June 28, 2010

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton (Audiobook): Review

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If there is an upside to painting (and it needs one), it's that I can use the time doing this mindless activity to listen to audiobooks. I plugged in the old itouch and downloaded Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton.

The Bunner sisters troubles start with a birthday present, a clock, given to Evelina by her sister Ann Eliza. The sisters are two spinster ladies, probably in their thirties, who own a small shop which sells the kind of items ladies require- artificial flowers, ribbon, that kind of thing. They live a shabby existence above the shop, one that's neatly ordered and ridiculously dull. Just the purchase of the clock throws them into a tizzy, especially since the clockmaker is a bachelor. The sisters invite the man, Mr Ramy, into their lives and he manages to turn their world upside down.

Yet another Wharton story with a "life sucks and then you die" theme to it. Utterly depressing and yet I keep reading them. Every time I read one, I get carried along by her words. She has such an artistry that she could make the phone book interesting.

Wharton makes the mundane world of the sisters real. You can see the sad little shop and Ann Eliza's dusty old silk dress in the picture of words she paints. Ann Eliza and Evelina are two women perfectly happy with this life until Mr Ramy comes on the scene. Then we see how desperately each woman wants out of it. And Ramy is no smooth Casanova. A woman has to be desperate to want this guy.

The sisters are so naive and innocent, especially for two women who run their own business. You would expect them to be a bit more savvy but they fail to see a disaster when it's coming right at them. I did admire the strength of one of the characters. She is selfless though it doesn't do her much good.

I have a bone to pick with Wharton though. I do feel she is unnecessarily cruel to her characters. She has a chance right at the end to offer us some hope. A teeny tiny glimmer of light. But no, she yanks it right out from under us all with a "haha! So there, suckers!" Now I'm not a Happily Ever After reader but come on, Edith, throw us a bone would ya!

Recommended for fans of Wharton who are in a good mood and can handle it or a bad one and want to stay there.

11 comments :

  1. When I was painting my deck last year I found it a really good time to listen to audiobooks, but I went for a YA novel rather than a more difficult classic!

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  2. My experience with Wharton is limited. I read The Age of Innocense in my early 20s and liked it. Then I was *supposed* to read House of Mirth in grad school, but I couldn't finis it. I also read the short story "Roman Fever" and loved it. So I'm kinda split at this point. Need to try more. I'm not totally opposed to cruelty. lol

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  3. I've avoided Wharton because my sister moaned and groaned so much about reading her work in high school. I need to re-think my aversion!

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  4. I've only read two of Wharton's books, but I can totally see the cruelty to the characters. No happy endings here. I have to say though that while it is a bit frustrating, I sort of - kind of admire it a bit too. ;)

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  5. I laughed out loud twice reading this review. Thanks! ;-)

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  6. Marg- I love audiobooks when I have to take on a big home project. It goes so much faster.

    Andi- I hope you try House of Mirth again. That was a good one.

    Kathy- I hope you give her a try!

    Trisha- I was with her right up until the last page. Then I think she was just kicking someone when they are down.

    Elisabeth- Thanks!

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  7. I object to the way both Wharton and James use what seem to me kind of underhanded ways to denigrate "lower-class" characters.

    But, as you say, she is a true artist, and at her worst, more worth reading than a second-class writer at his/her best.

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  8. She does tend to be cruel to her characters, yet I keep coming back to her as well. Boy she could do wonders with a pen.

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  9. The last line of your review is great (the whole review is good but I especially cracked up at the last line.)

    I've read Ethan Frome and the short story Roman Fever. Roman Fever is excellent. I remember thinking Ethan Frome was good but I'm not in a hurry to read more Wharton novels.

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  10. Shelley- Yes, her writing is always beautiful.

    Christy- I'm adding Roman Fever to my TBR list!

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