Archive for June, 2010

Book 893 E. Annie Proulx – The Shipping News

June 27, 2010

I read The Shipping News back in 2003 and it impressed me, especially it’s epically Gothic first half. It’s second half is relatively normal but then the writing is so strong that you can’t help emoting strongly. It’s also not every day you read a book with illustrations depicting the various types of  knots!

Quoyle’s life is going down the drain. His purely evil wife (and trust me you’ll hate her from the start) is cheating on him and has given his two children up for adoption. To make matters worse Quoyle hates being the reporter of a mediocre newspaper.

As karma has it his Quoyle’s wife is impaled and lover is dead  (and this is the best bit of the whole novel) his children are returned and in order to start anew he moves to a small village in Newfoundland (his father was Canadian) and is assigned to cover the Shipping News.

Although his city ways clash with the villagers mentality, Quoyle eventually blends in with the natives and even strikes up a romance.  Of course there’s a happy ending but the reader knows that an unhappy one would spoil the book.

I would say that the Shipping News is heart warming novel but what i like most is how Proulx manages to fit in two totally different writing styles and make it seem so seamless. I could go on praising this novel but honestly you MUST read this one ASAP. Trust me on this one

Book 894 Ivan Klima – Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light

June 27, 2010

What is it with Czech authors, so far I’ve disliked or been totally indifferent to their books. Is it the translation or is their experience of communism too insular for me to relate to? Anyway Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light falls into the indifferent category. As such I read the book and didn’t mind it but it did not make me fall out of my chair in amazement or  anything like that.

Pavel is a cameraman who has ventured into documentaries, however, since this is 1989 Prague censorship is the main order of the day and Pavel’s is encountering problems with is artistic visions. To make matters worse he’s in love with someone who does not respect and is losing is love for life.

Finally political change  does occur and Pavel cannot cope with it and is stuck.

When I finished the book I just shrugged my shoulders saying ‘ok not too bad’ but that’s it.

Does anyone else agree with this view?

Book 895 Uwe Timm – The Invention of Curried Sausage

June 25, 2010

Although I’m not one to judge a book by its cover or title even, I couldn’t help feeling very excited when I was going to start The Invention of… One has to admit that it is a peculiar title and its cultish pocket sized shape made me feel that I was on to something special.

It is!

The narrator (I’m assuming it is the author)  frequents a curried sausage stand all throughout his youth and part of his adult life. When the stand is taken over he decides to investigate and see if the curried sausage lady, Lena Bruckner (who also was his neighbour) is the inventor of the said snack.

What Timm discovers instead is a memoir which focuses on the last weeks of the second World War and its effects on Germany.  It’s also a good old-fashioned romance story that hits you in the right places. Some people will be able to predict the development of the romance but really it makes the plot more enchanting. Obviously curried sausage does make it’s appearance and it’s a crucial part of the novel but Timm is more concerned with his historical portrayal.

What can I say about this book? it’s absolutely charming, a bit funny and heartwarming. It’s a good well-rounded story and should please everyone. Apparently it’s  a popular book amongst senior school students in Germany and I can see why it has that appeal. It makes the reader forget the time and place he is in and during the angsty teenage years it’s a bit of a relief to find a novel that performs that function.

Book 896 David Dabydeen – Disappearance

June 23, 2010

To be honest I really am at crossroads with this book. On one hand I definitely can’t say I disliked it but on the other hand – with the exception of one chapter and the last paragraph – I wasn’t absorbed either.  For a 156 page novel it also took a while for me to read, which I found strange. I just couldn’t really engage myself.

An unnamed Guyanese/African engineer moves to a coastline English village in order to build a breaker as the sea is slowly eating everything away and houses are collapsing.  As this is a short-term project he moves in with Janet Rutherford, a woman who has a reputation amongst the townspeople. The engineer does discover that she does have a bit of a past and her lovers also reveal some things about her and the workplace where the engineer is stated.

Really though the plot is superfluous , What Disappearance is really about is the notion of race amongst the British population. The engineer is clearly an outsider in England but due to his education does not fit in well with his own people either. However Mrs. Rutherford also has issues as the majority of the villagers hate her as she finds English culture boring but during her sojourn to Africa she couldn’t really blend in and ended up teaching British history to African children. The third ‘alien’ character is the Irishman Christie who accentuates his Irishness as a sign of individuality and although he is accepted by the villagers, he ends up going slightly mad due to this.

By the end of the novel all characters live on and survive, which is the only solution really.

I already gave my views in the first paragraph so I won’t go into them again but I do feel that there is something a bit lacking – does anyone share this view??

Book 897 Shusaku Endo – Deep River

June 19, 2010

I have to admit that sometimes when I read an author who is overtly religious in his writings, I tend to be a bit wary. It’s not that I mind glaring beliefs – not at all – but I don’t like it when it gets preachy, one reason why I’m not a big fan of Paulo Coelho.

As a student of Theology Endo’s Silence is his classic and a must read (erm which I haven’t read yet) and I was bit surprised that the editors of this list would place one of his littler known works here.  Thankfully although there is a huge morality tale it never descends into the clichéd or preachy.

Isobe , Mitsuko , Numada, Kiguchi and Otsu all have problems in their life and feel the need to redeem them in certain ways. As fate has it four of these people decide to visit India, and more specifically The Ganges River in order to find a solution to all their problems. Isobe wants to find out if his recently deceased  wife has reincarnated into an Indian (this does not sound as ridiculous as I am making it) , Mitsuko had sexually teased the religious Otsu in order to make him reject his faith, while he was ordained but was never accepted into religious institutions due to his open ideas about Religion. Numada is an animal lover who seeks out a myna bird ( again you’ll have to read it in order to understand) and Kiguchi  committed an act as a soldier in the Burmese war,  which he considers dreadful. In the river does help the characters discover themselves and start anew but there are consequences.

Deep River is quite an awesome book.  It sways between beauty and terror from paragraph and is very uncompromising when dealing with the general attitude towards the Catholic religion. As I said before Endo does not descend into the wishy-washy and he makes his message clear. Also his depiction of India is one where the rich and poor are separate but need each other at the same time. Not to mention the role The Ganges has a centre of death and rebirth.

To say I enjoyed this novel is an understatement. It teased and pulled my emotions constantly and just kept me going to the semi tragic conclusion. If this is considered one of his weaker novels I have to see what Silence is about!!

Book 898 William Trevor – Felicia’s Journey

June 16, 2010

My first encounter with William Trevor’s writings began with Two Lives back in 2004.  Although I didn’t mind those two novellas, I can’t say I warmed to them. Thank goodness Felicia’s Journey was a much better experience.

Pregnant and abandoned by her family, Felicia leaves her native Ireland for London, mainly to find the father of her child and discuss the baby’s future.  On the way she bumps into the obese, lonely Mr. Hilditch, who actually preys on young women who are in need. On top of that Felicia has a run in with a charismatic group and leaves a bad impression on them. By the end of the novel Felicia discovers that Mr. Hilditch has quite a few disturbing secrets and the charismatics also discover that things are not as they seem either.

Felicia’s Journey does deal mostly with illusion (as in appearances) and reality but this all comes out in the novel’s dramatic conclusion, this all comes to light through one of the character’s committing suicide so death is seen as some sort of release.  It seems that Trevor’s characters are victims of circumstance and one little act of fate determines their destinies.

Alongside this wonderful McEwanesque plot there is Trevor’s writing style, which builds and releases tensions with every paragraph and this makes Felicia’s Journey fantastic reading. Also after reading a series of duds for the past few weeks, this book came as a relief.

Book 899 Louis de Bernieres – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

June 10, 2010

I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin back in 1999 when I was in my first year university (back in the days when my reading habits were more voracious) My copy was actually given to me through a friend. I started it at 5:00am (at least some of my reading habits didn’t change!) and finished it at 2:00am. Yes it was the first time I had done something like that and no book as kept me transfixed like that.  Anyway I never really bothered to return the book (which is very rare for me to do) and several years later my friend died of cancer so I guess I have a bit of her legacy.

Captain Correlli’s is a deceptively intricate novel which takes place on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the second World War and time progresses until the present day (or in this case 90’s Greece). It’s focuses upon Pelegia, the daughter of a physician , Captain Corelli , who makes an appearance when the Italians take over the island and Carlo, a homosexual Italian soldier, who ultimately turns out to be the novel’s plot twist. (don’t worry I’m not spoiling anything). Not to mention the charming cast of villagers who populate the novel.

Together these characters fall in and out of love , die and fight as the island is practically wiped out by the German occupation (they massacred the Italians) of the island. Ultimately it is love that lives on and leaves it’s traces til the very end.

Despite its relative thickness, de Bernieres does not beat around the bush once. Every single detail from a pea pulled out of an ear to the mandolin of the title recurs and shows up throughout the book’s progress. There are bits which contain genuine slapstick and will make you laugh out loud (the ‘joke war’ is particularly good) and there are bits which are genuinely disturbing and horrifying. It’s a very well-rounded novel and although there are shades of Garcia Marquez it never gets bogged down with the extra details.

In 2007 i got to meet Louis de Bernieres and I have to admit I found him a bit off-putting, even a bit of a braggart and a snob at times. It goes to show that one must exercise caution when meeting a literary hero.

Book 900 James Kelman – How Late it Was , How Late

June 10, 2010

I first attempted to read this book back in 2001 but I got tired and left it unread. As I’ve had very good luck with revisiting the my past reads, I was sure that I would be able to tackle this novel and, furthermore enjoy it.

Unfortunately the things that bothered me the first time round still got to me nine years later. I’ll explain later on. At least I was able to finish the book.

After a rough night and being beaten by police ex-convict Sammy finds himself lying on the ground and blind. After trying to adjust into his new world (and finding out that his partner Helen has disappeared) he gets arrested again by and questioned if the police really did cause his loss of sight. Sammy is a vague about this. Later on he goes to a doctor to get a certificate that he is blind and the doctor refuses. By the end of the book Sammy’s son  bails him out and Sammy leaves the country.

How Late……  uses the stream of conscious technique of getting its message across and Sammy (or the narrator) uses working class Scottish dialect. This already made the book a bit dragging. However it’s the complete lack of narrative structure which really made me squirm and angrily close the book at intervals.

I can understand that this is a book which deals with class struggles and the brutality of the police force but I find it way too difficult to cope with a novel that’s so messy.  Maybe I am more traditional in my reading habits but I just find books like How Late… and City Sister Silver (see previous entry) just plain irritating.

Book 901 Jachym Topol – City Sister Silver

June 8, 2010

I don’t know why but I’ve never really warmed to Czech writers , Kundera, Kafka ok I do like Hrabal but at the moment that’s the only exception. Yes I didn’t like City Sister Silver either.

As I stated before I’m not a fan of stream of conscious writing style and the novel is stuffed with it. Not only that but there are puns , double entendres and neologisms but these are lost in translation, despite the fact that the translator does a good job of explaining certain terms.

In essence City Sister Silver deals with Czech history and especially with Prague’s economic boon in the 90’s. The whole thing is seen through the eyes of Potok, who also joins a gang of thieves so that we see Prague through another worldview. There’s also a love story chucked in with works.

However the amount of slang and loss sentences drove me crazy. I knew what was going on but I felt lost and confused at the same time.

To be honest that’s all I can really say about the book, maybe I’m to rigid but experimental novels do tend to leave me in the cold.

Book 902 Antonio Tabucchi – Pereira Declares

June 7, 2010

As you  all know by now, I have quite a penchant for Italian authors and whenever a new one crops up in this list I do become a bit excited. This is my first Tabucchi, although I have read a lot about him and now I can see why he’s talked about in literary circles.

Pereira is an overweight worrywart obsessed with death and routine. When he’s not dining on omelettes , he’s publishing translations of French short stories for a culture page for a third-rate Portuguese newspaper.  It is 1938 Lisbon and war tensions are rising, plus the Salazar regime is taking hold on the country. Despite all this Pereira is blissfully ignorant  and only receives a convoluted news update from the waiter in his favourite cafe.

Things change when he hires Montiero Rossi, a political runaway, as a features editor for the culture page. Slowly Pereira starts to realise what is actually happening around him and starts to control his obsessiveness and over eating. This is further accentuated by a week’s visit to a clinic (it’s also the novel’s highlight) where a doctor forces him to alter his life.

Pereira’s transformation is complete when Rossi is beaten to death by the secret police and he publishes an article detailing this brutal murder and leaves Lisbon for a new life (and naturally to escape persecution)

Without going into the usual reasons on why I found Pereira Declares an enjoyable read, I can say that it’s very rare to find a book which focuses on a serious topic and makes you laugh at the same time. It works on both levels and is definitely worth a read.