I apologise for my absence–March ended up being much too chaotic and stressful a month for me. I won’t go into detail about all the things going on, but I would like to muse upon the insanity of how it just takes one minuscule moment to change everything in an instant. Anyway, I’ll go ahead with the books I’ve read last month:
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Sense and Sensibility
Premise: Elinor and Marianne are sisters who embody sense and sensibility respectively. Together, they experience love and loss in parallel relationships, during which they realize that moderation in both sense and sensibility is essential to achieving happiness.
Review: As usual, Jane Austen’s elegant prose in depicting 18th century English society is deliciously witty and searing in her ability to capture the intricacies of the human condition. In Sense and Sensibility, she paints a fascinating portrait of the etiquette and customs of the time, which, in today’s world, may seem antiquated and baffling. Nevertheless, the overarching themes and motives/flaws in her characters are still very relevant and relatable to modern society; today, people are still marrying on the basis of money or experiencing the same misunderstandings that Elinor and Marianne face in their respective relationships.
While there is no doubt about the quality of Austen’s writing, I wasn’t quite as drawn to her storyline and characters in Sense and Sensibility. There was nothing to make me believe in the supposed attachment between Edward and Elinor, nor was there anything substantial to explain Colonel Brandon’s love for Marianne. This drawback prevented me from being able to wholly immerse myself in the story.
It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Premise: In the Republic of Gilead, where birth rates are declining and women’s rights are nonexistent, fertile women are assigned roles as Handmaids. Handmaids are transferred among Commanders for the purpose of bearing them and their wives children.
Review: The Handmaid’s Tale certainly stands out as one of the more memorable and chilling dystopians I’ve had the pleasure to read. In this tale narrated by Handmaid Offred, Atwood examines the ever changing role of women in society in relation to that of men throughout history. It’s extremely relevant to what’s going on in today’s society, particularly with sexism, religious fundamentalism, and the ongoing feminist movement.
Atwood’s sparse prose may be off-putting to some, but works well with the nightmarish atmosphere of the setting. As unembellished as the writing is, images retain a vivid and surreal quality as in a dream that is difficult to separate from reality; there may be something off in a scene that you can’t detect at first glance. Complete details of how the situation came to be aren’t provided, so the reader has to piece together what is gradually supplied by Offred’s nonlinear narrative.
Premise: A young man is in love with his friend, Sumire, but she falls for an older businesswoman named Miu. On a trip to an island off the coast of Greece, Sumire mysteriously disappears.
Review: This was my next choice in my Murakami marathon. While my previous selections elicited only neutral reactions from me, I was much more enthusiastic about Sputnik Sweetheart. It’s a classic example of Murakami’s distinct style, which is a finely delicate balance of elements from both fantasy and reality. In fact, I would say this book would be a good starting point for those who would like to read Murakami, but are unsure about where to start. It’s a quick, absorbing read that gives you a taste of Murakami’s characteristic prose, with a storyline that is simpler than his more complex and ambiguous Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I was quite taken with some of the quotes in here, which are especially heartfelt and achingly beautiful.
Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?
Premise: Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and the other airmen in the 256th Squadron are trapped in a Catch-22; they cannot request to be relieved of flying dangerous combat missions because this very act proves they are sane.
Review: My experience with Catch-22 can be best described as rocky. Right from the beginning, I was impressed by how effectively the narration reflected Heller’s point on the absurdity of war. There were quite a few funny moments that had me chuckling to myself on the train as well.
However, as much as I hate leaving books unfinished, I had to stop about 100 pages in. I just was not interested. Moreover, the non-chronological story is told from the perspectives of different characters, and you are pretty much bombarded with the large cast of characters with little to no background information, making for a confusing experience. I usually don’t have a problem with too many characters in a book, as I was able to finish One Hundred Years of Solitude with no problems at all.
I think my issue with Catch-22 can best be attributed to my lack of interest in the subject matter. I’ve never voluntarily picked up a war novel until now, and unfortunately, I don’t think I will pick up another one for a while. I struggled with this for about two weeks before I asked myself, “Why I am I forcing myself to read a book when there are so many other books I could be reading?” I definitely wanted to like this book, and I do appreciate its significance as a classic, but I don’t see myself reading this any time soon. Maybe I will try again some years down the road.