Friday, July 29, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews GIGI and THE CAT

Mikki reading THE CAT with Ms. Hen

By Colette
1944, 1933
Penguin Books
GIGI translated by Roger Senhouse THE CAT translated by Antonia White

Ms. Hen decided to read this book on a whim, because she had heard of Colette, and wanted to learn more about her writing. She looked up what is considered the best book by the author and found GIGI, along with THE CAT.

Ms. Hen was charmed by GIGI; she thinks the story is sweet, but difficult at the same time. It is about a family of women who do not marry. They have lovers and men who take care of them, but they are not the type to settle down. It’s difficult to discern what the philosophy behind the story is, but Ms. Hen thinks that the grandmother and the aunt and mother don’t want Gigi to get married because they don’t want her to be different from them. They want her to be pleasing to men, and they want her to understand her place in the world.

Ms. Hen thinks that Gigi’s transformation in the story is upsetting. The grandmother wants her to be kept by Gaston, but Gigi doesn’t want to be like the other women in the family. It seems to Ms. Hen that Gigi doesn’t have much say in what she does with her life. She can either get married or be a woman who does not marry. Ms. Hen thinks this is depressing, but she realizes that Gigi lived in different times. She didn’t have the option of getting an education and doing something important with her life or doing anything with her life other than having it revolve around a man, or several men.

Ms. Hen knew that GIGI was also a film from the 1950s, so she decided to watch it after she read the book. The movie made Ms. Hen uncomfortable. In the beginning, a man who is not a character in the story sings a song called, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” which Ms. Hen thinks is perverted. Ms. Hen thought the whole film was disgusting, it is an elongated version of the short story, but the difference is in the movie, Gigi actually loves Gaston. In the story Gigi had too much sense to fall for a fool like Gaston, but she knew what was important. Ms. Hen says no to the film, but a hesitant maybe to the story.

Ms. Hen has different ideas about THE CAT. This story is about a young couple, Alain and Camille, who are about to get married and Alain owns a cat named Saha. He loves his cat more than anything, but when he gets married the cat isn’t able to come live with them because they are staying in a small apartment. The cat gets depressed, and stops eating and loses weight because Alain leaves her, so he takes her to the apartment. Camille is jealous of Saha. Ms. Hen can’t imagine a woman being upset because her husband loves a cat. Ms. Hen thinks Camille is envious because she has nothing else to do with her days: she does not work, she doesn’t have any friends, she simply sits at home and waits for Alain to come home so they could spend time together.

Ms. Hen does not think that the story of THE CAT could happen in today’s society because women have better things to do than become jealous over a cat. But it’s an important story because it shows how women’s lives used to be, spending time waiting for a man to come home and hating the cat that shares his affections. Women love cats most of the time because they are delicate and feminine and mysterious like women, and they can be our co-conspirators.

Ms. Hen reads classics because she likes to learn about and be angry at the way the world used to be. These stories are entertaining, but they show a time and place where Ms. Hen does not live, and she’s glad she does not. One of the good things about this book is that it is very short, so reading about the women suffering in these stories does not take too long.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THE BLUE FLOWER

Penelope Fitzgerald
Mariner Books

Ms. Hen had read about this novel in a couple of different places, and it seemed like something she would like to read, since it is a novel about a real-life writer, the poet known as Novalis who lived in the late eighteenth century Germany. Ms. Hen was immediately enthralled with the style of writing.

Something about the writing in this novel made Ms. Hen think that the author was attempting to copy the language of the era in which the novel takes place. Some of the characters are referred to with a “the” in front of their names, such as “The Bernhard.” The writing seems to drip off the page; it feels as if the reader is right there in Germany in the first chapter on washing day, when all the washing for a year was done. Ms. Hen could imagine how badly everything would smell if everyone only washed their clothes and their linens once a year.

The novel is about Friedrich von Hardenberg, later Novalis, who falls in love with a twelve-year-old girl, Sophie, when he is visiting her family home on business. Everyone around him does not understand his infatuation, because the girl is not up to par with him intellectually. Hardenberg does not inform his father of this for quite some time, and his brother Erasmus is angry about Friedrich’s intentions at first, but comes to love Sophie himself.

Sophie is a child, and has not been educated well, but she is beautiful and simple, and love has no explanation. People are upset about him being engaged to Sophie, including his father’s friend, Just, and his Just’s niece, Karoline, though she would never let Hardenberg know. Hardenberg is afraid his father will disown him if he marries Sophie, but there is nothing his father can do.

Some feminists might be angry about the way women are portrayed in this novel, but the things the characters say are views people held in the past. Some of the notions put forth by both men and women appear so preposterous today, that Ms. Hen had to laugh, if it weren’t so tragic that people used to believe things like this. But this aspect of the novel only served to make the story more believable; the reader gets involved in the age in which the novel took place, like going in a time machine, which quality historical fiction should do.

Even though this story is a tragic tale of love, humor abounds. Ms. Hen couldn’t help but be amused at the absurdity of the situations that these characters put themselves into, even though the comedy is dark. The lovers don’t understand each other, and nobody understand them, but that is the way life is sometimes, but we have to think it's funny at how ridiculous their actions are.

Ms. Hen thinks this novel is unlike any she has read. It is magical and real at the same time. Fairy tale elements exist in the novel, but at the same time, it’s based in reality. The writing is exquisite, like delicate porcelain painted with flowers and trees that Ms. Hen was afraid to drop and smash on the floor, but it is beautiful all the same.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews DALVA

Jim Harrison

Ms. Hen had never heard of Jim Harrison until he died earlier this year. He isn’t really her cup of tea: she isn’t into fiction about rural areas. She wasn’t sure about him, but one of her rooster friends sent her an interview with Harrison and she thought he said some cool things about writing. She wanted to read one of his novels, and finally got around to reading DALVA. She chose this book because it is about a woman.

Dalva is a woman who has had a lot of bad luck in her life, but she deals with it with her chin held high. Her father died in the Korean War after he survived World War II. Her first love abandons her, and she gets pregnant, then she becomes barren. She travels and has lots of jobs, but her roots are in Western Nebraska. Her family comes from money. She thinks that she has no father, no husband, and no son.

Since Ms. Hen doesn’t like books about the country and country people, she wasn’t sure she would like this. But she did. This book wasn’t boring – it moved along at a fast pace. There were many colorful characters in this novel, from Dalva to her mother, Naomi; her sister, Ruth; Lundquist; Michael. Also the descriptions of the countryside in Nebraska and Arizona are breathtaking. The author went to a lot of depth to describe both the characters and the setting.

Even though Ms. Hen loved this book, there seemed to be too much information at times. The writing was too deep, almost like the author was living in the book that he created. Ms. Hen was a little uncomfortable at the way Dalva was described at some points in the book. She thought that she is described through a man’s eyes, and if a woman wrote this book, she wouldn’t have been seen as such an object. Not that Ms. Hen doesn’t think that the author didn’t like his character, it’s that he sees her as something sexual, and the other male characters do as well. There are other aspects of Dalva which are important, but to the other male characters, she’s just beautiful.

The novel breaks into a different character’s point of view, Michael's, in the middle of the book. Michael is a flawed character, but he brings balance to Dalva’s strength. He is researching the family history through diaries that Dalva’s great-grandfather left behind, who survived the oppression of the Indians in the territories. The great-grandfather’s wife was Sioux, and he was an arborist who planted trees. He was devastated over the way the Americans treated the Indians, and the family has a secret, which Dalva and Michael discover.

Her quest to find the son that she gave up for adoption over twenty years ago causes Dalva a lot of pain. She doesn’t know what he will be like. She suffers because of a mistake she made when she was young. The mistake is bigger than she knows at first.

There is a smattering of chickens in this novel, which made Ms. Hen happy. Ms. Hen didn’t underline the passages, because she read a library book, but the characters were always eating chicken that was freshly plucked.

This novel is a broad sweep of a brush across a canvass. A lot of characters come and go, and are so richly drawn, Ms. Hen felt like she knew them, even though she hasn’t spent much time in rural areas. Ms. Hen felt sorry for Dalva, but she knew Dalva would survive, because that’s her nature.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Edited by Gabrielle David and Sean Frederick Forbes
2Leaf Press

One of Ms. Hen’s hen friends lent this anthology to her because she wanted Ms. Hen to write a review of it. It is a very large book, but the woman wrote a list of what she thought were the most important essays in the book. Ms. Hen read them, and they made her think about the world and how America has gotten to this point in time.

This anthology is a collection of personal essays, all by white people, except one, about racism, and race in America. Some people might think that white people have nothing to say about race and being white in America, but these essays have varied opinions. Some of the essays made Ms. Hen angry to think that people could believe that if minorities simply worked harder, they could get ahead, such as in “What It Means to be White,” by Darci Halstead Garcia. Society isn’t as simple as that. Success isn’t something as simple as working hard and getting a better job and moving on with life.

Deep-seated racism takes hold in this country, such as how it is described in “The Risk of Greater Privileges,” by Abe Lateiner. Ms. Hen has never stopped to think that our entire society is a result of blood, the blood shed by the Native Americans, and slaves, and everyone else that built this country. In the essay, Lateiner talks about how he can’t enjoy his life because he can’t help but think how every comfort he has is the result of blood. The essay is beautifully and poetically written. It made Ms. Hen stop to look at the things in her house, and realize that almost everything she owns is made in a sweatshop. She found a few things that were not, however; and that made up for the pain a little bit.

Even though she doesn’t like owning things and living a life that is full of material possessions that are a result of blood, she realizes that she cannot change the whole world. If you stop to think how miserable everything is, you suffer, and you’ll never find peace. She realizes that you have to do small things in your own part of the planet to make things better, and not to agonize over the entire world. She believes it’s important to know about global issues, but not to let them ruin our own lives.

One of the essays, “So Tactlessly Thwarted,” by Elena Harap, made Ms. Hen stop to think that everyone has regrets in their lives, and we can’t be held accountable for what we did as children. When Ms. Harap was a teenager in Nashville Tennessee, in the 1950s, she was a member of the Nashville Youth Orchestra, an orchestra for which students had to audition in order to become a member. It was an honor to be in this orchestra. Some students said that the black students from the other, segregated high school should have an opportunity to be in the orchestra, and they were allowed to audition, but they were not permitted to be in the orchestra because the orchestra board would not stand for it. The young Elena Harap did not like this, but she went along with it anyway, even though it bothered her. She wrote about it when she was young, and went back to her writing many years later to put together a theater piece. She felt guilty that she didn’t do anything to try to change the minds of the adults who were in charge. She still questioned her actions many years later, but there was nothing she could do, since she was so young. Sometimes we have no control over circumstances in our lives. This situation was wrong, and hopefully it would never happen today, but if we look back on it, instead of being angry, people can question, what were they thinking? And they can hopefully learn from this and not let this happen again.

Ms. Hen carried this big book around for a couple of days, and she wasn’t sure what people on the train or anywhere else would think of the title. She wonders if people look at the books that other commuters read and judge their lives. Ms. Hen doesn’t think it's right to pass judgement on others by what they read. Ms. Hen liked this book, but it made her upset. But sometimes it’s good to be upset because it can propel you into action. She doesn’t know what actions she will take yet. But she’ll figure it out because she’s an industrious hen.