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The Tattooed Girl [Paperback]

Joyce Carol Oates
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

6 Sep 2004

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the world’s most respected living novelists. Her new novel brings us a tale of dark passions, prejudice, and the strange forms that love can take.

A celebrated but reclusive author, young but in failing health, Joshua Seigl reluctantly realizes that he can no longer live alone. One day he encounters a young woman with synthetic-looking blond hair and pale, tattooed skin in a bookshop. She stirs something unidentifiable within him – pity? desire? responsibility? He decides that Alma will be his assistant.

An uneasy relationship begins, one which lurches between repulsion and attraction, between hate and love. Seigl is unaware that Alma has been shaped by abuse and misfortune. His kindness is baffling to her; his bookishness completely alien. She secretly harbours anti-Semitic thoughts; he quietly nurses his desire. With terrifying inevitability, their stories wind towards a shocking climax as both Alma and Seigl find themselves struggling to understand what their lives are worth.

With her unique, masterful balance of dark suspense and surprising tenderness, Joyce Carol Oates conveys how easily and treacherously prejudice can snake its way into human relationships.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007170785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007170784
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 642,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Product Description

Review

'The storytelling is extraordinary…A completely gripping tale told in an almost manically propulsive style.' Guardian

'When you start a Joyce Carol Oates novel, you know you're in good hands. Her writing is original and effortless and she never disappoints. The Tattooed Girl is no exception.' Sunday Express

'A fine writer at the top of her form.' Sunday Telegraph

'Polished and taut'
Daily Telegraph

'The Tattooed Girl is as startlingly sharp as it is tender…the pain of the inarticulate is given a voice so piercingly real it prickles the blood.'
Observer

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a writer of wide appeal for all readers, described as ‘One of the Nation’s finest writers’, she has been a recipient of the National Book Award, PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction and was an Oprah Book Club Selection with WE WERE THE MULVANEYS. Her recent novels include MIDDLE AGE and I’LL TAKE YOU THERE. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is the Roger S Berlind Distinguished Professor at Princeton University.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
If you want to read a book that uses delicate plotting to subtly expose many dimensions of the thinking of its two leading characters, you will find The Tattooed Girl to be a tour de force. Unfortunately, the two characters are people you may not identify with because they seem drawn more to create a hypothetical case (of the sort so fondly debated in laws schools) rather than people you have met or know. As a result, the book's powerful message in favor of connection and sharing falls short its potential punch. The reader is likely to come away glassy-eyed from the book's events, but not redirected in her or his behavior.
Joshua Seigl is a man trying to hide from his own success, and finding it harder and harder to do so. In the course of the book, you'll find out the many reasons why he is hiding. The time comes to take on an assistant to help him with his papers, correspondence and occasional odd jobs around the house. Seigl rejects all kinds of qualified male applicants due to his own hypersensitive nature. Then, one day he meets an odd young woman struggling to do a simple job in a local bookstore. Despite her lack of qualifications other than being non-threatening, he hires her. Her submissiveness allows them to get along on the surface, but she develops a strong dislike for him that emerges into virulent anti-Semitism. Ms. Oates then takes us on a journey with them as they drop their public faces and begin to connect with one another, and the result is that their views of one another begin to reflect the inner realities of one another.
Ms. Oates's theories are that we usually judge one another rather harshly based on appearances, behavior and our historical sense of what's what. Instead, she encourages us to drop our guard and let others know who we really are . . .
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Anti-Heroine to Heroine 20 May 2005
By D Webster VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I found this a challenging and painful read, yet also a testimony to the redemptive power of the human spirit.
Seigl, a partly Jewish academic and one-time novelist employs Alma Bauch, a young woman from the margins of society as his housekeeper. Inured to abuse from men since childhood, even the tattoo's on Alma's neck are the result of a drugged abusive incident. For most of the novel we are let into Alma's virulent anti-Semitic thoughts which she shares with her abusive lover, Dimitri Meatte, a waiter at the local cafe. Seigl is struck down by a neurological condition while simultaneously Alma begins to realise the shaky foundations for her prejudices. As he becomes hospitalised and progressively ill, Alma's former murderous intentions are turned on their back as she waits in vigil at his bedside willing his recovery. The venom stripped away, Seigl's unspoken love for Alma is reciprocated. She rejects the hideous Meatte, who arrives out of the blue seeking money. The ending I found quite shocking, though I wouldn't want to ruin that pleasure for other readers.
The Tattooed Girl challenged me to hold intense dislike for the actions and thoughts of Alma alongside empathy for her. I found this so difficult at one point I didn't think I could finish the novel. However, I am glad I did, as at the endpoint, Alma's outlook and sensibilities undergo a radical shake-up and she emerges a sympathetic character.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dangers of Our Unspoken Reality 11 Feb 2004
Format:Hardcover
After September 11, 2001 many authors felt it necessary to respond in some way. But how? Joyce Carol Oates has chosen to write a novel, not about that historical event specifically, but about the nature of hate and evil. She chooses to concentrate this exploration in the intimate environment of a celebrated, reclusive writer named Joshua Seigl. He has reached a point in his life where he realises that he can no longer block the world out and needs human company. Searching for an assistant to help him organize his enormous body of work and attend to the menial chores of his large house, he encounters a drifter who calls herself Alma. Her body is covered in what may be scars, birthmarks or tattoos. Alma uses these mysterious marks on her body to fashion a personality for herself which can confront the uglier aspects of the world that her more sensitive self cannot combat. After hiring her there follows a working relationship in the intimate space of Seigl's house that unearths hidden aspects of both their identities. The unspoken antithesis that exists between them is built through months of a seemingly harmonious working relationship. Yet the hatred that exists between them is brought physically to the forefront by the exaggerated attitudes of Alma's dangerous, anti-Semitic lover Dmitri and Seigl's mentally unbalanced, passionately upper class sister Jet. Inevitably, the central characters own prejudices must come to the forefront where a tacit understanding is formed amidst tragic events.
The ultimate question this novel raises is: what place does art have in illuminating the past and dispensing with hatred? The answer is not as simple as it appears because fiction does not deal in truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Exploration Of Human Emotions 13 Nov 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book became more gripping the further into it I read. It describes the awkward 'relationship' between a Jewish author, Joshua Seigl and his new assistant Alma, who just happens to detest Jews.

Alma is a woman who has been abused continuously for most of her life, by various men, in various ways. During one of these abuses, several men drugged her and placed various red tattoos on her face and body, and it's this that the title alludes to.

Much of this story concerns Alma and Joshua's silent thoughts about each other, and it is in these passages that Joyce Carol Oates excels at keeping the reader's interest, be it through humour, honesty, or just the admirable feat of getting right to the crux of human attitudes and emotions towards various issues. Sexuality, religion, and class are all subjects which are touched on, both from Joshua and Alma's point of view.

The story has various interesting plot developments, but what kept me particularly riveted was Alma's almost unhinged vengeance, and her utterly vicious thoughts about her unsuspecting employer. The way in which men view Alma, who, despite her tattoos, is described as an attractive young woman, is also interesting to read. Joshua himself begins to harbour feelings of curiosity and attraction towards the fascinating character of alma.

As a reader, I was able to tell that the story was buliding towards something dramatic, and I was not wrong. Ultimately, Oates is an incredibly engaging writer who has, with 'The Tattooed Girl', created a book that is not only dramatic, but suspenseful, imaginative, engaging, realistic, funny and sad, all at the same time. Joyce Carol Oates is undoubtedly a writer of considerable talent.
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