Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl (2012)

Gone Girl

So now I’m one of those who has read Gone Girl. Some bestsellers put me off because everyone reads them, others still make me want to find out what the fuss is all about. Gone Girl was one of the latter. You can’t pick up a recent crime novel without seeing a reference to Gone Girl, you can’t look at agent’s and editor’s picks without seeing it mentioned. Everyone, it seems, is looking for the next Gone Girl. Most of the time when I finally give in and read a book because of the hype, I’m disappointed. In this case it’s not as bad, but I still feel somewhat underwhelmed. Gone Girl has a major plot twist in the middle and an unexpected ending. And it is hugely manipulative, which may be the reason, why I wasn’t surprised by anything. I just felt I was led to assume one thing, why another was true. I saw the twist in the middle coming and foresaw the end. I also had the impression, I’ve read all this before, but I couldn’t come up with a book title. That’s when I realised that it has a similarity with some TV series like Damages and Breaking Bad, which I watched recently. They are both equally full of twists and turns. And I enjoyed them more.

So what’s it all about? On the day of their fifth anniversary beautiful, intelligent and witty Amy Dunne goes missing. A neighbour calls Nick at work and when he returns home, he finds his house wide open. He sees signs of a struggle in the living room and blood in the kitchen. What has happened to Amy? And why is Nick not as concerned as he should be? Police, media, neighbours, and even Amy’s parents, soon turn against Nick and suspect him to be a murderer.

The book is told by both Amy and Nick. Both are highly unreliable narrators. The only thing we know for sure is that their marriage went down the drain when they both lost their jobs and left New York, Amy’s hometown for Nick’s hometown North Carthage, Missouri. If they had only lost their jobs it would have been bad enough, but Amy, who was incredibly rich, loses most of her money. Amy’s psychologist parents are a successful writer duo. Their children’s book series Amazing Amy has earned them a fortune and made Amy into a celebrity. The only problem: the books are not as successful as they used to be. Bad investments and overspending have done the rest. Amy’s parents are broke and need Amy’s money.

Unfortunately it’s hard to write about this book in any depth without spoiling it. I’m glad I’ve read it. I can see why it appeals to many people. Gillian Flynn writes well and plots well. But from a psychological point of view, I found this unsatisfying. Both characters are described in great detail, but they didn’t come to life; they remain shallow, despicable card-board figures. When I think of the aforementioned series Damages, and the character Glenn Close plays, I see why I didn’t really appreciate Gone Girl. Glenn Close’s character is hateful and despicable, but she’s also admirable and touching. A fascinating, toxic mixture. Nick and Amy are just narcissistic ciphers.

Gone Girl is entertaining, but I don’t think it has anything pertinent to say about marriage or relationships, other than dysfunction + dysfunction = ultimate dysfunction. This was my second Gillian Flynn novel and I liked it less than the first, Sharp Objects. I’m curious to find out how Dark Places compares to these two.

Once Upon A Time VIII

Once Upon a Time VIII

It’s this time of the year again. Spring has started, which means Carl’s Once Upon a Time VIII has begun. The challenge runs until June 21st. Last year I was very active during RIP but couldn’t particpate in Once Upon A Time and felt I had missed out greatly. This isn’t going to happen this year.

I’m determined to read at least 4 books, but I’m not sure I will cover all the genres. For those who don’t know the challenge – the idea is to read fantasy, fairy tales, foklore and/or mythology.

These are some of my possible choices

Robin Mc Kinley’s Shadows

Shadows

Shadows is a compelling and inventive novel set in a world where science and magic are at odds, by Robin McKinley, the Newbery-winning author of The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, as well as the classic titles Beauty, Chalice, Spindle’s End, Pegasus and Sunshine Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But-more importantly-what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago. Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too-and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage. In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive. About the author:Robin McKinley has won many awards, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown, a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword, and the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature for Sunshine. She lives in Hampshire, England with her husband, author Peter Dickinson Check out her blog at robinmckinleysblog.com.

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint

Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

Hailed by critics as “a bravura performance” (Locus) and “witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people” (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner has created a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs, and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results.

Cassandra Parkin’s New World Fairy Tales 

new-world-fairy-tales-

In contemporary America, an un-named college student sets out on an obsessive journey of discovery to collect and record the life-stories of total strangers. The interviews that follow have echoes of another, far more famous literary journey, undertaken long ago and in another world.
Drawing on the original, unexpurgated tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, six of their most famous works are re-imagined in the rich and endlessly varied landscapes of contemporary America.
From the glass towers of Manhattan to the remoteness of the Blue Ridge mountains; from the swamps of Louisiana to the jaded glamour of Hollywood, New World Fairy Tales reclaims the fairy tale for the modern adult audience. A haunting blend of romance and realism, these stripped-back narratives of human experience are the perfect read for anyone who has read their child a bedtime fairy story, and wondered who ever said these were stories meant for children.

Franny Billingsley’s The Folk Keeper

Folk Keeper

She is never cold, she always knows exactly what time it is, and her hair grows two inches while she sleeps. Fifteen-year-old Corinna Stonewall–the only Folk Keeper in the city of Rhysbridge–sits hour after hour with the Folk in the dark, chilly cellar, “drawing off their anger as a lightning rod draws off lightning.” The Folk are the fierce, wet-mouthed, cave-dwelling gremlins who sour milk, rot cabbage, and make farm animals sick. Still, they are no match for the steely, hard-hearted, vengeful orphan Corinna who prides herself in her job of feeding, distracting, and otherwise pacifying these furious, ravenous creatures. The Folk Keeper has power and independence, and that’s the way she likes it.
One day, Corinna is summoned by Lord Merton to come to the vast seaside estate Cliffsend as Folk Keeper and family member–for she is the once-abandoned child he has been looking for. It is at Cliffsend that Corinna learns where her unusual powers come from, why she is drawn to the sea, and finally, what it means to be comfortable in her own skin. Written in the form of a journal, The Folk Keeper is a powerful story of a proud, ferociously self-reliant girl who breaks out of her dark, cold, narrow world into one of joy, understanding, and even the magic of romance. Franny Billingsley, author of the critically acclaimed fantasy Well Wished, has created a vividly portrayed, deliciously frightening novel that will have readers glued to the pages until the very un-bitter end. (Ages 10 and older)

FreedomMaze

Thirteen-year-old Sophie isn’t happy about spending the summer of 1960 at her grandmother’s old house in the bayou. Bored and lonely, she can’t resist exploring the house’s maze, or making an impulsive wish for a fantasy-book adventure with herself as the heroine. What she gets instead is a real adventure: a trip back in time to 1860 and the race-haunted world of her family’s Louisiana sugar plantation. Here, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is still two years in the future and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment is almost four years away. And here, Sophie is mistaken, by her own ancestors, for a slave.

If you’d like to join, plase sign up here. The review site can be found here.

On Kristín Steinsdóttir’s á eigin vegum (Your Own Way- Eigene Wege) – Icelandic Literature

a eigin vegum

This time I’ll tell you the bad news right away. Kristín Steinsdóttir’s novel has not been translated into English. I don’t read Icelandic, so I picked the German translation called Eigene Wege. I’ve always meant to read more Icelandic books and have a small pile on my bookshelves. A lot of what interests me however is only available in German. A eigin vegum/Eigene Wege/Your Own Way was Kristín Steinsdóttir’s first novel for grown-ups. She has won many prizes for her children’s literature.

Siegtrud is an elderly widow, born far away from Reykjavík, but later, she and her husband move to the city, where she’s still living at the beginning of the book. Siegtrud isn’t well off and although she’s at least 70 years old, she still has to work. She delivers the morning papers. Every day she gets up at five, works for two hours and then she returns home and goes to bed with her cats for another couple of hours. In the afternoon she finds amusements that are for free. She drinks a cup of champagne during the opening of an exhibition. She attends funeral services of total strangers, and joins the families for something to eat afterwards. She loves the singing in the church just as much as the free food.

Siegtrud’s family history is a bit of a mystery. She never met her mother who died in childbed and doesn’t know anything about her father. She owns a suitcase, in which she carries all of her treasures: the picture of her grandfather, a book about France, a harp and her mother’s French woollen scarf. Her foster-mother told her that her grandfather was French. Ever since Siegtrud was a little girl she dreamt of going to France. She wanted to see Paris and the country of her ancestors for herself.

The book moves back and forth in time. It tells us of Siegtrud’s life in Reykjavík and of her early childhood, her teenage years, her marriage. The story is as much the story of a woman, as it is the story of a country that underwent a lot of changes.

Siegtrud has had a hard live. She was born with a crippled hand, she had no parents, and not a lot of material possessions. She even lost the love of her life and her only child. Despite of this, it’s a cheerful book because Siegtrud is a character who knows how to enjoy life, and even at 70, she  thinks it’s not too late for a new beginning or an adventure.

I loved that Kristín Steinsdóttir chose a character who is neither wealthy, nor famous, nor young, but has a rich inner life and is able to enjoy the smallest things.

Thanks to Sigrun for letting me know in the comments that this book was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2008. It was published in 2006 in Iceland, the German translation is from 2009.

Vivian Gornick: The End of the Novel of Love (1997) Essays on Literature

The End of the Novel of Love

In these essays Vivian Gornick examines a century of novels in which authors have portrayed women who challenge the desire to be swept away by passion. She concludes that love as a metaphor for the making of literature is no longer apt for today’s writers, such has the nature of love and romance and marriage changed. Taking the works of authors such as Willa Cather, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Grace Paley and Hannah Arendt, Gornick sets out to show how novels have increasingly questioned the inevitability of love and marriage as the path to self-knowledge and fulfilment.

Vivian Gornick is an essayist and memoirist. Her collection The End of the Novel of Love contains a wide range of essays on different authors and topics. The title is the title of one of the essays. Almost all the essays circle to some extent around the topic of love. Some of the essays are more biographical, others focus more on a theme and compare and analyse different authors and works.

There are biographical essays on Kate Chopin, Jean Rhys, Willa Cather, Christina Stead and Grace Paley. I liked the one on Willa Cather and Grace Paley best, as Gornick is less judgmental in them than in some of the others. In the essay on Paley she says that despite the fact that her range isn’t all that wide, that Paley often writes about the same things again and again, her stories are still excellent because in her stories the voice is the story. What is unique in her stories is that people don’t fall in love with each other but with the desire to be alive.

There have been three story collections in thirty-five years. They have made Paley famous. All over the world, in languages you never heard of, she is read as a master storyteller in the great tradition: people love life more because of her writing.

The book contains two essays on people who are not fiction writers: Hannah Arendt and Clover Adams. While I’m familiar with Arendt and her work, I didn’t know the tragic story of Clover Adams, the wife of Henry Adams, who took her own life in 1885. The suicide struck Henry Adams particularly hard as he thought of Clover and himself as two parts of a whole, while, very clearly, Clover had an inner life of her own and didn’t share most of her distress. Clover was, according to Gornick, extremely intelligent and witty, which fascinated Adams. He fell in love with her mind right away, but didn’t show much kindness when he wrote about her as being anything but handsome. And even his praise of her intelligence doesn’t really read as a praise because he feels obliged to add – implicitly and explicitly – that she’s witty and intelligent “for a woman”.

The most interesting essays in the collection are those on themes, in which Gornick analyses and compares several works.

In Diana of the Crossways Gornick compares George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Gornick tells us that while the three books written by women are brilliant, they aren’t a success, unlike Diana of the Crossways, which is a stunning novel, because it goes one step further.

Each of these three novels was written by a brilliant woman with the taste of iron in her mouth. Each of them gives us a sobering portrait of what it feels like to be a creature trapped, caught stopped in place. Yet no one of these novels penetrates any deeper than the others into the character’s desire to be free: all that is achieved here is the look and feel of resistance. (…)

George Meredith, in his late fifties, had the experience and the distance. Meredith knew better than Woolf, Eliot, and Wharton what a woman and a man equally matched in brains, will, and hungriness of spirit might actually say and do, both to themselves and to one another. (…)

Diana Warwick is one of the first women in an English novel both beautiful and intellectually gifted who needn’t be dismissed as vain, shrewd, and ambitious before we can get on with it.

Ruthless Intimacies analyses the relationship between mother and son in D.H.Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and the relationship between mothers and daughters in Radclyffe Hall’s The Unlit Lamp, May Sinclair’s Mary Oliver, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Edna O’Brien’s short story A Rose in the Heart of New York. The relationships in these novels are symbiotic and swallow up the daughters completely. They struggle their whole lives to free themselves. I can relate to that all too well and would really love to read The Unlit Lamp and Edna O’Brien’s short story. Both sound pertinent and excellent.

Tenderhearted Men focusses on author’s who write in the vein of Hemingway about men and women. Raymond Carver, Richard Ford and André Dubus. Gornick dismisses them as too sentimental. They cling to a dated idea of men being saved by women, without trying to understand them.

The End of the Novel of Love is interesting. It states the obvious but the obvious was still worth stating. Most of the tragic (love) stories of the past like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, but also books like The House of Mirth are unthinkable in our day and age. Marriage and society have changed so much. Adultery doesn’t have the social consequences it had. I thought this part of the essay interesting, but I didn’t like that she chose to illustrate her concept in picking apart Jane Smiley’s novella The Age of Grief and calling it not only unmoving, but a failure. Harsh words. Maybe it’s true. I haven’t read it but I don’t like this type of unkind criticism.

Gornick’s writing is very accessible, a lot of her insights are fascinating and made me think, but, as I mentioned before, she’s very judgmental, which made me cringe occasionally. It made Gornick come across as very unkind. See for example this passage taken from the essay on Kate Chopin.

One of her biographers makes  the point that Chopin never revised, Chopin herself, announced, in interview after interview throughout her professional life, that the writing either came all at once, or not at all. I think it the single most important piece of writing we have about her. She seems to have considered this startling practice a proof of giftedness, rather than of the amateurishness that it really was.

Although I didn’t care for some of her harsh judgments, I thought many of her observations were pertinent and fascinating and I’d certainly read another of her books. I’m interested in her memoir Fierce Attachments and her book on creative non-fiction The Situation and the Story: the Art of Personal Narrative.

If you’re interested here’s the first chapter on Diana of the Crossways.

Literature and War Readalong March 31 2014: March by Geraldine Brooks

March

Geraldine Brooks is an Australian-born writer whose second book, the Civil War novel March, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. The book is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel Little Women. March tells the story of the absent father. Right from the beginning of Little Women we know that the father is fighting for the Northern forces in the Civil War.

Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never”, but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.

I’ve always meant to read one of her novels and this seemed a good choice. It will be interesting to compare this to Killer Angels.

Here are the first sentences

October 21, 1861

This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic.My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion.

And  some details and the blurb for those who want to join

March by Geraldine Brooks (Australia 2005) American Civil War, Novel, 304 pages

Brooks’s luminous second novel, after 2001′s acclaimed Year of Wonders, imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. An idealistic Concord cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves, or “contraband.” His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier as a Connecticut peddler to the plantations. In between, we learn of March’s earlier life: his whirlwind courtship of quick-tempered Marmee, his friendship with Emerson and Thoreau and the surprising cause of his family’s genteel poverty. When a Confederate attack on the contraband farm lands March in a Washington hospital, sick with fever and guilt, the first-person narrative switches to Marmee, who describes a different version of the years past and an agonized reaction to the truth she uncovers about her husband’s life. Brooks, who based the character of March on Alcott’s transcendentalist father, Bronson, relies heavily on primary sources for both the Concord and wartime scenes; her characters speak with a convincing 19th-century formality, yet the narrative is always accessible. Through the shattered dreamer March, the passion and rage of Marmee and a host of achingly human minor characters, Brooks’s affecting, beautifully written novel drives home the intimate horrors and ironies of the Civil War and the difficulty of living honestly with the knowledge of human suffering.

*******

The discussion starts on Monday, 31 March 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

Ellen Gilchrist: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Ellen Gilchrist’s acclaimed 1981 debut collection of short stories, introduced readers to a remarkable Southern voice which has sustained its power and influence through her more than 20 subsequent books. Gilchrist has a distinctive ear for language, and a deep understanding of her flawed, sometimes tragic characters. These fourteen stories, divided into three sections — There’s a Garden of Eden, Things Like the Truth, and Perils of the Nile — are about mostly young, upper-class Southern women who are bored with the Junior League and having babies, and chafe against the restrictions of their sheltered lives. Talented and bright, but living in the shadow of men — their husbands and fathers — they resort to outrageous actions in pursuit of freer lives and uncompromised love, despite the consequences. This collection first introduced readers to some of Gilchrist’s most beloved characters, such as Rhoda Manning and Nora Jane Whittington

I came across Ellen Gilchrist by chance. I was looking for books set in New Orleans and saw one of her short stories Rich in an anthology. I wasn’t familiar with her and looked her up and finally ordered a used copy of her first collection In the Land of Dreamy Dreams. It’s very rare that I read a whole short story collection in a few days, but I did in this case. There was a unity of setting, mood and atmosphere, and even one returning character that it read almost like a novel in stories.

Most of the stories are set in New Orleans, only a few take place in other places. The first or third person narrators are all women. Some are still small girls, many are teenagers, a few are grownups and some are elderly. About 50% of the stories are set in the 40s, the others in the 70s.

Hope and failure, perversion and innocence are some of the themes. The descriptions are rich and lush, the tone ranges from lyrical and  dreamy to bitter and sarcastic. Some of the stories have the atmosphere of a humid, stuffed boudoir, others exude an air of rich elegance.

In a few sentences Gilchrist can capture a whole life, including its tragedy and beauty. I liked the beautiful, hopeful stories, in which the protagonists were heading for a life full of intense and sensuous moments best. But I can’t deny that the more cruel stories like “Rich” – in which people get richer and richer and finally end in tragedy – or the stories Suicides and Indignities were powerful and even made me gasp.

To give you a taste – this is the beginning of Indignities

Last night my mother took off her clothes in front of twenty-six invited guests in the King’s Room at Antoine’s. She took off her Calvin Klein evening jacket and her beige silk wrap-around blouse and her custom-made  brassiere and walked around the table letting everyone look at the place where her breasts used to be.

She had them removed without saying a word to anyone. I’m surprised she told my father. I’m surprised she invited him to the party. He ever would have noticed. He hasn’t touched her in years except to hand her a cheque or a paper to sign.

My favourite stories were There’s a Garden of Eden in which a fortysomething woman and her young lover take a boat and navigate the flooded streets of New Orleans to get to her mother, 1944 in which a young girl meets a glamorous war widow who shows her to make the most of live. I also loved Traveler in which a plain girl travels to her beautiful cousin in the South. The cousin has just lost her mother who’s left her wardrobes and wardrobes full of expensive clothes, underwear, perfumes and make-up. The plain girl reinvents herself on this vacation and doesn’t want to return home. Summer, an Elegy is a story with a languorous mood, but it made me feel uncomfortable as it describes the love affair of two eight year-olds. It contains one of my favourite passages.

The afternoon went on for a log time, and the small bed was surrounded by yellow light and the room filled with the smell of mussels.

Long afterward, as she lay in a cool bed in Acapulco, waiting for her third husband to claim her as his bride, Matille would remember that light and how, later that afternoon, the wind picked up and could be heard for miles away, moving toward Issaquena County with its lines of distant thunder, and how the cottonwood leaves outside the window had beat upon the house all night with their exotic crackling.

I haven’t read anyone quite like Ellen Gilchrist but she still reminded me of a few authors. Tennesse Williams came to mind – A Streetcar Named Desire as much as The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone – because of the setting and some of the older characters. But she also reminded me of Julie Orringer whose intricately woven sentences and lush descriptions are similar and there’s some of Yoko Ogawa’s cruelty in this collection as well. Funny enough Ogawa’s last short story collection has the English title Revenge. One of Gilchrist’s best stories is called Revenge as well. Coincidence? Who knows.

If you like rish, complex short stories, full of allusions and sensual descriptions, sometimes mean, sometimes dreamy – then do yourself a favour and get a copy of this wonderful book.

Michael Shaara: The Killer Angels (1974) Literature and War Readalong February 2014

The Killer Angels

Books are not always the way we expect them to be. Still, I’ve only rarely been this wrong. I was afraid Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winner would be dry, heavy on tactics and military jargon. It wouldn’t have been too surprising if it had been like that, after all, Shaara tells the story of the three-day battle at Gettysburg. But The Killer Angels is anything but dry or heavy. It’s a beautiful, lyrical novel, which focusses much more on the moods and emotions of the main characters than on tactics.

I liked the way this was told. We have seven different POVs, each chapter told by another person. That way the narrative constantly  switches from the Confederate Army to the Union Army. On the Union side we have Chamberlain and Buford, on the Confederate side we have the POVs of Lee, Longstreet, Fremantle, Armistead and a spy.

Gettysburg is said to have been the decisive battle. It was lost by the Confederate Army who had been mostly victorious so far. The way Shaara tells this, I got the impression that the defeat was due to a large extent to General Lee’s unfortunate belief in assault warfare. His second in command, Longstreet, cautions against it, but to no avail. It seemed that while Lee was one of the most beloved Generals, he was very old-school in his tactics. Longstreet wanted to be defensive and was proven right in the end. The battle cost the lives of numerous soldiers, many officers and many, many horses.

The amazing thing in this novel is that Shaara writes so well about moods and emotions. We see the men mostly before or after the battle. The way they experience life in the army, the apprehension and exhilaration before the fight. How they experience the weather, the other men. Politics are present but in the background. Everyone on both sides thinks it’s about slavery but we come to realize that it’s not. Slavery is a symbol for a way of life. In a way it’s a battle of change versus tradition. I never really saw it that way. And the book made me understand why the South fought. They were scared to lose their way of life. If they had known how to stay the way they were – big plantations, old money, traditions – without slavery, maybe they wouldn’t have minded so much. And they certainly didn’t like being told how to live. Fremantle is an interesting character, because he’s a British journalist and the way he compares the South to Britain is interesting and sheds light on many aspects.

I’m certainly no expert on tactics but I was wondering whether the terrain wasn’t to some extent responsible for the defeat.

While I liked this book a geat deal, I have one reservation. I had to check up on Shaara because the way this was written, how it glorifies some aspects, made me think that, while familiar with life in the military, Shaara doesn’t sound like someone who has seen action. And I was right. He served before the war in Korea but not during the war.

I will leave you with three quotes, which capture the mood of this book.

Chamberlain on his own

Isn’t that amazing? Long marches and no rest, up very early in the morning and asleep late in the rain, and there’s a marvelous excitement to it, a joy to wake in the morning and feel the army all around you and see the campfires in the morning and smell the coffee . . .

Lee on his own

The night air was soft and warm. Across the road there were still many fires in the field but no more bands, no more singing. Men sat in quiet groups, talking the long slow talk of night in camp at war; many had gone to sleep: There were stars in the sky and a gorgeous white moon. The moon shone on the white cupola of the seminary across the road – lovely view, good place to see the fight.

Chamberlain again – in a crucial scene that explains the title of the book.

Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: “What a piece of work is man . . . in action how like an angel!” And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel.

I don’t know what other books the year will bring, but I have a feeling this one could make it on the Best of List. I love books which are rich in atmosphere, capture quiet, introspective moods and manage to bring the most different characters to life. I certainly didn’t expect to find all that in a war novel. The Killer Angels is a gorgeous book on an awful subject, reading it felt like seeing all the major participants of the battle during their most intimate moments. I’m grateful to Kevin who said I would be missing out, if I didn’t read it. He was right.

Other reviews

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The Killer Angels is the second book in the Literature and War Readalong 2014. The next book is the American Civil War novel  March by Geraldine Brooks. Discussion starts on Monday 31 March, 2014. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including the book blurbs can be found here.