NYRB Classics collector. Reads anything, so long as it's good. Sometimes historian. Frequently grumpy: you've been warned. Also at aliceunderskies.tumblr.com.
I was thrilled with this at the beginning. I see a lot of the reviewers here thought the beginning dull and the end fantastic, but for me it was quite the opposite. I loved the 'childhood' section of the novel, with its gorgeous, dreamy evocation of the land and the food and the history. Then the storyline spliced into alignment with History and Real Life People and my interest started dropping incrementally. Maybe it's just a mood I'm in, but right now I'm feeling bored to death with these Witness to History books--probably I've just read too many in a short span, but I shall make an effort* not to pick up any books with the "fictional character lives through calamitous events and rubs elbows with real people" premise. It makes books feel so false. I wanted to quit the book a hundred pages in when our narrator was jerked off to the united states seemingly for the sole experience of living through riots before being packaged back to Mexico just in time to be grafted onto Trotsky's household--it just felt so hideously contrived. No one fictional in this book seems able to live or breathe or die without being roughly welded to some moment in History; that might be okay but every one of these false connections is endlessly remarked upon. It makes it difficult to just read the damn book.*And it'll be a monumental effort since I love history and tend to gravitate towards these exact kinds of books that annoy me so. A few particular problems I had:--The characterization of Frida Kahlo. I don't know all that much about her life, actually--never read the biographies and don't plan to anytime soon--but I've long adored her art and everything about the way she was written just seemed off to me. Perhaps she wasn't written incorrectly, quite, but just shallowly--she felt like a minor character even though her role in the book was relatively massive. I cannot balance the force of character and power that shows in the real paintings with this flighty, manic, unapologetically cruel & aimless simulacrum that bears her name.--The unbearable obviousness of how the last third of the book is going to play out as soon as you look at the dates and think for a second. How absolutely dull it all is--just a several-hundred-page onslaught of repressed sexuality & oppression & political statement. The ensuing disappointment when you realize that HWS is even less an actual character than you'd assumed from the great beginning and actually just a vehicle for Statements and Theme and nothing else. --The endless slang. It's like BK thinks we'll forget this is a historical novel if she doesn't pepper every single sentence with bygone phrases to remind us that we are in The Past. It's even more jarring because her prose is generally really nice so there is always dissonance.--The repeated bludgeoning of a few particular metaphors over and over every few pages. Okay, BK. The press is bad. They are howling monkeys come to suck our blood. I got it the first time you said so at the beginning of the book--no need to keep saying so again and again and again... I won't even get started on the lacuna metaphor & how tedious it became. I hate feeling as if the author suspects I'm half-illiterate and incapable of grasping any concept, in need of constant hand-holding and illustration. In part, I read to be made to feel cleverer than I am and it makes me petulant to be spoken down to. So, why two stars with this grocery list of complaints? Because the prose was sometimes breathtaking, I truly did love the beginning and liked the very tippy tip of the end, and there were some rather interesting gender moments (which I won't say much about for risk of being spoilery) that might be really fun to write papers on if this were a less aggravating book.