26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2001
I was lucky enough to get this book at the library before it hits the bestseller lists. I predict it will. I can also see it as a movie. Sue Miller explores the past and present, drawing parallels with the modern day Cath and her grandmother, Georgia. When Cath discovers her grandmother's diary, she is compelled to read it and fill in the blanks of her life. Learning from Georgia's past mistakes and also seeing how much alike their lives were, Cath comes to a deeper understanding of her own life. The allegorical submerged town under the lake illustrates poignantly the themes of the story. This well researched tale explores a part of history little known till now-the TB epidemic and life in the "sans". A compelling story, with many layers.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2001
I suppose that many will take Sue Miller's "The World Below" as a quiet, subdued examination of the lives of two women: Georgia and her grand daughter, Catherine....and leave it at that. And unfortunately, except for some well written passages it is...just that. But having just read Leif Enger's "Peace like a River" and Joyce Carol Oates'"Middle Age," I can't let Miller off the hook so easily. What these two novels have that Miller's work doesn't is a point of view, a substantial world view that would give "The World Below" some pizazz, some oomph...something to take you beyond the bare bones of the storyline.
The basic story of "The World Below" is somewhat interesting: a woman, Catherine Hubbard, is willed her grandmother's house and she, needing a change of venue after two failed relationships , decides to visit this home in Vermont. While there, Catherine discovers a cache of her grandmother's journals. The novel then becomes the story of these two women and the narrative moves back and forth between these two lives. And this is a good thing because the "Georgia" portions of this novel are the most interesting and provocative as they relate Georgia's stay in a TB sanitarium and her subsequent marriage to her much older doctor and the problems inherent therein.
Miller can write beautifully when so inclined: "The thick flakes coming out of the dark at the windshield, the steady shuddering slap of the wipers, the vehicles looming ahead of me on the road--all this was hypnotic...the flakes landed silently on the car and melted with the engine's heat..light that fell into the yard and made the steadily falling snow seem thicker and heavier than it was."
In "The World Below," Miller spends her time and efforts on the exposition of this story...propelling the novel forward. But where's the attutude? Where's the interpretation of these words to make it all more substantial and therefore more personal, interesting and multi-layered?
In the past, Miller has proven to have the skills to make her words sing not only in our heads but in our hearts and souls. Unfortunately, "The World Below" is not an example of this.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a wonderful story between two women at different periods in time. The first one, Georgia was sent to a sanatorium for her TB and found love there. The second one, Kathy, her granddaughter, comes to find peace within her own life as she learns more about her grandmother's life. Kathy, the daughter of a woman who has committed suicide when Kathy was only 15, have searched for acceptance and love ever since. Her grandmother was the only one who could provide it. And Georgia full of secrets herself tried to pass on wisdom to her granddaughter.
It is a wonderfully written story ~~ one that is slow to move in the beginning but once you get immersed into the story, it does pick up. Georgia is an interesting woman taken away from the security of her home where she has been taking care of her sister, brother and father after her mother's death ~~ and began a long process to adulthood. She finds love twice and learned much from it. Kathy's story parallels her grandmother. She too lost her mother at about the same age Georgia did. And she has loved twice ~~ only to lose them through divorce. And she finds redemption in being a grandmother to a premature baby, Jessie, who fought for her life for months. In that fight, Kathy comes to realize that life is indeed a gift, no matter how bad the blows were dealt.
It is an interesting book ~~ one that I am glad to have won in a contest. It is not my favorite book of the year, but it is a really good read.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2002
I found these two interweaving stories of Kath and her grandmother, Georgia, to be a compelling read that has stayed in my mind months after reading it for the first time. I'm now on my second reading (something I rarely do), and find it as amazing this time around as in my first encounter. What a deep, profound novel.
The reader must be patient. It's definitely a character driven book, not a plot-heavy pageturner. But once you immerse yourself in these wonderful characters from two different generations, you can't help but be drawn in deeply and feel as if you're getting to know "real people" as memorable and poignant as perhaps the secret stories woven into your own grandmother's past.
To me it is truly amazing the way that Cath was raised by her grandparents after her own disturbed mother's suicide. She always thought her grandparents had boring and quite ordinary lives. But what she discovers, through reading her grandmother's diaries, is that her grandmother, Georgia's marriage was much deeper, more filled with quiet conflict and inner struggle than she'd ever imagined possible! I won't spoil the story by revealing the secrets - but the heartwarming way that her grandparents solved some deep problems in their own relationship is a model for today's couples to follow. It was so heartwarming and inspiring.
Like many readers here, I've read both The World Below and While I Was Gone. They are quite different books, but I liked both. Sue Miller is now one of my very favorite authors. Bravo!!
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2001
THE WORLD BELOW lacks energy in its delivery. I have read everything Sue Miller has written and have enjoyed some of her books more than others. Her latest work is just okay. It's written well. It wasn't necessarily boring. It just didn't have the punch that I want in a book. I like stories that weave the past into the present as this does. Other authors have been masterful using this style. Again, Sue Miller did it all right, but it just wasn't great. It was "okay." Throughout the book I searched for the plot, the true storyline. Fifty-something Cath has returned to her grandparents' home in Vermont to see if she wants to live there as opposed to her home in San Francisco. She discovers diaries written by Georgia, her grandmother, and unlocks some secrets about her grandparents and their life together.
As a young girl Georgia contracted TB and was sent to a sanitarium to recover. Although this is a big part of the story, it became grim and depressing to read about people coughing and vomiting and, in some cases, dying.
I did enjoy Cath's daughters, Karen who is pregnant with her first child and spends the entire book in bed waiting for the baby to be born, and Fiona who might be the only spark of energy in the entire book. But we only get a glimpse of these two young women.
It's not a bad book, and I finished it without a fight, but if it stays on my bookshelf, it won't be read again. She's done better.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2002
"The World Below" tells the story of a woman who goes back to her grandmother's home and unravels some of the details of her grandparents' lives when they were young. The novel writes alternately about modern-day Cath and Georgia, her grandmother. The parts detailing her grandmother's life are compelling and rich and make for pleasurable reading. The transitions back to Cath's life are jarring and just a teeny bit dull.
Many books successfully employ this method, but Miller's character, Cath, wasn't interesting enough for me to remember her story when the focus switched back to her. At one point, after a particularly long and enjoyable look at Georgia's life, the story switched back to Cath, and I found myself really struggling to remember who "Fiona" was a how they were related. I think the reason for this difficulty is that the book wasn't as compelling as usual. Normally, I start and finish books within a couple of days, but I kept putting this one aside.
Sue Miller's main characters are usually selfish and self-absorbed individuals that I find vaguely annoying, and Cath is no different. This is not a criticism of her character development - it's just an observation.
"The World Below" was good enough to finish, but wasn't as good as "While I was Gone". If you haven't read her books, I would recommend the latter instead.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2002
Sue Miller's newest novel, The World Below, may be short on plot, but it is full of small rich moments which make the reader who has lived in this world awhile sit up and say "yes!". So many identifiable moments in a life are gorgeously painted in the exquisite language of this book. The honesty with which failed relationships are described, new relationships are considered, children's hurts are borne, parents mistakes are repeated--all are beautifully illustrated in Miller's simple tale of two generations of women looking at their lives. Her small ephipanies are delivered so subtly and unadorned that sometimes the reader does not know what has hit him. The truth has hit him. This is a good thing to find in a quiet book.
I especially loved the bumpy love story of Georgia and her doctor husband. If I had one criticism of the book, it wouldbe to say that I found the story of Georgia and Seward's romance rather flat. I could not feel their passion ans was rather uninvolved with their affair. On the contrary, I found Georgia's and her husband's love life to be tender and painful and real. Brava, anyway, for Sue Miller. A beautifully written book, in my opinion.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2001
I usually enjoy Sue Miller's books, but not this one. Why? The plot was weak, lacked originality and the story itself was rather drawn out. It expressed lots of feelings and words, but at the same time, the story lacked action. We have read similar scenarios before where a family member dies, a divorce takes place causing one to return to their painful roots of childhood, and on, and on, and on. This book was no exception, it followed that same path and the author spent more time dwelling about the heartaches, pains and trauma of her past rather than focusing on any upbeat, positive drama. Many readers will probably say they enjoyed the book, but for me, it was just too much of the same old song and dance we read about so often these days; it lacked creativity and originality.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The small, personal, domestic dramas in the lives of women, which Miller portrays in this soul-baring, confessional narrative, will make this book appealing for many readers--chiefly women, I suspect--who will see themselves or events from their own lives in the emotional challenges faced by Catherine Hubbard and her grandmother, Georgia Rice. But those who are hoping for a book which rises above the here and now and into the realm of universal themes and truths may be less enchanted.
Catherine is a twice divorced mother of three from California who inherits and moves temporarily into the Vermont cottage in which she lived with her grandparents during her teen years. Long interested in her grandparents' seemingly successful marriage, which contrasts sharply with her own marriages, Catherine embarks on some serious soul-searching as she tries to decide whether to stay permanently in Vermont and begin a new life. While she is there, she discovers her grandmother's diaries and learns that her grandmother, too, faced personal crises and challenges.
The let-it-all-hang-out confessions of the minutiae of Catherine's and Georgia's emotional lives seem, somehow, intrusive to me, too personal--not because they are so revelatory or shocking but because they are so mundane, so self-conscious. The reader is hard pressed to find many universal truths which can illuminate aspects of our own lives in these revelations, and I ended up learning more about the daily emotional lives of these women than I really wanted to know. Additionally, Georgia's diaries did not ring true to me. Dignity, restraint, and, most of all, privacy, are so integral to the character of lifelong residents of Down East Maine and Vermont, especially elderly ones, that while I could accept Georgia's behavior as real, I couldn't imagine anyone of her era putting it all in writing, and her supposed intention of having Catherine read the account some day seems too pat. In her treatment of "the world below," I wish Miller had cast a brighter light into the emotional murk to reveal more of the universal truth we all seek. Mary Whipple
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2002
If you're looking for an author to love, a consistent choice for your reading list, and characters that stay with you, pick up any Sue Miller book. This one didn't fail me. Miller takes on a reflective character who looks back on her past, as well as lives in her current life and challenges. It's a joy to read about a woman attempting to make healthy choices for her life.
There's a description of an underwater town in this book that haunted not only the pages, but also my mind. Miller has a unique way of making "the world below" an integral, yet tiny part of the overall story.