Thursday, July 24, 2008

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Lily Bart lives in a world where society is constantly evaluating its members to determine if they are still worthy. A part of Lily wants to detach herself from it, but her perception of herself is so dependent on her social status that she never seems to be able to break away. When her actions banish her from her social group, Lily is forced to join the middle class and live with the "dinginess" she so abhors.
If Lily could just marry someone rich, her social and material success would be assured. But she repeatedly sabotages her chances for marriage. Lawrence Seldon, a friend of Lily's and a detached observer of her high society life, is a constant distraction for her. Does she love him? Can she live the kind of life he would provide for her? I don't know for sure if she loves him, but can't be with him because he is part of a different world, or if her attraction to him is just another manifestation of her indecision. Ultimately, she can never really choose either world, with tragic results.
I enjoy a wide variety of books, but this is the kind of novel that makes me passionate about reading. It is rich with characterization, the story is gripping, the writing is beautiful and precise.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

This short but meaningful novel tells the story of Marina Buriakov, an elderly woman suffering from Alzhiemers. Although she struggles to remember the routines of her present life and her granddaughter's wedding, the smallest detail brings her back to her days during the Siege of Leningrad, when she took refuge at the Hermitage where she had worked as a docent. She and several other families face fear and starvation as they seek protection in the museum's baement from bombs and attacks. In order to pass the time and maintain sanity, Marina memorizes the details of each work of art and where it belongs. These memories remain vivid as her present-day ones diminish.
I enjoyed the symbolism of the novel, as well as the touch of history in its descriptions of life for the residents of Leningrad during WWII. I also found that I understood Alzheimers a little better through Marina's thoughts and how they would so quickly shift from one decade to another. This was the library's pick for book club, and most of the group enjoyed it. Some felt that the characters were underdeveloped, one felt that it should have been either a short story or a longer novel, and one completley hated it. For me it was good enough that I will pass it along to friends, which as a library lover I don't always get to do!

Rating: 4 Stars