a fib is not only permissible, but can even be an act of perfect grace" (268).

Then, Bradley, does something at the end that makes me say to myself: "Drat, he did it again! He offers a controversial statement by the pre-teen narrator that causes me to want to discuss this book and this thought!" I shall give a portion of that statement, only a portion so as not to spoil any plots (which I never see coming because mysteries are not my "go-to" genre): "We were puppets, all of us, set in action upon the stage by God -- or Fate -- or Chemistry, call it what you will..." (354).

Bradley's protagonist also highlights a difference between his book and 'The Immortalists'. Flavia remarks upon the undertaker's use of the phrase "final journey" and several pages prior means to ask Dogger (another favorite character) what it meant when Emma Bovary "gave herself up to him" (281). My star range for this book: 2-3 stars and the possibility that I might (emphasis on "might") try the next book in the series.

My star range for Chloe Benjamin's 'The Immortalists' is 2-4 stars -- a whole lot of two stars, a handful of 3 stars and barely squeaking in there, 4 stars for this book that includes much to discuss. No mild "final journey" or "gave herself up to him" phrases in this book. It's graphic and detailed even in a sixteen-year-old's careless, dangerous (the author's words) sex. I knew from the first page description of a thirteen-year-old's body that I was going to dislike this book. Why did I keep on reading? Because my grown daughter and I were reading the book at the same time (and she gave me  the book). So, I read on even though, after the detailed section stopped, the lack of consistent verb tense drove me almost crazy!

Here's my issue with this book: I felt as if the publisher knew this was going to be a popular book (read "a book that would sell a lot of copies") and so the editors did not send it back for 13, 16, 20 revisions (the number of revisions I've heard other authors mention). They wanted to get this book to market.

I don't know what book people are talking about when they say this is a "joyous" book; it is a sad book, a painful book, a grieving book, and I only bumped my rating up into the 3-4 star range because sad books are also often discussion worthy books.

The "big idea" issue I see in this book revolves around knowing one's future. Research shows us that when we're young, our older selves don't connect in our minds as a part of who we are, yet, knowing the future may not be the best for our present selves either.

The other connected issue involves the lengths we go to extend our lives. I won't say more as it could be a plot spoiler. And, an issue that returns again and again: lack of communication. Lack of communication between the siblings in this book hurts.

The pain is in reading through this time period of the AIDS epidemic (so many lives lost), of a time when a female magician was a novelty like a "pink volcano" in Vegas (when men had more value than women), a time when waivers were needed to send young men into war, and bringing us up to current times: what kind of research do we do to extend our lives (and what if what we learn actually takes the joy out of living?)

Quotes worth discussing:

"She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory -- to know that she connects a future unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child" (134).

"In time was their culture. In time, not in space, was their home" (139).

"That was the problem with God: he didn't hold up to a critical analysis" (179).

"As a species, God might be the greatest gift we've ever given ourselves. The gift of sanity" (180).

"But perhaps God was nothing like the dreadful, lurid fascination that brought him to the fortune teller...For Saul, God had meant order and tradition, culture and history. Daniel still believed in choice, but perhaps that did not foreclose belief in God..." (181).

I'll stop here. In the first half of the book, I have no highlighting bookmarks; in the second half, I have bookmarks every five pages or so.

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