Nobel prize for literature

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Too Much Happiness – Alice Munroe

Published September 14, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories about the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

In the first story a young wife and mother, suffering from the unbearable pain of losing her three children, gains solace from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other tales uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and, in the long title story, the yearnings of a nineteenth-century female mathematician.

What did I think?:

I have heard the name Alice Munro around a lot, but it wasn’t until she won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and the Nobel Prize for Literature that I really became interested in trying some of her work. I didn’t make this collection part of my Short Stories Challenge as once I started the book I just wanted to read the entire thing at once as the beauty of her writing spoke for itself. There are ten stories in this collection and each one features one or more of the characters (usually a woman) dealing with an unusual amount of emotion in their life, for one reason or another. I’m not going to go through each of the stories, this post would turn into an essay! Instead, I’m just going to focus on a couple of my favourites.

The first story, Dimensions was definitely my favourite of the bunch. It introduces us to a female main character Doree who we become curious about right from the start. She has changed her name, regularly sees a psychiatrist and visits her husband Lloyd in prison which she finds an incredibly daunting prospect. It turns out that her relationship with Lloyd through the years they have been married has been slightly traumatic. Lloyd peeled away every inch of her self-esteem and hurled emotional abuse at her at any given opportunity. Why is he in prison and what is the big secret the author keeps from us until the last moment? I can’t say, but it was dark, dramatic and beautifully executed.

Free Radicals was also a knee-trembler of a story. A recently widowed woman is relaxing in her house when a madman manages to get in and announces that he has just killed his parents and his disabled sister. There is the danger that she may be next but our main character remains stoic and remarkably calm considering the circumstances. By the end of the story, she imparts a secret of her own…

Another favourite of mine was Child’s Play, where an old woman (Marlene) looks back on her childhood, one memory in particular still disturbs her. It regards a girl that used to live in the same house as her called Verna who continually tried to be-friend her, at some points becoming quite desperate, however Verna was slightly deficient mentally and filled Marlene with feelings of disgust:

“I suppose I hated her as some people hate snakes or caterpillars or mice or slugs. For no decent reason. Not for any certain harm she could do but for the way she could disturb your innards and make you sick of your life.”

She attends summer camp with one of her best friends and is dismayed to discover that Verna is there also. Then things turn a little bit darker with a gripping finale that will have your eyes practically glued to the pages to find out what happens. Well,  that’s what happened to mine anyway.

It is obvious that Alice Munro is a true master of the short story, she is precise, deadly accurate and the timing of the “huge events” in these few stories is executed with perfection. Yes, there were a few stories that I didn’t really get on with (Wood, Too Much Happiness, Fiction) hence the three star rating but I cannot deny that while I didn’t enjoy these tales as much, I really appreciated her writing style and her obvious ease with words. I will definitely be checking out some of her other work.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Big Breasts and Wide Hips – Mo Yan

Published May 17, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

In a country where men dominate, this epic novel is first and foremost about women. As the title implies, the female body serves as the book’s most important image and metaphor. The protagonist, Mother, is born in 1900. Married at 17 into the Shangguan family, she has nine children, only one of whom is a boy, the narrator of the book, a spoiled and ineffectual child who stands in stark contrast to his eight strong and forceful female siblings. Mother, a survivor, is the quintessential strong woman, who risks her life to save the lives of several of her children and grandchildren. The writing is full of life–picturesque, bawdy, shocking, imaginative. Each of the seven chapters represents a different time period, from the end of the Qing dynasty up through the Japanese invasion in the 1930s, the civil war, the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao years.

What did I think?:

This book can be described as a quick history of China’s more violent and turbulent years during one generation which is seen through the eyes of one boy, brought up as the only male amongst eight sisters, and he is completely obsessed with breasts. But not in the usual manner – he constantly craves his mothers milk after attempts to wean him off fails dismally. And there are a lot of breast references, almost every page has something about them or the nipple area in general! This induced much sighing and eye-rolling from me, I’m afraid – it just got a bit boring, and yet should have been empowering. Importantly, I do think it’s also a feminist novel, due to the strength portrayed by the women in the story, namely Mother and the eight sisters as the entire family suffers through deaths, tortures, beatings and betrayals. There are some pretty powerful scenes here, the imagery of which will be fixed in my imagination for a while, I think. It is interesting to note that although this book won a very prestigious prize, it failed on the “morality” stakes and was banned in China.

I’ve got to admit, I found this book a bit of a roller-coaster ride. It started off quite slow but I started to get into it after about 100 pages, then it tailed off again, then picked up, then tailed off yet again. I have never been swayed in my opinion so much before this novel, and it is probably testament to the brilliance of the writing that I stuck with it until the end. The characters themselves are not really drawn with much depth although they have the potential to be incredibly interesting (I’m thinking of the “kick-ass” mother here).  Jintong, our narrator and male child, comes across as spoilt, weak, and incredibly disturbed, however there seems to be a bit of a theme of madness in the story, perhaps our author is suggesting too many hardships does send people over the edge? The spiritual elements of the story, including the “Bird Fairy” and the “Fox Fairy” left me a bit puzzled also, as I didn’t see a real need for them and did not feel they enhanced the narrative in any way.

Best bits? The writing, most definitely. I cannot deny that it was beautifully written, and there always seemed to be “something happening,” so the pacing was perfect. In this way, I can kind of see why the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012 and I don’t regret having read it.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art