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Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three act play is regarded as possibly the first ever feminist play, so I knew I had to read it.  I was naturally curious as to what feminist issues the play would address.  Although it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is addressing, the content and the title point toward women being treated as playthings, as men’s own versions of dolls to make do whatever they wish in their perfectly-imagined household.

The three acts are all written so that they may remain in one room.  This is convenient for the actors, of course, but I also personally enjoy seeing a story unfold all in one room.  It takes skill to make that happen, and it makes the whole story feel more personal and urgent.

At first I was annoyed by how Nora allows Torvald to speak to her, addressing her as his “little squirrel” and “songbird,” as well as making it evident he doesn’t think she has a capable brain in her skull.  He is painfully selfish, apparently viewing her entire existence as only for him.  Of course, this is all part of the set-up for the ending, and makes the ending surprisingly enjoyable.

It is a short read, but the play itself takes about three hours to perform, making it an excellent length.  The dialogue and mystery of the debt are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, as well as not suffering too much from older English dialects.  This may partly be because it is translated from Norwegian of course, but still.

There is one element of the ending that I find confusing, and I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to be confused or not.  This combined with some of the more annoying aspects of the first act prevent me from loving the play, but it is still highly likeable.

I recommend this 1879 three-act play to those interested in older versions of the theater, as well as those interested in feminism.  It is not only entertaining, but leads one to consider both gender and marriage roles.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

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Book Review: House of Stairs by William Sleator

June 30, 2010 2 comments

Children dancing on stairs.Summary:
Five sixteen year old orphans living in state institutions are called to their respective offices, blindfolded, and dropped off in a building that consists entirely of stairs and landings.  There appears to be no way out.  The toilet is precariously perched in the middle of a bridge, and they must drink from it as well.  To eat they must bow to the whims of a machine with odd voices and flashing lights.  It is starting to change them.  Will any of them fight it, or will they all give in?

Review:
This book was enthralling from the first scene, featuring Peter awakening on a landing intensely disoriented and frightened.  Showing a bunch of teenagers obviously in an experiment opens itself up to caricature and stereotype, but Sleator skillfully weaves depths and intricacies to them.

The writing is beautiful, smoothly switching viewpoints in various chapters from character to character.  Hints are dropped about the outside world, presumably future America, that indicate the teens are from a land ravaged by war and intense morality rules.  For instance, their state institutions were segregated by gender.  Sleator weaves these tiny details into the story in subtle ways that still manage to paint a clear framework for the type of cultural situation that would allow such an experiment to take place.

It is abundantly clear throughout the book that the teens are facing an inhumane experiment.  Yet what is not clear at first is what a beautiful allegory for the dangerous direction society could take this story is.  Not in the sense that a group of teens will be forcibly placed in a house of stairs, but that some more powerful person could mold our surroundings to make us do what they want us to do.  To remove our most basic humanity.  This is what makes for such a powerful story.

It’s also nice that friendship in lieu of romance is central to the plot.  Modern day YA often focuses intensely on romance.  Personally, my teen years were much more focused on friendship, and I enjoyed seeing that in this YA book.  I also like how much this humanizes the animals facing animal testing, and Sleator even dedicates the book to “the rats and pigeons who have already been there.”

House of Stairs, quite simply, beautifully weaves multiple social commentaries into one.  It is a fast-paced, engrossing read, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Slither by Edward Lee

June 28, 2010 4 comments

Woman wrapped up in a giant pink worm.Summary:
Nora and Loren are polychaetologists–worm scientists.  They are asked by their college to accompany a National Geographic photographer to an island off the coast of Florida to help her photograph a rare worm.  They are accompanied by a member of the military, as it is an island that is unused military property.  Also coming surreptitiously to the island are two criminal brothers and their mutual girlfriend to check on their pot growing operation and a group of four college students looking to party.  What they don’t know is that the island is gradually becoming infested with a parasitic worm.  Only this worm isn’t microscopic.  It’s huge and has multiple, gruesome ways of using its hosts.  As the various groups try frantically to avoid the worms and their ova, it seems that someone in toxin-blocking suits is watching them.

Review:
I originally picked this book up and read its blurb because of the cover.  I mean, look at that!  Such a striking piece of art.  Upon reading the description, I decided it sounded a bit like a slightly more phallic Michael Crichton-esque book.  In a way, it certainly is.  It has the group with scientists attempting to solve a situation that is putting civilians at risk.  The similarities kind of end there, however.

This is definitely a horror book, but I wouldn’t call it a scientific horror book.  There’s nothing particularly plausible about any of it.  I’d absolutely classify it more as the B-type movie gross-out fest.  Lee does the gross-out part well.  I found myself continually surprised and disgusted by the various things the worms do to human beings.  The worms are…well, they’re so gross that it took me a bit longer than usual to read this book because I couldn’t read it right before bed or while I was eating.  So he’s definitely good at that!

The book blurb hints at exciting sexual tension, but the sex veers much more strongly toward sexual abuse or gross sex than fun, crazy sex.  I didn’t particularly find this bothersome, although a bit sad for the characters.  However, I know some readers find that triggering, so you should be aware.

I enjoy watching B films with silly effects and bad dialogue, but it’s a lot more tedious to read awful dialogue than it is to hear it, for some reason.  The dialogue really, truly is atrocious.  Particularly bad is when Nora talks or thinks.  It’s like Lee has never been around a nerdy woman in his life.  It’s not much better when he’s writing anyone’s thoughts.  They all have the most inane thoughts I’ve ever read.  This actually was so tedious to get through that I almost gave up on the book a few times in the beginning.  I’m glad I didn’t, because the end is absolutely a surprise.  Not so much in the who survives sense, but in the mystery of the worms.  It was a satisfying payoff, but I wish he’d either gotten to it sooner.

I feel that overall this is a decent horror book.  It’s entirely possible that the beginning just didn’t jive with me, but would with others.  I recommend it to fans of gross out horror who don’t mind flimsy dialogue.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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