Wednesday, April 27, 2016

just think...all of this for a dime: The Ghost of Hurricane Hills, by Mary E. Bryan

from abaa.org

 The Ghost of Hurricane Hills is yet another book in what started out as my plan to read American literature written since the 18th century.  I figured I'd be reading the greats, but I'm having way more fun following the less-traveled path of little-known, more obscure novels.  Author Mary E. Bryan (1838-1913) evidently killed it as a writer of dime novels; clicking here leads to a list of her work. I don't have the later, softcover edition pictured; mine is a 1933 leather-bound pebbled cover from Economy Book League of Cleveland. 

Just a note about dime novels:  according to this page at the University of South Florida's Special Collections website, 
"From the mid 19th to the early 20th century, the fiction genres known as dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and story papers flourished in England and America. The increasing mechanization of the printing process, more efficient distribution methods, and a rising literacy rate all contributed to this publishing phenomenon. Printed on the cheapest of paper, with lurid cover illustrations, dime novels (which found a name in their ten cent price tag) and story papers were considered ephemeral, to be read, often in secret, passed on to friends, or discarded. These delightful items, ancestors of the ubiquitous mass-market paperbacks of today, reveal the reading tastes of a population often neglected in historical studies.... Dime novels and story papers targeted a youthful working class audience with their thrilling, stereotyped tales of Wild West adventures, master criminals, detective stories, historical romances, and working girls and boys in which virtue was rewarded and preserved."  
I love finding these old books -- as the librarian at the USF page goes on to say, they were  "once the bane of the middle class," and they "were considered the corrupters of youth and stepping stones on the path to perdition."  My book even has a disclaimer in the front that it is "not recommended for children."  Funny how times have changed; reading them now it's often hard not to laugh at what was considered too mature for kids.  These books are also quite tame in comparison with what's out today; however, I love discovering new old books and the dime novel speaks to the  "reading tastes of an increasingly literate working-class audience," so I also get the benefit of immersing myself in what large numbers of people were reading at the time.  I get that not a lot of people likely share my enthusiasm about these old, forgotten and obscure novels,  but well, it is what it is. I love this stuff. 

Mary Edwards Bryan, from Wikipedia. 

In The Ghost of Hurricane Hills, we have a story that  just oozes Gothic; there's no castle here to speak of, but there is a "haunted house," a lost treasure, a journey to the underground and definitely a heroine.  It begins with the dying wishes of an elderly man named Colonel Charnley.  Evidently, he had built his fortune "on the ruins" of another man who had married the only woman Charnley ever loved.  Now that Charnley is at his end, he has left his vast fortune to the daughter of that woman, who is now an orphan living in Florida.  He plans to send her to school, and not reveal that she is worth a fortune until her education is finished.  This doesn't make his protégé very happy at all; young Frank Norman had banked on having that money all to himself.  Charnley, though, realizes that making Norman his heir would have made him "indolent and purse-proud," and leaves him only five grand.  As Charnley draws his last  breath, he calls for his lawyer, Barclay Hampden,  telling him quietly that Norman is not to marry the girl, ever.   Eventually, Charnley and Norman find young Amy, share the plans to get her set up in school, and she's thrilled at the prospect.  On the way home, the trio makes a brief stop for Norman's benefit, as he wants to visit his boyhood home. It seems that he has some sort of "possible wealth" hidden there, and intends to search for it.  This detour is the start of a terrifying adventure for young Amy, who while visiting the run-down house that has a reputation for being haunted by a ghostly "woman in gray," is visited by an apparition that she follows into the woods.  Her pursuit ends up with her being lost; although a major search effort is made, Norman and a heartbroken Hampden have to eventually admit that she has simply vanished.  So pretty much right away the reader is presented with several mysteries, which only deepen as years go by.   

While I won't give away what actually happens in this book, the subtexts run on several different levels. Justice for wronged women is one biggie, while another line explores how women had to be hidden away rather than be out in the world because of some past misdeed.  Then there's the question of marriage for love or for suitability among the upper classes which also comes into play, as does good old upper-class materialism and greed.   In telling her story, it also seems to me that the author also makes great use of the Eurydice myth here, especially in having her Eurydice emerge as is explained here, "as a shadow, waiting to come to light to become a full woman again."   Sadly, I can't divulge exactly how or why this comes about, but it is about as obvious to me as the steam rising off of my coffee at the moment.  There is much, much more, but it's time to move on.

For me, these books are fun, and I love knowing what the working classes of the time were reading, especially women. This sort of gothic-ish, romance-ish dime novel was likely the choice of "young working-class women in particular," even though these women were sometimes encouraged to read better books.  Just as an interesting aside,  Felicia Carr, who runs the American Women's Dime Novel Project (1870-1920) website notes that 
"Dorothy Richardson, a middle-class reformer and journalist who wrote about the working women's experiences in the factories in 1905 also provides a valuable clue about readership. In her book The Long Day she chronicled occupations open to young working-class women. She herself held various jobs around New York City, partaking in the work and meeting the young women who held these jobs.  She often asked them what their tastes were in reading and when she learned they read Laura Jean Libbey, Charlotte Brame, and Effie Rowlands she called it 'trashy fiction' and encouraged them to read middle-class favorites such as Little Women or works by Charles Dickens. Readers apparently did not take kindly to her efforts to improve their taste. She reported that they rebuffed her attempts to 'elevate' their reading habits and told her not to put on airs with them."
For me, it's kind of cool to be off track and to be bypassing what's generally considered the best American novels;  this book may not be great literature but it and others like it are definitely part of American literary/reading heritage and history. It is also a part of American women's history, and just because it will probably never end up on a course syllabus somewhere doesn't mean it's not worth reading.  It is. 



Monday, April 4, 2016

now this one I really like: Man Tiger, by Eka Kurniawan


9781781688595
Verso, 2015
originally published as Lelaki Harimau, 2004
translated by Labodalih Sembiring
172 pp

paperback
read in March

There is a parallelism between me and Margio…In Indonesia we keep our anger, we repress our anger, but in the end…the tiger comes out, and we don’t know how to handle this tiger.”
                             -- Eka Kurniawan, as quoted in The Economist 


Man Tiger is just flat-out amazing, which is probably one reason it's been listed for the Man Booker International Prize for 2016.  I'm not someone who buys or reads a novel simply because it's turned up on some list (some prize nominees have actually turned out to be not my particular cup of tea),  but I was intrigued by the synopsis and I knew I had to read it.  I was not disappointed -- au contraire -- I became the embodiment of the cliché about being glued to the story.  Not only does this story move back and forth through time to get to the core of this tale, it also incorporates local folklore and mythology to help in doing so.  It's a novel a person can read not just as the story of a crime, but also as a story about Indonesia  viewed through a number of different perspectives, one that may help explain the author's quotation that begins this post. What is behind much of this anger is there in the novel, something I'll leave for others to discover. The book is also an incredible example of storytelling -- I am not exaggerating when I say that  this is a novel that I could not put down.

Intriguingly, Man Tiger begins with a vicious crime, about which the news spreads quickly throughout the small Indonesian coastal town where this book is set.  It comes as a shock that Margio (20), has killed Anwar Sadat (the older victim).  Margio was well known to everyone in this small Indonesian coastal town, and  no one had pegged him as a particularly violent person.  In fact, the only bad thing anyone could come up with about him was that he had been known to steal chickens.  Even these, though, belonged to his father, and it was widely known that the theft was done "out of spite." But Margio had indeed murdered Sadat in a most vicious and brutal manner,  by biting through his jugular.  While it's true that "People attacked with their teeth, particularly when women fought each other," death by biting just didn't happen.  Machetes, swords, yes -- but not teeth.  The crime itself was not premeditated; Margio says that
"The idea came to him all of a sudden, as a burst of light in his brain."
and that
"He spoke of hosting something inside his body, something other guts and entrails. It poured out  and steered him, encouraging him to kill." 
In his cell, Margio makes a statement "calmly and without guilt" that it wasn't really him who had killed Anwar Sadat, but it was "a tiger inside my body."

To make the appetite-whetting very brief here, the rest of the novel goes back into time to explore exactly why Margio did what he did.  At least, that's the easy explanation of this story, which explores people tied together (and often trapped) by tragedy and by the past.  Even the tiger (which is actually a tigress - more on this in a moment), is  linked to Margio's family past through a line of patriarchs.  According to the village storyteller :
"many a man in the hamlet had a tigress of his own. Some married one, while others inherited a tigress, passed down through generations" 
It so happens that Margio's grandfather
"had one from his father,  which before had belonged to his father's father, and so on right on up to their distant ancestors."
According to the storyteller, the tigresses "lived with their owners and guarded them against all dangers."   Margio had been curious about it since childhood, but his grandfather didn't want to talk about it citing Margio's age and the fact that he "couldn't possibly tame such a savage animal." The tigress "came out of their bodies to attack," in times of great danger, but Margio's grandfather warned Margio that "If a man couldn't control his beast, it could turn so violent that nothing could restrain it once enraged."   Interestingly (and with reason, as it will turn out, but I can't really say anything here), the tigress skips a generation in Margio's family -- his father is bypassed but she came to Margio early on, "white as a swan or a cloud or cotton wool."   The question really is one of why it emerged so fully and ready to strike when it did -- and that's the key to unlocking this novel on both levels.

A few things more and I'm gone, all of which I won't expand on, but which I'll leave for others to discover.   First, in terms of  what some readers are calling "magical realism," I look at this book more as being set within a culture that lives side by side with the supernatural or with folkloric/mythological elements. There are genies, people observe specific rituals for different reasons, superstitions ("when a crow perched on a roof, it meant there would be a death in that house"), dreams, gods, goddesses everywhere. There are also the many ghosts of the past that surface throughout this book, which struck me because clearly here, the past continues to haunt these people.  Second, the author here is sympathetic toward the women and children in this book  who, because they are under the domination of the men in control of their lives, often end up trapped in situations over which they have little or no escape. Extrapolating all of that into a bigger picture might start offering a clue as to why Indonesia is still angry.  Third -- oh, never mind, just go buy the book, because it is just downright fantastic.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dancing in the Baron's Shadow, by Fabienne Josaphat

9781939419576
Unnamed Press, 2016
231 pp

paperback

Any time anyone writes a novel about Haiti during the 1960s and the reign of Francois Duvalier, aka "Papa Doc," I am going to read it.  It was such an horrific time in Haiti's history, where anyone at any time could be accused of anything and sent to prison on trumped-up charges; some of these people were never again to see the light of day.  The intelligentsia had it especially bad, but everyone was at risk.

I was so excited to find and to start reading this book, since it's set in Haiti during the reign of Francois Duvalier, aka Papa Doc. As I started to read, I realized that the true focus here is on two brothers who took very different paths in life, their broken relationship and the crises that ultimately bring them together again.  They are two men, who, each in his own way, are looking for justice after a series of events tears their families apart and takes them away from the lives they'd built in Port-au-Prince.  I got the feel of the period here through the author's descriptions of repression, fear and the presence of Duvalier's Tonton Macoutes -- his personal goon squad who did the dirty work -- out on the streets, as well as the poverty that a large part of the population suffered, and overall, it is a good story that I think ought to be read.  What was happening in Haiti is a story that needs to be told as well -- and here we get a tiny slice of what it must have been like to live under a brutal and repressive regime.  

On the other hand, for me the story moves way too quickly and things feel very rushed here. I felt that things happened so very fast in this book that the story as a whole just didn't the depth it could have had , and the character development sort of loses a lot of steam as the narrative quickly becomes focused on plot.  It's as if  the author knew where she wanted to go with this story, but in the hurry to finish, the book ends up falling back too much on plot rather than the characters under study here. And then there are things plotwise that don't necessarily ring true in the telling. I can't really give an example, but there were times when I just went "huh?" 

It is, however, the author's first novel, and I do think she has a lot of talent so I'll look forward to reading more from her in the future. Slowing down, fleshing out both setting and characters to a much stronger degree, and not relying so much on a whirlwind plot would have made this book much better for me. However, I am very much applauding her choice of topic because I don't think a lot of people are very familiar with this horrific time in Haiti's history and any novels that bring out even the slightest bit of that time are well worth writing and even more worth reading. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

back in time we go again to the 1880s: The Truth About Tristrem Varick & Mr. Incoul's Misadventure, by Edgar Saltus

9780983031413
Underworld Amusements, 2015
294 pp

paperback

Before I even turned the first page, I knew what I was in for just by reading the quotation on the cover:
"Truth is not always in white satin like a girl on her wedding-day. And when it is of mud and of blood, when it offends the nostrils, so much the worse; I, for one, will not sprinkle it with ottar of rose. Besides, I am not here to tell fairy tales and pastorals." 
Somehow I just knew that things weren't going to be rosy here, and I was definitely right. These are two novels focused on corruption and pessimism, and they're dark. Very, very dark.

Beginning with The Truth About Tristrem Varick (1888)  Saltus describes this story as an "attempt in ornamental disenchantment" in his dedication.  And indeed, that is what we get here time and time again.  Tristrem Varick is the ultimate poster boy for disenchantment, and Saltus sets up his character quite nicely -- he makes Varick the ultimate idealist who  fails to see what the reader knows right away,  and takes a big fall because of it.  His main failings here are that he truly believes that life carries with it some sort of meaning and value, but  he has ultimately placed his trust in the wrong people. His sentiments are noble, but at the same time unrealistic, especially in regard to the woman he loves, but the poor dupe just doesn't get it.   In that sense, with Saltus bringing Tristrem to an otherwise less than perfect ending, the reader can't help but feel sorry for this poor guy who is about as delusional as they come -- the saddest sort of "hero" one can possibly imagine. It's just painful to watch.

On the other hand, Mr. Incoul's Misadventure (1887)  makes Tristrem seem  tame, and the titular character is as opposite of Tristrem Varick as any two men can be.   Mr. Incoul is a very wealthy (think millionaire)  widower, who, unlike Tristrem Varick, holds very little in the way of ideals. He believes in "refinement," since he disavows any connection with being a "Puritan," but on the other hand, he doesn't hold with "immorality," since according to him, "refinement and immorality are incompatible." He is also a man of action when he thinks he's been wronged, and has been since childhood, whereas Varick was often seen as an "umpire," whose ability to judge a situation fairly gained him respect from his peers.   Incoul is in love with his much-younger second wife Maida, who had once been the lover of a Mr. Lenox Leigh, and who agreed to marry Incoul because her mother forced her to accept his proposal owing to their financial situation. Maida puts a condition on this union, though:  he must accept her terms of a platonic sort of relationship, to change only when she is ready to move to the next level.  Things begin to come to a head while the two are on a trip to Europe, where Incoul discovers the disenchanting  truth behind the woman he married, leading him to manipulate things so that he becomes the one in control.

If someone reads these two books as a commentary on both European and American societies of the time, I think that would be an incredibly accurate judgment. They also, at least to me, come across as a misogynist commentary on the folly of placing faith in a woman's virtue --   the deceptions of the two main women characters here are at the root of  the men's problems in both stories. On the other hand, this misogyny as well as the sheer narcissism  I see here isn't far off the mark from some of the European writers of the same era (a really good example is found in Lorrain's Monsieur de Phocas, which I've recently read) revealing Saltus' flair for and appreciation of  European decadence, highlighted in Mr. Incoul's Misadventure.  For example, in that book,  Incoul and Maida take up residence in rented villa belonging to a French nobleman, whose library is just chock full of works by such decadent writers as Verlaine, Beaudelaire, The Marquis de Sade, Mirabeau; even the paintings reek of decadent strangeness.  It's all over Maida's head, though, which turns out in a way to provide some of the best irony found in this novel, since it seems that she's not quite finished with her "man of appetites," absinthe-drinking, debauched former lover.

Again, there's way more in this book than I'm capable of evoking here, and it is my first experience (although likely not my last) with this author.  When Saltus says he is "not here to tell fairy tales and pastorals," he definitely means it in this book.  There is absolutely nothing pretty, nothing redemptive and definitely no happy endings to be found anywhere.  In other words, it's just my kind of book.  It's extremely dark,  pessimistic, and  tough to read at times since Saltus doesn't hold back, but very well worth every second.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

and we're back -- this time with Boris Fishman's Don't Let My Baby do Rodeo

9780062384362
HarperCollins, 2016
336 pp

arc copy -- thank you TLC book tours and to the publisher




" People camp here through the winter. Some people seek out wildness at all costs. And God blessed you with your own supply."

While it is very true that I've pretty much stopped taking advance reader copies in my somewhat Sisyphean effort to get through my toppling TBR pile, I enjoyed Boris Fishman's A Replacement Life so much that when I got an email asking if I'd care to read this novel for TLC book tours, I had to read it. Once again, the author delivers and does another excellent job.  


Like A Replacement Life,  the author once again explores identity in this book, and again, as in the earlier book, he looks at inheritance as well as  the conflicts that can occur among immigrants in America as a result of the influence of both cultures.  As the blurb notes, the book also looks at "the universal question of how we reconcile who we are, and whom the world wants us to be." 

Just briefly, the woman at the center of things is Maya Rubin (née Shulman), who had come to America from Kiev to go to school but when it was time for her to return to the Ukraine, she ends up marrying Alex Rubin instead. Alex had immigrated to the  US from Minsk with his parents while still a child, and became a US citizen. The Rubins are unable to have children, so they end up adopting a little boy. When the novel begins, Max is eight, and Maya has gone down to pick him up as he gets off the school bus, only to discover that he's not there.  He does eventually come home, but they discover that he'd been found in a river, looking at pebbles close up. His running away is just sort of the last straw for Maya -- Max also likes to eat grass, sleep outside in a tent and is very much at home with the animals who make their way into the Rubins' yard.  Maya simply doesn't understand him, and begins to wonder if he acts this way because of his birth heritage -- Max's very young birth parents had come from Montana, where his father, Tim, had a career in the rodeo.  In fact, although Max's adoption was supposed to have been closed, the birth mother had insisted on personally delivering the baby ("like takeout")  to the Rubins, leaving Maya with a request before they leave:  "Please don't let my baby do rodeo."   Max's "strange" behavior, understood neither by his adoptive parents nor his paternal grandparents, ultimately makes Maya wonder about herself as a mother and motherhood in general, but also leads both Maya and Alex to questions about adoption and genetics as well as the question of nature vs. nurture.  Maya gets the idea that she really needs to go to Montana where she hopes answers about Max will be found with his birth parents; this quest becomes a "vacation" for just Alex, Maya and Max.  

However, when all is said and done, the vacation turns out to be a vehicle for Maya's own journey of self exploration. Having never been west of New Jersey before, Maya sees an America she never knew existed, but more importantly, a chance meeting with a divorced man with two daughters in a diner steers Maya toward an understanding of just where Max's identity with the wild may come from. 

There were some moments I didn't care for (shower scene at the campground, for example), but there's a lot of humor as well as some very poignant moments. I love the adoption and birth metaphors that run throughout the novel -- both  vehicles to explore the whole cultural/self question.  He also does such a great job in both setting up and resolving Maya's Russian/American identity crisis to the point where the second part of this book is nearly perfect.  Most of all, I loved the symbolism of Maya's meeting with Marion and what happens as a result -- it is just so very nicely done, and really gets to the heart of what's happening in this book.   While I did note a few similarities in overall plot structure between this book and his first one, Don't Let My Baby do Rodeo definitely stands on its own.  It is a beautiful story, one that I can certainly recommend.  Trust me here -- normally I can't stand this sort of thing but in Boris Fishman's very capable hands, it works and works extremely well.  He's got this way of doing that to me -- it's bizarre. 

Obviously this is a rather simplistic look at this book, and I'm not giving it the treatment it deserves, but Mr. Fishman offers his readers so much to ponder  in this book  that it's pretty much impossible.  From my very casual reader point of view, this book is a definite winner, and I hope it goes on to sell megathousands of copies.   Kudos. Wonderful novel. 


****

I want to thank Trish at TLC Book Tours for offering this book to me -- I enjoyed it so much I'm buying a copy for my home library.  Others are reading this book as well, and their ideas can be found here.


Friday, February 19, 2016

and we say goodbye to Harper Lee


The New York Times bulletin I just got in my email reports the passing of Harper Lee, here shown with Gregory Peck on the set of To Kill a Mockingbird.  My copy has been read, reread, and re-reread so many times -- I still have the original copy that I've had since I was 14, and that was some time ago.  It's pretty dog-eared, the spine is broken, and there are a lot of grimy fingerprints on it,  but that just shows how very loved it was.  As was its author.

sleep well.




Thursday, February 11, 2016

Read the book and then go watch the film -- The Blue Angel, by Heinrich Mann

9780865274518
Howard Fertig, 2011
originally published 1905 as Professor Unrat, Oder Das Ende Eines Tyrannen
286 pp

paperback

This morning I sat down and watched the movie that was based on this book not knowing what to expect. It was made in 1930, starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich, and it is seriously one of the saddest and most tragic movies I've ever seen.  I felt so sorry for Jannings' character, Professor Rath, and just sat there stunned during the last few scenes.  That wasn't so much the case after finishing the book yesterday;  I didn't know whether to pity the man (who in this particular translation is known as Mut, even though the original novel has him as Professor Unrat) or to despise him.  Since he's Mut in this version, I'll refer to him as such here.

Professor Mut  has had his fair share of teasing over the years - the first line of the novel tells us that 
"His name being Mut, the whole school, of course, called him Mud."
He can't walk through the school or the town without someone saying something about the smell of mud, or that there seems to be "mud about the place," and over the twenty-six years he's been teaching, he's taken mental note of both the insult and the person delivering it. He knows that his students hate him, and since he's been in the same town and same school for so long, he also realizes that "sometimes the hatred was a family legacy."  He is known as "Old Mud," and it is not uncommon for the epithet to be used in his presence among most of the people in the town, which was still full of his former students, "boys whom he had caught or had not caught yelling his nickname." For Dr. Mut,
"The schoolgrounds did not end...at the encircling walls; they extended to the houses round about and included all classes of inhabitants." 
Inside the classroom, he doesn't understand that boys will be boys:
"laziness was equivalent to the worthless of a ne'er-do-well and disrespectful laughing at a master was a revolt against authority and law, while a boy letting off a squib was perpetrating an act of revolution, and an attempt to cheat meant a ruined future." 
The one boy he despises most is Lohmann, aged 17; for one thing Lohmann refuses to respond to Mut's tyrannical rages; instead, looking at Mut with "quiet contempt, and even a spice of pity ... in his disgust."  However, reading closely, it seems as if he feels Lohmann looks down on him -- Mut  notes early on that it felt as if Lohmann "were laughing at him," and he was "determined to show the rascal that he was the better man of the two."   Mut cannot abide even the slightest hint of insubordination -- he is the perfect authoritarian.

When he discovers that a group of his students that includes Lohmann has become interested in  a woman named Rosa Frölich, he decides to try to find her, to "interfere."   Wandering the streets of the town, though, just brings out his rage, his hatred and a persecution mania. He passes by a cafe where the proprietor is a former student. Shops are filled with "rebellious students,"  there are places with signs bearing names of old students,  all of whom he feels are challenging him, defying him, -- "on every side enemies."  He even turns his eyes away at the nameplate of a colleague who knew that Mut's son had taken up with a "woman of doubtful character," and had told people about it.  He feels "as if a class of some fifty thousand mutinous scholars was shouting round him."   All of these feelings get mixed up with his attitude toward Rosa Frölich, whom he finally finds at the Blue Angel, an old house now repurposed as a club. Taking his seat in the concert hall along with the rest of the audience, he listens to her sing, and despite himself, finds that he is applauding her along with all of the others. But when he meets her and tells her to "leave this town," he quickly discovers that his authority and hard-handedness has no effect, in fact, she's rather indifferent to him.  He realizes that
"... this was no naughty schoolboy, disobedient and meet for punishment, as were to him the inhabitants of the little town. No, this was something new." 
What started out as the intention of getting rid of her corruptive influence on his pupils (and in his mind, on the morals of society in general),  leads to him actually spending more time with her, as he becomes not only fascinated by Rosa, but actually obsessed with her. His obsession, although he doesn't know it yet, will fuel his fires of long-desired revenge for those who have "dared to defy his authority,"  and set him  on a path from which there may be no return.



Seeing the movie is not at all reading the novel.  The movie, while just amazingly good, is incredibly tragic, but takes the professor in an entirely different direction from Mann's novel, and doesn't really capture the true essence of the book.  In the novel we watch a tyrannical figure who has always been "zealous for all forms of authority," a man who has a "narrow code of ethics,"  ultimately "call on the mob to set fire to the palace,"  becoming a person who "lets loose anarchy," out of his desire for what he feels is just, right, and what he's owed.  Here the very seeds of his own fate are sown in his obsessions.   At the same time, it seems to me that this may also be a commentary on the kind of society that allows what happens in this story to happen.

The Blue Angel is a wonderful book that I'm adding to the list of those novels that are just unputdownable -- again, it won't be for everyone but it is one of those books that  will float in my head for a long time. The same is true for the film -- but read the book first.