The Digital Bookclub: January

Hosting a book club theoretically seems like a great idea but actually making it happen is tough. People are busy. It is impossible to find a date that suits everyone, everyone lives in different areas etcetera etcetera.

So, let’s call this Plan B. The Digital Bookclub. At the end of each month, everyone reviews the book(s) they have read in the past thirty days and we compile a list, which can be shared around (copy and paste, with credits) to whichever social platform you prefer.

Easy, no? I’ll go first. If you have a book review you’d like to share, you can do one or all of the following things:

1. Comment here with your review.

2. Comment here with a link to your review.

3. Email me and I’ll add it to this post!

The Valley of Amazement (Amy Tan)

I had high hopes for this book. Old Asia is one of my favourite, favourite genres and this book is set in the world of Chinese courtesan’s in the early 1900’s. Violet is the daughter of Lulu Minturn, the American madam of Shanghai’s most exclusive courtesan house and one of the few places in the city where Chinese and Western businessmen can mingle comfortably. Violet’s life is unconventional but idyllic, as she grows up surrounded by staff and courtesans. Her American father is dead, her mother tells her.  Her Westerness is a point of pride for Violet, a privileged foreigner in a country ruled by tradition and birth class.

So it is a huge shock to her when, during a sibling-like quarrel, one of the courtesan’s reveals that Violet’s father was Chinese. Suddenly her identity is thrown into turmoil, worsened by her mother’s sudden decision to leave Shanghai for her home shores of the United States of America. She is going in search of a son she thought to be lost forever. But in an unhappy twist, Lulu is scammed by the lover who had promised to organise papers for Violet and the young teenager is left behind in Shanghai, sold as a virgin to a low-grade courtesan house while her mother sails away from Shanghai harbour.

The next part of the story follows Violet, through her life as a courtesan and the many twists and turns along the way. It’s a good read and beautifully written, as one comes to expect of Amy Tan. The story never stagnates and as one chapter ends, the next starts a new adventure. The pages are filled with drama and excitement and the kind of situations unimaginable to us, but I’m sure not uncommon to courtesan’s in the 1900’s.

What did gripe me, though, is how placidly the characters accept what happens to them. The Minturns are portrayed as strong, proud women but when the going gets tough, they just stand and let it happen to them. Which didn’t convince me; I couldn’t reconcile their reactions to how I had been introduced to their characters. I don’t believe that Lulu Minturn would so easily let go of her daughter or that Violet, when she finds herself in similar circumstances years later, would so easily let go of hers.

I didn’t enjoy Violet’s character very much either. There is no discernible difference between fourteen year old Violet and adult Violet. Her character remains immature, perhaps more so because of the constant maternal presence of her courtesan mentor. There is very little depth to her, with such a traumatic life one would expect an inner turmoil or deep emotions but the narrative is shallow.

It was a pleasant read but it’s not going to make my top ten of the year.


Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)

My other favourite genre. I love a good mystery novel.  And this one is pretty good.

Libby Day is the sole survivor of a mass murder in her family farm house, which took the lives of her mother and two sisters. It was Libby’s testimony at the age of seven, the only eye-witness, which put her teenage brother behind bars for the Satanic murders. Now, twenty four years later, Libby is (to put it bluntly) a bit of a fuck up. She has been living off the donations of concerned strangers but as people’s interest in her story runs out, so does the money.

With limited options available to her, Libby agrees to the only job offer that has come her way: to appear at the annual Kill Club conference, a group obsessed with murders and murderers and solving them. The Kill Club is convinced that Ben Day is innocent and that Libby was mistaken, too young at the age of seven to fully comprehend what was happening. They also believe that she is the only one who can exonerate Ben.

So Libby, reluctantly and despite her conviction that it was her brother she heard in the house that night, undertakes (for pay, of course) to make contact with various estranged relatives to try and determine what actually happened that night. Including her brother, Ben.

I like Gillian Flynn. I was engrossed in this book, I enjoyed being able to read about the people involved and then what had happened to them 24 years later. How the lives people, who have been so closely connected to such a horrific crime, eventually turn out. The ending is a bit of a letdown, somehow. It didn’t make much sense to me and I like a book that leaves me with my adrenaline pumping.

Definitely worth a read if you’re into the crime genre, aaaaaand it’s being made into a movie! To be released this year. I’m already annoyed that Charlize Theron is taking on the role of Libby, when Libby’s shortness is mentioned numerous times in the book and both impedes and aids her in various dangerous situations. And Charlize is not short.

Anyway. Happy reading!

4 thoughts on “The Digital Bookclub: January

  1. Pingback: The Digital Bookclub: January « A Little Bit of Lee

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