This is the first time I've read anything of Golding's other than Lord of the Flies, and for the most part I enjoyed it — Jocelin's desire to build a...moreThis is the first time I've read anything of Golding's other than Lord of the Flies, and for the most part I enjoyed it — Jocelin's desire to build a spire just the sort of driving obsession I find compelling in a story. There are, however, points at which the prose became too interior and impenetrable, and I felt like I'd missed something important because I couldn't parse a detail from the style. That interior density reminded me of Iris Murdoch, and maybe Muriel Spark, both of whom I also enjoy reading but sometimes have the same sense of missing something due to the inwardly gazing narration (if that makes any sense).(less)
Reread this in preparation to teach it. Interesting to come back to it now at the age of the characters and to find their mid-life anxieties more fami...moreReread this in preparation to teach it. Interesting to come back to it now at the age of the characters and to find their mid-life anxieties more familiar and tangible. The novel is still a gripping, brutal wilderness adventure full of potent and vivid scenes and description, same as it ever was. And it is also, still, troubling in its stereotyping and essentializing of gender, class, and rural life. All of which makes it a good book to read and a good book to teach.(less)
Full disclosure, the translator of this novel's new English edition is a friend of mine. But friendship or not Beauty On Earth—the second novel by Ram...moreFull disclosure, the translator of this novel's new English edition is a friend of mine. But friendship or not Beauty On Earth—the second novel by Ramuz I've read, along with a few short stories—is a gorgeous, subtle, deceptively complex work. It's the story of a young woman sent to a Swiss village following the death of her father because at 19 she isn't legally of age yet and has become, by default and with no right of self-determination, her unknown uncle's responsibility. It's a story of tension and repression and surveillance in a small, isolated community and of how the presence of an outsider—especially a distractingly beautiful outsider, and a woman—becomes disruptive because of competing masculinities, jealousy, and other ugly traits stirred to the surface. The voice is distinctive and challenging, as it has been in the other Ramuz fiction I've read, shifting tenses and POV often to create an unsettling effect of complicity and indictment between reader, narrator, and characters. It seems ahead of its time that way and I can't help wondering if Ramuz might be better known beyond Switzerland—like his contemporary Robert Walser—had he written urban rather than rural novels and stories. But perhaps he will become better known now in English thanks to this translation and, I hope, more to come.(less)
I read this because the author, a friend, asked me for a blurb. But more importantly it's a very good book, not to mention being set on a Scottish isl...moreI read this because the author, a friend, asked me for a blurb. But more importantly it's a very good book, not to mention being set on a Scottish island which I am always glad to see in fiction.
Here's what I wrote in my blurb:
"Like its Hebridean setting, WHAT ENDS is landscape of subtle shifts and bright revelations. With a keen eye and a generous heart Andrew Ladd charts the lives of an island's last family, bringing their remote home from the periphery of world events to the center of our attention as he tells a story inextricably local yet universal at the same time. This quietly sweeping debut is a bittersweet, triumphant champion for all those swept up in the forces of historical change."(less)
For a story so brutally, bloodily violent it's impressive that Evenson avoids making it gratuitous — the matter of factness is almost a kind of restra...moreFor a story so brutally, bloodily violent it's impressive that Evenson avoids making it gratuitous — the matter of factness is almost a kind of restraint, and the novel's most powerful effect for me was how inevitable the brutality seemed as the story progressed. It felt classical that way and reminded me of Gabriel Josipovici's chapter on Greek drama in What Ever Happened To Modernism?, with its contrast between the performance of action and of character. in some ways Last Days may be "just" the tropes of the hard boiled detective story taken to their extreme but inevitable outcomes.(less)
(I had borrowed this via interlibrary loan and ran out of time when the semester ended and it had to go back. But I liked what I'd read so far and int...more(I had borrowed this via interlibrary loan and ran out of time when the semester ended and it had to go back. But I liked what I'd read so far and intend to go back to it.)(less)
I may need to just remove my rating from this book because it's misleading fairly meaningless as a way to reflect my experience of the book (aren't al...moreI may need to just remove my rating from this book because it's misleading fairly meaningless as a way to reflect my experience of the book (aren't all ratings, though?). On the one hand, the narrator made the novel a slog: he's insufferable in the manner of the person you dread getting stuck talking to at a party, selfish and arrogant and dishonest. I don't care at all whether I "like" a narrator, but in this case he was almost impossible to read, except that on the other hand, the ideas of the novel, better yet the questions it asks — which are, of course, enmeshed in the narrator being so insufferable — made it worth sticking with, especially in the final chapters. So the question of "enjoyment" is beyond the point. What fascinated me most, perhaps, was the constant complication of communication, whether it was a character skipping the "real" experience of a moment in order to rush home and watch it unfold online, or frequent scenes in which language (because of the narrator's insistent refusal to be fluent in the tongue of his host country) collapsed on itself and conversations possibly meant one thing or possibly its opposite. So the effects of the writing were provocative and compelling, enough at least to get me to endure the narrator, though I still hope I never get cornered by him at a party.(less)
A fast moving (and fast reading!) romp of a novel, and it does a great job of keeping lots of balls in the air as it follows a large cast of connected...moreA fast moving (and fast reading!) romp of a novel, and it does a great job of keeping lots of balls in the air as it follows a large cast of connected characters of different ages over the course of a couple of days in (mostly) Vancouver. Some of the plotlines are more absurd and active than others, which was fun, but what really propels the novel are the overdriven language of technology, slang, abbreviation, and late (post?) postmodernity. It's cracklingly vivid portrait of an exaggerated time and place, of strained families and young people struggling to find a direction — familiar topics for literary fiction, then — but that's in no way a problem: it's a time and place well worth visiting, and the anxieties about emerging technologies, the simulacrum of everyday life, etc. are pretty compelling and very much the kinds of things I like to consider in fiction. Like Joshua Mohr's Fight Song, this is a smart, funny, and enjoyable depiction of the quotidian impacts of rapid technological change (that phrase of mine probably makes it sounds like less fun than it is).
What works against the book a bit is what felt to me like a disconnect between the back cover description/marketing copy and the novel itself: the copy suggests it will be much more action-driven and that certain elements ultimately tangential to the story will be central. There's also an emphasis in the description on the story being set "in the future," but the specificity of product names, webservices, devices (eg, clamshell vs. touchscreen phones), abbreviated texting language that is already more or less out of use, etc. all make it feel very much in the past and in a very specific rather than timeless moment of the past. That doesn't diminish the pleasure of reading the story, not at all, but it creates a bit of a disjunction between set-up and delivery. There were also quite a few copyediting errors (names with multiple spellings, mis-directed quotation marks, etc) that were distracting and at times confusing. (less)
I've seen some reviewers arguing the "self-help" frame of this novel didn't work for them, and I can see why it wouldn't — it relies on the kind of se...moreI've seen some reviewers arguing the "self-help" frame of this novel didn't work for them, and I can see why it wouldn't — it relies on the kind of second person authorial intrusions a lot of readers can't stand, but which happens to be a favorite style of mine (à la Jean Echenoz). For me, though, the tension between the frame and the narrative made the novel far more than an account the life of an unnamed protagonist in an unnamed city on his course from poverty to wealth. By offering on the one hand an idiosyncratic individual experience and on the other a frame that poses that experience as somehow "representative," or as a self-help method others could use, gave the narrative a driving intellectual complexity I really enjoyed, challenging me to think about reading "the Other" and the way reading international literature sometimes gives readers (ie, myself) the illusion of "understanding" a culture and its people. Plus, it's a sad, funny, fast-paced novel. There's a kind of novel I've been enjoying most lately that is global in scope but compressed in style; I'd include Echenoz in that, along with JP Toussaint and JM Ledgard and I'm sure I'm forgetting some others, and now Hamid of whom I'll certainly be reading more. With the exception of two awkward, jarring phrases — literally on the first and last pages — this is a terrific book (and those two spots are SO glaring I can't help thinking there's an intent behind them, and behind their placement, I just haven't parsed yet).(less)
A terrific novel so far but I'm finding it hard to read as an ebook, for whatever reason (actually, I'm finding all fiction hard to read as ebooks the...moreA terrific novel so far but I'm finding it hard to read as an ebook, for whatever reason (actually, I'm finding all fiction hard to read as ebooks these days). So I'll shelve it for now and pick up a print copy when I have a chance.(less)