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Saturday, November 28, 2009

This Week's Triple Snapsnots: Evening is the Whole Day, Ten Cents a Dance, February Flowers

(Idea inspired by Hyper-Parfait's now defunct Triple Delights)

In which I discuss three novels at the end of the week (Saturday) in quick paragraph snapshots on my general impressions and reactions.

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan - This is a book that’s seriously hard to love. When I say this, I don’t mean that this is a horribly written book or anything. In fact, I think the writing is lovely, if sometimes a little overwrought. No, what makes this book hard to read is the fact that none of the characters are likeable. The very premise itself is about how people fail each other, and this process is very painful to watch. No one in this story comes off with their hands untainted. I think I could have came to terms with this theme if there was some form of redemption at the end, but Samarasan offers us none. It’s a bleak premise told and contained in luscious prose, like the relation of the Big House (lovely, brightly coloured) to its inhabitants (broken, spiteful, misunderstandings, failure.) Now, I can come to love a book even with awful, mean characters when they are shown in a larger-than-life quality (I like Wuthering Heights for a reason. >D) but here, while the cast do cruel things, they don’t do it because they are particularly vicious and messed up people. They do it almost as if it’s all ordinary and normal, resigned to their fate. And that’s far worse, actions taken and accepted without hope or subversion. The storyline of Chellam the servant and Uncle Balu was the hardest for me to swallow, personally. Hence, I took months to finish reading this novel. Sometimes I think I would have enjoyed this novel more if Samarasan challenged the wrongs and failures of the family and society more, but then again, that wasn’t what Samarasan was trying to illustrate in her work.

Despite all this, I do think the reading experience was worthwhile. Just the writing is really something to behold, how Samarasan perfects the art of out-of-sequence storytelling, jumping seamlessly through time and point-of-views and still tells a coherent and brilliant story, one secret, one bit of failure, revealing one by one with steady pace and rhythm. The ghosts that the youngest child sees was also tastefully done. (This novel kind of has this bizarre fairy tale-esque quality to it, sans the redemption and happy endings, when I look back at it. I think it's the imagery thing and the language Samarasan uses that evokes this impression in my mind, lol.) And I enjoyed this as the first novel I read that takes place in Malaysia and feels real rather than just window dressing. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to read a novel with beautiful prose and is set in an Asian locale without going down the “exotic” route, and doesn’t mind unresolved tension at the end. (When I say unresolved tension, I mean that the failures are never redeemed, not that the various plotlines are left unresolved.) Just, don’t go in expecting everyone to end up happy. ^^;

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher - This has got to be one of the best historical fictions I’ve read in a long, long time. The 1940s in Chicago setting is vibrant and comes to life with Fletcher’s amazing writing ability and paramount research, from the setting descriptions to the dialogue and just, everything. I love Ruby, and I love seeing a YA novel that is really all about our female protagonist and the way she views the world around her, and less about her one-true romance with some creepy stalker-ish guy. (Not to say that there wasn’t a creepy stalker-ish love interest. In fact, they were several. I guess what I’m trying to say it’s a breather to find a YA novel that isn’t all about a romantic relationship. There are other more pressing concerns that Ruby has in her life, like her job, and forging a future for herself.) This novel is really about Ruby and her position as a poor teenage girl growing up in a debt-ridden family above anything else, any ties she has with others, and I enjoy that. I also thought Fletcher handles the various problematic issues of the time (prostitution, gangs, class, race) in a subverting way without ever feeling like she’s just imposing 21st century values on the past, and I appreciated that a lot. I mean, when Fletcher handles the whole racism thing against Pinoys, etc, as realistic as it was back in the 40s without pissing me off, that’s when you know it was done well. (The Filipino guys are actually considered as a main love interest for one of the main girls in this story and they even got married!! I know, I thought I’d never see this happen either.) I also liked how the story was unpredictable in the direction the plot was taking us, and while I thought the ending was a tad bit rushed, I liked the hopeful quality at the end. Highly recommended to EVERYONE. One of the best books I read this year.

February Flowers by Fan Wu - This book is, at the core of it, about the relationship between two university women, and how our protagonist, Yan, is slowly becoming attracted to her best friend Ming. Thing is, I came into this novel thinking it’d be more about Yan’s sexual desire for Ming and let’s just say this novel let me down in this aspect. It was all UST* all the way through with no reconciliation, and the first thought I had after finishing was “Oh come on, I don’t even get a KISS?!” I don’t think I’m being too demanding here about this. There were all sorts of heterosexual sexual scenes in this novel, and even masturbation, but I don’t even get one lousy awkward first time lesbian kiss between Yan and the love of her life? The most we get on any described homosexual fulfilled relationship was an implied scene with two other women on campus holding hands. lol, this makes it sound like I hated the novel, but I didn’t, not really. I mean, I definitely believed that Yan was very smitten by Ming even when she doesn’t realize it, and Wu’s description and narration on Yan’s feelings felt very real. I also liked the setting, how it was strongly grounded in the city of Guangzhou and wasn’t just some vague exotic Chinese city thing going on, how Wu shows us the changes in Guangzhou as time goes past. The prose is very pretty without being extravagant as well. I thought Wu could have done more on the whole bit about Ming being an ethnic minority in a Han dominated China (Ming is Miao, if anyone wondered) but it wasn’t a bad portrayal and I didn’t think her whole ethnic minority status was used by the author to portray her as the exotic love interest or anything. I just, I guess I wished this novel was more than it was.

*Unresolved Sexual Tension


MissAttitude said...

I really like this triple-snapshots segment. I may need to do this for the few adult fiction/white protag books that I read, nice mini-reviews.
I'm so so glad you liked Ten Cents A dance! I loved it, and I agree it's defintely one of the best historical fiction books I've ever read. It was nice not having romance be the center point and I loved how one of the gilrs married a Filipino1 I wanted to know what (if anything) happened betwen Ruby and the musician (I forgot his namme, Billy I think?). The policy kings also helped make Ten Cents a compelling read.
i've never read a book set in Malyasia, but your Evening is the Whole Day review is dispappointing and I think I'll pass on this book.
February Flowers sounds decent so I may check that one out. Do you review adult fiction as well?

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

lol do it~~ I like this format a lot. I mean, I never really feel like a review post is good unless my review is like, 5 paragraphs long or something, so this way I still get to take about the books I love without feeling guilty about not elaborating enough, and I'm less worried about critiquing and more of just sharing my general impressions. =D

The musician guy's name is Ozzie! =D I heart him so, Ruby and Ozzie should totally end up together. <3
lol books set in Malaysia are really, reallyyyyyy hard to find. I mean, I've been actively seeking them out, English-written novels with Malaysian setting, and I can count the titles I found with my fingers. x.x But yeah, Evening is the Whole Day is definitely not for everyone, and even then I think the reader has to be in the "mood" for this kind of story.
lol well, I review anything as long as I like it and have something to say. I tend to read more YA fiction than anything, but I do read quite a bit of adult fiction (mostly fantasy, but I do dabble into the contemporary genre) as well, so there will probably be various adult fiction novels popping up here and there. =D So I guess, in short, the answer to your question is yes. =D

ninefly said...

hmm, you know the Miao are becoming the Next Big Thing in China? I swear, all the talk/performance shows have Miao participants who go around dressed in their special dresses and proclaim their Miao-ness...but it's starting to seem like a marketing ploy to rope in minority consumers =T and there were reports of people impersonating as Miao...
er...*off topic*
February flowers does sound very interesting though...I grew up in Guangzhou (well..for 5 years) so I might get a bit of nostalgic satisfaction =D

Missy said...

I have an award for you at my blog:

Have a wonderful day!

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

you know, I think February Flowers might have kind of touched on that, about how the Miao is perceived to be extremely beautiful or something, but my memory of this is kind of fuzzy...
LOL! try it! Well, just to warn you, they spell mahjong like... mahjong. ^^;; I wasn't too bothered with the transliteration of the chinese language (because I suck at this myself) but just a headsup. =D



Doret said...

I think its time I read Ten Cents A Dance - I keep hearing great things.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...


READ IT. It's so good. <3