Book 986 Andrea Levy – Small Island

It seems that the years 2004 – 2008 were a dark period, reading wise. I went through a phase were I bought tons of books and gave up after reading ten pages or so. Funnily enough a lot of the books on this list are culled from that pile. Needless to say Small Island was one of those books I gave up on reading ten pages in. Trust me I am kicking myself for having left it unread for a good five years because it is a wonderful novel.

In essence the book is told through four people.  Gilbert Joseph, an ex Jamaican RAF man who immigrates to Britain in order to find work and is faced with racism, his wife Hortense, who moves in with Gilbert after a few months, completely unaware of the racism that is dominant in Britain (this is during the post war era, 1948, to be more precise) , Queenie, an open minded working class woman and her husband Bernard, a quiet meek man who returns to his wife after a stint in India and finds out, much to his chagrin, That his wife is renting out his house to Jamaicans.

As one can guess¬† Bernard is at loggerheads with the ‘darkies’ and thus starts a mini feud. However there is one twist in the plot which does change things a little bit (no spoilers here you’ll just have to read the book in order to find out). But this does not make the racism end. In fact the race problem does not get resolved, which Levy is insinuated that it still exists and white man will still think his skin colour affects his stature in life.

What Levy excels at is describing the way Gilbert and Hortense stick out in British society, from clothes to mannerisms. Despite the fact that Hortense tries her hardest in learning British ways she still is an outsider. Being an emmigrant myself I understand the difficulty in adapting to a new culture and keeping your identity at the same time.

What amazed me about the novel is it’s sheer readability. Small Island (refers to both Jamaica and Great Britain) is written in a flowing way that will consume the reader in a couple of sittings. Levy also does add humour to lighten up the rather weighty situation, which enhances the novel’s accessibility.

Again, like The Line of Beauty, I felt that this would be an A level book and a big production film in the near future. After some research on the ‘net I actually find out that both things will be happening. I guess that today (and a blog mention) that’s one of the highest accolades a book deserves and I have to admit it deserves it!


Book 987 Roberto Bolano – 2666

I have been staring at my computer screen, trying my hardest to summarise Roberto Bolano’s posthumous work, 2666 and trust me it’s mighty difficult as it’s plotlines cross and reoccur like a Tarantino film script.

The book is divided into five parts and the whole thing revolves the Mexican city of Santa Teresa (basically it’s Ciudad Juarez, where over 200 murders of women took place). It also features a mysterious writer called Benno Von Archimboldi and not only that there’s a menage a quatres, an insane intellectual, a sports journalist PLUS tips on how to barbeque meat properly,Duchamp, different phobias and the myth of Sisyphus and we are still scraping the surface.

Mainly I see it as a novel about death and the devolution of the human being. Killings and murders do feature prominently so I assume that i’m correct. But, as I said before there much more. How about the plight of being a writer or the problems of war??

Eventually, in the fifth part everything is tied up and that is when the novel makes sense.

Bolano’s characters all have an evil streak to them and contain no redeeming factors whatsoever. Despite this onslaught of pessimism, 2666 is a momentous novel. Dazzling and intelligent from beginning to end. However I admit I have never read such a frustrating, mind boggling, meandering book either (at least Pynchon’s novels all return to their focal point. 2666 just keeps on opening loose end after loose end)

It is not easy but VERY rewarding, especially when you reach the fifth book. Novel of the decade? oh yes definitely. NOTHING will come close to this.