Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


I dare say I may need to amend my rating, in case this book's relative worth changes in light of reading Emma and Persuasion, which are next on my to-read list.

There is much to enjoy in this book. As usual, Jane Austen timelessly depicts the subtleties of human nature, including the agonies of heartbreak. Her usual talent for dialogue is evident, and her storytelling leaves no detail unexplained. I had feared I might not appreciate the book's ending, but by the time I finished the final page, I couldn't help but feel satisfied with the outcomes.

All that being said, I wasn't as totally engrossed in this book as I was with Pride and Prejudice. Sense and Sensibility starts slowly and with the introduction of characters I found unlikeable. It wasn't until Chapter 8 that I encountered the engaging dialogue I was expecting. For much of the book I couldn't understand what was so great about Edward, and Margaret was so seldom referenced that I rather wondered why she was included at all. When Willoughby came to Elinor and made his excuses, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to take away from his defense of his indefensible actions. (Thankfully, after the extensive monologue, Austen made her customary summary of facts that provided some clarification, but still left me unsure of what to make of Willoughby.)

Now, I look forward to watching a few screen adaptations!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pride and Prejudice (1980 TV Mini-Series)


Another TV mini-series!

Despite being a period piece, this adaptation somehow betrays its 1980s origins. It's kind of slow and is rather much more like a play than a movie, with straightforward dialogue taking up much of the screen time. The acting lacks the subtlety and charm of the 1995 BBC version, and the adaptation as a whole lacks the dramatic flair of the 2005 Keira Knightley film. Still, like the other two adaptations, this one adheres faithfully to the book, and much of the dialogue is taken directly from it. I was pleased to find that this version includes even more of my favorite lines that were unfortunately omitted from both the other two versions.

This mini-series is about one hour shorter than the BBC version, and there is some condensing of scenes, though not much. Characters were true to the book, only a couple were missing, and I admit I rather prefer this version's portrayal of Lady Catherine. I would even call this version's Mr. Darcy on par with Colin Firth's in the BBC version; even though David Rintoul doesn't have the same presence as Colin Firth, his portrayal, I think, better showed Mr. Darcy's gradual change in attitude towards Elizabeth. This version also pleasantly includes Charlotte more than the other two.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pride and Prejudice (2005)


Watching this on the heels of the almost perfect TV mini-series, I can't help but compare the two. While this movie was quite a bit less satisfying than the mini-series, I think, judged by itself, it does a relatively good job standing on its own.

A respectable amount of dialogue was taken from the book, which I always like. Even more impressive was that some of my favorite lines that were left out of the mini-series were included in this movie. The story is faithful to the book, even if much of it is super-condensed - multiple scenes and conversations occurring over many days in the book are sometimes rolled together into one scene in the movie. I have to admit it did perhaps as well a job as could have been done under the time constraints.

Many characters are entirely omitted, and some characters are portrayed slightly differently than in the book: Elizabeth is much more passionate and, from the beginning, is more engaged in the process of finding a husband, Mrs. Bennett is not so dramatic, Mr. Bingley bumbles too much, Mr. Collins is too serious, and Mr. Darcy, I'm afraid, is not quite so proud. The movie also portrays conflicts much more obviously and heatedly than in the book, and a number of scenes were altered for dramatic effect.

Finally, the set design and costume seemed more along the lines of American Colonial, not so much British Regency. For me, this bit of poetic license detracted from the elegance and charm of the story's context.

All in all, I think I would have been more satisfied with this version had I not seen the mini-series first.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV Mini-Series)


I guess this isn't exactly a movie, it's a TV mini-series, but I'm going to review it anyway.

I borrowed this DVD from the library thinking it was a movie. I did notice that it included two discs, but I just figured the second one might be some kind of special feature disc. I didn't realize it was a mini-series until the first DVD ended, but the story was only half over! By then I was already 3 hours invested into the series, but I couldn't possibly stop, so I watched all 5 1/2 hours of it in one sitting. I was up way past my bedtime!

I was so very pleased with this adaptation! It was extremely faithful to the book, and it took very few liberties, and then only very small ones. I was a bit disappointed that a handful of memorable lines in the book were omitted from the script, but since a vast majority of the dialogue was taken directly from the book, I suppose I can't blame the screenwriter for leaving out a few passages.

I appreciated that the series every now and then included a brief scene or bit of background that helped to further show the lifestyle of the period. Also, while Kitty and Mary were constantly in the background in the book, the series actually did a remarkable job of integrating them into the story.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


I love this book! From the moment I read the opening line ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.") and the ensuing dialogue, I couldn't put it down.

I think I first read Pride and Prejudice in early high school, and though there are certainly reasons for reading classics as a teenager, I am sure I didn't fully appreciate this book until I read it as an adult.

The book starts right off with witty and humorous dialogue. Even though conversations have the formality of 18th/19th century English, they are surprisingly readable. And though the book is primarily concerned with what many people might call frivolous - the trials and tribulations of finding a husband in a society that considers marriage the ultimate goal for all young women - the human nature and emotions described are remarkably relevant, even 200 years after first being published.

The story itself is much like a modern-day soap opera, including the way each character is somehow connected, however tangentially, to other characters. It's a really diverting read. I don't know why I never read other Jane Austen novels, or even seen any of the movie adaptations, but I will now surely add them to my to-read and to-watch lists.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lemon Grass - Lexington, MA


Ken and I ate at this restaurant about 5 years ago, I think when I was pregnant with Isabelle, and all I remember is that I declared it my worst Thai dining experience ever, and I vowed never to return. That was before I started keeping track of restaurant reviews, though, so I can't for the life of me remember now what was so bad about it then. When a friend suggested this place for today's lunch, I really couldn't come up with a valid reason not to try it again, and its location was perfectly convenient - with free parking! - so I agreed.

Well, the place isn't terrible, but it's definitely lacking in some key areas. My Thai iced tea was a tad bitter, not well balanced. The coconut chicken soup was too heavy on the coconut, too light on the ginger and lime. The chicken pieces were generous, but much too large for one spoonful/mouthful. The mushrooms were still raw, and it seems like undercooked vegetables may have been a theme, as the carrots in my Drunken Noodles were also underdone. The dish was listed as spicy on the menu, but it wasn't at all. At least the shrimp - all three of them - were cooked well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon


I have to admit, I had a few false starts before I really got into The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Even once I was committed, and even as the book, on the whole, got better and better, chapters frequently started slowly - though that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because it allowed me to easily put the book down between chapters, so I was never at risk of losing sleep for the sake of reading this book.

During my first couple reading attempts, I was put off by the Yiddish words strewn generously about. I found myself looking up definitions online, which got to be kind of annoying, and then I resorted to inferring meanings from context. It wasn't until I was at least half-way through the book that I realized there is a glossary in the back! (This is not the first time I've been burned by discovering too late a useful resource at the back of a fiction book. From now on, I'm going to make a habit of thumbing through the back of a book for useful appendices before beginning to read it.) Anyway, with glossary at hand, I was pleased to discover that I had appropriately understood most of the Yiddish words I encountered, which probably is more a testament to Chabon's writing than my reading skills.

Once I got used to Chabon's jaunty writing style, I was hooked. The pages are filled with clever metaphors, and rather than tire of them, I couldn't get enough. I felt smart for understanding Chabon's humor, but I didn't feel like Chabon was contriving to make me feel smart; he just really assumed, while writing the book, that anyone reading his book would be smart enough to get it.

Chabon deftly created and populated a believable imaginary world of displaced Jews in Sitka, Alaska. He gave life - albeit, a dreary, lonely, and at times pathetic one, but a life nonetheless - to a place where a new generation of Jews grew to call home. (Other books set in real-life locations don't do even half as good a job giving the reader an authentic feel for a place.)

Chess plays a central role in the book, and to Chabon's credit, he doesn't belabor the topic. I can easily imagine a similar book in which the author drones on and on about various styles of chess, strategies, historical players, etc., anything to try to bring chess into the forefront. Thankfully, Chabon spared us. Instead, he carefully positioned chess just outside the main focus, but not quite in the background. You get the feeling that chess will somehow help solve the murder case, but you have to keep reading to find out how.