The Little Paris Bookshop (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (2015).  I saw a glowing review of this novel, so I picked it up.  Although it was apparently a runaway bestseller in Europe a couple of years ago, and then it was a bestseller in the good old U.S. of A., I thoroughly disliked it.  It’s about a Paris bookseller named Jean Perdu.  He’s 50ish, and he has been nursing a broken heart for 20 years because the woman he loved suddenly left him without so much as a good-bye.  But now things are happening that may finally break Perdu out of his long grief.  How to summarize the things I did not like about this book?  The characters are unbelievable and behave unbelievably.  Coincidences pile up to make things happen right.  The pages drip with neo-hippie philosophizing and cloying descriptions of food and landscapes.  And the more I learned about Perdu’s mystery lover, the more I loathed her.  I kept hoping the book would get better, but it never did.  I urge you to give this one a pass.

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News from Berlin (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

News from Berlin, by Otto de Kat (English translation 2014).  This slim novel is by a Dutch author, of all things.  The year is 1941.  Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur is posted in Switzerland with vague duties.  His wife is back in London; his only child, Emma, is living in Berlin with her husband Carl—a “good German,” working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  One day, Emma and Carl make it to Geneva, and during her brief visit with her father, Emma drops the startling news that the Nazis are going to invade the Soviet Union on June 22.  What should Oscar do with this information?  How will it affect his family?  I thought this 148-page story was interesting and well written (or well translated).  If you like WWII stuff, I think you’d really like this book.

The Humans (book review)

The Movie Snob is having a little trouble getting out to the cinema lately, so here’s another book review to tide you over:

The Humans, by Matt Haig (2013).  I enjoyed this little science-fiction novel that tackles some big eternal themes.  An extraterrestrial being from an unfathomably advanced race is sent to Earth in human form.  He has a specific and rather grim mission, but he is immediately side-tracked by his horror and disgust at the ugliness of human beings—and by his unfamiliarity with the importance of wearing clothing.  And then he’s baffled by the wife and son of the human whose identity he has assumed.  But mainly the story is in service of the alien’s (and Haig’s?) awe at humanity’s optimism (or self-delusion?) in the face of mortality and at people’s capacity for love and kindness despite all the horror and violence in the world.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a movie out of this book someday.

Death Comes for the Archbishop (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (originally published 1927).  I had never read any of Willa Cather’s work before, but I found this novel very moving and very beautiful.  In the mid-1800s, the United States is consolidating its control over the area that would eventually become the State of New Mexico.  The Catholic Church responds to these developments by sending a new missionary bishop to take charge of the area—a Frenchman named Jean Marie Latour.  His life-long friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, accompanies him, and together the two clerics (who had previously been toiling in the mission fields of Ohio) experience the beauty and the mystery of the southwestern desert and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants.  Michael Dirda sums it up well: “The most serenely beautiful of [Cather’s] books, it seems scarcely a novel at all, more a kind of New World pastoral, evoking the beauty of the desert Southwest, lamenting the passing of traditional Native culture, and glorifying the lives of two saintly Catholic missionaries as they spread their faith in a harsh land.”  (Classics for Pleasure 255.)  For my part, I add this book to Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as my favorite “Catholic” novels.

The Lifeboat (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan (2012).  This is a pretty good novel.  It’s a first-person narrative by a young woman named Grace.  In the short prologue, we find out that (1) she survived some sort of oceanic disaster in a lifeboat, and (2) she and two other women are about to be tried for a murder allegedly committed on said lifeboat.  The rest of the book is her account of the disaster.  She spins a pretty convincing tale, but she’s clearly someone who always looks out for Number One.  Can we trust her account of events?  I found the book well-written and even hard to put down.

Ancestral Shadows (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, by Russell Kirk (2004).  I know of Russell Kirk mainly as an eccentric founding father of modern American conservatism and as the author of the 1953 classic The Conservative Mind.  But he apparently has a reputation as an author of ghost stories and gothic tales, so I gave this anthology a try.  The stories are strange—very religious in sensibility, and not really scary.  I didn’t care for the first few, but I thought they got better as they went along.  It isn’t Steven King or H.P. Lovecraft, but if you like weird fiction you might conceivably find this volume interesting.

The Warden (book review)

The Movie Snob pens a book review.

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope (1855).  I quite enjoyed this short (203 pages) novel, which is the first by Trollope I have ever read.  The action takes place mainly in a fictional area of England called Barsetshire, and I think most fans of Jane Austen (and perhaps Downton Abbey) might feel quite at home here.  The action of the story is quite simple.  The “warden” is Septimus Harding, a mild, minor Anglican clergyman.  For several years, he has had a comfortable living off a very old charitable bequest, for which all he has to do is look after twelve impoverished old men who have come to live at a place called Hiram’s Hospital.  But similar arrangements are coming under scrutiny in other parts of England, and there have been scandals when people discovered that the modern arrangements don’t really match up to the terms of the ancient bequests.  When a fellow of reforming temperament starts to look into Rev. Harding’s set-up, the good clergyman is shaken to the core to think that he has not been entitled to the money he has taken from the trust and rather freely spent over the years.  A fierce archdeacon (who happens to be Rev. Harding’s son-in-law) fights back vigorously against the reformer and assures his father-in-law that they will prevail in court, but to Rev. Harding’s credit he doesn’t want to win—he wants to be right.  It’s an enjoyable story, and although the stakes are pretty low, I still found myself sympathizing with Rev. Harding’s distress.