I read this book because it was mentioned by comedian/writer Michael Patrick King in I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics. Kin...moreI read this book because it was mentioned by comedian/writer Michael Patrick King in I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics. King likened his early style to Coward's, which - along with the former's turn of phrase, piqued my interest.
This novel is populated by the characters of a hilariously and literally insular society. I've been reading a lot of comedy/humor non-fiction and this novel fits in well; the humor found in the absurdity of these characters' behavior is spot on. The redundancy and urgency with which they gossip is claustrophobic, their concerns, petty - and Coward's account of their lives is hysterical.
The novel's narrator, Grizelda Craigie, is clearly a stand in for Coward himself. Peripheral characters constantly compliment Craigie's wit, intelligence, and flair for language, traits Coward no doubt prided in himself. There are also several disconnected allusions to the fact that Grizelda, the character, is writing this account herself (she second guesses her spelling of a word, a doubt she and Coward allow to remain on the page, reviews a paragraph she's just written from the perspective of the judgement of a writer she admires, etc)... so we are to believe that we've found this volume by chance? Or that she's had it published? There's no resolution there, but it's not a sore spot.
Children never cease to amaze me with their acute observations and talents for making even the simplest things profound and expressing their wonder pi...moreChildren never cease to amaze me with their acute observations and talents for making even the simplest things profound and expressing their wonder pithily. Maybe it's because I don't remember how my mind worked or how I saw the world as a child (at the ripe old age of 22) - or how words and letters looked before I learned to read, or what purposes I ascribed to machines before I learned their use.
Literature that believably taps that pool of innocence captures me every time. Some favorites include First Confession by Frank O'Connor, The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake (both versions from Songs of Innocence and Experience), and though people HEAVILY criticize it - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.
Without my making any claims about its historical accuracy or feasibility, its morality, or perceived exploitation of the fable form to push its agenda, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas told the story of a boy's life in Nazi German betraying few signs of its adult author (though I realize a 9-year old child couldn't have written this book). It captured the way children internalize and regurgitate words and phrases they hear, using them in and out of context - the narrator Bruno repeatedly calling his sister The Hopeless Case after hearing the phrase used once, referring to Auschwitz as ‘Out-With’ and Hitler (the Führer) as The Fury.
*end spoiler alert*
Subject matter aside, its narrator was not unlike Ralphie in A Christmas Story - precocious, prone to hyperbole, with a tendency to believe that everyone's against him.... It's a success in storytelling. (less)
WARNING: This book may be at first frustrating for the active reader. Don't miss the forest for the (seemingly) gnarled trees. The Mystery Guest delive...moreWARNING: This book may be at first frustrating for the active reader. Don't miss the forest for the (seemingly) gnarled trees. The Mystery Guest delivers on both a micro and macro level if given the chance to find its footing. There is the temptation to give up before the book wins you over, but the prize is well worth the journey.
Most of the more critical notes I'd taken about The Mystery Guest were irrelevant by the book's end. At first, Bouillier's memoir appears to be carelessly assembled - yet perceptive and insightful. The constant use of the phrase "as they say" to qualify assertions and justify the use of idioms tires the reader quickly, until it becomes evident that it's all to an end. Deferring to some imaginary "THEY" as if the speaker's own opinions aren't alone valid, reads as tentativeness, but what begins as an annoying tic becomes a purposeful style as it mimics the speaker's vacillation between unflappable certainty and unmitigated panic. When within the span of a sentence, images and tones contradict themselves, it's simplest to attribute the perceived fault to sloppy writing or translation, as I was too quick to do; when in the progression of a line, the speaker, who , because this is a memoir, is indistinguishable from the author, alternately describes his iron resolve and paralyzing insecurities, it's difficult not to appreciate the careful construction of what you're reading. It's not unlike marveling at people who spend lots of time and money to appear not to care about their appearance... a delicate art that can easily go wrong and is applauded when successful.
"No doubt this [the decision to wear only turtlenecks:] was magical thinking on my part...; these turtleneck-undershirts erupted into my life without my noticing until it was too late and I was under their curse. You could even say they'd inflicted themselves on me..."
The speaker's decision to wear only turtlenecks (The Mystery Guest dedicates long passages to Bouillier's expressing his distaste for the kind of man who layers turtlenecks - before his admonition of becoming just that type of man) goes IN A SINGLE SENTENCE from being described as active and artful to something passively endured. But, a few lines later the speaker explains that when in pain we often "spend our lives... disappearing behind what negates us," just as each of his images on the previous page seem to cancel the other.
This illustrates The Mystery Guest's charming method of explaining away its chaos, which, only naturally, is also the speaker's aim throughout the story - to explain way the chaos in his life, to "' illuminate certain matters for [him:]self at the same time as [he:] makes them communicable to others'". Bouillier tries to rationalize the irrational, assign agenda to pain and chance, cope through logic, make sense of the injustices he doesn't understand. Every event, pertinent or irrelevant, is manipulated in Bouillier's mind to advise his predicament: the death of writer Michael Leiris, the launch of the solar shuttle Ulysses, characters literary and mythological - all in existence solely to lend themselves to Bouillier as needed, to be alluded to and used as foils against which the magnitude of his pain could be measured. All the while, the reader grapples to piece together how all of the disparate elements in The Mystery Guest could possibly work together congruently. Yet by the end of the book, absolutely everything is as it should be.
Just as Bouillier can't always forgive the self-serving narcissism and tendency to project he possesses when recognized in others, I at first found it difficult to dismiss the book's mechanics in favor of seeing the big picture - until it was handed to be on a platter... in a bow.
Once I was able to zoom out and enjoy the book as it's intended, I found a lot to love in The Mystery Guest. Dark thoughts described as "grinning fiends" and "old familiars" threatening to "sully [Bouillier:] with their banality" were reminiscent of Montaigne's "chimeras and imaginary monsters" brought on by idleness that he hoped to "record ... in writing... to make [his:] mind ashamed of them." The way Bouillier attempts to capture every impression and emotion accurately recalls To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, who (incidentally?) plays an important part in Bouillier's memoir. I could relate to the speaker's self-doubt and imagine myself behaving similarly if in the similar situations. I could sympathize with the perfect and pithy descriptions of the flawed logic of a lover scorned (who can't???) and the hyperbolic hilarity found in the most acute pain.
Before I'd finished it, I was prepared to rip into this book mercilessly - and more importantly - prematurely.... but whatever flaws you may THINK you've detected in The Mystery Guest turn out not to be flaws at all. They all lend themselves to the very human telling of Bouillier's imperfect dealings with the world around him.
What a premise! A drug that makes your brain work at full capacity - a smart pill. I could certainly use a quick fix like that(without the side-effect...moreWhat a premise! A drug that makes your brain work at full capacity - a smart pill. I could certainly use a quick fix like that(without the side-effects of course).
Outside of its innovative idea, the book didn't do much for me. It was very simply written, the characters were flat.... Dark Fields just wasn't a dynamic read in my opinion.
The best parts of Ellis' writing are his unreliable narrators - most notoriously present in American Psycho and witnessed again in The Informers (vamp...moreThe best parts of Ellis' writing are his unreliable narrators - most notoriously present in American Psycho and witnessed again in The Informers (vampire or lunatic?).
It's not a novel. More a collection of short stories with a sometimes common set of characters. Each chapter is from a different character's POV. The main themes/ideas are sex, greed, indulgence, self-involvement and importance, LA, tanning, WASPS, gore, drugs, youth... and anything else you can lump into that category. It's from the same guy who wrote American Psycho and Less Than Zero, if that's any indication of the subject matter.... It's pretty entertaining and very disjointed.
In 'Death in Venice', Thomas Mann allows his readers to view a respectable man's descent into madness, into a dark, disturbing obsession where reason...moreIn 'Death in Venice', Thomas Mann allows his readers to view a respectable man's descent into madness, into a dark, disturbing obsession where reason and logic have no impact on actions - where passion reigns sovereign... and it's jarring to *witness*.
The story begins with such attention taken to establish the story's protagonist (*Gus von A*) as hyper-disciplined, possessing the utmost aplomb and self-mastery - only to have him come undone as the book progresses.
This is one of those stories where syntax and diction play as much a part in the reader's investment as does the plot itself. Mann's sentences are at first long, and intricate - with far too many dependent clauses (seriously, try to diagram some of these suckers!)... but by the story's end, peppered amongst the ornate are an equal number of staccato phrases (often the protagonist's hurried and ill-considered decisions to act on whim).
I love the art of writing and Mann's style is the equivalent of literary porn. The subject matter isn't lacking scandal either. GREAT read. It's short enough to read quickly, but why rush. Savor it a bit. (less)