Amusingly constructed in the cozy/village Christie vein, a rotating field of suspects and some standard English quirk. The first half takes off promisAmusingly constructed in the cozy/village Christie vein, a rotating field of suspects and some standard English quirk. The first half takes off promisingly with a couple of volunteer amateurs trying to flush out the culprit, but abruptly changes by mid-book to a more predictable police procedural. (I suppose the rules require that the cozy part have amateur sleuths, and that the policier half replaces them with cop-shop constables. Turf is turf.)
All in all an engaging mystery, a memorable cast, but atmosphere nearly nil and drama kept to a minimum. Solid airplane reading, and nothing to disrupt the napping intervals. ...more
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