Thoughts: Faith #1 and #2

faith

As possibly the only person to discover comics in college (and I mean really in college, in a course on sequential art), they are still somehow a new, shiny genre to me and since I mostly skipped superhero narratives and went straight to graphic novels, I was particularly excited about Faith, a plus-size woman whose superhero persona is Zephyr. Representation of women in comics who are neither stick-thin nor all boobs? Gimme! And Faith Herbert is written and drawn wonderfully, an actual three-dimensional character I could relate to and even like instantly.

Quick background info for all who like me have not read the Harbinger comics and are thus new to Faith/Zephyr. Faith Herbert, a psionically gifted psiot, was orphaned young and then discovered by the Harbinger Foundation. Gifted with the ability of flight, Faith fought with her team in the Harbinger wars against a baddie called Harada. The first issue of Faith, written by Jody Houser and drawn by artists Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage, then picks up after she leaves the team, moves to LA and starts flying solo.

Reminiscent of Clark Kent, Faith has a normal alter ego of Summer Smith, complete with a dayjob, writing listicles for a BuzzFeed-like website. By night she is out looking to save the world, but ends up saving puppies. Even when she dreams of a greater superhero life, Faith remains an optimistic character and something I’m sure will delight many: Faith is a fangirl! The comic is rife with references to other comics, to Doctor Who, and we get to see her have late-night chats, discussing the newest episode of a favorite show. It’s no suprise then that Faith structures her new solo life around the superhero with dayjob and vigilanteism. A wonderful aspect of this comic is that so far not one character in the comic has mentioned Faith’s weight and body built. Faith is a flying superhero and we are treated to gorgeous images of her flying in typical superhero position, an image that joyfully reminds of and replaces the iconic Superman.

I also loved how many of Faith’s collegues at work were people of color. And I think other characters which are hinted at or introduced here might turn out to be more diverse than Faith’s ex-boyfriend who is hilariously drawn in Ken-style. Fingers crossed! It’s obvious that the first half of Volume 1 are introductory issues and I really enjoyed getting to know Faith. Here finally, we are treated to a character who is a plus-size woman and Houser as well as the artists demonstrate the humanity of Faith. Instead of serving as comic-relief or being treated with derision, we get to see her settle into her new life, and best of all her body is not used for plot or character motivation!

As long as the pace picks up in the next issues, I’m sure Faith will be a very popular comic indeed, I know I’m excited to see her in action. Finally a superhero comic that draws me in. Volume 1, Hollywood and Vine, will be released on July 26th and will contain issues 1-4.

Have you read comics with diverse characters? Let me know in the comments!

Source: I received Faith #1 and #2 as an egalley, thanks to NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors. But I’ll remain my opinionated self!

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Thoughts: The Hairdresser of Harare

hairdresser

The hairdresser of Harare is Vimbai, the best in Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Vimbai is unmarried with a young daughter, but with a place in a good neighborhood, a house help and her job, things are going well and her talent draws customers to the salon. That is until another hairdresser, the smooth-talking Dumisani starts at Mrs. Khumalo’s salon. Initially theratening her job security and losing Vimbai her role of queen bee, she loathes Dumisani, but slowly the start becoming friends and when Dumisani needs a place to stay, Vimbai becomes his landlady.

Huchu’s first novel is set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe during mounting economic problems and a 90% unemloyment rate. Vimbai and the other women in the salon are trading petrol and sugar and there are problems with white farmers trying to hang onto their farms after independence while government officials are seizing the property. These issues are very much present but the “issue” focus of The Hairdresser is on homosexuality, its illegality and views of gay men as “lower than pigs and dogs.”

I very much enjoy characters that are not easily likeable and Vimbai with her pride and some terrible mistakes is a complex character and it is great to see her grow and become more aware. Her views will often be hard to take but the author shows where she is coming from and presents the difficulty women like Vimbai experience at the hands of men.

While Vimbai and Dumisani become closer and Vimbai is enthusiastically embraced by his family, as readers we can see where their thoughts on their future diverge. Dumisani brings larger issues into Vimbai’s life and from there things begin to unravel. I feel that perhaps the ending could have benefitted from a few more pages, it is a bit sudden but perhaps the salon life and little power struggles between the hairdressers in the first half of the book were just that well-written. The novel has been described as “bittersweet,” and this is a fitting term, so enjoy this one but be prepared for some bitterness.

This is a difficult one to write about without spoiling too much! I hope you’ll give the book a try, I know I’ll look out for Tendai Huchu’s future works! I chose The Hairdresser of Harare for Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge and I think it might actually be the first book set in Zimbabwe and also written by a Zimbabwean author that I’ve read. But I do have another one, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, on my list.

Other thoughts:

Reading on a Rainy Day

Have you read this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris

sisters are alright

The Sisters Are Alright is first of all a love note Tamara Winfrey Harris has written to other black women. It’s a warm, welcoming book that celebrates their complexities and humanity. I hope Harris’ book will be a gift given to many young black girls. I read this book to understand the specific lived experience of black women in the United States, become a better ally and just rejoice in the celebration of women of color.

“Black women’s stories look a lot different from what you’ve heard. And when black women speak for themselves, the picture presented is nuanced, empowering, and hopeful”

Some of you might know the author from her blog What Tami Said or from her editor work on Racialicious. In her first book, Harris starts by introducing the history of propaganda against black women and the major harmful stereotypes that were introduced during slavery and have become the backbone of the current racist, sexist society of the US. This first part will be very educational for anyone not part of the target audience, but it is tough reading as Harris covers everything from Sapphire to the welfare queen and the Moynihan Report to hurtful current beauty and marriage double standards.

Harris shows how stereotypes of the ‘angry black women’ are still pulled out even on successful women like Shonda Rhimes or Michelle Obama. Or how the myth of the ‘strong black women’ hurts black women emotionally or physically, causing stress and serious health issues when they try to appear strong all their lives.

But Harris writes engagingly and encouragingly, dismantling these misogynoir traps and interspersing them with little boxes called ‘Moments in Alright,’ which shows that black women are indeed alright. Here Harris presents snippets about black women as successful business owners, achieving amazing educational goals and more.

There’s one caveat, but Harris is very upfront about it, the women she interviewed and focused on are largely well-off middle-class and for the most part straight. Make sure to read about these experiences, too. Recommendation: Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.

If you’re on a tight budget, like me, the book is even available on Scribd. And isn’t the cover the best thing ever? The Sisters Are Alright is also my first read for the Diversity on the Shelf Challenge this year.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

lagoon

Lagoon is my second book by Nnedi Okorafor and one I chose for Sci-Fi Month. I didn’t manage to post this short review last month, but having really gotten into science-fiction and fantasy this year I feel that every month should be sci-fi month 🙂

Lagoon is the extremely imaginative story of a first contact, where an unidentified object crashes into the ocean in Lagos, Nigeria. Three people are at Bar Beach when the crash occurs and become embroiled in saving Lagos: Adaora is a marine biologist, Anthony is a rapper from Ghana and Abu a soldier. The three are asked for help by the alien ambassador Ayodele. Of course, word gets out that aliens are about and chaos breaks out in Lagos. The aliens calling themselves – and claiming to seek change, inspire everything from war and scamming to LGBTIQ adoration (Ayodele can shift genders amongst other things).

Lagoon has everything: a superhero story, magic, folklore, Nigerian mythology, eco-warriors and Okorafor has a lot of fun imagining fantastical creatures and giving many a voice, too.  The story is chaotic and teeming with ideas and concepts all happening at the same time. There is a wonderful multiplicity of narrative voices. It might take a few chapters to get used to, but this really works in the book’s favor, creating complexity and chaos, while simultaneously connecting different strands, different voices of the city.

While this may seem a fun romp and riff off District 9 (it is! and seeks to break the film’s stereotypical representation of Nigerian villains), Lagoon is rife with weighty issues that pack a punch. Okorafor explores everything from racism and domestic violence to the treatment of the LGBTIQ community. I wish there had been a chance to get to know many of the characters in more depth, as it is the female main characters are wonderfully complex and the other characters remain walking ideas and aspects of Lagos life. But Adaora and Ayodele are amazing characters, I’d love to meet them in other works. As usual, I am left wanting more so I’m glad Okorafor is such a prolific writer. My advice is to take a deep breath and jump, and you’ll love Lagoon!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Vera

vera

I finally made use of my kindle again, for the disconcerting reason of not having any unread novels at my place. This has never happened to me before, and frankly, I’m still a bit shocked. But since I only moved to my current place for the first semester and am moving again (at least in the same city) soon, I only packed one small box of books. And then I found out I was out of unread books at night on a weekend…well I’m so happy there are great free e-books and that I own a kindle. Deciding on one book wasn’t easy, but I finally started Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim. I had this vague notion of having read a short story by her about Germans and a pension- and then realized that was Katherine Mansfield! And then after googling von Arnim I remembered why I had never tried her works, it’s the plants. I like flowers in my home, but other than that gardens and plants and such are not really my thing. Luckily, Vera is a plant-lite book. So, Vera is my first von Arnim experience and I have to say I absolutely loved her writing and characterization and want to try another one soon (Any recommendations? I thought of trying Fräulein Schmidt next).

Vera is about Lucy Entwistle, who is vacationing with her father, when he suddenly dies. Then, she meets Everard Wemyss, who has just lost his wife under tragic circumstances, and they bond, fall in love and get married. That sounds all very romantic complete with a happy ending, but that’s actually only the first part of the novel. It gets very much darker, and quite sad after that. I’m horrible with spoiler warnings, simply forget about them when I want to discuss a book, but even if I won’t reveal the ending, if you don’t want to know more about what happens and why the tone gets darker, better stop reading, I guess.

When Lucy and Wemyss get married, she comes to learn that her husband is controlling, has a temper and sulks like a child. She is still very much in love with him, but his character makes it nearly impossible to hold onto those feelings. Having only recently lost a father who protected Lucy, she is very much an innocent, and in part relishes Wemyss’ protectiveness. But he infantilizes her, calls her his “little one” and his “baby” (part of what first attracted him to Lucy was her girlish hairstyle and that she looked so young, much younger than her 22 years) and will not allow her any time to herself or make any decisions.

As Lucy mostly fell in love, because she understood Wemyss to be as bereaved as she was, she is horrified that he takes her to the house where his first wife died and never even thought of changing anything and later flatly refuses to. Thus, Vera, named after the first wife, is somewhat of a forerunner to DuMaurier’s Rebecca. The books are completely different, and yet like in Rebecca, Vera’s presence seems to linger. Thus, Lucy has to eat under the watchful gaze of the life-sized portrait of Wemyss’ first wife and her room is now Lucy’s. However, there is no Mrs. Danvers and as her husband turns out to be a completely different person and the love is difficult to hold onto, Lucy rather takes comfort in Vera’s lingering presence (for Vera was married to Wemyss for 15 years).

I really enjoyed the way Lucy was only first portrayed as somewhat simple, the intellectual circle of her father and their discussions were something she never felt part of and freely admits to finding their arguments too difficult to comprehend and too exhausting to follow. But, Wemyss, whom she first considers so wonderful, because he likes to keep things simple and has a clear-cut black and white view of the world, completely resistant to change, begins to feel strange to her and Lucy comes to realize the importance of ideas and discussions for herself. I really liked that she wasn’t simple, but instead grew when she finally experienced life outside of her father’s influence, even if her marriage is hell. Wemyss in contrast is basically a bully and the baby he always calls his wife.

The other character of importance is Lucy’s aunt, a spinster, who wants the best for Lucy, but also feels that as an old spinster, she cannot decide for her young niece who is so in love. While the smart, spinster aunt is a stereotypical figure, I really appreciated how von Arnim’ characterization of her was complex, even if she provides readers with something of a heroine character, who we can cheer for and sympathize with. Because that is not really possible with Lucy, who is trapped in a marriage, and not really the person to take a stand and be decisive. Lucy’s portrayal is great exactly because of that, but I still appreciated Miss Entwistle.

One other thing I loved, von Arnim knows how books should be treated! Absolutely loved this passage:

“She was accustomed to the most careless familiarity in intercourse with books, to books loose everywhere, books overflowing out of their shelves, books in every room, instantly accessible, friendly books, books used to being read aloud, with their hospitable pages falling open at a touch.”

(The context: Wemyss has a library of books he doesn’t read, what matters is that they are the best and most expensive editions and he keeps them behind glass doors, which he keeps locked with only him having the key.)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!)

Thoughts: An Instance of the Fingerpost

Iain Pears’ novel has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while, but this month I gave myself a push, motivated by Anna and Iris’ “longawaited-reads month”. Long awaited it was indeed, but I am so happy to have finally read the book.

 An Instance of the Fingerpost is a historical, scholarly (according to the blurbs) mystery set in 17th century England, mostly Oxford. Charles II is only just back on the throne, the country is still reeling from the civil war and everyone with at least a passing interest in power and politics is still scheming. The book consists of four narratives: The Venetian Marco da Cola, the student Jack Prescott, the cryptographer Dr. John Wallis and the archivist Anthony Wood. All write down their version of the events surrounding the murder of the Oxford don Grove, years after it happened, each contradicting the others’ narrative.

At the heart of the story, however, is Sarah Blundy, a young woman, who is caught up in the events and intrigues spun around her. She is from the lower classes, something of a herbalist, educated and holds progressive views on gender equality. As a result, she is alternately taken for a witch, a whore and a prophetess. The way she is treated is abysmal, but of course many of the attitudes regarding women are only articulated differently today. She was by far the most interesting character, but the prophetess thing threw me I have to admit. But then I couldn’t relate to the religious aspects at all.

What I was most excited about was the history of medicine, I always get a kick out of that. This is the time during which the Royal Society is beginning to emerge and Robert Boyle figures in this novel, too. It was fascinating to read a fictional account about how blood transfusion could have been first attempted and it is during the 17th century that methods are beginning to change from the humours approach and the set of the stars etc, to more “modern” approaches. In fact, the characters hold very different opinions on what is legitimate medicinal treatment and constantly argue in Aristotelian fashion.

 I don’t think this worked for me as a mystery, but I really enjoyed its other aspects so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The first 100 pages were a bit hard going, but after I had oriented myself so to speak, I got really into it. I was scrambling to remember classes on English history, but in the end a bit of googling helped me picture the time and the connections between the historical characters better. Perhaps the blurbs are a bit misleading, this is not a page-turner, but this is one well-researched historical novel, nt some crap put together after glancing at a Wikipedia page and if you’re interested in 17th century politics, gender relations, religion and the history of medicine, I doubt that the amount of pages without instant gratification will bother you. Oh and it’s extremely well-written, too!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link.

Thoughts: Marzi

marzi

The graphic memoir Marzi (yes another one of those!) is the result of the collaboration between Marzena Sowa, writer, and her partner Sylvain Savoia, artist. It tells Sowa’s story of her childhood in communist Poland, between 1984 and 1987, in a series of vignettes.

 A child narrator sharing her experience of growing up during a time of political upheaval that sounds familiar! Comparisons with Satrapi’s Persepolis can be made. Marzi, too, uses the idea of the universal child to draw in readers and remind that they were still people trying to live a normal life, going to school and running errands. The strength of this memoir lies in the child perspective, which I think is very convincingly done.  Marzi’s voice rings true not only when she tries to make sense of the adult world, but also while playing with her friends and going to school. Making the seemingly banal, everyday convincing seems to me to be a much more difficult job than extraordinary moments. But for all the similarities, Marzi is quite another thing altogether.

 I’m quite happy that by reading Marzi I got to discover Poland in the 1980s. I’m not sure what everyone’s experience with Poland and Polish literature is, but this book reminded me how close Poland is and yet how little I still know about it. I have Polish friends, been to Poland a couple of times and I vividly remember one childhood friend who wasn’t allowed to play outside for too long, because her mother was afraid that thanks to Chernobyl it would be too dangerous. We lived in the most Western part of Germany, but still. So it’s always been there, but not there. Perhaps I should try not to forget what’s quite close, when I read Japanese fiction etc.

 So the Chernobyl catastrophe is one of the important political events Marzi experiences during her childhood and I especially love this page, which shows what she as a child remembers of the event:

 marzi1-2

What she remembers is closed windows and doors and waiting inside, even though it’s hot outside and yelling adults and having to drink foul-tasting medicine. The third panel shows how Marzi and her father are surrounded by the adults’ angry speculations. The next panel depicts a young boy “who is apparently better informed” telling Marzi that what’s going on (“It’s a smoke that’s very dangerous for people…and mushrooms”). Compared to the yelling adults, the boy really does appear to be the one who is informed and the children have to rely on each other to find out what is going on.

 I also wanted to show you a page from the comic to give you an impression of the drawing style. I can’t really read a comic if I find the style off-putting, no matter how great the story. From the cover of Marzi, and especially the character, I was afraid the style would tend towards manga, but the comic is really quite traditional and detailed. It’s only Marzi, especially her eyes, who stands out. As you can see from the page, the colors are a sort of reddish-brown, the muted, somewhat depressing background contrasts sharply with Marzi’s brightness. You can see what sort of story this is going to be from just this contrast. So that’s really well-done. The strict organization of the panels is never broken and while I prefer artists to play around with the format, I find that it works in Marzi; the structure looks like a photo book to me and thereby mirrors the episodic structure of the story.

 The problem with this vignettes style, and with collecting them in one book, can be the lack of overarching story. I really enjoyed the episodes in themselves, but when it became clear, that a larger story was not going to happen, I changed my reading style. Reading one episode, taking a break, then reading the next worked much better for me than reading it in one sitting. I became less impatient, started to focus more on the vignettes as closed stories and as a result enjoyed the book a whole lot more.

I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about graphic literature, but I was basically convinced of their potential by studying Maus and Persepolis and Fun Home. The bad thing about this is that I now probably have ridiculous expectations. While Marzi has a strong protagonist and fascinating political background and is drawn very well, this is not the kind of comic that makes you spend two hours decoding a single panel.

But then, not every comic has to push the form and use all it has to offer. Marzi is an important book in that it draws attention to the more recent history of Poland under Jaruzelski, Chernobyl and the Solidarnosc union, but also reminds that these were not simply notable points in history, but that actual people were trying to live normal lives. This alternation of the universal and the strange is perhaps Marzi’s best achievement.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Twinkle Twinkle

twinkle

Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a short novel (just 170 pages), which follows the story of Shoko and Mutsuki. When we meet them, they are only a short time into their marriage of convenience. Shoko suffers from depression and is an alcoholic, Mitsuki is gay and has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Kon for a long time. Their respective in-laws only know about the “defect” of their own child and are ecstatic that they got their children married.

The novel is told alternately from Shoko’s and Mutsuki’s perspective, a style which worked very well for me, blending and crashing both their perspectives and voices to tell their story. It’s a quirky and somewhat strange book, but the topics at the heart of it are important and dark.

First of all, there is the matter of their “defects”; Shoko’s mental illness and alcoholism are very serious problems, Mustsuki’s sexuality should not be one at all. Because of that they are both not considered ideal marriage partners, but their parents’ are desperate to see them married. Bowing to the constant pressure of their parents and Japanese society is how they end up married to each other.

I think this novel was originally written in the 90s and I have no idea whether things have now changed, but I had no idea the pressure to get married and have children in Japan was this great. There seems to be no place outside traditional gender roles and both characters are constantly told that everything will be alright once they are married and then once they have children. Shoko is completely ignored when she attempts to get help, because apparently marriage will magically fix it all.

They do seem to find a bit of comfort and understanding in each other. But with Mutsuki continuing, and Shoko insisting he continue, his relationship with Kon, they end up in a somewhat unconventional love-triangle. Although there is a suggestion that they find a solution that works for them all in the end, I have to say I am a bit unconvinced. It’s no small thing to be living with an alcoholic depressive, who has violent mood swings, and to be bound to someone who loves another person. Supposedly, the problems and moments of tension will be resolved with their solution, but throughout the story and over the couple of months of their marriage I could not really see how Shoko was more stable or drank less. And Mutsuki was mostly incredibly patient and understanding all the time.

This was the biggest problem for me, the characters. The secondary characters were very flat, especially the parents, who kept repeating the traditional, conservative tirade and not much else, they might as well have been walking posters. And Mutsuki, I simply don’t think that anyone can have his patience and tolerance all the time, and so I could seldom believe in him as a person. Shoko is the one character who stood out to me. In the beginning, I was afraid she would be another caricature of the mad woman, but slowly she became more three-dimensional: Trying to get professional help, enjoying being on her own, saying mean things and regretting them.

I did enjoy reading Twinkle Twinkle for its quirkiness, the sarcastic bright cover, its representation of mental illness, and the way it calls attention to gender roles in Japanese society. I read this novel as part of Tony’s January in Japan challenge. It seems that another Ekuni novel, God’s Boat, has been translated into English recently. I know I’ll want to give it a try.

 

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

 

Rage (Rabia) by Sergio Bizzio

Rage is another attempt of mine to read more literature that isn’t American or British and focusing more on the box of post-it notes that constitutes my personal reading list. It’s always amazing to see how much literature has been translated into German and even the tiny small-town library I visit when I stay with my parents offers enough world lit to seduce me away from my stacks of unread books at home.

Rabia was first published in Argentina in 2004 and has been translated into English as Rage. It is Bizzio’s 6th novel and has been adapted to film. The book earned Bizzio the Premio Internacional de Novela de la Diversidad and the Premio La Mar de Letras awards.

Bizzio tells the story of José María, a construction worker, who falls in love with Rosa, maid in a Buenos Aires mansion. However, when María kills the foreman after being provoked and let go, he hides for years on the upper floor of the mansion, observing Rosa and her employers without anyone noticing they’ve acquired a squatter.

While the premise seems to promise a suspenseful thriller, quickly read and forgotten, Bizzio manages to make it so much more. Once María hides in the mansion, the book is narrated from his claustrophobic, confined perspective but never is there not emotional depth to his character. I especially appreciated the pages Bizzio devoted to describing María’s behavior during the first days in the mansion, how he took care not to leave traces in the empty room he slept in or the bathroom, how he stole food from the kitchen in the middle of the night, always considering if something would be missed or not. And the terrifying moments when he thinks he might have been seen. His sneaking around the house is suitably creepy and reminded me of an episode of Whitechapel, which also focused on a squatter none of the residents know about. But while María is a voyeur and his obsession with Rosa is disturbing, Bizzio made me sympathetic to his plight and the way his self-imprisonment changes him.

Also, with a construction worker observing a well-to-do family, commentary on class issues and the state of Argentinean society is always present. Rosa is over-worked and underpaid and even worse is raped by her employers’ son, the teenaged grandson also lusts after her and of course she is always, unknowingly observed by a possessive, jealous María. From what I’ve heard, the difficult situation of maids in Argentina has received more attention in recent years, and I’d like to read another perspective, which does more to expose the sexual objectification and male gaze, as Rage simultaneously exposes and perpetuates this.

The book has been hailed as the best of contemporary Argentinean literature, which makes me want to explore more. Read this one for an atmospheric Kammerspiel, Bizzio’s amazing imagery and sparse language.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Thoughts: Some Tame Gazelle

Last weekend I read Barbara Pym’s first novel, Some Tame Gazelle. I think I’ve read two other books by her but I honestly cannot remember. But I know I’ve at least read her Excellent Women which made me an instant Barbara Pym fan.

Some Tame Gazelle is typically set in an English village, sometime during the 1950s. The two spinster sister Belinda and Harriet Bede are like all Pym’s ‘excellent’ women, and help a lot in the parish. Belinda has been in love with the village’s eccentric married archdeacon Henry Hoccleave, while Harriet regularly refuses proposals of marriage from an Italian gentleman and focuses her attention on the village’s newest curate. Visits from a librarian and an African bishop disturb their lives.

This first novel is as wonderful as the excellent Excellent Women, but much funnier and less bittersweet. And while the story may appear simply charming and quaint at first, Pym has a wicked sense of humor, which made me read the whole thing in one afternoon.

Belinda and Harriet are very different. While Belinda is reserved and proper, Harriet is plump, fashionable and cheerful. Belinda also shares a love for 18th century poetry and sermons with the archdeacons and she often rummages around the house humming hymns. Of course, being a spinster in the 1950s may often have been only marginally more fun than in the late 19th century, but Pym presents the sisters as happy and far from lacking in romance. Belinda’s love for the archdeacon might have made her extremely happy, had it not become “like a warm, comfortable garment, bedsocks, perhaps, or even woollen combinations; certainly something without glamour or romance”. Indeed, the more we learn of Henry, the more we sympathize with his wife Agatha and come to feel that Belinda has actually been lucky.

The other villagers are also quite funny and even though they are types, they are somehow still believable. One of my favorite parts is when the congregation is listening to one of the elaborate and fear-inducing sermon of the archdeacon about the coming of judgement day, and their thoughts about not wanting to feel that could be tomorrow, or that scientists had proven that it wouldn’t happen!
Pym observes their ‘small’ lives with its pains and pleasures, and her commentary is wicked and yet not mean. I’m pretty sure Pym novels are the type of books that many people feel lack action and real plot (probably not many of my readers though), but there is so much going on, it just happens on a smaller scale, which does not make it any less important or true.

Some of my favorite passages:

“On the threshold of sixty,’ mused Dr. Parnell. ‘That’s a good age for a man to marry. He needs a woman to help him into the grave.”
“Of course it’s alright for librarians to smell of drink.”
“Belinda waited. She doubted now whether it would be possible to be back for tea at four o’clock. She could hardly break away when the Archdeacon was about to deliver an address on the mortality of man.”
“But surely liking the same things for dinner is one of the deepest and most lasting things you could possibly have in common with anyone,’ argued Dr. Parnell. ‘After all, the emotions of the heart are very transitory, or so I believe; I should think it makes one much happier to be well-fed than well-loved.”
“The trouble was that Miss Prior wasn’t entirely the meek person one expected a little sewing woman to be. Belinda had two feelings about her- Pity and Fear, like Aristotle’s Poetics, she thought confusedly.”
“…the sermon was at an end. There was quite a stir in the congregation, for some of them had been dreaming gay dreams most of the morning, although many of them had given the sermon a chance, and had only allowed their thoughts to wander when it had passed beyond their comprehension.”

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!