Customer Reviews: John Dollar (Wsp Contemporary Classics)
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on May 21, 2003
I didn't like this book so much that I felt compelled to review it. Rather, I'm adding my two cents because I wanted to alert people that most of the other reviewers--typically those who didn't like the book--have chosen to ruin it for others by mentioning important plot twists that wouldn't otherwise be readily guessed.

My opinion on the book though... I think Wiggins is a skilled writer and storyteller. I enjoyed the book enough that I couldn't put it down the night I finished it, despite knowing that it would give me nightmares. The comparisons to Lord of the Flies are inevitable, but it is its own work. Some complain of being bored or confused by the first half. I felt the first half established her writing prowess, and overall, I consider this book to be creepy, moralistic fun.
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on November 13, 2011
I'm not sure if the BOOK is not for me, or if it's the author. I learned of this book from an article on NPR's website that recommended three books that were notably dark. I bought this and one other book described in the article. I really liked the other book, but not so this one, which is compared, inaccurately, with "The Lord of the Flies."

The language in "John Dollar" was poetic to the point of meaninglessness. The author seemed to choose phrases because they were pretty, not because they communicated much of anything. The author also seemed to prefer writing in a big circle around the major events (and even the smaller, supporting incidents) rather than addressing them head on. This to the extent that the reader may emerge from a chapter unsure what has just happened. The one time the author writes directly about an incident it's so engaging, almost heart stopping. It works so well. Why not do it more often?

The book is named for a character who doesn't enter the book until the midpoint, leaves before the end and, while I suppose he makes an impact on the lives of the other characters, his was an indirect choice at best. Relationships are not explored. "Why"s are ignored as if unimportant. In short, it's exactly the wrong kind of book for me. This may be the entirety of the author's style, which would mean that she's the wrong sort of writer for me, but I won't spend the necessary time to find that out for sure.

I've written in other reviews of my hatred for poorly-written back cover blurbs. Folks, if you read this review and then decide to read the book, DO NOT read the blurb. I managed to keep my eyes from the back cover until about 60 pages in, when I was desperate to find out if the story would ever have some sort of movement. So I read the blurb. Guess what? There are things mentioned on the back cover that do not happen until the last 10 or so pages of the book. Heck, there are things in the blurb that do not ever happen. And incidentally, if the events that are supposed to lure and hook a reader (the ones that would necessarily be included in a blurb) don't start happening until the middle of the book, then maybe that means the first half of the book is unnecessary.

I was engaged by the first chapter, which sent up a good number of question marks and did a reasonable job of luring me in. But my early engagement in the story was ultimately unsatisfied.
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on April 23, 2000
Although I'd hesitate to recommend John Dollar to anyone I didn't know well, I found it a compelling, disturbing, and thought-provoking read. It's a bizarre combination of Lord of the Flies, Little Women, and Pink Flamingoes, and definitely not for the casual fiction reader. I was troubled by the novel's structure, which is almost two entirely different subplots pieced together on a thin thread. And many of the images are almost impossible to dismiss from memory, as much as I would like to. But if you're looking for challenging fiction, willing to completely ignore the annoying "Study Group Questions" provided by the publisher at the end, and up to the challenge of thinking hard about what an often-brilliant novel is pointing to, this book is something you'll want to read.
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on March 12, 1999
Maybe *John Dollar* won't strike you at the very beginning. Or perhaps the middle parts will bore you. You'll put it aside for a few days or weeks.
But keep going. It is absolutely worth it to reach the last third of this demented, beautiful, torturous novel. The intimate rituals of little English Christian girls discovering their natural paganism and their bizarre approaches to survival in an unfriendly environment create searing, crystal-clear mental images that I have not been able to shake since reading this book several years ago. Highly recommended, although you may not like having this stuff appear in your nightmares now and then.
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on April 7, 1997
disturbing yet hauntingly beautiful in parts this novel has the ability to draw you into the deepest and darkest depths of your mind and soul yet also to send you soaring above the seas that Marianne Wiggins paints so powerfully. This book will not let you put it down - chapter spills over into chapter and climax overturns climax. How can one describe the genre of this novel? I am not sure - it is a love story yet that is not its intention; to say that it is the story of the sea and of shipwreck is oversimplifying the issue. Certainly it is a commentary on human endeavour, explo!itation, conquest and adventure of the spirit - isn't that enough?

Read it yourself and decide - and after you have read it I am positive that you will want to read it again to complete the loop
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VINE VOICEon July 18, 2006
This is an amazing story from beginning to end. I read it in a few hours with only short breaks. A teacher named Charlotte goes to Burma to teach English children at a school for expatriates during the Colonial Age after World War I. She falls in love with a sailor named John Dollar and while sailing on a ship is stranded on an island after a tsunami destroys their boat. John and her students are stranded also. The writing is absorbing and compelling. I was drawn in from beginning to end. The ending came as a complete surprise. Highly recommended.
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on January 14, 2008
My favourite of Wiggin's books. Re-reading'John Dollar', soon after the Xmas tsunami's devastation only intensifies this fictional resonance. Not that in Central Australia there is the likelihood of a natural disaster of this swift kind be it sub-aquatic earthquake or a Katrina. But S. E asia is our neighborhood, with Burma at its outer reaches. The story opens 60 years on from its central narrative, so we know that heroine, Charlotte has survived the horrors of this Asian ordeal that cost her her sanity. Wiggins adeptly paints a small patch of Rangoon's vestigal Raj on a boat party to an idyllic island to celebrate the closure of the first World War. And it all turns terribly wrong. Her language is magnificently pitched to the fate of her girl castaways and the tale unfolds with appropriate momentum as they rescue badly injured John Dollar, regress to cannabalism, even feeding on his disabled legs, before encountering the disorientated Charlotte. Crusoe and the crew in Golding's,'Flies', of course, are invoked. But I found Wiggin's poise closer to Michel Tournier's, 'Friday'. 'John Dollar' is a brilliant addition to this genre of maritime disaster and survival, and with global heating a fact of life, we may not need the fictions to empathise.
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on November 27, 2008
Had John Dollar on the shelf for years and kept seeings positive bits about it here and there. Tend not to like fiction by American women, but finally took it out of the queue and settled down with it. What a shock. This book is a wild, original work of art. I've read so many books with bigger reps that are, in truth, vapid. This book deserves immortality.
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on January 29, 2013
Many would like to believe that children are inherently blessedly innocent and good. Those of us who have been observant parents and/or teachers tend to believe that children are inherently selfish and cruel, and that it is the role, mostly of parents, but also of teachers and society in general, to teach them empathy, ethics, and what it means to be civilized human beings.

William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was teaching at an English all-boys school as he wrote his now-classic story of boys separated from society who revert to savagery. Marianne Wiggins, author of John Dollar, may never have been a teacher, and I don't know if she was a parent, but she obviously knows that young girls are just as capable of savagery as boys, although it may be more sly and covert, making it even more menacing.

This is probably the most chilling novel I have ever read, overshadowing even Lord of the Flies in its impact.

Charlotte is a young English World War I widow who travels to Burma to teach the daughters of the English families in residence there. She unexpectedly meets love again, in the person of John Dollar, a somewhat mysterious sea captain. A tragic and bloody set of circumstances leads to the girls and John Dollar being stranded together on an island, with no help in sight. The terrible events that ensue are obvious, although not described in specific detail but in hints, giving the reader's imagination free reign, making the account even more disturbing.

This novel is not one that I would recommend to just anyone, because it is very disturbing, but I would highly recommend it to readers who value good writing technique and to readers who don't crave a "happily-ever-after." Warning: this is a book that will haunt you.
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on February 22, 1999
Marianne Wiggins has outdone herself. John Dollar is an amazing work. Though called "a female version of Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'", John Dollar is much more riveting because it makes an emotional connection with the reader. Where Lord of the Flies was a dry, political, and symbolic novel, John Dollar has real characters, emotions, and fabulous writing to back it up. There is a certain dichotomy-- one half is a satire of English colonialism, the other a horrifying portrait of eight girls stranded on an island. Wiggins, though, weaves the two elements together nicely. The ending, like Lord of the Flies, is a sudden twist, but it serves to highlight both the horror and the grace of the book. John Dollar is an amazing work of fiction and a treat to read. If there are any high schools students out there who, like me, are looking for books to use in a literary comparison, try using John Dollar and Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness. I'd be surprised if you found John Dollar to be the least enjoyable and least profound of the three.
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