Book 768 Angela Carter – Nights at the Circus

July 21, 2012

 

One thing I definitely do recommend is re reading a book , nine times out of ten you will see it in a different light , maybe I should have done this with the other books I had read before when I started to tackle this list , but now the damage is done and I can only look forwards or is that backwards.

Anyway , when I first read Nights at the Circus back in 1999 I liked it, not loved it though, In fact I read Angela Carters short stories (which are amazing) and her last novel, Wise Children ( which is a vulgar romp of a novel) and I thought they were far superior than ….circus. As time flies, I have changed my mind.

The book begins at the turn of the 20th century and an American journalist is interviewing a woman with wings and the first part of Nights at the Circus focuses on Fevvers ( sounds like feathers) life. The second part has the journalist joining the circus  and his interactions with different aspects of circus and life , and the third act is about the circus train crashing in Siberia and the troop surviving. Fevvers plays an integral role in the last two parts as well.

This is a novel that is hard to pigeonhole. Parts are rooted in feminist literature , a good chunk is magical realism , there’s slapstick , Gothic horror and quite a few philosophical moments. It is beautifully written , with each word having its own special place in the book.  The one and only regret I actually have with this book is that I finished it. I took ages as I wanted to soak up each and every word. A momentous novel.

 

 

Book 769 William Gibson – Neuromancer

July 7, 2012

 

Honestly , I really want to like this novel. It has it all. Loads of revolutionary ideas , an interesting plot, cool character. In fact this is one of those defining novels. Unfortunately I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my outh after reading it.

Case is a computer hacker (or cowboy) , unfortunately he betrays the company that he’s with and as a punishment he is rendered unable to hack anything. That is until a mysterious agent called Armitage helps go back to normal in exchange for a massive hacking job. Which has some unexpected results. Along with his sidekick Molly , Case fights off a lot of strange characters just to break into this computer.

Sounds thrilling? well it is. It’s like a modern detective story disguised with futuristic setting and that is precisely my gripe with the book. Gibson uses a lot of jargon , a lot , most of it made up (with the exception of cyberspace, which is now in everyday vocabulary) and for me, this clouded my understanding of the novel. Confused me even. I had quite a bit of trouble whether he was referring to a computer or a person or a device. So while I loved some bits , others just annoyed me.

Saying that I think a second reading in a few years time could change things!

 

Book 770 Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory

June 29, 2012

 

 

 

I first read Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory back when I was starting university ( so this would be 1998)  At the time I was trying to get my hands on controversial literature ( All of Irvine Welsh’s books , Crash , The Story of O etc etc)  At the time I loved the novel. It had everything I wanted back then, gruesome deaths , black humour and unpredictability. Thus as a 33 year old , would I still appreciate it?

Well I did look at it differently.

Frank is a 16 year old bent on destruction. He has murdered three people and kills animals for shamanic purposes ( his wasp factory being part of this)  His insane brother has escaped from an asylum and is planning to visit him. In the midst of all this Frank starts to questions some strange things that are cropping up in his life and is determined to get to the bottom of these mysteries when he does find a secret about himself.

Back then I just thought the Wasp Factory was written for its shock factor but really its about the male gender and how it is a myth , Frank’s emphasis of his manly qualities are just a build up to the apocalyptic (and stunning) conclusion. Probably the book’s only fault is that it does veer off in places a little too quickly (the scenes with Jamie are complete waste of time imo) , in fact the story becomes thrilling when Banks does stick to the novel’s storyline

I would say that Banks has written better and more consistent novels ( The Crow Road being a fave) but they don’t have the punch The Wasp Factory does.

Book 771 Joan Didion – Democracy

June 25, 2012

joandidiondemocracy

 

I have been hearing about Joan Didion for a very long time and I was dying to read her books ( the first one I heard about is The Book of Common Prayer) but it was impossible to find her novels as they could only be shipped from the US and at a costly sum.

Thank God for the World Wide Web.

Democracy is a portrait of an upper middle class family , that’s at the point of disentegration. The wife, Inez is having an affair with a CIA agent, the daughter is a drug addict , the son is a rebel and the husband is desperately trying to run for politics but is failing miserably. Oh yes Inez’s father is also a murderer , albeit an insane one.

Yes I’m know you’re inwardly groaning, but don’t forget Didion precedes Roth and Franzen so I guess she’s the main influence. Also saying that , the novel as a ton of interesting twists , the main one being that it is narrated by the author herself , as she is writing a book about Inez’s family AND in the process us readers are guided to the wrongs and rights of  writing prose.

Democracy is interesting , intelligent and unpredictable. If you want to see where Franzen got his chops from – look here.

Book 772 Marguerite Duras – The Lover

June 19, 2012

The Lover is a book I have been hearing about and eyeing for years , Now that I finally have a chance to read it ( the big plus point of this list is that I am able to read books that I have been putting off for a long time.) I can see why this novella is so revered.

It is a semi autobiographical story about a teenage girl from a poor background, who falls in love with an older and rich man. This creates a lot of tension from both sides of the family and eventually the romance is called off by the lover’s father.

Really, though The Lover is not as straightforward as I tell it.  The book is not written in chronological order. The reader gets bits and pieces of the author’s past plus the background is Vietnam during the French rule so politics slyly makes its way into the novel.

Although not an easy read there is a certain deranged beauty in the book and if it wasn’t for the so so translation I would have probably liked it more.

Book 773 Jose Saramago – The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

June 15, 2012

 

 

 

For some weird reason , I cannnot write below the picture So I guess this will have to make do for now. First of all I’m very sorry for the lack of updates.  I know this year posts have been sporadic but bear with me. Eventually things will be back on track. I don’t know when but it will happen.  I feel quite guilty when I don’t write for a few weeks , let alone a month!  At the moment reading is becoming a bit of a struggle, however I WILL persevere. Hopefully by the end of the uear i’ll be over and done with the 80’s section.  Now on with the book.

The Year in the Death… is one of those books that is about everything and nothing at both the same time. Ricardo Reis (who was the alter ego for the poet/novelist Pessoa) returns to Portugal after a long stay in Brazil. Once he arrives to his hotel , he falls in love with the chambermaid and a sophisticated women and by the end of the book he must choose the right person. Portugal is going through a bad time ( I guess history does repeat itself) as it is entering its communist phase.

This whole relationship plot is a Maguffin. In reality this novel is a huge love letter to Portugal. We learn about its history and eventual dictatorship under Salazar.  When Reis walks along the streets us readers get an intimate view of Portuguese way of life and mentality.

Now my gripe with the novel is that I had trouble relating, such is  love for his country so intense , that it builds a metaphorical wall between him and the reader. I was not born and bred in Portugal so a lot of things went over my head despite the research I did beforehand. Really I didn’t love the novel so much, I can see why he is loved in his home country but this love cannot be shared by an outsider like me so its resonancy falls a bit flat.

Book 774 J.G. Ballard – Empire of the Sun

May 17, 2012

 

 

I read Empire of the Sun back in 2001 and I was impressed by this war story/coming of age novel. However as I re read I’m not quite as astounded as I was before.

The story of a young boy stranded in war torn shanghai is equally terrifying and enlightening. As Jim struggles to survive he matures and his worldview starts to change. J.G. Ballard depicts this wonderfully. Also I like the way he shows us how the respectable social classes which he grew up in have turned into nobodies.

In this respect the book succeeds , since it is autobiographical Ballard’ writing simply leaps off the page. You definitely know what he’s talking about. Saying that there are certain passages which are dull and repetitive. There were times where I said inwardly ‘ come on get on with it’. It does drag.

Fortunately it does pick up and ends triumphantly (well in a dour way) but ti is one of those reading experiences that you will not forget too soon.

Book 775 James Kelman – The Busconductor Hines

May 9, 2012

 

 

 

Hmmm it looks like I’m not a James Kelman fan. I didn’t like How Late it was , How Late too much and The Busconductor Hines didn’t really impress me either.

It’s a book that’s supposed to portray a real working class person , with his trials and tribulations but it ends up just focusing on mind numbingly dull repetitive events , such as going down to the pub and screwing up his job constantly.

I didn’t love but I didn’t hate it either.

Book 776 Milorad Pavic – The Dictionary of the Khazars : A Lexicon Novel

May 3, 2012

 

It’s funny how experimental novels either a) super engaging reads  (cf Umberto Eco , B.S. Johnson or Ali Smith) or b) fail completely ( a lot that are featured on this list). Dictionary of The Khazars falls between the two. Also as a small disclaimer ; I received the male version of this book as the female one was unavailable at the time.

The Dictionary of the Khazars is a detailed history of the Khazar race. However the trick is that the novel takes the form of Dictionary entries so as you read each entry you get a an idea of the Khazars story and all the bit players. To make matters more interesting the book is divided into three parts : A Christian , Muslim and Jewish view of the Khazar people AND the making of the dictionary itself (there’s a huge homage to Eco here).

In some parts I had a lot of fun piecing things together , plus Pavic adds a lot of interesting surreal moments , but I felt that in places the plot runs dry and that the author was trying way too hard to be different. I wouldn’t say that this is a failed experiment but rather a curate’s egg of a book.

 

Book 777 Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

April 26, 2012

My first encounter with a Kundera novel was in 1999. I had read ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ and I hated it. I dismissed it as pretentious European artsy rubbish (and in a way I still dislike books that follow that type of style) and promised I would never read him again.

 

And then it’s featured on the list.

So this time round, although skeptical I gave The Unbearable lightness of Being a chance and I loved it.  It’s very often you manage to read a book which is philosophical , political and has romantic background.

It’s Prague , 1968 and the Russians have invaded it. From then onwards the book focuses on the relationships between six individuals (and all are products of the background they grew up in) and how they interact with each other.

In the midst of this Kundera is trying to insert his philosophies on destiny and action , something I’m still not too sure about. After all although we do have free will sometimes things crop up which do effect us.

So yes , I did enjoy reading this and it also it did make me smile. Now and then I don’t mind a bit of romance even if it is intellectualized.