Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Age of Innocence and me

Whenever the subject of Newland Archer comes up, all 17 of my brothers simultaneously look down, shake their heads and mutter "poor bastard." That pretty much sums things up. Newland Archer is a poor bastard. He is, as many of you are, torn between his affections for two different women. To complicate matters the two women are cousins, members of a very well to do and influential New York family. May Welland is a young, respectable (i.e. a virgin), beautiful girl. Her every move reeks of compassion and innocence and it is only as the novel progresses that we begin to see how cold and calculating she is and lose all sense of pity for her. Her rival is the Countess Olenska, less young, less fresh (i.e. a strumpet), less beautiful woman. She is ruled by her passions and her independence and steadily gains our respect as the novel progresses. Unfortunately, Newland Archer is a tool and chooses May.

The novel opens at the opera, where Newland gets his first glance (since childhood) of Ellen Olenska. She has returned from Europe in disgrace. A failed marriage, a possible - no, probable - affair with the man who helped her escape her unhappy condition. She has lost much of her money, she lives in an unfashionable section of the city and she - gasp - is dressed inappropriately for the occasion. Later, she is held in contempt for visiting social climbers and other disgraced people, because she enjoys their society. Her family initially rallies around her but soon deserts her because she can not follow the rules of proper society. And, darn her, she just will NOT return to her husband so that they can forget about her.

Soon after this moment, Newland announces his engagement to May so that the Countess may have the support and protection of the Archers as well as May's family. He is continually thrown against the Countess and soon he begins to like it. She is everything that May, apparently, is not. She has traveled, is well read, and has had thoughts and feelings of her very own. While May strikes Archer as a blank page that he will get to fill in, the Countess is an equal and therefore interesting. When sparks start to warm his desire, he marries May. Poor bastard.

I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn't read it. Let's just say that May isn't the innocent flower that she appears. Oh, yeah, she's a virgin but she's no pushover. She has a steel core and will tolerate no one messing with her perfect world, including her about-to-stray husband and her hussy cousin. May needs a good spanking but no one's man enough to hold her down. Especially her husband.

One of my favorite images from the book is captured on this edition's cover. (This is not the edition I read though. Mine had a crappy movie cover that completely missed the point of everything) May Archer, nee Welland, is frequently compared to the goddess Diana - virginal, athletic, with classic beauty and aloofness. You will remember that Diana was the archer in mythology, goddess of the hunt. A perpetual virgin, Diana killed any man who attempted to sully her in any way. She showed no mercy and no heart. This is also a perfect description of young May Archer and is underlined by her triumph at an archery contest which occurs half way through the novel. Diana is also, for some reason that I don't understand, the goddess of childbirth and this also reflects in May's character.

After reading The Age of Innocence, I want to know more about Edith Wharton's life. I'm intrigued by the fact that she also had an unhappy marriage and ended up leaving her husband. But, alas, this is all I know. Perhaps Steve or Sam could bring another layer of understanding of the book for me. Especially since my reading will definately include more of Edith Wharton's books. Soon, I hope.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Final loop-the-loop and I stagger off

Phew... I finished the book today and I'm exhausted! The end of the book did not let up, not for one second. It was wonderfully satisfying and satisfyingly wonderful. (Sorry, the book I read before this was Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lawrence does this a lot, switching two words, adverb to adjective. It drove me nuts but now I keep doing it.) I've got to go rest now.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Buckle Up!

Wow, this book is a ride. A very disturbing ride. Not that I'm stepping off when it slows down. Not that it slows down much. Anyway...
As I mentioned in the last post, 42 students start off on a "field trip." Soon we, the reader, have an uncomfortable feeling. There are mentions of secret government going ons and a description of a wrestling game which ends with only one soldier standing. Soon our hapless students are gassed and find themselves smack in the middle of a hideous game. Each child is given a weapon and told they must kill each other until only one remains. Weapons are random and seem to range from something as lame as a fork to the king of weapons, a machine gun. Each child wears an electronic collar so that the government can monitor their whereabouts and they are told that the collar will explode if a) they try to remove it b) they try to escape c) 24 hours passes with no death or d) they enter a forbidden zone. More and more forbidden zones are announced during the games to keep the players from hiding out throughout the entire game. Then they are released one by one into the "game" to hide or fight as they see fit. It's all very scary.
As you might imagine, the violence starts almost immediately. Chapters alternate between our hero, Shuya Nanahara, trying to help his friends or find a way out and brutal, inventive slayings. I don't know what kind of sick mind came up with this story and plotted out the deaths, but I hope I never meet him. Especially at night. Especially alone. I wish that I could think of a good one to share with you but you really have to witness it for yourself. We're down to about 17 kids now and I don't think that the author has even reached his peak yet.
Now the book isn't pure poetry or anything. There are lots of clunky sentences (it's hard to tell though whether that's the fault of the author or translator). But I rate it well worth reading just for the fun of it. There are two reasons for the fun. One is just the imagination behind the violence. Once, in high school, I wrote a short story about the brutal death of all 9 players on the field during a baseball game. The first few deaths were a piece of cake, (bat hitting head, outfielder hitting wall, etc) but then where do you go? Yeah, the last few players became much harder to kill off. I'm guessing it was the same for our author, but he is proving his mettle by making me flinch again and again. There is also the psychological aspect of it. What would you do in similar circumstances? Would you trust your colleagues? Who would be the first to turn on you? Who would you gladly go after? Is there a way to outwit the game? It's very creepy and should have been part of my October Halloween reading.
I hear that it's also a movie. I'd recommend reading the book though. Better to savor the mayhem when it's laid out in black and white.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Voting Results

After alerting the people on Steve's blog and giving out my address to about 550 people I know, I'm proud to announce the results.

The votes tabulate:

Battle Royale - 3 (one being a verbal vote from Mama Chan)

Age of Innocence - 2

The Duke's Children - 1

The World Is Flat - 1

And two write in votes: Cages and War and Peace

Thank you to all who voted. Please feel free to vote for the next book I'll read. So far Age of Innocence is in the lead. But all that could change with YOUR vote.

So I will be reading Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. The title refers to a type of wrestling match, which the beginning chapter explains, is when 20 or so wrestlers all enter the ring at once and have a free for all. They may fight one on one or gang up on the same person. As a wrestler is pinned, they must leave the ring. Finally, only one wrestler remains and wins it all.

The second chapter is a secret government document. It is not clear what they are talking about but there is obviously evil afoot. The government appears to be a totalitarian type government whose concern for its people is nil.

The third chapter introduces a bunch of junior high school children, 42 in all. They are on a bus going on some sort of field trip. Could they be the participants in our Battle Royale? We learn about a young man, Shuya Nanhara (Male Student No.15). Yes, male student no. 15. How ominous is that? Each student introduces is given a number. We discover who is the school jock (Male Student No. 3), the protagonist's love interest (Female Student No. 15), the school bully (Male Student No. 10), the school patsy (Male Student No.1). It's very freaky. The chapter ends wiht the words "42 students remaining."

Yeah, this one has my interest.