East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I had long wanted to read East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for several reasons, the most important one being that you all love it. I read some Steinbeck back in college, some selected chapters from The Grapes of Wrath and although I thought the writing was really good – I could almost feel sand coming out of the pages – it was suffocating. However, last summer I read Confessions of a Sociopath, by E.M Thomas where the author said that Cathy was the quintessential sociopath. So, I was giving a copy of the book by Mr. B&R last Christmas and I decided to wait until summer, so that I had the time to read as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

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From Goodreads:

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence

Since East of Eden is such a wonderful, complex and widely-read text, I will organize my review differently. I hope this helps both to organize the information and you go and read whatever you are interested in, but I also hope it helps literature students. When I had to read The Grapes of Wrath, I was grateful to find many posts written like this one, because they helped me to better understand and study the book. The study guide contains spoilers, so if you want to read my review, please scroll down.

1. Summary

East of Eden tells the story of two families: the Hamiltons and the Trasks in the Salinas Valley (California). The narration starts in the 19th century and progresses to the narrator’s – named Steinbeck as well – present, in the 1950’s. These two very different families have decided to move West to start a better life, but each have their own troubles. Samuel Hamilton has bought infertile land and although he is a great inventor, he barely earns money enough to support his family. On the other hand, Adam Trask has migrated from the Eastern coast with a fortune in search of a new start with her new wife, Cathy. The novel focuses on these two families and the relationships they built, both between them and with their past. While Adam is longing to leave behind his rivalry with his brother Charles, Samuel and her wife, Liza, have moved from Ireland to escape the late 19th century famines that decimated the country.

Once in the Salinas Valley, Cathy gives birth to two sons, one by Charles and another one by Adam and, after shooting Adam, leaves him and starts working on a whorehouse in Salinas. There, thanks to her phenomenal manipulation, she convinces the owner to leave the business to her and, eventually, poisons her. Meanwhile, Adam spends years suffering from depression until Samuel Hamilton gives him a lecture on living. From this moment on, the narrative focuses on Adam’s two sons, Caleb and Aaron who – like Charles and Aron beforehand – stand for a modern version of Cain and Abel.

When Samuel Hamilton dies, the narrative centers on his children, each of whom represent a new way of living in the 20th century: a savvy businessman, a poet, a teacher, a housewife, etc. As they grow up, Adam decides to move to Salinas in search for a better education for the boys and they start to wonder about their mother. When Caleb finds out that she is the owner of the most terrible whorehouse in town, he keeps the secret to himself, knowing Aron is too sensitive to know. Aron himself is dating Abra, a girl they had previously met, but his religious calling stand on their relationship. When he finally leaves for college, they break up and Abra starts a relationship with Caleb. He is the one who feels guilty and starts pondering on whether he can escape his mother’s evil heritage. Finally, in a state of rage he tells Aron about Cathy and he desperately joins the army to fight in World War I. When he dies, Caleb feels totally responsible for his death, but he is forgiven by his father before he dies.

2. Main Characters

a) Samuel Hamilton.- If East of Eden is to be taken as an allegory, then Samuel is one of The Bible’s patriarchs. He is wise, practical and teaches every other character in the novel how to be happy. He is also very philosophical and his mind is very much advanced for the times he is living in. He is also quick in discovery that there is something strange about Cathy and, when she bites him, she develops an infection, as if a snake had bitten him. His wife, Liza, is a very religious, hard-working and stern woman and together they raised 9 children in the Salinas Valley.

b) Adam Trask.- The novel begins exploring Adam’s childhood in Massachusetts. After the early death of his mother, Adam’s father remarried to a young, local woman and they have another boy: Charles. From that moment on, Adam’s life will consist on surviving the extreme competition between himself and his brother while trying to avoid their father’s recently discovered military obsession. Adam and Charles stand for a version of Cain and Abel, and Steinbeck explores sibling rivalry from a very honest point of view. While Adam only wants to be left alone, Charles suffers from extreme jealousy from him and tries and fails to become the preferred son in their father’s eyes. When Adam moves West, there are many references to Eden, however, Cathy will not turn out to be the Eve he expected.

c) Cathy Ames (also appears under the names Cathy Trask/ Cath/Kate).- Cathy was the reason why I wanted to read East of Eden and I thoroughly enjoyed every page I spent in her company. She is – to put it simply – purely evil. From the very beginning, the omniscient narrator shows Cathy to be manipulative, selfish and without a sense of good and evil. In fact, she is described as “a monster”. When she later on marries Adam, she plays with the 19th century idea of being a wife and a mother, but she quickly dismisses it. After she gives birth to two sons, she abandons them and Adam and goes to Salinas where she inherits and runs the most depraved of the whorehouses.

3. Themes

The main theme in East of Eden is the fight between good and evil, embodied by Adam and Charles and, later on, by Caleb and Aron. Steinbeck explores the many different ways in which human beings can or cannot choose their actions and the consequences of these. More often than not, characters are able to choose whether to be good or evil: Cathy when she has her sons, Adam when he is abandoned by Cathy, Charles when he sleeps with Cathy and many others. However, Steinbeck also plays with the idea of each character having their own personal circumstances. When a partner leaves, one can choose to rise or to fall, but one cannot change the fact that they have been abandoned. But, we do have the ability to do what is best with the situations/times/people we are given or encounter, and that is what I liked the most about the novel. This ability to choose also gives us, human beings, agency and freedom to choose and to be and to make the most of the only life we have. Steinbeck makes a symbol of this idea through the world “timshel”, the original Hebrew word in the fourth chapter in Genesis that determines whether Cain would conquer sin or not. You can read the excerpt form the novel where they examine the word here.

Time and the passing of time also become central to the narration. Since the novel explores two different generations, their two ways of living and of growing up are very different. While Samuel wants to be happy and contents himself with his family and surviving, William, one of his sons, is obsessed with making money and, eventually, does not have a family. So, time and money connect two generations and two centuries that represent the most important innovation and technological breach in the history of human beings: 19th and 20th century.

4. Women’s Representation

Reading the books in context is something I always try to keep in mind. East of Eden was written and published in the 1950’s the decade that marked the revival of the Angel in the House image for housewives. American women dreamed of new domestic utilities that would make their lives easier and, eventually, there was a return to very conservative domestic ideals that repressed women. However, the book has a very critical view on women, even those in the 19th century. Steinbeck clearly writes that marriage was the only secure place for a woman and that it gave her social status. However, two of Samuel’s daughters represent two new ways in which women could live: Dessie goes on becoming a dressmaker and Una becomes a teacher.

But it is Cathy Ames who deserves our whole attention. Having already established on a first encounter with her that she is a monster, a modern reader cannot but deduce that she is a sociopath. Her evil actions have, according to the narrator, no purpose and the reader gets the feeling she is a snake looking for her next pray to appear. However, she is described as “masculine” in some parts of the novel, which made me ask whether Steinbeck could not imagine a woman psychopath because of the traditionally lovely attributes of women. She does not care about neither her husband nor her children, she only cares about money, her career and herself to the point of trying to make herself an abortion with a knitting needle. In the meantime, she would be happy to ruin anyone’s life just for the sake of doing so. And Steinbeck also gives her what traditionally and classically she would deserve: her body starts to deteriorate, she loses her beauty and, eventually, she commits suicide.

The book also pays attention a new ideal of beauty for women where “tights had lost their clutch” and when fashion mass-production made Dessie lose her business in San Francisco. It is also Dessie who has an affair with a married man and whose fall in disgrace ends up in her death as well, a death the reader suffers and does not feel as deserved.

5. Postcolonial Representation

Lee is one of the most important characters in the text, because he links Adam, Samuel, Cathy, Aron and Caleb. He plays the role of a maid at the Trask house and he performs typically feminine tasks such as cooking, cleaning, looking after the babies and all the other housework while Adam is lost in his grief after Cathy abandons him. Lee is also of Asian ancestry: he was conceived and born in the USA and, still, he feels a foreigner. Steinbeck explores deeply and with a fresh point of view the lives of those Chinese men who migrated to help build the West. Lee is said to be a foreigner both in the USA and in China and, at the beginning of the novel, hides her mastery of the English language under pidgin because that is how people expect him to speak. But, he is a central figure in the Trask household and once he lets his real identity out, he is a source of help, inspiration and strength for the three Trask men. However, postcolonial critic Edward Said commented on his work Orientalism (1978) on the main ways the “Orient” is constructed in the West and, interestingly enough, Chinese men are seen as feminine, so Lee’s role as a housekeeper could not escape this bit of criticism. He also associates himself and his Orientalism with calmness and, when he fails to remain calm, says he is losing his Oriental qualities. You can read a thesis on Lee’s identity called “CONVENIENT DISGUISE: ENGAGING LEE IN JOHN STEINBECK‟S EAST OF EDEN” by Lowell D.Wyse from the Wichita State University here.

6. Quotes

The following are some quotes that contain – in my opinion – some of the most important psychological and philosophical ideas:

Without money, you cannot fight money.

Steinbeck’s insight of capitalism and the Western world is a pessimistic one, but a realistic one for the 20th century.

It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.

I think this quote pretty much sums up one of the ideas about good and evil in the novel, and that is that we build them. Humans have a role in society and we can influence and construct each other. It does not take away responsibility from us and constructs us against nature where there is no evil/good.

Go through the motions, Adam [...] Act out being alive, like a play. And after a while, a long while, it will be true.

This is, by far, the quote that I loved the most in the whole novel. When Cathy leaves, Adam suffers from a depression and does not take responsibility for his two sons or the estate, so it is Lee who plays the role of the father. However, when Samuel Hamilton visits him, he says this. I have long believed in conductism (Skinner) and perfomativity (Butler), that is simply put: we are what we do. If we want to be writers, we’d better write. If we want to be sporty people, we’d better practice some sport, and if we want to be readers, we’d better read. Or, as many say it as well: “fake it til you make it”. I think if we paid much more importance to actions and we saw the real power they have, we would all act differently.

The human is the only guilty animal.

Also true and also very complex: if we can be guilty, we know the difference between good and evil. If we know so, we can act accordingly. But, still, there is room in our actions for guilt and for repentance. I think they are the tools to improvement. No one of us is perfect, but we have the ability to repent and, as a consequence, learn from our mistakes and – hopefully – be better in the future. Adam and Charles had a flawed relationship, but Caleb’s final repentance, Lee’s lecture and Adam’s “tinshel” show that things can change and it is within us to do so.

7. My review

As you can imagine after reading this post, I loved East of Eden. I think it is one of the most complex novels I have ever read and I loved learning about 19th century and early 20th century California, when it did not mean fashion, glamour and movies. The philosophical questions Steinbeck posts are very interesting as well, and I think he leaves room enough for the reader to think and get their own conclusions. I was also very happy to read that Steinbeck inscribed Chinese men and the work and tortured the suffered while building the West. It is not very often that migrants’ work on the construction of a country is known and inscribed in their classic works.

The reason I wanted to read this book was Cathy and I enjoyed every moment I spent with her. She was very complex and very evil, quite a contrast with the other women in the novel who were more classically constructed. I noted down Chapter 21 as one to look up because of how masterful she plans her actions and the consequences they will have.

So, I totally recommend East of Eden to anyone who enjoys reading and, also, to those in search for a complex and very evil female main character. However, the book is long and posts some very important questions, so I recommend having plenty of time to read it, write about it and think about all the philosophical, theological and psychological questions Steinbeck posts.

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014: Where Are the Women?

Elena:

This Sunday I was going to write a post about the Man Booker Prize as well, but I think Naomi did an amazing job and I prefer to reblog hers. Her post appears on the WordPress Freshly Pressed and has encouraged some healthy discussion on women’s right on the comments section.

Meanwhile, I would like to stress how important and crucial it is that we – as a society – support and empower women writers. I love reading women authors and I talk to mostly female publicists and agents on Twitter. So, I wonder, why can’t women be closer to 50% in prizes like this one. I also wonder if people know about the #ReadWomen2014 project. But, most importantly, I wonder if people do not stop to think that there women writers out there whose writing is still considered “lovely” and whose works are overlooked and underrated for only one reason: they were written by a woman.

Congrats and thank you, Naomi:

Originally posted on The Writes of Woman:

In 1996, Kate Mosse established what is now the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in response to the 1991 Booker Prize all-male shortlist (this was prior to the release of longlisted titles) in a year when 60% of novels published were written by females. Since then, the prize has been subjected to criticism over the decision to make it a women only award, criticism that has only increased in recent years as Hilary Mantel and Eleanor Catton have gone on to win the Booker from shortlists which had gender parity. Unfortunately today’s longlist has demonstrated exactly why the Women’s Fiction Prize is so important.

Let’s start with a positive and offer huge congratulations to Karen Joy Fowler for the wonderful We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (a novel overlooked – in my opinion – by the Bailey’s Prize earlier this year); Siri Hustvedt (one of the first Americans to be…

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Top of the Lake

Last May I helped organize a conference in my university and after talking about our research fields I was recommended two TV shows for the crime lover in me: Top of the Lake (2013) and The Bletchley Circle (2012). One of the things that called my attention was that Top of the Lake was written and produced by Jane Campion whose movie The Piano changed something in non-sexist representation of women. So, as soon as I got home I got Top of the Lake and started watching it. Beware! This review contains some minor spoilers.

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To sum up the main premise, I would only say that detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) moves back home to New Zealand to spend time with her mom, who suffers from cancer, and ends up investigating the pregnancy and posterior disappearance of Tui, a local a 12-year old girl. These are the events that set the action in motion and, as the series progresses, new information is discovered about both Robin and Tui. I think this structure of a case taking up a whole and only season is becoming more and more fashionable because the audience get to know and become familiar with the characters. As a consequence, the detective becomes a central character so that the writers and the actors/actresses can explore a human psychology more deeply. This allows for more complex and realistic portrayals of investigators, both men and women. In Top of the Lake, Campion explores Robin’s sexuality, mind, psychology and body, something that is not so common on TV crime fiction where investigators are mere tools to solve the crimes. She is a daughter, a fiancée, a girlfriend, a detective, a friend, a native and an outisder, all at the same time. But above all, she is a woman and Campion will center on the joys and perils of this.

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Elizabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin

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Detective Robin Griffin

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Robin talking to Tui: she was the only one who understood Tui and fought for her.

But, despite this amazing main character, I had quite a few problems with the series and I have been waiting for weeks to write this review because I cannot make up my mind about it. If I ask myself: “Elena, did you enjoy the series?” I would say that I did, from a crime fiction point of view. Robin was also a masterfully written and performed main character, quite different to what we are used to see on TV nowadays. And the scenery? That was amazing! Check it for yourselves:

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Dart river valley.  Rees-Dart Track in Mount Aspring National Park, NZ

However, I think I am missing something, or maybe I am trying to over-analyze a good crime TV show as a masterful, feminist and life-changing production. Along with the case we are presented with a group of women who moved to a land called “Paradise” to heal themselves from what I would broadly call the patriarchy. They are divorced, they are abandoned, they are what society would sadly call “crazy bitches/witches”. Throughout the series I fell in love with their leader, GJ (Holly Hunter), because she was androgynous, strong and opinionated. However, does a female character need to be like that to be interesting? And what about the name? GJ? As in God/Jesus because they are in Paradise and she has disciples? I am not the best at figuring out religious connections, so I will leave this to those of you who are.

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Holly Hunter as GJ talking to her disciples

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The women’s camp led by GJ

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The entrance to Paradise on Toplake

Top of the Lake also makes a great effort to explore rape, rapists and how women are affected by this crime. Robin herself was the victim of a brutal sexual crime back in her teens and now she has returned home a grown woman, a great detective, and above all, healed and in charge of her life. There is no self-pity for her, she is aware of what she went through and condemns it, but she has moved on with her life and has tried to make the best of a horrible situation. It is not very often that rape victims are presented like this on TV. I am a huge fan of Law and Order: SVU and although they made a great job at exploring rape, victims are usually presented as shocked and weak, but doing the right thing: denouncing their rapists to the police. But not here: Robin has gained back agency: it is her life and she proudly claims it after the attack.

And, finally, patriarchy, sexism, classical male values and brutality are embodied by Matt (Peter Mullan), Tui’s father. He represents everything that is wrong with how society raises men with men’s values in a classical way. I was made sick by everything he said, everything he did and every place he stood at. Campion also makes him a complex character showing how he was raised and how he has raised his two adult sons, but she never portrays them as victims.

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Matt’s sons at their typically male house

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Peter Mullan as Matt

So, I do not really know what more to say about Top of the Lake. It is a good TV show and it makes a different with women’s representation is these new productions. After the women’s representation fiasco of True Detective, I think it is great to see that women have a place on crime TV shows.  But, I do not see it as the masterpiece that everyone says it is. Both Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter gave standout performances and I do hope they are recognized for their work.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think? Here are some questions that helped me think and are still unanswered (spoilers):

  • Why is Robin running away from her fiancé in Sydney?
  • Why does Robin’s mother tolerate her partner’s violence against her?
  • GJ’s camp means a return to nature, a feminist idea born in 1970’s France and that, broadly speaking, associates women with nature. Why did Campion use this idea to, finally, discard it in the very last episode?
  • Related to the previous question: Why is Tui’s birth in the forest presented as positive?

Top Ten Favorite (Crime) TV Shows

I am sucker for crime fiction, in any form and that includes TV shows. I usually joke that I spend way too much watching TV, and not all of it is crime fiction, but I would say a great majority is. So, here you have my ten favourite crime TV shows. I decided to list those that have been broadcasted for a while, are easy to find and basically mean “comfort TV”.

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We’d love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

1. Castle.- A crime fiction writer follows a strong, opinionated and super cool NYPD Homicide female detective. Is there anything not to love about this?

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2. Bones.- Love Temperance’s passion for her job. Also, I don’t think we were that familiar with forensic anthropology before we met her, were we?

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 3. CSI: NY.- My favourite on the CSI series. This is the most comfortable you can get watching crime TV shows. But, nothing works like it to relax and unplug from daily life’s worries and struggles. I can’t believe it’s no longer in the air…

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4. Rizzoli & Isles.- This may actually be my favourite on the list (or second, see number 6). A medical examiner and a Boston homicide detective work hand-in-hand to solve crimes. One is blonde, the other is brunette. One is super brainy, the other is super practical. I actually wrote my MA thesis on them.

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5. Code 37.- I just recently discovered this Belgian TV show with one of the most complex, complete and kick-ass female detectives I have ever seen. Hannah Maes has taken female detectives to yet another level.

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6. The Closer.- My another favourite show. Brenda Leigh Johnson is transferred from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Los Angeles Police Department where her Southern accent, charm and ways seem to crash with her new – all male – subordinates. But she is so good, she finds a way.

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7. Criminal MInds.- I really like this show, but after a few episodes I feel uneasy. Some of the themes are too dark and twisted, but they cases are really good and interesting.

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8. Law & Order: SVU.- The Special Victim Units centers on sexual assault and crimes. I know it sounds pretty dark, but they treat the victims with total respect and the show has helped inscribe sexual violence and the need to denounce it on TV. Good job!

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9. Crossing Jordan.- I first saw this TV show when I was 16 and I thought I would totally rock at being a medical examiner (clue: not sure, probably not). Dr. Jordan Cavannaugh moves back to Boston where she gets involved with her victims’ police investigations.

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10. Law & Order: UK.- If there was a way to make Law & Order even better, it was moving it to London. I was not familiar at all with British laws and procedures, so I was really happy to learn a bit while watching the breath-taking London landscapes.

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Feminist Sunday

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

I know it’s already Sunday night, but I just discovered this poet called Hollie McNish who does spoken word. And she is so good and so amazing that I had to share a video with you all. No more words from me, just listen to her and get lost in her words…

The Truth About the Harry Querbert Affair by Jöel Dicker

I first encountered The Truth About the Harry Querbert Affair by Jöel Dicker last August, here, in Spain. The book was being promoted as an international best-seller, a debut crime novel by an Austrian writer who had already been top of the literary charts in the rest of Europe. So, as you can imagine, I bought it. Imagine my surprise when I found a corny, deeply affected and verging-on-chauvinistic novel. I thought it was me: it was summer, I was tired, and all the likes, so I tried to keep reading. I gave up on page 80. Imagine my surprise when the English translation hit Twitter a few months back. I know myself and I know that I very much prefer reading in English than in Spanish, so, I wrote about all this to the publishers and they kindly sent me a review copy, and not only that, a signed review copy!

But the real question is, did my dislike of the book have to do with the translation?

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From Goodreads:

August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods before she disappears; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.

Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of America’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—whom, he admits, he had an affair with. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a successful and true novel?

The answer is: the English translation was less affected than the Spanish, but in short, no. The novel still had all the features that first bugged me *. To begin with, Marcus Goldman is an egocentric, self-absorbed, too proud and self-tortured writer. The English translation did not help this and even though some may think this makes for a complex, unlikable narrator, it does not. All throughout the novel he kept reminding me of a parody of Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, probably because of his obsession to write “the next great American novel”. He defines himself as “writer” first and foremost and all the other characters call him that, making it a horrible time for him even though he is fighting to be a writer once again. I thought he was also quite incoherent, but, once the novel was over and I had his name engraved in my mind – for everyone seems to know it as if “Marcus” had the same connotations as “Ernest” does for us, book lovers – I discovered that he just wanted to be the center of attention, no matter what. Also, the reader establishes a conneciton between Goldman and Dicker and it is almost impossible to evade it.

The Harry Querbert from the title is another story. He is a literature professor at a small, East coast college and he seems to have gotten Marcus from the start. Furthermore, he challenges him and is constantly trying to upset him and make him come out of his comfort zone. All that, until he is jailed for the alleged murder of Nora Kellergan, and then Harry becomes a poor, fragile, old man who is in desperate need of Marcus. His apparently amazing life on a big house by the sea, in a little town that respects him ends up being an only a façade that clever Marcus dismantles, only for Harry to tell him not to commit the same mistakes he did: Marcus should marry and not end up completely alone in life. And I will come back to the marriage issue in the next paragraph.

But what I found most unsettling was Nola Kellergan’s character. She is the 15-year old who was murdered back in 1975. I will spoil some of the supposed fun here and tell you that 33 year-old Harry had an affair with Nola. I know, Lolita is there, it is a classic and most people love it, fine. It was not the age difference what really shocked me, it was how ideal Nola was, for a retrograde 1950’s ideal of a woman. And what I found most unsettling was that such a model could – and actually does – to nowadays audiences. Nola is constantly taking care of Harry, she wants to marry him, so that she can take care of him and he can write. She says to him, “I am nothing without you” and then, she is described in her perfection as “She was discreet, invisible, omnipresent.” So, there you have it. All these years my mom’s, and my grandmothers’ generations have fought to be heard, for acknowledging that they were there, and now an international best-seller constructs the epitome of femininity and desirability as an invisible and voiceless woman. But not even the author knows how to catalogue Nora: she is described both as a child and as sexual, grown-up woman who is manipulative and uses sex – sex she does not want to have – to save her man. That is the discourse behind Nora, who also happens to be Southern and raises a lot of questions about the construction of Southern women in American (and now international) literature. Eventually, in Harry’s writer Heaven, Nora becomes what he really wanted: a character, someone who is his creation and is completely under his control. Need I say more?

So, you may be wondering why I read this. For a start, I thought it was partly duty and partly curiosity. I cannot have a crime fiction blog and do not read the latest international best seller. Or I thought it shouldn’t be so, from now on I will evaluate the impact of the novel and my choices more carefully. But, another great reason is that The Truth About the Harry Querbert Affair is a page-turner in a very classical, masculine and patriarchal way. It is more the story of the relationship between Marcus and Harry, a sidekick to a great man. Disciple and pupil. Professor and student. And because it is so masculine – there are lots of boxing, sports and classically constructed men’s values and strengths  involved- the story suffers. Love interests are unambitious blonde girls, women want nothing more than to get married or help the main characters, and, finally, Goldman’s mother is the most overt representation when she tells Marcus to get married to a girl who can have a child every 9 months.

There were goo things too, and they mostly had to do with the way the novel is constructed. I read somewhere that it is a very post-modern novel and, if you take into account the structure, it really is. The chapters include Marcus’ reality plus, at least, two other levels of written fiction and I am ignoring the stories and lies characters tell to each other, because if I include them, the whole novel is a riddle. I think Dicker did an amazing job at structuring his debut novel and also at keeping the pace. There were only a few times in the 800-long page book that I lost interest, and it was not for longer than 10 pages. Dicker really wants the reader to keep reading and he does a good job at making it easy for us.

Would I recommend The Truth About the Harry Querbert Affair to anyone? Yes. And why? Because all-and-clasically masculine crime fiction productions seem to be on the rise again. True Detective and Sherlock are only two other great examples of this. This new fahsion could bring us down, but I think it makes for the perfect time to ask ourselves why these productions succeed and why, even when we criticize it – guilty – we are able to read and watch them.

* Disclaimer: I was glad I did not like this novel is because I have been very, very lucky with all the review copies I have been getting and, some months ago, I thought that either I was losing it with books or I had finally discovered what I am trully passionate about. Turns out I had no reason to be worried. Thanks to everyone who keeps recommending/offering me books. You nail it 99% of the time.

 

Want to solve a crime?

I was approached yesterday by Hattie from ThinkJam to promote a new crime fiction novel called Cop Town by Karin Slaughter. I was immediately interested when I reached two words of the press release: Atlanta and 1970’s. So, I very gladly said I would love a review copy.

If you are interested in getting another copy or just feel like playing cop, DeadGood is running a competition from today to Friday where they will tweet a case and readers have to tell if it’s fact or fiction. There will be two sets of signed copies of Karin’s full backlist, as well as 30 signed proof copies of Cop Town to giveaway, but the real reason I’m writing this is that we can get to play cop for some days! They have already tweeted the first case:

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Come one, crime fiction readers! Let’s prove we would be as great detectives as we think while reading.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Classics (by women writers)

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We’d love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

I had not planned to participate on today’s Top Ten Tuesday, mainly because I forgot to check the theme. But seeing all your wonderful posts about classic literature, I thought I could do a very special post: all classic – in the most traditional way of the word – works written by women, both British and American. So, here are ten books that I have read and that I have loved, written by women who defied social expectations about what to do – write – and what to write about. I have also decided to include pictures of the authors rather than of the covers of the books, as I usually do, because I think it is important to put a face to the works. These were, above all, real women.

1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather .- Cather wrote about what it meant to be a woman in the late 19th-century frontier. The main character in this novel, Alexandra, is a role model even for nowadays’ standards.

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2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin.- This is a classic that really changed me when I read it. The main character defies social expectations of what being a woman means vs. what it means to her.

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3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.- My grandma gave me a 1970’s edition of a Spanish translation and I immediately fell in love with the novel. However, I prefer what is classically understood as Little Women: modern editions also include a second part, Good Wives, that has a totally different tone and morality behind.

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4. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.- What if I told you this classic is probably behind modern productions such as Desperate Housewives? I love the idea of a town populated only by women where they feel comfortable and support each other.

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5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.- A beloved classic from the moment I read the first chapter, this novel has the perfect, dark and gothic atmosphere for a winter’s evening.

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6. Wüthering Heights by Emily Brontë.- Did anyone say gothic? Emily’s novel is far darker and twisted than Charlotte’s. I loved the typically Romantic story between Cathy and Heathcliff. Not to take out of the literary walls, though!

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7. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn.- Behn was the first women writer to live by the pen and her novel is a testament of her passion and her drive.

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8. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.- If there is a classic non-fiction work, written by a woman to read, this is it. Woolf has no rival defending women’s rights that – sadly – are still being fought for nowadays.

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9. The Poirot series by Agatha Christie.- Because being a crime fiction fan, I could not forget her! Death on the Nile (1937) read and perfect for a sunny evening outside.

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10. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins-Gillman.- A dark and realistic account of post-natal depression and how it has been ignored and stigmatized for centuries.

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It’s gonna be a long, hot summer

I thought the best way to write a post about the summer was with a country song in mind. The title from this post is taken by the optimistic and sunny  – can a song be sunny? – Long Hot Summer by Keith Urban and it never fails to remember me how awesome summers can be.

Things have been a little bit quiet over here because I allowed myself the luxury of spending the last 15 days of June doing whatever it felt right at the time. I am already done with my M.A and all the paperwork for my PhD until August so, basically these are the things that are making this one of the best summers in a while. I guess it has to do with a healthy combination of balancing things to do and knowing that you have a fair amount of free time and the possibility to enjoy yourself. So, there are the things that have happened, have planned to happen or just look like great ideas:

  • There are the books that I would love to read this summer although I realize that it is a pretty ambitious list.
  • I have started to do some research on crime fiction for my PhD.
  • I have taken up running and it feels amazing. The running shoes my parents bought me for my grades do help, though.
  • The puppy is teaching me go and fetch instead of the other way round. But don’t we enjoy running in the sun together!!
  • I discovered rice and soy ice-cream at a local store and I’m in awe. They taste the same diary ice cream does, but they don’t make me sick.
  • I would love to do some creative writing this summer. Let’s see how it goes.
  • There are a lot of crime TV shows that I should watch and that I’m slowly getting and watching. Right now I am living in Gant with Detective Hannah Maes and I love her (Code 37). If you have any suggestions, please let me know! I need to watch an immense amount of TV a day to remain sane.
  • I discovered this collection of free articles by Routledge via Sarah Ward and I can’t wait to read them all. Be sure to check them before December 2014.

What have you planned for this summer? :)