Archive for June, 2011

Book 817 Peter Handke – The Afternoon of a Writer

June 30, 2011

 

Although I did not mind Handke’s ‘The Afternoon of a Writer’ I couldn’t help thinking that I would find this book dragging if it went on for four hundred pages or so. Luckily it is a breezy 86 so I found it quite enjoyable.

This novella is about a writer who crafts one sentence an decides to treat himself to a walk and lunch. As he is doing this he questions why he is a writer and if it is worth being one. In the meantime he is also soaking up his surroundings. By the end of the novel he is back to square one.

Afternoon.. is a descriptive novel, and the questions it poses about the authenticity of writing are interesting and in this small dose it works and is pretty evocative.

Pretty good but not WOW

Book 818 Margaret Drabble – The Radiant Way

June 30, 2011

 

My first attempt at reading Margaret Drabble was with her novel, ‘The Ice Age’, a book I found boring and stuffy and when I started to read The Radiant Way, my opinion of her wasn’t changing. Somehow I started to really get the story and now I have a different view of her.

The Radiant Way focuses on the lives of three middle-aged women; Liz, Alix and Esther and how they cope with the ever turbulent eighties. There are moments of happiness and depressive ones. However despite all that happens their friendship still unites them.

I’m sure we all have read novels like this before but what makes Drabble stand out is that there’s some twists and turns in the lives of  all the characters that are quite unpredictable plus The Radiant Way (named after a tv documentary Liz’s husband directs) criticises the Thatcher government quite openly, so there’s a heavy political slant to the novel.

Style-wise its beautiful,  whereas The Ice Age was umm drab, the prose here was elegant but with a dry sense of humour running through it.

A solid read

Book 819 Banana Yoshimoto – Kitchen

June 17, 2011

 

 

 

 

I first read this book in the mid 00’s but it was a tough time then and I admit that I didn’t really absorb too much so it was definitely time to re-read it and I’m glad I did!

Kitchen comprises of two novellas and each revolve around the theme of love , loss and transgenderism (if such a term exists)

The title story revolves around a girl who loses her family and befriends another boy who has gone through such losses,  as well. As time passes these two start to build a bond which is enhanced by their love of food and kitchens.

The other novella is called Moonlight Shadow and deals with a woman who loses her boyfriend and she also finds a connection between her cross dressing boyfriend’s brother (who loses his girlfriend) both characters go through a ‘happening’ which makes them cope with their situation.

I was heavily reminded of the light surrealism that one finds in Murakami’s novels but Yoshimoto is much kinder to her characters and is a bit more whimsical. On the whole though these two novellas are fantastic and addictive reading. Weirdly enough I felt like a better person afterwards. Yoshimoto’s style makes you feel good and you sympathise with her down to earth characters. After going through lots of more surreal novels or way too many realistic ones, Kitchen was a perfect antidote.

 

Book 820 Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

June 16, 2011

Probably like everyone else on the planet, the first Adams I read was The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (even though I read it in my early twenties, it seems that it is a book that teenagers usually pick up) and I thought it was intelligent, funny and addictive. I knew about the Dirk Gently books but I admit that I’ve never really had the urge to read them. To be honest Dirk Gently is not as good, as I expected but there were some surprises.

As with any Adams book the plot is non chronological so you have to piece everything together. A group of aliens crash land on Earth at the beginning of time, thus creating the spark that sets life in action. With the exception of the engineer, all the aliens die and he is a ghost wandering through time finding the right person to posses so that he can be taken back to the past and able to fix his spaceship. He manages to take over Coleridge, in the 17 century and gets him to write an extra verse in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ which is about this alien’s life story.

We jump to the present and we find out that the head of a computer company is accidentally murdered and his employer is to blame. This is where Dirk Gently steps in and solves this murder by piecing the events of the past, present and future (hence the reason why he is a holistic detective) he finds out the the alien ghost is possessing more people in order to take him to the past, and this is actually managed, until Richard (the employer) remembers that all life will disappear if the spaceship is fixed so they Dirk and Richard go back in time and distract Coleridge so that the ghost wont posses him and thus leaving him stranded in space.

Does it sound confusing – I tried to explain it without giving away too many spoilers but with an Adams novel, it is difficult to leave details out as everything is interconnected, from the smallest detail to the largest. Dirk Gently emphasizes on the fact that the world is linked together very intricately and that one thing develops from another. Apparently Adams was the first person to write about these theories back in the 80’s so this book is ahead of it’s time.

Although I did like the braininess of the book, I couldn’t help noticing that it lacked the zaniness of the Hitchhikers Guide and even stylistically there was a lot of Adams trademark humour in tiny doses nonetheless you will think and smile at how Adams connects many  coincidences together.

 

Book 821 Harry Matthews – Cigarettes

June 9, 2011

 

 

My first encounter with a member of the Oulipo was via Raymonde Queneau’s Zazie dan La Metro  and I liked it. Unfortunately Cigarettes left me with mixed reactions.

On one hand I loved the idea ; generations of New Yorcian high-class citizens have affairs with each others – with long-lasting effects. Plus there’s a subplot about a counterfeit painting which moves from house to house.

That’s basically it but Matthews merges these relationships quite deftly and cleverly so you’re amazed at how he pulls the whole thing off.

On the other hand I found this to be a bit of a laborious and slightly frustrating  read, as I said before I’m not a huge fan of experimental novels as I always find them a bit distant (with Ali Smiths’ The Accidental being one of the few exceptions) If you like this then do check out Cigarettes.

Book 822 Tsitsi Dangarembga – Nervous Conditions

June 8, 2011

 

Nervous Conditions is a book about the emancipation of women in African Society. The reason why this is my first statement is because this is drilled in your head from the first sentence. It is an autobiography and in it Dangarembga speaks about how she survived the overtly male characters through education, persistence and luck.

Saying that this is not like, say Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, where the male race is treated as the most evil species on Earth, here the author gives us both the good and bad qualities of her characters, but ultimately there is the fact that Zimbabwe society is a heavily male dominated race which the female must break out of.

Nervous conditions is a very powerful novel full of interesting insights about tribe hierarchy and customs so it served. The book ends on a cliff hanger so if you are interested Dangarembga has written a sequel, which, judging by Nervous Condition’s ending, focuses on colonialism.

 

Book 823 Anne Hebert – The First Garden

June 2, 2011

When I read the books on the 00’s and 90’s list, I basically order each book and read them once they’d arrive, However for the 80’s I wrote down each book and ordered them in handfuls. I had an inkling that there would be a lot that were out of print and it could take me a while to receive them. It turned out that I was right and out of the 155 books on the 80’s part of the challenge there are 64 that had to be ordered through abe books. The First Garden is one AND it took six months for it to arrive from Canada to Malta. The moral of this story is that it does pay to think ahead.

Flora is an actress in France, however she gets called to play Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days in Quebec so she moves there. On the way she tries to seek out her estranged daughter Maude and meets up with her boyfriend Raphael. On this journey Flora starts to mix up her past roles in the theatre with her past life as an adopted child and then her early years as an actress. In this encounter with her past Flora rediscovers herself and learns how to cope with her present life.

I have to say that this was a pleasant read. There are moments of beauty and ugliness but I admit that it didn’t make my jaw drop or make me claim that it changed my life. It’s a good read. It’s poignant in places and you feel satisfied when you close the book. It’s a solid novel.