Archive for February, 2010

Book 931 Don DeLillo – Underworld

February 27, 2010

When I read Underworld in 2000, I absolutely hated it. I thought it was just some meaningless ramble with a couple of old pop culture references just to make DeLillo sound cool. I’ve also read Falling Man and White Noise, which I didn’t really warm to.

Ten years later and I decide to re-read the book again and I LOVED it!

It seems that every decade there is an American author who writes a huge book which criticises the world today. In the ’00’s it was Jonathan Franzen with ‘The Corrections’ and in the 90’s it’s Underworld.

Now it is very difficult to actually summarise Underworld as it is a chunky novel which has many reoccurring themes. Yet these themes are spread out though the last fifty years of American history.  To confuse matters more this is told backwards (with the exception of the prologue and epilogue). That’s right the book’s first part starts off in 1998 and ends in 1951.

As you can see I still haven’t really mentioned the plot. As there are many narratives but the main one deals with an Italian/American called Nick Shay and how his life revolves around contemporary society. There are threads, Nick’s brother Matt, his one time fling with the artist Klara Sax, his dealings with a baseball memorabilia collector called Marvin Lundy. This is just the surface, there’s a lot going on but this forms part of the main plot.

Not to mention the themes that dominate Underworld. Waste and garbage, baseball (make sure you read that prologue, it’s the key to understanding the book) Stand Up comedy, Graffiti,  the Cuban Missile Crises and more. The thing is DeLillo weaves all these themes together and traces them to Nick Shay. By the time you read the epilogue all loose ends are tied and you have a feeling of satisfaction when you close the book.

Underworld is a breathtaking and intelligent novel, but unfortunately there is one flaw : It has a weak midsection ( I know that sounds weird but you get what I mean) It does not drag but after reading an exhilarating 400 pages or so, you do feel disappointed that the middle does not live up to the high standards of the beginning. It does pick up again, and very smoothly. Don’t let this put you off the book. Underworld is a truly essential novel and a prophetic one (you’ll see what I mean) at that!

Book 932 Ian McEwan – Enduring Love

February 10, 2010

I first read Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love in 2005 and I promptly got bored after 50 pages or so as I thought that the language was way too flowery for my tastes. At the time I was going through jobs and my mind could not focus on reading. Maybe that is no excuse but when your mind is on other things sometimes it can block out and dominate your life. However it seems that I have been given a second chance.

One fine sunny afternoon, Joe Rose, a Science Journalist, is settling down for a picnic with his girlfriend Clarissa (oooo a classical literary name!) and Joe discovers a hot air balloon being buffeted by the wind and comes rushing (with some other men) to help control the balloon.

Unfortunately they do not succeed and there is a fatality, As Joe is resignedly returning to the picnic he meets one of the men who helped him, Jed Parry. Jed then tries to coerce Joe to pray so that Logan (the fatality) will be saved. Joe refuses and this sparks of Jed’s obsession with him.

Parry then tries to declare his love to Joe by phoning him, trailing him and sending him passionate love letters, all which make Joe become intent on arresting Jed. This passion affects Clarissa, who thinks Joe his making too big a deal and their relationship begins to disintegrate. Finally Jed’s love for Joe reaches an unhealthy climax.

Enduring Love tackles all types of love, not only between Jed , Joe and Clarissa but even from the minor characters in the book. Logan’s widow , a hippie couple who Joe visits even between Clarissa’s brother. It seems that despite all the tests that life offers, love will remain the order of the day and will not disappear.

Although McEwan is known for his rather negative plots, the positivity Enduring Love exudes in its final chapter was a pleasant surprise. I too believe that love is a dominant and everlasting factor in our lives and if there are challenges it makes love stronger.

As always the language McEwan uses is beautiful. The opening chapters about the failed balloon mission is alone one of the best things I’ve ever read and will remain in memory for a long time. Not to mention other rather fantastic scenes. It seems with each sentence Enduring Love becomes more exciting and you are quickly drawn into the complex world of  Jed, Joe and Clarissa.

Enduring Love is a book which succeeds on every level is most definitely a classic.

Book 933 Miyuki Miyabe – Crossfire

February 6, 2010

 One of the main reasons why I took up this challenge was to discover new authors. I have never heard or read anything of Miyabe, furthermore I don’t really read mysteries (bad memories of being forced to read Agatha Christie) or horror as fantastical things tend to bother me a teensy bit. In this case I was quite eager to see what would await me.

Personally I think a sign of a great book is one that manages to change people’s ideas about a certain genre and thankfully Crossfire does this. Not only do have I changed my view on mystery books (In fact one of the best books I read in this challenge was a whodunnit – In Search of Klingsor). but my perception of horror has changed.

Junk Aoki has the power to set things on fire. One night while practising in a factory she comes across a group of teenagers, who try to kill a half dead man.  Junko ends up burning all but one of the gang and she finds out that the man has a girlfriend kept hostage. Junko then aims to find the girlfriend and ‘punish’ the gang in the process. This not the first time she has killed in order for good to reign.

In the meantime Police Dectective Chikako discovers the burnt gang and remembers the other burnings. Thus she sets up an investigation, which results in her chasing Junko and discovering more about the supernatural world she lives in.

To add another twist in the novel Junko comes across an organisation called the guardians.- A group of vigilantes who also kill for the good of mankind. She does become embroiled with them and it leads to a spectacular conclusion.

The clever thing about the novel is that we readers already know the aims of both Junko and Chikako and yet the fact we don’t know how the events turn out makes Crossfire an engrossing read. Although well structured Miyabe chucks in a lot of plot twists which change your impression of both characters and by the end of the novel the idea of good and evil are totally confused.

Maybe this review is a bit on the scant side but to go into more detail will simply ruin the book. All I can say is that if you are wary do check this out – you’ll be surprised!