Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Rating: 3 Stars
I read this, cover-to-cover, in one sitting and ended the novel perplexed, haunted, and utterly unsatisfied. The Painted Veil has been likened to my ultimate favorite, Gone With the Wind, and I was expecting quite a lot from this slim novel. In some ways, it definitely delivered, if not exceeded my expectations. I adored the vain and foolish Kitty, her equally mistaken-prone husband who wasn't merely the victimized party of adultery. I pondered over the ambiguity of equality in the novel, the concise but weighty conversations between this couple. And I more-or-less devoured the entire story, until the end when I felt an immediate sense of loss and set out to find the movie, in the hopes it would satisfy me in a way the book did not.
And it did. The movie version of The Painted Veil follows the book quite closely, but it is a romance. It portrays the politics of China in a way the book ignored, for the novel is the story of Kitty, the main character who is found cheating on her husband and taken to live with him during a cholera outbreak in China. Granted, I enjoyed the romantic renditioning of this couple far more than I did the destructive journey they shared in the book, but that is not why I liked the movie better than the book. Instead, I have to admit that I appreciated the solidarity of the movie's ending. In the film, there is no doubt that Kitty grew and changed, despite retaining many of her original characteristics. In the book, on the other hand, it is hard to say whether Kitty, in the long run, has truly changed. Whether the circumstances of her journey to China and her husband's death really made that lasting impact. I, like the film director, would like to think so, but one can never be sure. Which isn't strictly a problem, but the entire novel was filled with ironies, with parallels, with so much broken and in the process of breaking that I needed something solid to grasp onto by the end. And I didn't get that. Walter's death in the book is the ultimate irony and his last words are a kick in the gut. In the movie, however, they are merely bittersweet. And I adore that bittersweet tension reminiscent of Gone With the Wind far more than the tense and confused churning of The Painted Veil.
A novel isn't meant to do anything. It isn't meant to offer likable characters or an engaging plot or interesting dialogue and definitely not closure. A novel is whatever the author wants it to be and I love, understand, and appreciate The Painted Veil for its ambiguity and despair and foolish characters. Yet, as a reader, I must admit I didn't enjoy it the way I thought I would. I'd recommend this classic to those willing to charge through a novel wrought with depression and those willing to mull over societal issues, most importantly gender equality. For those of you who read the synopsis of this novel and think it would make a perfect and bittersweet romantic set-up, I'd highly recommend the film. It's beautiful.
Title: Love Is the Higher Law
Author: David Levithan
Rating: 5 Stars
When it comes to Love Is the Higher Law, I hardly know where to begin. Or, perhaps, when. September 11, 2001 is a date ingrained in the memory of every person, regardless of whether or not they are American. And yet, for us Americans, this date is so much more. Within the pages of this novel, David Levithan not only captures the horror, the fear, the utter astonishment that an event like 9/11 could have on a nation, but he also manages to convey the hope, the beauty, and the love that emerged during this time too.
What makes Levithan's novel such a poignant piece is not its subject matter, but rather the way in which it is written. Everything about the novel is so subtle, telling a story of three teens, all who view the event of 9/11 in a different and gripping manner. On every page is a simple sentence, one line, that conveys the weight and truth of this event. It is a slim novel, but one that demands to be read slowly and savored, with each emotion creeping up inside you when you least expect it. Claire, Jasper, and Peter are not fully actualized characters, though we see the recuperation of New York City through their eyes. While they all share distinct voices, distinct character traits, and distinct flaws, this is not a story of them. No. Love Is the Higher Law is the story of New York and all its people. With Claire, Jasper, and Peter, the trauma and hope, the strength that rises from the ashes of a fallen city, all of it is felt so acutely. And, at the same time, just like how the magnitude of that day is still impossible to feel, this book is too.
If anything is clear from reading this novel, it is that David Levithan loves New York City. With its bustle and its crowds, with its millions of people wandering selfishly with not a care for others, he brings this city to life and, most importantly, the goodness of the human heart. Now, looking back nearly twelve years later, it is impossible to think of New York being this torn. And yet not so impossible at all. Even now, the remnants of 9/11 remain. Ground Zero. The shining height of the new Twin Towers. Of a city rising once again, refusing to be trod upon. A city, though once afraid, and perhaps still afraid, willing to face that fear. Every day people walk into and out of New York City, remembering all the lives that were lost. Every day people will walk into and out of the new World Trade Center, remembering all the people who used to work there, on those very same floor numbers. With that remembrance, with that hope, we keep persevering...and what more could we possibly ask for?