Review from a Transgressive Fiction Fan

Wow. Just wow. The nerdiness quotient in how I picked this book up is off the charts (it was quoted in an article I was reading for my thesis) but I can honestly say I have rarely made so wise a geeky decision. To read the summary on the back in a bookstore, I doubt I would have decided to read it. An old woman dying alone in a hospital reflects on her life. Call that a picker-upper. But the way she constructs her life: viewing it as a historian. Weaving the history of the world into her own existence. Seeing history not as dates and names but an extension of her own consciousness, a reflection of her experiences. Amazingly and beautifully written. I wanted to take down every other line as a quote. I’m sure my love of this book is slightly colored by the fact that the main character is a historian and sees the world accordingly, but I maintain that anyone can enjoy this book. Her reflections on life aren’t told chronologically, more like little anecdotes sprinkled throughout the main story surrounding her deathbed. If done less well, this would make for a confusing and frustrating piece. But Lively makes it remarkably easy to follow her character’s train of thought as she moves from one memory to the next and then back to the present.

“Insightful” Review from a Mainstream Reader

I was very disappointed in this book. It was promoted as a “life-changing book” on NPR’s “You must read this,” but the only way it changed my life is by preventing me from reading any of the hundreds of other more interesting and meaningful books on my list as I dragged my feet through its 200-odd pages over nearly a month. Yes, the writer-on-her-death-bed protagonist has a few interesting revelations about perspective as she looks back over her life, but most of the book is spent describing her petty personality clashes with people she deems beneath her. If this were a real memoir, I might have appreciated it more, but if you’re going to tell a fictional memoir, why not give the character a real story, a la Memoirs of a Geisha or Water for Elephants?

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