Hi, vaguely-concerned readers! You may have noticed that I’ve been more than a little absent for the past while. You might think that this means I haven’t been reading, or that I’ve given up, or that I just don’t actually care enough to sign on and tell you about the books I’m immersed in. None of the above is true. Here’s the awful truth, shameful as it is:
I haven’t finished a book in two weeks.
There. Notice what it doesn’t say: I’ve stopped reading, I’ve given up literature, I decided to take a break from paper. No. I have been reading books, I have, I just haven’t been able to finish any of my most recent reads. I’ll use this post to tell you about them, and why I just couldn’t prevail.
To anyone who knows me, or can infer anything about me from the books I’ve chosen to read thus far, you can see that “the greatest war novel of all time” might not be exactly up my ally. And it wasn’t. I was asked to read this (not assigned, just invited to with heavy encouragement) by the teacher who’s helping me through World History independent, as this would add an interesting aside to the WWI unit.
It was intriguing; the point of the novel is to demonstrate the horrors of WWI, written by someone who had been personally scarred. It was about a group of eager young men just waiting to lose legs and lives. I don’t even remember what side they were fighting on, but it’s not completely relevant- the idea is that both sides were crazy.
EDIT: After a discussion with my Dad, who faithfully reads all my reviews, I’ve been convinced to amend this point. Back when this book was originally written, it was extremely relevant that he was a Frenchman, writing about the horrors of war from the side of the Germans. This was scandalous and unpatriotic, but it makes his point that much more poignant; they are just kids, too. This war was kids shooting at kids- boys straight out of high school. Back when this war was actually being fought, my Dad says, the idea was that it was okay to shoot at the Germans because their pain somehow didn’t matter as much. They saw each other as less than human, and that is the hurdle that Remarque is clearing.
By the time I was one hundred pages in (the point at which I allow myself to drop a novel if it doesn’t sit with me) I felt that the author’s point had been made. I believed that war was terrible. In one hundred pages of life in the trenches, we learned that being in the army erases all senses of dignity, privacy, and right/wrong. You also get used to people going completely insane in your trench and trying to run into no-man’s land, digging shallow graves that are uncovered again the next time it rains, guns tampered with to backfire. I’m not even scratching the surface. It was horrific. Point made. Oh, gas attacks. Those were probably the worst. The descriptions of those terrible effects actually made me cringe.
Of course, I respect his purpose for writing the two hundred pages I didn’t read; he was documenting. He wanted to get EVERYTHING in there. That’s as good a reason to write a war novel as any, but I didn’t need to read it. I didn’t want to. However, since I’d spoken to a friend who really liked the book and said the ending was the best, I skipped forward to the final two chapters and read those. They were good- the ending was haunting and everything was wrapped up well, I guess. There’s nothing about the book that was bad, it was just completely not my thing.
On top of that, this was actually an incredibly difficult week for me. I was not enjoying myself. It was a long week, there was lots of homework, the days were endless- it was really a time when I could have used some good escapist literature.
My first impression of this book was a good one. It had a terrific opening line, in my opinion: “Dr. Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.” The first scene in the book was of the aforementioned Doctor extracting a pea from the ear of a patient who has been half-death his whole life, and this scene made me squirm. But aside from being completely nauseating, it was incredibly well-written, and this is the best thing I have to say about this book: it had some of the best prose I’ve read in a long time. It was like butter and honey and something bitter. He didn’t say things simply, but he didn’t say everything extravagantly, either (except in dialogue, where it was called for for added humor).
Corelli’s Mandolin is really a novel about two things: love, and war. It is heavily political and I skipped chunks of it to focus on the more likable characters. The story is set on the island of Cephallonia in Greece, right at the beginning of World War II. The main storyline is of Pelagia, a young woman, the daughter of the good doctor, who wishes to marry a young man named Mandras, who proposes but doesn’t want to marry her right away because he intends to enlist.
So, Mandras goes away, and almost halfway through the book, Corelli shows up. When the Italians occupy Cephallonia, Captain Antonio Corelli and his mandolin, Antonia, both show up with it, and Corelli takes up residence in Pelagia’s home. He doesn’t speak Greek, but her Italian is nearly flawless, so there’s no language barrier to make him seem any less charming and charismatic than he is. It’s crazy, but I fell in love with him, too.
There’s another character named Carlo, an Italian soldier, who is homosexual and was in love with one of his fellow soldiers, and this character breaks my heart. I can’t say very much without spoiling, but just. Oh, Carlo.
So why didn’t I finish this book? There isn’t an easy answer to that. You know that feeling that you have when you pick up a book, and it’s very, very good in every way, but as soon as you put it down, you lose your desire to read it? That’s what this book was. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, so what I needed to do was read it all in one sitting, but I didn’t want to do that. It was very frustrating. Also, it was going slowly and I didn’t feel like I was making progress. So I dropped it, very annoyed. I might give this one another shot in the future.
Also, this was during the week of vacation and I was completely giddy all the time. I love not having school, and I had just gotten into a new fandom (yes, I’m one of those people who loves her fandoms) and it demanded all of my attention, so I didn’t want to pay attention to such a high-maintenance book.
That’s it. That’s been my two weeks. Now I’m reading something else which isn’t fantastic, but oh god HOPEFULLY I should be able to finish it. So you might here from me again later this week. Until then.