The betrayal you feel, as a reader, reading this book, is akin to the betrayal I felt as someone who immensely enjoyed McEw...moreI fucking hated this book.
The betrayal you feel, as a reader, reading this book, is akin to the betrayal I felt as someone who immensely enjoyed McEwan's Black Dogs, upon reading ANY of his other books. After reading this book, I read Atonement, and found much of the same nasty spirit in it, shoved down with a nice little sickly spoonful of nostalgia. I believe I also read Amsterdam, which was again soulless in its own way, although there's little of it I remember.
I will never read McEwan again and I don't understand why he's so widely read.
Now that I've got that out, I do have a bit of an index for nastiness, which is American Psycho. Why did the violence in that not repel me in the same way? Is it because that book was also, um, kind of, dare I say it, sort of, funny? In American Psycho I honestly felt like retching to an equal degree in the passages about mineral water and commercial pop as I might have in the physically violent parts, and I think that's the point. The desperation of it is palpable. And I think, maybe also, it's one of the most brilliant character studies ever. You meet people like Patrick Bateman. The people you imagine you're better than, deeper than. Yet Easton Ellis takes you as deeply as you can go into Bateman. He is a shallow well and BEE hollowly thumps you against the base of him again and again. There's no escaping it, that's just the guy, that's all there is. And I think all the violence serves that character study. That I don't particularly think I'd want to hang out too much with Bret Easton Ellis is a whole other thing.
Then there's the violence in 2666, which beats you down brutally, as a reader, into a kind of empathy with the people who have to live in the shithole of a city where so much violence constantly takes place, just through repetition. Bolano never enjoys it, never revels in it, but just makes you go there again and again and again, over I think literally hundreds of pages, until you have a kind of sense, in a readerly way, of what living in an environment where violence is constant and inescapable might, just a little bit, be like. You lose a bit of your detachment thereby. So I can see the point of that.
But honestly I don't see the point of The Comfort of Strangers. The conflation of sex and violence/death on its own is not of any particular interest to me. I can't take anything out of this except ugliness for its own sake. I did read it about 20 years ago, in my callow youth, but I still *feel* this about it.(less)
I think this was one of my top five books from childhood (let's say the period 5-12 years) and I read hundreds if not thousands of books. I used to pr...moreI think this was one of my top five books from childhood (let's say the period 5-12 years) and I read hundreds if not thousands of books. I used to prop my book up next to my cereal bowl and read through breakfast. I read while I walked home from school. I read in bed, in cars, basically if I wasn't playing with my best friend, I was reading. So it's high praise.
I ADORED this book. It was read to us by my wonderful fourth-grade teacher Trish Cregan and I must have read it myself another five times at least. Why did I love it? Well, first, I was quite into witches. Enid Blytony witches, those many many Scholastic book club witches, Jill Murphy witches, E Nesbit magical thingies, basically anything witchy I'd give a go.
Here's what I remember being great about this book:
1. Elizabeth and her mother. The exasperatedness of her mother. And the whole 'fussy eating' episode, god that's hilarious. Even as a child I totally 'got' the position of the mother on this one.
2. Elizabeth's fascination with Jennifer and the weird power she had over her. She was akin to a total friend-crush for Elizabeth, who was so interested in Jennifer that she would pretty much put up with anything. Done so well.
3. Jennifer's mysteriousness, but also dryness.
4. Pilgrims. I had never heard of pilgrims, not being American, and I was quite interested in the arcane knowledge Jennifer delivers on this stuff, on witch history and myth. Elizabeth is unexotic and modern and she, like me, was drawn in by that.
5. Secrets. This great capturing of the weird ritualising that goes on in childhood friendships. I had a best friend like that, and you kind of develop your own little culture when you spend so much time together. This book captures this. Jennifer herself is a secret in a way. She's almost like Elizabeth's imaginary friend, because no-one knows they are friends, sorry, witches.
6. Hilary Ezra. The conversation about his naming, their territorialisation of him and the tension over his fate. So well-done.
7. The style. This book is full of dry dry dry wit and it's actually fucking hilarious. I can't believe how much of it I still remember.
8. Everything else. You know what? I didn't get this at first because I didn't see the cover but Jennifer is black and it seems to me there aren't so many black kids in their area. So it kind of explains why Jennifer is on her own at the start too.
I can't even explain why this book is perfect but it just really, really is.(less)
I adored this as a child. That business with the good and bad talking toy/glass animals. It's kind of freaky in a friendly sort of way. It's not that...moreI adored this as a child. That business with the good and bad talking toy/glass animals. It's kind of freaky in a friendly sort of way. It's not that well-written but it was kiddy-gothic and magical for me. I think someone ought to turn it into a shit-hot kids movie. Not a shitty one, OK? A really good, live action one.(less)
God, I loved this as a child. I remember learning 'Rebecca, who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably' and reciting it to my fourth grade class...moreGod, I loved this as a child. I remember learning 'Rebecca, who slammed doors for fun and perished miserably' and reciting it to my fourth grade class (I believe a bust falls on her head). There would be no Gashlycrumb Tinies without Belloc, surely.(less)
I think I just don't like short stories that much. Except for Borges, but who can compete with that? Mind you, I read these when I was pretty young, p...moreI think I just don't like short stories that much. Except for Borges, but who can compete with that? Mind you, I read these when I was pretty young, possibly wasn't ready for him.(less)