Yes, I know it has been 2 months. In my defense I have been elbow deep (literally) in my surgery rotation, and now it has concluded. So on with the reviews! These are going to be shorties for two reasons 1) it’s been a long time since I read the books, and 2) I didn’t really love them. Usually I like to do my own summaries, but I’m going to defer that to the professionals this time. And here we go…
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Summary from Amazon.com/Publisher’s Weekly:
The latest from Barry (whose A Long Way was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker) pits two contradictory narratives against each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of a 100-year-old mental patient. That patient, Roseanne McNulty, decides to undertake an autobiography and writes of an ill-fated childhood spent with her father, Joe Clear. A cemetery superintendent, Joe is drawn into Ireland’s 1922 civil war when a group of irregulars brings a slain comrade to the cemetery and are discovered by a division of Free-Staters. Meanwhile, Roseanne’s psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, investigating Roseanne’s original commitment in preparation for her transfer to a new hospital, discovers through the papers of the local parish priest, Fr. Gaunt, that Roseanne’s father was actually a police sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The mysteries multiply when Roseanne reveals that Fr. Gaunt annulled her marriage after glimpsing her in the company of another man; Gaunt’s official charge was nymphomania, and the cumulative fallout led to a string of tragedies.
Hey, how can a book with mental hospitals and nymphomania be dull, right? Here’s how! However, I’ll start with things I did appreciate. One extremely positive quality of this novel is the writing, which really is very eloquent and beautiful. Many passages read almost as poem. And Rosanne, as a character, is fairly endearing, and a tragic creature in that fate seems to be against her in every way. But I felt the novel dragged, especially at the onset. I have to admit as well that I am not a fan of literature written in diary format; it seems to unrealistic to me. Overall, I had the impression that the book was being — arrogant? The writing seemed to act like “yes, I know I am beautifully written” and “aren’t I so intellectual”, which I know books can’t say things, but it really turned me off anyway.
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
I found Steve Martin’s Shop Girl, a little more entertaining than the previous book I reviewed. I listened to this one in the car, and I’m afraid that may be part of the reason I didn’t love it. See, Steve Martin himself narrated it, and some parts made me cringe thinking of this old(ish) man reading the words that he wrote (what I mean are the love-type scenes and some interesting descriptions, YUCK!). That being said, there were some charming aspects to this little novella.
Steve Martin’s first foray into fiction is as assured as it is surprising. Set in Los Angeles, its fascination with the surreal body fascism of the upper classes feels like the comedian’s familiar territory, but the shopgirl of the book’s title may surprise his fans. Mirabelle works in the glove department of Neiman’s, “selling things that nobody buys any more.” Spending her days waiting for customers to appear, Mirabelle “looks like a puppy standing on its hind legs, and the two brown dots of her eyes, set in the china plate of her face, make her seem very cute and noticeable.” Lonely and vulnerable, she passes her evenings taking prescription drugs and drawing “dead things,” while pursuing an on-off relationship with the hopeless Jeremy, who possesses “a slouch so extreme that he appears to have left his skeleton at home.” Then Mr. Ray Porter steps into Mirabelle’s life. He is much older, rich, successful, divorced, and selfish, desiring her “without obligation.” Complicating the picture is Mirabelle’s voracious rival, her fellow Neiman’s employee Lisa, who uses sex “for attracting and discarding men.”The mutual incomprehension, psychological damage, and sheer vacuity practiced by all four of Martin’s characters sees Shopgirl veer rather uncomfortably between a comedy of manners and a much darker work. There are some startling passages of description and interior monologue, but the characters are often rather hazy types.
I don’t really love May-December romances. However, there were several elements I did like. I loved the character Mirabelle. I felt Martin did an excellent job expressing who she is and where she is coming from. I feel she is a character that many could relate to in one way or another. She doesn’t exactly know who she is or what she wants– she just seems to know that what she has now isn’t it. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have the motivation to do anything about it. The other great thing about this book is the wry humor — what less would be expected from Martin? But don’t misunderstand, this is a sad and poignant story for the most part. The humor just gives it enough punch to keep the reader going. I think sometimes Martin tried to over-analyze his characters, but maybe I under-analyze people in general, and this is how people really think.
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
I felt Adriana Trigiani’s Very Valentine was rather unoriginal, despite it trying very hard to be. This book just never captured my attention. Perhaps if I came from a large Italian family, but since I don’t, I was unable to relate to any of the characters in this novel. This is the first in the Valentine series, but I don’t believe I’ll be continuing on, although my original intention with picking this up was to have a series to read.
A summary from Amazon.com:
Meet the Roncalli and Angelini families, a vibrant cast of colorful characters who navigate tricky family dynamics with hilarity and brio, from magical Manhattan to the picturesque hills of bella Italia. Very Valentine is the first novel in a trilogy and is sure to be the new favorite of Trigiani’s millions of fans around the world.
In this luscious, contemporary family saga, the Angelini Shoe Company, makers of exquisite wedding shoes since 1903, is one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village. The company is on the verge of financial collapse. It falls to thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli, the talented and determined apprentice to her grandmother, the master artisan Teodora Angelini, to bring the family’s old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century and save the company from ruin.
While juggling a budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother to learn new techniques and seek one-of-a-kind materials for building a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals. There, in Tuscany, Naples, and on the Isle of Capri, a family secret is revealed as Valentine discovers her artistic voice and much more, turning her life and the family business upside down in ways she never expected.
What did I appreciate about the story? I liked the shoe designing, although perhaps I lack imagination in that I could not for the life of me picture how they looked. I liked Valentine’s trip to Italy; it sounded truly beautiful and inspiring. What did I not enjoy? I hate that her name was Valentine; it drove me mad the entire time! I had no interest in the romance, which was a major facet of the story. And I did not find the other members of the family particularly interesting, and for a trilogy that is all about family dynamics, that is a bit of a detractor. If you are interested in reading a Trigiani novel, I would recommend Lucia, Lucia, another Italian family story that I found much more impressive.