Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mini-Reviews: The Painted Veil & Love Is the Higher Law


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?

11 comments:

  1. I think there's a copy of Painted Veil at my grandparents house, but like you I enjoyed the movie a lot. I found it ironic that the person Naomi Watts is having an affair with is her actual partner in real life! I'm a big fan of Edward Norton and while the movie was a bit slow, I thought it was really heartfelt and beautiful.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed Love is the Higher Law Keertana! I haven't read this particular book by Levithan, but I'm a big fan of his writing. You're right his love for New York comes through in his book. It was evident in Dash & Lily's Book of Dares as well as The Lover's Dictionary.

    Lovely Reviews as always Dear :).
    Cheers,
    Savindi

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  2. I actually haven't heard of either of these. The Painted Veil is really a mystery to me and the author as well. But it seems like a great read (not perfect but gripping). I seriously have to read something by David Levithan. Everyone are giving 5 stars to his books and I haven't read any of them. I'm so glad you loved this one. Great review Keertana :)

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  3. With a story like the The Painted Veil, I would need something solid to grasp onto by the end too. It's a shame that the book doesn't give you that, but I'm glad you were able to appreciate the movie more. It isn't often that a film adaptation works better than the original. And Love Is the Higher Law sounds fantastic. It's probably something I would need to convince multiple times to pick up - I'm so inconsistent when it comes to books that deal with weightier topics - but I'm glad it worked well for you. Fantastic reviews as always! :)

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  4. I've never heard of Painted Veil, but it sounds interesting. Also is Leonardo DiCaprio in it? It looks like him on the cover. Compared to Gone With the Wind? It sounds interesting, but I think I would enjoy the movie much more. I'll check it out!
    I really want to read Love is the Higher Law. It sounds beautiful and I haven't read any 9/11 books or Levithan.

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  5. Wow, I haven't heard of either of these Keertana! I really need to read more David Levithan, I've only read invisibility which he co-wrote with Andrea. I got to see the Freedom Tower at BEA this year and it was such an amazing feeling to take in what it symbolizes. Love those books that force you to savor them rather than tear through them to reach the end as quickly as possible!

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  6. I've read LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW, and I do agree that it's pretty much amazing. David Levithan has a way of making reality so much more poignant than we might have otherwise thought.

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  7. I got a chill reading your review of David's book, Sept 11 really is a date that had an impact on the whole world. I'm glad his book is so good, I'm keen to read more of his work

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  8. I haven't heard of either of these books, but I am glad you put them on my radar. The Painted Veil sounds disappointing (the book version anyway). I'm surprised the movie was way better. But, I understand why you would prefer it over the book. I like character growth and a strong romance in my books, and if I can't connect with either than the book isn't all that great for me. But, i'm glad the movie provided that for you. Love is the Higher Law just sounds amazing! I love books where an author can capture such vivid emotions and this sounds like it does. I definitely will have to give this a try!

    Brilliant reviews, Keertana! :D

    ~ Maida
    Literary Love Affair 

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  9. Huh. I only watched the movie, but since such unlikeable characters annoy me to no end, I never even considered reading the book, and I suppose I was right. I especially dislike such vague, inconclusive, unsatisfying endings, so I'm pretty sure I would be very disappointed.

    As for Levithan, I have no doubt this is a very special book, but he and I just don't seem to click. I appreciate his writing, but it just flies right over me and fails to touch me. I will give him another chance because of your 5 stars, though.

    Thank you for the reviews, Keertana!

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  10. The Painted Veil: a case where the movie is actually better than the book?! Now I am SO intrigued to read the book and watch the movie but I think I might just see the movie. Kitty sounds like a character I'd want to slap but in another sense, I really want to read the book.

    Love is the Higher Law: Yeah. Just everything you said. I haven't read a Levithan yet (I KNOW!) but I am so interested in seeing how I take to this book. As someone who lives in the South, I had a far-away look at 9-11 but I love seeing new POVs (even though most make me cry my eyes out!)

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