**spoiler alert** I've decided to read the classic dystopias - 1984, Brave new world - this spring, and thought I should start with this book, said to**spoiler alert** I've decided to read the classic dystopias - 1984, Brave new world - this spring, and thought I should start with this book, said to be the inspiration for Orwell, at least. It was written in 1921, and many of the elements of modern dystopias are here, such as the way people are kept under constant control, the regulation of sex and leisure time, the control of information.
The main character, D-503, has completely bought into the system, here called the Only State, and has a high position in it as he is responsible for the construction of a rocket that is meant to spread this system to other planets. The book is constructed as his journal, where he intends to glorify and explain the State to the inhabitants on those planets so that they will understand and accept it. Everything is complicated when he meets and falls in love (or lust) with a woman, I-330, who turns out to be leader of the resistance. D spends the book vacillating between following the system and his obsession with I, and becomes involved with the resistance without meaning or wanting to. The stakes become even higher when the State comes up with a treatment that will erase all imagination from the human brain and turn everyone into perfect cogs in the machine.
It was an interesting book, and since D has bought into the State's propaganda completely and is using his journal to sell it to others you get to see his society from the inside, and the way people try, and sometimes fail, to fit into the machine it's trying to be. I look forward to comparing Zamjatin's vision of a dystopian future with the others....more
This is the second book by Wells that I've read, and while the actual plot is different (early nineteenth century business scandal vs an alien invasioThis is the second book by Wells that I've read, and while the actual plot is different (early nineteenth century business scandal vs an alien invasion) there are a lot of similarities between them. In both cases the main character is a man in his thirties who looks back on and describes how he came through a catastrophe, but neither of them is a very active participant in the catastrophic events.
In "Tono-Bungay" the narrator is George Ponderevo, but the person who actually drives the plot forward and makes everything happen is his uncle Edward Ponderevo, the man who invents Tono-Bungay, a patent medicine, and through advertisement and business mergers converts that invention into a business empire. George is just along for the ride, and despite knowing that his uncle's business rests on very shaky grounds and not being very impressed with the way it's built up, he spends most of the middle part of the book using the money accumulated in experiments on human flight. George talks about his upbringing and schooling, his marriage and love-affairs, his science experiments and his view of the British class system, but apart from helping his uncle start up the business by designing better ways of manufacturing and bottling the medicine he isn't interested in the business itself or the changing financial world built on advertisement and economic sleight-of-hand that in many ways resembles the one we have today.
It's a pity because I found the changes what was taking place in the British financial world and by extension in the relationship between the classes more interesting than George's life story and glorification of science and the discoveries that scientists were making during this time....more
This was a short, easy read, but it was also one of the most uncomfortable books I've ever read. The way Perec uses his characters to point out the prThis was a short, easy read, but it was also one of the most uncomfortable books I've ever read. The way Perec uses his characters to point out the problem of style over substance and people not wanting to put in real work for anything is at turns disturbing and seductive, for the way Sylvie and Jérome thinks matches the way I've felt sometimes, even though I know the reality wouldn't really satisfy me. They focus on the outer aspects of their life, and have exhaustive fantasies about how everything would be better and easier if only they had the right clothes, furniture, decorations, life style, without putting in the time and the effort to get there, and they have no real hobbies or interests outside these fantasies. It's like fantasizing about what you would do if you won the lottery without bothering to actually buy a ticket....more
A couple of years ago I read Marias' "Your face tomorrow" series and thought they were very interesting, especially the way Marias combined a modern-dA couple of years ago I read Marias' "Your face tomorrow" series and thought they were very interesting, especially the way Marias combined a modern-day spy story with moral and a look back at the Spanish civil war. I was therefore excited to read this book, but I found it to be a disappointment. There are a lot of similarities between the two books, especially because the main character in both is a Spaniard who has come to England, in this case Oxford, to work and who becomes involved in the lives of the people he meets there, but these similarities also highlights the ways "All souls" can't match the intensity and mystery of "Your face tomorrow".
Parts of the book were still good, and I like Marias' way of writing that takes its time to come to a conclusion or a climactic moment, but the story in this case didn't match up to the writing. In this book Marias still talks about the way history influences the present and how someone lives with making difficult decisions and adapts to a new way of life, but in connection with adultery instead of espionage and war, and this didn't interest or move me in the same way. It's hard for me to decide how much I would have liked the book if I hadn't read the previous series, but it made me want to go back and do a reread of it because I think some of the characters met in Oxford show up there as well....more
Very interesting book, that tries to describe a life, lived partly in exile after the war in Yugoslavia, through objects, memories and people, some faVery interesting book, that tries to describe a life, lived partly in exile after the war in Yugoslavia, through objects, memories and people, some family, some friends and some strangers met after the author had to leave her country....more
All souls' day centers around two things: a discussion about history, both personal and political, and a kind of love story. I found the historical diAll souls' day centers around two things: a discussion about history, both personal and political, and a kind of love story. I found the historical discussion very interesting, especially as it plays out between Arthur Daane and his friends and love interest. Arthur is the main character, a middle-aged man who lost his wife and son years ago in a place crash, and (perhaps because of that loss) who tends to take history, especially the 20th century European kind, very personally and is obsessed with discovering and treasuring the marks it has left behind in Berlin, where he spends most of his time. His inability to distance himself from what has happened is contrasted by his friends, one of whom is a historian who enjoys the things that have been remembered after their time has vanished, such as music and art, and another a Russian woman who survived the siege of Leningrad during WWII, and who instead interest herself in space technology and the things that are to come. I would glady have read more about how people interact in different ways with the things that are left behind by history, both personal memories and things such as art, buildings and other physical marks, even if I found Arthur and his insistence on the importance of preserving those things a bit frustrating. Instead, about a third of the way in, Arthur becomes interested in and starts trying to track down a young woman he sees briefly in a cafe, and an unsatisfying love story takes over the book.
The love story involves Elik Oranje, a young woman who's working on a doctorate in history about an early Spanish queen, and who has a traumatic past that has led her to avoid personal entanglements and instead focuses on discovering the traces that can be found in archives and books. I'm not sure love story is really the right word, since Elik makes it clear from the start that she's not interested in becoming involved with Arthur, who has to accept what she chooses to give him. This holds true up until the end of the book, and so most of the time Arthur spends his time chasing after her without knowing where she is or how to find her, and trying to interpret her actions and words for signs of what's really going on. It doesn't help that Arthur himself isn't very good at expressing himself and spends most of the time when he's with his friends or Elike not saying anything or trying to tell them what he's thinking without really succeeding. I found it impossible to tell if Nooteboom found the love story as frustrating as I did, or if he though that Arthur's inability to say enough and stop trailing after Elike a sign of devotion....more
This is a short, strange book about a man who has become as much like a hermit as a person can be while living and working in Paris surrounded by otheThis is a short, strange book about a man who has become as much like a hermit as a person can be while living and working in Paris surrounded by other people. Jonathan Noel has decided, after a childhood where his parents were taken away by the authorities in WWII and an unsuccessful marriage, to create a life for himself where he interacts and relies as little as possible on other people. Jonathan's life consists of his work as a guard at a bank and the small room that he has rented and lived in for more than twenty years, so this room has become the only thing that matters to him, and when the book starts he has decided to buy it so that he will be able to continue living there for the rest of his life. The rest of the book shows how easily someone's way of life can be disturbed, especially when it's someone like Jonathan who wants as little change and contact with others as he can possibly manage. It starts with something as small as a pigeon and shows how Jonathan copes with a (very small) threat to his way of life and the gradual deterioration during the course of one day. ...more
A lot of Jewish authors has struggled with how to write about the Holocaust, and Perec's case is made harder by the fact that he was only a boy at theA lot of Jewish authors has struggled with how to write about the Holocaust, and Perec's case is made harder by the fact that he was only a boy at the time and doesn't really remember those years in France when he was made to hide and disguise himself. Since Perec is Perec, when he decided to tell his story he didn't try to write a straightforward memoir, instead he chose to split the book into two sections: one where he goes through the things he does remember and the few mementoes he has left of his parents and his childhood and examines the difference between what you think you know and what you can confirm years afterwards, and one where he invents an isolated island in South America who has been colonized by people who are obsessed by the Greek olympics and where the whole society (of men, anyway, the women are just there as prizes and broodmares) is shaped by training and competition. In the first section Perec goes through the memories he has and the things he has been told about his childhood, his family and their history and his early school days, and how, when he had grown up, he tried to go back to the things he thought he remembered and found that he couldn't recognize them or that he had gotten them mixed up with other places, people or occasions. In the second part, the island, he started out generally with history and geography, and gradually the descriptions became more specific and the society he described became creepier and creepier. I think I'll have to reread the book, because I'm sure there were a lot of things I missed or misunderstood....more
This is the first Goethe I've read since I was forced to read Werther in school, mostly because I hated Werther and thought he was melodramatic and feThis is the first Goethe I've read since I was forced to read Werther in school, mostly because I hated Werther and thought he was melodramatic and felt sorry for poor Charlotte who didn't deserve to be dragged into his mess. Since this was how I felt about Edvard and Ottilie as well, I think I have to accept that Goethe isn't for me.
There are some books I read where I feel like the author pays attention to the wrong part of the story. In the beginning, there are two pairs of lovers, but somewhere along the way it feels like Goethe drops Charlotte and the Captain for Edvard and Ottilie's star-crossed love story. As a result the book feels lopsided, and all the interesting discussions about marriage and duty and right and wrong morally and ethically disappears and instead we get pages upon pages with how perfect and helpful and good Ottilie is. For me, I think Charlotte deserves more, because she's the one who has to keep everything together when her husband disappears to war, the Captain is away and perhaps even getting married, and her daughter seems to be an incredibly spoiled and annoying young lady.
The book isn't bad, however, just not to my taste. I thought there were some interesting parts that made me wish I knew more about the times when Goethe was writing. There is a lot in here about landscaping, art and the natural sciences that I'm sure gives a resonance to the writing for someone who knows more about the period than I do. I just wish that Goethe hadn't chosen to write about characters that managed to both annoy and bore me. ...more
**spoiler alert** "Cause for alarm" was an easy book to read, but only partly interesting. I liked the beginning of the book, because like most thrill**spoiler alert** "Cause for alarm" was an easy book to read, but only partly interesting. I liked the beginning of the book, because like most thrillers and mysteries it gave a good view of contemporary life, in this case Europe in the 1930s and the growth of fascism and the lead-up to WWII. Nick Marlow, a British engineer, gets a job representing a firm in Milan and winds up entangled in bribery and espionage mostly because he's stubborn and rather naive when it comes to politics. I enjoyed reading this part because it felt rather true to what would happen when an outsider ended up becoming involved in that sort of situation and had no idea how to get out of it.
The part that lost my interest was when Marlow ends up accused of bribery by the Italian state and has to escape the country while being hunted down by the police. The problem is that I've read and seen a lot of books and movies about innocent people who are forced to flee while being followed by dangerous people, and this book didn't contain anything very new and exciting. This may partly have been because this book was written before this scenario had become so common and partly because Marlow would never have gotten out by himself and his co-conspirator Zaleshoff had to more or less drag him out of the country against his will.
Still, the book was worth reading mostly because I liked seeing Marlow trying to do business in a corrupt and fascist Milan more or less against his will, but his escape was a bit too formulaic and mostly accomplished by someone else....more
For such a short story, this manages to pack quite a punch. Gilman puts into it all the frustration and feelings of helpless rage that she herself felFor such a short story, this manages to pack quite a punch. Gilman puts into it all the frustration and feelings of helpless rage that she herself felt, according to the introduction, when she was subjected to a similar treatment. The slow descent into madness of the unnamed narrator when she is denied all mental and physical activity and deprived of outside stimulation, while her husband, family and doctor (and since her husband and her brother are physicians, sometimes they're the same person) keeps telling her that she's not actually ill, just in need of absolute rest and nothing to stress or disturb her. The creepiest part of the story for me, though, was the hints that something like this had happened before in this room. The torn-down wallpaper, the scratched bed and the mark on the wall at where someone had scuffed against it at shoulder-height -- all this was repeated at the end by the narrator, and it made me wonder if women had lived and gone mad there before, and why. Was it the room, and the wallpaper, that drove them mad, or their situation?...more
The only other book I've read by Amis is Lucky Jim, which I found mean-spirited and with a main character that behaved like a complete idiot most of tThe only other book I've read by Amis is Lucky Jim, which I found mean-spirited and with a main character that behaved like a complete idiot most of the time, leading to some very embarrassing scenes. Given that, I didn't start this book with high expectations, and the first few chapters seemed like more of the same, the only difference being that the characters were nearing the end of their lives instead of starting out. It didn't help that the time and place, Wales in the 80s, was very much part of the story and since I haven't been to Wales and don't know much about Britain at that time there were a lot of references that escaped me. The more I read, though, the more I liked it, and at least some of the characters became more and more sympathetic to me. They drank a lot, complained about getting older and discussed their own and each other's pasts and marriages, but the picture I got was about a group of people who had known each other for years and were stuck together, because in a small place and with all that shared history, it's hard to change and even harder to escape. It helped that the humor in the book was less about putting people in embarrassing situations and more about small discomforts and the absurdity of life and getting older. ...more
I was disappointed in this book, mostly because McEwan failed to make me care at all what happened, or to understand what the point of the story was.I was disappointed in this book, mostly because McEwan failed to make me care at all what happened, or to understand what the point of the story was. Two men, not very nice but successful enough in their different ways, and the way their hubris led to their own downfall, but it felt like the story needed more background, more history. I know authors who can give you a whole life and break your heart in less than two hundred pages (Maupassant in his novels, for example), but this novel simply failed to connect with me. ...more