Showing 381 - 390 of 565 annotations in the genre "Novel"
Please note that in order to provide a useful analysis of this novel, it is necessary to reveal the novel's ending in the discussion below. It is England, 1935. Briony Tallis, 12 years old, decides to become a writer. Her first experiment in novelistic technique involves narrating from three different points of view an odd incident she witnesses from her bedroom window: her sister Cecilia undresses and steps into a fountain in the presence of Robbie Turner, the son of a family servant. Robbie has been educated at Cambridge under Mr. Tallis's patronage, and intends to become a physician. He and Cecilia are in love.
Briony's reconstruction of the incident is inaccurate, but she fails to recognize the lesson of her exercise in multiple perspectives: her version is sufficiently coherent for her to mistake it for reality. She jumps to further conclusions and causes Robbie's wrongful conviction and imprisonment for rape and Cecilia's permanent estrangement from her family.
The rest of the novel both elucidates and unravels the opening sequence. It is 1940 and Briony is becoming both a nurse and a novelist. Both roles represent her efforts to atone for her disastrous narrative misconstrual. As a nurse, she learns a new humility and cares for the appalling injuries of soldiers who, like Robbie, are suffering the war in France.
A more metaphysical atonement lies in her work as a novelist: we realize that we have been reading Briony's own rewriting of the initial events and her careful imaginative reconstruction of Robbie's experiences in the Dunkirk evacuation. She tells of her discovery of the actual rapist (if a rape it was), her decision to retract her accusations and her efforts to make amends with Robbie and Cecilia.
In a final section, set in 1999, the aging Briony, now a successful novelist, learns that she is developing progressive vascular dementia. Soon, her ability to remember and grasp reality will desert her. But she has finished writing her latest version of Robbie and Cecilia's story, the novel we have just read, and can rest.
Her atonement seems complete until we learn that Robbie died in France and Cecilia in the Blitz, and that the (relatively) happy ending we read was simply made up by Briony. Devastatingly, we learn that atonement for an error of fiction has been limited to fictional reparation. The lethal damage it has caused in the actual world is beyond mending . . . unless, of course, we accept the vertiginous truth that the damage described in this novel is itself also no more (or less) than a fiction.
The novel begins with a prologue in which the author reports that, while repairing an old chateau he had purchased in the north of France, he discovered a manuscript ("La Tendresse") hidden in one of the chateau's chimneys. Dr. Alain Hamilton, the manuscript's author, had hidden it there, as the German army approached the chateau in 1940. "La Tendresse" was a collection of writings that described Hamilton's early life, especially his experience as a battlefield surgeon in the British army during the First World War. The 80 short chapters that follow, Strauss explains, are an edited and annotated version of Dr. Hamilton's story.
We first meet Alain Hamilton as an adolescent, during an episode of sexual awakening with a girl his own age. Later, we see him as a medical student in Vienna and then as a young married surgeon in London, who has a tender affair with a married nurse. But most of the story takes place at a British Army field hospital, where Dr. Hamilton encounters the senselessness, devastation, and absolute terror of war.
His colleague in this tragedy is Elizabeth, a nurse whose brother and fiancé have died in the fighting. Alain and Elizabeth develop an exquisitely tender, yet unconsummated, intimacy, which ends tragically. After the war, Alain searches healing and consolation, eventually finding a measure of peace in the chateau where he and Elizabeth had once worked together.
Summary:One April morning in the 1940's in Oran, Algeria, Dr. Rieux, preoccupied with his ill wife's imminent departure to a sanatorium, discovers a dead rat. This unusual event marks the beginning of an epidemic of bubonic plague that will besiege the city until the following February. Over the long ten months Rieux, his acquaintances, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens labor, each in his own way, with the individual and social transformations caused by the all-consuming illness. Separation, isolation, and penury become the common lot of distinct characters whose actions, thoughts and feelings constitute a dynamic tableau of man imprisoned.
To relieve her insomnia, Claire Vornoff seeks help from Dr. Declan Farrell, a well-known holistic physician, who begins to see her professionally at his country home. Farrell's methods focus on massage and bodywork, along with some acupuncture. Claire finds him an attractive paradox--sensitive and "tuned in" to her, yet also blunt and emotionally unsettling.
The client-therapist relationship becomes deeper and more complex. After Claire has a brief sexual escapade with a married man, she admits to herself that she actually loves Declan and confesses her love to him. Indirectly, he reveals that he also has strong feelings for her, but is desperately resisting those feelings and attempting to maintain his professionalism.
Claire finally breaks off their relationship and attempts to go on with her life. Over the next couple of years, Declan closes his practice, moves elsewhere, divorces his wife, and ultimately commits suicide. Claire learns of these events gradually, at second hand, as she, too, moves on, but in much a different direction. Eventually she begins a new life in Toronto.
Although the relationship between Claire and Declan occupies center stage, Claire's quest for improved health leads her to consider, and sometimes consult with, other alternative medicine practitioners as well. (I say "improved health" rather than "relief of insomnia" because, although never stated, it seems clear that Claire seeks a sense of completeness and meaning in life that goes far beyond solving her sleep problem.)
One of these healers, for example, is Mr. Spaulding, who reviews Claire's blood work and concludes, "You're in rough shape, girl." (p. 231) He explains that her "body salts are so high I can't measure them" and that her "body is throwing off one hundred times more dead cells than it should . . . "
The story begins in New York as a young immigrant Scandinavian woman gives birth to a daughter: "She entered, as Venus from the sea, dripping. The air enclosed her, she felt it all over her, touching, waking her." The time is at the turn of the 20th century, the baby's name is Flossie, and she is the second child of Joe and Gurlie Stecher. Joe is a printer, who takes great pride in his craftsmanship. He had once been a union activist, but became disillusioned with union corruption and now works as a shop foreman. Gurlie's driving ambition is for she and her husband to strike it rich and make their mark in this new land, where the streets are paved in gold (for some people).
Flossie turns out to be a sickly baby. At first, she won't nurse at all and almost dies of malnutrition and infection. Later, she remains so scrawny that a doctor claims the only way to save her life is to take her to live in the country. Thus, Gurlie and her two children travel to upstate New York for the summer, where they board with an aged Norwegian couple. While there, the baby begins to thrive, and so does Gurlie, who had spent her early childhood on a farm in Scandinavia.
Soon after Flossie's birth, the printers' union calls a strike. Joe successfully holds the line and keeps the shop running, but his grateful employers are not grateful enough even to give him a raise. Toward the end of the book, he negotiates with another businessman to obtain the wherewithal to start his own printing company.
The narrator, Jeremy, orphaned at age 8, is attempting to write a memoir of his wife's parents, June and Bernard Tremaine. The pair married in England in 1946, idealistic young members of the British Communist Party, but on their honeymoon in France something happens to June that estranges her from her husband and his values forever. After the birth of their daughter, Jeremy's wife, the two live separately. June dies in a nursing home in 1987, after telling Jeremy a great deal about her life and marriage.
In 1989 Jeremy and Bernard travel to Germany together to share in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Bernard has taken a lot longer than his wife did to give up on communism. In Berlin, Jeremy hears his father-in-law's very different version of the couple's biography. Jeremy then travels to France to try and unearth the truth about their honeymoon, finding unreliable storytellers, poor memory, and, at the center, June's encounter in the French countryside with a pair of black dogs, owned and trained and then abandoned by the Gestapo. The story, as Jeremy reconstitutes it, is a discovery of evil that, regardless of literal factuality, bears a terrible truth about the human capacity to do harm, both personal and political.
Molly Lane, restaurant critic and photographer, has died of a progressive neurological disease. She is survived by George, her husband, as well as by several past lovers, including Clive Linley, a famous composer, his old friend Vernon Halliday, editor of a London newspaper, and Julian Garmony, the British foreign secretary, rumored to be headed for Downing Street. After Molly's funeral, both Clive and Vernon experience odd neurological symptoms and make a mutual pact to help each other commit suicide in order to end suffering. The symptoms appear in both cases to have been psychosomatic, but the pact remains.
George has found career-destroying photographs of Julian Garmony (in drag) among Molly's things, and he gives them to Vernon for the newspaper. Vernon and Clive quarrel over the ethics of a decision each has made: Vernon's decision to publish the pictures, and over Clive's decision not to intervene when, while working on a crucial melody for his symphony during a walk in the country, he sees a woman being attacked by a man who turns out to be a serial rapist. When Vernon is fired and Clive's symphony is a failure, each blames the other and the suicide pact becomes a means of mutual revenge.
A subtext has been a running storyline in Vernon's paper about rumored abuse of the Netherlands's liberal euthanasia laws; the novel ends in Amsterdam, each man involuntarily euthanized by a physician paid by his friend. (Meantime, Garmony's career is in ruins. George has successfully destroyed all three of his wife's lovers.)
In the "free love" context of the nineteen-sixties, Harriet and David Lovatt are throwbacks to a more conservative, traditional, and family-oriented decade. Their life dream is to have a big house in the country filled with children, and it seems that they will succeed. After bearing four young children, however, Harriet is feeling the strain of years of childbearing, sleeplessness, money trouble, and her parents' and in-laws' disapproval of her fecundity.
Her fifth pregnancy is not only unplanned, but also unusually painful and disruptive. Harriet's doctor prescribes sedatives but finds nothing abnormal in her situation. When Ben is born, Harriet jokes that he is like "a troll or a goblin," but no one responds well to this unusually hairy and physically vigorous baby, who in turn does not respond to anything but his own desires and fears.
As he grows older, family pets and other children seem to be in physical danger. Health care professionals do not confirm the couple's conviction that Ben is not normal, but neither do they obstruct the decision to send Ben to a private institution, a removal that leaves the family temporarily happy until Harriet visits Ben and recognizes the institution for what it is, a place where all manner of "different" children are sent to live heavily medicated, physically restrained, and foreshortened lives away from families who do not want them.
Harriet brings Ben home, where he grows up amid what remains of the Lovatts' domestic fantasy, and finds community in a gang of thuggish older boys whom Harriet suspects are involved in various criminal acts. As the story closes, Ben has left home and Harriet imagines him in another country, "searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind" (133).
Philip Carey, the central character of this early 20th century Bildungsroman, is both an orphan and afflicted with a club foot. He is sent at age nine, after the death of his mother, to live with a childless uncle--a deeply religious Vicar--and his submissive aunt. They have no idea how to be parents, so send Philip away to a boys' boarding school where the child begins to learn what it means to be less than physically "perfect." The remainder of Philip's development is cast in this light.
He roams about looking for himself and his place--to Germany to learn languages, to London to learn a trade, to Paris to study art, and finally, as a last resort, a default decision to follow in the steps of his father the physician. A major part of Philip's maturation is based in making decisions about women and about sensual love. The most painful portions of his story are those that evolve around his stumbling and frequently failed attempts to find security in his personal relationships.
Fridolin, a doctor, and his wife, Albertine, have been married for a few years and are the parents of a much adored little girl. In a moment of unusual frankness, they decide to confess all their temptations and adventures to one another. Albertine admits that she deeply desired a blond Dane encountered in the previous summer. Fridolin professes to welcome this news and tells of similar attractions. They promise to confide the sexual adventures of their waking and dreaming states.
But Fridolin is not at ease. The idea that his wife desired another-even in a dream-inspires a jealous energy that sends him in search of adventures that will reassure him of his own desirability and hurt if not repudiate Albertine. On the pretext of a house call, he wanders, masked and unmasked, through the decadent private clubs and cafés of night-time Vienna. He toys with the dismal daughter of a patient, an "unspoiled" prostitute, and a sophisticated matron--none of whom he actually claims, all of whom remind him of his wife, one of whom dies, he believes, in protecting him.
Uncertain if his adventure was reality or dream, he returns with tenderness to Albertine, although he has repeatedly vowed to leave her. He tells his entire story; she listens with better grace than he would have done. Then he asks what they should do. She replies that they should be grateful to have "emerged safely from these adventures" . . . "neither the reality of a single night nor even of a person's entire life can be equated with the full truth about his innermost being." "And no dream," he responds "is altogether a dream." (p. 98-9). They begin another day.