Author Archive: ramonrosgorne

Jon Nesbo: Blood on snow

It’s set in Oslo in the late 1970s. Olav is a fixer for Daniel Hoffmann, a drug trafficker who’s come up with an ingenious way of getting heroin into the city. The product travels from Afghanistan, through the Soviet Union, and crosses into Norway on a tiny island in the Arctic Ocean that’s shared by both countries but doesn’t have a particularly well-patrolled border. Hoffman’s henchman Olav is not numerically talented enough to be a dealer. Nor was he any good at pimping. He always felt sorry for the girls. Getaway driver? Rubbish at that too. So instead he does what he’s best at – putting a pistol up to someone and ending their existence. He shifts units, as he sees it.

When Hoffman finds out his wife has been cheating on him he decides not to kill the cuckold, but to get his wife ‘fixed’. Olav is the first man he calls. So our anti-hero sets up observation of Corina Hoffmann in order to work out the best way to kill her without being caught and without Hoffmann getting the jacket for murder. Trouble is, cat-like and full-breasted, she is a sensual woman and Olav falls in love with her. Instead of carrying out his mission, he kills the man who visits Corina during the day for bouts of rough sex.

While Hoffman’s not happy to hear it, Corina treats Olav like he’s a knight in shining armour and soon she’s hiding with him in his apartment. Not long after that, they are in bed together. Olav decides the only way for their love to last will be if he fixes Hoffmann and they flee to Paris together. The only problem is he has no money. So he pays a visit to The Fisherman, another Oslo crime lord who is Hoffmann’s enemy and therefore his own enemy too. Olav is set on a course that will see him hide in a coffin in a church crypt, trigger cocked not knowing who he can trust.

This is the tale of a hitman with a heart who, the minute he senses the redeeming power of love in his life, must make some difficult choices. His search for something good, after a life so bad, exposes his weaknesses as well. The story is driven by Olav’s character and Nesbo is, as ever, a perfect storyteller. The things that made Olav what he is – from his father’s brutality to his mother’s alcoholism and on to his own dyslexia – are peeled away and yet the narrative never misses a beat. We see our anti-hero discovering some hope of salvation, and we also see his world disintegrate. Can he live the dream and run away with Corina Hoffmann?



Isaac Asimov: The gods themselves

The Gods Themselves is a science fiction book by Isaac Asimov. Published in 1972, the book follows a handful of characters who must convince the world that Earth’s latest renewable energy source is killing the planet. If humanity doesn’t stop cultivating this source, the whole solar system will collapse. The book won numerous awards including the 1972 Nebula Award and the 1973 Hugo Award. Asimov is an internationally-bestselling author with an asteroid named after him. He once served as Vice President of Mensa International and President of the American Humanist Association. In his books, he often explores scientific questions from a historical perspective.

The Gods Themselves takes place in the early 22nd-century. Humanity has found a way to communicate with aliens in other worlds. We know there’s such a thing as a parallel universe, and humans have established relationships with leaders around the cosmos. Scientists in our world work very closely with aliens, and there’s no suggestion that the aliens want to hurt humans.

In the first part of the book, we’re introduced to a radiochemist called Frederick Hallam. Earth is recovering from ecological collapse, and scientists like Frederick are looking for ways to kickstart the planet again. One day, Frederick stumbles across a compound called plutonium 186. Plutonium 186 doesn’t exist on Earth, and so he doesn’t understand how it got there.

Frederick tests the compound and discovers that it generates cost-effective energy. If scientists harvest plutonium 186, they can generate limitless energy at a very low cost. He establishes an energy system, known as the “Pump,” between Earth and another universe which produces the compound. This universe, running parallel to our own, uses different physical laws and produces energy differently. Humans will never have an energy problem again, so long as they maintain the Pump.

Some scientists, however, doubt the Pump. They worry that aliens planted plutonium 186 into our universe for their own ends, to trick us into working with them. One such scientist is Peter Lamont. Peter spends years researching the Pump and arrives at a startling conclusion—the Pump is killing our universe. It generates unstable levels of nuclear forces around the sun and the entire Milky Way. If humans keep exploiting the Pump, they’ll destroy the sun and everything around it.

The problem is that, in the parallel universe, things aren’t much better. The aliens know that their own sun is dying, and streaming energy through the Pump keeps the atmosphere stable. Although they know that Earth might explode because of the energy exchange, they don’t care so long as their own universe stays intact.

Peter tells Earth-based governments to sever all ties with the Pump because it’s so dangerous, but no one listens to him. He then reaches out to the aliens in the parallel universe and asks them for help, but they tell him that he must end the Pump from his side. Peter, of course, doesn’t know the real reason why the aliens won’t shut down the Pump. Part one ends with Peter pondering Earth’s collapse.

Meanwhile, in part two, there’s at least one alien who feels bad for Earth. This alien is a female called Dua. She loves studying the different physical laws between the universes. During her studies, she discovers the problem with the Pump, and she’s outraged. She confronts her elders about it, but they tell her that they need the Pump more than they need Earth. Without the Pump, the alien species will fail, and they’ll lose their ability to procreate.

Dua doesn’t want her species to die out, but she knows that humans deserve to live. She finds two other aliens, Odeen and Tritt, who reluctantly agree to help her stop the Pump. They form a triad, which is an irreversible union between three alien bodies. They “merge” and form an entirely new body. They choose a scientist’s body, because they know that humans will listen to a scientist. They call the scientist Estwald, and they head for Earth.

When part two ends, part three begins on the Moon. The protagonist in this section is a scientist called Denison. He worked with Frederick, but he fled to the Moon when Frederick developed the Pump. He secretly prays that the Pump fails, because he’s a jealous character. In the meantime, while the Pump remains functional, he’s devising his own energy system to replace it.

One day, Denison discovers what’s happening to the sun. He realizes that the Pump will kill everyone on Earth. This is his one golden opportunity to destroy Frederick, and he knows he must find an alterative energy solution fast. He communicates with a second parallel universe, which has its own unique set of physical laws, and he makes a discovery—this universe will stabilize the Pump.

Denison shows everyone that he can harness this second parallel universe to take excess energy from the Pump and convert it into a harmless force. These actions won’t harm the second parallel universe. The aliens, Estwald, and the scientists on Earth are thrilled, and Frederick is discredited. It’s a happy ending for everyone.



Tom Sharpe: Riotous Assembly

Plot summary

Kommandant van Heerden, who has risen to Chief of Police of Piemburg through his family connection with a ‘hero’ of Boer republicanism rather than merit, is called out to deal with a strange murder case involving the eccentric British spinster, Miss Hazelstone. It appears that Miss Hazelstone has obliterated her black cook ‘Fivepence’ with a quadruple-barreled elephant gun. A paradoxical anglophile, van Heerden is initially willing to brush the incident under the carpet, until Miss Hazelstone reveals that she and the cook were former lovers sharing a penchant for transvestism and rubber fetishism.

In his panic to stop the truth getting out, van Heerden places Miss Hazelstone under house arrest, calling in all reinforcements available in order to quarantine the area and places his assistant, the profoundly stupid and bloodthirsty Konstabel Els, on guard, carrying the same elephant gun. The chaos that follows turns a potentially sensitive political scandal into a full-blown catastrophe, one that van Heerden, his deputy Lieutenant Verkramp and Els must resolve to uphold the ‘honour’ of Piemburg and apartheid.

(source: Wikipedia)


Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger

Plot summary

Balram Halwai narrates his life in a letter, written in seven consecutive nights and addressed to the Chinese PremierWen Jiabao. In his letter, Balram explains how he, the son of a puller, escaped a life of servitude to become a successful businessman, describing himself as an entrepreneur.

Balram was born in the rural village of Laxmangarh, where he lived with his grandmother, parents, brother and extended family. He is a smart child but is forced to leave school in order to help pay for his cousin’s dowry and begins to work in a teashop with his brother in Dhanbad. While working there he begins to learn about India’s government and economy from the customers’ conversations. Balram describes himself as a bad servant but a good listener and decides to become a driver.

After learning how to drive, Balram finds a job driving Ashok, the son of one of Laxmangarh’s landlords. He takes over the job of the main driver, from a small car to a heavy-luxury described Honda City. He stops sending money back to his family and disrespects his grandmother during a trip back to his village. Balram moves to New Delhi with Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Throughout their time in Delhi, Balram is exposed to extensive corruption, especially in the government. In Delhi, the contrast between the poor and the wealthy is made even more evident by their proximity to one another.

One night Pinky Madam takes the wheel from Balram, while drunk, hits something in the road and drives away; we are left to assume that she has killed a child. Ashok’s family puts pressure on Balram to confess that he had been driving alone. Ashok becomes increasingly involved in bribing government officials for the benefit of the family coal business. Balram then decides that killing Ashok will be the only way to escape India’s Rooster Coop. After bludgeoning Ashok with a bottle and stealing a large bribe, Balram moves to Bangalore, where he bribes the police in order to help start his own taxi business. Ashok too is portrayed to be trapped in the metaphorical Rooster Coop: his family controls what he does and society dictates how he acts. Just like Ashok, Balram pays off a family whose son one of his taxi drivers hit and killed. Balram explains that his own family was almost certainly killed by Ashok’s relatives as retribution for his murder. At the end of the novel, Balram rationalizes his actions and considers that his freedom is worth the lives of his family and of Ashok. And thus ends the letter to Jiabao, letting the reader think of the dark humour of the tale, as well as the idea of life as a trap introduced by the writer.

(source: wikipedia)


Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber


In “The Bloody Chamber” the heroine, a young pianist, marries a rich Marquis who had three earlier wives. The heroine moves to the Marquis’ castle, where she loses her virginity and finds a collection of sadistic pornography. The Marquis then gets a business call and leaves, entrusting his keys to the heroine and only forbidding her from one room. He leaves and the heroine uses the forbidden key, which leads to a torture chamber containing the bodies of the Marquis’ three previous wives.

The heroine tells a young piano tuner what she saw and then the Marquis returns. The Marquis learns what the heroine did and prepares to behead her. Just as he swings his sword the heroine’s mother appears and shoots the Marquis. The heroine inherits the Marquis’ fortune and she, her mother, and the piano tuner live happily together.

Get the entire The Bloody Chamber LitChart as a printable PDF.
In “The Courtship of Mr Lyon,” Beauty’s father seeks refuge from a snowstorm at an empty mansion. On his way out he takes a white rose and then the lion-like Beastappears. The Beast makes Beauty come to dinner, where the Beast asks her to stay with him, promising that her father’s fortunes will be restored. Beauty agrees, and she spends the days alone and the nights talking with the Beast. When her father grows rich she leaves, promising to return before winter ends. Beauty forgets her promise and only returns when the Beast is dying. She finds him in his bed and kisses his hands, and he turns into a man.

In “The Tiger’s Bride” a Russian man gambles away his daughter to a mysterious nobleman called The Beast. The Beast’s valet takes the heroine to a mansion, where The Beast wants to see her naked. The heroine refuses and is put in a room with an automaton maid. The Beast then takes the heroine on a horse ride, where he disrobes and reveals himself as a tiger. The heroine takes off her own clothes in response. Later the heroine goes to the tiger’s room, where he licks her and her skin comes off as she transforms into a tiger.

In “Puss-in-Boots,” Figaro is a clever cat whose young, promiscuous master falls in love. His desire is the young, closely-guarded wife of Signor Panteleone. Figaro cleverly unites the two lovers and he himself falls for the woman’s tabby cat. Eventually the tabby trips Panteleone so he falls to his death, and Figaro’s master and the young woman have sex next to Panteleone’s body and then get married.

In “The Erl-King,” the heroine wanders into the woods and is seduced by the Erl-King, a mysterious figure who lives in harmony with nature and has many birds in cages. The heroine learns that the caged birds were once girls, and she strangles the Erl-King and sets the birds free.

In “The Snow Child,” a Count creates a girl out of his wishes, but she pricks herself on a rose thorn and dies. He then has sex with her body, melting it.

In “The Lady of the House of Love,” a young soldier is lured into the mansion of the Countess, a beautiful girl vampire. The Countess cuts herself on some glass as she prepares to seduce and kill the young man, and he kisses her wound, making her become mortal and die. He takes a rose from her and goes off to war.

In “The Werewolf” a child travels through the forest to visit her grandmother. She is attacked by a wolf and cuts off its hand. When she reaches her grandmother’s house she finds that her grandmother is missing a hand, so the neighbors kill the grandmother.

In “The Company of Wolves” a child goes to visit her grandmother and meets a handsome huntsman on the way. The huntsman gets to the grandmother’s house first, transforms into a wolf, and eats the grandmother. The child arrives and seduces the wolf before he can eat her.

Wolf-Alice” is a girl raised by wolves. Some nuns take her in but then give her to a werewolf Duke. The Duke is wounded by a bullet and then Wolf-Alice licks his wound, transforming him into a full human.



Jay Asher: Thirteen Reasons Why


Thirteen Reasons Why follows the story of Clay Jensen, as he returns home from school to find a mysterious package on his bed. When he opens it, he finds seven cassette tapes. Upon inserting them into his family’s cassette player, he discovers were recorded by Hannah Baker, a girl that he went to school with who recently committed suicide. Her instructions are clear: each person who receives a package is one of the reasons why she killed herself, and after each person has completed listening to the tapes, they must pass the package on to the next person. If anyone decides to break the chain, a separate set of tapes will be released to the public.

The first tape is addressed to Justin Foley, Hannah’s first kiss. She addresses the first time they kissed after meeting in a playground in their town, and explains that it was nice and completely innocent. However, she also explains that Justin later bragged to his friends that more had happened in the park, and Hannah was called a slut for the rest of high school. At this point, Clay pauses the tapes and goes to his friend Tony’s house, where he borrows his portable Walkman so that he can listen to the tapes while following the locations of each of Hannah’s stories. The locations are designated on a map that she slipped into the lockers of each recipient before her death.

The second tape is addressed to Alex Standall, who compiled a list during Hannah’s freshman year that declared she had the best ass in the freshman class. Hannah explains that the title led to a boy assaulting her in the local candy store, only adding to her feelings of insecurity after being labeled a slut.

The third tape is addressed to Jessica Davis, who was a new student during Hannah’s freshman year, the year that Hannah also moved to the town. The two were introduced by their guidance counselor, who wanted to give them a support network while they adjusted to high school. Hannah never considered her or Alex Standall (who was also a new student that year) her friends, even though they hung out often at a local coffee house. Jessica and Alex dated and then broke up. After the best ass incident, Jessica was offended that Alex “chose” Hannah over her, and the two stopped talking. Jessica continued to bring up the rumors that Hannah was a slut.

The fourth tape is addressed to Tyler Down, who stalked Hannah outside of her bedroom window and took pictures of her. In addition to Tyler, however, the tape also addresses an unnamed girl who Hannah knew somewhat well, and whose help she enlisted to help catch the Peeping Tom. The unnamed girl decided to give Tyler a show, first asking Hannah to give her a back massage and then exclaiming over nonexistent sex toys that she “found” in Hannah’s drawer. Hannah felt violated by Tyler as her privacy had been infringed on, but she moves on to address the unnamed girl next.

The story of Courtney Crimsen is told in the fifth tape. She is known as a sweet, well-liked girl, a persona which Hannah explains that she fell for. Following the event with Tyler, however, Hannah began to feel ignored by Courtney, and even when Courtney invited her to a party she still felt suspicious. Courtney abandoned her at the party, and later Hannah found out that Courtney had been spreading lies about the “surprises” she’d found in Hannah’s drawer.

The sixth tape is addressed to Marcus Cooley, who Hannah matched with in a set of school Valentines. He showed up late to a date for ice cream that she organized, and then molested her in a booth at the diner where they had met.

The seventh tape is addressed to Zach Dempsey. Hannah explains that in her Peer Communications class, there was a set of bags at the back of the room where students could leave compliments for each other. After her assault in the diner, Zach comforted her. However, she later discovered that he had been removing notes from her bag. By this point, Hannah explains, she was already depressed, and that action only worsened her condition. She also explains that she wrote an anonymous note to her Peer Communications class, in which she shared that she had been feeling suicidal. No one in the class took the note seriously at all, instead thinking that it was made up for attention.

The eighth tape is addressed to Ryan Shaver, who attended a poetry class with Hannah while she was spiraling further into depression. They shared their poetry with each other, including a poem that Hannah wrote about not being able to accept herself. Ryan later anonymously published the poem in his magazine, The Lost and Found Gazette, betraying Hannah’s trust.

The tenth tape is addressed to Justin again. Hannah explains that on the night of the party, he allowed his friend to enter a room where a drunk, unconscious girl was laying and rape her. Hannah does not name the boy who committed the rape; she explains that if she named him, he would skip town and stop the chain of tapes. However, she blames Justin, to a certain extent, for allowing the boy into the room in the first place.

The eleventh tape is addressed to Jenny Kurtz, who gave Hannah a ride home the night of the party and hit a stop sign. Later, a car crash happened at the intersection, due to the stop sign not being there, and a senior at Hannah’s school was killed. The day of his funeral led Hannah to start thinking about her own funeral.

The twelfth tape is addressed to Bryce Walker, who sexually assaulted Hannah in a hot tub at the party before she left. It is on this tape that Hannah begins discussing how she planned to kill herself.

The thirteenth tape is addressed to Mr. Porter, an English teacher that filled in as a guidance counselor for a period of time at Hannah’s school. She went to him with her feelings of depression and isolation, and he did nothing to help her.

As the tapes are played, Clay walks to each location that Hannah discusses, feeling more and more distressed as he does so. By the end of the tapes, he feels changed, and the novel ends with him addressing a student named Skye, who he sees behaving like Hannah, potentially preventing another suicide.



Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita

Plot Overview

In the novel’s foreword, the fictional John Ray, Jr., Ph.D., explains the strange story that will follow. According to Ray, he received the manuscript, entitled Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male, from the author’s lawyer. The author himself, known by the pseudonym of Humbert Humbert (or H. H.), died in jail of coronary thrombosis while awaiting a trial. Ray asserts that while the author’s actions are despicable, his writing remains beautiful and persuasive. He also indicates that the novel will become a favorite in psychiatric circles as well as encourage parents to raise better children in a better world.

In the manuscript, Humbert relates his peaceful upbringing on the Riviera, where he encounters his first love, the twelve-year-old Annabel Leigh. Annabel and the thirteen-year-old Humbert never consummate their love, and Annabel’s death from typhus four months later haunts Humbert. Although Humbert goes on to a career as a teacher of English literature, he spends time in a mental institution and works a succession of odd jobs. Despite his marriage to an adult woman, which eventually fails, Humbert remains obsessed with sexually desirable and sexually aware young girls. These nymphets, as he calls them, remind him of Annabel, though he fails to find another like her. Eventually, Humbert comes to the United States and takes a room in the house of widow Charlotte Haze in a sleepy, suburban New England town. He becomes instantly infatuated with her twelve-year-old daughter Dolores, also known as Lolita. Humbert follows Lolita’s moves constantly, occasionally flirts with her, and confides his pedophiliac longings to a journal. Meanwhile, Charlotte Haze, whom Humbert loathes, has fallen in love with him. When Charlotte sends Lolita off to summer camp, Humbert marries Charlotte in order to stay near his true love. Humbert wants to be alone with Lolita and even toys with the idea of killing Charlotte, but he can’t go through with it. However, Charlotte finds his diary and, after learning that he hates her but loves her daughter, confronts him. Humbert denies everything, but Charlotte tells him she is leaving him and storms out of the house. At that moment, a car hits her and she dies instantly.

Humbert goes to the summer camp and picks up Lolita. Only when they arrive at a motel does he tell her that Charlotte has died. In his account of events, Humbert claims that Lolita seduces him, rather than the other way around. The two drive across the country for nearly a year, during which time Humbert becomes increasingly obsessed with Lolita and she learns to manipulate him. When she engages in tantrums or refuses his advances, Humbert threatens to put her in an orphanage. At the same time, a strange man seems to take an interest in Humbert and Lolita and appears to be following them in their travels.

Humbert eventually gets a job at Beardsley College somewhere in the Northeast, and Lolita enrolls in school. Her wish to socialize with boys her own age causes a strain in their relationship, and Humbert becomes more restrictive in his rules. Nonetheless, he allows her to appear in a school play. Lolita begins to behave secretively around Humbert, and he accuses her of being unfaithful and takes her away on another road trip. On the road, Humbert suspects that they are being followed. Lolita doesn’t notice anything, and Humbert accuses her of conspiring with their stalker.

Lolita becomes ill, and Humbert must take her to the hospital. However, when Humbert returns to get her, the nurses tell him that her uncle has already picked her up. Humbert flies into a rage, but then he calms himself and leaves the hospital, heartbroken and angry.

For the next two years, Humbert searches for Lolita, unearthing clues about her kidnapper in order to exact his revenge. He halfheartedly takes up with a woman named Rita, but then he receives a note from Lolita, now married and pregnant, asking for money. Assuming that Lolita has married the man who had followed them on their travels, Humbert becomes determined to kill him. He finds Lolita, poor and pregnant at seventeen. Humbert realizes that Lolita’s husband is not the man who kidnapped her from the hospital. When pressed, Lolita admits that Clare Quilty, a playwright whose presence has been felt from the beginning of the book, had taken her from the hospital. Lolita loved Quilty, but he kicked her out when she refused to participate in a child pornography orgy. Still devoted to Lolita, Humbert begs her to return to him. Lolita gently refuses. Humbert gives her 4,000 dollars and then departs. He tracks down Quilty at his house and shoots him multiple times, killing him. Humbert is arrested and put in jail, where he continues to write his memoir, stipulating that it can only be published upon Lolita’s death. After Lolita dies in childbirth, Humbert dies of heart failure, and the manuscript is sent to John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.



Carol Shields: The Stone Diaries

Plot summary and brief analysis

The 1993 novel The Stone Diaries by the Canadian-American author Carol Shields is awash in paradoxes. It is ostensibly the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, but in this autobiography we learn more about the people surrounding Daisy than about herself. Since it is a piece of literature, we assume that it is not factual, but included in the book are eight pages of family photographs labeled with the names of the characters (fittingly, though, there is no picture of Daisy). Through these contradictions, Shields builds up a picture of the life of a woman who at first glance appears completely average, but whose life explores the difference between surface and interior.

The novel’s chapter titles – Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorry, Ease, Illness and Decline, Death – seem to announce that the novel will be built on the chronology of Daisy’s life. However, in most cases, the novel swoops away from Daisy’s perspective and reveals the inner thoughts and feelings of other people, even people whom Daisy herself never got a chance to meet.

In “Birth, 1905,” we encounter Daisy’s parents: the morbidly obese and orphaned Mercy Stone and her husband, the stone mason Cuyler Goodwill, who finds her sexually irresistible. We also encounter the elderly Clementine Flett, the Goodwills’ next door neighbor, who is in the process of leaving her deadbeat husband Magnus. Mercy doesn’t realize that she is pregnant. She dies as she gives birth to Daisy on the kitchen floor, and a devastated Cuyler turns to religion for consolation. Daisy is sent to live with Clementine as she moves to Winnipeg to be with her adult son, Barker. Barker, a botanist, is obsessed with the flower lady’s-slipper, the shape of which is suggestively sexual. Daisy seems to be happy in this ersatz family unit.

“Childhood, 1916” picks up when Daisy is 11 and Clementine has died after being run over by a bicycle. Cuyler is reunited with his daughter in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is now a successful mason. Daisy grows up, goes to college, and then at 22 year old, in the chapter “Marriage, 1927,” she marries Harold Hoad, a man of similar social standing. Nothing seems wrong with Harold besides his heavy drinking, but before their marriage is consummated in Paris on their honeymoon, Harold flings himself out of the hotel window and plummets to his death.

In “Love, 1936,” Daisy is a widow in Bloomington. Although she has never spoken about what happened on her honeymoon to anyone, somehow everyone knows the story – particularly the part about her marriage being unconsummated, which means that she is still a virgin at 31. Cuyler has built a memorial stone tower to Mercy and has remarried. Later, when he dies, Cuyler’s last thoughts are again with Mercy.

When Daisy goes to visit her old childhood home in Winnipeg, she reconnects with Barker, who finds her very sexually desirable. As we see them in “Motherhood, 1947,” Daisy and Barker have married and have three children. Daisy is a typical housewife, and her life is a reasonably content one, although she is plagued by melancholy and has no sexual desire for Barker. She raises the kids, takes care of the house. Whatever spiritual balm she needs comes from her elaborate and complex garden. When Barker retires, he starts writing a gardening column for the local newspaper.

The chapter titled “Work, 1955-1964” makes it sound like Daisy suddenly gets a high-powered career. But no – rather, after Barker’s death, the work Daisy undertakes is Barker’s gardening column in the paper. Although this chapter is ostensibly about all the writing Daisy does for 10 years, it consists entirely of correspondence she receives – and none of her letters or gardening columns are included. We learn that because of her advice, she becomes a kind of small-town celebrity. Barker’s niece and her out-of-wedlock daughter, Victoria, live with Daisy. Daisy comes to think of Victoria as a granddaughter.

In “Sorrow, 1965,” Daisy’s newspaper column is taken away from her by a conniving male colleague and she falls into a deep depression. Her voice is again absent from this chapter, which is instead filled with the other characters trying to guess at the reason why Daisy is so deeply affected. Losing the column? Burgeoning feminist realization of unexpressed yearning? Mourning for her youth? Loneliness? Exhaustion? Boredom? Regret? There’s no right answer – besides maybe “all of the above.”

As she grows old, Daisy retires to Florida. There we see in “Ease, 1977,” that she lives in a retirement community and thinks a lot about her father Cuyler and her father-in-law Magnus. Victoria visits her often, and at one point Daisy brings her to the Orkney Islands to see Magnus’s grave. Magnus turns out to be 100 years old, alive, and still able to recite large chunks of Jane Eyre from memory. Eventually, when she is 80, Daisy’s health falters. In “Illness and Decline,” she loses physical and mental capacity and eventually ends up near-comatose in the hospital.

The final chapter, “Death,” attempts to summarize Daisy’s life in a variety of ways. We see lists of her favorite recipes, places where she lived, all the books she owned, and so on. We see possible inscriptions for her gravestone, ways to explain who was in death notices, and how her friends and family could react to the news that she has died. Daisy herself speculates about what will happen when her children go through her papers, and the inferences and conclusions they will make about her life. In the end, Daisy’s tombstone reads, “Daisy Goodwill Flett, wife, mother, citizen of our century. May she rest in peace.” Then we have Daisy’s last words: “I am not at peace.”

It will not be surprising, since The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Governor General’s Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prizer, that reviewers love this book. The novel’s experimental disassembling of the genre of autobiography, its focus on an average and usually forgotten middle-aged woman, and the existential questions about the nature of identity and the definition of the self that lie at the heart of the work, all come in for praise. At the same time, Shields is highly lauded for her “attuned ear for the nuances of language and the way they attach to feelings and probe the most delicate layers of human consciousness,” as Jay Parini put it in The New York Times.



E.M. Forster: A room with a view


Lucy Honeychurch, a young upper middle class woman, visits Italy under the charge of her older cousin Charlotte. At their pension, or guesthouse, in Florence, they are given rooms that look into the courtyard rather than out over the river Arno. Mr. Emerson, a fellow guest, generously offers them the rooms belonging to himself and his son George. Although Charlotte is offended by Mr. Emerson’s lack of tact and propriety, she finally does agree to the switch. Lucy is an avid young pianist. Mr. Beebe, watches her passionate playing and predicts that someday she will live her life with as much gusto as she plays the piano.

Lucy’s visit to Italy is marked by several significant encounters with the Emersons. In Santa Croce church, George complains that his father means well, but always offends everyone. Mr. Emerson tells Lucy that his son needs her in order to overcome his youthful melancholy. Later, Lucy is walking in the Piazza Signoria, feeling dull, when she comes in close contact with two quarreling Italian men. One man stabs the other, and she faints, to be rescued by George. On their return trip home, he kisses her, much to her surprise. She keeps his rash behavior a secret.

On a country outing in the hills, Lucy wanders in search of Mr. Beebe and the supercilious chaplain, Mr. Eager. However, the Italian cab driver leads her instead to George, who is standing on a terrace covered with blue violets. George sees her and again kisses her, but this time Charlotte sees him and chastises him after they have resurnedreturned to the pension. She leaves with Lucy for Rome the next day.

George plays tennis with the Honeychurches on a Sunday when Cecil is at his most intolerable. After the game, Cecil reads from a book by Miss Lavish, a woman who also stayed with Lucy and Charlotte at the pension in Florence. The novel records a kiss among violets, and Lucy realizes that Charlotte let the secret out. In a moment alone, George kisses her again. Lucy tells him to leave, but George insists that Cecil is not the right man for her, characterizing Cecil as controlling and appreciative of things rather than people. Lucy sees Cecil in a new light, and breaks off her engagement that night.

However, Lucy will not believe that she loves George; she wants to stay unmarried and travel to Greece with some elderly women she met in Italy, the Miss Alans. She meets old Mr. Emerson by chance, who insists that she loves George and should marry him, because it is what her soul truly wants. Lucy realizes he is right, and though she must fly against convention, she marries George, and the book ends with the happy couple staying together in the Florence pension again, in a room with a view.



John Steinbeck: The Pearl


The Pearl, which takes place in La Paz, Mexico, begins with a description of the seemingly idyllic family life of Kino, his wife Juanaand their infant son, Coyotito. Kino watches as Coyotito sleeps, but sees a scorpion crawl down the rope that holds the hanging box where Coyotito lies. Kino attempts to catch the scorpion, but Coyotito bumps the rope and the scorpion falls on him. Although Kino kills the scorpion, it still stings Coyotito. Juana and Kino, accompanied by their neighbors, go to see the local doctor, who refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino cannot pay.

Kino and Juana leave the doctors and take Coyotito down near the sea, where Juana uses a seaweed poultice on Coyotito’s shoulder, which is now swollen. Kino dives for oysters from his canoe, attempting to find pearls. He finds a very large oyster which, when Kino opens it, yields an immense pearl. Kino puts back his head and howls, causing the other pearl divers to look up and race toward Kino’s canoe.

The news that Kino has found an immense pearl travels fast through La Paz. The doctor who refused to treat Coyotito decides to visit Kino. Kino’s neighbors begin to feel bitter toward him for his good fortune, but neither Kino nor Juana realize this feeling they have engendered. Juan Tomas, the brother of Kino, asks him what he will do with his money, and he envisions getting married to Juana in a church and dressing Coyotito in a yachting cap and sailor suit. He claims that he will send Coyotito to school and buy a rifle for himself. The local priest visits and tells Kino to remember to give thanks and to pray for guidance. The doctor also visits, and although Coyotito seems to be healing, the doctor insists that Coyotito still faces danger and treats him. Kino tells the doctor that he will pay him once he sells his pearl, and the doctor attempts to discern where the pearl is located (Kino has buried it in the corner of his hut). That night, a thief attempts to break into Kino’s hut, but Kino drives him away. Juana tells Kino that the pearl will destroy them, but Kino insists that the pearl is their one chance and that tomorrow they will sell it.

Later that night, Juana attempts to take the pearl and throw it into the ocean, but Kino finds her and beats her for doing so. While outside, a group of men accost Kino and knock the pearl from his hand. Juana watches from a distance, and sees Kino approach her, limping with another man whose throat Kino has slit. Juana finds the pearl, and they decide that they must go away even if the murder was in self-defense. Kino finds that his canoe has been damaged and their house was torn up and the outside set afire. Kino and Juana stay with Juan Tomas and his wife, Apolonia, where they hide for the next day before setting out for the capital that night.

Kino and Juana travel that night, and rest during the day. When Kino believes that he is being followed, the two hide and Kino sees several bighorn sheep trackers who pass by him. Kino and Juana escape into the mountains, where Juana and Coyotito hide in the cave while Kino, taking his clothes off so that no one will see his white clothing. The trackers think that they hear something when they hear Coyotito crying, but decide that it is merely a coyote pup. After a tracker shoots in the direction of the cries, Kino attacks the three trackers, killing all three of them. Kino can hear nothing but the cry of death, for he soon realizes that Coyotito is dead from that first shot. Juana and Kino return to La Paz. Kino carries a rifle stolen from the one of the trackers he killed, while Juana carries the dead Coyotito. The two approach the gulf, and Kino, who now sees the image of Coyotito with his head blown off in the pearl, throws it into the ocean.