Category Archives: fiction

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Hollow City & Library of Souls

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls are a trilogy of young adult novels written by Ransom Riggs which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I picked Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, the first book in the series, up off the table at Barnes & Noble because of the cover. It was a little girl levitating. And I bought it because of the pictures inside, which were all of children in pictures doing hard to believe things. Some of the pictures were funny, some were creepy, all were in black and white, all were intriguing, and it convinced me to buy the book without really investigating it first.

So when I started it, I had no idea it was a YA book.

People piss all over YA books as if they can’t be enjoyed as adults because they aren’t sophisticated enough, and act as if you are an immature neophyte simpleton if you do enjoy them. While I find a lot of them not so good (paranormal romance isn’t much my thing – romance in general isn’t much my thing), every so often I find a YA book (or series of books) that I really, really enjoy. People are really snobby about this, but I have nothing against YA books, just STUPID YA books. But, to be fair, I’m pretty against ALL stupid books, YA and adult alike.

The premise of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is that 16 year old Jacob Portman watches his grandfather die, killed by a monster that only he can see. It sends him into kind of a PTSD depression, which is understandable, since after telling his story, everyone thinks he’s crazy. Following a series of clues, some suggestions from his psych doctor, and taking advantage of the fact his parents are desperate for him to recover from his illness, he convinces his father to take him to Wales, where his grandfather had supposedly survived in a children’s home as a Jew during the Holocaust.

Exploring the house, which is now in ruins, Jacob meets and follows a girl who can create fire with her hands and who calls out his grandfather’s name upon seeing him. Jacob is later confused to find that the inn where he and his father were staying is different, as are the town residents. He’s rescued by the girl, named Emma, and a boy, Millard, and finds himself transported to the children’s home of the stories his grandfather told him when he was a kid. The children in the home are all “peculiars” (children with some sort of supernatural/enhanced/strange ability; Emma can create fire, Millard is invisible,  Olive can levitate, etc…) and the headmistress is Miss Alma Peregrine, an Ymbryne (a woman who can transform into a bird and create time loops).

After some investigating, Jacob discovers that his grandfather was also a peculiar, with his  ability being that he can see hollowgasts – monsters that feed on peculiars for their souls. Jacob realizes that he has inherited his grandfather’s gift and that the monster that he saw kill his grandfather was a hollowgast.

The story goes on from there over the course of that book and the other two books.

I loved these books – loved, loved, looooved. They were a fun story with all the things that make a great fantasy story – fun, adventure, epic consequences, quirky characters, friendship, loyalty, and even a dash of romance (fairly well done romance, as far as romance goes).

I also enjoyed the appearance of new characters throughout the series, but not so many it was overwhelming (looking at you, George R.R. Martin). One of my favorite characters was introduced in Library of Souls. Sharon is a boatman who ferries and guides the kids through Devils Acre. I find Sharon very darkly funny and very relatable. The books had a lot of humor in them as well – some of it rather dark, which always appeals to me.

So it’s YA lit but it’s enjoyable for any age. If you want something fun to read with your kids, or just for you, these books are it.


Legends of the Dragonrealm, Volume I

Richard Knaak’s Legends of the Dragonrealm, Volume 1 was another book I proudly quit in 2017.

I am obsessed with dragons. Obsessed. You wouldn’t know it looking at me – I don’t have a dragon tattoo or any weird piercings or anything of the sort. I have no pictures of dragons up anywhere. I have some dragon figurines/statues/sculptures/whatever and some jewelry. But I’m obsessed with dragons. I have been since I was a little kid. I look at pictures of them, for awhile I tried to draw them, I know a ridiculous amount about them considering they’re not real, and I read about them.

This book has been sitting on my shelf forever. I bought it for a great price when Borders was going out of business and that has to be…jeez…6 years ago now? This summer, I finally sat down and started it.


Not the dragons. The dragons were interesting. So were the maps in the front of the book.

Everything else? SNOOZEFEST. Cabe, the “hero,” was very boring. Supposedly he was a magician? Or a wizard? But he didn’t know. Also, something about his hair. And his dad, who was a dark wizard? And a beautiful sorceress who was going to help him defeat his dad? And a gryphon king. Or something.

It was all too boring for words. I was at page 200 of about 900 when I put the book down and decided life was too short. I’m glad I only bought the one book and not the second and third volumes, which I think were also available at the time. Sometimes my mother is right.

“Why don’t you see if you like it before buying Volume II and Volume III?”

Saved some money there.

I’m sure someone out there likes that book. I’m sure multiple people do. It gets 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads. I’m not one of those people.

The Shining

I keep telling myself I’m going to read more of Stephen King and so this was part of my attempt to keep that promise to myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Stephen King (what I’ve read) and I don’t look down on him for not being high literature or anything of the sort. I’m just bad at commitment. But I did TWO Stephen King books this year, the first being this one.

This one was really good.

Stephen King is remarkable at pulling you into a story. In the first few paragraphs, he can hook and reel you in to his stories the way an experience fisherman can reel in a trout. That happened to me here.

The Shining reminded me a lot of The Haunting of Hill House – except much more elaborately fleshed out – and I remembered later that King was a big fan.

Anyway, this has been out for a long time, book and film alike, so I’m not too worried about spoilers. Basically, Jack Torrence is an alcoholic and a screw up, and in an ongoing effort to rebuild his life, brings his wife, Wendy, and their six year old son, Danny, to the Overlook Hotel, where he’s to be the caretaker for the winter.

The Overlook is nestled in an extremely picturesque but remote part of the Rocky Mountains and nearly impossible to reach safely once winter comes and the snow starts in earnest (November-ish). The family will be months without contact from the outside world.

The story is told from several points of view, the main one being Jack’s, but also with Wendy, Danny, and a gentleman name Dick Hallorann, who, like Danny, has what he calls “the shine.” The shine is telepathic abilities that allow Danny to read minds and have premonitions, both awake and asleep. Each person’s “shining” varies in strength and ability, but Hallorann tells Danny that Danny’s is very strong.

Meanwhile, strange things start happening at the Overlook once all the guests are gone, and we learn more and more about its history, which is fairly dark. At first, things begin strangely. Stuff just seems off, and Danny won’t go to certain parts of the hotel and its grounds because, unbeknownst to his parents, he sees things there. Wendy and Danny both figure out before they’re trapped that it would be best to leave the hotel, either with or without Jack (who is on his last chance from his last remaining friend) but decide to stay because they think in the end the experience will help the family.

But things begin to spiral in earnest once the family is trapped by the snow, and Jack, Wendy, and Danny all start seeing ghosts from the Overlook’s past. While Wendy and Danny are both also experiencing hallucinations and ghosts from the Overlook’s checkered past, both remain the same in terms of behavior. But Jack’s alcoholic habits all reappear without actually drinking, including constantly wiping his mouth, popping Excedrin without water and verbally abusive, sometimes physically violent, outbursts.

Long story short, Jack loses his mind entirely, Danny has to call for help to Hallorann using “the shine” because this story was written before cellphones and the phone lines were out and Jack destroyed their radio, and they barely get out of the Overlook alive. For those who aren’t familiar (all five of you), I’m not clarifying who “they” are, but they do make it out alive.

The Shining is an older book at this point, 40 years old, and Stephen King seems pretty evolved on his social takes, so I wonder how he set out to write Jack and how he views him, then and now. We learn pretty early on in the book that Jack broke Danny’s arm after an alcoholic binge for a minor infraction, and while Jack has spent years trying to make up for it, I never really liked him after finding that out.

Wendy spends a lot of her time as narrator telling the reader about the “real” Jack, but I always viewed Jack as a violent guy who can control himself when he isn’t drinking but whose “real” personality rears its ugly head whenever he meets up with his buddies Jack, Jim, and Johnny. I didn’t like him. And since I did know the premise of the story by just knowing pop culture basics, and knew what was eventually going to happen, I just kept waiting for it.

It was a really good story, but was I supposed to like Jack? Or feel sorry for him? I didn’t. I’m not sure I was supposed to. Wendy’s tolerance of his behavior made me dislike her too, but not to the same extent.

I have a thing about books and movies in closed in spaces where there’s a limited set of characters and circumstances. ClueThe Haunting of Hill HouseThe MousetrapMurder on the Orient ExpressAnd Then There Were None, etc… are some of my favorite stories. Characters are “trapped” in a specific setting and the story has to be clever enough to take away movement as a plot point.

The Shining follows in that tradition. I didn’t like Jack, but I really liked The Shining. And I liked it much better than the film with Jack Nicholson. If you’re going back and forth on picking it up, pick it up.

The Goldfinch

I decided early this year that I was not going to finish books I wasn’t enjoying.

Generally, I have always finished books I didn’t enjoy (except Moby Dick, fuck that book). I have a pretty strong sense of what I like, and most of what I didn’t like I was reading for school (again Moby Dick). Plus:

Image result for sansa mama didn't raise no quitter book meme

I didn’t actually set out to make this decision. I made it after listening to four hours of the audiobook of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

I enjoyed Tartt’s debut novel The Secret History so much. I read it back in college, I related very much to the predicament of some of the characters (some, definitely not all), and the story was so interesting that I could barely put the book down.

But let’s start with the only thing I did like about the book (I can usually find one thing). And that one thing here is that the book led me to the painting. The Goldfinch is an actual painting (which, after looking at for awhile), I’ve decided I really like. It’s one of the few surviving paintings of Carel Fabritius, an extremely promising and talented student of Rembrandt’s, but who was unfortunately killed in an explosion that destroyed much of Delft, a city in the Netherlands, where he was living and working. Most of his paintings were also destroyed in the explosion.

But the book itself? No. And it’s my own fault, really. There were signs. I ignored them.

The first sign I wasn’t going to enjoy The Goldfinch was that my friend hated it. She would have put it down, but was trapped on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and so hate-read it the entire way there. My friend and I have different taste and different opinions on a lot of stuff (for example, intersectional feminism) but being from similar background and having similar interests and education usually means we like a lot of the same novels. She, too, loved The Secret History. She, too, based her choice on her love of that novel.

The second sign I wasn’t going to enjoy The Goldfinch was I read the first couple of chapters and switched to the audiobook. Usually, I listen to the audiobook at work and if I’m really enjoying it, I end up picking up the book to finish it at home (as I did after this with The Girl in the Spider’s Web). It’s not good when I read a bit and decide “Ugh, maybe listening to this will be better.” I now find this is just about never the case. There are books that are enhanced by their audiobooks – actual examples for me being David Sedaris reading his own work, Amy Poehler reading her own work, etc… but I’ve never not liked reading something and enjoyed the audiobook better.

Here is the cliff notes summary of the book, because even the cliff notes are too long:

A boy (Theo) and his mother are victims of a terrorist attack at the Met. Theo’s mom doesn’t survive, and in the chaos following the explosion, Theo, in an effort to comfort a dying man, takes a painting called ‘The Goldfinch,’ puts it in his pocket or his backpack, and forgets about it. The entire rest of the novel is about how this one innocent action, which could easily be solved by returning the painting to the museum, ruins his life.

So I got about four hours into The Goldfinch. A lot can happen in about four hours. You can do several loads of laundry. You can watch an entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ film. You can fly from New York to several other destinations within the northern hemisphere.

The Goldfinch barely got past the terrorist attack. No joke, it took two hours to get to the defining moment of the story, and in book time, we’re barely a month or two past it. The kid’s deadbeat dad hasn’t even shown up yet, and there’s like 12 more hours at least.

It was another awkward meal with the Barbours when I decided to call it quits. Theo’s friends with a Barbour kid from school and his friend’s wealthy parents take him in for awhile while authorities try to figure out what to do with Theo, and Theo, suffering from PTSD, barely speaks to them. In his own head though, he whines incessantly and is incredibly obnoxious, and it was around this time that I realized that I just don’t care about Theo.

I stopped the audiobook, went into the app, returned the book to the library (yes, I’m sure I want to return it early – TAKE IT BACK, STOP ASKING ME!) and called it a day.

I know The Goldfinch won a Pulitzer. I know it was critically acclaimed. I know. I know. I know. Supposedly the story deals with the nature vs. nurture debate as well as the fate vs. free will debate. I don’t care.

I know somebody out there likes this book. I disagree. It’s boring and awful and I highly suggest skipping it if you require anything in your novels beyond the psychological development of a traumatized 13 year old boy – you know, stuff like a plot. I learned that The Goldfinch is a genre of literature called ‘bildungsroman,’ which is a coming of age story in which character development was extremely important. There was not enough character development at a fast enough rate to justify continuing.

I live in the minutia of daily life. I don’t need to read it book form.

And so this is how I decided that life is too short to read/listen to books I don’t enjoy. I’ve quit a couple books this year, and I feel so free!

The Stalin Epigram

Woohoo, I’m finally reaching 2017 books. That’s actually THIS YEAR. I know it’s almost August. Still, go me.

The first book I read this year was called The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell.

This book wasn’t what I thought it was going to be and for that reason was somewhat disappointing. While it does create an atmosphere of suspense, it really isn’t much of a thriller, which is what I thought I was getting. It’s based on the life of Osip Mandalstam, a widely admired Russian poet, who writes a satirical (and not so satirical) poem about Stalin during the height of Stalin’s power and purges (the 1930s).

Mandalstam writes a forbidden poem, reads it to a bunch of people, gets ratted out to the “Organs” (which is the name for the secret police) and he goes to prison, where he’s tortured, and then into exile with his wife. After he gets out of exile, he’s super jumpy and paranoid and depressed as you would be after being tortured and exiled, so he goes back to Moscow, where he isn’t supposed to go. He is discovered again, sent to a labor camp or a Siberian prison (this time without his wife) and he dies.

I don’t know what the point of this book was beyond telling a fictional account of something that’s well documented. The book is told through several points of view, the main one (to me) being that of Mandalstam’s wife. Other points of view are a weight lifter, one of Stalin’s bodyguards, an actress both Mandalstams are boning (again, more pointless sex writing, ugh), another Russian poet or two (both friends of Mandalstam) and maybe a few others.

The writing was fine, and the characters were interesting and varied, but nobody seemed to really do anything. Like I said, there was no point. The author, I think, has put some pretty serious research into Mandalstam, which is why I thought we were going to get more spy story paranoia and not just “Hey this is what happened.” I think Littell might have actually visited Mrs. Mandalstam in the 1970s before her death to accomplish some of this research, and included his thoughts on the conversations and what they were like after the novel was finished, but again, I’m not sure of the point.

I skimmed a lot of this book, which I guess is why I can’t remember much and entirely missed the point. Like my previous read, this wasn’t great. It was okay. But the font was much smaller, and it was at least 100 pages longer. It took me three months to finish and I put it down for extended periods.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it. It doesn’t seem to really know what it wants to be. If you do choose to read it, you won’t regret wasting your life. It’s not that bad. You may, however, find it to be generally disappointing.

City of Dark Magic

Ah yes. The last book I read in 2016: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. I picked this one up at Barnes & Noble because it was $6. As good a reason as any to pick up a book, right?

I have a couple of issues with it, although I didn’t hate it.

Basically, music doctorate candidate Sarah Weston, who helps support herself by giving music lessons to/nannying the precocious only child of a wealthy Boston family ends up in Prague for the summer when her doctoral adviser, who was already in Prague, mysteriously dies. He was cataloging and chronicling possessions of one Prince Max, who has just regained possession of a castle from the Czech government after the Nazis took possession and occupied it during World War II. Sarah and a number of other experts in their fields are staying at the castle to do this research so Prince Max can open a family history museum.

Sarah’s adviser, and later Sarah, end up looking for evidence of Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved,’ which is apparently a real academic mystery, where nobody knows who the addressee of this famous love letter that Beethoven wrote actually is. There are several theories, which the book delves into for the sake of fiction.

After her arrival in Prague, Sarah begins to suspect her adviser was murdered. That theory is later confirmed when someone else close to the project is murdered, and so Sarah finds herself at the center of an escalating mystery as a series of murders threatens this important summer project.

Now, this is clearly a fantasy book, so the alchemy, the ageless servant, the nearly clairvoyant precocious little girl, etc… I was ready for.

The detours into Sarah’s sex life, particularly early in the story, I was not only not ready for, I felt they added to almost nothing except the author’s word count.

I know that sex is part of life and having had it before, I like it as much as anyone. But I don’t really want to read about it in detail. I find the writing is generally cringeworthy (as this was) and I find that most of the time, it’s not relevant. In this case, Sarah gets horny on the plane and blah blah her sense of smell and blah blah blah ends up banging a guy who she thought was another guy in a closet or something at the castle during dinner.

To me, this is the least interesting “mystery” in the whole book, because I really don’t care. Sure, this ends up being somewhat relevant but you could have left it out entirely and I wouldn’t have had to roll my eyes and wonder if I should bother continuing. This happened maybe 50 pages into the book? I don’t read romance for a reason. I don’t find it interesting. I didn’t find this aspect of the story interesting. I found it rather annoying.

Sarah was something of a Mary Sue as well, but it wasn’t so unbearable I felt I had to put the book down. It was a little annoying sometimes.

The resolution of the story was a little strange, and I think I must have missed a part while skimming (I tend to do that). There’s a US Senator involved in this whole thing, who is a sociopath, but I don’t fully understand why she’s involved. Anyway, she gets sucked into a vortex of doom and that’s basically how her plot line is resolved. Not the greatest writing but also not the worst.

Actually, the whole book was not the best book, but also not the worst. One of the things it did have going for it is that it wasn’t very long, so it wasn’t so slow that I had to put it down, unfinished, a mistake thus far only reserved for the books I really find boring.

The premise of the story was interesting enough for me to keep reading even though a couple of things early on turned me off. I’m glad I did, because while some of the novel really fell flat, there were enough fun elements to make consider reading the sequel. I’m a sucker for historical mysteries – Shakespeare’s lost plays are some of my favorites.

I also liked the setting. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Europe, but I’d like to, so it was nice to spend a story in Prague. Prague is one of those cities everyone seems to visit and talk about in college. I never went, and I think this is the first book I read that was set there.

Oh. So yes, there’s a sequel. It’s called City of Lost Dreams. That takes place in Vienna. I may pick it up, but I’m in no rush.

This is a good – for lack of a better term – beach read. If you’re a huge fantasy nerd who wants something denser and more detailed, this isn’t for you. It’s pleasantly surprising, but it isn’t anything fantastic.

Jamaica Inn

Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time before I finally picked it up late last year, and as usual I don’t know why I waited so long to get around to reading it. I think I ended up reading it this time because I recorded the movie off Turner Classic Movies and wanted to read the book first.

Jamaica Inn follows Mary Yellan, a very serious, stoic girl whose mother just died to the hotel of the title, where her Aunt Patience lives.

There is a real ‘Jamaica Inn’ on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It still exists, people still go, and it inspired DuMaurier’s novel, however, the book does mention that the fate of the inn in real life and in the book are not the same and the novel is merely something DuMaurier made up. Apparently it’s a touristy spot these days, but in the novel it’s old and nearly abandoned.

So Mary is dropped off in the middle of the night at a dark, cold inn that “honest people” now avoid. In fact, if I remember correctly, she wasn’t even dropped off at the inn, because the carriage driver wouldn’t get close enough. She was dropped off a few miles away, across a moor, and probably wouldn’t have made it to the inn at all without the help of a passing vicar.

Aunt Patience, who Mary remembers from her childhood as lively and bright, is now cowering and meek, married to Joss Merlyn, the inn’s proprietor, as well as a drunk and local bully.

Mary and her uncle clash routinely, and Mary can’t stand her uncle, but is trapped in Jamaica Inn because Mary can’t bear to ignore her mother’s last wish – which was to go live with and care for her Aunt Patience. Mary also figures out that something is off – the inn never has any guests and the bar/restaurant portion rarely has visitors.

As with DuMaurier’s other novels, this story is full of rich language that creates a dark, brooding atmosphere. Mary is a spunky heroine, if not a little grating. Yes, we get it, Mary has little sense of humor and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty and is pure of heart and spirit. WE GET IT. The supporting characters are more interesting, with my favorite of them being the vicar. There is a pretty good mystery involved, and some twists you don’t see coming until the very last moment, which I always appreciate. I’ve solved several plots way before the end and it always makes the story less enjoyable.

While Jamaica Inn is classified as a book of “romantic suspense,” I wouldn’t label it as such. It’s a suspenseful novel, certainly a mystery novel, but there isn’t that much that’s typically “romantic” about it. Mary does meet a man named Jem, and his identity and his job are parts of the mystery, but they’re not the main parts, and not even the most interesting parts.

I would recommend the book as a pretty good read, with this added tip: when you come across a word you don’t know because it’s not the 1800s anymore, look it up. The story will make way more sense. Jamaica Inn isn’t as good as Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel, but it’s enjoyable anyway and fairly short. I think the whole thing was 300 pages, tops. Probably more like 270.

Finally, as I previously mentioned, there is a film version of this novel that was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton. The movie was terrible. Supposedly it was hijacked by Laughton who would revise the script to make his role better or more appealing to the audience and what not. For whatever the reason, the film was really bad. And I’m a huge Hitchcock fan, so it’s not like me to dump on one of his films. He killed it adapting Rebecca, and I’ve really come to love and appreciate The Birds. But the screen adaptation of Jamaica Inn? It was bad. It was just bad. It didn’t follow the novel, it eliminated the most interesting character, it featured Charles Laughton as the world’s most obnoxious squire.

In this case, if deciding between the two, just go with the novel.

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ trailer

I first read Murder on the Orient Express back in college – I went through a huge Agatha Christie phase my freshman year and read at least 10 (probably more) of her mysteries. Murder on the Orient Express is frequently touted as one of her best, and I agree. The book has gotten several film treatments; a couple I’ve seen but none that I’ve loved. I must say, I’m really excited about the one coming out this November! Naturally, I’ll have to reread the story before then, but it’s a great cast and I’m really looking forward to seeing if they can get it right. Is anyone else?

Here’s the trailer:

The Crooked Maid

How did I stumble across The Crooked Maid? I don’t remember exactly what I was doing but I think I was looking up something about The Quiet Twin, and found it on author Dan Vyleta’s website.

I had no idea that Vyleta had revisited Vienna, this time after the war in 1948, and bought the book immediately. It was the ebook version too, so it was near instant gratification. I started reading it that day.

The Crooked Maid isn’t a sequel to The Quiet Twin, exactly, but it does revisit some of the same places and characters. Anna Beer, wife of Dr. Anton Beer, who we met in the previous novel, is back in Vienna after separating from Beer before the war, but when she arrives back at the apartment she shared with her husband, he is nowhere to be found and in his place is a large stranger, Karel Neumann, who claimed to know Beer during the war.

Anna seems to be something of a fading femme fatale; the kind of woman men can’t resist but whose beauty, while still formidable, is beginning to fade with age. She’s smart and street saavy and quite capable of taking care of herself. Overall, she’s my favorite female character in both books.

Robert Seidel, whose first encounter with Anna opens the novel, is on his way home from boarding school to see his family when his stepfather is hospitalized after mysteriously falling out a window. When he dies, Robert’s brother, Wolfgang, a former SS officer, is charged in his death.

Eva, the hunchback maid of the title and working for the wealthy Seidels, is also interested in finding Dr. Beer.

And Vienna is working desperately at denazification, trying to purge itself of signs of its dark past, and convince the world, and itself, that it was a reluctant participant to the horrors of the Nazi regime rather than its willing cohort.

Unlike The Quiet Twin, there were likable characters in this book and the ending wasn’t nearly as bitter, although things didn’t work out quite the way I wanted them to. Ok, they worked out nothing like I wanted them to, but I guess that’s good right? I always complain about books and movies where I figure out the ending. Why should this be any different?

I did figure out Dr. Beer’s fate early on, though. I still liked the story, and getting to that point though, so that’s a plus.

As with the The Quiet Twin, I highly recommend The Crooked Maid. It can be slow in spots but gets better and better as it goes on and was a contender for my favorite book of 2016.

As a side note for anyone considering picking up the book, you don’t have to read The Quiet Twin before you read The Crooked Maid, but I recommend it. You will pick up a lot of extra info that makes finding little Easter eggs in The Crooked Maid more enjoyable.

Last Words From Montmartre

I saw Qiu Miaojin’s Last Words From Montmartre at the Strand Bookstore down in the city on one of their tables. I think it was pre-owned because it was super cheap ($6-ish) and I bought it because the back read like it was going to be an exciting psychological thriller.

This book also satisfied a requirement on the list I lost last year, but I really thought it was going to be super exciting from the blurb on the back cover:

When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.

The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.

It wasn’t sublime. It wasn’t thrilling. It was 176 pages of a woman feeling sorry for herself and being pathetic. I hated it.

I was excited about all aspects of it – a genre and gender bending queer romantic thriller taking place in far away, exotic cities? Am I tall enough to get on the ride? Sign me up.

And when I got off the ride, I got the distinct impression that I was misled on purpose. I found the unnamed narrator (another aspect of the story I liked, as it was reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, another romantic thriller with an unnamed narrator) whiny, self-indulgent, and as I said earlier, pathetic.

Maybe it’s because of who I am personally, but I have never liked self-pitying wallowers. I understand being depressed after a passionate relationship ends. Eventually, though, pull it together and get over it. Go on living. I always respected myself too much to let my relationship to a significant other define me. I never gave him that kind of power and I have trouble respecting women who do give their significant others, male of female, that kind of power. The relationship in the story, from what I remember now, wasn’t an abusive relationship of any kind, so it’s not that kind of inequality that would trigger someone being unable to leave or be truly damaged by abusive behavior. It was just some woman who couldn’t/wouldn’t get over a breakup.

I had no problem with the translation. Ari Larissa Heinrich did a great job. I can’t comment on the original language, but I thought it was beautifully written and therefore must have been beautifully translated.

My distinct reaction of dislike may be a defect of me personally because a lot of people love this book and comment endlessly on the genius of the author. She has other projects people rave about (though I have no inclination to discover them). Qiu Miaojin committed suicide, which, although I loathe admitting it, darkly fascinates me and is one of the reasons I thought this book would be good. It can be read as her suicide note? What does that mean? How interesting! Let’s find out.


Obviously I feel bad about the author because she was a real person, but the narrator? Nah.

This isn’t the first “great book” where my reaction was one of intense dislike to what I considered to be a whiny, pathetic narrator. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley really rubbed me the wrong way too, and I was only a 16 year old high school sophomore when I read that. But it was the same kind of thing. The narrator went on ENDLESSLY, wallowing in self-indulgent nonsense and oooooh poor him.

I can’t remember for sure 13 years later but I think that narrator commits suicide at the end too and I think my reaction was the same. “Good riddance.”

I would be more specific and look up more details of this book for this post, but I gave it to a friend and she never gave it back, which was fine. I haven’t asked for it back. I don’t want it back. It was $6ish, 176 pages, and 3 or 4 hours I’ll never get back.

It was disappointing enough without remembering all the specific details.

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