Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mrs. Charbuque

So my latest book was The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford. I actually finished it some time ago, while I was still working on my first post. I must say that this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I looked forward to the time each day when I was done with all tasks, and could shut my door, turn on the a.c., lie in bed, and just read. Hallmarks of a good book in my opinion.

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque is about a successful, early 1900s , middle-aged painter, who was feeling disillusioned with his art. He was tired of painting pleasing portraits for wealthy clients, and socialising amongst the moneyed class to secure their continued commissions. Like many artists, he wanted to paint for himself, and be free to express his creativity without limitations.

At his lowest point, he suddenly receives a mysterious request for a portrait. The conditions under which he must paint, should he accept the commission, are curious to say the least. His client, Mrs. Charbuque, turns out to be an increasingly difficult subject to capture on canvas, and his involvement with her leads him down a perilous path of danger, intrigue and self-discovery. Who she is, even what she is, becomes an obsession that threatens to undo his entire life. For Mrs. Charbuque is an enigma that no two artists would paint alike. What is the true Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque?

The plot of this novel was masterfully handled by the author Jeffrey Ford. He created so many questions in your mind that you just had to keep reading to find out the answers. The main character Piambo, though very flawed, came off as charming. His self-effacing comments were quite amusing, even when his foolhardy behaviour would prompt a disapproving sigh from me. There were many times when you wanted him to back away and abandon his task, yet on he pressed, and you felt no choice but to press on with him.

Mrs. Charbuque herself seemed creepy and unsettled - which is probably an accurate assessment of her in the end. There was one scene with her and Piambo that got on my nerves (As such scenes usually do with me. More about that another time I think).


I suppose it was appropriate for the story, but her masturbating while telling him about her past was a turn-off, and I'm tempted to think of it as the "obligatory sex scene" encountered in too many novels lately. Though this scene was in no way graphic, I will admit, I just wondered if it was really necessary. However, it could go to show just how imbalanced she was, and since it was not typical of the rest of the novel, I may consider that it served a purpose after all.

In the past I have been villified for stating that I dislike the graphic and/or unnecessary descriptions of sexual situations - some of them rather extreme - in modern novels. To me it cheapens the novel and rarely adds any substance to the story. The arguments I usually get are that an author should be able to write into the story whatever they want, and sincethey want the sex there then that gives it intrinsic value. Someone even remarked that authors should not edit their work with their readers in mind but essentially just write what they feel. I have several counters for that - but I digress too much at this time. Suffice it to say that I do not completely agree with the "hands off - it's Art!" mentality.

The one major, maybe not so major, critique I have of the story is that we did not get to know how Mrs. Charbuque died. I mean the cause of the death was as mysterious as her life, which I again suppose is apt, yet I couldn't help but feel cheated. Just as I learned how she came to live as she did, I wanted to know how she died as she did. The other question I think is left up to the reader to decide, is whether or not her ostensible powers were real after all. She herself believed them to be fake, yet her abilities may have had some validity judging by the events that followed her predictons.

My critiques are small, since overall I found the book to be very satisfying. The writing itself was fluid and eloquent, allowing you to concentrate on the "picture" it painted in your mind, without any misgivings about the quality of the "paintbrush" - so to speak. (Again, Dan Brown's name surfaces. I say no more. ) All in all, I gave The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque an unhesitating four stars.

Right now I'm on a book that it seems I started once before only to abandon. It is The Face in The Frost by John Bellairs. As I started reading I realised that parts were familiar to me. So far it has a Harry Potter, wizards, magic and adventure feel that I'm quite enjoying. We will see how that comes along.

Ack it's 10:37 pm. I should be abed. I feel like my posts may eventually become more personal - there are several non-literary things coming to mind that I'd like to post about. In time we shall see what this blog becomes. For now, adieu.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ok. So the first book I'm going to write about is the last one I finished. That is, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. It is actually the author's debut novel and was first published some years ago I believe. I see on that it is also availabel in Kindle format, so for those who own a Kindle or an Ipad you can download it quickly and conveniently.

To summarize the plot briefly, the story is about a rather disturbed (and disturbing) thirty-something journalist. She has had a history of emotional and psychological problems, but is in recovery at the beginning of the novel. She is sent on assignment to the town where she grew up to write a story about the murders of two local girls. The murderer is unknown, and the police are ubusy trying to find him. Enter our protagonist, who must not only deal with the the bad memories that arise upon her return, but with a wary police chief, a discomforting new romantic interest, cynical residents , a precocious half sister, and hardest of all, living once more with her coldly enigmatic mother. Even as she pursues the identity of the murderer, she finds herself having to revisit the pain of her past, and struggle not to let it unbalance her present.

I have to say that I enjoyed this novel much more than I had expected. To me, most modern- day thrillers have become derivative and predictable. In many of them, the quality of writing makes me literally cringe and wonder at the present state of the printed word. (Dan Brown. Enough said.). Now Sharp Objects is in some ways quite typical of its genre, but it takes the expected and puts a nice spin on it. The main character Camille Preaker's mental issues are reflected quite obviously on her physical boy. Although the descriptions of how she hurts herself can be off-putting, it was interesting to have a main character haunted by an almost taboo problem to which many people can relate. Her self-destructive thought processes offer insights into the motivations people have for this type of behaviour.
What I liked about the novel was its spot-on pacing, which allowed it to be a page-turning read by avoiding unnecessary lags and digressions from the main plot. Some voluntary suspension of belief is advisable when it comes to the storyline however. Camille's reasons for continually returning to her mother's house during her stay seemed somewhat questionable to me, given the treatment she received there.

The strange relationship she has with her barely teenaged half sister, though fascinating, was quite inappropriate and thus unbelievable at times. The sister Amma herself exerts an unusual level of power over everyone, including adults. Perhaps I could understand her dominance over the girls at school, but the part "Lolita" part "cruel queen bee" behaviour she exhibits sometimes came off as just a hair away from immature brat. I often felt while reading the story that I would have just slapped her and walked off if she tried her stuff on me - precocious little twit. But she was fascinating i'll give you that.

One thing I couldn't fully play along with was the love interest's convenient stupidity. He managed to make love to Camille while she insisted on being fully covered the whole time, yet never guessed that she was concealing something about her body. However, his role in the story was fairly negligible anyway, so it didn't bother me too much.

Overall I'd have to give Sharp Objects about 3 1/2 stars out of 5. It was a fast paced read that held my interest, and with a dash of belief-suspension, ended up being quite an enjoyable story. Would I read another book by Gillian Flynn? Sure, but only if I was in the right frame of mind for an engaging thriller. I would hope however that aspects of the storyline would be a little more ingenious.

So it's on to the next read. In fact, I have already finished another book since
starting this post. So I'll soon be blogging about The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, amongst other of my present fancies. Ahhh, books do make me happy :)

Friday, June 11, 2010


I decided to create this blog today, ostensibly for the purpose of writing about books I'm reading. I'm an avid reader and always have some book at my bedside table, in my bag, in my car, on my smartphone....wherever. In fact, most of my credit card debt is due to ordering books and book-related items online - well, that and paying for vacations. In fact, I wouldn't even consider a vacation without deciding exactly what books and magazines I need to carry. It's one of the first things I organize!

I'm sure there are lots of others just like me. I'm lucky to have found the site, which is a mecca for booklovers. I love participating in their forums, and in fact many of my reading recommendations come from there nowadays. So if you are a reader you simply have no choice but to check out the site. Be warned though, you will end up buying more books, which is always a good thing of course, but your bank account will suffer. Me, I just say the lord will help, and try to purchase wisely. But God wouldn't have given me this beautiful passion and then expect me to not indulge it right? That's my rationale and I'm sticking to it.

Well this is the first blog I've ever created and already I can tell it's going to be loads of fun. I'll post about my latest book soon and probably a bit about some of my old favourites also. This is going to be a good thing!