Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"The Danish Girl" by David Ebershoff

The Danish Girl, though very fictionalized, is actually based on the true story of early-twentieth-century painter Einar Wegener and his marriage to fellow artist Gerda Gottlieb (who, in the book, is an American named Greta Waud). After a number of years together, Greta asks Einar to stand in as a model for the portrait she is painting of a female opera singer. This single occasion opens Einar's eyes to his deepest desires, and he becomes an occasional transvestite, ultimately undergoing a series of sexual reassignment surgeries to become Lili Elbe (or, in real life, Lili Ilse Elvenes).

The book is very well-written and interesting, covering territory that is unfamiliar to me, but I found the strange hybrid of biography and fiction a bit frustrating. I've bemoaned the same thing before with historical fiction (while simultaneously eating it up eagerly), though I can imagine there would be many blanks to fill in, and I have seen before how pure biography can be unfortunately dry and dull. And the author did well with his goal of  "convey[ing] the emotional truth of the story while straying from some of the facts."

I found it sad that Lili never painted. Einar was a somewhat successful painter, but Lili left painting behind, as she felt it was part of Einar's life, not hers. (If that wasn't one of the true parts of the story, I'm not sure I would have believed it; I would think a true artist would always be driven to paint.) And it was interesting that Greta's success relied upon Lili's emergence. She did not sell (or even show) many paintings until Lili became her frequent model and muse.

Surprisingly, I'm not all that bothered about watching the movie. It's not that I absolutely don't want to see it, but I can live without it, which is unusual for me. I generally love to see what someone else's vision of a book looks like. I think the difference with this one is that the story is less visual, less plot-driven; the book has told me everything I need to know about the story, and I don't see what the movie has to add.

Monday, August 8, 2016

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by Rowling, Tiffany and Thorne

Everyone who ever reads anything, ever, probably already knows this: a new Harry Potter play has debuted, and its script has been published in book form. And anyone who knows me will probably not be surprised to hear that I have bought the book, and I have read it.

"So, what did you think?" It's like an outline of a really, really good story, and kind of a nostalgia-fest: bringing up old familiar characters and situations in a new and exciting way, mixed in with a few fresh faces.

"You didn't find it off-putting, reading it in play form?" Not at all, though it went by all too quickly, and I did (occasionally and briefly) wish for more depth. Most of the time, however, I was too swept up in the story to mind. And at other times (probably mostly when reading stage directions) it actually enhanced my experience as I imagined what it might be like to see the play performed. In fact, I hope someday I have the opportunity to see it on stage, because I can imagine the play is really exciting and engaging. But as a book, it could have been more fleshed out, like the original 7 books were. There's obviously enough material there.  

"What was your overall impression?" I loved it. I wish the story would continue. And the hope has been kindled within me that perhaps someday it will.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

"A Pleasure and a Calling" by Phil Hogan

Mr Heming owns a realty company. Everyone has seen his signs in town, even if most people don't know him well. But there is one thing no one knows about Mr Heming: he has made and kept a copy of the key for every house he has sold. He often pays "visits" using those keys--uninvited and unobserved--and takes the opportunity to gather interesting information and to right wrongs. This might sound somewhat harmless, if very odd, but Mr Heming is not entirely benign. He is gradually revealed to be more and more creepy, not least due to various questionable situations from his past that float slowly to the surface. His creepy habits are not new.

I enjoyed reading this well-written and suspenseful literary thriller. If I had one complaint about the book, it would be the fact that Mr Heming's success with women defied belief. I'm pretty sure Hogan was aware of this, because just exactly when I got to the point where I was about to roll my eyes and say, Oh, come on, he threw in an explanatory paragraph. It wasn't 100% believable (I can accept that a devious creeper could come across as harmless; I'm not so sure he could be found attractive by many, if any, women), but it was adequate.