Nothing showily extravagant or sensational here. Rather, a showstopping time and place, Java at the turn of the twentieth century. A million miles froNothing showily extravagant or sensational here. Rather, a showstopping time and place, Java at the turn of the twentieth century. A million miles from civilization, a world fully unto itself, and the diary--more or less verbatim--of a colonial girl.
Describing what happens, for the purposes of the book, or for this review, is really not the issue; instead, we're concerned with the way the hours turn, the custom and culture of the colonists and the native population, the regular patterns of colonial days. And then with the countervening effects, ripples in the surface of the otherwise passive passage of time.
It doesn't spoil anything to say there are unsettling things in the shadows, and that they won't be completely revealed or solved here. What Dermoût knows, and best brings to the table, is the absolute authenticity of the telling. Although her publishers surely would have preferred some forced-narrative frame, this account flows like the life it describes, untethered to any theme, and manages still to be fascinating....more
You just can't be casual with books. Or more specifically how you invest your valuable, finite reading time and effort.
Very often I read Book ReviewsYou just can't be casual with books. Or more specifically how you invest your valuable, finite reading time and effort.
Very often I read Book Reviews to determine what sounds good, and it works out pretty well. If it's something that is convincing me that it's a good choice, mid-review, it may be right to shelve the review itself, half-read, until reading the book. Generally that works well too, and it's rewarding to pick up on the review again, after reading the book.
Something I'd read by Julian Barnes prompted me to read the Nyt Book Review of this novel, and it sounded interesting. Shostakovich, late thirties Russia, a milieu and atmosphere I really would like to know more about... But no. Hold it.
This is what is called HisFic, or historical fiction, and though dressed in evening wear and literate cufflinks, still trades in what I consider a dishonest or, maybe better-- a discredited branch of fiction, best left to the airport giftshop racks.
When you flutter the pages of this or any other HisFic title, you will see stuff like 'whispered urgently to Shostakovich'... or 'kissed his daughters' .. or the worst of all, 'thought to himself'... All perhaps interesting enough to the casual reader, but let's be real. It's fake. Nobody knows what daughter got kissed, or what got whispered to Shostakovich, or what Napoleon thought, or what Cleopatra said so urgently. They just don't.
There are degrees of exoneration-- chief of which is if the clearly-unknowable thing happens at least sometime within the lifespan of the author. Barnes gets this waiver, just barely. His lifetime is at least close enough to the era represented. But he's not off the hook.
Other exceptions that will be granted-- the disguised memoir, ie, say the notes of a foreign minister who had personal experience of the famous characters he's worked into a novel. That's close enough. Also, the roman à clef wherein real events and people are presented, but cloaked in fictional dress. A partial waiver is granted when the author is the offspring of a famous or notable parent, but seriously-- this thing of 'my great-great-grandmother had this fascinating insight when she met the Czar' ... doesn't come across as much other than speculative expropriation.
Beyond that, let's get a little bit harder on good authors: If your story, your characterizations are deep enough, for-real enough, why not do .. what 'authors' do, and write a novel that is pure, imagined fiction. Do NOT set it during the Revolution in France, because we will not believe you about that. Do not include Attila the Hun barking orders at his subordinates, because we will not believe you know that. It may seem 'romantic' to set your story in the Moulon Rouge in turn-of-the-century Paris, but please. Unless you have some claim to it, or lived through it, don't bother. It feels like you took a classic track and rapped over it, to be honest. Not even a full cover-version.
Whether or not Julian Barnes is more or less guilty of the Airport Pageturner With Famous Historical Celebs, I don't know. Maybe there is a revelation somewhere deep in this novel that exempts him from the above. The fact is, he could have made it more credible by calling his protagonist something else; the literary world would be more than pleased to investigate and speculate on that, and it wouldn't come off quite so much as roman à tell-all. But I'll never know, because when it's constructed with ready-made famous characters, I'm not going to read it. That is an avoidable author shortcut that feels a little too convenient. HisFic can be dressed up, but you can't take it to the ball. Leave it on somebody else's beach blanket. ...more
Does one thing, and does it extremely well: the secret agent on-the-run, desperately out-thinking his pursuers. (This is the version 1.o agent-- the fDoes one thing, and does it extremely well: the secret agent on-the-run, desperately out-thinking his pursuers. (This is the version 1.o agent-- the film here is in black & white-- whose allegiances are not so much to a secret service or government, but to values and standards, hard lines that cannot be crossed without response).
Breakneck speed, some of the best chase across-open-heath material around, and a master class in outwitting the unseen stalker. Geoffrey Household is of the John Buchan school of clever, two-fisted protagonists and fight/flight suspense outings that are as invigorating and breathless as being chased by a lion. You will never again encounter the expression 'ran them to ground' in quite the same way.
My advice is to load this on an eBook, to accompany your next weekend business conference; pretend to make notes as you read, and watch the braindead motivational talks and datapoint presentations disappear-- with a satisfying "THWACK!" ...more
Tender, difficult memoir of the Russian diaspora during and after the Soviet revolution. Nemirovsky has centered her narrative on the cities, Kiev, StTender, difficult memoir of the Russian diaspora during and after the Soviet revolution. Nemirovsky has centered her narrative on the cities, Kiev, St.Petersberg, Helsinki, and Paris, each a stage in the flight across Europe, and in the maturity of her heroine.
Covering the ages of about fifteen to twenty, we get the full emotional uproar of the onset of womanhood, as experienced against a fairly catastrophic background. Nemirovsky is more interested in the fluid psychology of her protagonist than in the Jamesian jigsaw puzzles that the story may resemble. Touchingly, precisely laid out, though, and perhaps truer to life than those other, more famous European labyrinths....more
Spoilers, maybe. This was very disappointing, and moreso because it is represented as Håkan Nesser's last outing with Inspector Van Veeteren, his quirkSpoilers, maybe. This was very disappointing, and moreso because it is represented as Håkan Nesser's last outing with Inspector Van Veeteren, his quirky, intuitive investigator.
It's the usual thing when there's a murder connected to an insular group-- the Theatrical Company, or the family and staff of The Manor House are the too-familiar examples. Boarding Schools are another, with all the power dynamics below the surface. Pre-existing allegiances, unsaid antagonisms, odd customs and taboos of the group-- are all unsettled by the homicide, and then again by the intrusion of the detectives. When the group is a sect or religious cult, there's even more of this culture-clash and obliterated borderlines thing, generally including fierce animosity between investigators and cult people. And that is the setup here.
For some really off-the-wall reason, Nesser decided to time his novel for the height of summer, when small vacation towns swell with tourists, traffic gridlocks, nothing works properly, and everyone's more interested in their own vacation than in finishing or fixing their work at hand. This seems to include the police force, and at first puts an interesting spin on the usual rules of the roman policier. Strict punctuality and competence suffer badly in the heat of high summer, and the reader begins to get visions of a murder mystery conducted with the skewed, sideways logic of Godard's Weekend-- which seems plausibly entertaining. At the outset.
Rather than cataloging what should have been, and what goes wrong, it's probably best just to say that this mystery itself went on vacation; there is the slimmest of narrative lines that is obviously meant to be carried by atmosphere, sun-bronzed pre-teen cult lolitas, scenic Swedish pastoral backdrops and the general wifty laziness of high summer. But nothing is carried, and this all goes according to episodic tv guidelines: nasty murder, establish routine, another murder, upset routine, walk-&-talk the victims & the witnesses, surprise clue, stalk, chase, confront, book-'em. Which is to say that all this goes nowhere of interest.
Since other mysteries by Håkan Nesser are worth reading, and since there is translation involved, I'm tempted to just shelve this forever and move on. But to end your notable, award-winning series detective's career on this note? Something wrong somewhere.
This was more of a fly-over for me than a read; I had read the great novels, Strangers On A Train and The Price Of Salt previously, and was interestedThis was more of a fly-over for me than a read; I had read the great novels, Strangers On A Train and The Price Of Salt previously, and was interested here in the short stories (and somewhat, the introduction, by Joan Schenkar).
There are thirteen stories included in addition to the well-acknowledged novels; they are included in two groupings, early and late, and are a true definition of 'hodge podge'. I've never gotten the idea that Highsmith is very good at the shorter form, or at least very committed to it. She seems to be doing short stories just to give some themes or dynamics a little whirl, to see if they look like taking on their own life, but generally just concluding them without too much interest if not. They're entirely capable short fiction, starting very pulpy in the forties and concluding more wittily/ wickedly toward the 7os/8os.
(On the topic of the dates of the stories, it's hard to know exactly what fits in where. Schenkar unhelpfully notes that as editor she's not putting them in chronological order, and it's not clear from the publishing data exactly what came when.)
Rather than linger on the lesser titles it's probably best to say there are two very-significantly Highsmith signature pieces, called The Terror Of Basket Weaving and Not One Of Us. In each the sense of identity is questioned by a random prompt, and felt to be as cursed or unlucky as anything in Poe; in each, the author touches on human insecurities to ratchet up the tempo and dark atmosphere of the otherwise banal settings.
Highsmith has her regular, unavoidable themes, and when she strikes them either gently or full-on, the reverberations carry, and the next few layers of the story take on new drive, inevitability. A meeting on a train, a jealous or envious glance-- casual or fleeting, but all it takes for the next developments to click into place, disastrous and coincidental, sometimes murderous.
This volume is notable for the long pieces, but also a couple of the stories; it's an appetizer, though, for the rest of the menu, which awaits elsewhere. ...more