I read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) wI read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) was my first encounter with her fiction. It's so tightly contained, and yet it really gives you a sense of a whole wide world. The split narration structure—one close third narrator following the main character, Fatou, and one unnamed first person narrator standing in for 'us,' the people of the Willesden neighborhood where the story takes place—was rather genius. You get to be right in the story and next to the character and also outside, observing her impassively.
After reading this over one long bus ride, I found myself thinking about scenes and lines from this story for the whole week, reading passages from it out loud to other people. Probably time for me to pick up one of her novels. ...more
A very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recoA very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recommended the book to me (the second friend read it over the course of her plane ride) and even still, it took me quite a long time to read it. But I'm very glad I did finally, and thankful to both of them for the recommendation and US-to-Iceland delivery service.
A Man Called Ove is heartfelt and sappy and yep, you see most, if not all, of the plot shifts coming about a mile away. But it's heartfelt and sappy in a really lovely, comforting sort of way—a rather life- and humanity-affirming sort of way—and that's actually kind of refreshing. It hits the right notes and it makes you feel good about the world and its curmudgeonly main character is just such a good curmudgeon. Definitely a chicken noodle soup and slippers sort of read. ...more
Thanks to the excellent year-end stock in the English language section at our local used bookstore, I lucked out this Christmas with four beautiful MuThanks to the excellent year-end stock in the English language section at our local used bookstore, I lucked out this Christmas with four beautiful Muriel Spark paperbacks. With eight hours of flight time from the US back to Iceland ahead of me, I decided to start with this "curiously disturbing" novella, and basically read it through in one sitting.
As with all of Spark's novels that I've read thus far, Not to Disturb drops you into the story once it's already started—there's no preamble, no back story, no real explanation of what is going on. the dialog is round-about and confusing at first; you don't know who any of the people talking are. And yet, rather than deterring you from continuing (or deterring me, as it happens), it just sucks you further in. You sink into the story and just figure out what is going on as you go. It's disconcerting, yes, but it's also clever and addictive and seriously hard to pull off.
The 'what's going on' of the story is (again, unsurprisingly) absurd and strange and really quite weird. As are many of the characters and relationships, for that matter. And while there are all these characters and obviously unspoken story lines (I wonder, actually, if this started as a different book, or if this is a paired down version of a much more extensive novel), there's a lot that is simply not gone into here. There's so much story that exists completely off the page. I find this rather amazing, particularly as someone who, as a writer, is always compelled to fill in all of the back story, to make sure that the reader has all the 'irrelevant' information before the real story gets underway.
And perhaps this isn't always the best way to go. Because Spark demonstrates here, sometimes the most compelling way to tell a story is to only hint at the whole of it. ...more
I read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself anI read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself and surprised at J.K.'s leaning to the grotesque in this instance—but I found myself a lot more aware of her writing in this book than I ever really have been. People are frequently giving Rowling grief for her awkward writing and her clunky phrasings. To me, this has never been so much of an issue: she's a great storyteller and an excellent plotter ('diligent' is the word that comes to mind first when thinking about her ability to plan ahead in a storyline) and I don't think that everyone needs to be able to write a Proustian sentence in order to be a worthwhile writer. But in The Silkworm it feels like Rowling is actively trying to overcome her critics and showcase a stylistic prowess that is ultimately more self-conscious than it is successful. And that kind of took away from the experience for me.
I can deal with the fact that she occasionally employs super awkward phrasings and the fact that she over-describes pretty much everyone's appearance, but other things caught me up short. For instance, throughout the book, she throws in these crazy vocab words—not the "25 cent" variety that my English teacher used to encourage us to use, but rather the $2 bill variety. That is to say, words that are special and unique, perhaps, but that no one anywhere really uses, let alone her characters. (That Strike is an Oxford man doesn't really change this, no.) I mean: "albescence" - 'The act of becoming white; whitishness.' Or "etiolated" - 'pale and drawn out due to a lack of light; Having lost vigour or substance; feeble.' There are times when a playful use of extensive vocabulary can work (I always used to enjoy the fact that I generally had to refer to a dictionary at least once when reading a Michael Chabon book), but here it feels forced and awkward and unnatural when compared with the rest of the text.
I also found there to be a strange insistence on what amounted to a rather boring interpretation of the relationships between men and women, and also a rather simplified, kind of dull perspective of gender. I've generally felt that Rowling's treatment of male and female characters, as well as their interactions with one another in her books, haven't been bound by particularly stodgy gender boundaries or dichotomies. But here, there's a rather lot of disparaging essentialism regarding women. For instance, "Women, in his experience, often expected you to understand that it was a measure of how much they loved you that they tried their damnedest to change you." Or, when explaining to Robin the possibility that a woman could have perpetrated such a grim murder (she doesn't think a woman would have), Strike remarks, "Look it up on the net. When women turn, they really turn." And it goes both ways, albeit to a lesser extent. Robin "knew something about male pride; quite apart from Matthew, she had three brothers," and also had "an unusual and accurate insight into the frequently contrary reaction of males to female concern." Perhaps Rowling is trying to get inside of her male protagonist's perspective and thinks that his digressions on femaleness and women are just authentic representations of his character. But it's a bit boring and simple and frankly, I think she can do better.
This isn't to say that I won't keep reading the series—I think there's still enough here to be interested in and I'm enjoying her foray into the crime genre. But again, I think she can do better. ...more
I'm reading this as part of my Contemporary Literature class this semester and am really enjoying it, although many of the stories are deceptively comI'm reading this as part of my Contemporary Literature class this semester and am really enjoying it, although many of the stories are deceptively complex (on a language level, I mean). Quick thoughts (not reviews) on some of the stories as I read them:
Jón Atli Jónasson: „Pizza, Pizza"
Enjoyed this one quite a bit, although it took me several hours—and lots of dictionary-checking—to finish. It's a 'nothing happens, but everything happens' sort of story: the main character is a pizza delivery guy who drops a pizza on his way to deliver it, returns back to the restaurant for a replacement, and that's about it. A covert writer who makes detailed, if somewhat guilty, observations about his coworkers and people in his life in a secret notebook he keeps, the narrator spends a lot of time thinking about the people around him, and sort of bouncing between two sorts of cultural/artistic poles and references in his life—Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and a host of American war movies, like Apocalypse, Now.
Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir:„Hvenær á maður mann og hvenær á maður ekki mann?"
This is a short-short that didn't go over well with my classmates at all (they seemed to think it was boring), although I found it rather funny. The titular line is, apparently, an echo of a famous (and famously circular) line in Iceland's Bell by Halldór Laxness, which I thought was interesting although I think I missed the significance of this echo a bit. The story starts a bit like chick-lit: the main character decides she's done with men, and so decides instead that she will give herself to God instead. And then it goes a bit wonky. She locks herself in a dark room, pushes the key under the door, and prepares herself for the arrival of God. He doesn't show for quite some time, however, and so she gets extremely hungry and weak while waiting. He does, however, come eventually, has sex with her, and then tells her that he doesn't really want her. This again reads a bit like absurdist chick-lit, and she struggles to figure out how it is that now, of all men, that god is rejecting her. God then goes about trying to explain that she's not a gift (from her) that he's rejecting, but rather, that by locking herself up like this, she's a gift (from him) that she's rejecting.
And all this packed into three, concise pages. ...more