Once again, I’ve been really overcomitting myself on the reading challenges, and my “currently reading” shelf stands at 13 books. 😮 I shall try to make heads or tails of it in this post.
The weather has been pretty lovely here, by the way. Still kind of chilly, a classic Northwest April. Daffodils and morning birdsong are the little reminders that life indeed goes on!
Breathing Into Marble by Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė
The first half of this Lithuanian novel was quite strong—a harrowing exploration of emotional fragility, longing, and trauma.
A young woman, Isabel, adopts a boy from a local orphanage in hopes of helping him overcome his struggles and become part of her family. It is gradually revealed, however, that Isabel is also in need of help, as she struggles with her faded relationship and biological son’s health issues. The story unravels like a thriller, except we are immersed in the lives and emotions of all the key players. Layers of conflict cry out from the page while Isabel searches for a wholeness to mend her life, yet finds only more tragedy in her painful search.
The second half of the novel took a rather different turn. I was hoping for some resolution to the conflicts that had been introduced, but did not find closure. There were many vaguely chilling but half-baked scenes, more (IMO, unnecessary) descriptions of sex, and an ending that left me feeling lukewarm and depressed.
Overall, I really enjoyed the concept, prose, and themes of the novel, but felt disappointed by the second half.
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Reviewing The Waves is like attempting to review a sunset or an impressionist painting. You can distill it down to the form of writing, the basic plot, and the underlying themes, but the book does not lend itself easily to analysis—like its namesake, it is hard to pin down.
At the beginning, we’re introduced to a group of children who first meet at boarding school. Jinny is the pretty girl, Louis is the son of a “banker from Brisbane,” Rhoda is strange and melancholy, and Bernard is obsessed with words. Susan and Neville are the last two—the one fascinated by nature and the other by order. A seventh child, Percival, eventually joins their group later on, and Percival is their hero.
The book told in a series of poetic monologues, spoken in turns by the characters. The format is dialogue, but there is little or no actual conversation in the book. Thus, what feels like the periphery of a novel is much closer, in reading experience, to a narrative poem, or even a poem told in prose. If you think too much about it, you will instantly dislike it; if instead you “go with the flow” (no pun intended), you might actually enjoy The Waves.
I found the first half of the book almost riveting. I was taken by the impressions, feelings, jealousies, romances, and aspirations of the children. The backdrop of Edwardian England makes itself known through their senses, images, and analogies—a powerful evocation of nostalgia. It is clear these children are not exactly friends in the positive sense of the word, yet they are bound together by their experiences and the age in which they live.
Once again, however, things fell apart for me in the second half… At this point, I could barely discern a plot; it was highly repetitive, making little allusions to love triangles and various tragedies, but not developing as a plot. The last chapter was painfully tedious, even when I tried to forget about the story and read it just as poetry.
While The Waves wasn’t the 2021 gem I was hoping it would be, it was a reading experience worth having. I can see myself reading it again someday, just for the beauty of the language.
The highlights of the long list:
- Sonnets by Shakespeare – Most of these are new to me, and overall I’m enjoying them. The first ones gave me a chuckle, though—they’re all about warning young people to have kids!
- The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories – Still reading these for the class I’m taking. Good so far, though depressing.
- Don Quixote – I completely bombed the Instagram readalong that just ended. I plan to keep reading DQ as a series of short stories (which is basically what it is).
- Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson – I haven’t had the brain cells lately to concentrate on this book. It is harder to read than I expected.
- Kristin Lavransdatter, Part II: The Wife by Sigrid Undset – Yes, I am returning to this 1000-page behemoth with my reading buddy Blaž. Kristin has been in the back of our minds since we read the first book last fall, so this year we decided to read at least Part 2 and maybe the last book in the trilogy as well. It’s not really a difficult book, just rather long!
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine – Reading it for the first time and aloud on the YouTube channel. He doesn’t pull any punches!
- Let the Story Do the Work by Esther Choy – A communication book for work.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Re-reading
- Villette by Charlotte Bronte – Argh… I might have to DNF this one. It is a reread but I fell behind in the MeWe readalong. I haven’t quite given up on it yet, though. We’ll see.
If you’re betting that I will fruitlessly start another book this week… well, you’ll lose less money than I lose sense!