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Various Portrayals of Beauty From Horror to Literary to Pulitzer Prize Winning American Novels

Stephen King, Zadie Smith, and Andrew Sean Greer.

Myra here.

I have a feeling that these three books will most likely not be put together ever, in whatever literary universe you may be a part of. But then again, that is what makes GatheringBooks fresh, unique, and off-kilter – mainly because we dare to put together three highly unlikely books that appear at first glance, to have absolutely nothing in common. Yet, they do touch on ‘beauty’ albeit peripherally, so here they are.


Sleeping Beauties

Written by Stephen King and Owen King
Published by Hodder & Stoughton (2017) Literary Awards: Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017), Goodreads Choice Award for Horror (2017)
ISBN: 9781473681293. Review copy provided by Pansing Books.

The premise of this book is interesting: a worldwide plague or virus has overtaken females around the world. For some unexplained reason, women simply fall asleep and get wrapped in a moth cocoon webbing of sorts and simply do not wake up. If loved ones make the mistake of removing the white filaments that wrap around the entire body or the face of said female, she goes feral and bites your nose off and becomes imbued with superhuman strength because she wants to be left in peace to sleep – unless, you are a mewling child – and the maternal instinct seems to kick in, and the hapless child is brought to another adult before said female goes back to sleep.

At over 700 pages, there is no clear scientific reason as to why this is happening: just the presence of a supernormal (or is it paranormal?) creature Evie Black, a beautiful woman who may be deemed as Patient Zero, but not quite. She is immune to the Aurora virus, as it is called around the world, in honour of the fairytale Sleeping Beauty. She serves as the intermediary between the females on the other side – kind of like a parallel existence where the rules of ordinary time do not apply, and only the sleeping females ‘exist’ in a less chaotic, ostensibly more humane universe – and the ones who are left behind in the ordinary world, made up of mostly males.

I had a lot of issues with the book. I thought it was needlessly long, with way too many characters – although, as is Stephen King’s wont – they do grow on you, even for just a tiny bit, somewhere in the end. There is a The Stand element going on here as well, with the unlikely and accidental ‘good people’ protecting Evie Black from the murderous, violent men armed with good intentions and cannon balls.

What I find to be particularly off-putting though was how the fate of the all females in the entire globe lies in the hands of mostly white women, and a few coloured incarcerated females too, living in this remote town in Dooling, West Virginia, USA. The women from India, Singapore, the Philippines, Zimbabwe have no say in the matter, notwithstanding how supposedly this is a global pandemic affecting all female humans in the world. It was difficult to suspend disbelief as the novel seems to be operating not in this time frame, with all the supposed multicultural/multiethnic awareness, yet it still manages to ride into the coattails of supposed female power with all its concomitant issues and concerns, as perceived and articulated by white men, of course. Despite this, I still found myself reading through the entire narrative, because there is that suspense element that makes me want to continue reading despite myself. 🙂 Plus, I confess to being a completist, to a fault.


Less

Written by Andrew Sean Greer
Published by Little Brown Book Group (2018)
ISBN: 0349143595 (ISBN13: 9780349143590)Literary Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2018), Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Gay Fiction (2018), Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2018). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I read this book for one of my online book clubs, plus I bought this while I was in Dublin earlier this year. While a few of my online book club friends did not really enjoy the novel all that much, I think it may have found me at the right time.

A nearly 50 year old, B-rate, still fairly-good-looking novelist by the name of Arthur Less, was invited to the wedding of his ex-lover of nine years. For him to have a legitimate excuse of politely declining, he accepted all out-of-the-country literary events, award ceremonies, writing gigs, writing residencies that he was invited to – from Mexico, Italy, Germany, a side-trip to France (because duty free taxes), Morocco, India, Japan. All those countries would just about cover both the wedding, honeymoon, and Arthur Less’ 50 year old birthday.

For all intents and purposes, Less was not really suffering from mid-life crisis. He was described by other characters in the book as having a Peter Pan vibe to him, as if he has never truly grown up. There is a subtle innocence to him that is totally guileless, mildly irritating, but generally harmless. He is in between two old loves: the first one with a literary, Pulitzer-prize-winning genius, several years older than him who left his long-time wife for the then-smokin’-hot-and-boyishly-fresh Arthur Less.  The recent long-term love is with a much younger man whom he warned to not get too involved with him because of their age difference but whom Arthur Less adored.

As I have shared with my FB book club, I found myself laughing aloud in some parts – and holding my heart in my hands at others. I suppose I have a weakness for vulnerable voices ringed with gentle self-mockery and defeat – and lived with the touch of genius for most of their lives.

And there it is: the touch of beauty. I was also especially taken by the ruminations on love: trite, saturated to the point of blinding white, neither new nor original – yet it worked for me, still. I like its simplicity and its ardent, puppy-dog nipping at truths explored by others in far more effective ways – but still.

Arthur Less is not the most likeable character in novels. But boy, he was exactly who I needed when I read him. That ending, too.. hand over heart.


On Beauty

Written by Zadie Smith
Published by Penguin (2005)
ISBN: 014101945X (ISBN13: 9780141019451)Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize Nominee (2005), Orange Prize for Fiction (2006), Somerset Maugham Award (2006), Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (2006), Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize Nominee for Comic Fiction (2006), Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in South Asia and Europe (2006). Bought my own copy of the book. Layout of book quotes done with the aid of Typorama.

Among the three novels, I confess that this one is my favourite. And because of that, I find myself at a loss for words in fully describing it. Here’s my Litsy review which I have written a few months ago, and which I feel captures everything I need to say about this book:
When I was preparing the quotes I wanted to share for this post, I discover that a great deal of them are by Carlene Kipps, one of my favourite characters in the novel, next to the formidable Kiki Simmonds Belsey. Here is one from Carlene which I have inserted into one of her favourite paintings (thanks to Typorama):

Then there is the brilliant Zora, still striving for wholeness, oblivious to her actual beauty, filled with insecurities and self-imposed anxieties predicated upon her own rejected notions of beauty and everything that it supposedly stands for:

How could I not include a quote from the hateful Howard Belsey, whom I found to be totally unredeemable, even his type of intelligence is one I find to be particularly tiresome and ultimately nihilistic, thus pointless.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I wait avidly for a Netflix adaptation in the coming year or so.


#LitWorld2018GB Update: United States Of America

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

1 comment on “Various Portrayals of Beauty From Horror to Literary to Pulitzer Prize Winning American Novels

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Round Up of My Literary Journey and My Best in Books Across Quarterly Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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