Wednesday, February 20, 2013

P&P Challenge: 1980 BBC Miniseries

The 1980 BBC Miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice doesn't blow me out of the water. It's generally quieter, more low-key than the other versions I've seen, and perhaps that's because there isn't as much background music. I'm not sure who made that decision, but it's kind of distracting to me during most of the miniseries. Also, the dialogue is more similar to the book than in other movies based on Pride and Prejudice. This would be a good thing, but the lines are moved to different parts of the movie or shuffled around in conversations in a different order than originally intended. The effect is jumpy, as though some of the characters aren't listening to each other--they're just waiting a moment and then repeating their own lines without reference to those around them. And the acting on average is nothing to write home about. It's not that the actors are bad, but this is a very delicate story to act out. There have to be small nuances in facial expression and general body movement to communicate more than words. Without effective nonverbal communication I found it hard to immerse myself in the story as I usually would.

One thing I did like was David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy. At first, he seemed too standoff-ish and blank, but as the miniseries went on, I stopped comparing him to other movie Darcys and started only comparing him to the book itself. I found his version of Mr. Darcy to be an accurate representation of the original. The progression of his love for Elizabeth is detailed and very visible, too, which I liked.

Maybe I'm spoiled by the 1995 BBC miniseries, but the 1980 BBC miniseries disappointed me. It's not so much that it was bad, it's just that there are better ones I could be watching. I will say that this version of the story gets better as you watch it and each time you see it again. Also, due to time constraints, I couldn't sit down and watch the whole miniseries at once, so my mood probably affected my view of what was happening at the time more than it normally would.

Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs's memoir, Running with Scissors, is about his life from around the age of ten or twelve until eighteen/adulthood. I listened to the Audio Renaissance version narrated by the author. The story begins with Augusten's childhood with his parents when Dr. Finch is first introduced into their lives. His parents begin seeing Dr. Finch for family counseling, which then evolves into his mother seeing Dr. Finch by herself for psychiatric counseling. When he is twelve, Augusten's mother gives custody of her son to Dr. Finch, and so begins a merry-go-round of craziness.

It was really hard for me to believe that this was a true story. Not that I doubted the truthfulness of Burroughs. Rather, parts of the story were just so incredible (not always or even usually in a good way) that I couldn't believe someone would actually do that, and then I took a beat to remember that the events recorded did, in fact, take place. Burroughs writing style is enjoyable and easy-to-read, novel style. He has a nice balance of dialogue and action, as well as humor and drama. So, even though I found this memoir strange, it was an enjoyable listen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Name Challenge: Bread Alone

Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks is about a thirty-one-year-old woman, Wynter, whose husband decides that he no longer wants the life they've made together. Basically, this just means that he's unhappy with her. So, after lots of struggle and some other craziness, Wynter moves to Seattle (where her best friend lives) and makes a life for herself as an assistant bread baker in a local bakery.

First Impression: I'm a little wary of reading Bread Alone primarily because the main character is a middle-aged woman re-establishing her independence after her husband leaves her. I don't have anything against the situation itself, but there's a tendency toward weepy, boring, and predictable narrative for those characters, at least in novels I've read in the past. Also, I get the impression that Hendricks neglects certain small details which would enhance her characters. She is very attentive to specifics of the bread-making process, for example, but points out that CM, the main character's best friend, has beautiful feet. As a professional dancer (which CM is supposed to be), this is highly unlikely. If she does very much professional ballet dancing, her feet would be pretty messed-up. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal, but I think these details build-up a lot of an author's story with small amounts of space and effort. That being said, Hendricks's writing style is more compelling than a good deal of authors who have told similar stories. I'm not sure why I'm interested in how this book will continue, but I find myself intrigued by what might happen. Maybe it's the bread--who doesn't have hankerings for fresh bread, am I right? But whatever the reason may be, I hope the book becomes its own unique world with enough good detail to keep me going.

Conclusion:  I didn't like the main character. Wynter was whiny and selfish and a bit of a brat. However, she did seem to be an accurate result of her past life. Her father spoiled her when she was a child, and friends, boyfriends, and her husband have been "taking care of her" ever since. I kept expecting her to learn from her mistakes, or at least to stop yelling at people and throwing big fits. The newly single woman only really learned anything at the end. She had an epiphany--not an increase in maturity, just an increase in understanding herself and what will make her happy. But even though I didn't really like Wynter, I still enjoyed the book. It's somewhat rare for me to say this, but I didn't need to like any of the main characters to enjoy the story. The way that Hendricks brought in pieces of the story (as well as flashbacks to important moments in Wynter's life) kept me intrigued, and I read this book fairly quickly. There are a few bread recipes in the book, as well, for those of you who look for books with recipes, patterns, and the like. To sum it up, this book didn't change my life, but I did enjoy it. If you happen to be browsing at the library or a book store and see this one on the shelf, pick it up. It's a fast and interesting read.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Life of Pi

Okay, I don't read a lot of adventurous-type novels, so Life of Pi by Yann Martel was new for me. The story is about a man (Pi) who grew up in India and then tried to move with his family (and the animals from their zoo) to Canada by boat. When the boat sinks, Pi is stuck on a lifeboat with a few animals--no other lifeboats or humans in sight. He must learn how to survive the Pacific Ocean without drowning or being eaten.

First Impression: I expected it to start with a BANG! and just be on a go-go-go path speeding ever faster toward a climax, but this was not the case. The beginning of Martel's novel feels a little like a Michael Crichton book--there's some random scientific information and a slight sense of depressive foreboding. It starts in medias res (in the middle of things), which would be fine, but it jumps around in a way that just makes things confusing.

Conclusion: The reason the story starts out in a confusing way is because it is told as an afterthought. It is written as a fictional memoir, introducing readers to the main character as a child--through flashbacks of certain events and important days in his life--in the first part before addressing the main focus of the novel--Pi's survival on the ocean--in the second part. Pi's first week on the Pacific Ocean is a quick succession of events. The animals battle for survival, and Pi figures out the physical and emotional restrictions of his situation. Over time, he adjusts to his situation and spends seven arduous months at sea before finally landing in Mexico.

The spiritual insights early in the book remind me a little of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, which is about a man who travels many places and "tries out" many different religions and paths of thought before settling into his own accepted truth. The narrator discusses Pi's first encounters with several religions and how they affected his final belief. I felt that Pi's connection to faith made the latter parts of the story very interesting. This is one point where you can really see how well Martel writes, because no matter what happens, the main character stays true to himself. He is a unique and thorough character, and his faults as well as his strengths are on display throughout the novel.

Toward the end of the novel, there is a twist that gives the whole story a bitter aftertaste. Without revealing anything, all I can say is that the novel is very good, but it ends on a bittersweet note. Be forewarned: this is not for the faint of heart. There is unexpected (at least by me) brutality in this book. These parts stay true to the situation, but they are difficult to read. That being said, I'm glad I read the book. I probably would not have picked this out myself--I read it for a book group I'm in--but it was an interesting and unique read, and I actually learned a lot of basic information about animals, which is pretty cool.