What I’ve Been Reading: Mini Reviews

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Rating: 3 stars

This is a lovely little novel, with some beautiful prose, and some interesting, though unexplored, thoughts. It is about Margaret Cavendish, a writer in an age when woman did not write, and if they did, they published their works anonymously. A wholly unique woman who dressed extravagantly, wrote science fiction, philosophy, plays, etc., and was obsessed with the idea of achieving fame so she could live through her works forever. They called her Mad Madge.

I’m not actually sure what this novel was trying to be, or what it was trying to achieve. It is not a biographical work of fiction, nor an immersive historical fiction- it wants to be experimental, and is beautifully written, but ultimately I wasn’t sure what the point was. After completing the book I feel no closer to Margaret then before, nor could I tell you much of her personality or beliefs, or the time in which she lived.

Dutton mentions Virginia Woolf in the author’s note, though I did not have to read it to know she was attempting to pay homage. That premise was what initially drew me to the novel (aside from the exploration of such a fascinating woman), but I think failed to deliver.

It lacks emotion and depth, for all its lovely prose- it felt sterile, and cold, which I wasn’t able to detect initially as I was so taken in by the writing style. There is hardly any exploration of inner life, though there is the false pretense of doing so. Margaret’s melancholy is only examined shallowly, the relationship with her husband (though clearly deep), barley touched upon- but all of these aspects are important parts of the novel. I come away thinking that there were just so many missed opportunities- to examine Margaret, to examine woman and sexism during the time period, to examine Margaret’s philosophical beliefs… there are to many could have beens.

My emotions are mixed. Did I enjoy this novel? I’m not really sure, but I loved the prose. Would I recommend this to someone? Again I’m not really sure. This is not for someone who has an interest in historical fiction, but neither is it for someone looking for an in-depth character study. I don’t exactly know who the audience is supposed to be. Not for people looking for experimental fiction, because this is pretty standard fare in my opinion, though I do think it strives to be something different. It’s a book with pretty words, but little substance behind it.

The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Rating: 5 stars 

I’ve been avidly reading The Vision in issues, but decided to read the first trade in one go, and see how the issues of the first arc all fit together in one read through. Simply put it is fantastic. This series is pitch perfect. A bit strange, a bit out there, definitely dark- but it also examines what is normalcy, and I think at the core of it all, Vision’s new family is a version of normal- just not in a way we humans would acknowledge them to be, at least at first. If you are interested in examining normalcy in a “regular” suburban neighborhood, picket fence and all, then this is for you. The story is an odd one for comics, and one I hesitated to pick up at first, but am ultimately so happy I did. It’s one of the best comics out at the moment.

Simply put it is about Vision creating a family for himself, and how they deal with living in a neighborhood full of everyday humans, and the only synthetic life there. The strive for normalcy and be an average family, but due to many different factors, are unable to achieve their dreams. I found myself in love with the family. Maybe not so much Vision’s wife (Scarlet Witch and Vision for life!), but his two children have endeared themselves to me. I want so much for them to meet Wiccan and Speed, and join the Young Avengers with their brothers. It’s most likely a pipe dream- but it’s a beautiful dream…    

Reading this in issues is, for me, the best way to consume the story. Each issue is masterfully crafted to tell a story, and while they may end on cliffhangers at times, you don’t feel as if you have been cheated of a story- quite the opposite. Nowadays some comic authors write with the trade paperback in my mind, but this is not the case with Vision. And while there is no “proper” way to consume a comic, I do think that if you are able, the best way to do so with this particular comic is in issues. You are getting (I believe) the necessary, painful wait; you spend every month longing for the next issue, on the edge of your seat, unable to contain your excitement. And boy, do each issue really give you a major pay off for your patience.

I would also be remiss to not acknowledge the art, which is perfect (like everything in this). I love this particular style, and I think it fits the comic very well. The Visions look normal, but just slightly off. There isn’t something quite right about them at times, and at others they look like a normal family. The expressions on their faces are great, which I can imagine could be difficult to capture for some artists. I also want posters of all of the covers. Fantastic.

Anyway read this. That’s all I have to say. READ. THIS.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Rating: 2 stars 

I did not enjoy this book all that much. Perhaps my expectation were to high considering all the hype surrounding du Maurier, but I found this to be an overall disappointing read. It’s not that it’s bad necessarily, it’s just that it’s riddled with cliches, and characters not dimensional enough to elevate the story.

It is about a young woman named Mary whose mother has recently passed, and her dying wish was for Mary to go live with her Aunt. Mary goes to a place called Jamaica Inn, where her aunt is living with her husband, whom Mary and Mary’s mother never met. He turns out to be a violent drunkard, who is involved in criminal practices, and Mary is trapped, unwilling to leave and abandon her aunt who is clearly being abused. She also meets the mysterious Jem, the brother to Mary’s Aunt, and a romance soon develops.

The prose is wonderful, and the atmosphere it conveys is fantastic. It does a magnificent job of seeing the time and place. Mary is an alright heroine, she’s intelligent and has a good head on her shoulders, but she complains constantly of how much stronger physically and mentally she would be if she were a man, and the repetition began to irritate me (I know that du Maurier herself had issues with being a woman, which is why I assume it is Mary’s main insecurity). It wasn’t that I disliked the book, so much as I felt disconnected.The love story was unbelievable and under developed- at time laughable in all honesty. The romance began with little to no development, so consequently I did not care. 

“She was a woman, and for no reason in heaven or earth she loved him. He had kissed her, and she was bound to him forever.” (p. 261)

(The above excerpt makes me irrationally angry)

Apparently Mary being a woman, and Jem a man is reason enough to fall in love. Very compelling stuff.

If the romance had been better I may have been able to forgive the book its other faults. Alas the love story was a bust, so all it had going for it was the story (already cliched) and the mystery. So how was that? Dreadfully obvious from the start. I saw every twist and turn coming from a mile away, the villains cartoonish, and not even fun to hate.

SPOILERS INCOMING- STOP READING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW 

 

I found the “big reveal” of the main villain to be offensive (and again obvious). Of course the albino character is evil. Of course. If you look different then obviously you’re the bad guy! That’s how it works in real life to, right? This is a tired cliche, and I was saddened to see it used here as well. I know it’s an older book, but that isn’t much of an excuse in my opinion. Not only was it offensive, but it did not even have the decency to be a good twist.