Tag Archives: literary fiction

Review of Love on a Train, by Colleen L. Donnelly

I received an Audible code for a copy of Colleen L. Donnelly‘s Love on a Train.

Description from Goodreads:

The moment Martha noticed Raymond on the train, everything her mother warned against erupted – romantic notions, palpitating heart, the desire to write it all in a novel and tell the world. 
Martha lived and wrote that love story until the day Raymond handed her a sketch. “Want to see a picture of the girl I plan to marry?” The penciled profile resembled Martha… But when Raymond went away, she knew. She wasn’t the girl he planned to marry. 
David was her father’s apprentice, everything Martha’s mother said made a good husband – hardworking, no romantic tendencies, no tolerance for writing about it. 
Martha added a fictional happy ending to her and Raymond’s story and published it. Cleansed herself of romantic love, ready to marry David. Until a copy of her book appeared. Full of sketches, Raymond’s version of their love story, drawings that enticed her heart to beat once again. 

Review:

My rating (which was a 2 star) is based on my enjoyment—or general lack there of—and the fact that I had to force myself to finish the book. The writing is solid and I’ll even concede that the book within a book mechanism was clever (though occasionally repetitive). And the narrator (Amy Deuchler) did a good job with the audio version. However, I didn’t enjoy the book.

I understand that it was supposed to be set just after the end of the world war and women of that time period had different responsibilities and restrictions. But my god, Martha was a fucking doormat. She didn’t stand up to her mother when they pushed her into an engagement she obviously didn’t want. She didn’t push pack when her fiancé (and mother) expected her to give up all of herself to be a wife. She somehow fell in love and thought to marry a man she met on the train, but apparently didn’t actually know that well. She just went along with everything, internally hand wringing the whole time. And despite being obviously smart, she had NO AMBITION beyond getting married.

Then there was the fact that said man was already engaged to another and just disappeared for months without a word. But as soon as he shows up everything was forgiven and it’s supposed to be a happy ending. Ummmm, no.

And Donnelly should seriously be fined for making the reading of a novel take weeks, dragging the plot out interminably and then, after hundreds of pages of ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ marry him, having the decision and event (arguably the most interesting thing to happen in the book) happen off page, such that the reader is denied it.

I imagine this is just a case of wrong reader for the book. There will no doubt be some that enjoy this. But I did not. I was almost insulted by it.

Review of Saman, by Ayu Utami

Saman, by Aya Utami is one of those paperbacks that has been on my shelf so long that I no longer remember how it got there. I’m imagine I bought it at some point, perhaps someone left it in the Little Free Library, I don’t know.

Description from Goodreads:

Saman is a story filtered through the lives of its feisty female protagonists and the enigmatic “hero” Saman. It is at once an expose of the oppression of plantation workers in South Sumatra, a lyrical quest to understand the place of religion and spirituality in contemporary lives, a playful exploration of female sexuality and a story about love in all its guises, while touching on all of Indonesia’s taboos: extramarital sex, political repression and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. 

Review:

I think maybe a lot of this just went over my head. I loved Saman as a character and I liked the others well enough. I recognized the thread that held them all together as a cast. I appreciate that the book pushed boundaries when published in Indonesia, touching on the cruelty and oppression in famers’ lives, repressive sexual attitudes, religion, transmigration and politics, etc. But in the actual reading of it, I thought the whole thing felt disjointed. At one point (about halfway through) I actually turned the book over to reread the synopsis to ensure it wasn’t actually a series of interconnected short stories. And the little twist at the end (especially the last two emails) came so out of left field that I was left baffled. For all that, there is some beautiful writing here and Saman is a character you can’t help but root for.

Review of Anatomy of a Miracle, by Jonathan Miles

I initially won a paperback copy of Jonathan MilesAnatomy of a Miracle through Goodreads. But lacking in time to sit and read lately, but interested none the less, I opted to borrow the audio version from the local library.

Description from Goodreads:

Rendered paraplegic after a traumatic event four years ago, Cameron Harris has been living his new existence alongside his sister, Tanya, in their battered Biloxi, Mississippi neighborhood where only half the houses made it through Katrina. One stiflingly hot August afternoon, as Cameron sits waiting for Tanya during their daily run to the Biz-E-Bee convenience store, he suddenly and inexplicably rises up and out of his wheelchair.

In the aftermath of this “miracle,” Cameron finds himself a celebrity at the center of a contentious debate about what’s taken place. And when scientists, journalists, and a Vatican investigator start digging, Cameron’s deepest secrets–the key to his injury, to his identity, and, in some eyes, to the nature of his recovery–become increasingly endangered. Was Cameron’s recovery a genuine miracle, or a medical breakthrough? And, finding himself transformed into a symbol, how can he hope to retain his humanity?

Review:

As I said above, I won this book and I’m really glad I did, because I almost certainly wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. I’ll grant that it’s a little overly long (though I think the fact that I listened to it made this a little more bearable) and slow, but the subtitles of the story are well worth the read. This book hands you nothing, it lays things on the table and invites you to consider them. I appreciated that a lot.

Were there times I wanted Cameron to open up and speak more, so that I could understand him better, for things to be a bit more obvious? Yes! But that wouldn’t have fit his character and honestly, this isn’t a story about Cameron. It’s the story of his miracle, if a miracle it be (this being a crucial question). And if the author had taken the easy route of allowing Cameron to hand the reader a pat answer, it wouldn’t be anywhere as good a book.

I did spend a lot of time afraid it was going to go the way of so much literary fiction and end in unbearable tragedy, but it didn’t. And the huge sigh of relief at the end was worth the anxiety.

I don’t think this will be a book everyone will enjoy. But I really did. And Edoardo Ballerini’s narration was no small part of this. He does an excellent job.