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American Literature Month: Flash Reviews from the Archives

A series of flash reviews of American Literature seems a fitting interlude to post amongst the extensive reviews of late.  These have all been posted on the blog over the last couple of years.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ****
I adore the Deep South as a setting and am wondering why, after finishing this stunning novel, I’ve not read any of Faulkner’s work before.  I adored the differing perspectives throughout, and the way in which each and every one of them was so marvellously distinct.  The story is such an absorbing one, and I love the idea of it – a family waiting for and commenting upon the death of one of their members.  Faulkner’s differing prose techniques in use in As I Lay Dying are wonderful, and show that as a writer, he is incredibly skilled.  Terribly sad on the whole and very cleverly constructed.

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Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann ***
I have read some absolutely marvellous reviews of this novel, and couldn’t wait to begin it.  The prologue of Let The Great World Spin is visually stunning and well thought out.  If only the rest of the book had been the same!  I enjoyed the author’s writing on the whole – some of his descriptions, for example, are sumptuous – but my stumbling block came with the characters.  They were interesting enough on the whole, but they were all so broken, often by alcohol and drugs.  Because of this, no distinct characters stood out for me, and I found it difficult to empathise with any of them in consequence.  An interesting novel, but a little disappointing by all accounts.

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Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

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Children on Their Birthdays by Truman Capote *****
As with the delightful Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I got straight into these stories from the outset. I love the stunning sense of place which Capote never fails to create, and his characters are both marvellously and deftly constructed. His writing is just perfect. The tales in Children on Their Birthdays are short, but boy, are they powerful and thought provoking.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams *****
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

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Sunday Snapshot: Plays

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
I have rather a mixed bag of comments here. The prose of the narrators is absolutely gorgeous. The descriptions throughout drip with opulent words, and Thomas creates imagery so deftly. The language which they use is so rich. I love the way in which the scene is set. The use of the narrators and how they hand over the speech to one another is rather clever, and I feel that this would be stunning on the stage. You can tell throughout that words are Thomas’ forte. I love the poetic detail which creeps in. The use of long and short sentences was balanced perfectly, and I liked the way in which the little vignettes and asides were sewn together, and the separate stories which were woven through. I also loved the way in which the audience was addressed personally, as though we were a character. I liked the narration far more than the conversations between characters. They often felt dull and flat in comparison. This is the main issue I had with the play. It seemed imbalanced in consequence, and inconsistent too.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
I’m over halfway through my 2013 Shakespeare challenge, a fact which at once makes me both sad and jubilant. One of my favourite elements of his plays is the notion of disguise and mistaken identities. Much Ado About Nothing, happily, has both. It is not my favourite Shakespearean work, and the characters will not stay with me in the same way as Titania and Titus Andronicus, for example, but I must admit that I cheered inwardly when I realised that some of the prose here has been used in Mumford & Sons’ lyrics. Much Ado About Nothing is definitely a great play on the whole, and I imagine that it would transfer well to the stage.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
There are such fun elements to this story. It’s not one which I was overly familiar with before, but I’m so glad I’ve read it! I must say that my Italian isn’t quite good enough to be able to translate a lot of the phrases, but I got the definite jist of it as the play progressed. Some of the prose was incredibly amusing, and other parts were just beautiful. It’s a play which I’d love to see performed.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
I love the way in which all of Shakespeare’s plays have such a wealth of settings. This takes place in the late Roman Empire, and the settings and characters are crafted beautifully. This play shocked audiences right up to the Second World War for its grotesque storylines, but it is so good! I loved the story, prose and rhythm, and this definitely ranks as one of my favourite Shakespeare plays to date.