First Person Narrative Fatigue

I’m finally tackling Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth after having it in my possession for a couple of years at least. Maybe tackling is the wrong word – that makes it sound like it’s a beast of a book and it’s not. I think it’s more that it’s a classic, written a certain way about a certain time and sometimes that makes these kinds of books seem intimidating.

So far I love it. But this isn’t meant to be a post about The House of Mirth. This is meant to be about the first person narrative and my struggles with it recently.

Before starting on The House of Mirth I read The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler and before that I read Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster. Both books were first person narratives and The Goldfinch was as well. I’m not sure if I’m suffering from first person narrative fatigue because I’ve been reading it a lot recently, or if I’ve just decided I don’t like first person narrative anymore?

I used to love it. It used to bring me right into the story, like I was the one living it. I liked knowing everything that was going on in the narrator’s head, enjoyed trying to puzzle out what was happening with other people.

But my recent narrators have not made it easy on me. The Goldfinch’s Theo Decker makes some seriously poor choices and while that’s obviously good for the story, it can be frustrating to find yourself silently screaming at a narrator to not make bad choices, knowing the whole time that that’s the only way this is going to go.

jen lancasterHere I Go Again’s Lissy Ryder is a cow. She’s judgemental, mean spirited and a bully. This is totally the point of the story and I knew that I was going along for a ride of self discovery, that eventually she would see the error of her ways and become a less awful person. I just wasn’t prepared for it to take so long and for it to be so shallow. I felt like the first person narrative, while a trademark of Jen Lancaster books, meant that the journey was really heavy handed, like everything had to be explained instead of shown.

bookstoreThe Bookstore’s Esme Garland, however (bonus points for a great character name), doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and despite the fact that she’s academically brilliant (she’s an art history PhD candidate), when it comes to relationships she’s really stupid. Esme gets involved with a New York City playboy, an eligible bachelor with the American pedigree that means he’s always been able to do what he wants. When she gets pregnant after a few weeks of what he thought of as a casual fling, she ends up letting him walk away from her before taking him back, letting him make a fool of her, wanting to take him back, ending up alone in New York City with a baby. I found it almost painful to be a witness to her play by play waffling, never quite owning any decision she makes. Even the fact that most of the book takes place in a charming little independent bookstore held little charm for me. I found the bookstore characters to be straight from a bookish central casting and Esme’s inability to look beyond herself meant we never got to know any of them properly.

By the time I jumped into The House of Mirth and was introduced to Miss Lily Bart who, despite the fact that she’s an unmarried woman with no means of independence, wants more out of life on her own terms, well I was more than ready for a heroine who doesn’t think she has all the answers but who is willing to forge ahead anyway. I’m also appreciating getting into the heads of all the characters, not just the main one.

What do you think? First person narrative fatigue or have I matured beyond a first person narrative completely? Do you like a first person narrative?


Why I’m Not Allowed in Bookstores for a While or I Have No Willpower

Do you remember a few short weeks ago when I was banning myself from going to the library until I had made a more sizeable dent in the piles of books I already had at home?

Well I have managed to stay away from the library. But the bookstore? Less successful.

I guess going to the library was preventing me from losing all self control in the bookstore. I should have thought the library ban through a little more.

Honestly, I think reading one book for an extended period of time (The Goldfinch) and then following it up with a book of equal length (Firefly Summer, a Maeve Binchy but still hefty) might have caused me to go a little stir crazy. I visited book stores to remind myself of all the other reading treasures out there as a way to encourage me to read faster and harder, and ended up bringing more of them home with me.

It started with an innocent weekday excursion to battle some restlessness my fiancé had been feeling due to our penchant for binge watching series on Netflix. He suggested the bookstore, I went with it. And came home with Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster, The Secret Mistress by Anne Easter Smith  and Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.

And a mug covered in hearts because it was adorable.



In the long run, three extra books isn’t the end of the world. But that was before I went to a second hand bookshop over the weekend. This extraordinarily well stocked and laid out shop meant that I kept falling over book treasure. At first my willpower was strong. But I was soon overpowered by bookish desire and books kept falling into my arms.

That run saw me cart off the following: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy that I’ve been meaning to read for eons and which will no doubt lead me to watching the Damien Lewis led mini-series shortly thereafter; Quentins by Maeve Binchy because I love Maeve Binchy and her books are always good to have on hand to reset your book mojo; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie with a wicked vintage cover because Agatha Christie; and a book about sports for the fiancé because I’m a giver.

To sum up, I have zero bookish willpower, I will never get my Tsundoku problem under control and I really need to find a way to work less so that I can actually read all these books.


A Book About a Dog with a Happy Ending

A couple of times a year, Jen Lancaster posts a list of books that she thinks you should read on her blog. That’s where I first heard about Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl About Love by Justine van der Leun.

Jen Lancaster is a lover of dogs and she promised a lovely dog-centric story. I’ve had this book on my list for about 2 years. I finally read it because I came across it at the library last week. Completely accidental, it just jumped out at me. Sometimes that happens.


So Justine is working at magazines in New York and she just gets burnt out because people are assholes and sometimes it’s hard to work with them. She is invited to stay with a friend’s friend in Italy for a month and she ends up meeting a terribly unsuitable guy and after the month is up she only returns to the States to wrap things up before returning to Italy to be with him.

Justine knows pretty much right from the start that a life with Emmanuele is totally out of the question. He’s country, she’s city; he always wants to be around his family and friends, she’s an only child of a single parent and likes her alone time. She is taken into the family unit without question but she feels kind of ‘other.’ It isn’t until she finds a dog in the barn on the family farm that she feels like she’s found a soulmate.

So I was expecting a lovely dog-centric story, kind of like Marley and Me but without the whole dog-dying thing at the end (I still can’t even with that ending). And yes, in the end we did get that. But the journey had a lot of detours. First of all, Jen Lancaster did not prepare me for the attitude that rural Italians have to dogs. Country dogs in Umbria apparently live for about 3 years, they are seen more as livestock and no one thinks anything of taking them out to the woods and shooting them, or leaving them tied up all the time or leaving them to starve in a barn. That’s where Marcus was when Justine found her. Emmanuele’s brother Ettore had been given a pair of Pointer puppies about 8 months earlier and 2 weeks before Justine found Marcus, Ettore had been taking the pair of puppies to the woods to shoot them when his father said that Marcus looked like she would be ok.

He was going to shoot puppies.

This book was hard to read. And I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t want to read about starving dogs and people hitting horses, or the slaughter of the lambs. Although the author found her time in Italy, in a farming community, brought her closer to the idea of her food and where it comes from, I just found it icky. I want to save all the Italian dogs. And the horses. Somehow reading about cruel people doing unspeakable things to other people is easier than reading about someone starving a dog. You know the way a dog looks at you, like you’re the best person in the world? How can a person do anything other than love and care for and protect that? I can’t understand it.

In the end, it’s all good but not what I expected. I will say that van der Leun is an excellent writer, and the book is full of all kinds of wry observations about life and love. I think I just got distracted by the rampant animal cruelty.

I’ve had kind of a lacklustre run of late. I need to shake up my book mojo! I’m working on Kim Izzo’s My Life in Black and White and so far it’s capturing my imagination. Any other books I should read that will bring back the book magic?


Get Your Book Nerd On

It’s probably going to be a bit quieter around here because I’m currently trying to make my way through Les Miserables.

I know, exciting. You can cheer for me, I know I deserve it.

The point is I won’t have many reviews to post because all of my reading energy will be focused on getting through Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. I’m 450+ pages in right now, and I have to say, it’s kind of awesome so far. Although I did just have to suffer through a description and analysis of the Battle of Waterloo that I could have done without but I’m sure it will be significant shortly.

Anyway, to tide you over, I’ve been scouring the Internets for book news. And I got pretty excited about some of them. So if you’re looking to get your book nerd on, look no further.

First, the really big one: Dan Brown. You may be familiar with his work. Or you may have spent the past few years living under a rock. Either way, he’s coming out with a new book, Inferno, starring everyone’s favourite symbologist, Robert Langdon. I stayed up all night reading The Da Vinci Code and was even more into Angels & Demons but The Lost Symbol really didn’t do it for me. I’m hoping that a return to Europe will make this a better read for me. Although, remember when Robert Langdon was trapped in The Lost Symbol? That was kind of awesome. Inferno comes out on May 14, 2103.

Good thing I always speed through Dan Brown books because on May 21st, a book that I didn’t even know I was waiting for comes out: And The Mountains Echoed.  Khaleed Hosseini is the heartbreaking genius behind The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. If you didn’t bawl your eyes out reading either one or both of these books, I’m going to go ahead and say that you have no heart. Also? This is his first book in six years. Probably too busy being a doctor and an envoy to the United Nations refugee agency. Some people.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the new Flavia de Luce book (fine, The Buckshaw Chronicles) is being released soon! I also know that I’m going to have to wait for a paperback version of this one to match the others. For those of you that don’t have this issue, Speaking From Among The Bones (which I’ve heard is the best one yet) will be on bookshelves on January 29th.

Finally, one of my very favourite authors has a new book coming out. Jen Lancaster. That’s the link to her blog if you haven’t already had the pleasure. Here I Go Again is like Mean Girls crossed with Back to the Future. How does that not appeal to you? Although her first novel, If You Were Here, wasn’t my favourite that was only because having visited her site all the time I was familiar with a lot of the material already. She promised not to do that again. So I’m really looking forward to this. Bonus? Now that her new book is out (February 5th), her previous non-fiction, Jeneration-X, will be out in paperback!

Speaking of which, since I call myself the Paperback Princess, it would be remiss of me not to let you know that some of my favourites will be coming out in paperback soon. The Prisoner of Heaven will be released on March 12, 2013. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James is now available in paperback (love the cover) and Gone Girl, which is what most of you search to find me, will finally be in paperback on March 5.