Bristol House is as unique a literary mystery as one is ever likely to read. Swerling makes some interesting choices with her narrative. At first impression, Annie Kendall strikes the reader as a brilliant, competent researcher whose personal transgressions have cost her, deeply, on a professional level. There are moments in the story where her carefully reconstructed self—the self rebuilt from countless AA meetings and confronting her deepest fears and strongest weaknesses—nearly shatter and the former, scarred Annie threaten to reemerge.
The reader will see first hand what comprises the life of a writer. It is a lonely endeavour, one that can very quickly be speckled with controversy. The reader will almost be able to picture Dana sitting all alone in his hotel room, eating, and writing stories that will help readers realize how hard the lives of Native Americans really is.
This is not the type of novel you can expect to race through or finish in a weekend. Ausubel’s lyrical, beautiful language and disturbingly compelling imagery seize the reader almost immediately. Even if the reader wants to turn away at some of the more graphic scenes, they don’t turn away for long, as Ausubel manages to capture the best parts of the human spirit while not shying away from describing the atrocities of war.
She was always a writer first and foremost. She kept a diary from a very early age. One of Pearl’s favourite pastimes was to sit down and write about her experiences and feelings. Some of her journal entries are contained in the book.
The knowledge that this author has firsthand experience of wartime journalism comes as no surprise when reading this engrossing book. With her thorough research and attention to historical detail, I felt as if I was taking a peep into hitherto hidden war files, rather than reading a work of fiction.
Though the ultimate purpose of the book does appear to be didactic – global warming and impending environmental catastrophe are generally accepted within the mainstream scientific community as proven fact – and the parallels between Dr Lipkin and the author’s own studies are probably the subject of at least a few fascinating interviews, the story reads well as fiction, creating each world entirely so that the reader becomes engrossed in the historical time and place along with the protagonist.
This is a historically consistent plot turn, but to make no mistake, it is one Western readers in particular will like. The book is hardly anti-China, but Roy, a Chinese-Canadian, also does not sugarcoat the oppression, fear, and insanity of Mao’s regime.
Many works of fiction have been set during World War II. Two of my favourites are the TV Foyle’s War and the movie Yanks. It is a well-known fact, however, that if one assigned the same topic to a room full of fiction writers, each would come up with something unique. McCloskey’s novels show her flair for exploring women’s friendships and feelings and will attract and educate today’s generation of young woman readers about an intense, dramatic time in history.
Shames humanizes the unspeakable horrors faced by innocent people throughout World War II without romanticizing any of these events. Margit Wolf is sent to a concentration camp, a fortunate survivor among thousands who are not so lucky. While the novel is about a love story between a rising ballerina and established maestro, it is really Margit Wolf’s story that is told.
A minor character speaks of seeing Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, but we readers never get to go there and see him perform. Perhaps I’m spoiled, with too high expectations, because so many creative artists, from Thomas Wolfe to Woody Allen, have already brilliantly evoked New York.