Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto is the perfect example of how a book can burn away every thread of goodwill the reader has for it. I came at it vaguely expecting a hybrid of introspective contemporary women’s fiction and mundane surrealism, a mixture of Lorrie Moore’s Self Help, Melissa Banks’ A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and (yes) Haruki Murakami’s fiction.
Ultimately, the novel aimed to do a bit of those things but fails at all of them simultaneously. The book stumbles at its attempt to dish out pieces of faux-philosophical faux-wisdom, while the romance-inflected “modern girl’s quest for self-actualization” angle starts at vaguely interesting and careens towards stultifying. Continue reading
A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
Despite my fondness for British Golden Age mysteries (Christie, Sayers, Marsh), I have yet to find a more contemporary mystery writer that I really enjoy. To wit, Ruth Rendell is widely regarded as a master of the form, yet this manor mystery about a woman found dead in the woods left me cold (pun not intended). There’s a certain amount of wit that I feel is lacking here, despite erudite nature of the story.
A Guilty Thing Surprised is a novel that features Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden investigating the murder of Elizabeth Nightingale, the mistress of a manor that only seems genteel on the surface. Suspects immediately crop up as a series of interviews reveal the victim’s manipulative nature. The retiring husband, the worldly au pair, and the professor brother–each one has something to hide. The novel’s title is from a Coleridge poem, alluding to a setting that involves many literary and academic preoccupations.
Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing
NPR’s Monkey See blogger Linda Holmes has done a series of funny and insightful articles about what people call “chick lit” and how the label tends to reduce writing by women into a very narrow, undeserved box. I entirely agree with her assessment. As someone who likes to read romance novels occasionally, I get a little defensive about people who look down on “women’s writing.” And this book is part of the reason why.
The first time I read it, I had the same preconceptions on what the story ought to be: A novel about a literary agent in Manhattan trying and failing to find love, peppered with witticisms and ultra-hip whining, drinking of cosmopolitans, et cetera. I actually became a little annoyed when I found out that Girl’s Guide is actually not a full novel so much as a collection of loosely connected narratives. The stories takes us through the lives of these urbane individuals who weren’t immune to heartbreak, cancer, and professional ennui, despite their perfect haircuts and their perfect vacations. But I ended up reading this book again over the years, and I found that I take away something new from it every time. The very last story is my favorite one, and makes reading the whole book actually worth it. It makes a gentle mockery of people looking at self-help books to get them the love of their lives, while at the same time acknowledging the in these modern times, a girl just really wants someone who can help her with the answers.