I can just about manage the Mumsnet book of the month - other than that don't really have a to-read list! But really enjoying the book club and someone else choosing a book that I otherwise wouldn't read - and have so far enjoyed them all so well done Tilly and thanks all for voting and taking part.
Dh home and dinner ready so will sign off - but thanks again for tonight and see you next month
Another half way through person here - I tried SO hard and didnt make it - the tenderness of the relationships I loved and actually the descriptive narratives too (although without them I may have finished it by now!) I am looking forward to the rest, must persevere...although May could be interesting and may get caught up in something else, thanks Tilly
The Virgin Suicides is absolutely ace. Quite, quite different to this book (although I did enjoy this too) - it is relatively short, very economical, perfectly formed. It is as if everything is done in miniature, and it is so unusually narrated (the narrator is a group of boys who become obsessed by the sisters who are committing suicide - they are like an Ancient Greek chorus). It is a very bizarre, melancholy sort of story and yet doesn't come across as sad or freaky. I would definitely give it a try. It is a one-off, there is nothing like it.
I think Eugenides is still extremely talented and clever, even with the bagginess of the book and the rushed ending (which I agree, doesn't ring true and leaves you cheated). I was wondering if the editor tried to cut parts down and he refused, or if they didn't try.
Anyone else want to know how someone who dropped out of school at 14 ended up in the job he was in? I would have been happy to read another 100 pages (having come this far) to bring cal's story up to date, as it were.
I think that Berlin is rather self-indulgent as a setting but perhaps the Greek/American history/immigrant story is utilised a bit more - it does reflect the theme of being an outsider, of finding your way in society and gradually finding your place within it. If anything, I found the references to Greek literature more heavy-handed.
Yes yes, we get it - there's incest and hermaphroditism in Greek mythology and you know a lot about it and can write as though you are a Greek chorus - but it didn't really add anything to Cal's story or encourage the reader to consider the important themes in more depth.
I didn't realise so much of his own background features in the book, makes sense really as it's easier to write rather than research a whole new area. Interesting that in the interview he says Cal looks like him too.
Has anyone read his other book The Virgin Suicides? Interested to know what that's like. I'm sure it was a film / serialised on TV.
Although it was suggested that the brother had feelings for a while (the way he sought prostitutes and thought of his sister), I do think their relationship only progressed to marriage because of their exile. As Carrie said, they created their own truth because the situation allowed them to. Had they stayed at home, I think the tension may have led to a sexual relationship but perhaps not an enduring one.
stirlingstar - you're totally right about the pace of the book. I also felt the final chapters were very rushed and that Cal didn't really deal with his father's death at all. As readers, Cal has encouraged us to relate to his father and yet he just seems to throw in his death, with the bizarre death sequence, at the end.
Ah that's interesting Tilly. Overall I think the whole book is rather self-indulgent for the author: having Cal sat about in Berlin for no good reason other than that's where author is (don't really buy the 'divided city' thing - it's true, but author doesn't use it in any way), and spending pages and pages telling us about his research in to genetics, Greek-American history, Detroit in the 60s.
And just want to add: I thought perhaps the baggy parts of the book were because the author grew up in Detroit and sometimes lost himself in a world of nostalgia and history and research which must have had huge resonance to him but pass us by.
Perhaps that's true of all of it- so much was his own Greek-American immigrant history, it was a little like someone showing you their family photo album and spending an hour talking through each page.
I did love his description of coming home as 'a canine feeling, full of eager love and dumb to tragedy'.
btw my dd did want to marry ds when they were 6 and 3. I said if they still wanted to at 18 that was fine by me... funnily enough now they're 7 and 10 they're not so keen. The 3 year old dd does still want to marry her dad though
I think everyone would be appalled at thought of their kids getting married to each- tho on some level you might feel you'd done a good job if they loved each other rather than wanting to fight all the time
In the book it felt like a different world, where this sort of thing was relatively common - choice was limited and life was short and brutal. The way they worked on forgetting that they were brother and sister was really well observed - I think we've all done that, recreated a truth and then told ourselves it's true enough times to start believing it.
If the hermaphroditism had come as a shock revelation - it might have made me regret my acceptance of the brother sister relationship, but as it was there from the start and the narrator seemed Ok with it, I think it allowed you to accept the incest.
Yes I agree Carrie, the fact that Cal is a hermaphrodite is making me read on. If he was simply a 'normal' narrator I think I would consider giving up now and reading something else. But I really want to know what has happened in his life as a hermaphrodite.
I once watched a documentary on children and teenagers who are 'mixed sex' it was really fascinating to see how they dealt with it. Sadly they did seem to be outsiders but some were adamant to remain how they were and not have surgery.
I agree that there wasn't one single moment when Cal discovered it (unless maybe with Dr Luce learning the exact words for it).
Have to say my initial reaction was to be a bit peeved that there were now so few pages left in the book I guessed that I wasn't going to read much about life after the discovery!
Was the narrator playing it down - or perhaps this part of the story was nicely paced as a realistic real life reaction? In contrast to the very slow middle of the book and the 'and then I became a performer in a strange swimming-pool based sexual freak show and then my Dad died in a road chase with my Uncle' ending.
Actually, that makes me think of the early part of the story, about the developing relationship between brother and sister - I also thought that part was very well written and very nicely paced - agree with Carriemumsnet.
I think one of the things that kept me reading (and it links to the c5 voyeurism thing) is wanting to know if he'd decided to properly become a he - ie have surgery etc. Is that very news of the world of me?
I think it's probably indicative of one of the things the book was about - society demanding that you are one gender or another - that I wanted him "tidied" up, both a mental and physical decision made, so that he could have a more "normal" life. I really wanted it to work with Julie but - again projecting like I did with parents - couldn't imagine how I'd react if a bloke I was dating told me something like that!
I really enjoyed the grand themes, big characters and coincidences in this book. For example, incest, race, homosexuality, drugs,blackmail, and hermaphrodism. This made it feel like a mythical tale where the characters were victims of their destiny. And the fact that it was also very funny at times ( the bit at the end with Father Mike and the father was great) made it one of the best things I read in ages. I thought it was an American immigrant novel (like stuff by Philip Roth) but with the additional dimension of being told by someone who was also an outsider by gender. This made Cal a very unusual narrator. I too was intrigued by how he found his place in the world but I think the task he set himself was to tell his family's story through his own experience.
Interesting that he didn't try to tackle how Des and Lefty's parents would have felt about it.
Somewhere I read a review that said it was the lack of any other choice that led Lefty to pour out lust on his sister (with those two other girls on the hillside not taking his fancy). But I think they way it was portrayed showed true emotion. Do you think if they hadn't been forced to flee and stayed home it would have worked?
And how does everyone feel about the idea of their kids getting married? I've only got two boys and can't quite imagine a further gay twist in the story, so haven't really got to grips with what I might feel.
I'm only up to the bit where Cal's parents are beginning a 'courtship', so nowhere near finished. Agree that it is not an easy read. I enjoy reading it but it isn't taking over my life in the way that a really good book does. Stirlingstar...I'm not sure about the Berlin thing, does Cal mention early on something about the significance of a divided city becoming whole again?