Monday, October 16, 2017

A Life by Guy de Maupassant * *

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything not written in this century, or the end of the last one. Growing up, I was quite taken with historical fiction, mainly Dumas. However, since then I’ve mostly focused on the problems of the modern man. I’ve decided to venture into the world of the classics to see if I’ve left them hastily, and realised I haven’t. While Maupassant’s short novel was okay, I didn’t find it engaging for the present time.
I purposefully didn’t read any analysis of this novel, because I wanted to draw my own conclusions. I did read the writer’s life though. Now, for all I know, I could be completely misunderstanding the text. However, a text always means what it means to you. No one can be in another real person’s head, just in that of their characters’.

The story itself is quite simple. You can see what’s going to happen a mile away. It’s mostly about the life of a moderately wealthy French lower aristocrat woman. It starts the day her adult life begins, and concludes at a point where it changes drastically once more.
There were many themes in the novel, in spite of it being quite short. Morality, religion, child rearing, classes were all touched upon. While it talks about a lot of things, it concludes nothing really. It’s a description of things as they are, and therein lies my problem with it.

Morality in the story is not at a high point. Basically, everyone cheats on everyone, and everyone is sleeping with everyone. Except for the heroine, but she’s different. I’ll talk about her later. Apart from sexual morality, the only other morality it concerns itself with is that of the morals concerning the responsibilities of a child towards their parents. In that regard we see two opposite examples. However, it is left to the reader to draw conclusions from the examples. One is clearly positive, the other negative, but the reader could excuse the actions of the negative example with bad child rearing.
Religion is also a theme. For the story, the role of the local priest is more that of a settler of people’s affairs, than anything really religious. There are two examples of priests as well. From the story, I’m inclined to say that the writer favoured a naturalist deism, than organised religion. However, I did find the part of the boy’s catechism interesting, because it seemed to suggest that everything that happened after missing that was because of the lack of religion in the child’s upbringing.
This leads me to the child rearing aspect of the story. Maupassant himself was brought up in the country, and then sent to school, which he hated. We see three examples of bringing up children in the story, though one we don’t completely see. Both the aristocratic children, the main protagonist herself was brought up with ideas of natural romanticism, where everything feels like a romance novel. The boy is brought up similarly. Both have the problem of not being able to exist in the real world, outside of their own little niché. Makes me wonder if Maupassant felt like a fish out of water as well. The third child’s, the peasant boy’s upbringing was probably different, and more work oriented. He turned out much different. This part also makes the point of the value of hard work, and that with that people can accomplish a lot.
This difference is child rearing also points towards the heavy classism in the novel. The peasants are praised for their hard work, but also not thought of as much. Their morals are loose. One priest says one of his main jobs is that when he sees a peasant girl getting bigger, to find the boy who did it and get them married. It even often mentions that peasant girls almost always get married pregnant. “Jeanne did not belong to the race of peasants who are dominated by their lower instincts.” Their thoughts are materialistic and simple. Rosalie’s future husband’s thought is only towards money, not his future wife. The aristocrats are idle, and mostly don’t do much. While their morals are also described as loose, somehow that feels to be forgivable, and not derogatory. 

I also want to talk about the characters a bit. Jeanne is the main character, it’s basically her life that it talks about. However, the focus does feel to be mainly on the different women in the story. The life of the aristocratic women is idle. They wander around all the time, not doing much of anything. Jeanne did have ideas of maybe travelling, but other than her honeymoon, she never actually left her home. At first she was bothered by this, but as her life found the focus of her son, she lost all interest in anything else. This is what makes the story very boring for me. She just lets things happen to her, but is never an active agent in anything. Not even her own marriage. I know probably a lot of women felt like this in her time, but we know plenty of examples of women who found ways to revolt. In fact, since Maupassant’s mother got a divorce, she seemed to be one of them.

And we reached my real reason why I didn’t like this novel. The whole thing is a description. It’s slow. It’s made up of pictures, but you never actually feel the characters. You know that even in film there are moments when you see someone, they don’t speak, but you can feel what they are feeling. Here you never really get that sense. You are closed off from Jeanne. She’s like a doll. Pretty, blank, glass eyes staring out of an empty head. In fact, most characters just don’t feel real in this story. They are examples. Dolls. Not real personalities, never developing, evolving, changing. Stagnant. I’m not sure if that is on purpose, but it makes me angry. It makes me think that if Maupassant saw people this way, then he never really saw anyone with all their complexities, motivations, histories, struggles and achievements. There is no empathy.

Upon starting this novel, I wondered if it could say something to me. It couldn’t. It gives a detached, simplistic view of the world. It shows things, but doesn’t say much. It never shows a resolution for the problems, or even an attempt to make the situation of the characters, or the world better. What I felt at the end was emptiness.
The 21st century human is not inspired by such stories. If we look at popular literature now, it’s full of people who struggle, fight to make the world a better place. That is what we need. Stories that inspire us to want to change. We can’t be idle. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2) by James S.A. Corey * * * * *

After reading Caliban’s War, I realised what I missed from Leviathan Wakes. The excitement of not knowing what was going to be next! I’ve seen the TV show, so I knew what was going to happen. However, since the show stops at about half of the book, the rest was a mystery. I couldn’t put it down. Literally, I would walk home with my Kindle in my hand, and just letting my feet take me.

The story went more into politics with the few new characters.

One was Avasarala. Pretty high up in the UN food-chain, those who watch the show know her already. She only gets introduced in the second book, though they wrote her some parts in the first season. I’m really happy they did that, because she’s a great character. I love that she’s like a posh Indian lady, who curses like a sailor. It’s also very interesting to see the point of view of someone who is so politically savvy. Avasarala for President! She’d hate me for that.

The other was Bobby. She’s a Martian, which can sound a bit funny, but she is from Mars. In her story there is a very interesting difference between the TV show and the book. In the TV show she makes a big deal of wanting to see the sea. Which does make sense, since coming from Mars, she had never seen such a thing. It also gives her an opportunity to get to know some of the differences between what she was taught about Earth, and what the actual facts are. In the book there is a similar scene. She doesn’t want to see the sea though, she just needs to go for a walk. She also meets some people, and realises that the people of Earth don’t have it as easy as she thought. The difference is, in the show, Earth is depicted as a much darker place. Yes, in the book they do mention that it’s not that easy to get into higher education, but it’s not as bad as the impression you get from the episode. 

The third new voice is Prax. He’s a scientist, and that’s beneficial for the story line. He also moves everything forward, as his troubles are one of the main storyline. Without giving away too much, I liked how his emotional state was depicted. People who watch the show already know what happened to him, though some of the details are different in the book. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling much, if I say no spacing scene. I really didn’t miss that one. His story was one of the main reasons I actually started the book. 

The politics side on the whole was complex. Negotiations and juggling of different interests, while trying to keep the greater good in sight is hard. The reason why I probably like such stories is because they are so complex and difficult to resolve. 

Overall, great read. Exciting, full of twists and turns. Also clever with the science. I liked the characters, enjoyed reading from their different viewpoints. Okay, now, enough of reviewing, I have the next book to read. I finished this in three weeks, which is extra fast compared to my busy schedule. Though I did have a two-hour delayed plane, and a 3.5 hour plane ride to read a lot on.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan * * *

I listened to this story as an audiobook. The funny thing about that is that it's actually the best format for it. The story is actually set as a transcript of tapes that were dropped off for the writer. On the tape, two kids talk about their crazy-sounding adventures with Egyptian gods. So when you are actually listening to two kids talking about what happened, it comes across just the way it should.

The story itself is similar to other books by Riordan. Kids get into an adventure that involves stopping a god, and also travelling through the US. The difference is that on the one hand they are not demigods, and the mythology is Egyptian. Now I'm a great lower of Ancient Egypt, so this was a plus for me.

Overall, this is a great adventure, but I find that I wasn't taken by it as I was with the other books. The characters aren't that complex, and the focus seems to be more on the story and the mythology, than them. That is also why I didn't write about the kids in detail.

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1) by James S.A. Corey * * * * *

 Any book about the future is always also about the present. This book isn't Star Trek. Humans are still petty, after their own interest. So while the setting is space, people act the same way they would on Earth. I guess the old saying of the more things change ... works. I had this thought, but so did the author, that no matter what, we are just primates swinging poo at each other, or poking things with sticks.

The story is about a period of humanity when we have left Earth, but took the problems with us, while staying in the Solar system. We have colonised Mars, some moons, even rocks in the asteroid belt. I loved how living, growing up in space had physically changed people. I also found the way they spoke interesting. A mixture of the different languages of the people who went there. However, the same way as when Europeans colonised the rest of the world, the colonies are treated just as badly. And they want to break away just as badly. Thrown into this tense environment is something unexpected. Without spoiling things for those who are not watching the show, it's big.


The story itself is told from the point of view of two men. One is Holden. He's a regular guy from Earth. Good childhood, nice parents, and that makes him an idealist. He feels naive sometimes, but he tries his best all the time. The conflict inside is that he expects better from people than they are, and then constantly gets disappointed. There is one point where he doesn't realise that words can be bigger weapons than guns. I'm not sure if he'll ever change. Maybe I don't want him to.

The other point of view is Miller. He's a belter. Grew up on a station built in a rock. He's also a cop. Kind of a sci-fi Dick Tracy. Even has the hat. He's much more a realist, and I found that I liked him more. He is jaded, and gritty, but he does what must be done. He also has a keen insight to things. They do clash with Holden. The funny thing is, I think Miller sometimes wishes he could see the world the way Holden does, but he's seen too much for that to be possible. 

Compared to the TV show, this encompasses the first season and some of the second. The story is pretty much the same, with some minor changes here and there. 

Overall, I enjoyed the story very much. It has personal stories as well as a grand scale of system wide events and politics. Now, let me finish this review, I have the next book to read.