Archive for November, 2010

Book 853 Pavlos Matesis – The Daughter

November 27, 2010

In theory I should have loved this novel ; the most turbulent era of Greek history told through the eyes of a child but unfortunately I just couldn’t absorb myself into the book as much as I wished I could.

In a way you could say that The Daughter is the anti Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It takes place in the same time frame (the Italian/German occupation of Greece) but Matesis leaves out all the whimsy and piles on the grotesque reality. Here we see how deceitful people can be during war-time.

Even peacetime as well. When Greece is ‘liberated’ the main protagonist’s mother  is brought in the town square and ridiculed because she slept with an Italian soldier  in order to have food for her two children(as the husband is missing in action). Eventually they are driven out of the village and have to beg in order to earn a living.

But none of that bothered me.

What I didn’t like was the narrative tone of the main protagonist. It was too slangy and there was over use of certain words in the same sentence. Eventually the book switches form first person to the third and this is much better.

By the end of the book the woman who is narrating the story becomes an actor and life becomes easier.

Was this an unsatisfactory review? well I felt the same way about the book.

Book 854 W.G. Sebald – Vertigo

November 24, 2010

 

After disliking Austerlitz, I sort of groaned when I found out that I had to plow through another Sebald but this time round I quite enjoyed Vertigo and as the quotes say, it is definitely original and unique.

The main plot is about a narrator (or the author) who escapes Britain in order to travel around Italy and Southern Germany. From then onwards the book’s tone shifts. In some parts it’s a travelogue, in others it’s a biography on Stendhal and Franz Kafka. It shifts again into an appreciation of Pisanello’s art. There anecdotes, bits of trivia,  pictures, and illustrations. In fact it is admirable on how Sebald takes the concept of a novel, turns it around and makes it so much fun. Throughout this book I felt like I was participating in some game. The novel itself is divided into four parts and they are all interlinked, albeit loosely. One main theme being a sense of vertigo both the narrator and the historical characters he describes suffer from. Could be a result of their society and times they live in??

However there were some sections (mostly the Southern Germany section) which I did find a little tedious but on the whole I cannot say that I hated this book.  Whatever view you hold you definitely have to say that there is absolutely nothing like this.

Book 855 Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho

November 22, 2010

 

My goodness how time flies. I read American Psycho when I was a student back in 2000. Ten years have passed and I remember every single detail of this book very clearly. Saying that it’s not a book that you will forget.

Patrick Bateman is a victim of the 80’s yuppie culture. He is obsessed with brand names (trust me every single product that he uses or wears is world-renowned) eats at the finest restaurants and discusses money with his friends. He has a glitzy ‘girlfriend’ and on the side takes out the odd escort to spice up his life.

Now this is where things go a bit awry.

Bateman is also a vicious killer. He  is not subtle either, the majority end up with tons of blood and gore. He is not selective either. A dog, child and a prostitute are some of the unlucky creatures to fall victim to his cruel hands. Each murder, or psychotic act is described in ultra violent rich detail. It’s not a book to read while eating lunch.

BUT

Bateman is not a reliable narrator. There is one scene where Bateman paints a room with a victim’s blood and it is spotless the next day. There are characters who he greets and they don’t remember him. Plus the whole book has these perforated lines instead of individual chapters, which gives the impression that Bateman is just jotting down ideas on scraps of paper other than documenting his life in a diary.  Also, why are there interjections on 80’s bands like Huey Lewis and the News? My conclusion is that Bateman is so bored being a yuppie he has to escape into some fantasy psychotic world in order to actually stay sane.

Ultimately American Psycho is a brutally savage attack on Yuppie culture and the Wall Street boom. Bateman is so trapped that cannot cope with being a filthy rich man and is so immersed into his own world that he finds it difficult to understand where is he is.

It’s brilliant book and incredibly quotable at times but you do need a lot of strength to get through the gore but remember it may be an illusion. A word of advice to the first chapter is awful and the novel picks up as soon as Bateman describes his morning routine.

Book 856 Connie Palmen – The Laws

November 22, 2010

 

There are some books that remind me of European art house films. There are interesting concepts but sometimes the director can go a bit overboard with ideas and you start to become a bit restless. At least that’s what happens to me (funnily enough usually it’s the artsy French films which make me do this)

The Laws is no different. The plot revolves around a young Catholic country girl who tries to find some meaning in her life and eventually turns to Philosophy.In due course she meets seven people from seven different professions and they all contribute to her worldview in some way or another. By the end of the novel she falls in love with an artist, which is a disaster and she wonders if she was better off not a simple person, than one who thinks a lot.

Obviously there’s much more than this. Each profession has some sort of moral code which the girl tries to break into and vice versa and once she understands that person she moves on. Some pieces are very funny ( The Priest is brilliant) and others propose some challenging Philosophical predicaments.

I felt though that there was something lacking maybe I found the novel a bit fragmented at times, even veering towards the artsy Euro-pretension that sometimes afflicts these types of novels but The Laws is definitely not a book I would slag off and I’m wondering why it’s out of print considering that it was a best seller in the author’s native Holland. It just needs one little detail and this would be a perfect book.

Inbetweener 13 Howard Jacobson – The Finkler Question

November 21, 2010

 

When I started to read The Finkler Question, I have to admit that I was quite irritated by the writing style. I’m not really a fan of humorous books but then after the first chapter I began to relax and  I ended up enjoying the book thoroughly. In fact a lot of it reminded me of  Philip Roth with a little bit of Martin Amis chucked in. Saying that I still didn’t laugh.

Julian Treslove is out of his luck, he has quit his job, is terrible with women and the two sons he sired after two separate encounters don’t really care for him either. His two friends are Jewish and both widowed. One is a 91-year-old Jew from the Czech Republic called Libor and the other is Sam Finkler , a philosopher. In their own ways they both contain the typical Jewish stereotype. The former is proud of his identity while the latter tries his hardest to shed his nationality. At this point Julian is curious about Jews (he calls them Finklers because he thinks that his friend in question is a typical Jew)

Julian’s turning point occurs when he is mugged by a women who calls him a Jew (or so he hears) and later on at a party he is mistaken for a Jew. This makes Julian reflect about Jewishness and he tries to explore the characteristics, shortcomings and traditions of Judaism. He starts off by interrogating his two friends and then he falls in love with Jewish lady who opens his eyes further to her race.

Jacobson may be seen as a comic writer and there are many light moments but actually he has taken a serious topic and stuffed it full of insight and reflective moments. The Finkler Question tackles prejudice, identity, conversion, the Jew in modern British society and whether or not these are only things which Jews are subject too. However the book is never heavy-handed despite it being a thought-provoking read.

In other words it’s a great contender for the Booker Prize. This is one book that will have clubs debating about for a couple of hours.

Book 857 Henning Mankell – Faceless Killers

November 19, 2010

Funnily enough out of all the books in this list the ones I really look forward to are the thriller/mysterious (go figure if I told you this three years ago!) mainly because I want to solve them ( I haven’t yet dammit), However Mankell’s mysterious are a bit different.

So far all the mysteries that I f read in the list follow the same format. We are presented with a mystery, some suspects a couple of clues and then it’s left for the detective to single out his suspect. What Mankell does, at least in Faceless Killers, present his mystery, no suspects and it is up to the reader to figure out how the crime was committed, rather than who performed the act.  I found it interesting.

The plot itself is simple, Inspector Kurt Wallander has to track down the double murder of a farming couple and a couple of unprovoked attacks on foreigners. Eventually all the clues that are left behind help Wallander capture the killer. Wallander himself cannot handle his domestic life as well as his working one so we get to see how he copes with his divorce, senile father and bad eating habits.

Mankell doesn’t stop there though. Through Wallander we see a portrait of Sweden, one that breeding a generation of inefficient people lacking moral fibre and with xenophobic tendencies. Something Wallander also finds difficult to grasp.

On the whole I enjoyed Faceless Killers. I didn’t love it as there have been better mysteries on the list ( Volpi’s  In Search of Klingsor and Perez-Reverte’s  The Dumas Club) but it was good solid read.

Book 858 Eugenia Fakinou – Astradeni

November 10, 2010

When you live on a tiny island (Malta) , like I do, you start to notice how life is so different. Island life is more personal, everyone is sort of related to one another, a consumer mentality does not dominate that much (although this is changing over here) and in some villages people trust each other blindly , leaving keys in doors etc.

The title character of this novel goes through a similar experience. Eleven year old  Astradeni lives on a small island near Rhodes (incidentally The Knights of St.John were driven out by the Turks and had to settle in Malta) and life is very simple. Due to a financial loss, her family decide to move to Athens in order to find better fortunes.

Astradeni’s culture shock is immense. She cannot get used to the materialistic society, the rituals and even the fact that she speaks a dialect makes her (and her family) an outsider. The novel is told through her point of view, thus there is a certain innocence, which is ultimately lost at the end of the book.

I related to this novel immensely, although in my case I moved from Canada to Malta, but I still had a hard time adapting to the different sort of mentalities and just like Astradeni I had to adapt myself the difficult way.

One gripe about Astradeni is that it is out of print so you’ll have to try seek it out, but do so as it is a wonderful little novel.

Book 859 Pat Barker – Regeneration

November 8, 2010

I read Regeneration back in 2002, At the time I was going through a Wilfred Owen phase and I wanted to find some literature which focused on the first World War.  This was the first one that cropped up in my search.

Regeneration is mainly based on the more famous people who took part in WWI , such as Siegfried Sassoon , Dr. William Rivers ( who was to have a bigger role in the third book of this trilogy, called The Ghost Road) Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen. In fact the book opens up with Rivers reading a letter from Sassoon, who is denouncing the war. This is basically the theme which runs throughout the novel. We get Wilfred Owen composing Anthem for Doomed Youth  (this is the best bit of the novel) Dr. Rivers examining war-torn patients  and so on.

Earlier this year I read The Ghost Road and did not like it too much. Regeneration is the strongest book out of the two but so far the best book I have read about the subject still is Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong.

Book 860 Padgett Powell – Typical

November 7, 2010

After 140 books a short story collection is finally featured!

To be honest I’m not really fond of short stories due to the fact that the consistency varies. I hate reading one fantastic story, wading through a lot of  weak ones and then encountering another great story.  I was sort of hoping that the collections featured in this list would buck that trend.

Powell is a chronicler of rednecks, no gooders,  losers and eccentric characters and furthermore the majority of these stories take place in the south and he captures the accents and mentality  (during my sojourns in Canada, I did meet a lot of southerners from all backgrounds). In fact there are a lot of linguistic pyrotechnics here.

However when it comes to short stories I prefer more well-rounded plot based ones. Powell likes to create an atmosphere with his writings and in the case of  middle series of pieces in the book this works fine but sometimes it doesn’t work out too well. In most cases I didn’t really enjoy reading them.

There is, however one gold nugget and that’s the title story. The rambling of a redneck. It is brilliant in every way. Other than that if you come from the Guy du Maupassant and Roald Dahl school of writing, do approach with caution.

 

Book 861 Don DeLillo – Mao II

November 6, 2010

Having LOVED the awesome Underworld, I was sure that one moment of clarity was a fluke and that I’d dislike the rest of DiLillo’s non Underworld books. After all I wasn’t too keen on ‘Falling Man’ or ‘White Noise’ . To my surprise I enjoyed Mao II as much as Underworld.

Mao II plays out like an early Simpson’s episode. At first there’s an introduction which makes you think that the rest of the book will focus on the certain topic but then halfway through the novel, the real plot emerges and you find out that DeLillo was leaving some breadcrumbs in order to keep us on track but not really know when the true story emerges.

Since DeLillo’s books focus more on current topics, the main points of Mao II are about the power of crowds, terrorist movements, Photography as an art form and the power of  a writer. Oddly enough for a book that was written in 1992 it is strangely ahead of its time as some of the scenes of the book would eventually materialise nine years later during the September 11th attacks.

Bill Grey is a recluse writer who is constantly rewriting his manuscript. He is approached by his agent in order to help free an imprisoned writer in Beirut and through this process he learns that the writer has the power to move crowds just as forcefully as any terrorist leader.

I would say that is the main focus of the book – crowds. The novel starts off with a mass wedding, then we have the crowd gathering in the cities, crowds forming during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death (remember this book was written after Rushdie’s fatwa) and at the end of the novel crowds during a wedding in Beirut, only to be interrupted by war (yup full cycle and all that). For DeLillo the crowd represents an unstoppable force, however one that can be easily manipulated by a leader or a writer. Hence what Mao Zedong did with his use of the little red book. (and it ties up with the last book – Wild Swans  as well)

My appreciation for DeLillo is increasing with each book I read.  I will be tackling White Noise again in the future and I’m wondering if it I will like it a second time round.