Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon- Book Review

 

 

First Published: 1977

Genre: Mystery/thriller

Rating:

1,5 out of 5

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR…

Sidney Sheldon (February 11, 1917 – January 30, 2007) was an acclaimed American writer whose extensive body of work includes over twenty novels, all of which he wrote after turning fifty. In his younger years Sheldon was a small, and silver screen heavy weight. He was responsible for the creation of I Dream of Genie, The Patty Duke Show and Hart to Hart, as well as numerous film and stage titles.

Okay, so I hate to bag out the man who created one of my favourite childhood sitcoms, I Dream of Jeannie, but this book is terrible.

Perhaps if I read it back in 1977, when it was first published, I would have appreciated it more, and been somewhat more surprised. But unfortunately, CSI, NCIS, SVU, ABC, 123 and the countless other acronyms tumbling together in an ever-growing avalanche of TV crime dramas have ruined crime fiction for me, forever.

The story goes a little something like this…

Sam Roffe, head of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical empire Roffe and Sons, dies in what appears to be a tragic mountain climbing accident.

Sam’s daughter, and only child, Elizabeth, is bequeathed with the entirety of Sam’s will, including his majority stock in Roffe and Sons.

Elizabeth is- surprise, surprise- young, intelligent, and stunningly beautiful (*yawn*). She struggled tirelessly throughout her life to gain her father’s love, approval, and attention.

She therefore takes her new role more seriously than her family, the Board of Directors at Roffe and Sons, anticipated. They convince Elizabeth of the company’s financial problems and urge her to make Roffe and Sons a publicly owned company, therefore allowing the Board to sell off their shares (a luxury previously denied by Sam, who insisted the company remain within the family).

As we are introduced to each of the Board members, and learn of their debaucherous exploits and illegal undertakings, it becomes boringly clear that something sinister is afoot.

And Elizabeth begins to think… maybe Sam’s death wasn’t an accident… an experienced mountain climber falling into a dark abyss is maybe something she should have looked into a little more… maybe someone killed him… maybe that someone was a member of the Board… a member of her family…. DUN DUN DAAAAAAAH (cue anxious nail biting here)!!!!!!!

Elizabeth keeps her suspicions to herself as the Board of Directors continue pressuring her to step down, and allow for the sale of their shares.

When she refuses to capitulate, several murderous attempts are made to get her out of the picture, and she fears for her life, as well as the future of Roffe and Sons.

But which of her desperate, greedy family members is to blame? Or could it even be Sam’s right-hand man, Rhys Williams, the dashingly chivalrous Welshman with a dark past, and suave charisma (is it just me or does it kind of sound like an episode from Days of Our Lives?).

Each has motive. So how on earth will we ever solve this mystery?

Have no fear, because just when you start to wonder where the hell this is all going, in gallops Inspector Max Hornung, from God knows where, to clean up the messy plot and end my torture once and for all.

This mythical-like Inspector, who asks all the right questions and makes all the right assumptions, was not mentioned in the first three quarters of the book. It almost seemed as though Sheldon himself was growing bored with the story and invented a never-before-heard-of character to wrap things up nice and quick. It just didn’t really make sense. Especially considering the fact that he took about half the book to introduce and set up all the other characters.

The endless barrage of backstories (of the Board of Directors and their spouses) made the text difficult to follow at times, and I often found myself sifting through the pages trying to remind myself which character was which.

Amongst all this, we flash back to Elizabeth’s adolescence, where she has a brief homosexual tryst with her boarding school teacher. You might think this made things a little juicier, a little more exciting.

No. It didn’t.

It was totally irrelevant, added nothing to the story, and still baffles me as to why it was included at all. This is just one example of the overwhelming amount of unnecessary information contained within the covers of Bloodline.

The ending was anticlimactic, forced, and totally predictable- despite Sheldon’s efforts to add a few last-minute twists and turns into the mix.

All in all it’s pretty crumby. So leave it on the shelf.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being- book review

Rating

4 out of 5

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

By Milan Kundera

First Published: 1984

Translated into English (from Czech) by Michael Henry Heim.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author…

Milan Kundera was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. His experiences as a young intellectual in his war-torn homeland are evident in this partly autobiographical novel. He was a vocal advocate for the reformation of Czech communism after WWII, and was thus silenced in Prague after the 1968 Spring Uprising, before taking exile in France, where he remains to this day.

 

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being packs some pretty heavy philosophical punches. Kundera begins by weighing up- pardon the pun- the significance of lightness vs. weight, and the inevitable question of which is preferable to the human condition.

He compares Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return (heaviness) against Parmenides, who understood life as divided into either lightness or weight.

Kundera agrees with Nietzsche when he claims that eternal recurrence allows us to overcome meaninglessness, and therefore obtain happiness. In other words: we crave repetition; we crave the mundane; repetition is happiness.

However, Kundera departs from Nietzsche when he claims that eternal recurrence is impossible, since a human life only occurs once, moving ahead in a straight line. By doing so Kundera asks his audience how there can be any significance to life, when there is no eternal return, “”What happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.” And thus, man will never be happy.

Kundera also has issues Parmenides, who claimed that that in life, lightness was positive, and weight negative. Instead he struggles with which is preferable, a struggle that is represented in his characters- Tereza and Franz symbolize weight, Thomas and Sabina, lightness.

Kundera sets his novel against the backdrop of war-torn Czechoslovakia in the midst of Russian invasion, during the famous 1968 Spring Uprising, and spans over two decades.

In Bohemia, Prague we meet our main protagonist, Thomas; as well known for his work as a surgeon as he is for his unapologetic womanizing (but who ultimately ends up a window-washer).

He struggles incessantly with the inequalities he perceives between thought and emotion, between love and lust, between lightness and weight. Even after marrying his wife, Tereza, he fails to see any reason to cease his adulterous affairs, because to him, his mistresses pose no threat to his wife, and lust poses no threat to love. He believes his mistresses give weight (or meaning) to an otherwise excruciatingly light existence.

Thomas borrows the line “Es’ muss sein” (it must be) from a Beethoven composition, and uses it often to describe his relationship with Tereza, whom he both adores, and at times despises, but believes he has no choice in loving because, ‘it must be.’ He believes that fate sent Tereza to him; vulnerable, sick and needy, like Moses in a “bulrush basket”.  It was because of this belief that Thomas left the safety of Switzerland to follow Tereza back to Prague- a decision he later regrets, when he becomes ostracized and oppressed by the regime.

But still he remains (un)loyal to Tereza until the very end.

Sabina, Thomas’s favourite mistress, and close friend, is a Czech artist who lives for rebellion, detests kitsch and is known as the eternal betrayer, “Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent…”

After Thomas moves back to Prague Sabina is forced to find other suitable affairs that will quench her insatiable thirst for ‘lightness’.

Enter Franz. Dear, sweet, silly Franz; the eternal optimist; naïve dreamer; and idealistic sop. If Sabina represents black, then Franz- a Swiss lecturer- is the most dazzling white you’ve ever seen.

Lightness is not something he strives to obtain. He wishes for nothing more than to feel the weight (or importance as he sees it) of his existence. After embarking on an adulterous affair with Sabina, he leaves his wife and daughter, only to be simultaneously dumped by Sabina (having a monogamous relationship with an un-married man was simply out of the question for rebellious Sabina).

After Sabina’s sudden departure from his life, he tries hard to legitimize and enjoy his new sense of freedom. He takes a young lover, moves into a new apartment, and struggles to find meaning in his life.

He becomes obsessed with the idea of a “great and noble march towards a brighter future’. Before long he finds the perfect outlet to fulfill his idealistic dreams when he is invited to travel to Cambodia and participate in a protest (with other intellectuals and celebrities) against the Khmer Rouge. In one of my favourite and most fitting literary deaths, Franz’s ‘great and noble march’ concludes unsuccessfully at the hands of Thai muggers in Bangkok.

This was my first time reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and I feel like it’s one of those books that you need to read a few times before it can be fully appreciated. Having said that though, I thought this book was incredible. It’s universal themes of sexuality, politics, betrayal, love, life and death transcends its context. The way Kundera  deals with these issues is unique and riveting, ensuring the books relevancy almost thirty years after it was written.