Archive for May, 2010

Book 905 Park Kyong-ni – Land

May 20, 2010

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Unfortunately this book is extremely difficult to find so it’s a matter of waiting for it to be republished (which I think is possible).

As we say, watch this space!

Book 906 Michel Houellebecq – Whatever

May 20, 2010

Since this is Houellebecq’s first novel, I guess that this will be the last novel written by him that I’ll be reviewing.  But to be honest it’s not too different than the other ones that I’ve read.

The book is about a man who works in a computer firm and write short philosophical stories on the side. Like most characters in a Houellebecq novel, he notices the mundane aspects of his life and his colleagues.

Eventually he goes on a tour of France in order to teach other people the computer programs his company sells. Again the narrator observes the stupidity and the sheer banality of  their lives and his. There’s even a part when he tells his frustrated workmate that he should kill the girls who rejected him.

By the end of the novel the narrator goes insane but still does not change his worldview.

Whatever is a typical French novel through and through. Depressing, negative and reeking of existentialism. but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like it. Probably I’d appreciate it more when I was 16 but I totally knew what Houellebecq was on about.

I’m wondering why The French are so good at writing these sort novels?  Can anyone answer?

Book 907 Elena Ferrante – Troubling Love

May 19, 2010

Call me biased but when an Italian author shows up on this list I always break into a smile. Usually I can relate to these books more as Malta is very similar in both environment and people and the translations are very good as Italian is a relatively easy language to convert into English. However I am going to say that I have some mixed feelings about Troubling Love.

Delia discovers that her mother, Amalia, has committed suicide by drowning  and further inspection finds out that the only thing she was wearing was a very fancy bra. Delia is puzzled on why her mother would do such a thing and decides to return to Naples and uncover the secrets of her mother’s past.

In the process Delia begins to discover that her mother did actually have a secret life and she wonders if it has anything to do with the past so Delia reminisces about childhood events and friends. Eventually she remembers why her parents split,  Amalia’s close friendship with her father’s business partner and ultimately her own relationship with Amalia. All which lead to a startling discovery about herself.

On the whole the Troubling Love is a deeply psychological novel and also a sensuous one and there were a great many passages which I loved reading but I felt that it didn’t hold together as well as it should , something was lacking. But as I said I enjoyed reading it, I just could immerse myself completely.

Book 908 Petros Markaris – The Late-night News

May 17, 2010

If I knew that detective thrillers were this good, I should have checked them out more seriously long time ago. It seems that a lot of my fave books on this list involve a mystery of some sort. Furthermore  I’m finding it difficult to figure out who the killer is, something which I used to solve in the past. Oh yes it’s also my second Greek author (the first being Nikos Kazantakis)

Inspector Costas Haritos is one fantastic protagonist. Sarcastic ,  stubborn and obsessive he goes through life with the delicacy of a bulldozer, however when it comes to his job he is a natural. Plus he has a heart of gold despite his gruffness.  He is a bundle of contradictions and yet always gets his man.

ANYWAY

An Albanian couple are found slashed and the killer is caught and says that it was a crime of passion. But according to a TV journalist things run deeper. Haritos is now curious and starts up an investigation, with some strange discoveries.

Things get worse when the journalist is found murdered and her successor is also killed a few days later. Now Haritos has to hunt for the journalists’ killer AND uncover the Albanian’s hidden agenda. This leads him to a media war and an underground organization.

Although the plot is complex and full of loops, Markaris (through Haritos) seems to be criticising modern Greek society and how it’s culture is being lost by a lazy generation and this seems to be one of the focal points. Also Haritos laments the fact that other races have donated in this loss of Greek culture and yet he supports it as well ( told you he’s full of contradictions)

For a novel which treats serious issues, there is quite a lot of humour in it and there were quite a few times I chuckled to myself.  Costas is not dissimilar to Bukowski’s  Hank Chinaski, another literary character I like so I was definitely enjoyable. It’s also addictive so make sure you have some free time when tackling this well constructed and intriguing novel.

Book 909 Lydia Davis – The End of the Story

May 12, 2010

The End of the Story is an example of taking a well-worn topic and approaching it in a different manner. In this case it is the document of a failed relationship, However Davis makes sure that us readers will stay glued and turns the plot into a sort of game.

First of all, true to the title she begins the end of the relationship and the unnamed narrator is looking for her, also unnamed, ex lover’s new place and not really succeeding. Secondly Davis recounts the relationship through little details, so we do get a full idea of the  whole development of the love affair but in fragments. Third while all this is happening, the narrator is writing a novel which describes this relationship. ( as such it doesn’t say or hint at the fact that The End of the Story is the aforementioned novel but I’m guessing it is)

Whilst The End…. is a gripping and incredibly well written novel I did find it a bit over indulgent. Now and then I felt like screaming at the narrator and telling her to get on with her life and stop stalking the ex but this is a detail and the novel has to be taken as a whole to understand why the narrator is going through such desperate actions.

I found out that Davis is a short story writer and I’m hoping that this list includes them, actually  90 books in and I still haven’t encountered a short story collection yet – strange.

Book 910 Gillian Rose – Love’s Work

May 10, 2010

I read this very brief novel early in the morning just before work and it stayed in my head all day. It’s one of those books that  throws a lot of  interesting situations at you and just makes you reflect on them.

In essence this is an autobiography about it focuses on just 8 events in Rose’s life and those events could be further condensed into four main categories.  Identity , Friendship, death and Love. Whether it’s Rose’s relationships with her father and step father or her adventures n New York or  the cancer which is killing her, you will definitely feel your heartstrings being gently tugged at.

This is not to say that Love’s Work is over sentimental. Rose balances everything perfectly so that intellectualism never out balances the touching bits. The writing style could be seen as a little bit too flowery but one gets used to it and the book is way too many breathtaking passages for one to actually complain.

One last thing – the book is out of print but it’s not rare to find so do check t out.

Book 911 Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance

May 8, 2010

I read A Fine Balance back in summer 2005 and I carted it everywhere, despite it being a  650 page novel, it flows with ease and Mistry’s prose is utterly beguiling.

It’s mid seventies India and the government has declared a state of emergency, poverty is rife and people are being killed due to riots. In this political mess two tailors, a university student and a disillusioned widow all end up living together in a house.  All characters come from different social classes and Mistry highlights the differences between each person through flashbacks and the present situation of all four people . That is until the political situation leads to a devastating climax.

Readers beware this is not a novel filled with happiness, each character has his or her own spell of bad luck but Mistry is never self-indulgent and there are quite a few laugh out loud (and even rude) moments in A Fine Balance. Despite this it is a truly addictive novel. What kept me going was the sheer power and simplicity of the writing.  Mistry creates a scene so realistic that you’d imagine every scene in your head perfectly and his way with words is just makes one emote.

For such a thick book I am writing a short review but trust me a lot goes on in this dynamic novel and it’s rather you pick it up. Weirdly enough I have read this author’s other novels (and short story collection) and none of them really live up to this one (although Family Matters comes very close) so if you’re a beginner do read this one first.

Book 912 Bernhard Schlink – The Reader

May 8, 2010

The second I picked up Schlink’s The Reader I was instantly addicted, I started it on Friday morning, just before I went to work and finished it now. Had I started this on a Sunday I would have been ready with it by the evening. It that’s good. Call it a post war novel or a romance, it has everything and it’s translation is superb.

One afternoon 15-year-old Michael Berg starts to vomit and is saved by the much older Hanna Schmitz, they embark on a physical relationship  until Hanna mysteriously leaves and Michael continues with his academic life, eventually graduating in law. Throughout this time Hanna is still on his mind.

After some time Hanna is back into Micheal’s life, only this time it is in court as she is convicted of her war crimes. It is at this point that Michael discovers that Hanna is harboring a secret and it’s worse (in her opinion) than her position during as a SS guard during the Second World War. Berg then wonders if he should reveal this secret so that she’ll get a light sentence.

Unfortunately Hanna is given a hefty sentence and commits suicide by on the day she is about to be let out due to good behaviour. She leaves her legacy with Michael with instructions that he has to give it to one of the  survivors who was under her ‘care’ (and is one of the witnesses in her trial).  This leads to another ethical question which Berg is in the middle of.

The Reader brings out a lot of queries about the war and post war generations and whether one group of young adults should forgive the last generation for their atrocities. It also brings forth questions between love and professionalism. Berg constantly finds himself trapped in these situations and his own decisions lead to certain consequences.

The Reader is a very powerful book, one that moves you with every sentence and plot advancement and it’s ending had me reflecting on the morality that is presented in the novel.  It would be interesting if anyone who has read the book agrees with Micheal’s (or the Jewish survivor’s) actions.

Book 913 Tomas Eloy Martinez – Santa Evita

May 6, 2010

It’s amazing that the world is so vast and that I know so little. It seems that with every book I read I learn something new and this time it’s about Evita Peron. Thankfully Eloy Martinez approaches the life of  Argentina’s most famous person through her death.

The novel takes place with Evita dying and her husband wishing that her body is to be embalmed. This is where the problems start as Peron is exiled and the new regime want Evita’s body in order to bury it. This ensues a wild chase in which Evita’s corpse  is constantly  stolen and hidden in different locations around South America and the world. To complicate matters Evita’s embalmer made three wax copies of her and those were stolen as well.

As the author tries to find the real Evita we readers get a glimpse of his own life as well as the woman he’s hunting for. Eventually he learns that the corpse caused a lot of anguish amongst the new Argentinian government and even made some officials go insane. By the end, through a simple twist Eloy Martinez does discover the secret behind the dead body’s burial-place.

Santa Evita double up as both an autobiography and biography. It also can be seen as a meditation on death and a sort of satire on a country’s obsession with death and sainthood.  As translations go it is excellent and there’s sprinkles of black humor to lighten up the morbid plot.  I’m also glad that Eloy Martinez doesn’t place Evita on a pedestal nor does he reduce her to nothing – completely neutral.

As a final word, I think im edging out of my slump, so let’s see if this was just a false alarm.