Thursday, June 25, 2009

Warning--There might be a spoiler or two...The Banyan Tree

I had such a difficult time getting through this book. I started it at the beginning of the month and only finished it last Friday. That’s over two weeks! Just to read one book. Mind, I was reading other books that I had to put on hold while slogging my way through this book.

Well, I immediately appreciated the richness of language and imagery. Dense and one I was able to muddle my way through it all, quite beautiful. But as I would explain to colleagues who all wondered why I was reading the same book for over a week, let alone over two, I kept wondering when the f*** the story would start. Yeah, yeah, it’s the story of the life of a woman. I get it. But why not just write my story? Or my mom’s? Or my grandmother’s? Now that would’ve been a story. Like the time she used to hop the trains to Salinas to go dancing and only return home before dawn, her parents never knowing what she did, or the time she wrote the Pope after her divorce and being excommunicated and then storming the church, telling the parish priest what-for. Now that would have held my interest. But as it was, I had to force myself to speed read, which I don’t like to do when reading novels as I enjoy the plodding slowness of savoring every word as it trickles through my mind.

Still, as I said, I did understand that the story was beautifully written, three dimensional and layered. I just couldn’t get into until after the husband died. Then it started picking up for me. But I wondered why this story was written, a devoted wife, loving husband, children. Children who all leave and are barely developed, only developed enough to grasp the idea that they leave home and never want to return. Why? And why not someone else’s story?

Anyway, I’ll wait to discuss more after more posts.

Hope you all have happier reading.


  1. I have to agree with you, Jo, and I probably would have enjoyed your grandma's story more, too!

    Sometimes the girls in our mother/daughter book group don’t finish the book, and I always tell them that it’s not always finishing the book that’s important, but being able to tell us why you put it down. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being too busy, but I find that even when I’m busy, I’ll squeeze in more reading when I’m into something exciting. More often it’s because something doesn’t click and I start to think about all the other things I could be reading when reading time is so rare and precious.

    So what would have made you quit the book? How far do you usually go before deciding that a book isn’t for you? I’d love to know others’ criteria.

    Although I also liked the character of Minnie, I found the language of the book a struggle. Why do I love the Irish flowery language when Frank McCourt uses it, but not this? Maybe because I found it just too “writerly” or contrived or thesaurus-weilding. There were some very amusing and creative word choices, but all the tricks that he did with language distracted me from the story and it just didn’t move fast enough to hook me. I felt the same way about “The English Patient” which everyone else I know raved about.

    After I’d given up on the book, Squirrel told me more about the author and his life story, which is so compelling... I was tempted to pick the book up again, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

  2. JGH, you know I hate putting books down once I start them though I have friends who ask me why I would waste precious life and reading time on something I don't fully enjoy.

    Such as...I absolutely despised 'Mrs Dalloway' and yet I read every stinking word of it. I picked up the book after reading an entry from an online women's writer's group I was in several years ago. This fellow writer went on and on about what an important book it is, and the innovation and breakout narration, etc. so I read it, not to experience the wonders of this outstanding (not) novel, but to see what all the fuss (I actually used a different four letter word) was about. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed and concluded that Ms. Woolf probably needed some lithium or maybe a diet high in dark leafy greens.

    Still, I'm sure there must be a few books I put down never to think on again (I just can't remember them right now), but then it took me two years to read Anna Karenina and ten years to read Plato's Repubic. Of course, I remained somewhat interested in those books, I just got tired of read them for a while, or in the case of Plato, really tired.

    Nolan's use of language interested me too, but like you, I wondered how he might have made his point without detracting from the story with the use of more common language. At one point, I felt like I was studying again for the GRE and just couldn't absorb another pedantic word. I did read the back of the book where we are informed that Nolan is a quadriplegic and types with someone holding his head while he hunt and pecks the keys with a stick strapped to his head. Wow. So I kinda understood where all the depth and rich detail came from, this man who probably spends a great deal of his time sitting and watching and perhaps imagining. But really, why a non-story about a merchant's daughter who marries, has children, is widowed and then is essentially abandoned by her children? Why?

    Now, about the 'English Patient'...I tried reading it, but I for some reason picked up the Spanish language version and I'm exceptionally mediocre regarding Spanish. I've read the first 3 pages about ten times, which I now fully and deeply understand. It was otherwise a little too complicated for me, in Spanish. I mean really, do we really use the subjunctive all that much?

  3. Hi Jo. Well hats off to you for finishing it, because I havn't. I feel very ashamed as generally my feeling is that you should read a book to the end, whether you like it or not, if you are in reading group. However I really have been having a ball at some music fectivals(!) and found that the richness of the language made it a difficult book to pick up and put down for short periods. I got up to page 33, how pathetic is that?! I will finish it, but will probably take it on holiday with me. I want to get on with reading Fugitive Pieces for now. So WELL DONE! I wonder how many others actually finished it ??

  4. PS..

    What are we going to read for August and September?- we ought to be thinking about this now, so that we can all have a chance to find the books. I havn't got anywhere with the poll thingy, and can't remember now what the suggestions were!