Daily Archives: December 22, 2011

Book Review: First Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: First Love: A Gothic Tale
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Books, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780880014571
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 86
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

Life is cruel and loneliness is its master. Josie learns this soon enough. This is the story of a bewildered eleven-year old who only wants to be loved by the people around her and fails getting it. Oates wrote this novella in 1996 and though I only read it now, it still seems fresh, even after fifteen years.

The background of the novella is that Josie’s mother left her husband and has now moved to another state to live with her mother’s cousin. Josie’s mother drifts away in a new town – new men to date and new jobs to explore, leaving Josie all alone to explore the lay of the land. Her 25-year old cousin Jared is studying to be a minister. She meets him and a sordid love story (or not) takes place. He has his own demons to conquer (or he is unable to) and he enjoys the dominance he displays using her as the bait. Her naïve eleven-year old mind mistakes this for love.

There are sub-texts and layers of sexual references and the reader senses sexual abuse and yet Josie is not the one without a conscience. After being asked to commit a horrendous crime and refusing it, Jared blocks Josie out of his life. The family crumbles. Delia S (Josie’s mother) takes off in her own direction and path, paying very little attention to her daughter. The great-aunt is bed-ridden and Jared goes on back to the seminary to complete his studies. This is when Josie finds her freedom and her will to live.

On the surface, it seems a pretty simple novella to understand and garner, however it is not the case. As I said earlier, there are sub-texts to the novella – mostly loneliness, alienation, of sexual awakening, incest, and of knowing what love is not.

Joyce Carol Oates is the mistress of her craft. What most authors cannot manage in 500 pages, she does in 86 pages and quite convincingly though. At no point did I want to know more or did I feel there was more to be said once I finished this novella. The adage to the title of “A Gothic Tale” could not be any truer. It is a gothic tale – both in its atmosphere and its storyline. The book is raw and not apologetic about it. I would not recommend it to people with faint hearts, however I highly recommend it nonetheless.

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
ISBN: 9781594744761
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

To write a review of a book that is so unusual is a daunting task in itself and yet I want to, only because I want more people to read what I have finished reading and loved. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has stayed with me since the past four days and I have loved every minute of reading this fascinating novel. I stretched it to four days only because I didn’t want it to end so soon and yet it had to. Let me now tell you something about the book.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as the title suggests is centered on a home for peculiar children in Wales on an isolated island in 1940 during the World War II – children who were abandoned by their parents or wards. One of the children manages to leave the home and starts a normal family in America. Abraham Portman is old and claims to see monsters. His son and daughter do not believe him and carry on with their lives and their families. His grandson Jacob Portman wants to believe his grandfather’s stories and yet they seem too bizarre to be believed, even though as a child his grandfather supported the peculiar children’s stories with pictures.

Few days before turning sixteen, Jacob witnesses the death of his grandfather outside his house, claiming to be killed by a monster, and asking Jacob to find, “the bird, on the other side of the grave”. Encouraged by his psychiatrist Jacob takes on a journey to the island – years after – hoping to find something of his grandfather’s past only to encounter nothing. This is not it. He does find something. Something exciting and shocking, which obviously I cannot reveal in the review. That is for you to read and find out.

This book is a treat. It stayed with me for a very long time till I picked it up and read it hungrily. The book mixes fiction with photography brilliantly and it is one of those books that cannot be read on a Kindle or a Nook. It deserves the stature of a read late into the night, where sometimes it scares you as well, in parts. What I think every reader will love in this book are the photographs of the children, of the house, of Miss Peregrine and of almost everything that propels the story.

The writing is brilliant – Ransom Riggs ensures the necessary elements are brought together perfectly – the characters, the plot and the photographs merge beautifully. I recommended the book while reading it and am recommending it now. It is a book that you shouldn’t miss. Thank you Quirk books for publishing it. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has to one of my favourite books this year and I am sure there is a sequel waiting in line.

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