Archive for April, 2010

Book 914 Alan Warner – Morvern Callar

April 30, 2010

I read Morvern Callar back in 2002 , just before the film was released (usually when there’s an adaptation I read the book beforehand) and I simply loved it.  I was working at the bookstore at the time and I could relate to Movern’s depiction of the typical 9 to 5 job.

One day Morvern Callar wakes up and finds out that her boyfriend has committed suicide. The only thing he leaves is a novel on his computer. After debating the situation (and looking for an escape from her routinely life) Morvern decides to print out the manuscript and send it to a publisher.

The book is accepted and Morvern finds herself with a lot of money from the book’s advance. After a stint in Ibiza (where things go horribly wrong) she returns quite poor and settles back (more or less)  into life.

I like a book which I can relate to and Morvern Callar showed up in my life at the right time. On the plus side Callar is also mentioning music – something, which can render a book out of date but here it works fine ( in the novel Callar carries a walkman and tell us what she’s listening to – i carry a discman all the time so I have a constant soundtrack ). Also it’s in musical working class Scottish dialect that made Irvine Welsh’s early novel great so I bonded with this novel nicely.

Combining realism , satire and a dose of black humor Morvern Callar is a perfect read. It may not be up everyone’s alley but if you’re for that stuff then do check it out.


Book 915 Kazuo Ishiguro – The Unconsoled

April 30, 2010

Oh dear it seems that my reading slump is still prevalent as I didn’t really like The Unconsoled.  It is a pity too as I simply loved Ishiguro’s  last book, Never let me go. Ah well that’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess.

Ryder is an important pianist arriving to an Eastern European city to give a concerto. The thing is he doesn’t really remember being asked and he feels that he has been in this town before as the residents keep cropping up in flashbacks.

For the next 500 pages Ryder’s mental landscape shifts and changes as new people reappear and disappear from his life. New problems and situations crop up at every possible moment until Ryder has a final solution but even he doesn’t know how to solve it properly.

This is precisely was the problem with this novel, after reading two books ( Infinite Jest and The Clay Machine-Gun) the last thing I wanted was a surrealistic, ambling story. Although I kept at it I became very frustrated and annoyed at the aimlessness. However the weird thing is that I couldn’t put it down. I HAD to see if there was going to be a point and things will solve themselves. Without giving away anything I think there will be some mixed feelings by he time one reach The Unconsoled’s conclusion (isn’t the title a hint?)

So my fourth disappointment in a row – let’s hope things improve!

Book 916 Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace

April 25, 2010

I read Alias Grace back in 2002 and it was my first introduction to Margaret Atwood. Although I have read a good number of her novels, I still hold that this is her best work.

Alias Grace is about the trial and interrogation of servant Grace Marks, who was convicted of murdering her master, Thomas Kinnear in the late 1800’s. To this day the case is still shrouded with mystery and Atwood herself does not take any sides in this aspect of the novel.

The novel is told through different points of view, mostly Marks but her (fictional) psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan helps us put pieces of the puzzle together. Ultimately though we do not know if Marks was simply an an accomplice or the actual murderer.

Atwood here is stressing on the plight of women in late 1800’s Canadian society and how they were treated. We see how Marks relationship with her master Kinnear (who has a mistress) and glimpses of her madness and brief institutionalization as well.

Alias Grace is a highly addictive novel and I suggest that it is the best introduction Atwood’s mighty canon. True she has also written many works with a science fiction slant but I feel that Alias Grace brings out all the aspects you feminism that is seen throughout most of her novels.

Book 917 Victor Pelevin – The Clay Machine-Gun

April 25, 2010

Oh dear, It seems that after my Infinite Jest disaster I would be redeemed but it seems that the last book I read and enjoyed was Hallucinating Foucault. That is not to say that I did not like The Clay Machine-Gun but it definitely is not the novel to read after Infinite Jest. Also I didn’t really love the other Pelevin book I read, The Life of Insects so I guess I’m not a Pelevin fan either. Luckily I was able to finish it in two days as the translation is very good and flowing.

The novel focuses upon a soldier called Petr who stumbles into a friend’s, which leads him into a journey of pure madness.  Guest appearances include Arnold Schwarzenegger , Lenin and authors who are prominent in Russian history. There’s also a series of flashbacks which deal with Petr’s past military life and lashings of Buddhism in between.

It is a weird novel but don’t let that fool you. Pelevin is mocking Russian  mentality (especially when it comes to modern art) and through is characters we some lessons about life. The philosophical and psychological digressions are quite insightful in their own peculiar way.

Like I said earlier though. I was not in the mood for something like this and would have ultimately preferred a more concrete story but now it’s been read and it’s time to move on to the next book

Book 918 David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest

April 24, 2010

To date there has only one book which I have given up on completely and that is Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Unfortunately now I have to add another one and that’s Infinite Jest. I gave up on page 418, I just couldn’t stand it any longer.

Right now I am wondering why. I have read Pynchon’s  Gravity’s Rainbow , Against the Day and V , I even tackled Bolano’s 2666 and managed and yet this one got to me. The funny thing is that it’s actually easier to read than the aforementioned novels.

Infinite Jest takes place in the near future where teleputers exist and years are named after products instead of the typical Gregorian system we are used to. The recently departed James O Incandenza directs a film which turns people into vegetables when watching it and it exists in video format and it is called Infinite Jest and has a notorious reputation amongst people , yet it is difficult to find and it is wanted by certain groups. Mainly Incandenza’s three sons , a group of wheelchair bound Quebecois Segregationists and rehab patients.

It is an indeed a satire on American materialism and touches amongst other subjects such as  child abuse , madness , technology. In a weird way you will be brainier after reading it. Foster Wallace has an encyclopedic knowledge on the world around him and he uses it to the full.

On paper/ monitor this sounds like a brilliant novel, but you have to wade through enormous plot digressions , polysyllabic language, elaborate descriptions of tennis matches and tons of footnotes. It is a chore to read and after a month and no progress, I began to skim read and then I know I’d have to give up.

All I can say is that I hope I’ll pick it up again in the future but now I’m not up to it.

Book 919 Hella Haasse – Forever a Stranger

April 7, 2010

Sorry I couldn’t even find an image for this book.

I have searched more than a dozen internet bookstores (even it’s publisher Oxford Asia doesn’t have it)  and this one is very difficult to actually purchase.

I will not give up but if someone can lend me a hand here, I’d greatly appreciate it. I also hope I won’t have to encounter something like this again!

Book 920 Pat Barker – The Ghost Road

April 7, 2010

The first Pat Barker book I read was Regeneration and although, I didn’t mind it, I wasn’t to keen on reading the other books of the trilogy. The Ghost Road forms the third part (the second volume is called The Eye in the Door) of these chronicles dealing with the first World War and the famous people who fought in it.

This time round the main focus is on the fictional soldier Billy Prior and real life psychoanalyst W.H.R.  Rivers. Here Billy is recovering from his nervous breakdowns caused by the war and wants to return to the front, he also is gay and is forced into a relationship he doesn’t really want to commit to. Meanwhile Rivers is dedicating a lot of time to his patients (Billy is one of them) and occasionally drifts back to his expedition to the Torres Straits where he encountered a life changing adventure which influenced his medical career ( this is where the ghost of the title crops up. It is also 1918 and there is a sense of unease amongst both soldiers and Rivers.

Barker does not focus on battles but touches amongst other topics such as madness and sexuality, however I felt that the most interesting parts of the book dealt with Rivers experience with shell-shocked soldiers or the rituals of the tribe he meets in the Torres Straits. Whenever we approached Billy and his sexual dilemmas I admit that I did feel restless at points.

The Ghost in the Road does focus on complex issues and does avoid the typical trappings of war literature ( bar the last part) but I could not engage myself fully. Could it be because the topic itself does not interest me too much? or was it the wrong time?  I don’t know but I am curious to see if the other two books are included in this list as I feel that a re reading of Regeneration and The Eye in the Door could help me appreciate the trilogy a bit more.

Book 921 Anne Michaels – Fugitive Pieces

April 6, 2010

Fugitive Pieces is a book I’ve been wanting to read for about four years now. It’s been on my shelf for that long as well. Finally I had a chance to read it and I’m super glad I did.

Jakob Beer’s parents are polish and killed in a Nazi raid in 1941 , Beer’s sister is kidnapped and never found. As Jakob is wandering lost, he comes across a geologist called Athos, who adopts him and takes Jakob to a small Greek island. Although he is happier and attempts to become a poet, Beer cannot shake off his sordid past and it returns to him in the form of nightmares.

Eventually Athos and Jakob move to Canada and settle down in Toronto.  However, Jakob’s nightmares still persist, even after he marries. Eventually his past causes a divorce.

As he decides to return to Greece and visits Canada sporadically and it is during one of these visits that he meets Michaela, the only person to make him accept his past. Soon after Beer is killed in a car accident at the age of 60.

The next part of the book shifts to  Ben, who’s parents survived a prison camp and many chapters are dedicated to his mother’s and father’s idiosyncrasies, which Ben cannot accept. To make matters worse Ben finds out that his parents have kept a secret from him and yet not from his wife.

Ben finds solace in reading Beer’s poetry. One day at the insistence of  a colleague he decides to go to Greece in order to find out more about Beer and Ben ends up finding himself in Greece.

Despite that fact that the plot is superb, Michae’s – a poet – focuses a lot on the language. It’s mathematical precise and evokes every emotion possible from the very clever puns to the harrowing descriptions of loss.  Many times I would just re-read whole pages cause the wording left me breathless.

Fugitive pieces is a mighty important and influential book, it has an aesthetic quality that I’ve only encountered with Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and it’s leaving the same impact on me.  To date I’ve never read about holocaust in such an affecting manner!

Book 922 Patricia Duncker – Hallucinating Foucault

April 2, 2010

My first encounter with this book actually happened last summer when I read in the local newspaper that Patricia Duncker was coming over to Malta in order to give a talk on writing and preview some of her upcoming works. Being a sucker for such things, I ordered the book and it arrived on the day of the talk. I did attend and enjoyed it, plus I got to chat to her a bit (she’s very talkative), got my copy of the book signed and it went back in the shelf for that right time.

It did come as a nice surprise that Hallucinating Foucault is considered one of those books you must read before you die and after reading two so so books in a row, it restored my faith in this list.

An unnamed research student is halfway through his thesis on the (non-existent) novelist Paul Michel, although he has read his works he does not know much about him other than the fact that he was a homosexual and certified insane after the death of his hero, the philosopher Michel Foucault. He is then urged by his girlfriend to fly over to France and investigate his whereabouts and inquire about the thought or inspirations behind the novels he has written, the extent of Foucault’s  influence on Michel’s life and ultimately to free him.

After some detective work the narrator finally does find discover the asylum where Michel is situated (it’s in Clermont Ferrand – where I attended the yearly Europavox festival in 2006) and promptly falls in love with him. Eventually Michel is able to join the narrator for two months and they go to the south of France.

I have to admit I was expecting the usual clichés that one finds in a novel about love, either a huge fight and abandonment or that the lover is too insane to . It turns out that this love blossoms but it doesn’t descend into any clichés and a startling twist occurs. It does end in tragedy but not as how you’d expect it.

Ultimately this is a book about love and it’s connection to madness. It’s also about the art of writing and madness as well. It does show the reader the lengths one can go to for one’s heroes. It’s all done beautifully, almost cinematic at times.

Needless to say that I absolutely loved ‘Hallucinating Foucault’. In fact I picked it up this morning at 6:30am and finished it at 9am. It’s incredibly readable, short and yet poignant and packs a huge memorable punch. Ironically I am checking out Duncker’s other novels and I’m wondering if this could be the start of an obsession that is not dissimilar to the main protagonist of Hallucinating Foucault.

Book 923 Eduardo Mendoza – A Light Comedy

April 1, 2010

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on this blog that certain novels appear at the right time, unfortunately in the case of ‘A Light Comedy’ this was the exact opposite. The previous book ‘Fall on your Knees’ was slightly disappointing and this one was as well.  Plus I can’t stand these careless translations, which seems to be popular in this decade. I can see why this book is out of print.

Carlo Prullas is a playwright whose life is falling to pieces, his latest play is not progressing due to his actors, he has cheated on his wife with friends and neighbors and to top it all off one of his acquaintances is found stabbed, which ultimately leads Prullas into a sleazy criminal underworld.

One could say that this plot is just to keep the reader entertained, what the book is really about is how post war Spain is changing, with different types of people entering Spanish society. A Light Comedy does satirize the upper classes of Barcelona, the wannabes and nouveau riche. By the end of the novel Prullas comes to grips with the ever-changing Barcelona and takes it in his stride.

My description of the book does not make it as bad as it seems and it definitely isn’t but the translation does leave a lot to be desired.  As a snapshot of a particular era, it works though and shouldnt be disregarded for that.