The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

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I read The Lottery short story a few years ago and found it to be one of the most memorable short story I’ve ever read. If you have not, go read it NOW. You only get the greatest impact however if you go in without knowing anything about it, as I did. So if you’ve been spoilt, it probably wouldn’t be as impressive. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of reviews that give the story away in a line or two =/

The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of 25 short stories, the only collection of stories to appear during her lifetime. It’s divided into 4 parts with an epilogue. The Lottery story is placed almost at the end.

For me it’s nearly impossible to formulate story-by-story thoughts of a collection of 25 stories. I could do it for 10 but anything more than 10 is tough. The stories have jumbled up a bit in my mind, and it’s hard to remember specific stories. But I honestly enjoyed reading this collection. I found the stories to be very readable. Some are more impressive than others, but overall they’re all of high quality.

The introduction by A. M. Homes is a really nice piece, and the back cover summarizes the stories as “equally unusual” (to The Lottery). “Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range — encompassing the hilarious and the horrible, the unsettling and the ominous — as well as her power as a storyteller.” I don’t think I can say it better.

A few stories are clearly set in New York, which is a nice coincidence again for me, as I mentioned before that I kept bumping into books set in New York after I went to New York for some reason. She also reminded me a bit of Muriel Spark — both female authors writing a good dose of weirdness and all things sinister. Love. I look forward to reading her novels in the future.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Initially I meant to read this book for Shirley Jackson’s week in July, organized by Reading the End, Things Mean a Lot, and Stuck in a Book. But as it often happens I only got to it in October, and so it’s also a perfect reading for the R.I.P. X! If I could fit it into another event I would :)

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How sad is it that October is ending? I grew to love October and its spookiness and falling, yellowing leaves. The days are getting shorter, darker, and colder, but they’re not yet too cold, and not yet too short. I must say I would pick October over the holiday season anytime =/

 

 

Lust, Caution – Eileen Chang

lustcautionI watched Lust, Caution the movie at the end of 2013. It was so good that shortly afterwards I was rushing to buy and read the short story it is based on.

The story is more compact than the movie — Ang Lee took the liberty to add a few details, but the story is clearly Eileen Chang’s, following her recurring themes of emotional loyalty, vanity, and betrayal with the backdrop of turbulent China.

I was very impressed at both the author and director, of how much the author managed to convey in the number of pages (only 30+ pages), and how much the director was able to read so acutely between the lines and regurgitated such a great film. It was hands down my favorite movie from Ang Lee, and possibly the best Chinese movie I have ever seen. I loved it that much.

After reading the main short story in this collection though, I left the book for a while, and only picked it up again to finish the rest of the collection a couple of months ago.

Having read Eileen Chang’s other short story collection Love in a Fallen City, in a way I knew what to expect. I liked her stories then, and I liked them now.

My edition is the Penguin Modern Classics (as pictured above), and I was curious whether the NYRB Classics version had the same stories in the collection. It seems that it doesn’t — weirdly the majority of the stories in the NYRB Classics are in the Love in a Fallen City Penguin Modern Classics version. Just something to keep in mind, if you’re wondering which version to get.

The stories in Penguin version are: Lust, Caution; In the Waiting Room; Great Felicity; Steamed Osmanthus Flower: Ah Xiao’s Unhappy Autumn, and Traces of Love.

In the Waiting Room gives us a peek into social dynamics in a simple setting of a doctor’s waiting room. Great Felicity explores family dynamics of a soon to be married woman with her two future in-law sisters. Steamed Osmanthus Flower: Ah Xiao’s Unhappy Autumn (curiously a mouthful of a title — wonder how well the original title works) took us into the home of a foreigner living in China from the maid’s point of view. Traces of Love follows an old couple, both married other people in the past, who are now married to each other, each for their own reasons.

Chang’s themes felt familiar, in my opinion especially in her seemingly cynical views of love and marriage, and of the binds of society. Love the atmosphere and the settings of her stories. Love the impeccable insight into her characters. I’m curious about her novels now as I’ve only read her short stories so far. My next Chang will be one of her novels.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

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She looks so cool. I wish I could look that cool.

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima

I had a very long break of Japanese literature. I used to read tons of it when I was in Singapore, but then I moved to Sydney, and London, and Japanese lit took a back seat. I don’t even remember what’s the last Japanese lit book I read. So with a happy heart I finally got to finish Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima — my first voyage into this master’s catalogue. Reading this with a nudge from Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 9.

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Even before I read his book, I was already fascinated by Mishima’s life story, including, especially, his death by committing seppuku (ritual suicide). I know, it seems all the great authors are either gay or suicidal.

Spring Snow is the first book in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy – a final body of work from Mishima. I’m imagining a dramatic scene at the end of his writing session in which Mishima exclaimed “I wrote my masterpiece! I can now die happy!” SEPPUKU! ;)

In Spring Snow we follow a son of a rising nouveau-riche family Kiyoaki Matsuage, and his childhood friend turned lover Satoko Ayakura, who comes from a declining aristocrat family. (The way I described the Kiyoaki to hubby is “imagine the son of Japanese Gatsby”) The story is set in early 1900s Japan, 1912 to 1914 to be exact, so I found the society dynamics and the underlying historical setting very interesting. I’m sure I missed a lot of the historical subtleties, but by reading this book you get to understand a lot more, about the rigid customs and relationships between the Imperial family, aristocrats, and upper class society in early 20th century Japan. The Western influences have entered Japan too, giving it an extra layer of color.

A semi-important character is Kiyoaki’s friend Honda – a son of an intellect, sort of the Nick of Gatsby, mostly hovering on the side of the main love story, and occassionally giving hand at crucial moments. Honda will be a very important character in the subsequent books in the series, but I shall say no more.

I have to admit, the beginning and the middle were a bit of a slog for me, and I really didn’t like Kiyoaki’s character as he was exhibiting an array of teenage angst (the early 20th century Japanese version of it). I found that I had little patience for childishness and youth pride. Mishima took his time in building his characters and setting. He was being very careful, and it’s great in a way, but you need to push through the initial hump. (The book is almost 400 pages thick)

But once I hit the half point, I raced through the book in no time at all. I finished it in my week long trip around Central/Eastern Europe just last week, mostly between city to city in a train. The end just hit me like a ton of bricks. The last sentence left me dumbstruck. It probably shouldn’t have if I knew what the tetralogy was about, but I never quite knew what to get from quick browsing around goodreads and wiki. In other words, just go and read it, no need to find too much what the book is about :).

Spring Snow has turned me into a Mishima fan. I have yet to see anyone not liking his work no matter which book they start with, and I used to wonder about this. Now that I’ve crossed to the other side, I can say, yes yes it’s true, he’s amazing, come join us!

I plan to read the rest of the tetralogy. I have the first one on Kindle, but now I wonder whether I should collect the paperbacks. There’s the Vintage UK version and the Vintage International (US) version. Which do you think has better cover? I tend to lean towards the US version (only if it’s matte though, not glossy) but it seems harder / much more pricey for us to get the US version here.

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UK version
spring snow (US)
US version
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Hoping to read another Japanese lit book by the end of the challenge in January 2016! I’m thinking The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, but we’ll see. Let me know if you’re interested in it too, perhaps we can buddy read :)
ETA: This book also fits in nicely for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe event on October 4-17, 2015, yay!
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