This was getting 4 stars until that ending. Tibor Fischer generally abandons narratives, characters, and"Our happiness is destruction's coffee-break."
This was getting 4 stars until that ending. Tibor Fischer generally abandons narratives, characters, and complete plots for digressive anecdotes whose philosophical underpinnings are the world is random, and often things seem understandable but they aren't.
This is black humour, which I like all the more because it seems to come from a writer who could pass in society. I imagine Fischer prefers staying in bed, laughing at everyone who has to take the morning train. But on days when he has to take the train, he does so without complaint and without attracting anyone's attention. Fischer seems to dislike wider society or finds it darkly laughable, but he isn't a drunk (Bukowski), a junkie (Burroughs), completely paranoid (Pynchon, Celine), seemingly homeless (Bukowski), or ready to punch someone out for a stray word (Hemingway, Gifford, Bukowski). I imagine him to be an empathetic everyman who loves the few people he knows, and eschews everything else if he can help it. A lovable, loving misanthrope.
I can understand why this book would be rated low. Voyage is black humoured and not obvious. Its disaffected characters are neither covered in garbage, drinking themselves to death, nor looking for a fight. They mostly stay indoors and tell each other stories. Voyage mimics life: a whole lot of nothing, then too much randomness too quickly, bleakly funny vignettes, and answers that make little sense. There are also plenty of laughs and surprising sweetness....more
A slow burn. I took a while to get into it, since NW is self-consciously experimental. Fifty pages in, and I remember why I love Zadie Smith. It is noA slow burn. I took a while to get into it, since NW is self-consciously experimental. Fifty pages in, and I remember why I love Zadie Smith. It is not that she helps my feeble mind recall the 90s: when airfare was cheap, globalism was novel, and being in a city with as much diversity and cultural incongruity as possible was the transcosmopolitan goal ("I was hanging out with this half-Jewish Jamaican guy last night. He's from Brazil, Sikh by choice, disclaims his birthright, vegan. We were smoking and listening to Russian rap online via Radio 3 Switzerland until 4am"). That's her big theme: interesting Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Africans living together in the dirty part of London in a country formerly only of boring white people. And the local colour is always more interesting for all their hard luck.
She always hooks me with incidental details. Half-faded decals of cartoon characters in a children's hospital. Her characters' use of smartphones and how the phones complicate social interactions, i.e. people using phones when they are with their friends, signalling they are bored, lonely, distracted. The mould that grows on the ceilings of unventilated apartments of people from hot countries who crank the heat in mid-winter. Seeing the wave of your friends have children, who then email you photo attachments of exhausted mother and child, in which the mothers look more sweaty, dishevelled, and alien to you than you've ever seen before. People's rooms being an expression of their inner states of mind.
I love her for these details alone, because I've been in these rooms and situations too many times. But she also fleshes out 4 fully realized people: Irish social worker, young black mechanic, professional black lady barrister, and a homeless guy (I've definitely met the lawyer). These characters, their lovers, parents, and dependants roam through Smith's old council estate, Willesden, and around to other similar neghbourhoods, causing drama, suffering, and struggling with the actual problems and non-problems of their late 20s and 30s.
Smith is still crap at endings. Her endings are abrupt, and always leave me flipping casually back through the book to see if the build-up warranted that kind of trailing off. I finally re-read the end, the beginning, shrug, and go on with my life. For her, it's the details and characters that matter.
Smith is maturing. NW is my favourite so far. ...more
First off, China Mieville is very brainy and gives good vocabulary. I can see why Ceridwen is dating him as a literary boyfriend.
The plot revolves aroFirst off, China Mieville is very brainy and gives good vocabulary. I can see why Ceridwen is dating him as a literary boyfriend.
The plot revolves around a detective investigating a murder in a city shared by two distinct nations. One society, Ul-Ooma, seems to be Turkish, Middle Eastern, Chinese, or North African. The other society, Besel, seems gray, depressive, and borrows words that are vaguely slavic. So, maybe Besel is council estate England and Bulgaria.
The two cultures share exactly the same space, but each culture deliberately, and under threat, pretends that it is a solo sovereign nation that does not share the same space. Does the threat come from aliens? Shadow societies? Invisible espionage operatives? Secret police? Giant squinty chickens? Read and find out.
The dual city concept is clever in its construction, and the reason I started this as my first Mieville. I liked his multi-use and multicultural spaces, and how the shared-but-not-shared sense of alienation & diversity in Mieville's city exaggerates the way diverse communities settle within an urban mosaic. Mieville writes as if Chinatown and Little Italy shared the exact same, cramped neighborhood, and the Chinese and Italians spend the bulk of their respective free-time studiously pretending the other culture does not exist under threat of disappearance.
However, the social mannerisms of both peoples having to "unsee the other" become tedious rather quickly. Unseeing becomes a game of manners that has to be replayed ad absurdum. Unseeing is supposed to seem tedious; but it happens so often, it bogs down the plot. Mieville could have shaved 50 pages with a short treatise on how tiresome unseeing is for these poor souls, instead of having them do it in each paragraph like an obsessive tic. I realize it was supposed to be an obsessive tic, but now I'm reading other books without a similar tic and their lack of needlessly ritualistic repetition bothers me. Like a faraway, all-day car alarm suddenly silenced BOTHERS me.
Mieville's larger point, if he has one, is that social and political boundaries can be taken too far, and often are, where national sovereignty and immigration are concerned, but the plot requires that this is proved often and heavily.
It is also clear where Mieville's political sympathy lies. He loves the Left, goths, academics, and clever nerds like himself. He tries to be objective, but despite his clever handling of some of the book's mysteries, he plays favorites and his polarized characters conform mostly to stereotype.
I admire the attempt to blend policier and sci-fi in a seamless and clever way (Blade Runner [director's cut], the crowning example of this blend, has been my favorite film since before I understood that the film was a genre blend).
The book is a policier, which is characterized by data collection, polarizations, and moral vacuums. Typically, a detective-protagonist (and readers) can't possibly put the data together into a coherent theory of the case, until the protagonist stumbles upon a key piece of data that reshuffles the detective's (and the readers') interpretation of the data and events.
This is where Mieville stumbles. Late in the book, on a single page, the detective posits a theory, pulls out several premises that do not exist apart from the detective speaking them outloud. Then he frantically runs through the last 35 pages of the book. BLAMMO! Case finished. There is no reinterpretation. The data fits, but my gripe is that the detective didn't stumble on new data; he just spoke "AHA! These things happened, because I just said them into the plot of the book!"
It reminded me of watching Sunshine by Danny Boyle. Theoretically, that should be a good film. Sunshine is high tech, big budget, pretty, Danny Boyle, sci-fi, and yet it sucks because the plotting takes a sharp genre turn and ends up lame.
Mieville gets 3 stars for the structure, the exploration of dual sovereignty, the absurdism of enforced customs, and for keeping me interested enough to finish. But he needs to work on his policier plotting. The obsessive unseeing tic plagued the entire book, but having the theory of the case portion flubbed felt like watching a ship in a sealed bottle spontaneously collapse.
The problem with this book is the chief problem with being clever. If you aren't clever, maybe you can still do one thing well. Your task well performed meets expectations and makes someone happy. If you are clever, and you attempt to do many things at once, people are only happy if you do each thing well. You up the ante by taking on more and still have to pull off each task well in order to satisfy people. Being clever only raises expectations to meet the same response. ...more