In a word: Disappointing. It's certainly epic. There's plenty of action, but that's all there is. The characters are 2-dimensional cardboard stereotypIn a word: Disappointing. It's certainly epic. There's plenty of action, but that's all there is. The characters are 2-dimensional cardboard stereotypes; there's battle after battle, but nothing really interesting. The good guys win, of course. If they're really the good guys (and I give Liu some credit for leaving that an open question). And even the action is flat. There's lots of "Mata smashed 30 opponents' heads with Goremaw," but really: having a superhero wander all over the stage decapitating his hopelessly overmatched opponents isn't really interesting. When you come right down to it, the other main character isn't much more interesting: he's a bandit and gambler who wins every bet he takes, no matter how long the odds. "Look, that insane con that had absolutely no chance of working worked. Again. For the 10th time."
It's particularly disappointing in that Liu's collection of stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, was excellent. Liu is a promising author, and I wish he hadn't backed himself into an alleyway that he won't escape for a long time. Building an epic around non-Western cultures and ideas is a brilliant idea. I just wish it had been better executed. ...more
First: I'm not going to click the "spoiler" button. This review might contain spoilers. If you're the kind of reader who cares, if you're expecting soFirst: I'm not going to click the "spoiler" button. This review might contain spoilers. If you're the kind of reader who cares, if you're expecting some kind of high-action thriller that would be ruined by knowing how it turns out, READ SOMETHING ELSE. This isn't that book. Really.
Second: This is a book that sprung from the soil of postmodern criticism. If that's not your cup of French press coffee, read something else.
And third: This may be the real spoiler, which shows how little it spoils. Samuel Johnson's Rasselas, I believe, ends with "A conclusion, in which nothing is concluded." That would be the perfect conclusion for this book.
It's certainly not about the parrot. And only marginally about Flaubert (though you will read a lot about him). It's certainly a parody of biography (though the narrator isn't writing a biography). It's certainly a parody of academia (though the narrator isn't an academic). It's probably a parody of autobiography (though the narrator isn't aware that's what he's writing).
The back cover blurb of this edition (paperback, not Kindle) says something like "art imitates life, which in turn imitates art." Add a couple of more reflections, and you've got it: "art becomes life, which becomes art, which becomes life again, which becomes art again." It's a hall of mirrors. This is a novel that, above everything else, rejects the notion of an "about." But if I had to say what it's "about" (and yes, I'm putting everything in quotes, nice post-modernist that I am), it's about the narrator dealing with the death of his wife. Who had many affairs, and committed suicide with poison. Hey, ever read Madame Bovary? (You don't need to, the novel is obsessed with Madame Bovary. And no, the connection doesn't pop out at you like a cheap trick.) We also find out that Madame Bovary's first English translator also had many affairs, and committed suicide with poison.
I'm making this sound a lot duller than it is. Flaubert was a great writer, as witty (though not as outrageous) as Oscar Wilde. It's worth reading for the Flaubertian bon mots by themselves. The narrator, not so much. He's a retired doctor, prone to say "Speaking as a doctor." And the book runs frenetically over all of Flaubert's life. ("Frenetically" isn't the right word. The pace is measured, the attitude is both cynical and obsessive.) There's a chapter on the animals that are identified with Flaubert (of which "bear" is the chief). There's a chapter of the author's own "received ideas." And I wonder if the narrator isn't making himself into Flaubert so he can be the author of his wife's suicide, rather than the victim. Art, life, art, life, art, life, ad infinitum.
I'm somewhat grateful to this book because it made me want to read Madame Bovary again, and perhaps Sentimental Education for the first time. And maybe also Madame Bovary's Daughter. And, while we're reading about scandalous women, maybe also Anna Karenina. If you're looking for a literary thriller, there are other books to read. (I highly recommend Byatt's Possession.) If you're obsessed with Flaubert, or maybe if your wife has had many affairs, this could be your jam. Hah. Read the book and find out why I'm so clever. ...more
Like all of Ishiguro's books, Never Let Me Go has an oddly clueless protagonist, caught up in bigger forces that she neitherThis is a beautiful book.
Like all of Ishiguro's books, Never Let Me Go has an oddly clueless protagonist, caught up in bigger forces that she neither understands nor questions. Kathy is a student in what appears to be a posh British school, focusing on art and expression. She and her fellow students are also clones who are being raised as organ donors. A poorer novelist would keep this fact for a tacky surprise ending; in Never Let Me Go, it's out in the open, almost from the first page.
The title cuts many ways: it's the title of a song, which Kathy misunderstands as being about the baby she will never have (the clones are all sterile), and how, if she had a baby, it would never let her go. It's also about the school's social world, and specifically Kathy's friends: much like any other girls' clique, it has an alpha-female, spends a lot of time gossiping about sex, teachers, and the like. Kathy is never able to let go of the clique, where she seems to be the one who patches things up and fixes broken relationships, often at cost to herself.
But most of all, what will "never let me go" is the role given to Kathy and her friends: they are raised to be organ donors, to have organs removed until they die after their third or fourth donation. They know this, from the beginning. They never question it, they never rebel. It is their world, and it is a world that will never let them go.
Their school, Hailsham, was an experiment, abandoned shortly after Kathy and her friends finished. It attempted to give the "students" a rich life, filled with art and ideas. I'm not an adept at parsing British names, but it's at least interesting that the name ends with "sham." What are art and ideas in this context? They're certainly not about helping the students think through their situation, or think critically about their limited and short lives. (Kathy appears to make it into her early 30s before her donations start.) What role does art play in their passivity? Is it a "consolation" (and I'm thinking specifically of Ishiguro's maddeningly Kafka-like The Unconsoled) that prevents them from thinking critically about their destiny? Is it an odd kind of propaganda about their role that will "never let them go"? (here, "Hail" is certainly the English of "Heil")?
Or is Hailsham a pun on Havisham, the mad jilted widow of Dickens' Great Expectations, who silently controls and manipulates Pip's life, even after she has died?
Is it art that locks us into tightly defined, and monstrous, roles? Or could art that free us? What would it take to become free? Again, Ishiguro's protagonists share a willed cluelessness: they indulge in an incoherent rumor that if two Hailsham students are truly in love, they can apply for and get a brief extension before they become donors; the art they've made since children is supposedly to help administrators evaluate the depth of their feeling. This hope is preposterous from the beginning, and is dashed: love won't help you, art won't help you. You are created a clone, you serve your purpose, and you're discarded. Kathy knows exactly what's going on with her friends. But she never questions the big picture. ...more
I really wanted to like this book much more. But I didn't. It reminded me way too much of all the Herman Hesse novels I read in high school. (How manyI really wanted to like this book much more. But I didn't. It reminded me way too much of all the Herman Hesse novels I read in high school. (How many? Too many.) Perfection of the life or perfection of the work? Live for eternity or live for the day? Visit the sexy widow who wants to seduce me? Or not? Vacillation, anyone? The unnamed narrator rejects Buddha more times than I can count. At the end of the book, he's still rejecting it.
Zorba is the narrator's alter ego: he's life itself, completely in the moment, working hard at whatever he's doing. He's also a well-meaning con man, though neither he nor the narrator realize that. And a con man never lives life in the moment: there's always the bigger picture, the longer game. And that's something worth thinking about in this novel: the interplay between the short game and the long game, which erases itself as soon as it breaks the surface. But hey--if you live in the moment, you walk away from the messes you create. And there will be messes. And if you're a good con, you walk away unscathed.
This book may prove that philosophers shouldn't write novels.
On the other hand, I learned something about Hegel, who I (happily) haven't read since gThis book may prove that philosophers shouldn't write novels.
On the other hand, I learned something about Hegel, who I (happily) haven't read since grad school. I like the idea that Hegel's Phenomenology should be read backwards. Then again, I'm not going to try it. ...more
I have to admit, somewhat sadly, that I wasn't taken by this novel. Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and a decade is way too long to wait for aI have to admit, somewhat sadly, that I wasn't taken by this novel. Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and a decade is way too long to wait for a new novel; and the year-old dispute over whether he understands "fantasy" is irrelevant, and needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history.
There are certainly some things to criticize. I disliked the sort of fake pseudo-Irish dialect he gave to his characters. That was genuinely a mistake. And the novel moves very slowly and deliberately; I usually don't have a problem with that, but it didn't work here.
That said, there is much to like about The Buried Giant. Although it's very different from Ishiguro's other novels, it's also very much cut from the same cloth. Ishiguro builds his stories around characters who are oddly unaware of what's going on, who appear to be playing bit parts in a much larger story that they don't understand. That's nowhere more true than in The Unconsoled, which could have been written by Kafka, but it's also true of chestnuts like The Remains of the Day, where Stevens' loyalty to Lord Darlington blinds him to both the rise of the Nazis and the love of Miss Kenton. Axl and Beatrice, an aged Briton couple, are wandering around in a haze of forgetfulness, caught up in plots and counter-plots they never quite comprehend. Whether that forgetfulness is the dementia of old age, or the curse of a dragon, is irrelevant.
But unlike Ishiguro's other novels, The Buried Giant isn't a mini-tragedy of cluelessness. It's a novel about love. And about forgetting: do they love because they've forgotten past hurts? Do the Britons and the Saxons live in tenuous peace because they've forgotten the carnage and pillage that made them enemies? That is "the buried giant," who never appears as such in the book: the giant is everything we've forgotten that allows us to live at peace. Beatrice and Axl have one great fear: that if they recover their memory, they will find that they no longer love each other. And yet, they desire fervently (if timorously) to remember, to know that their love has endured and survived the betrayals that they may have forgotten.
Yes, it is moving, and yes, it is subtly written. I only wish I liked it better... ...more
The story is good enough. I read this book in part because, as I said in a recent review, I'm a sucker for books that take place in cold climates. AntThe story is good enough. I read this book in part because, as I said in a recent review, I'm a sucker for books that take place in cold climates. Antarctica qualifies. But I found it disturbing that someone would write science fiction about robots without bothering to understand anything about robotics. Highly intelligent robots from the 1920s with vacuum tube technology? Robots that can be destroyed beyond hope of repair by cutting a wiring harness? Give me a break.
And, while the story is good enough, the big overarching plot is: Robots Taking Over The World. (Or at least the southernmost continent.) Can you spell cliché? Turns out that Antarctica isn't a bad place for robots, because they don't get cold. Get the humans to leave, turn off the giant heating system that warms their city (not necessarily in that order), and you're done. Robot paradise. Though their robotic bodies are full of some sort of hydraulic fluid that would probably turn to sludge at -50C. The original robots, which were steam-powered, might have worked in the Antarctic climate; but they've all been upgraded to electronics. I guess that's why you need vacuum tubes. Not.
You could maybe read this as an odd offshoot of steampunk; I tried to think of it that way. Didn't work for me. If you're going to write science fiction (including steampunk), you have to bend science and technology. No way around that. But the best authors know exactly what they're bending, and why they're bending it, and they don't bend anything they don't have to. That's not this book, or this author.
Miéville may be the crown prince of weird fiction, but it's surprising how unweird his weird fiction can be. The City and The City is a fairly standarMiéville may be the crown prince of weird fiction, but it's surprising how unweird his weird fiction can be. The City and The City is a fairly standard police procedural murder mystery. It's set in a world where two city states, Beszel and Ul Qoma, occupy the same physical space; but that's just about all the weird you're going to get. Although other Miéville books push fantastic invention about as far as it can go, this one hints at weird, but makes it all the weirder by keeping the weird in the background. It's a police story: with guns, cars, suspects, interviews, puzzling clues, sleazy politicians, everything you'd expect.
Of course, the really big piece of Weird in TC**2 is Breach. Breach maintains the separateness of the two cities; that's all it does. It's above government and law, and appears to have supernatural powers. Breach's sole responsibility is to detect, and punish, people who "breach" between the two cities, who transgress the unseen boundary between them. (Even seeing someone in the other city is Breach, though exactly what this means is unclear, given that these cities interpenetrate each other, so they occupy the same geography without being the same place.) Everyone is afraid of Breach, which appears out of nowhere when a Breach occurs, and takes offenders away. The offenders are never seen again.
When we actually get inside Breach, what we see is: another police agency, under-budgeted, overworked, and harried. Very old computers, old (possibly magical, but there's no real evidence) weapons. The Avatars of the Breach can be wounded, even killed, in very normal, human ways. So where's their power? At the end, Ashil, one of the Avatars of Breach (Breach-speak for detective), says "It works because you don't blink.... No one can admit it doesn't work. So if you don't admit it, it does." That is, Breach is a force that's above the law, with unlimited power and authority, because nobody is willing to admit that it isn't. Breach's power (and its weirdness) consists entirely in that people fear it, are willing to fear it, and are not willing to question their fear. And that fear of Breach, which penetrates the book, is what makes Breach appear supernatural.
What happens when you question authority? Even if absolute and above the law, Breach appears to be at least benevolent. But what would be so bad if citizens could pop casually from one city into another? The one question Breach can't ask itself is why it exists. It may be important (though not well developed) that one of the radical political parties in the two cities is the "unificationists" (unifs), who believe that the cities would be unified. What would happen if the cities were unified? What would Breach mean, either as a crime or as an organization? Is authority anything more than a tradition that perpetuates itself through well-meaning fear?
Let's push this argument a bit further. What about those two interpenetrating cities? Early on, I imagined that Beszel and Ul Qoma somehow exist in different dimensions. There are parts ("crosshatch") that belong to both, and there are parts ("dissensi") that are debated. For the most part, you don't see what's going on in the other city, because it's somehow separate. When you do, you have to "unsee," or you're in Breach. But Miéville is describing something much simpler. What if these cities are just interlocking pieces on a very complex map? Imagine if the even numbered streets and avenues of New York were New York, and the odd numbered streets and avenues were Nieuw-Amsterdam, and that these were different cities, in the same way as Beszel and Ul Qoma. Broadway might be a giant crosshatch. The cities would have different languages, different fashions, different food, different economics. By convention, citizens of either city only interact with others of their city. The streets, buildings, and people of one city would be visible throughout the other, but by convention, you never see them: you only see your own city.
This understanding of the two cities is less strained than assuming some multidimensional topology. There are ways of being in a place in one city that's very close "grosstopically" to a place in the other city; but isn't that just in the mind of the citizens, who have accepted this strange world view (and even find questioning that view offensive)? If the corner of 42nd and Madison was really in a different city than 41st and 5th, wouldn't we perceive it as an entirely different place? But that's not a physical, dimensional split: that's a human convention that exists only in the inhabitants' psyches.
Once you read The City and The City this way, then it's not just the weirdness of Breach that falls away when you question it; it's the weirdness of the split itself. Weirdness, like alterity, is in the mind of the beholder.
There's much, much to The City and The City that I haven't written about: Beszel and Ul Qoma, their contrasting cultures, their national identities, their politics, their police forces. Almost all of the book, including the murder mystery, its investigation, and its resolution, is just a pretext for this revelation about Breach's power, which slips out almost casually. It's all a setup for a very important question about power, fear, and the relationship between the two. The book is bathed in an aura of weirdness, but that weirdness is nothing more than a state of mind. Weirdness-and the authority that comes with it-crumbles as soon as you question it.
Only Miéville could write a fantastically weird novel in which there's nothing weird. That may make Miéville the weirdest, and one of the most insightful, novelists around.
I'm glad this was Austen's first published novel. It would be depressing if she went right to Pride and Prejudice. I'm in awe of Pride and Prejudice:I'm glad this was Austen's first published novel. It would be depressing if she went right to Pride and Prejudice. I'm in awe of Pride and Prejudice: every word is perfect, every word tells you something. That's not true of Sense and Sensibility, which could have used some more editing. Pride and Prejudice demonstrates a subtlety in understanding and portraying human interaction that we don't see again in English literature until Henry James.
Which isn't to say that Sense and Sensibility is without interest. Indeed, it's about the viciously polite, dog-eat-dog life at the botton of Regency England's "one percent." And it's important to understand that. The Dashwoods are poor because their collective household income, for a mother and three daughters, is only 500 pounds a year: only enough to support two servants and some part-time household staff. Rich or poor as that may be, it is nevertheless a truth universally to be acknowledged that a young woman who only has an annual income of 50 pounds, is at a serious disadvantage in the marriage game.
That's the world in which Sense and Sensibility plays out. It encompasses the ethics of the idle rich, the struggle to maintain (or improve) one's position in the class hierarchy, and to find a partner who isn't just wealthier than you, but a true companion. Navigating this world successfully requires sense, not "sensibility," a 19th century concept that combines passion with sensitivity. "Sense" sees the casual cruelty that can hide behind a handsome face and perfect manners, just as sense can see the value in the socially awkward. Sensibility falls victim.
The process of learning how to navigate this hostile world ties Sense and Sensibility to Austen's other great novels. Like Pride and Prejudice, like Emma, like Persuasion, this is a novel about learning and growing up. It's a female Bildungsroman; perhaps the first. Marianne learns the limits of her fixation on sensibility, on emotion and sensation: that's obvious. But Elinor also learns her own limits: that sense is not much of a consolation when you hear (falsely, as it turns out) that the man you love has married someone else, and that there are more important things in life than keeping a stiff British upper lip.
It's something of a modern commonplace to see Austen's novels as satires. I'm not convinced that works. Austen was certainly as clear as anyone has ever been about the social dynamics of Regency England. And she certainly saw her novels as comic. But it's hard to see satire here. Brutal clear-eyed honesty, yes, and a recognition of the viciousness and pretense that can hide in polite society. And while it may seem like regression to Victorian-era thinking, ultimately this is a lesson in navigating Jane Austen's world.
I'm oddly nervous about calling this Austen's first novel. Prior to Sense and Sensibility, Austen wrote a short novel, Lady Susan, which was not published until 1871. She then wrote Elinor and Marianne, which became Sense and Sensibility. She then wrote First Impressions, which eventually became Pride and Prejudice. Then she wrote Susan (not related to Lady Susan), which was the first Austen novel sold to a publisher; but the publisher never published it. Austen eventually bought the rights back, after which it was published under the name Northanger Abbey. Sense and Sensibility was the first of Austen's novels to be published, though the second to be written. ...more
I was surprised to find that this was a second novel in the world of The Bone Clocks. Completely different stylistically, of course; from Mitchell, yoI was surprised to find that this was a second novel in the world of The Bone Clocks. Completely different stylistically, of course; from Mitchell, you'd expect nothing less. Thematically, it's similar: bad guys preying on the souls of innocent people to extend their lives. Telling you about the good guys would be an auto-spoiler, so I won't. (Read Bone Clocks and you can guess.)
I was also surprised that Mitchell's genre-defying literary pyrotechnics didn't really work, at least for me. Maybe, at this point, I've read enough Mitchell. Maybe I've never taken "genre" seriously enough to care: at some point, "oh, wow, early 20th century historical has turned into police procedural" stops being interesting. It's literary party tricks. Genre isn't unimportant, but it's rarely as important as it's made out to be.
And I was both surprised and happy that Mitchell very explicitly leaves the door open for a sequel. It will be, ahhh, interesting to see what form that takes. A trilogy of three completely different books? A third book in the style of Joyce's Ulysses? Could be.
Despite somewhat lowballing the rating, I'll be looking forward to the sequel. You should, too.
I'm a sucker for books about really cold places. I don't know why. I can't imagine living above the Arctic Circle; but I'd sure like to visit.
As a murI'm a sucker for books about really cold places. I don't know why. I can't imagine living above the Arctic Circle; but I'd sure like to visit.
As a murder mystery, it moves slowly. Don't read it if you're looking for some kind of thriller with psycho-mystical elements. (There's a little bit of Lapp spirituality thrown in, though the author admits that very little is known about Lapp religion, so she mostly made it up). ...more
I have not read a lot of Miéville. Based on what I've read, though, this is not a book I would have expected him to write. The science fiction/fantasyI have not read a lot of Miéville. Based on what I've read, though, this is not a book I would have expected him to write. The science fiction/fantasy elements are toned down; if there's world-building, it's of a world that's very similar to ours. There's no esoteric technology; the main character's father makes "keys," which may be able to unlock things like riches and "disgusting things," but which may just be keys.
It's a book where you have to read every word carefully, in which Miéville has used his considerable vocabulary very sparingly. It's a book in which nothing is certain, not even the ending. At the beginning, the boy runs down the hill from his isolated house claiming that his mother killed his father. Or did his father kill his mother? His father turns out to be very much alive, and his mother is very-gone. Dead? Or left? Did the father or the mother write her farewell note? We never know.
In a book that deliberately avoids resolution, you have to conclude that the book is not about resolving conflicts or mysteries, but about living with them. The fragility of memory? Yes, certainly, everything in This comes from a child's memory, and everything is unreliable. But to reduce This to a book about memory turns it into Miéville-does-Banville. The real center of This is isolation: the isolation of a boy who lives with a father and mother who rarely talk to each other, or to him; who has no friends and rarely goes to town; who can't escape the father he believes killed his mother. Does one of those strange "keys" lock him to his isolated house? And when he is finally taken, to what is he taken? To another strange psychic prison, where he works as a kind of scribe to a someone who calls himself a census-taker?
That's the problem Miéville is interested in: how isolation breeds terror, and turns memories into prisons. This is a vicious circle, and the boy has no chance of escaping it. And This is as much about the writing of This than about the unknowable events in the story. We like to think that writing is about creating ourselves, about dealing with our past. Those platitudes don't work here. By writing, the boy (who is never named) isn't finding himself, but building his prison, stone by stone.
A black bildungsroman? Yes. Not a book I'd expect Miéville to write, but in retrospect, a book he would write. ...more
The tale of two people coming to the United States, and the tale of two books about America. One is Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (youThe tale of two people coming to the United States, and the tale of two books about America. One is Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (you can read about that in the blurbs), and the other (strangely unacknowledged) is Audubon's Birds of America. The connection between Olivier and the historical de Tocqueville is somewhat more straightforward than the connection between Parrot, Watkins and Audubon. But just as Parrot and Olivier traces two lives arriving in America--a member of the French nobility and an English orphan, now a servant--you also have to see it as the story of two books.
Of the two, Parrot and his book have the final word. Olivier (like de Tocqueville) is skeptical of the possibility of art in a democracy. Parrot publishes Birds of America, while his wife/lover experiments with paintings that are incomprehensible to the educated European mind. America is the continent of pragmatists and doers: Olivier thinks about art, while Parrot and Watkins make it. And sell it. As the narrative arc of the nobleman turned commoner (Olivier apparently doesn't return to France, unlike de Tocqueville) crosses the arc of the servant turned entrepreneur, Parrot closes by saying "I was your footman and am now your progenitor, by which I honestly mean that you were MADE IN NEW YORK by a footman and a rogue." A very American end to the French aristocracy.
I remain puzzled why Carey makes so much of the connection between Olivier, de Tocqueville, and Democracy in America. Parrot is by far the more interesting character, and the connection to Audubon is never mentioned. The Parrot-Audubon connection may be more oblique, but Olivier's fictional biography doesn't map that closely onto de Tocqueville's. It's possible that Carey thought that two quasi-historical characters, and two books, would be too heavy a load for his novel to bear. I don't know if Audubon and de Tocqueville ever met each other; Audubon certainly would never have been de Tocqueville's servant. So making Audubon's presence in this book explicit would have turned history into pastiche. Still, though, it's important to remember that Parrot and Olivier isn't about one important book: it's about two....more
What do you get when the Jade Emperor assigns a minor god the task of understanding the human heart? This novel. Under Fishbone Clouds traces a ChinesWhat do you get when the Jade Emperor assigns a minor god the task of understanding the human heart? This novel. Under Fishbone Clouds traces a Chinese couple from their arranged marriage through the defeat of the Japanese, followed by the Chinese civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the birth of grandchildren, and (finally) senility. There are separations, both forced and voluntary; exile, both forced and voluntary; tragedies, ranging from the loss of children to the loss of the elderly grandmother's pet chicken; betrayals, both by co-workers who become party functionaries, and children, who join the Red Guards while you're being sent of for re-education. You could read a lot of Chinese history and end up understanding less.
How does love survive years living in abject poverty, or years spent apart in re-education camps? Indeed, how is love even born, in an arranged marriage between an educated girl from a wealthy family and an illiterate peasant, chosen because her father wanted someone he could keep under his thumb?
Perhaps the most moving point comes after the Kitchen God has told the tale of Yue, a fish god who becomes mortal to marry a human (not unlike The Little Mermaid). This quote is long, but I can't bear to cut it:
And yet there is something about this tale that bothers me. For it is the kind of story the Jade Emperor himself enjoys hearing from me, one where the focus, indeed the whole point of the tale, is the grand cinematic action... But life is not like that. The fight to ensure the survival of love is more likely to find its toughest battles amid small snarls about changing nappies or midnight feedings or plain old boredom; it is more likely to focus on little betrayals or hurtful slips of the tongue, to feature the day-to-day heroism of pretending not to be aware of a thousand little annoying habits. In short, love is hard work, and the fairytale ending of our story is only the beginning of the real work of keeping love alive. That is why it bothers me; and yet who can deny the fact that we are always in need of love stories?
It took time for Under Fishbone Clouds to grow on me. But it certainly did. It's an extraordinarily moving book, about the hard work, the day-to-day heroism of little acts of love....more
There's a lot to like in this book. The story is told through the eyes of a misanthropic and highly unreliable narrator, on a research trip to a remotThere's a lot to like in this book. The story is told through the eyes of a misanthropic and highly unreliable narrator, on a research trip to a remote South Pacific tribe in the 1950s. You get to see anthropology at its worst, or its best, depending on what you think about the narrator's filtering. You get to see medical science at its worst, or its best. You get to see what happens to native culture when it comes into conflict with the goals of the "civilized" world. You get to experience different and incompatible values and truths as cultures come into conflict.
But in the end, I didn't like it. In the end, this book is a fictional memoir by a dull, self-absorbed, and pompous narrator, framed by a much shorter preface and postlude, written by an equally pompous acolyte. It's sort of like enduring a long bus ride while sitting next to someone who has to tell you his life story. It doesn't matter how interesting that story might be....more
Run of the mill literary thriller. Not terribly thrilling, not terribly literary.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the ending fizzles.
As other reviRun of the mill literary thriller. Not terribly thrilling, not terribly literary.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the ending fizzles.
As other reviewers have pointed out, there aren't any likable characters. Likable characters aren't a necessity, but they help when there isn't much else going for you.
And there really isn't much literature. Unlike Possession, in which the author creates an entire literary corpus from nothing, we never see or hear much of the missing Middle English manuscript the characters are searching for. Of course: it's missing. I suppose the book itself isn't absolutely necessary, but just as with likable characters, it helps when there isn't much else.
So what is there? The search for the manuscript and the search for a "win" in an obscure video game interpenetrate in weird ways. The game writes the search, and the search writes the game. But it's really difficult for me to work up much excitement about descriptions of video game play. ...more
A lovely book that reminds me of Night Train to Lisbon, though simpler. It's about a voyage of self-discovery, about the song you hear but can never qA lovely book that reminds me of Night Train to Lisbon, though simpler. It's about a voyage of self-discovery, about the song you hear but can never quite remember.
The Piano Tuner moves slowly and gracefully; there's not a lot of plot, and it's definitely not a page turner, unless you're obsessed by pianos. (I confess that I was impatient to find out what exactly was wrong with the 1840 Erard that Edgar was sent to Burma to repair. Fairly routine damage by extreme humidity. Hardly a spoiler.) But the descriptions of the journey, particularly once you're into the Burmese jungle, are beautiful and moving.