Archive for December, 2010

Book 846 Amitav Ghosh – The Shadow Lines

December 31, 2010

I could see why The Shadow Lines forms part of the 1001 list. It’s got a great plot, well-defined characters, a bit of humour, a bit of pathos and some politics to boot.

Despite this I wasn’t too crazy over the book.

It is also a little bit complicated to summarise. It is , at its core, a tale about two families ; one is British and the other is  Bengali. These two families have their histories entwined from the days of the Raj to modern times. Thus the reader is exposed to different customs and it’s clashes.

There’s also the political uprising which causes the death of one of  the main protagonists and it’s repercussions still affect the narrator to this day. A good chunk of the novel focuses on partition and the terrifying after effects.

Not to mention that Ghosh’s writing is heartfelt and can create a sense of warmth.

So why didn’t I like it too much?

Well the aspect which bothered me was the continuous time jumping. From paragraph to paragraph we are whisked to a decade. True that by the end of the novel everything makes sense but I did get annoyed. In fact I preferred the second half of the novel as it was more clear-cut.

Plus I also tended to mix some characters up. Ghosh doesn’t do slow introductions. All the people just burst in and out of the book, it becomes a bit confusing.

I have a little feeling that if I pick up The Shadow Lines again after a couple of years I think I’ll appreciate it more.

Advertisements

Book 847 William Kotzwinkle – The Midnight Examiner

December 29, 2010

 

Sometimes you come across a book so stupid you don’t know what to say about it.  For me, The Midnight Examiner is one of those books.  It’s a madcap zany adventure that feels like one of those terrible comedies that crop up on cable tv on a sunday evening.

Howard is the editor of a publishing company (all lurid magazines) and all his staff are a bunch of crackpots – From the blow dart loving publisher to the mail order priest/head of religious publications.  One day while in a porn movie one staff member accidentally shoots a mafia boos and the whole team are under a situation which is crazier than the stuff they publish.  Yes everything works out in the end and Howard finds a decent job in the long run too. Oh yes there’s a Voodoo Queen involved in thwarting the gangsters.

The Midnight Examiner is just ridiculous, from the beginning to the very end. The dialogue is irritating and the characters are so stupid you can’t identify with them. Maybe this is supposed to be a satire on seedy mags but I was plain pissed off while readings this in order to let the humour sink in.

Some books remain out of print for a reason.

Avoid.

Inbetweener 14 Paul Auster – Invisible

December 29, 2010

 

I just adore everything that Paul Auster writes (well his fiction anyways) and Invisible is a sign that Auster is still at the top of his game.

Adam Walker is an intellectual who stumbles upon they fabulously wealthy and immoral Rudolph Born. After they strike a friendship Born offers Walker the deal of a lifetime. Unfortunately this all falls apart due to Adam having an affair with Born’s girlfriend and an action which Born commits which has severe repercussions.

We jump to the future and everything is told through the eyes of Adam’s friend Jim. Adam is dying and he sends a manuscript of his experiences to Jim. As us readers find out. Born’s action brings Adam to Paris, where he plots out the ultimate revenge, which doesn’t work out either and leads to even more deadly consequences.

Invisible contains the usual trademarks one finds in an Auster novel. ‘The book within a book within a book’ , the use of coincidence and chance and complicated relationships. Although Auster has used these techniques before they are quite fresh in Invisible and there’s a new sort of accessibility which appeared in Timbuktu and is in full use here. I would say this is Auster’s first genuine page turner (not that his previous novels weren’t but here it’s more pronounced) I felt that there were shades of Philip Roth and Ian McEwan (there is one controversial scene which echoes the latter greatly).

On the whole this is an excellent book and well worth reading.

Book 848 Tim O’Brien – The Things they Carried

December 27, 2010

I’ve never read a book which dealt with the Vietnam war so The Things they Carried represents a first time. It’s also the second short story collection featured in this list and I also fared much better than the previous collection ( Padgett Powell’s Typical)

In these 21 stories O’Brien captures the madness of war perfectly, for example the soldier who wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose on his neck or the soldier who is deported to Japan due to insanity. It’s all there. Sometimes the stories are mildly humorous and some are tragic. However what really makes this interesting are the literary techniques used.

The first one is that O’Brien will first briefly mention a character’s foibles in one story and then expand on it in the next. There is a lot of repetition of detail (such as the man O’Brien kills) but these enhance the reading experience and unify all the stories. By the end you get the feeling that you have read a full novel.

The other technique is the blurring between fact and fantasy. O’Brien states these stories are not true and there are some stories dedicated to what a true war story is made up of. Honestly though, the descriptions are so life-like I’m bound to think otherwise.

A great book? yes and an excellent primer for those who haven’t read anything about the Vietnam War as well.

Book 849 Paul Auster – The Music of Chance

December 19, 2010

With the exception of The New York Trilogy, I have only read Paul Auster’s later works ( From Timbuktu onwards – I’ll be reading Invisible very soon) and he has never disappointed me. I knew that his early works are even better so I was glad to finally have a chance to read ‘The Music of Chance’

It is fantastic.

Jim Nashe is a man who is disillusioned with life. After a long spell on the road and a hefty inheritance he decides to pack it all in and spend the rest of his days travelling.

His troubles begin when he befriends a gambler called Jack Pozzi and they plan to play a game of cards with two rich people. Things do not turn out as they seem and jack and Jim have to repay the eccentric duo by building a wall ( the stones were from a destroyed Irish castle).

At first things go well but Jack rebels and this leads him to commit certain actions which affect his destiny and Jim’s as well.

Like I said this book kept me stuck to my chair. It focuses on chance and circumstances but also is about the absurdity of life. There are many existentialist tones, especially with Jack’s way of reasoning. Plus it’s written beautifully.

I would also say – up to this point it’s also the best Auster novel I have read and a very good place to start if you haven’t delved into his novels yet.

Book 850 Jim Dodge – Stone Junction

December 15, 2010

 

Stone Junction is another one of those books that have been cropping up in my life. Whether in a magazine or a second-hand bookstore it seems that this novel makes an appearance.  As luck will have, when it actually was time to buy the book I couldn’t find it anywhere and I had to order it from our local book chain.

This is not my first Jim Dodge though. That honour was bestowed to Fup and I loved it. An original plot, use of language and despite the zaniness, Dodge has a sense of control and Fup never descends into downright vulgarity. I would say it’s a fun romp more than anything.

Stone Junction is a continuation of the ideas in Fup. It is weird, entertaining and is stuffed with oddball  similes. However I would say this book is more philosophical and thought-provoking.

Daniel Pearse is born to an outlaw mother. He is raised amongst thieves. When on a mission, Daniel’s mother is killed and he sets on his way to avenge her. Throughout this journey he joins a gang of Alchemical Magicians and goes under a series of teachers. All of them subject him to meditation,  safe-cracking, espionage and even harvesting drugs.

Pearse’s life changes when he goes under the tutelage of Volta, a man who teaches Daniel on how to vanish and tells him about a diamond with mystical powers. Eventually Daniel manages to steal this diamond, wich in turn helps him discover more secrets about his past and prepare him for his future.

Stone Junction is fantastic. There nothing else to say. I had a ton of fun reading it. Something which I haven’t experienced ever since my Brautigan and Vonnegut days back in the late nineties. This is a novel that screams ‘cool’.

Book 851 John McGahern – Amongst Women

December 6, 2010

Amongst Women is a book which, despite it’s brevity, unfolds slowly. It is a delicate story and one that requires full attention. Ideally it should be read in one sitting so that you absorb every detail in one go ( Unfortunately my workload is increasing by the day so I had to read this book in 20 page or so bursts).

Michael Moran is an ex IRA soldier widower, who has fully accepted his role as the sole leader of his five children family. Although he does remarry a bit later on, McGahern establishes the fact that Moran rules his house with a no-nonsense iron fist. Moran is also prone to temper tantrums , sullen moments and even violence (towards his sons though) However when he shows his good side he can be a wonderful joking person.

As time passes by and his daughters marry and move out of the house, Moran’s situation in the house changes and by the end of the book he is the one who is being taken care of by his children and wife. Furthermore when he passes away he still remains the epicentre of his family.

I’m this sort of story has been told before, after all in essence this is a family saga,  but unlike, say, Anne-Marie Macdonald’s Fall on your Knees, this isn’t long-winded. It’s elegantly told with each word resonating with awe. Every character is lifelike, especially, Moran and the descriptions are just breathtaking. This is a book to embrace and savor till the very end.

Book 852 Elmore Leonard – Get Shorty

December 1, 2010

In essence you could call Get Shorty a fun romp. True the plot is multi-layered but there’s a lot of verve running through these pages.

Chili Palmer is a guy who collects money from people who have not paid their debts. Although he is retired he goes to Hollywood for one last job – he has to retrieve cash from a man who has cheated an airport out of three thousand dollars and ran away from his wife.

While he is doing this Chili also finds out that he has to collect money from a director who has also run into a bad debt. Chili is so enamored by the prospect of this  he decides to tell the director that he wants to make a movie out of all the events that has happened so far. This director, Harry Zimm, also has a script in mind and wants to push Chili’s ideas at a later date.

On top of this there are two hitmen who are after Chili’s blood and the rest of the book deals with Chili ways of deceiving all the Hollywood types he encounters including Harry Zimm.

Leonard’s characters are beautifully realised – very distinctive and yet you do not hate or love either one. They all have their flaws and redeeming features. I also like the way all the gangster and movie slang is not sacrificed. I personally did not find the book funny. Manic , slightly gripping but no laugh out loud moments. I loved the way all the sub plots were entwined and tied up. For crime fiction this is definitely a step up from the usual fare (saying that all the detective and crime fiction on the list has been exceptional)

When reading Get Shorty, I was reminded of a less eco-friendly Carl Hiaasan. Both use multiple sub-plots and depict their protagonists with distinct characters Leornard is better though as his use of satire is more restrained. However I will be reading LaBrava in the near future so maybe this comparison may not be entirely true.