wasn't sure what to expect when picking up Tir Na N'Og. I pick up a fantasy book on the odd occasion, but I'm often wary of them, and a badly done bo wasn't sure what to expect when picking up Tir Na N'Og. I pick up a fantasy book on the odd occasion, but I'm often wary of them, and a badly done book about Irish fairies could be the literary equivalent of a week trapped in a room with Michael Flatley. It doesn't bear thinking about.
But this is wonderful. Troop has mastered the rare gift of infusing a book with years of research without making the reader feel like he's just been proofreading someone's PhD thesis. The story flows, the characters are engaging, and for anyone who has done more than a little casual reading about the mythological traditions of ancient Europe, the cross-references are satisfying. Readers of Graves' The White Goddess will find plenty of opportunities to smile as they breeze through this thoroughly enjoyable book.
A previous reader has commented on sexism, but as male reader myself, I saw it differently - Troop has created an approximation of a pre-celtic Irish society, dominated by warlords even as it was guided by a matriarchal religious tradition. In short, she's recreated an ancient European society much as it might have been (taking into account that we're talking about fairies here...). The men vying for power would have been aggressive, they would have been warriors, not sensitive liberal thinkers busily affirming their admiration for diversity before heading off to have their chests waxed. Troop hasn't flinched from portraying them as the competitive alpha males they would have been. I can only admire her for it.
Set in a creatively imagined yet historically based world, Tir Na N'Og: Journal One is a well-written, enjoyable and erudite flight of fancy into the misty proto-mythic past of ancient Ireland. If that does it for you, buy this book. I for one am looking forward to Journal Two. ...more
It takes some guts to rework material that is already a few thousand years old. David Malouf's creative retelling of a section of the Iliad is curiousIt takes some guts to rework material that is already a few thousand years old. David Malouf's creative retelling of a section of the Iliad is curious not simply in having been undertaken in the first place, but also in the utter naturalness in which it is done. Malouf's tone is so matter-of-fact that at times you forget that the old man you're following is Priam, King of Troy, or that the angry soldier is none other than Achilles. Malouf succeeds in humanizing the work in an utterly unostentatious way which, because it is so understated, is easy to miss. He has taken an ancient epic and inventively distilled it to a moment between a guilt-ridden friend and a bereaved father. The simplicity of it, set among the grandest of stories, makes this a beautiful book. ...more
This book shows the futility of the 5 star ranking system. How to I rate this? On the one hand, it's a classic and offers all sorts of fascinating phiThis book shows the futility of the 5 star ranking system. How to I rate this? On the one hand, it's a classic and offers all sorts of fascinating philosophical insights. On the other hand, it's a translation and hence it's hard to judge as an original work given my lack of German. On the other hand (well, if I were Kali I'd have another hand), it's a book that I think a lot of people wouldn't particularly enjoy, and that I enjoyed only because I was in a certain sort of mood while reading it. In the end, I pick three stars, simply to say that it's got certain qualities, but it's not something to pick up entirely at random. And if you do, pick up a reliable translation rather than finding it free on Kindle…...more
When I was younger, I would now and again stumble upon a great book in a bookstore, something I'd never heard of but which caught my eye. Maybe the stWhen I was younger, I would now and again stumble upon a great book in a bookstore, something I'd never heard of but which caught my eye. Maybe the story sounded intriguing, or the cover design was catchy. Maybe it was strategically placed at eye level and recommended as a "staff pick" by some big chain bookstore that had been paid by a big publisher to pass off expensive marketing at personal opinions of real, everyday sort of people. However it happened, it was always a joy to read something and find it wonderful without having been told by obvious mass marketing or serious critical acclaim to expect it to be wonderful.
Mercury Falls was just such a discovery for me. I bought it as an ebook for next to nothing after having stumbled across references to it on a discussion board for self-published books. The customer reviews were plentiful and positive - an achievement in itself for a self-published book - and for 99 cents I figured I couldn't go wrong.
This book blew me away. Kroese's prose is lean, his narrative style direct and unpretentious, his plotting unpredictable (in the good sense) and his sense of humor at once intelligent and outrageous. There are plenty of reviews here to describe the plot, so I won't dwell on it. But this is the kind of book that not only makes you laugh out loud, but gets you scrambling for a pencil to underline sentences you want to be able to come back to and quote to others. My favorite line, one I hope to use on someone one day, was "You overestimate my capacity for introspection." But there are many, many more that got me laughing. Mercury Falls, is a brilliant page turner of a book in a style somewhere between that of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. If you have a sense of humor, read this book. ...more
Historical fiction is a tricky business, and it's very easy to get it wrong. Too little detail makes such a book unconvincing, and too much makes it rHistorical fiction is a tricky business, and it's very easy to get it wrong. Too little detail makes such a book unconvincing, and too much makes it read like nonfiction. Dated language inevitably sounds corny, but modern characters in historical settings all end up sounding like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman theorizing about racial and gender equality as she performs the first mammogram in the Old West. And then it's all for nothing if you pick a historical period that just doesn't grab anyone.
Hilary Mantel has navigated this minefield well. At the moment the Tudors are about as sexy as a bunch of unwashed barely-post-medieval Londoners could ever hope for, so she already had a head start. And in following such an intriguing character as Thomas Cromwell - essentially following Barbara Tuchman's dictum of focusing on a figure who wasn't a king but was still influential enough to be at the center of things - Mantel had no lack of material to work with. The result is enjoyable and informative in no small part due to Mantel's deft balancing of historical and personal detail. If Tudor England is at all of interest to you, read this book.
My one quibble is with a narrative device Mantel uses throughout the book. She more or less allows Cromwell to claim the third person singular pronoun for his own - pretty much any sentence or clause starting with "he" refers to Cromwell. I suppose the idea here is that we are following Cromwell, so of course "he" is Cromwell, and we are meant to trust the narrator to clarify if she is referring to someone else. But the approach is jarring and unnecessarily distracting. One minute she is talking about King Henry, and suddenly "he" is several sentences along in a speech before the reader realizes that "he" is Cromwell and not the King. The idea is clever and inventive, but for me at least, it was unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, Wolf Hall is a brilliant book, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. ...more
This book was an odd surprise for me. I picked it up in a used book shop having vaguely remembered reading a positive review of it once in the NYT. ThThis book was an odd surprise for me. I picked it up in a used book shop having vaguely remembered reading a positive review of it once in the NYT. The subject matter - Pre-WWI Austria - makes it feel like you're reading an old classic, but the outlook is decidedly modern. This is hymn and farewell to the old Europe that died in the First World War. Moving, well conceived, slow but thoroughly engaging, it was was, for me at least, well worth the effort. ...more
I'm always amazed by le Carre. Every time, I think I'm picking up a spy book, something light, and every time I find myself being drawn in not by actiI'm always amazed by le Carre. Every time, I think I'm picking up a spy book, something light, and every time I find myself being drawn in not by action or suspense, but by solid and vivid characters, people who stick with me long after I've put the book down and forgotten the clever plot twists. Absolute Friends is yet another such book. Wonderful....more
This is a beautiful account of a childhood in eastern Guinea in the 1930s. From watching his father smelt gold and make jewelry to undergoing the tradThis is a beautiful account of a childhood in eastern Guinea in the 1930s. From watching his father smelt gold and make jewelry to undergoing the traditional Malinke circumcision ritual, Camara tells of his adventures with frankness and humor, and manages to evoke a world and a way of life now all but lost. I give it three stars only because it is a slow read, and many readers who do not have a particular interest in Africa will find it rather dull. But if the subject is your cup of tea, this book is a wonderfully sentimental journey into a very different culture that, for all its exoticness, is a firm reminder of the relationships and feelings that are common to all human experience. ...more
I almost wish I had another star to give this one. Set in Nigerian in the 1960's, the book focusses on the lives of five very different people againstI almost wish I had another star to give this one. Set in Nigerian in the 1960's, the book focusses on the lives of five very different people against the backdrop the the Biafra conflict. You don't need to know much of Nigerian history to enjoy this book - the focus is not on a specific war, or even on war in general, but rather on the lives and emotional conflicts of the characters. Adichie's writing ranks with the best, and in its unpretentious elegance blows away many of our own overly lauded literary luminaries. I wish more contemporary American writers would read this book and learn something from it. Clear and vidid prose, complex characters and an interesting and tangible storyline beat recondite vocabulary, quasi-intellectual supernaturalism and a distracting clutter of pop-cultural references any day. This is how a novel should look. My only real quibble is with the character of Richard, an Englishman who marries an Igbo woman and takes part in the Biafran cause. I'm glad Adichie included him, but is is clumsy and two-dimensional when compared with the other characters, and one can feel that he is there more for political motives than literary ones. Otherwise an amazing read. I was sorry when it was over. ...more
This is a magnificent book. Kingsolver's prose is lucid and unpretentious, her images are powerful, and her knack for storytelling rates among the besThis is a magnificent book. Kingsolver's prose is lucid and unpretentious, her images are powerful, and her knack for storytelling rates among the best out there. I had my doubts about here approach to the book - she toggles between four different narrators - but in the end I found it effective.
One small note which I found slightly marred an otherwise brilliant novel was the character of Rachel. Yes, she is meant to be a shallow girl, but even shallow people are quite as two-dimensional as Rachel is. I spent two years in Africa and saw many different way in which westerners reacted to it - even those who, like Rachel, remained aloof from it never succeeded in so totally distancing themselves from the people of Africa. I felt in the end that she was being used as a political/moral straw man (well, okay, straw woman), and that this got in the way of the emotional narrative. And her malapropisms, although useful for comic relief (Kingsolver comes up with some hilarious ones), are overdone and hence distracting.
But this is quibbling. The Poisonwood Bible is an intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable book. ...more
This is an extremely useful tool when trying to plot out a novel. It has to be taken with a grain of salt, but the author himself points out repeatedlThis is an extremely useful tool when trying to plot out a novel. It has to be taken with a grain of salt, but the author himself points out repeatedly that the idea is not to slavishly follow his outline of the standard mythic patterns made famous by Joseph Campbell, but to use them as a guide and inspiration. His examples rely heavily on movie scripts, but his observations apply very well to novel writing. ...more
A slow, peculiar, and oddly emotional book. Following a Turkish poet as he visits a regional town in eastern Anatolia nominally to do a newspaper artiA slow, peculiar, and oddly emotional book. Following a Turkish poet as he visits a regional town in eastern Anatolia nominally to do a newspaper article about girls committing suicide, the book takes the reader on a journey through Turkish secular politics, Islamist discontent and the emotional struggles of one atheist Turk rediscovering his conflicted desire to return to the Muslim faith. This is of interest to anyone curious about modern Turkey but, more broadly, to anyone who has felt the conflict between atheism and a longing to believe. Pamuk is a thoughtful, inventive, disconcerting and at times quite funny writer. He writes as if uninterested in human emotion and yet nails those emotions perfectly. ...more