Book 758 Elmore Leonard – LaBrava

September 25, 2012

 

 

I find it rather difficult to criticise Elmore Leonard. His plots are super tight, characters are interesting and there never is a dull moment in his books. Even the dialogue is rather witty. LaBrava is Leonard on top form and has his most interesting storylines to boot.

Joe LaBrava is an ex agent turned photographer. One day, through a rich friend of his, he comes across a movie star who he idolised in his youth. It turns out though that she’s destitute and is going to be killed by a thug and his cuban sidekick. Soon Labrava starts thinking that he’s in an action film and finds it difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Obviously he gets his way but at a bit of a cost.

Leonard’s crime novels are never whodunnits. He lays everything plain and in your face. The main focus is how his characters are going to get out of sticky situations and their reaction to the crimes committed. Plus his characters are wonderfully fleshed out and realistic so it’s a joy reading about their antics.

After reading a series of experimental novels, books like LaBrava do lighten up the general doom and gloom of the list.

Announcement

At the moment there will be a bit of a break. No worries I WILL continue with the list but I’m reading a couple of novels that aren’t mentioned in the book as I’m in the mood for some more contemporary lit.

Book 759 Goran Tunstrom – The Christmas Oratorio

September 5, 2012

 

Argh! I just finished one disappointing book only to face ANOTHER let down, the worst thing is that generally I like books in this vein.

Solveig is trampled by a herd of cows, while on her way to sing in a choir performing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and her husband cannot  cope with this loss. As a result he moves away and his action effects  two generations of his family, in the most complex way possible.

Sounds great but i found the novel to be quite tedious at times but thankfully the chapters are short and I was able to read it at a good pace.

Lets hope I wont have a hat trick of dull books!

Book 760 Antonio Lobo Antunes – Fado Alexandrino

September 4, 2012

 

In a month’s time there will be a new edition of the 1001 list, however I still will be sticking with the second edition and maybe just write a post on the novels that are new. I do wish that the editors would do something about the novels in translation. I’m still dissatisfied with the majority of them and Fado Alexandrino is no exception.

The novel is about five Portuguese soldiers returning from the civil war which took place in Angola in  the 70’s. As they sit around a table all five discuss the madness of war and eventually commit an murder which affects the town they live in as well and works as a sort of wake up call.

Fado Alexandrino displays war in all its cartoon insanity, there are passages stuffed with sex, violence and corruption, crossed with complex emotions and anecdotes. The author himself was part of this conflict so I’m sure the novel is autobiographical.

My problem is that I found it dragging. Passage upon passage of detail which I found superfluous, sure the novel is written in the fado style ( twelve chapters of 26 verses, if i’m not mistaken) but I found it a tough slog many times.

 

Book 761 Juan Jose Saer – The Witness

September 3, 2012

So far in attempting this challenge, the books I liked the least were the historical novels in translation so I took quite a deep breath for this one but it turns out that The Witness is pretty good and different as well.

It starts off a sort of Robinson Crusoe story, a young sailor crash lands on an island in the Americas and the whole crew are slaughtered by Indians, with the exception of him. The narrator and the dead crew is brought back into the tribe and stays there for ten years ( the crew are eaten and form part of a ceremony that is equally bizarre and horrifying) . He finds out that every year there is a mass slaughter and one survivor is brought back but usually they let him go.

When he returns to ‘civilisation’, he ruminates on the Indians customs and language and the second half of the novel becomes an anthropological study, which I did not expect at all. Being a student of anthropology, I was reminded of  when I had to write a research paper on the Yanomamo tribe and I found lots of parallels.

The Witness is one those books that deserve a lot of reflection, despite its brevity there’s a lot going on so absorb as much as you can.

Book 762 Salman Rushdie – Shame

August 31, 2012

Dammit, first the pic was too big now I can’t seem to re-size it! ah well.

The last Rushdie I had read was  The Satanic Verses, and I thought it was one of the greatest books ever written.  Shame treads some of the same paths but its more about Pakistan’s political history than rather TSV’s religious and humanistic themes.

The story is basically about the entwining paths of  two families, both representing Pakistan’s prime ministers. Throughout their family history there’s madness, suicide, imprisonment the whole lot   and if you discount the flights of magical realism you have to keep in mind that such things did happen.

However the main theme is shame and how it shapes history, or maybe the Indian character?, for the only protagonist in the novel who is not born with a sense of shame is the one who survives the most in the book.

As such Shame is not as powerful as The Satanic Verses, it works as a satire and the writing is great but I felt that it lacks the energy and whizz of  Rushdie’s most notorious novel. Still it wipes the floor with practically everyone else so a good Rushdie novel not may excel his own masterpieces but it still is a fascinating read.

 

Book 763 Martin Amis – Money

August 17, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

First of all the above cover is from the first edition. Although I wish I had that version my edition of  Money is the Vintage 21 series, i also had an old Penguin version , but pages were falling out of that so I had to buy a new one.

This is my third reading of Money, once in 1999 and another time in 2001 and I admit its the best one. As I have stated before, I am amazed at the amount of things I missed out before.

John Self is a modern man in every way. He is selfish, materialistic and a full on hedonist. After cutting his chops in advertising he decides to direct a semi autobiographical film. After finding a producer and the right actors, Self launches himself into American life in the most debauched ways possible.

When he returns to England though he is more reserved ( thus Amis is showing us the difference between Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s Britain) and spends his nights having glorious sex with his girlfriend Selina.

Good things never last and soon Self starts to find his world crumbling down nastily and in series of twists (plus one very surprising one) loses everything and returns to London as a man ready to redeem himself.

Money is difficult to explain , its prose is utterly spell binding. Every single sentence has a punch to knock you flat , light puns , memorable sentences , funny observations. They are all here in a labyrinthine linguistic glory. However Money is not unreadable. I feel we’ve all met people like John Self  so we can relate to his modern worldview.  As a satire on the human self it is positively eye opening and even provides digs at the literary establishment.  Personally I think London Fields is a better novel but Money is the one (having read nearly all of Amis’ output) where Amis’ distinctive style emerges.

Book 764 Julian Barnes – Flaubert’s Parrot

August 6, 2012

 

It is official – When re reading a novel after a 12 year gap you discover so many new things. I’m amazed at how much I missed the first time round.

Anyway Geoffrey Breathwaite is a doctor who discovers two stuffed parrots and both state that they were borrowed by French writer Gustav Flaubert. Breathwaite then spends the rest of the book trying to figure out which parrot is the real one. In the process we, as readers are treated to an in depth study of Flaubert, albeit in non chronological order and via trivial aspects of his life , which are springboards to the most important aspects. The novel ends with a university style final examination which bring all aspects of this book to the forefront.

But that’s not all.

In his quest , we readers learn that writing is indeed a mirror of life and Geoffrey in his struggles to discover the parrot, goes through a process of self realization as well. Mainly that his life – and I assume that our lives owe a lot to writing. This is evident in the third last chapter.

Flaubert’s Parrot is a complex novel , but deceptively so. The reader is on a ride that’s both informative and interesting. This is ,  I feel , an experimental novel should be like. Maybe Barnes has done better ( his latest novel, The Sense of an Ending, is a masterpiece) but the intellectual playfulness one finds in Flaubert’s Parrot is totally missing.

Book 765 Jaan Kross – Professor Martens’ Departure

August 1, 2012

 

If Professor Martens’ Departure had to be made into a film , I would definitely resurrect Ingmar Bergman to direct it. The plot of this book is so Bergman-esque that images of his films kept popping in my head.

Professor F.Martens is returning to his native land of St. Petersburg from Estonia. On the lengthy train ride he reflects about his life , his affairs and his achievement. He also tries to see parallels between his life and another F. Martens who lived in Germany a century earlier ( the book takes place in 1909).

The novel is essentially about memory ; it’s unreliability and how the human person can forgive one’s action. To be honest though this book , like some if Bergman’s films , drags a bit in places and the tranquility of the novel sometimes can be overbearing. On the whole though it is ok and the translation is pretty go as well. One of those books you have to be really in the mood for.

 

Book 766 Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School

July 28, 2012

After finishing one experimental novel , I didn’t expect to read another one so soon. At first glance Blood and Guts seems like a Young Adult novel but it’s totally different than that.

Janey is a ten year old who is abused by her father , and is  sent to New York from her Mexican home. The thing is that Janey is an unreliable narrator so certain events may not take place and could just be the scribblings of a bored teenager. As the novel continues we find out that Janey has a dull job and is later kidnapped and sold into slavery.

In between this us readers are subjected to pornographic illustration , free form poetry and sentences translated from Arabic into English. Plus a lot of sub conscious rambling.

Now I may make this sound negative but it is a good read , again like the previous novel, one cannot fully appreciate Blood and Guts … after the first read. It definitely deserves more so that the complex narrative comes out better. What I can say though is that this is a very post modern novel as it deconstructs the idea of a book and then takes it to other dimensions through adding other literary styles randomly. As experiments go , I do see this as a success.

oh and mega kudos for mentioning this band  :

Book 767 Julian Rios – Larva: Midsummer’s Night Babel

July 25, 2012

 

To be honest you cannot really read a book like Larva once. It’s got so many layers and hidden meanings that the first reading is almost superficial. In essence if you strip away the wordplay , the side notes,  footnotes , illustrations and pictures you get a simple romance. Man sees a woman fleetingly at a party and then spends the rest of the bash chasing her and , spoiler alert , he gets her and live happily ever after.

Now in-between that is a party of the most hedonistic proportions ever. Sex , drugs , food , fights , puppets , EVERYTHING is going on in the most crazy and insane fashion and it’s all told through tons , no millions of puns.

Larva is a book about how to make the most out of a word. It is all about punnage and nothing else. The amount of wordplay is absolutely mind boggling and a lot of them are hilarious, and this was just my first reading.Imagine what else will emerge if I pick it up again in 5 years time. Plus it does help if you know at least three languages , a working grasp of films and of London. It’s not necessary but it helps.

I know in the past I have lambasted the experimental novels in this list but this one is truly special – and unique. In fact I couldn’t put it down , which is weird as I’m quite a slow reader.

I guess I should really re read an Infinite Jest then?


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