- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0007170785
- ISBN-13: 978-0007170784
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,371,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Tattooed Girl Paperback – 6 Sep 2004
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'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'
'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.'
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. See all Product description
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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.
Be that as it may, I picked 'The Tattoed Girl' up and read it from cover to cover. I found it to be an 'interesting' story but not a compelling one. Joshua is a half Jewish writer who is a bit of a loner and has reached a stage where he needs help with his paperwork. He finds Alma, one of life's victims, and Alma moves in as his live-in support system. Their two worlds could not be mre different and the story hinges on how each sees the other. As the novel progresses, unexpressed prejudices and ill formed feelings move the characters ever closer to a redemptive climax.
If someone came to my house and looked on the bookshelf and asked if this was a book they would enjoy, I would say that if they enjoyed a slow pointed story that focussed on little else other than two very unlikeable people, surrounded by a small cast of other unlikeable people then they might like it. Also, if they were looking for a book group read with an opportunity to discuss the story and some quite deep elements within it, then it would be a good choice. If however, they wanted action, I'd point them in another direction.
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 . . . and take the time to find out who they are. Think of this as being like "Get acquainted with others as you would like others to get acquainted with you" as a variation on the Golden Rule. Although there's an obvious religious message here, Ms. Oates mostly leaves religion out of her story . . . probably to make the potential lesson more accessible to people of all faiths and non-faith.
This book would make a fine choice for a sophomore English class in high school as a launching pad for many fine discussions about the dangers of categorizing others.
As I finished the book, I began to wonder to whom I had not properly explained myself . . . and to whom I had not properly listened. That was a valuable benefit from reading the fine writing in the book.
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