Friday, April 25, 2014

Needs more ghost

Book #12 is Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield.

I really loved Setterfield's previous book The Thirteenth Tale. It was a wonderful book so when I saw that she had another one out, awesome.

The main character is one William Bellman, the son of the black sheep of the well Bellman family (William's father had married below his station, and then ran out on William and his mother) who own the town's mill. As a boy, William and his friends are out playing one day, and, in a fit of boyish cruelty, kill a rook. This sets things in motion.

Or does it? The problem with this book is that it calls itself a ghost story, but there's really not much 'ghost' to it. You keep waiting for it to kick in somewhat. Oh there's lots of death, and death even becomes William's obsession as he goes into the mourning business, but... the ghost of the story, Mr. Black, really isn't there.

It's a beautifully written book, and it's testament to Setterfield's skill that she can make Victorian-era milling and commerce actually kind of interesting... But beyond that, the characters don't leap off the page, and William is so focused on his work, or I guess what he sees as his atonement, that he drives all personality out of himself. Which I guess is the point, since other characters even remark as much about it.

I didn't hate this book, I didn't even dislike it, but I definitely expected... more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

World War Snow White

Whoops, fell behind a bit again.

Book #10 is The War That Ended Peace by Margaret McMillan. I'd read McMillan's previous book, Paris 1919, about the WWI peace process and really loved it, so thought I'd check out her treatise on how the Great War was started in the first place. Especially since, this being 2014, it will be 100 years ago this summer that the War to end all wars broke out.

This was an EXTREMELY dense book. I mean, she is dealing with a cast of thousands and years of events that led to the war breaking out. It's tensions between Germany and England. And France and Germany. And Russia and Germany. And Austria-Hungary and Russia over the Balkans. And just a million other tensions and personality conflicts and war-mongering and just refusal to believe that an all encompassing European war could actually happen. Upon reading this book, you realize that the assassination of the Arch-Duke Ferdinand was really the last step before the War rather than the first step towards it. An excellent read, but definitely not an easy one.

An easier read was book #11, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. A loose retelling of Snow White, the book takes place in the 1950s and centers around, and is mainly told by Boy Novak, a woman who escapes an abusive father and moves to a small town in upstate NY where she meets and marries a man and becomes step-mother to the enigmatic, beautiful young girl Snow. Now all is well until Boy has a child and that child... is not what Boy expected. Snow is sent away, Bird is raised without her half-sister and family secrets are brought to light. It's a very, very good book and there is a hell of a bomb dropped at the end, to the point where I hope to heck there's a sequel.