The Secret History Donna Tartt

April 4, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Award winners, Middle Weight Fiction, Popular Fiction, The Secret History | 1 Comment
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It is understandable how Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ became a long-term bestseller and conquered a place in so many book lovers hearts. The story centered on a group of young bright affluent students at an exclusive Vermont College in the 1980’s roaming wild and burning through money is exceptionally engaging .and compulsively addictive.

The young group is composed of a variety of apparently sympathetic characters Richard who, unlike his peers, is on a scholarship to the exclusive college and is at great pains to conceal his blue-collar roots, twins Camilla and Charles known for their manners and gentle ways, Henry the emergent leader of the group remarkable for his adaptability to changes in circumstance and ability to mix easily with all sorts of people and also Francis and Bunny who enjoy all life has to offer with great self-assurance. What the characters all have in common is that they are all students of the charismatic erudite Professor  Julian  Morrow who teaches them Classics exclusively to a level of detail and reverence far above the academic norm.

Inspired deeply by their passionate teacher a few members of the group perform a Dionysian rite one night (a rite designed to work the worshiper into a state of ecstasy in order to feel the power of the gods through wine, dancing and often sexual expression) but the rite has truly gross consequences for the group which go on to drive the plot to even wilder and darker places and the death of Bunny Corcoran (whose death is revealed to the reader in the first line of the novel). the-rites-of-dionysus

Do not look for redemption, regret or guilty melancholy from this group, as a reader the novel demands that one must think much bigger when it comes to this motley crew and contemplate openly Donna Tartt’s brilliant subtle suggestions that Henry may himself be the devil incarnate and that in this existential world absolutely anything is possible once you have the nerve and stomach for it.

The plot is set in the familiar routines of college life against the rich dripping backdrop of the classical world of Greek and Latin language, prose and poetry. Donna Tartt’s prose is just so accomplished that at times it feels like God himself has lifted the telephone to call you personally and reveal some select mysteries of the world;

‘…there was never any doubt that he (Henry) did not wish to see us in our entirety, or see us, in fact, in anything other that the magnificent roles he had invented for us: genis gratus, corpore glabellus, arte multiscius, et fortuna opulentus – smooth cheeked, soft-skinned, well-educated, and rich. It was his odd blindness, I think, to all problems of a personal nature which made him able at the end to transmute even Bunny’s highly substantive troubles into spiritual ones.’

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The novel in haiku; murderous thoughts fly, money and nerve conquer all, but it takes just one

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No Solace here

October 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction, Solace | Leave a comment
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Belinda McKeon ‘Solace’ Picador 2011

I really like Belinda McKeon, she has written eloquently for the Irish Times for many years, has curated the DLR Poetry Now Festival and I always enjoyed her keen observations and contributions on ‘The View ‘ . I waited in anticipation for the release of her long promised debut novel but am so sorry to report I was so disappointed with  ‘Solace’.

‘Solace’  has a highly unoriginal plot of a thirty year old Irish man cutting ties the family farm to pursue his studies in the capital city where he manges to fall for the daughter of his fathers only enemy from back home with ‘devastating consequences’. The story itself places restraints on the writing, it does not act as a vehicle for any new or innovative message or emotional evocation, family dynamics are well enough documented in McKeon’s prose but are drowned in a narrative that fails its author’s ability  and although the story is tense there is little sense of tension created in the writing.

This is one occasion where I wish I was wrong, this is a light not a literary story with uninspiring narrative progression and slow character development, actually by the novels end I couldn’t see that the main character was changed by any of his experiences at all. If McKeon wanted to evoke life outside the Country’s capital in this story it is a flat attempt whereas Kevin Barry’s short stories ‘There are Little Kingdoms’ evoke  this tenderly.

I am confident of McKeon’s abilities and look forward to future more assured writing. When I expressed my disappointment to family and friends they were very surprised having read luminous reviews in much national media which is correct this debut novel has been in critical reviews very well received however looking deeper into readers reviews online they were in contradiction collectively critical and disappointed with what was poised to be a sparkling debut.

Below are some links to various reviews of Solace to add to this debate.

Good Reads

Independent.ie

Independent.co.uk

Rocksbackpagesblogs.com  

Unaffected, funny and very cool

March 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Biography | Leave a comment
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Rhoda Janzen, ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ , Atlantic Books January 2011

I would love to meet Rhoda Janzen. When I finished ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ (which is written with fantastic candidness and panache) I felt like I had been into Rhoda’s life, read her diary, looked at her credit card statements, seen the contents of her fridge, listened in to her phone calls, gone through her wardrobe, looked at her photo albums… and whats worse I want to know more! The more an author lets you in the deeper a reader will want to go into a story. What is even better than her honesty in this story is the fact that as a person and in her writing Rhonda is unaffected and charming and the same can be said for the story itself.

With  fluid humour and light self-deprecation ‘Mennonite in a little Black Dress’ is a super page turner of a book. Rhoda Janzen, a former poet laureate in the University of California, English Lecturer and all round academic, writes her life story so far (she is only forty-three) in this memoir of growing up in and returning to the Mennonite Community in which she was raised. Atlantic Books have been great for quirky accessible human interest stories (‘Cockeyed’ Ryan Knighton, ‘Fortune’s Daughter’s’ Elizabeth Keogh & ‘God is Not Great’ Christopher Hitchens) so it was very easy to make the decision to pick this one up.

Rhoda’s husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man named Bob whom he met on Gay.com. In the same week Rhoda is involved in a terrible car crash. Her physical and emotional injuries send her back home to the Mennonite Community from once she fled where she begins a sabbatical from her lecturing post. Nursing her broken bones and heart Rhoda reflects on her life spent with a bipolar husband who makes insane impulse purchases like a $385 pair of gloves on Rhoda’s credit card she also reflects on the heavy traditions of the Mennonite Community in which she grew up where everything from dancing to convenience food was banned but where love was abundant.

Rhoda’s writing had me sniggering and snorting ungracefully with outbursts of laughter. She is the kind of funny that can only be achieved with candid honesty and an appreciation for the unique problems that simply being human bring.  Many stories are worthy of being told but only a select few make it to the New York Times bestseller list and this book did I think because how much the reader is allowed in. There is nothing more fascinating than reading in delicious detail about someone else’s life decisions, finances and love life.

I highly recommend this wonderful story, it is so uplifting and bright I almost want to fashion a petticoat and bonnet….

Click here to borrow this book from DLR libraries

Haiku; Mennonites flourish, aetheist husband flounders, Rhoda’s true home found.

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