Archive for February, 2012

Book 783 Amy Hempel – Reasons to Live

February 24, 2012

 

 

 

Whenever a short story collection crops up on the list I give a sort of shudder. So far I  haven’t been crazy over the last ones that have been featured. The thing is that once you read Roald Dahl or Guy de Maupassant (and to be fair Murakami has some top ones as well) you can never view a short story in the same light again.

However Amy Hempel comes close. Her stories are quirky , dryly humorous and pack an emotional resonance and all deal with death and coping with it – or as the title states , reasons to live. Oh and it’s consistent. I only didn’t like one story and there’s sixteen stories here.

Last thing – this book is out of print but it’s not too difficult to seek out.

 

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Book 784 Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

February 23, 2012

 

It’s funny that I’ve met so many people who have mixed reactions with The Handmaid’s Tale. True, maybe at a first reading it’s may not be as powerful or satirical as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World, and I admit I was one of those people who didn’t really like it back when I read it in 2002 but now this re-read has placed the novel in a new light. Plus I am a huge fan of dystopian novels so it did seem strange that I had a so so opinion on this book.

Offred is a Handmaid, that is her sole purpose is to produce babies in order to keep the declining population of Gilead up and the only person who can ‘mate’ with her is the commander. It has to be said that Offred lives in a house with other handmaids , servants and then there’s the guards and obviously the commander and his wife. Handmaids are taught but traditionalists called Aunts.

As the novel proceeds, Offred’s ( geddit, she is ‘of’ the commander Fred) relationship with the commander becomes more serious and in-between we get glimpses of her previous life when things were normal.

The reason why this novel should be read more than once is that there’s a lot of detail about this world and Offred’s past life and the more one reads the book, the more clear some concepts become. Trust me it’s a story that hits hard and has quite a few horrifying passages. Just a word of advice, do read the epilogue, it’s the one part of the book where everything is put in perspective and the politics of Gilead are fully fleshed out. Out of all the feminist novels I’ve read this is surely the proverbial cream of the crop.

Book 785 Peter Ackroyd – Hawksmoor

February 11, 2012

In a weird way I was dreading this book. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, especially if it takes place in the middle ages/enlightenment era. However, Hawksmoor is a different kettle of fish and incorporates many other literary genres.

The novel is based on the six churches that Nicholas Hawksmoor (here renamed Dyer) built. The thing is Dyer is part of a Satanic cult and is building churches for human sacrifice.

The even numbered chapters takes place in 1980’s London, where there are a series of murders taking place within the six churches and Nicholas Hawksmoor, a detective, has to uncover the mystery. Unfortunately the past is entwined with the present and it leads to certain startling discoveries.

Part detective story , part historical fiction, Hawksmoor is a very gripping novel.  Also people who are fans of groups such as Current 93 and other World Serpent artists should check this book out as a lot of their philosophies are incorporated. Truly fascinating. A word of warning though, in order to be authentic Ackroyd uses the vernacular used in the 18th century and it pays to do some research on London during this period (and maybe a bit on pagan rites). Other than Eco, I don’t think I’ve read a meta historical novel that’s this good.

 

Book 786 Patrick Suskind – Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

February 2, 2012

 

It’s weird on how a second reading can change your view of a novel, The last time I read Perfume was in 1999 and the only thing that stuck out was the first murder. Anyway I’m glad I read this again for it seems that a good chunk of the book has slipped out of my memory.

 

In my last post I said that Cormac McCarthy’s Judge was a foulsome literary creation, but after reading Perfume, I think I’ll say that Jean Baptiste Grenouille beats The Judge by miles. Not only does he kill but he suffers from delusions of grandeur and a morbid hatred of society.

Born in 18th century France, Grenouille is passed from household to household as he gives people the creeps. Eventually he is discovered to have an extraordinary sense of smell and all goes fine until he discovers the scent of a young woman. This drives him insane and he takes up the art of perfumery in order to cook up a scent that will enslave people just like the young woman’s smell did to him.

This leads to a killing spree in order for Grenouille to fulfill his aim and eventually through some clever plot twists that perfume plays a role in his rise and eventual fall.

Grotesque , with some brilliant scenes, I dare say that only Suskind has managed to evoke the spirit of Roald Dahl ; the same type of satire is also prevalent in Suskind and the addictive quality of Perfume is Dahlesque as well. Perfume is indeed one book is a must read.