Book Review – The Girl on the Train

Book: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

H and I decided to try something new for book club and assign everyone a month to choose a book for us to read. J picks the book and restaurant for July, H picks for August R picks September and so on. You get the picture. There were a few reasons we decided to try this method. One of which being we have a diverse group of individuals in our book club and we all have different tastes, backgrounds and preferences in life as well as books. H and I wanted to add some diversity into the reading material and broaden all of our comfort zones. Another reason we are trying out this new method is to give each of our book club members a voice. They have a stake in A Novel Bunch PGH. They invest as much time as H and I do, right? Why shouldn’t they all be allowed to choose a book?

June was the first month we tried this new method out with G‘s choice of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Gotta say…not my favorite read. I suppose I should preface this review with the fact I am not fond of mysteries in general. I am the person who, when presented with a mystery, flips to the end of the book to figure it out and then reads the middle last. To me, it is about figuring out the mystery, not necessarily about the process. Crime shows (Shout out to my favorite show ever: BONES!) are some of my favorite because the mystery/murder/case/arson/etc. is solved in an hour. I don’t have to invest much of myself into the mystery. Although, I did invest 12 years of my life to BONES and it was so worth it.

I found The Girl on the Train predictable and formulaic of mystery novels. The characters were not likable; I did not feel compelled to connect with one among the bunch. This is an odd occurrence for me as I can usually find some piece of myself to connect to a character or something to like about or commend them. Instead, I found myself apathetic and numb to the circumstances the characters found themselves in and the choices they made. Honestly, I could not even muster surprise at the reveal of the murderer and the climax of the novel. The ending did not feel complete to me. It left me unmoved and disinterested in Rachel’s next steps.

What did you think of The Girl on the Train? Let me know in the comments.

If you thought The Girl on the Train was OK, try:

I Let You Go

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale

Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Warning: strong feminism lies ahead in this post. Get out now all who do not believe in equality of the sexes.

Second warning: spoilers abound ahead. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale and do not want to have the story spoiled, please do not read this review. I was too riled after reading to attempt a spoiler-free post.

The window. The desk. The chair. Those are three sentences toward the beginning of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. When I read them I had to put my book down and ask myself what the heck I had gotten myself into with this story. Umm… those aren’t actual sentences. Those are nouns. What about the window, the desk and the chair? Why are you naming the things? Can you finish your thought? I didn’t understand the writing in this novel, but that may be because I opened it almost immediately after I could emotionally detach myself from the ending of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (review coming soon).  I found the way the story jumped around between the present and the past disorienting and confusing. There were times I had to re-read parts to figure out where we were in the story.

This was a strange and haunting tale. The story was left unfinished, which actually suited it, but left me with a sense of anticipation for the climax of the story. The book is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Gilead, which came to power after a terrorist attack that killed all the members of Congress and the Executive Branch, effectively removing the sitting government from power. A fundamentalist group, the Sons of Jacob, took power under the pretext of restoring order and holding fair elections, but we (the readers) later learn the group never intended to hold elections. Rather, the Sons of Jacob fully intended on taking power of the country and changing the social structure to one inspired by Old Testament social and religious fanaticism with newly created social classes.

Through the narrator’s flash backs, we learn that the elimination of women’s rights was a quickly paced double-strike of abolishing the right to work on the same day as abolishing the right to hold a bank account. The women were angry, but  pacified by the promises of the “short-term” nature of these changes and the “impending elections”. The final step in this new order took place when women were sorted into social classes  based on their ability to bear children (Handmaids being the fertile, Marthas being the lower class servants and Wives being the upper class sterile). The emphasis on reproductive ability is due to declining birth rates, which are attributed to infertility caused by nuclear fallout. There it is again: the Biblical references with the naming convention and duties of each group.

If a woman is placed as Handmaid, she is assigned to a Commander for 2 years during which he attempts to impregnate her. After two years (or if she is successful – Yes. I used ‘she’ because it is the woman’s responsibility to become pregnant. Of course, men cannot be sterile! How ridiculous! – I don’t think I need to say this, but that was sarcasm, people. Sarcasm.), she is assigned to another Commander and becomes his property for another 2 years. It is essentially consensual rape. If she becomes pregnant, she is forced to give her child to the Commander’s wife to raise. What now? You would have to rip my child away from my cold, dead fingers after our fight to the death. And when you fight me, momma bear mode will be activated in all its glory.

Let’s talk about the characters’ names. The Handmaids are all stripped of their birth names and given names that are ‘of’ plus their “Commander’s name”. Offred is the narrator of the story. Offred. Of-Fred. Meaning belonging to Fred. Fred’s belonging. Property of Fred. Wait, what? Excuse me? Property? I think not.

The most interesting part of the book was the Historical Notes in the back of the book. I did a double-take when I turned onto that page and had to confirm with myself that the book is indeed fiction. The Historical Notes section actually told of why/how Gilead came to be and its’ place in history. It was explained to us the heroine’s place in Gilead’s history which I found helpful from a closure standpoint.

I chose this book for our book club last month for a few reasons. First, the content felt especially and aptly politically relevant (don’t worry, I will NOT go there). Secondly, in all my feminist readings, I hadn’t gotten around to reading this iconic tale that is on every “Books Every Woman Should Read” list. And lastly, because the show was coming out on Hulu and it looked particularly intriguing.

There were a few points during the story I tossed my book down in frustration and anger. There were times while reading I was so angry at the world of Gilead, the heroine and the other characters that I almost gave up. I found the heroine, Offred, stilted, unmoving and way too accepting of her lot.

Overall, I found the story interesting and worth the read, but it riled me. As a woman, I will tell you that if my government tried to take away my basic human rights (let’s not go there with the current political conditions, please), I would fight with everything I had in me against it. I would rage and rage and never give up the fight.

Phew. That might be my longest review yet. Ok. Feminist rant concluded. Please share your thoughts regarding The Handmaid’s Tale in the comments.

If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, try:

Brave New World

1984

Blindness

Never Let Me Go

The Road

 

Book Review – The Light Between the Oceans

Book: The Light Between the Oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman

Whew! This book was a heavy hitter. Emotion. Tension. Moral dilemmas. I felt so, so much with this book. It hurt at times to read this one. Stedman certainly put me through the emotional ringer and I felt depleted, exhausted, and shaken afterwards.

The story is about a couple in 1920s Australia. The husband is a lighthouse keeper and they (and only they) live on a small island off Australia’s western coast. When a baby washes to the shore of this little island, THINGS HAPPEN. By THINGS I mean, this story is so complicated it was like reading a telenovela.

This couple faced so many trials and difficulties. I felt for each of them. I felt for the wife’s parents. I felt for the baby. I felt for the other characters with which the couple interacted. All of them were put in impossible situations with unbearably difficult consequences regardless of the choice made. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Or no-win situations. This book was jam-packed with them. It felt like at every turn, every decision made was no-win for the person making it.

Conviction is a necessary thing to find for yourself to survive in this world. You have to stand for something; believe in something. My convictions might differ from those you hold. We probably express our views and opinions in different ways as well. It is part of what makes us so great as human kind. I have certain convictions I am passionate about spreading to everyone I meet and some I have never shared with anyone. You can say convincingly (either to yourself or the world) you believe something is wrong or right, but until you, yourself, are dropped directly into a specific situation you cannot actually know what you will do.

I am not a person who is particularly good at dealing in the gray areas of life. I mostly see things as black and white. Right and wrong. With this book, Stedman challenged me to think outside my bubble of comfort. At times I didn’t know who to root for. At times, I didn’t know who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist. It is rare for me to read a book and not be able to clearly pick out the good guy and the bad guy. The nuances of the characters in this book were so cleverly ambiguous in a way that left me confused and evolved when I put down the book.

Through the beginning and middle of the book, I felt strongly that I would do a certain thing if I was the wife in The Light Between the Oceans, but after reading the events as they unfolded toward the end of the book, I was less certain in my conviction that I was correct. Then I tried it with the husband (who is the main character) and the other characters as well, and ended up with the same results at the end of the book: I had no idea what I would do faced with the impossible choices they met.

That’s the thing about a book like The Light Between the Oceans, though. It challenges what you think and why you think it and pushes you to think through those situations in personal terms. This is the type of book that has the power to change your perceptions of the people around you, the people you encounter, and your worldview in general. You see differently after reading a book like this. And that is why I will recommend it.

If you liked The Light Between the Oceans, try:

All the Light We Cannot See

Orphan Train

Defending Jacob

Me Before You

The Kite Runner