Mrs Dalloway ~ by Virginia Woolf

I read this years ago and then much later I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham and not really liking either one I put them away – even out of my mind.  (I love To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own.)    Whatever –  a reading group decided to read Mrs Dalloway and I thought it might be interesting to revisit – maybe I missed something. (Obviously I missed something – lol.)   It’s very complex.

Mrs Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
1925 / 177 pages
Read by Phyllida Law  7h 25m
Rating – 9 /  classic 20th century Eng.
(both read and listened)

Mrs Richard Dalloway (Clarissa) is  giving a party – Clarissa loves giving parties and she’s quite good at it.   The day of this party,  in mid-June of 1920, she takes a walk to buy flowers and sees people and places while thoughts drift through her mind.  Sometimes the narrative focuses on what is in the mind of some of the people she encounters,  but it’s not stream of consciousness like it is with Clarissa.

Another character with the stream of consciousness treatment is Septimus Smith, a WWI veteran,  who is mentally unsound due to the war.  There are many, many other walk-by characters including Septimus’  wife,  but mostly name dropping of how many people Clarissa knows.  A royal limousine passes and an airplane flies over  so there’s a bit of chitter-chatter.   Clarissa gets back home where she thinks some more – about Sally,  her teenage love,  about other people,  love, clothes,  Buckingham Palace.  She’s not a thinker of ideas – she’s rather shallow so it’s generally all about people and things.

There were no “chapters” as such in the version I read but the hours are ticked off as the day goes by.

Yes, it’s a lot like Ulysses,  James Joyce’s magnum opus, which I’ve read twice and don’t love but do admire – I probably don’t really “understand”  the half of it.   In some ways Woolf mimicks Joyce in the “day in the life of…”  approach as well as the stream-of- consciousness.   But I think she expanded on it in her own way, too.

Rather than Stephen, Leopold and Molly types,  Woolf  used a woman with nothing particularly intellectual or sexy about her thoughts.  The thoughts of Septimus Warren Smith are not  really about reality.   Clarissa’s thoughts are completely steeped in feelings and emotions – some thinking about other peopel.   – Septimus is lacking any feelings that he’s aware of – he thinks about his best friend in the war.   Also  Peter,  Clarissa’s old love,   and Lucreza,  Septimus’ wife,  seem to have minor inner dialogues.    But there are probably a hundred named characters coming in and out of the action (such as it is) and some of them have some inner dialogue which is more than simply,  “‘_______,’ he thought to himself.”

I also suspect Woolf thought she’d improve on Joyce by having her stream of consciousness come from a fairly normal but snobby and very social woman doing her normal things, (being an upscale homemaker),   and a man who was made mentally ill from WWI.   There are no twisted intellectual games like Joyce used in addition to his Irish history embedded in a  parallel to The Odyssey.   Instead,  Woolf uses some very curious characters and intriguing insights.

And where the themes of Ulysses revolve around a quest or two in addition to memory,  time, and sex,  Woolf  has her own themes which include  time and memory, of course,  but also the ravages of World War I,  mental illness,  love of various sorts and the role of women in society.

Reading Mrs Dalloway  today gives an interesting insight to the times of  post-World War I in England and  I sense a connection to some of T.S. Elliot’s poetry and ideas – they did work together sometimes.

There are some really fine parts in this book – but other parts are just plain boring.  I think it might be the kind of book a student would enjoy studying and taking apart in various ways but I’m really not all that interested at the moment –  too many good books to read.

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Truly Madly Guilty ~ by Liane Moriarity

Truly, Madly Guilty started out feeling  like quite a disappointment after Big Little Lies and if you’re looking for a lot of suspense or a thriller you’d better keep looking.   On the other hand it’s quite good if you could also be interested in a book about relationships amongst married people,  their friends and mothers.  And there are several surprises toward the end – the result of the suspense.  They’re good, too – unexpected.    Moriarity is very talented at building suspense,  but then she seemed to get way-laid in the details of life –  don’t worry about it – keep reading.

The themes concern family and relationships,  but the idea of  guilt is huge – who is guilty and for what in this bunch of somewhat messy but realistic actions and interactions and relationships amongst characters who do not have completely well-balanced personalities (“Madly Guilty”).   Because of the rest of the story I’m rating this as contemporary fiction rather than as suspense.  As true suspense it might get a rating of a  B- or a C.

The narrative follows three married couples before and after a backyard barbecue at which something happened,  but what happened exactly is an unknown until about midway and then the consequences are explored and some more information about that event is revealed as the story continues.  Good stuff after  I got into it.   Because Moriarity is also very skilled at developing full characters.


Truly Madly Guilty
by Liane Moriarity
2016 / 432 pages
read by Caroline Lee 17h 27m
rating:   8  /  contemporary fiction 

The couples:

Clementine,  a professional cello player,  is married to Sam a “retired” businessman who is more caretaker of the children.  These two are very married,  but not happily at this point.   They have two children,  Holly who is a rather precocious 6-year old and Ruby who at about age 2 1/2 is still in diapers.

Erika grew up with Clementine and they were good friends at Clementine’s mother’s insistence.   She’s become an anxiety-ridden,  pill-popping woman who looks out for her mother who is a hoarder – “like on TV.”    And she’s married to Oliver who is devoted to her and really wants a child but Erika never has to this point.

Tiffany and Vid  –   These are Erika’s neighbors and Vid has seen Clementine play her cello.  Tiffany is very sexy and Vid is charismatic.  They live in a large lovely home and it  they are comparatively quite well off,   although Vid is an electrician – perhaps a contractor.   Erika and Vid give a barbecue and invite Erica and Oliver and  Vid wants Clementine and Sam there.  This couple has one child, Dakota age 10.

Everyone has secrets – except perhaps,  Vid.

So  Vid and Tiffany invite Erika and Oliver to a barbecue and also request they invite Clementine and Sam.  This event is the focal point of the whole story,  although parts of the narrative takes place before the event, other parts take place the day of the event,  and still other parts take place at various times after the event.   These parts alternate until they catch up with each other.  Finally the event occurs about 1/2 way through the novel.  Then the sections alternate between  before after and during the event.

If you’re looking for suspense the book is going to be very long and boring – these are people with problems which are not exactly earth-shattering or even terribly strange.  Normal people with normal problems living in normal circumstances.  But something happens on  “The Day of the Barbecue”  and then we get the aftermath.   And then the surprise.

The women have relationship issues with mothers and each other as well as with their husbands.    Clementine is basically a nice person because her mother has trained her to be that.  And Erika is needy and that’s the basis of the relationship with Clementine.  Tiffany is the newcomer and she and Vid might be the most normal – although they’re not.

I was really expecting suspense like Big Little Lies,  but this is a different book.  This is more along the lines of The Slap by Alex Dimitriades but again,  a different story.

If you’re looking for an exploration of relationships under pressure this might be the book for you.   I started enjoying the narrative about 1/3 of the way through (maybe 150 pages?)  –  and it’s a long book with a slow reader who tries her best to add some suspense.    At about the half-way mark (the actual barbecue)  the relationships became more important to me than the suspense,  but I really wanted to know how it all ended and there is still some very slow but sure suspense building because there is an ending.

Fwiw,  the narrator’s voice is grating at first and it was very difficult to distinguish between Clementine and Erika.  ALso difficult to distinguish between Holly (the 6-year old) and Sam,  her father,  Clementine’s husband.   I got used to the voice in general but had to listen carefully to know which character was speaking.

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High Crimes ~ by Joseph Finder

I got on a Joseph Finder kick since reading Vanished a few days ago.  (And it was on sale.)  It is older though and it shows – 15 years of progress in technology is a tell, imo, but the book is good enough I was able to get past that –  the fact that it’s part legal thriller helps.   lol –  and I know next to nothing about military justice system.

The premise:   Claire and Tom Chapman have been happily married for several years and they live with her young daughter from a prior relationship in Boston where she teaches law at Harvard and takes cases on her own from time to time.    The story is generally told from Claire’s vantage point although not in first person.


High Crimes
by Joseph Finder
1998 /  400 pages
read by Therese Plummer
Rating –  A+  /  legal thriller –  (military courts)

One day the small family is walking through a local mall after a nice meal when they are suddenly confronted by military police who want Tom because,  after he gets away in a blaze of a short chase – they tell Claire he’s not really Tom Chapman.  He’s Ron Kubik and he’s  wanted for murder.

Turns out this Ron Kubik is not wanted for just any old murder,  but for the assassination of 87 people in a remote village in San Salvador.   He is then accused of a couple other crimes based on the same incident  which happened 13 years prior, in 1985.      The police say he’s been in hiding ever since and they found him only because of careful cross checking of fingerprints taken from simple burglary.

Characters are good,  writing flows,  suspense builds of its own accord,  no alternating chapters,  no foreshadowing.    The background being the military justice system makes the book a bit twisty as well as more suspenseful and interesting.

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Requiem for the American Dream: ~ by Noam Chomsky

I’ve wanted to read a book by Noam Chomsky for a long time (he’s now 88 years old!) but something always interfered.  I’ve watched him attack the system and support his causes for since the anti-Vietnam War years.   I tend to agree with him in so many ways.   But … I have problems with some of his assumptions.

Once a book I tried (?)  went kind of over my head and was very dry.  Other times the books seemed like they might be somewhat dated.   But this came across my path and it was originally filmed (first) and published after our disastrous elections so I thought maybe it might be accessible.   (The interviews were conducted over a period of about 4 years –  but it was still published after the elections – still relevant – more relevant perhaps.)


Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power 
by Noam Chomsky
2017 /  192 pages
read by Donald Corran  — 3h 50m
rating –  10 /  political/economics

Chomsky writes about a good many things –  linguistics, philosophy,  history,   politics and social criticism – maybe more.   Take a peek at his Wikipedia write-up as well as the separate page for his bibliography and filmography:

Requiem for the American Dream is about politics and economics and how the rich have suppressed the population for their own purposes by these 10 (11) methods.  It seems to cover so many things in one slim volume (or film which was first).

These are the chapter titles:

1 Reduce Democracy
2 Shape ideology
3 Redesign the Economy
4 Shift the Burden
5 Attack Solidarity
6 Run the Regulators
7 Engineer Elections
8 Keep the Rabble in Line
9 Manufacture Consent
10 Marginalize the Population

  1.  Reduce Democracy has been done historically via voting and other rights – watch the media –  keep democracy moderate.
  2. Shape Indoctrination:   In the second chapter Chomsky talks about the media and education and control.  He talks about the end of free education –  charter schools – it’s coming.  Destroy public institution like giving medication to kindergarteners because they’re not doing well in school.   “The masters of society have decided that.”    We can’t be having an excess of democracy – that Jacksonian ideal that led to the Civil War.   (That one’s a paraphrase.)
  3.  Redesign the Economy:  What government is doing is just getting more powerful and supporting the status quo – the auto industry is the case in point.  Investors want short-term gain –  restrain worker wages by a variety of means –
  4. Shift the Burden:   Taxes –  The “plutonomy” is a new category of wealth –  make the very rich very much richer.  Goals are profits – that is the only goal – profit.    ** The average Joe often believes he too can be one of the super-rich.  A back-lash is probable but it’s not in the near future.  **
  5. Attack Solidarity:  Basically pit one group against the other by interests or nationality – Plutocrats stick together across national lines –  Take care of yourself only – don’t care for anyone other than yourself.  Get rid of Social Security –  (imo – here’s the backlash.)   Public schools are also a part of solidarity  –  we all pay for the schools whether we have kids in the schools or not.   Same with health care but the “masters,”  as Chomsky calls them,  do not want this.   Drug prices are a huge example.   With all our resources,  we have become a 3rd world country in terms of infrastructure and education (like free college).
  6. Run the Regulators:  Banking and economics –  (enough said)
  7. Engineer Elections:   From the 14th amendment to Citizens United – corporate personhood .  Privileged access.   Build from the base, constantly  – T-Party did this.   How much can a person (including a corporation) spend on a campaign.  It all costs money.  Even internet has a price.   Politicians have to talk about what media and other politicos want to talk about.
  8. Keep the Rabble in Line:  –   Unions are a democratizing force.  (?) –  New Deal got unions involved.   The “masters” were split on some things including unions.   Labor has always had a lower class feel to it.   “Those who work in the mills ought to own them.”
  9. Manufacture Consent:  –  If the masses understand that they do have power then power as we know it will collapse –   Public Relations industry in freest countries.
  10. Marginalize the Population:  Trap the workers into jobs because they need the money to buy things.  Consumerize the population.  (Is making irrational decisions the fault of the advertising companies?   Some corporation heads make irrational decisions, too – like having mistresses or luxury yachts.  Propaganda –  Children’s ads for junk –  smoking for women – etc.   He goes on against the “neo-liberals.”

There was really nothing in this book I wasn’t aware of on some level, mostly quiet conscious,  but it’s nicely organized and to the point.  I agree with most of what he says but … I have a pragmatic side and I’ve seen that many laborers in the 21st century do not want unions.  They want the “right to work”  without unions.  I’ve seen that people are fed up with public schools and want charter schools for their own kids.   I’ve seen people get addicted to buying stuff – (and I remember “keeping up with the Joneses from the 1950s).   I’ve seen that people are very selfish –

The issues which do concern me are climate change (and related problems),  gun control.  It seems not to matter that the public truly does have an opinion – Congress and it’s supporters – “the masters” –  don’t care.   “The people”  are split on the issues of abortion,  race and GLBT and nobody is making any money off of those.

Chomsky talks about much of this as though there were some huge premeditated conspiracy to defraud the workers of the US.   I don’t agree – companies moved their plants to Mexico and China without any agreement with anyone else to do it.  Workers were cheaper there and so off they went.  Actually,  they probably wanted to get one up on the competition.  Unions made it harder to get those big almighty profits in the US than in India.  (And if the US doesn’t want to pay for schools then we will continue to be dependent on other nations for workers in some industries.)

Advertising is done to get “one-up” on the competition – not to trap the workers en masse. Trapping the workers is a side-effect – (And Grandma ogled the Sears catalogue the same way the teenie-bopper ogles the new stuff in the mall.)

He says that we’re  still relatively free –  we have to build large movements to create more freedom.  We can do it if we choose to.

I agree – there is something fundamentally wrong with capitalism – I just haven’t seen a system which actually works better.  But perhaps Chomsky just wants us to see it for what it is,  for what it has become and a few major tweeks.

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The Book of Mirrors ~ by E.O. Chirovici

Memories are tricky things – especially after 20 years has passed.   But some things stick – some true,  some not –  some get placed in the wrong context.   This isn’t so much a “thriller” as it is a literary crime book,  more on the order of Julian Barnes mixed with Thomas Cook (Sandrine’s Case and others).  I say that because most of it concerns the theme of how memory is really unreliable.   Others have described the book as “a cross between Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind.”   (The Guardian)  or  “in the vein of Night Film and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”  (Simon & Schuster


The Book of Mirrors
by E.O. Chirovici  (Rumania/UK-English)
2017 / 288 pages
read by Jonathan Todd Ross and cast –
7h 5m
Rating:   A /  literary crime 
Peter Katz, a literary is intrigued by a partial manuscript he receives in the mail from one Richard Flynn who also sends an email cover-letter as a follow-up.   Flynn, who is now very sick,  was a student of the famous psychologist and professor,  Joseph Weider who was brutally murdered in 1987.  The case was never solved.   Now Flynn is writing about it – is he confessing?  Accusing?  Just giving an insider’s information which he has just remembered?   Hard telling because the next night Flynn died in his hospital bed.  The rest of the manuscript is nowhere to be found.

Katz is curious – he reads the excerpt and decides to have John Keller,  follow up and see what he can find in the way of the crime and/or the manuscript.  The idea is to write a True Crime book based on Keller’s investigation.

The theme concerns cognitive psychology and its relationship to memory,  mental stimulus and reaction – the way memories are formed and more.   And Weider’s thoughts on memory as well as his experiments are included in Flynn’s excerpt.   Weider’s research has included studies on how memory is sometimes erased,  scrambled, distorted and even invented.  Weider was also experimenting with his ideas and becoming very famous for it.

So that  little discussion sets up the complexity for when some of the characters mentioned,  an interesting bunch in themselves,   turn out to remember one way and other characters another way and some not at all.  The rest of Flynn’s  manuscript is missing along with a couple people and another manuscript.

It’s a goodie – Chirovici’s first in English,  his second language.


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Vanished ~ by Joseph Finder

I’ve read two of Finder’s novels prior and I loved one (Company Man)  and didn’t much care for the other (Paranoia).  I wasn’t going to read any more but this one caught my eye for some reason – on sale at Audible,  perhaps.  ? –   Anyway I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised.

by Joseph Finder
2009/ 395 pages
read by Holler Graham 10h 42m
Rating:   A / crime 

Nick Heller’s brother,  Roger,  is missing.  He and his wife Lauren had a date night and while Lauren was smacked,  Roger disappeared.   When Lauren regained consciousness in the hospital there was no evidence of him anywhere.  What happened to him?  Where was he?

With his mother in the hospital,  Gabriel, Laura’s 14-year old son and Roger’s stepson, places a phone call to  his uncle Nick who arrives pronto to help find his brother.   After that,  well,  things get complicated.

Nick is a trained spy who works for Special Forces seeking out embarrassing information and the dark secrets of powerful people.  This this time it looks like the dangerous head of a huge international corporation is involved,  at least according to something Roger said to Lauren earlier – Roger found something incriminating.  They might want him out of the way.   So,  where is Roger?

One twisty thread is that the father of Roger and Nick is doing a long prison sentence  for big-time corporate fraud.  He’s not a nice guy.   I’m not going to say any more except that Nick has been highly trained and has skills and talents way beyond your average street cop.  He’s also very smart,  determined, and willing to get into the physical parts of a risky  chase.

The plot is good,  the characters are really well done, the writing is smooth.  The only downside is that the thriller aspect – the chase scenes – take over.   That said,  yes,  I’ll read book 2 in this series.   But Company Man is still better.

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The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees had been on my radar for several weeks – since it was released actually,  because I totally enjoyed The Sympathizer by the same author.   And this book then won several awards (as did The Sympathizer) and then I procrastinated.   And then I got it.  Today.   And I like to buy and read as I go so I read it today.


The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2017/ 224 pages
read by Viet Thanh Nguyen  5h 5m
rating:   9.2  /  stories

“We had no belongings except our stories.”

And that’s the theme and the main arc of the themes.   The refugees each tell their own story –  it’s all they have.

Story 1 –   a young woman works as a ghost writer and then sees ghosts and remembers a tragedy.

Story 2 –  Liam, a vulnerable young gay man,  living in a city in California –  remembers the past and tries to avoid it while he learns how to hope.

Story 3 –  A teenage boy in San Jose  works at his parents’ store called The New Saigon.  The customers speak Vietnamese and barter with his parents.   The story of denial and continued support for a lost cause,  lost people.  (1st person and similar to the author’s own biography.)

Story 4 –  Arthur Arellano eats with his friend Louis Vu in an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon in Orange County California. The two men are connected in more than one way but there has been a serious mix-up and Arthur has nothing much to offer.

Story 5 –  “I Love You To Want Me” –    Professor Khanh who is getting dementia starts calling his wife by a stranger’s name.   A very touching story.

Story 6 – “The Americans”  –  James Carver  (from Alabama)  and his wife Mitchiko (from Japan)  are visiting Cambodia and Vietnam to see their adult daughter Clare who lives there and works as a teacher.   Claire’s boyfriend  Khoi Legaspi  who is Asian appearance is also with them.  At one point Khoi makes a wry comment about being a “black man in Japan.”    Claire is a teacher and has decided to live in Vietnamese and work as a farm person as he had.   Very interesting dream.   Very multi-ethnic and dual generational story,  satirical, my favorite.

Story 7 –  A young male school teacher of Vietnamese heritage whose Vietnamese mother has died recently.   He was born in a refugee camp .  His wife, Sam, is divorcing him because she wants children but he despises his father. So he invited his father to live with him.  This was a mistake – hie father is loco.   Now Sam is pregnant.

Story 8 –  A woman successfully immigrates to the US and returns much later to visit her family –  she gets a lot of surprises but then,  she has a surprise for them, too.

This one needs a reread.  And I may have to read Nguyan’s  award-winning “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,”  too.

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