Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Nov. 16

For the WWW weekly Web meme:

Finished: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This romantic, lightly likable fantasy revolves around a circus created specifically to test the magical abilities of two people -- Celia and Marco -- and the mysterious guardians whose clashing philosophies of magic fuel the rivalry. The novel owes a lot to Christopher Priest's The Prestige, but Morgenstern succeeds in creating an atmosphere you come to care about. The timeline weaves in and out of the 19th and 20th centuries in ways you begin to appreciate as the novel draws to a close.  She also creates a great deal of suspense toward the end, as we wonder if a principal character is going to make his rendezvous with the circus. I'd recommend it.

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt: Leavitt is one of my favorite writers. In this book, a historical novel, he recounts the relationship between the Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy and S. Ramanujan, a self-taught math prodigy he summons from India. With the backdrop of World War I, Leavitt weaves a number of characters together, although he always keeps Ramanujan at a distance, concentrating instead on the Anglo characters. You feel you're a step removed from Ramanujan, which I think is Leavitt's intention -- the novel is about not knowing about others different from you, not knowing your own identity (Hardy is gay) and not knowing about God, in contrast to Hardy's quest for proofs (or proof). Very well written, the novel has trouble building narrative drive in the middle, but as Ramanujan's state health grows worse, the novel gets more engaging. Also, the period details and the side glances at other historical figures -- particularly Bertrand Russell and D.H. Lawrence -- are enjoyable.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: This engaging novel about three people nearly exactly my age; instead of going to Wesleyan, however, the go to Brown. I listened to it over the course of a month on my car stereo, and I found a great deal to relate to -- particularly the campus politics over semiotics and feminism and the feelings of despair of graduating into the worst economy between the 1930s. The novel revolves around three main characters: Madeline (born the same month I was), a beautiful English major; Mitchell, her friend whose long-term crush goes unrequited; and Leonard, a much cooler guy for whom Madeline falls. Leonard is the character supposedly based on David Foster Wallace, but Leonard stands quite distinctly on his own. The novel leaves Brown and heads to Paris, India and a first-rate biological lab in Massachusetts as the characters play out the emotional and spiritual aspects of their lives; they find they frequently come up short, which anybody born in 1960 (the ironic, late boomer, Letterman generation) can understand.

What I'm reading now: The Other, a novel of the Archonate by Matthew Hughes. Hughes is an SF writer, and this novel takes place in the same universe as the Henghis Hapthorn novels. They're quite droll.

What I'll read next: I may start Freedom, finally, or I'll continue reading my birthday books with Lucky Break by Esther Freud.

1 comment:

Arlee Bird said...

Night Circus is on my list of someday books--it sounds pretty good and I'm a big fan of circus related things. I acquired Freedom as part of my haul when my local Borders closed. I got enough books during the closing sales to last me a long time.

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