Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

I frequently hear from readers, and O. Ray Pardo is someone who more or less regularly emails me about the books he’s enjoyed. He’s  an avid reader and friend of the library who lives in Manchester, WA.

Here’s what he has to say about David Mitchell’s newest novel: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Guest Blog by O. Ray Pardo

Come back to the Japan at the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries, as the author introduces us to a naive young Dutchman, Jacob de Zoet, and then peels back the onion of his storyline.  As the story winds and then rushes to conclusion we meet many different characters, with their individual points of view set in the polyhedron of prejudice, misunderstanding, and geography.  This is a story of honor, obligation, isolation, trust, treachery and love.   As Jacob discovers the complexity of Japanese culture, and the richness (and darkness) in the lives of those around him, he finds strength and confidence in his upbringing and in his ability to play the game of life. (I especially applaud the bravery of including engravings—so easy in our digital age, but so little used.)

The book is breath-taking in the beauty of its language and printing (do not wait for the paperback). 

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Now (this is Nancy again) I began this book with great hopes. I loved Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, but have had great difficulty in getting into the thick of  Jacob de Zoet. Reading Ray’s comments makes me eager to get back to it and try again.  It’s so clear to me that so much of what we like or don’t enjoy at any particular time is dependent on our moods.  It could have been—it probably was— that I was looking for something that was a bit faster moving.  Or at least something different than what Mitchell was giving me.

 Ray also asked me for suggestions of what to read next, and—naturally—I changed continents and centuries by suggesting the two historical series by Dorothy Dunnett.  Anyone have any other suggestions?


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Hessian Boots and Pale Yellow Pantaloons: The Novels of Georgette Heyer

Stacey Wenz is working on her MLIS (Masters in Information and Library Science) degree at the ISchool (Information School) at the University of Washington, where I teach courses in Adult Services in the Public Library and Reading Genres for Adults.  In the latter course, each student is required to read 10 novels, 2 each in the mystery/thriller; romance; commix; science fiction and fantasy; and western genres.  Here’s what Stacey has to say about some recent reading that she’s done for the class:

Guest Blog by Stacey Wenz 

For the classic half of the romance module, I chose to read Georgette Heyer.  About two years ago, I thought I would give Georgette Heyer a try, so I picked up a copy of False Colours.  About a third of the way into it, I gave up; the plot was slow-starting, and I felt that the language was forced.  Also, the principal character’s mother got on my nerves. 

I took LIS 524, Adult Readers’ Advisory, with David Wright online this last winter.  One suggestion provided to me in one of the class assignments was Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy.  I discounted this suggestion because of my first experience with Heyer; but another student in the class urged me to reconsider, saying that this book was one of Heyer’s best and really worth reading.

So, I gave The Grand Sophy a try, and I’m really glad that I did.  Since finishing it, I have also read Frederica and Arabella.  To a certain extent, the debt that Heyer owes Jane Austen is obvious:  Sophy reads a lot like a retelling of Emma, and Arabella felt like a combination of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey.

 Although Georgette Heyer is often compared to Jane Austen, I feel Jane Austen’s novels have more depth than Heyer’s.  Austen implies; Heyer hits you over the head with Hessian boots, pale yellow pantaloons, and neck-cloths.  Austen’s heroines reflect; Heyer doesn’t really introduce us to the thought processes of her heroines.  Austen uses a very sardonic tone to render certain characters ridiculous (such as Mrs. Bertram or Mary Musgrove); Heyer’s tone with similar characters (such as Lady Ombersley) is much less ironic.  Austen’s works to me are subtler; they do not operate within a formula.  Finally, I think of Austen’s novels as more character-driven while Heyer’s novels are more plot-driven (and I find that the plots are all similar, for the most part).  Another aspect of the comparison is that Heyer wrote several centuries after the setting of her novels, while Austen wrote of the time in which she lived.

Of the Heyer novels I’ve read so far, the bulk of the action happens in London, so the setting is much different than Austen’s novels.  In addition, they will most likely include:  a brother with gaming debts, boisterous dogs of dubious parentage, likable heroines, and extremely fashionable heroes (always wearing Hessian boots) who are most likely described as a “nonpareil” at one or most likely more points in the book.  Also, they brim with generally sparkling conversation between the hero and heroine. 

I hear my sister in my head telling me to quit being such a snob about Jane Austen.  I really liked The Grand Sophy, Frederica, and Arabella.  I’ve gotten my sister hooked on Heyer, too; and she said that while Heyer is not Jane Austen, you can see that people who like Jane Austen will also probably like Georgette Heyer.  I think this is because of the beloved plots we continue to recognize in stories today (like Pride and Prejudice and Emma).  Heyer certainly capitalized on these in her own writing, and it is always delightful territory to revisit.  As my sister pointed out in a recent email exchange about Georgette Heyer:  “It is SO MUCH FUN to read.”

I think it is the spirit of fun that continues to draw readers to Georgette Heyer today.  It is delightful brain fluff that puts us in mind of other stories and delights us with these associations.  

 Now (and this is Nancy again) if that doesn’t make you want to pick up one of the Heyer novels that Stacey mentions—and I would add Sylvester and The Reluctant Widow to the list—I don’t know what will.  Many people discover Heyer because their grandmother read her; I came very late to the Heyer game and haven’t regretted a moment spent reading her, or the amount of bookshelf space her novels occupy in my home.


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