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Archive for the ‘Little’ Tag

Sculpting a Life From Wax   Leave a comment

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Period novels usually aren’t my thing. It could be the often flowery language, the popular use of first person narrative, the topic, the je ne sais pas. Little by Edward Carey, while guilty of the above, including the French, is captivating. The story, based on the early life of Madame Tussaud known for her wax sculptures of celebrities, is rich with humor, pathos, historical references and lively characters.

Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761, Marie, as she was generally called until her diminutive size warranted the nickname “Little,” recounts her family background. She literally begins with her birth. Interspersed among the details of her life are drawings. The first identified as “Drawn by herself. In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk. (This being a likeness of her pencil.)” It’s difficult not to smile, although not all of the subsequent illustrations are humorous.

As a child, her life circumstances dramatically change following the death of her parents when she’s relegated to becoming a servant. Yet, Little is witty, intelligent and has a sharp power of observation: Traits that serve her well as her creativity and talents expand.

Little learns the craft of waxwork from the odd Dr. Curtius, who at first sculpted body parts and organs out of wax. Initially, he treats her as a ward. When the pair moves to Paris from Switzerland, her station is reduced to kitchen maid.

Carey’s epic follows the French Revolution with Little’s indomitable spirit whose name bears no reflection on her inner strength and kindness.

Little
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
435 pages

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Not Quite a Masterpiece   4 comments

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After talking to a friend who had just completed a marathon, I saw a similarity to reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. At times I wondered if I would ever finish. Occasionally I was completely engrossed and enjoyed the scenery, so to speak. Ultimately, I kept returning to the question of completion, could I do it? The answer is yes. However, unlike my runner friend who was euphoric after crossing the finish line, I was simply relieved: just glad to be done.

I know Tartt has received numerous accolades (including the Pulitzer Prize) for her 771-page novel about Theo Decker and the rare painting that, at the request of a dying man in a museum explosion, he takes and has overshadowing his adolescence and young adulthood. Yet, I had an extremely hard time allowing for my suspension of disbelief to fully be in the driver’s seat.

Theo’s mother is killed in that explosion and Theo, who is 13 years old at the time, walks out of the museum practically unnoticed, certainly not unscathed emotionally, but unnoticed. Don’t bother trying to forget that he had an irreplaceable piece of art in his backpack. Through a series of temporary living situations – some better than others, drug abuse and unrealized potential, Theo doesn’t undergo too much transformation through the years. Tartt offers an interesting premise, with Theo narrating, but the story gets bogged down with too many inattentive adults and too many far-fetched situations.

Mostly, I was tired after putting the book down for good.

The Goldfinch
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown Co., 2013
771 pages

Half a Review   Leave a comment

 

Luminaries

I’ve written once before about giving myself permission not to finish a book. I usually make the decision within the first 50 pages. I just stopped after 360 pages of Eleanor Catton’s 830 page tome, The Luminaries. The strange thing is, I will probably finish. Someday. Not now though; I have too many other books on my nightstand, and the library copy I’m reading is already overdue.

I can’t say it took me more than 300 pages to get into the 2013 Man Booker Prize winner, but it was no easy trek to make it that far, which is not even halfway.

The tale begins in January 1866 when Walter Moody arrives in a New Zealand mining town seeking his fortune. His first night in town finds him among 12 men ready to discuss a series of events to which they are all directly or tenuously connected. Catton pays meticulous attention to detail. Each character is exhaustively described from appearances, mannerisms, likes, dislikes, self-perceptions and reputation. Moody and company aren’t the novel’s only characters: a few women of mystery and ill-repute and several men who have either died or gone missing are also fastidiously introduced. Yet.

The relationships through business, friendship and happenstance actually do make for an interesting story. Hidden gold, lost fortunes, prejudices and the association of the characters is a maze. while easy to follow from one possible explanation only to be thwarted by another, is eventually, and finally, enthralling. I just hate to have library fines.

The Luminaries
Undecided on Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2013
360 pages of 830