BOOK REVIEW: PERSUASION by JANE AUSTEN

PERSUASION


18300265Persuasion is an exquisite novel. It has one of the most expert depictions of inner emotional experience that I think—that I know—I’ve ever read. Persuasion is not a novel about Anne Elliot; it’s a novel that is Anne Elliot. This is a novel that lives and breathes in its character’s psyche. Its emotional nuance and minuteness allows it to derive its most significant, personal moments from those that seem the most unremarkable: fleeting moments of eye contact, perfunctory questions, gestures of politeness. And so just like life’s, the stuff of Persuasion is more about derived rather than imposed meaning: the novel doesn’t need to orchestrate for events to happen on a grand scale for those events to be considered momentous and so meaningful.Instead, it’s concerned, in Austen’s words, with the “solid” and the “substance”—what something appears to be and what it actually is—and how its characters, namely Anne, discern and make meaning out of the discrepancies between the two.

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Oh, and also, Anne Elliot is just a marvel of a character. I love her so much, and I always feel for her so immensely.No, I’ve never had my engagement to a man broken off only to have that same man come back 8 years later and propose to me again—but I might as well have, because I could so easily identify with Anne. She really is, as Austen describes her, a combination of fortitude and gentleness, a character whose hold on you is all the more remarkable because she never outright demands any attention—she earns it.

Anyway, I love this book, if you couldn’t tell.

five


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BOOK REVIEW: THE NAMESAKE by JHUMPA LAHIRI

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Image result for the namesake jhumpa lahiri book coverWhat Lahiri clearly excels at here is depicting the nuances of the immigrant experience: the knowledge that you’re not going to be with your family members when they pass away; the sobering realization that your home country will and does become increasingly foreign to you the longer you’re away; the fact that even when you do go back, your body physically rejects your home country in its sickness, already having become acclimated to another place. Collectively, these experiences become distilled into a kind of dissonance: your home country is a place you belong, but also now a place that actively alienates you. These observations really resonated with me, especially as depicted in Ashoke and Ashima’s lives. Whether dwelled on or mentioned in passing, these moments were nevertheless measured, specific, and authentic.

As for the rest of this book, I found it to be largely underwhelming. What this book lacked, and sorely needed, is a plot. What it had was a sequential series of events, not a plot: Gogol graduates high school, Gogol goes to college, Gogol gets a girlfriend, Gogol breaks up with said girlfriend, Gogol visits home, Gogol gets a job. It made me listless. I wanted the book to be building up to something, or dealing with the fallout from something, or in any way made cohesive by some overarching struggle or conflict. Instead, what I got was a largely one-note, lukewarm series of recounted events in these characters’ lives.

Which is another thing this book suffered from: its dependence on recounting events as opposed to showing them. Lahiri uses dialogue rarely, opting to just tell you about what happened over what is usually an extended period of time. And I don’t think that narrative choice worked here: it created a distance from the narrative’s events that dulled the entire book for me.

Aside from its minute, well-observed depiction of first- and second-generation immigrants’ experiences, The Namesake was a largely forgettable book for me. It never made me genuinely emotional, and for me, that’s a heavy blow for any book to bear.

three


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BOOK REVIEW: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by JANE AUSTEN

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Sense and Sensibility is not, I think, a novel that is especially lovable. Not to say that there’s nothing in it to love—rather, that it’s not a novel that is easy to love. It’s not as “sparkling” as Austen’s other works—Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey—but is a decidedly dimmer story, filled with compromises and serious hardship and some very close, if not actual, brushes with tragedy. It’s not easy to reconcile yourself to a lot of what happens in this narrative: to (spoilers!) Marianne marrying Colonel Brandon, to what Willoughby does to Marianne, to how he redeems, but also not quite redeems, himself. This is a novel wherein so much is about what could’ve been but wasn’t; it’s one wherein the tinge of those could’ve beens prevents you from gleaning a real contentedness with the book’s ending.

But “easy” is not tantamount to “good.” Just because S&S isn’t perhaps as easily digestible as Austen’s other novels doesn’t mean that it’s not any less worthy as a story. As much as I have qualified my enjoyment of this novel—I definitely didn’t unabashedly love it as much as Pride and Prejudice or Emma—I still absolutely found it to be an especially compelling and nuanced character study. It is an Austen novel, after all, with no shortage of substantial, thought-provoking ideas: discussions, of course, of sense and sensibility and what place they have in polite society, but also of propriety, of emotion as a means of communication, of commitment and duty. But more than just providing a fodder for discussion, Austen renders her characters sensitively and sympathetically—that is to say, her novel is not just intellectually, but also emotionally, potent. I was genuinely affected by these characters’ stories, by Elinor and Marianne’s, yes, but also Willougby and Colonel Brandon’s.

S&S is not my favourite of Austen’s novels, but that’s not really saying much. Austen has set the bar so high for herself that saying one of her novels isn’t my favourite isn’t exactly helpful. For me, when it comes to the quality of Austen’s novels, the question is not if they are good, or how good they are, but rather what kind of good they offer. Of course you have your Pride and Prejudices and Northanger Abbeys, the ones you go back to to laugh and delight in their characters’ ridiculousness. But you also have your Sense and Sensibilitys, the ones you perhaps return to to once again acutely feel their characters’ struggles, to see those characters slowly and complicatedly try to unravel the strands of those struggles.

four


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