Amis has lots of fun with his alternate world with its effing and jeffing Yorkshire Pope, nasty plods named Foot and Redgrave, and Jesuit theologian J...moreAmis has lots of fun with his alternate world with its effing and jeffing Yorkshire Pope, nasty plods named Foot and Redgrave, and Jesuit theologian Jean-Paul Sartre among many others. He namechecks "The Man in the High Castle" early on so we know exactly where we stand. The result is a fleet-of-foot satire of catholicism and communism with unintentional but pervasive steampunkiness.
The characterisation isn't really up to much though, and the plot requires a hefty last-minute authorial intervention to swing it back on course. But the plot isn't really the point.
I ended up feeling a bit sorry for my tomcat. Arguably four stars but let's be conservative.(less)
On one of the great literary voyages, Mrs Unguentine (the narrator and her vessel) gives her awed, but exasperated, account of a dead marriage, an end...moreOn one of the great literary voyages, Mrs Unguentine (the narrator and her vessel) gives her awed, but exasperated, account of a dead marriage, an endless voyage, and a phantom husband. And the story is replete with lush organic architecture, Rube Goldberg-esque ideas and botanical colour. If you have ever desired to drift away from the world, or create an Eden, or enact the Fall, and if you think living with someone is inherently funny, you'll probably love this book.(less)
If you think the only thing missing from Kafka is mobile telephony (which naturally doesn't avail), then this book is for you. But if you think Kafka...moreIf you think the only thing missing from Kafka is mobile telephony (which naturally doesn't avail), then this book is for you. But if you think Kafka is perfect, or you don't like Kafka, you'll probably have some misgivings about Philippe Claudel's "The Investigation".
Well, that's harsh. I adore Kafka, and I enjoyed this enough to read all of it in two days. And to be fair, it's not just Kafka governing this (there's a reason I'm mentioning Kafka in every sentence) - sometimes there is a strong whiff of Beckett, too, and I was also reminded of Magnus Mills. There is a nameless, faceless (traits which are made much of) hero, who is methodically degraded both physically, as in Beckett, and psychically, as in Kafka. There's an entity or institution, which is called "The Enterprise" but is really The Castle, which the narrator has been sent to, and which does the degrading. There are characters malevolently indifferent, and indifferently malevolent, who display tantalizing flashes of compassion. There is also the implacability of process (Der Process) though here at least Claudel seems to doff his hat to Kafka by making his policeman one of the (arguably) more humane characters.
And there is humanity, expressed satirically, and one or two things new to Kafka too. Humanity: a middle-manager undergoes a ludicrous, pathetic crackup; orderlies bemoan their bog-bottom position in the system with earthy prole vim. New to Kafka: some cursory technology, which actually seems to have been included as an ironic comment on the 90 years separating this chip from its old block. And once or twice, the current (post-2008) political-economic crisis is stabbingly alluded to. Claudel has written a perfectly enjoyable absurdist nightmare, but if you've read Kafka, Kafka, Kafka, and did I mention Kafka? then reading it is like sleeping on your father's pillow.(less)
This review requires a hefty caveat: I am a total neophyte in the Science Fiction world. Apart from some childhood dabblings in Asimov, and the occasi...moreThis review requires a hefty caveat: I am a total neophyte in the Science Fiction world. Apart from some childhood dabblings in Asimov, and the occasional short story, I have literally no experience of the genre, or indeed of genre fiction more generally. I've always read what people call "literary fiction"; calling a novel a "page-turner" turns me off, and to me, a good novel has to be more than just a good yarn.
But I read a newspaper review of "The Recollection" on the internet, added it to my wishlist on a whim, and then forgot about it until it showed up under the Christmas tree. And I'm very glad that it did! So in writing this review I'm also exploring where I feel drawn to next as I probe the multifarious SF universe.
It's obvious that there are two basic components of a book like this, a conceptual framework as well as a narrative: I suppose I'd call them the "ideas" and the "story". Obviously an SF novel needs both, to some degree, and in this one I think the two are quite nicely balanced.
The "ideas" are satisfyingly awesome: a rich galaxy with enough consistency to be believable but enough variety to give a sense of its vastness; wormholes which don't violate relativity and thereby give rise to a fun kind of "virtual" time travel. There is an implacable ancient menace which I thought required a little more backgrounding, and a benevolent alien race about which the same could be said. The opposition of these two was a little too Manichean for my liking. Some early chapters are set in a very near-future with just a few ever so slight variances from our present, which I liked a lot. And the far future developments seem well thought-out in the context of the starting point: technology evolves in a rational way and people still drink beer and shoot guns in the 25th century.
The "story" didn't interest me as much. The intertwined subplots are both standard quest/redemption tropes which progress towards an orderly conclusion. The main characters are adequately drawn but there's not much nuance in their motives or actions, and some of the dialogue I found quite scripty. Perhaps I'm asking too much of a genre novel though? On the other hand the writing never jars or bogs down; Powell's prose fizzes along with unselfconscious brio. And I guess with the "ideas" side of it to communicate, there isn't a great deal of room left for getting inside people's heads. Nonetheless, I'd still like to see a novel with the conceptual canvas of "The Recollections" but with beefed up psychological insight and complexity of motive.
In conclusion, not a bad way at all to pop my SF cherry, and I'll certainly be back for more.(less)