Friday, January 27, 2017

169. The House by the Medlar Tree

The House by the Medlar Tree
Giovanni Verga
1881
Around 250 pages












I have been "reading" this novel for a month now.  It is only 250 pages, but I found it to be so dull that I kept putting off finishing it.  Today I was finally able to check this one off.

Basically, the novel follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Toscano family.  The head of the family, Padron Ntoni, buys a large amount of lupins.  His son, Bastian, is entrusted with the lupins and sets sail to Riposto to sell them. Tragically, both he and the merchandise are lost in a storm.  I kind of lost interest after that.

Where to begin with my complaints on this one...Let's start with the treatment of women.  They are given zero interesting characteristics and are either referred to as sluts or property.  I know this is a product of the time, but having just reviewed Nana and Portrait of a Lady, it was a bit of a step backward.  I just couldn't relate to a single character in this novel.  They just didn't seem real to me.  When they were upset they would beat their breasts, rip their hair out, and screech for hours.  I am no stranger to the Italian temper (having seen every episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey), but it didn't really strike me as relatable.

Of course, Verga isn't trying to relate to me.  I'm afraid the culture gap was just a bit too wide for me to enjoy this one.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Takes place in Aci Trezza, a Sicilian village near Catania.

UP NEXT: Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert.  I'm in need of some Flaubert after this.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

168. The Portrait of A Lady

The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James
1881
Around 600 pages











This is my first and only experience with Henry James, although he is represented on the List five more times.  We are off to a good start but I don't want to get my hopes up too high.  I have been hurt before (looking at you, Zola).

Isabel Archer is a young, beautiful American who is eager to experience life and maintain her liberty.  After the death of her father, she visits her rich uncle at his estate near London.  She receives two proposals of marriage but declines both, as she doesn't want to lose her independence.  Isabel receives a large legacy from her uncle, making her an even more desirable target for unscrupulous men, including the odious Gilbert Osmond.

I know Henry James has a bit of a reputation as being a drone.  Maybe this will come up more his later work, but I actually found his writing to be quite entertaining.  I did find the characterization of Isabel to be a bit off.  In the first half of the novel, she was independent and spirited.  In the second half, she shifted to a Clarissa-esque martyr and I couldn't figure out why.  Perhaps Henry James believed that women are, in the end, submissive beings.  I also found the ending to be annoyingly ambiguous.

In any case, I thought the first half of the novel was nearly perfect and I look forward to future Henry James novels.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Henry James has said that Isabel was inspired by several of George Eliot's heroines.

UP NEXT: The House by the Medlar Tree by Giovanni Verga.  I have never heard of this one, which makes me a little nervous...

Trailer for 1996 film version.  From YouTube:

Friday, January 6, 2017

167. Nana

Nana
Emile Zola
1880
Around 500 pages












A little awhile ago I read L'Assomoir, the somewhat forgettable Zola novel about a couple being ruined by drink.  Nana was introduced as their daughter who turned to streetwalking to get by.  I wasn't exactly eager for a L'Assomoir sequel, but I suppose this was somewhat of an improvement.

Nana has been cast as the lead in the opera La blonde Venus.  While she is not very talented, she has a certain "je ne sais quoi" that makes her the toast of Paris.  The rest of the novel details the demise of every single man that pursues her.

Nana had the potential to be a great villainess, like Milady de Winter.  Unfortunately, she was just kind of bland.  Zola never really went into detail about what made Nana so special.  Perhaps he wanted to the reader to be able to project their fantasies on the character, although I think this gives Zola a tad too much credit.   In the end, the novel was just as sanctimonious as L'Assomoir, making this kind of a chore for me to get through.  We sure have had a lot of preachy novels lately.

Two more Zola novels to go!  Why did Therese Raquin have to be so good?  Now everything else is a disappointment.


RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Emile Zola used Blanche d'Antigny, a famous prostitute and actress, as his inspiration for Nana.

UP NEXT: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  This is another one I have read already, so you can expect another post shortly!