The Talented Mr. Ripley (Patricia Highsmith)

I was in the mood for a psychological thriller, so I finally unearthed my copy of The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I haven’t seen the 1999 film (with young Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow!), but I’ve been meaning to read the book ever since I mooched a copy, although I still have to “do a Blooey” (er, a term my book club friends coined for my compulsion for “upgrading” mass market paperbacks into trade paperbacks and trade paperbacks into hardcovers) on it — it’s a movie cover and a mass market paperback.

The Talented Mr. Ripley was written in 1955, and is the first of a series of novels featuring a conman and anti-hero named Tom Ripley (the other books being Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water). The novel was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

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They don’t make them like they used to

Romance novels were very big with the girls in my high school, and it was then when I read all the Judith McNaught and Julie Garwood romance novels I could get my hands on. These days, I’ve outgrown the romance novel phase, but I still read them once in a while, for that happily-ever-after fix.
Judith McNaught’s Every Breath You Take (book #77 for 2009) came out in 2005, way after I finished high school, but I didn’t get myself a copy until recently, because it was available on BookMooch.  

The book takes us back to Chicago, back where McNaught’s popular Paradise is set. William Wyatt, grandson of wealthy philanthropist goes missing, and the police suspect foul play, casting suspicion on William’s estranged half-brother, Mitchell Wyatt.

Kate Donovan meets Mitchell Wyatt on the tropical island of Anguilla, and a romantic encounter develops between them. Kate soon finds herself entangled in a web of deception and a high-profile murder, and must struggle to keep herself and her loved ones alive.

I’m not particularly keen on how Judith McNaught (and Julie Garwood) have left behind their old styles and jumped towards writing romance thrillers. I’m a romance purist, because when I read a romance novel, it’s really for the gushy, awwww-inducing sappiness of it and I don’t really appreciate how they’ve complicated it.

Every Breath You Take does have some Judith McNaught trademarks – the momentous one-liners (usually containing the title of the book), the to-die-for leading man, the spirited female, and the good dynamics between the leads, but you have to read through all the high-drama murder to get to the good parts.

There’s another Judith McNaught novel that came out fairly recently but I haven’t read yet: Someone to Watch Over Me. There’s actually a hardcover copy of it waiting in my TBR pile, but I’m not looking forward to it because it’s another romance thriller and the plot sounds more complicated than I’m willing to commit to.

Sigh. They really don’t make romance novels like they used to.

My copy: mass market paperback, local mooch, upgraded into hardcover with dust jacket, mooched from the US

My rating: 3/5 stars

Be careful what you wish for… again!

I’ve been unable to read or blog in the past few days because so many things have cropped up last week, flowing over into the weekend and into this week too: a web design seminar, my sister home for a fortnight from Singapore, the INK booth at the Ortigas mini-book fair, a friend’s birthday party, and a surprise business trip looming this week…

I read 17 books in January, and originally wanted to surpass that, but I don’t think I’ll go over a couple of books above that, as this week ends February already. Hopefully I can make up for lost time soon.

On to the book I just finished:
Book #34 for 2009
Book #5 for the Diversity Challenge (American)
A Long and Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

I grew up reading Alcott’s Little Women at least once a year starting fourth grade, usually reserving it for the Christmas break. I always loved that first chapter, where Jo grumbles, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” and the four sisters each made their own little sacrifice to get Marmee some nice things for Christmas.
I felt sorry for Meg when she had to make do with old gowns at the grand parties, admired Jo for her dogged determination to become a writer, loved Beth and cried when she died, and hated Amy with a vengeance.

I haven’t read it in a while now, not after college as far as I remember, but I can rattle off my favorite episodes from the book– Meg’s hair getting fried with the hot curling tong; Amy and the lime episode, Beth getting her baby piano, Jo getting her hair cut, Amy falling into the lake, the Pickwick Papers, and Mr. March coming home. To this day, I still believe Jo and Laurie should ha ve ended up together. And yes, I still hate Amy.

I was surprised to come across this unfamiliar book written by Louisa May Alcott – I was browsing for a hardbound copy of Little Women (that I still don’t have) on BookMooch when I discovered this, and it sounded so interesting that I mooched it right away.

A Long Fatal Love Chase book actually only saw print in this century, as it was deemed too sensational in Alcott’s time (1866). Quite understandable, I think, now that I’ve finished it: if I didn’t know it was Alcott’s work, I wouldn’t have thought she could have written something like it, as it was shockingly different from Alcott’s goody-goody Little Women; Jo’s Boys; and Little Men.

The novel’s main theme is obsessive love, and I was surprised to find that it was comparable to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I read last month. Rosamond Vivian is a young girl who lives with her stuffy grandfather on a remote island, with only books to keep her company. She longs for freedom to see the world, and is prepared to pay whatever it takes to be free.

Enter Philip Tempest, a worldly rake and her grandfather’s prize pupil, who sweeps Rosamond off her feet as he visits the island on his dashing boat, Circe. Rosamond thinks he looks like the devil himself (referencing Mephistopheles) but is very much taken with him and goes off with him to leave her old life behind.

Not very long after she lives with Philip, however, it becomes apparent that he is not who she originally thought he was. Rosamond discovers Philip’s dark past, and his streak of cruelty and deceit, and Rosamond escapes from him. The thrilling chase across Europe begins, traversing Italy, Germany and France, as Rosamond attempts to be free of Philip who makes it impossible for her to hide. Rosamond is Philip’s newest obsession, and he has always gotten whatever he wants.

Even in Little Women, Alcott has made it clear that she is very well-read, referencing literary works such as Dr. Zhivago; The Pickwick Papers; and The Pilgrim’s Progress. There is more of that in this book, which is obviously inspired by The Tempest (Caliban and Miranda), and references classical mythology — Hero and Leander; Ganymede; Mephistopheles.

There is also a reference to The Wandering Jew, and surprise, surprise, it’s Faustian too — Rosamond actually says, “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom,” and that is actually equivalent to what happens when she runs off with Philip Tempest, who actually cautions her in the beginning: “There is very little real liberty in the world; even those who seem freest are often the most tightly bound.”

Alcott’s writing is formal but not cumbersome or antiquated, making it a pleasure to read .Rosamond as a heroine is smart and spunky, although Philip was really her one weakness. Philip Tempest makes a great anti-hero: a cold and calculating seducer of the innocent, but so powerfully charming (and handsome, I bet! I was imagining Hugh Jackman) that I really couldn’t blame the girl for falling so hard for him.

Here is one of my favorite lines from A Long Fatal Love Chase, both from Rosamond:

“In the books I read the sinners are always more interesting than the saints, and in real life good people are dismally dull. I’ve no desire to be wicked, but I do want to be happy. A short life and a gay one for me and I’m willing to pay for my pleasure if necessary.

The book has given me renewed appreciation for Louisa May Alcott… Now I want to read Little Women again; I need to find a hardbound copy soon!

My copy: hardcover with dustjacket, first edition, mooched from the US

My rating: A Long Fatal Love Chase, 4/5 stars; Little Women, 5/5 stars

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney

The Face On the Milk Carton is a riveting thriller about a 15-year old girl, Janie Johnson, who lives in a well-off neighborhood with parents who love her. One day, she is idly looking at the back of a milk carton and comes across a picture of three year-old Jennie Spring, kidnapped twelve years ago. The heading reads, “Have you seen this child?”

Janie takes a look at the red pigtails and the polka-dot dress and a wave of recognition hits her. She has seen this child. In fact, she realizes that the face on the milk carton is hers.

Flashes of memories of her “other” family (the Springs) hit her, and as much as she loves her family, she cannot deny the conviction that she is Jennie Spring… Will she choose the family she has known and loved? But what about the family that has been deprived of her presence?

Surprisingly, it was a decent read, for P40 at the book sale. Now if only I can hunt down the three other sequels.

My copy: put up for mooching last year, mass market paperback

My rating: 3/5 stars