Thursday, June 23, 2016


Elena Ferrante
Europa Editions

Ms. Hen has read all the previous books in the Neapolitan novels series, and when she read the third one, she told herself she would not wait as long to read the next one as she had to read each book, but she did. She waited longer. She’s not sure why. She might have wanted to prolong the anticipation of the pleasure of reading it, or she had too many other books to read.

Ms. Hen loved the three first books. They are the story of Elena and Lila, their friendship growing up in a small town outside of Naples, in the macho middle of the twentieth century. Throughout their lives Italy and the world changes, attitudes towards women and lifestyles transform, and the friends are swept along with the tides.

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD is a novel about maturity, both friends are in their thirties, and they have children. At the beginning of the novel, Elena is having an affair with her lifelong love Nino, but she doesn’t realize what a philanderer he is. Ms. Hen wanted to scream at her in the last book, not to go with him, but she knew it wouldn’t make any difference. Elena is a romantic and believes in love, even when all the signs are there that the person she loves is a terrible man.

Elena and Lila become closer in this novel than they had in the previous three novels. Elena moves back to the neighborhood, directly upstairs from Lila. They take care of each other’s children. They even get pregnant at the same time.

Ms. Hen didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the other three. She thinks it might have to do with the fact that this is the end of their lives, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope left. In the other novels, there was always the fantasy of what would happen next, but in this one, there aren’t any dreams about the future, because their lives are what they are, and they probably won’t change. It’s the dreariness of the end of life that brought Ms. Hen down; she wondered, is this what we have to look forward to? She doesn’t want to lose hope, and she’ll do her best to keep it alive in her life.

There is a lot of mystery about who Elena Ferrante truly is, since her name is a pseudonym. A lot of people in Italy have an idea of who she might be, but Ms. Hen doesn’t think it matters. If someone wants to be anonymous, then that is her right. People say they know she is a woman, but that’s all they know.

Ms. Hen had an idea that Ms. Ferrante might have written these novels to create a friend she always wished she had had. The character is a writer, and it appears that the author knows Naples and the time in which the characters lived perfectly. Ms. Hen thinks that she might have created Lila because she never had a lifelong friend who was as talented as she is herself, and she created Lila as a mirror of who she could have been if she never left her neighborhood, and was never educated. The books teem with honesty, so Ms. Hen knows that there has to be some reality to the stories and the characters.

Even though Ms. Hen didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the other three, it is still worth reading to see how Elena arrives at the end of her life and how much she and the people around her have to endure. Life doesn't have to be all suffering, it is simply what we go through, says Ms. Hen. Some people might argue, but Ms. Hen will stand her ground. Nobody can argue with a hen.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Ursula Hegi

One of Ms. Hen’s hen friends gave this book to her some time ago, but she hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. Most of the time, Ms. Hen shies away from reading lengthy novels, because they take a lot of time to read. She’s not sure why she feels this way. It might be because she likes to be able to finish a novel fast.

Even though this was a big book, Ms. Hen couldn’t put it down. It is the story of Trudi Montag, a dwarf (or Zwerg in German) who lives in Germany and is born during World War I when her father is released from the Russian front because of an injury in his leg. When Trudi is born, her mother starts to go crazy. She despairs over the fact that she gave birth to a dwarf child. Her mother drives herself to her death.

Trudi lives with her father, and her whole life she suffers from her affliction because people treat her like a freak since there’s nobody like her in the town. She has some friends, but she loses them eventually. She works in her father’s pay-library and tells stories to everyone in the town about everyone else. She learns people’s secrets and she tells them to people and she thinks it gives her power. When she meets a dwarf woman for the first time, an animal trainer named Pia, at a carnival, Trudi becomes inspired towards self-improvement, but she gets hurt by doing this.

The town, Burgdorf, has to bear the burden of World War II, and Trudi and her father hide Jews in their house, until she is questioned for making a joke about standing up for the flag at a concert. The Jews are slowly removed from the town, and the rumors about what happens in the KZs, concentration camps, horrifies the town. People keep their mouths closed because they don’t want to get sent away, or shot, which happens to some, not just the Jews.

Trudi’s family is Catholic and they go to church regularly. This made Ms. Hen wonder about religion and Catholicism in general and how it forms characters in literature. The Catholic characters Ms. Hen has read about seem to be obsessed with piousness and sin and look for ways to absolve themselves other than saying the Rosary. Ms. Hen is not Catholic and does not believe in original sin, or other kinds of Catholic sin.

STONES FROM THE RIVER reminds Ms. Hen of another book she read recently, THE BASTARD by Violette Leduc, in which the characters were also practicing Catholics at the beginning. Both books go through World War I and II and both the characters are tormented, Leduc because she is a bastard, and Trudi because she is a dwarf. Both books also take place in Europe, THE BASTARD in France, and STONES in Germany. The two books are similar, but are different because THE BASTARD is a memoir, and STONES is a novel. Some of the things in THE BASTARD are too bizarre to have been made up, and they weren’t. Some of the events in STONES are also too strange to be fiction, and Ms. Hen wonders if some of the book is taken from real-life stories that the author knew.

Some hens appeared in this novel, which made Ms. Hen happy. Trudi’s friend Max told her the story of how he lost his job as a teacher. He was building something and his colleague asked him what it was, and he said, “’This will be a chicken coop. And that I build here is thanks to the Fuhrer.’” His colleague didn’t think Max’s statement was funny, and Max was fired for that. In wartime, it wasn’t good to joke about things, even though people used that expression all the time.

Ms. Hen knows some things are no joking matter, like dwarves and war and death. Ms. Hen enjoyed this book so much that while she was reading it she had dreams about it at night while she slept. This doesn’t happen often, but it does when a book and its characters get under Ms. Hen’s skin and she can’t get them out.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THIS BOY'S LIFE

Tobias Wolfe
Harper & Row

Ms. Hen decided to buy this book when she saw it at a used bookstore because someone she respected told her a long time ago that it was worth reading. Ms. Hen bought the book without flipping through the pages, but she wished she had because the pages were marked in the book, and it seemed as if a person of low intelligence had owned the book previously.

Ms. Hen did not like this book. It is a memoir of a young boy, Toby Wolfe, who comes from a broken home, lives with his mother, and is separated from his brother and father. This book is very much a man-book. It’s about a bad kid: one who lies, steals, plays with guns and gets into trouble. Ms. Hen didn’t like the character because he reminded her of her younger brothers when they were kids, bad and bratty and smelly little boys who liked to cause mischief.

Ms. Hen’s brothers weren’t as close to being as bad as the young Tobias, who preferred to be called Jack Wolfe. That is possible because Toby did not have a positive father figure in his life. His mother ran from Florida to get away from an abusive boyfriend, but then ended up marrying another horrible man in Washington State. Young Toby didn’t seem to have a chance. But that doesn’t mean Ms. Hen had to like the book.

Even though the writing in the book is very clean and descriptive and vibrant, Ms. Hen did not sympathize with the character. She couldn’t. He was a bad kid, and Ms. Hen didn’t like reading about him. One of the good things about the book is that it is a very quick read, and it was over fast.

There was a brief moment reading when Ms. Hen thought THIS BOY’S LIFE could be like ON THE ROAD, but about a young boy, but Toby never ran away. He tried, but he didn’t because he was foolish with his money. There were pieces of this book that reminded Ms. Hen of THE LIAR’S CLUB, but she doesn’t think THIS BOY’S LIFE is nearly as good or interesting as that book.

Ms. Hen would recommend this book to anyone who has every been a bratty young boy, or anyone who lived their youth in the 50s and 60s, but as a woman who did not live during this time, Ms. Hen was not inspired by THIS BOY’S LIFE. She’s glad she never lived during this era, and never had to directly deal with a young child with the proclivities of this boy.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Ruth Prawer Jabvala
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen bought this novel at a used bookstore because she had read another book by the author, HEAT AND DUST, and she enjoyed it. Incidentally, HEAT AND DUST was the first book reviewed on her blog, so she felt connected to the author.

IN SEARCH OF LOVE AND BEAUTY suffers from the same problem that HEAT AND DUST does: it trails along at a snail’s pace. The novel is slow, and Ms. Hen could understand why some people might not like it, another reason for that is the characters all seem to dislike each other.

The novel is about a family, the matriarch, Louise, her daughter, Marietta, and Marietta’s children Mark and Natasha, and their relationship with a type of guru, Leo Kellermann. Leo has a cult, and in his youth Louise and her friend Regi assist Leo with his classes and his teaching, but they break with him, but he still pesters them for money and companionship.

Leo has affairs with Louise and Regi and a number of other women. Leo is a phony, but he is charismatic and people seem to believe he has something worthwhile to say. He prophesies that people should reach “The Point” in their lives, when they realize their potential.

Ms. Hen doesn’t like reading novels about people who are rotten to each other, but she couldn’t stop reading this, because this novel was so visceral that she felt she was there with the characters in New York in places like a cafĂ© called the Old Vienna drinking liqueur drinks with whipped cream and looking at the gilded chandeliers and blue velvet chairs. There were a few places in the novel in which cake and pastries are mentioned, and for some reason, they stood out for Ms. Hen, especially a scene at Louise’s birthday party where the grandchildren are shoving pastry after pastry into their mouths.

Marietta travels to India to be with her lover, Ravi, and she spends time getting to know the country. She stays at a house with a famous singer and they go out to eat at a restaurant, “Everyone was enjoying their meal, the ladies as much as the men, tearing the legs of skinny ovenbaked chickens and bringing their heads forward to bite into them.” Right after this Marietta gets bit by a bird and is scared that she might be infected. Ms. Hen appreciated that the people were eating chicken in India, and it is a pivotal point because it shows what kind of person Marietta is: a person trying to be worldly, but neurotic about unpleasant things.

Ms. Hen thought that this novel was good, but it might not be for everyone. People who aren't bothered by reading about characters who don’t like each other, who are selfish, and who are strange, and lie to other people about their mental health would enjoy IN SEARCH OF LOVE AND BEAUTY. Ms. Hen didn’t mind because she knows this is the way people can be. If she met these characters in real life, she wouldn’t like them, but reading about them didn’t bother her. She doesn’t mind neurotics if they’re not right in her face. It’s good to live in other people’s problems for a short time.