Flash Reviews: ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, ‘Sisterland’, and ‘A Place of Greater Safety’

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ***
9780330456715I was unsure what to except from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The only Eggers which I have read to date is his take on Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and I very much enjoyed that.

The prose here was well written, even taut in places, but I found the dialogue deliberately rather dull. I did admire the many different prose styles employed throughout the book, but didn’t enjoy reading some of the reflections – of the magazine which Eggers set up, for instance. I felt that such an inclusion, whilst evidently important in his memoir, was drawn out, and made the whole lose some of its originality, and some of its personable nature. Both the interview transcript section and some of the conversations were drawn up to the point of tediousness.

On the basis of this, I’m not sure whether I’ll rush to pick up another of Eggers’ books, or another memoir like this. I did enjoy the familial aspect of it, especially in its unusualness, and it did keep me entertained for the most part, but there were whole sections which felt dull and superfluous, and which I had to stop myself from skipping through entirely.

 

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld *** 9780552776592
I purchased Sisterland on a whim during Oxfam’s Scorching Summer Reads campaign. Sittenfeld is an author I’ve seen in various bookshops, but have never picked up; the blurb appealed to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had hoped that it would be a great read; its publication by Black Swan certainly prodded me toward this conclusion (publishing, as they have, the work of favourite author Kate Atkinson).

Considering its length, Sisterland is a quick and easy read. There were elements of chick-lit to it, and far too much was involved with rather mundane parenting for my liking, but I wanted to see it through to the end to see what would happen. It was actually really absorbing in places; more so than I thought it would be on the basis of the initial two chapters, anyway.

Sisterland is well written; whilst the prose wasn’t beautiful, it was tight. The pacing was very close to perfect throughout too. I enjoyed the simple structure, where alternating chapters were set in the past and present. Kate, the novel’s narrator, was very realistic. I got the feeling whilst reading that Sittenfeld is a very perceptive author, and on this basis, I will definitely read another of her books in future. Only the ending let it down for me, hence its three-star rating.

 

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel ***
9780007250554Disclaimer: this novel really, really hurt my hands, it is so heavy.

I thought that if I didn’t take this on holiday to read before my PhD begins, I would probably wait for years to pass before reading it. I very much enjoy Mantel’s work on the whole, and a holiday in France seemed rather a good place in which to read a novel of the French Revolution. Funny, that.

I absolutely love the way in which the plot unfolded here, and Mantel’s introductions of the different characters. The whole is so well written, as I knew it would be from reading some of her other books. A Place of Greater Safety is really well done on the whole, but it feels as though less attention to detail has been placed upon it than in works such as Wolf Hall. At times it feels as though Mantel has either completely forgotten, or completely disregarded, the rudimentary elements of both history and the like of scientific discoveries. A shame, I think. Other readers could get past this, I imagine, but I am a self-confessed history geek, and the details which did not conform, both in terms of this and the far too modern phrasings, did disappoint. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I cannot imagine many people in 1791 saying ‘Oh, fuck this!’, for instance.)

Some of the sections were overdone, given their length and the little that consequently happened within them. On the whole, Mantel has done a grand job in bringing a pivotal period of French history to the fore, but silly inconsistencies let it down. This is a long book to be even momentarily peeved by, after all.

 

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2 thoughts on “Flash Reviews: ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, ‘Sisterland’, and ‘A Place of Greater Safety’

  1. Very enjoyable reviews! It was a nice personal touch to mention how the weight of the Mantel novel hurt your hands. Not that it was good that your hands were hurt, but the inclusion of such a personal aside did generate a laugh.
    This is Rusty from youtube by the way.
    I hope your hands are feeling better!

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