Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Books

You know the sort. Not just big in size, but big in breadth and depth and meaning. The sort of books referred to in this way:

This (insert name of book) is so-and-so's (insert author's name) Big Book.

I've read a couple of books like this lately. Here is what I thought of them.

Cutting for Stone (Vintage)by Abraham Verghese

It seemed like everyone in blogland was reading this in 2009 and everyone was loving it. It appeared on 'best of' lists left and right, so of course I thought I'd read it too. I couldn't possibly give you a decent summary of this book except to say: a saga of conjoined twins, born in Ethiopia and separated at birth, they are orphans and raised by physicians thus they become involved in the medical field themselves.

Cutting for Stone ticks all the boxes. Well written. Check. Political upheaval. Check. Coming of age. Check. Love triangle. Check. Detailed medical scenes. Check.

This is a book that I thought was very, very, good but it never hit that sweet spot for me. That perfect reading experience/can't put it down/totally blissed out experience that I crave and only comes along a few times a year and I was sort of expecting with this. I never felt completely emotionally invested until the very end and it wasn't enough. 4.5 stars out of 5 if you know what I mean.

Small Island: A Novelby Andrea Levy

This book won some big prizes and was recommended to me by a few people so I finally gave it a whirl. This is the story of 4 people, 2 married couples, whose lives become intertwined. The time is post-war London in 1948. Hortense and Gilbert are Jamaican immigrants. They are confounded by the fact that everyone seems to think that Jamaica is in Africa. They have come from a country where they look like everyone else to one where they can't help but stand out. Queenie is their landlord and is married to Bernard. He still hasn't come home from the war and while Queenie wonders where he is, she doesn't seem all that concerned about it. We go back in time to get to know these four souls to discover how they came to be where they are now.

Small Island grew on me. I was feeling iffy about it at the beginning, there was a fair amount of dialect/slang/improper English (sorry cannot come up with the right word here!) that I am really not a fan of reading. I worried that it would carry through the entire book but it wound up being an amount that wasn't too distracting. As I got to know the characters I liked this book more and more. I was most moved by Gilbert's story of joining the British war effort as an airman. The surprise and dismay he felt at the discrimination he experienced made my heart ache.

I thought the story flowed really well until we got to Bernard's back story. His experience of war was so jarring compared to the other stories and he was a harder character to feel warmly towards. The end of the book came together so well. It was surprising and heartbreaking, tender at times and even a bit karmically mysterious. It was a good solid read. Like Cutting for Stone, it wasn't perfect for me but still highly recommended.

In other bookish news, have you seen this?? Frightening times indeed.


BabelBabe said...

i have Cutting on my pile TBR next. Hmm. I just finished Kate Morton's Forgotten Garden, though - tough act to follow.

Eva said...

Ohhh... I have A Small Island in one of my challenge pool's this year, and Masterpiece is now showing the adaptation, so I'm torn on whether to hurry up & read novel first or just go for the movie.

Your review hasn't helped my confusion! lol

bermudaonion said...

I really want to make time to read Cutting For Stone. I don't think I've read a bad review of it yet.

Ti said...

I haven't read either of these yet but I do plan to read Cutting for Stone at some point. I know what you mean about the "sweet spot." There are so few books that hit it for me.

As for that last sentence you included, my heart practically stopped when I clicked on the link.

JoAnn said...

I really want to read Cutting for Stone - regret that I haven't made the time to do it yet. As to the link in your last sentence yet...OH NOOOOO!

Danielle said...

I started watching the adaptation of the Levy over the weekend on PBS, but turned it off (not because it wasn't good!), as I want to read the book first. After seeing part of the movie I want to go dig it out of my pile of books. And I saw that page yesterday for TBD--and instantly went into withdrawal. I had just gotten notice that one of my pre-orders was being released, and now I guess it is just sitting there. I hope they are able to start shipping soon--I know things are a mess in Europe with flights!

Anonymous said...

I saw that the Book Depository was not shipping! Sad! Though of course I am aware that other people have worse troubles relating to volcanic ash. :P

rhapsodyinbooks said...

So many times how I react to a book seems to be related to my mood at the time. It's hard to find a book that is so good it isn't some combination of book, expectations, and mood!

Staci said...

thanks for the great reviews on these...even though they weren't 5 stars you still rated them high enough for me to take notice!

Anonymous said...

My book group is reading CUTTING FOR STONE for May. I'm hoping it will go well. I haven't read a bad review of it yet, but the ladies seemed a little underwhelmed when they picked it up today. Maybe it was the length.

Tara said...

Babelbabe, You're making me want to pick up The Forgotten Garden Right Now!!

Eva, haha! I'd like to see the adaptation now myself, I just noticed they were running it once I'd started the book. It's hard to say what to do. Generally I prefer to read the book first.

Kathy, I think you will like it!

Ti, gotta love the sweet spot. Only comes along once in a long while! Yeah for the book depository being back!

JoAnn, it's a long book but worthwhile. And TBD is back - yeah!

Danielle, I'd really like to see the adaptation now. Hopefully I can find it online somewhere? Yes, I have had notification that 3 books have been released, and thought 'now what?!' Glad to see everything is moving again. I don't suppose your preorder was the Jude Morgan book? It's one of mine and one I can see you being interested in as well.

Jennysbooks, no kidding! I heard today that car size chunks of magma were spewing. Yikes!

rhapsodyinbooks, I think that's so true for me as well.

Staci, both are really, really good reads and memorable as well.

Kay, I'll be intersted to see what your group thinks. It is a really long book so I can imagine their reaction. It took me several weeks to read, thought I was reading other books at the same time.

Les said...

Cutting Stone seems to be the book of choice this spring. We've been selling a lot of copies every week, but I haven't read it myself. However, I did read Small Island (almost 4 years ago!) and gave it a A- (8/10) rating. It took me forever, though, to get interested. You can read more about my reaction to the novel here. Suffice it to say, I'm not sure if I'll read Levy's new release (The Long Song). I may wait to see what others have to say. :)

PattisPages said...

I agree with your assessment of Cutting For Stone. The first 100 pages were riveting, and then it lost its sizzle.