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Rachel-K
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First Impressions

Please use this thread to share your ideas and impressions as you begin to sink into these early chapters.
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IBIS
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Re: First Impressions

I was surprised by how much I disliked the first main character we meet, Danielle Minkoff. She is in Sydney, Australia, and meets her hostess at a dinner party.

By the 2nd paragraph, she struck me as condescending and arrogant.

She meets her hostess and immediately worries about disturbing her makeup.
"...she had no intention of revealing to strangers the disintegration beneath her paint."
Okay, here is a young woman who is evidently very concerned about her looks.

Her attitude towards her hosts and the other guests was condescending (except for "spectacular" Ludovic Seely).
Her comment about one guest: "He was sweet. No, he really was. But not very interesting."
She "feigns sudden interest in Ito/Iko's recent trip to Tahiti."

By the time I reached Chapter Two, I was worried that I would have to spend my time disliking one of the main characters for the rest of the book.

I hoped the other friends were more likable.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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plainjane
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Re: First Impressions

Messud manages to pack a lot into the first chapter, where the main character Danielle goes to a dinner party. We get a feeling for the hosts, Lucy and Roger, mainly from their obviously expensive house, and the rather pretentious dinner offerings. Roger, an author whose books are characterized as "no-good" by a minor character, does however manage to babble on to Danielle about how successful his books are, and how in his youth he loved the dangerous sport of scuba diving.

The center of attention for Danielle is Ludovic Seeley, who answers Danielle's self-introduction with a nebulous remark that could be interpreted as a determination to be mysterious and superior. When Danielle says "I'm Danielle", he responds "Are you now?", leaving someone else to tell Danielle his name.

Danielle looks Ludovic over from head to toe. She is immediately attracted to him, almost as if she has been "waiting for him." She is attracted by his self-assurance: "What he knew perhaps was what he wanted." She, Danielle does not. She contemplates, but not seriously, moving to Australia. Her obsession with her makeup highlights her insecurity.

It turns out that Roger, who has been dissed by Moira and John, who are Danielle's friends who brought her to the party, is actually "very powerful ... in Sydney." Danielle has never heard of him. Moira describes a down-at-the-heels Chinese restaurant in London, which has a sign in the window saying "Our chef is very famous in London", with the implication that he is famous no where.

This slight remark turns out to be a symbol of the driving impetus of the plot. Ludovic is moving to New York, Danielle's home city. She tries very hard to hide her attraction to him. If they are going to meet again, it would seem that he would be in the position of power. Ludovic is going to become the editor of a right-wing magazine. Denise is apparently a left-wing TV producer. Ludovic is confident that he can "take on New York." And thus the title of the first chapter: "Our Chef Is Very Famous in New York". We are left with questions that impel us to read on: will Denise and Ludovic meet again in New York, and will Ludovic succeed in becoming the conqueror he plans to be?
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bobzyeruncle
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Re: First Impressions

[ Edited ]
I'm just a few chapters in (just finished Chapter Six) and my initial reaction is that I don't care at all what happens to these spoiled, seemingly one-dimensional characters. I'm learning a lot about what kind of furniture the characters have (lots of lovely and well-thought interior design exposition) but not much about why there's a whole novel written about them.

Then again, I'm only 65 pages in, and my rule of thumb is to give a book 100 pages.

Danielle seems an arrogant, up-herself, kohl-caked poser. Marina just needs to be smacked (sit down and write your book already). And Julius, who allegedly has made a name for himself by being a witty gay boy hasn't said one funny thing yet. If this is supposed to be a modern day comedy of manners, where (who) is the voice of reason?

Enough with the expository set-up and bring on the story already.

I've read elsewhere that the inciting incident of the story is when Bootie (who I suppose could turn out to be a sort of slovenly anti-hero) moves to New York and that his actions will change everyone's lives.

Okay, that's enough to make me read on (that and I'm eager to have the discussion) ... but I hope this isn't a "oh goodness, we're all so affected by the events of 9/11 that we find redemption in our pathetic attempts to become 'adults'" story. I really hope that the crucible these people get put into (for that's what creates a drama, isn't it) is not at Ground Zero.

I'm also a little disenchanted with the narrative voice. Third-person omniscient is a tough one -- very old-fashioned storytelling, which, when it works, is great -- but so far there seems to be a lot of what could be seen as "telling, not showing." Does the narrator need to use words like "moue" or tell us what Danielle thought of the Chinese food? I ran around with a lot of 30-somethings, from all walks of life, in NY during "historical" time this story's set in and none of would describe their moo shoo as "swiftly glutinous."

I love well-written work and a compelling narrative voice ... I just hope that this isn't a case of style over substance.

Again, this is only a first impression, and I love to be taken on a ride that I didn't expect to go on.

We'll see.

Message Edited by bobzyeruncle on 09-30-2007 01:20 PM
:: :: ::

Bob
www.bobzyeruncle.com
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plainjane
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Re: First Impressions

After reading the first few chapters of the book, I noticed that a number of the characters are stuck: Danielle's TV documentary was turned down and she does not have a viable second option. Bootie, the Professor (an ironic title), although very intelligent, has dropped out of college to sit and read in his room. Marina has been stuck for a long time on her book about children's fashions. Julian is broke,and after a first success in the city working for the Village Voice no longer knows what to do with his life. As the author says, "He was aware that at thirty he stretched the limits of the charming wastrel, that some actual sustained endeavor might be in order were he not to fade, wisplike away: from charming wastrel to needy, boring failure was bur a few, too few, short steps."

In contrast we have two powerful characters: Murray Thwaite (the pope), a successful professor, and Ludovic Seeley. Both these men appear to be attractive to women, Murrray in spite of his age. Ludovic is moving from Australia to New York City to make his mark as the editor of a new magazine. He is supremely confident. Thwaite is a staunch liberal; Ludovic a conservative.

I am left with many questions. Will any of our characters become unstuck? What are the weaknesses of Thwaite and Seeley that they have managed successfully to conceal? Will there be a confrontation between these strong men?
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IBIS
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Re: First Impressions

[ Edited ]


Bobzyeruncle wrote:
Danielle seems an arrogant, up-herself, kohl-caked poser. Marina just needs to be smacked (sit down and write your book already). And Julius, who allegedly has made a name for himself by being a witty gay boy hasn't said one funny thing yet. If this is supposed to be a modern day comedy of manners, where (who) is the voice of reason?



I agree totally with your summing up of the 3 friends. They're maddeningly silly people.

And I don't think we need a voice of reason... as readers, don't we supply that "adult" sensibility? Obviously, the "adults" in the story are as narcistic and self-focused as everyone else.

Edited by Admin for formatting only.

Message Edited by Jessica on 10-25-2007 03:46 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions



IBIS wrote:
________________________________
I don't think we need a voice of reason... as readers, don't we supply that "adult" sensibility?




Ibis,

I like this approach to fiction!

I'm really interested to see how much attention has been given (so early in our discussion) to the narrative voice itself, the language, the style, the narrative POV. I was captured by this aspect of the novel right off, because it feels demanding and confident and kept me fully engaged. Does the writing in most of the recent novels you've read feel relatively "invisible?"

It feels to me that the novel has a "personality" in this quality of the narrative that I'm really enjoying.
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IBIS
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Re: First Impressions

Rachel, I agree that readers have posted comments on the narrative style unusually early in the game. Usually, it takes a couple of weeks for those observations to rise to the surface.

What pulled me into the novel was the confident quality of the narrative voice. I felt a strong demand to fully engage myself in the actual process of reading it. Reading it is not passive. The author assumes a certain amount of necessary responsibility by the reader.

The characters' points of view have a definite style. Their quirks and shortcomings are described so well and assertively, that I immediately, and most definitely, had strong feelings about them. To merely like a character is lukewarm praise.

New York City has become another character in this story. It's a city that I can approach, take in, dwell in, and become part of.

Unlike the last novel I read, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, which had an "invisible" voice, and let me to focus more on the characters and the plot, this novel has a very in-your-face vnarration which many readers may not care for.

I bask in the warmth of Claire Messud's excellent writing --- there is a definite "tone" and personality that is identifiably hers. I'm also reading her other work, like WHEN THE WORLD WAS STEADY. And I am looking forwards to more of her excellent writer's voice.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions

Hi Ibis,

I'd love to hear your impressions of When The World Was Steady. I'm curious what her voice was like a decade earlier. I see that it's a Granta publication, which impresses me.
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Pat_T
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Re: First Impressions

I also am interested in the narrative style. While the narrator may have advance knowledge of events, everything is not laid out for the reader, as is often the case. The chapters are short, and give a snapshot of an event or conversation without much background, and at first, are seemingly unrelated. The result is that I feel I am gradually learning about the characters by paging through a photo album- if that makes sense.
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Peppermill
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Re: First Impressions


IBIS wrote{ed.}:
Rachel, I agree that readers have posted comments on the narrative style unusually early in the game. Usually, it takes a couple of weeks for those observations to rise to the surface.

What pulled me into the novel was the confident quality of the narrative voice. I felt a strong demand to fully engage myself in the actual process of reading it. Reading it is not passive. The author assumes a certain amount of necessary responsibility by the reader.

The characters' points of view have a definite style. Their quirks and shortcomings are described so well and assertively, that I immediately, and most definitely, had strong feelings about them. To merely like a character is lukewarm praise.

New York City has become another character in this story. It's a city that I can approach, take in, dwell in, and become part of.

... this novel has a very in-your-face narration ...

I bask in the warmth of Claire Messud's excellent writing --- there is a definite "tone" and personality that is identifiably hers....
It has been too long since I read The Emperor's Children to have "first impressions" any more. However, although I would never written what you did, IBIS, you provoked my memory. I have highlighted a few things in particular.
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Popper19
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Re: First Impressions

So far I really don't care for any of the characters either. Danielle is the only one starting to grow on me. The others have characteristics that irritate me in some way. I am quite interested to see what happens with all of them throughout the rest of the story. As far as the writing style and vocabulary - I love it.
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Fozzie
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Re: First Impressions

I, like others, found the first chapter to be a bit off putting. I did not want to read a book about shallow conversations at dinner parties. Thank goodness the subsequent chapters, at least through Chapter Eight, have not had the same tone.

I am enjoying meeting all the characters and figuring out how they all fit together. I also like the writing style and am finding it to be straight forward. I find myself chuckling at some of the chapter titles like Poetry Makes Nothing Happen, The Pope is Sick, and Reflexology.
Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
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Fozzie
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Re: First Impressions



Pat_T wrote:
The chapters are short, and give a snapshot of an event or conversation without much background, and at first, are seemingly unrelated. The result is that I feel I am gradually learning about the characters by paging through a photo album- if that makes sense.



It makes sense to me. That is how I feel too, but hadn't thought of the photo album analogy.

I like short chapters --- I can pick up and put down the book frequently without having to re-read or remember what was going on. The short chapters also allow for reasoning, "Just one more chapter..." when I should be doing something else. :smileyhappy:
Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions

The short chapters also allow for reasoning, "Just one more chapter..." when I should be doing something else. :smileyhappy:




I agree, Laura, a big book with short chapters makes getting the dishes done almost impossible.
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