BOOK REVIEW: THE DOLL FACTORY by ELIZABETH MACNEAL

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Image result for the doll factory by elizabeth macnealMacneal writes well, but her book lacks a certain depth. Her characters’ motives are at once too transparent and too simple. You come to know The Doll Factory‘s characters, but that knowledge comes far too easily. The problem is that Macneal writes with an explicitness that leaves no room for the reader to figure anything out for themselves. Every feeling and motivation is unambiguously spelled out in a way that flattens rather than develops the novel’s characters. The result is characters so easily understandable that they’re rendered insubstantial. And so what you essentially get is the literary equivalent of giving a PhD math student a middle school math curriculum—what’s easy is not necessarily what will be interesting.

More than that though, and possibly even worse, Macneal’s characterization is often forced. I found this to be the case specially in her descriptions of Iris and her twin sister’s strained relationship. The strain in the relationship I didn’t understand very well, and the resolution of that strain I understood even less.

One more thing: I don’t like the way this story wraps up. For 90% of this novel, we’re focused on Iris’s story: her ambitions, her relationships, her emotions. And then suddenly the story turns into some kind of You-like stalker story with a completely different objective. It was jarring, and felt very markedly incongruous with the rest of the novel. Also, I just didn’t care about it lol.

Overall, a mediocre novel. It tries to do a lot, but never quite hits the mark.

three


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BOOK REVIEW: PERSUASION by JANE AUSTEN

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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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