Sunday, October 20, 2013

361 (2013 #45). The Autobiography of Henry VIII

by Margaret George

I've read lots of historical fiction about the wives and daughters of Henry VIII, mostly by Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, but little seemed to be written about Henry himself.  I bought this book some time ago, but its sheer size (939 pages!) kept me from reading it until I got caught up in all my "have to" reading for the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fictionalized autobiography/journal "by" Henry VIII.  It was interesting to read an interpretation of his behavior that paints him in a better light - a deeply flawed but basically well-meaning man, always searching for the love he seemed to lack in his early life, and not finding much of it, perhaps because few can behave as their true selves around a king.

The subtitle of the book is "With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers."  The premise of the book is that Henry VIII kept a private, mostly undated journal during his life, and Somers snuck it out of his chambers after his death and sent it to Catherine Carey, daughter of his former mistress Mary Boleyn (and possibly Henry's daughter as well).  Will inserts comments here and there throughout the book, which some reviewers found distracting.  I thought they highlighted inconsistencies in Henry's account and provided insights.  Furthermore, "Will" is able to tell us what happened after Henry's death, something "Henry" couldn't do in an autobiography or journal.

I decided to read this book because I wanted to borrow Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra (to compare it with Stacy Schiff's biography), and I wanted to see if I liked George's style first.  I do, despite the lengths of her biographical novels - I know now I will read them all now.  George provides a family tree and four pages listing the references of her well-researched novel - the only thing lacking that would have been helpful is a map depicting the places discussed in the novel.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

(I bought a used copy of this book.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

360 (2013 #44). The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway,
read by William Hurt

I didn't particularly care for this book, a character study of the "Lost Generation," the post-World War I expatriates who congregated in Paris and seemed to spend their time writing or pursuing the arts, traveling, and drinking (a LOT), while living off inheritances or other people's money.

However, after reading The Paris Wife  about a year ago, a biographical novel about Hemingway's first (of four) wives Hadley, and discussing it earlier this year, our book club agreed to read The Sun Also Rises, the book that Hadley received all the royalties from in a pre-divorce settlement.

British socialite Lady Duff Twysden and her two lovers, writer Harold Loeb and Pat Guthrie; Hemingway's boyhood friend Bill Smith; and writer Donald Ogden Stewart were among the group that accompanied Hemingway and his wife Hadley on their third trip to Pamplona, Spain, in June 1925.  They (and their actions) inspired the characters of Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, and Bill Gorton (a combination of Smith and Stewart) respectively.  Hemingway of course, is the narrator and main character, Jake), while Hadley does not appear in the book at all (other than possibly in the guise of Jake's impotence that prevents him from having an affair with Brett/Duff).  The young matador Cayetano Ordóñez was the inspiration for matador Pedro Romero in the book.

Brett is a woman who wants sex without love, while Jake can only give her love without sex.   That's more or less the gist of the story.  Brett is living with the alcoholic Mike, and has an affair with the Jewish Robert.  Bill seems to be a pretty normal guy; he and Jake go on a fishing trip on the way to Pamplona.  The other three join them there, and there's a lot of tension, because both Jake and Robert are in love with Brett, but Robert is an annoying third wheel to Mike.  Meanwhile Brett seduces Romero.  None of these characters are especially likeable.

It was interesting to see how much Brett was like Duff in The Paris Wife.  Hemingway biographer  Michael Reynolds said, "Duff Twysden used men like library books, checked them out, browsed through them and returned them late without paying the fine," (Hemingway: The Paris Years, 1989, page 289), and that's a pretty apt description of Brett.

The title of the book is tied into the twin epigraphs at the beginning, one a quote from Gertrude Stein, part of Hemingway's Paris group, that "You are all a lost generation," and the other from Ecclesiastes 1:4-7, which begins: "One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. The sun also rises..."

Well-known movie actor William Hurt read this audiobook.  I thought he was pretty effective, especially with the voice of Mike Campbell, who he gave a Scottish burr (although a very drunken one).  He was very good at making all the characters sound drunk when they were drunk.

I'd definitely recommend this book as a pair with The Paris Wife.  I'm also interested in reading Hemingway's take on his Paris years, A Moveable Feast, to see how they compare.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Friday, October 11, 2013

359 (2013 #43). On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

by Barbara O'Connor,
read by Suzy Jackson

I was rather disappointed in this story.  Perhaps it's because I don't have a very high opinion of pigeons, homing or one-legged or otherwise.  Barbara O'Connor does a good job conjuring up the look and feel of a timeless small Southern town (the fictional Meadville, South Carolina), but I didn't care about Sherman the pigeon or any of the kids trying to catch him, or the grown-ups in the story.  I found myself getting impatient for the book to just end.  There's a lot of repetition, in the plot and in the text, but that might be good for beginning or struggling readers.

However, the quality of the audiobook was outstanding!  Recorded Books does what many audiobook producers don't any more - tells you when the disc is beginning and ending, and which disc you are on.  Actress Suzy Jackson is an excellent narrator with a youthful sound who does a credible job with Southern accents and creating variety in the voices of the characters.  My only quibble is that I believe the audiobook is longer than 2.75 hours - more like 4 to 4.5, given the length of my commute and the fact that it took three days to listen to it.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this audiobook from Recorded Books via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my university library.]

Sunday, October 06, 2013

358 (2013 #42). Good Dog. Stay.

written and read by Anna Quindlen

This was a very brief unabridged audiobook (45 minutes) that was an extended eulogy for Quindlen's beloved black Labrador retriever, Beau, and an essay on mortality.  I especially liked the end, where Quindlen summarizes (with some quavering in her voice) the lessons she learned from Beau's long life:  "to roll with the punches, take things as they come, to measure myself not in terms of the past or the future but of the present."  Otherwise, though, the shortness of this book probably makes it most appropriate for someone grieving the loss of a dog.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]