An incredible book. Swift is one of the English language's most seminal wordsmiths. His ability to blend imaginative fantasy and pointed social satireAn incredible book. Swift is one of the English language's most seminal wordsmiths. His ability to blend imaginative fantasy and pointed social satire is near-unparalleled. 'Gulliver's Travels' is a witty and savage dismantling of human pride and pomposity, with a structure and interaction with a meta-textual world that are extremely clever whilst being satisfying to unwind. It still has observations on the human condition which are thought provoking, if deeply pessimistic. ...more
The Gambler shows how obsessive risk-taking pervades every aspect of one's life. It traps you in the head of someone whose reasoning is on the very liThe Gambler shows how obsessive risk-taking pervades every aspect of one's life. It traps you in the head of someone whose reasoning is on the very limits of sympathetic understanding. Dostoyevsky describes the scenes in gambling with an authentic (and autobiographical) inner-ecstasy and gripping prose. One of his very finest works. ...more
One Market Under God (written 2001) is a detailed analysis of business culture in the United States (and occasionally Britain), with respect to the siOne Market Under God (written 2001) is a detailed analysis of business culture in the United States (and occasionally Britain), with respect to the significant overhaul of self-image in the post-reagan era. It finds bleak, yet often darkly funny, evidence of a deluded PR-barrage which has attempted cultural appropriation of populist, democratic language to obfuscate the self-interested motives of US elites.
Yet more sinisterly, it explains how this religious enthusiasm for the wisdom of the "Market" successfully managed to marginalise serious institutional analysis and moral criticism of existing political and financial structures, and to cast a truly definitive death blow for organised labour - all the while using the language of egalitarianism, solidarity, democracy and revolution. The insight in the book is overwhelming. In its presentation of linguistic abuse, paradoxical sophistry and, underneath it all, contemptuous cynicism, it presents both a world utterly convinced of its own righteousness, yet relentlessly driven in its destruction of meaningful social justice and democratic avenues for the vast general public. I massively appreciate its insight, but as you finish it's final - highly moving - pages, you close it with a great sense of hopelessness for the future.
It's a popular novel in america, but I don't hear much about it in England. Its style is very difficult and stream-of-consciousness, but unlike UlysseIt's a popular novel in america, but I don't hear much about it in England. Its style is very difficult and stream-of-consciousness, but unlike Ulysses it doesn't throw you off with very specialized subjects of thought. It's told in four long narratives, each told from the point of view of a single member of the Mississippian Compson household; each on a single day. The timeline of the plot spans two generations of a once-wealthy white family, fallen on hard times, and their black servants. It's a very bitter and unsettling novel that really works its way under your skin if you allow yourself to embrace the hazy, fractured style of it.
There is no narrator who introduces you to the characters; you're thrown right into the middle of the characters' thoughts, and of course they don't stop to think helpful things like "x is my cousin, y is my mother, y is z years old, y is male" etc. It's a struggle to establish for yourself what these relationships are, and it may sound like difficulty for its own sake, but it honestly is the very thing which makes the novel so engaging. The way you experience the events is always uncomfortably unfamiliar. You feel like an eavesdropper listening to the most personal family disputes. You also have a very personal reading experience as the revelatory moments where things start to connect will differ from reader to reader; something that ties into the themes of miscommunication and secrecy. To make things even harder, TWO characters share names with another member of the novel's cast (this is confusing, but also has emotional resonance so I won't say any more), and the section you first read is told from the point of view of the retarded brother, Benjamin, whose emotionally stunted brain doesn't comprehend the relative significance of the random memories he recalls and reports. Additionally, his narrative is interupted by floods of old memories as moments in the 'present' (very hard to distinguish from the non-present) touch upon symbols from the past 30 years. Symbols such as the mirror, the red tie and the tree are utterly bewildering on first read, but all carefully reveal their significance in the novel's course. His habit of staring through the gate of the neighboring golf course is frequently returned to, but the significance of this act is only revealed (explicitly) at the very end.
The other sections each build upon the picture established, but Faulkner deliberately diminishes the importance of the characters focussed upon on previous chapters. Just when it feels as if one relationship is becoming a bit less murky, you're thrown into the middle of another perspective, which only touches upon old questions in a peripheral, disinterested way. The book teases you in this way, but the concrete history (which is gratefully disclosed in the 'Appendix', by a strange narrative voice that seems like a hybrid of all the characters in one, as well as the style of Faulkner himself and his ridiculously overlong parentheses) is certainly not where the beauty of the book lies. As timelines blur between the stated date (the chapter headings, e.g. "April 6th 1928") and long recollections of past events, the characters often forgot the present for themselves, and you're told by other characters about things that happened in the present simultaneous to the experience of flashback. In the second chapter, narrated by the promising university-attending brother "Quentin", a memory of a violent defense of his sister pushes him to pick a fight with a male-chauvinist acquaintance. It's in this sort of ingenious blending of stories and self-obsessed timelines that the novel depicts personal relationships with such disorientating realism. Like in Catch-22, where the same events are told from many different perspectives, the book is continually tying significant events to what appeared in earlier accounts as only a trivial observation; especially the case in Benjamin's narrative, in which certain items and shapes captivate his attention, completely divorced from their actual place in the 'plot'. The book demands re-reading, at least of the first section.
If you plan on reading it, don't be tempted to look up the plot at any point - trust me, things are revealed, and any sober plot synopsis will just rob you of some very special moments in literature - those bits where the dots start connecting....more
Really, truly remarkable. At times it's savage, terrifying, foreboding, and at others it's whimsical, bombastic and very very funny. With an impossiblReally, truly remarkable. At times it's savage, terrifying, foreboding, and at others it's whimsical, bombastic and very very funny. With an impossibly huge cast, the story takes place over nearly a century; covering 3 continents and all levels of society with a narrative focus which is both detailed to the point of absurdity, yet which tears you away from events at points just when you're desperate to learn more. I wouldn't say that all of the 900 pages flew by, but it was gut-wrenching to finish the thing - leaves you wanting more, to say the least.
The story is about an aging German novelist who makes a journey to a violent Mexican city on the US boarder; a gang of adoring Literature professors who attempt to track him down there; their lives in the highest echelons of the European literary scene; a Chilean academic and his motherless daughter living in this fictional Mexican city, 'Santa Teresa'; her monied friends in the City's seedy underworld; the climate of misogyny and the violent fate of dozens of women in the city a year; the influence of US-corporate maquiladoras (factories) on the city's working life; the corruption of the city's political classes by drug barons; the floundering police investigation to find a single 'serial killer' responsible for the crimes; the life of the convicts in the Santa Teresa jail; the struggles of feminist activists to protest general apathy to the ongoing murders; the life of a herbalist mystic and her local radio appearances; the travels of a New York journalist writing for a black community magazine; an ageing ex-Black Panther activist turned recipe-book author; the only communist left in the city in the late eighties; the rise of fascism following WWI; the fate of POWs at the close of WW2 and of Jews on the eastern front.
A masterpiece of writing, undoubtedly, but what is most striking is what a damning picture of ourselves it paints. And not in a general, existential way, but directly to the era we currently live in. Society and morality is at the core of this novel, with the hopelessness of our culture's hellish representative - the fictional city Santa Teresa - showing us a culture which is both past the point of being able to solve its problems, and still unwilling to seriously confront them.
Though Bolano wears his stunning breadth of academic knowledge on his sleeve, the intellectuals of this novel are more blind than most of the characters to the decay of civilization represented in this point of intersection. The references are laid so thick throughout that they, and the human endeavour they represent, turn to a marsh of meaningless trivia. This is vividly portrayed in the second section, 'The Part About Amalfitano', in which the titular character loses his sanity despite his attempts to ground his mind in the figures of intellectual history. The theme of art's creation and permanence is a overriding obsession of the novel - and thinly veiled manifestos for Bolano's own intentions with this project are scattered in the mouths and minds of characters throughout (or hung out to dry).
Stylistically, it was very exciting. It's solidly 3rd person and, by default, journalistic and deliberately colorless, but the dynamics of the prose are completely unpredictable. It'll leap right into someone's most subjective, hallucinatory thoughts from broad daylight, and break off with complete immersion into huge, unspeakable reams of reported speech, transitioning into free indirect thought. It slides liberally in and out of direct and reported speech so that you're not sure whether you're only being briefed about some detail or whether you're being pulled right into a different, tangential story. On top of this, his characters are diverse, funny and human, despite being so enmeshed in symbolic events and curious correspondences with other characters in different sections. The book ends on a satisfyingly inconclusive note. The final scene is pitched just right, leaving you with a thought that combines a great deal of what you've read, yet leaving the question of what it ultimately means open-ended.
Just one thing, though - how was Archimboldi able to read Ansky's fireplace notes?...more
Now THAT'S how you write a fucking book. Astounding stuff. At points it's a very trippy search for objective reality within embedded hallucination, atNow THAT'S how you write a fucking book. Astounding stuff. At points it's a very trippy search for objective reality within embedded hallucination, at others its a savage satire of linguistic modernity, and at its best it's an intriguing analogy of Taylorist social control and political belief in the "greater good". It deals with the dangers of drug-dependence with more insightfulness than Brave New World and with far less self-righteous indignation. The book is foremost a very funny and enormously enjoyable read. Like a modern Gulliver's Travels, it combines farcical escapism with trenchant and savage attacks on society's self-flagellating foibles. The translation I read (Michael Kandel) is enormously impressive in how it conveyed such density of Stanislaw's word play, which I can only presume is even more spellbinding in the original Polish. ...more
This is a very touching and quietly profound novella. The plot involves the relationships of a small central cast, set in a peacetime army post. Two nThis is a very touching and quietly profound novella. The plot involves the relationships of a small central cast, set in a peacetime army post. Two neighbouring senior officers, Captain Penderton and Major Langdon, live affluently, childless, with their wives: Leonara Penderton and Alice Langdon. A quiet private, Elgee Williams, is commissioned by the Captain to clear a space of woodland in front of his house and becomes obsessed with the Captain's free-spirited, child-like and often-nude wife. Captain Penderton represses his true sexual identity with obsessive workloads. Alice becomes increasingly unbalanced by knowledge of her husband's infidelity and confides in her Filipino servant, and best friend, Anacleto.
Each character harbours secrets they are unable to share. McCullers major strength in this book is in how individually she writes each character's sadnesses, preoccupations and psychological blind spots. Her relationship with her characters is always sensitive and sympathetic, but primarily interested in how incompatible and incomprehensible peoples' true natures can be. The characters secrets draw you into the story in a suspenseful way, but the real theme is less 'secrecy'; more 'misunderstanding'. Especially wilful or indifference misunderstanding. In a way that seems very true to life, the characters appear constantly frustrated with their ignorance, but at the same time unwilling to confront reality. This is most obvious in the character of Captain Penderton, who exists in a pitiable state of simultaneous knowing-and-not-knowing, keeping his knowledge of his wife's adultery a secret, whilst hiding an even deeper secret: that he is almost indifferent to it.
In lots of stories you have an identification of a human foible and then a solution of this through a character arc involving a character or event who drastically challenges this world view. However the sorts of unhappiness that McCullers observes are the lingering, niggling kind. Not car crashes but rust. Though all lonely and unfulfilled, the characters in 'Reflections in a Golden Eye', rather than realising their shared pains, only amplify each others loneliness, through a series of consequential misunderstandings. The book could be criticised for portraying the troubles of the affluent and privileged rather than, say, the Penderton's black servant, Susan. However the sadness in this book is the kind that comes from a privileged sense of great expectations, and the difficult task of squaring your illusions with your real prospects.
Here are some excerpts:
The sun and firelight were bright in the room. There was a dancing spectrum on one of the walls and she watched this, half-listening to Anacleto's soft conversation. 'What I find so difficult to realize is that they know,' he was saying. Often he would begin a discussion with such a vague and mysterious remark, and she waited to catch the drift of it later.
'Anacleto', she warned him softly. Anacleto had used the term 'woery woman' several times before she caught on to the meaning. At first she thought it might be a native term, and then it had come to her finally that he meant 'whore'.
Anacleto shrugged his shoulders and then turned suddenly to her, his face flushed. 'I hate people!' he said vehemently. 'At the party someone told this joke, not knowing that I was near. And it was vulgar and insulting and not true!'
'What do you mean?'
'I wouldn't repeat it to you'
'Well forget it,' she said. 'Go to bed and have a good night's sleep'.
Alison was troubled over Ancleto's outburst. It seemed to her that she also loathed people. Everyone she had known in the past five years was somehow wrong. Morris Langdon in his blunt way was stupid and heartless as a man could be. Leonora was nothing but an animal. And thieving Weldon Penderton was at bottom hopelessly corrupt. What a gang! Even she herself she loathed. If it were not for sordid procrastination and if she had a rag of pride, she and Anacleto would not be in this house tonight.
Private Williams ordered a glass and for the first time tasted alcohol. Three men, all old-timers, were surprised when Private Williams left his table to sit with them for a while. The young soldier looked into their faces and seemed to be on the point of asking some question of them. But in the end he did not speak, and after a time he went away.
A peculiar reverie had taken hold of him. As he always had been keenly ambitious he had often amused himself by anticipating his promotions far in advance. Thus, when he was still a young west-pointer the name and the title 'Colonel Weldon Penderton' had to him a familiar and pleasing sound. And during the past summer of this year he had imagined himself as a Corps Area Commander of great brilliance and power. Sometimes he had even whispered the words 'Major-General Penderton' aloud to himself - and it seemed to him he should have been born to the title, so well did the sound of it fit with his name. But now during the past weeks this idle dream had strangely reversed itself. One night - or rather it was one-thirty in the morning - he had sat at his desk in a trauma of fatigue. Suddenly in the room three words had come unbidden to his tongue:
'Private Weldon Penderton.' And these words, with the associations they engendered, aroused in the Captain a perverse feeling of relief and satisfaction. He now experienced a subtle pleasure in imagining himself as an enlisted man. In these phantasies he saw himself as a youth ... with a young, easy body that even the cheap uniform of a common soldier could not make ungraceful, with thick glossy hair and round eyes unshadowed by study and strain. And the background of all this was the barracks: the hubbub of young male voices, the genial loafing in the sun, the irresponsible shenanigans of camaraderie.
This book was such a joy that it's moved me to poetry.
I call this one, "Chained to boundless seas"
Ideas are objects Expressions are containers Communi
This book was such a joy that it's moved me to poetry.
I call this one, "Chained to boundless seas"
Ideas are objects Expressions are containers Communication is sending.
Theories are buildings Ideas are people Ideas are plants Ideas are products Ideas are commodities Ideas are resources Ideas are money Ideas are cutting instruments Ideas are fashions Understanding is seeing Ideas; light sources.
Love is a patient Love is madness Love is magic Love is war.
Emotional effect is physical contact. Wealth is a hidden object. Significant is big.
Seeing is touching Eyes are limbs Containers for emotion. Vitality is a substance Life is a container A gambling game.
Reading this, especially for the first 100 or so pages, I thought 'that's it, that's it, perfectly' on virtually every page. It's easily the most trueReading this, especially for the first 100 or so pages, I thought 'that's it, that's it, perfectly' on virtually every page. It's easily the most true account of unrequited love I've ever read. It's almost too close to the bone, really. I'm so impressed that it's of my Grandad's generation. It feels completely unmannered for a pre-war novel. Especially with how politics are dealt with: "he bought the news chronicle nowadays because it was 'liberal', and he supposed that was what he was, and also because it was getting pretty hot against Munich".
The weighty politics of the time are alluded to but hardly penetrate the consuming obsessions of the protagonist, George Bone. It doesn't preach. The object of his obsession, the selfish, parasitic actress, Netta Longdon, is sympathetic to the fascists, but only because she likes their masculinity and smart uniforms. Her malice is in her abuse of a man into madness. It is NOT a political novel, and anyone (*cough*Wikipedia*cough*) who tells you different didn't read it properly. Bone's cowardly perseverance is the core of the story. His constant self-deceptions and near-alcoholic reliance on dutch courage are written with a real understanding of the insane state of mind that unfulfilled desire can bring.
There is something slightly disappointing about how little Netta's motivations are developed. Considering the slightly misogynistic scene near the end of the book, her portrayal by Hamilton could be seen as a lovelorn man's unsubtle stereotype of womanhood and her cruelty. But that said, her lover, Peter, is written as more cruel and more decidedly fascist. Also, George deserves a good deal of blame - in spite of his mental illness - for allowing himself to be so repeatedly taken in by a woman so obviously extortionate and obviously uninterested in him.
(view spoiler)[The end ruins the book to a significant degree, and I don't say that lightly. In the penultimate scene is a misogynistic and all-too-cathartic resolution, and the real ending of the book lowers the tone of the book to trashy vengeance. The plot device of Bone's insanity is made into an implausable Jekyll and Hyde transformation, rather than the more subtle manifestations earlier in the novel. For such a sensitive book, the ending removes much of the sympathy so carefully built in the hopeless character of Bone. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A fantastic little story about American workers in 1920s Mexico, attempting to find their fortune whilst feverishly guarding their secret accumulationA fantastic little story about American workers in 1920s Mexico, attempting to find their fortune whilst feverishly guarding their secret accumulation of wealth from sadistic, roaming bandits. Mexico in this novel is a place where working people are thrown about from poor paying job to poor paying job, with no place to live in except camps and hotels, and where the only cheer is found in retelling stories of glorious hidden riches. It's funny, gritty (for its time), humane and gripping.
Robbery, a constantly manifest threat from bandits, is a central metaphor in this novel for the state of the land the three male protagonists, Dobbs, Curtin and Howard, find themselves fighting for survival in. At one point, at the end of their work, the three discuss how to leave the land they have been upturning for gold, and the elderly Howard asks the younger men to consider that nature may appreciate being restored to the state it was in before they came. This merely bemuses the younger men, and they can only think of self-interested reasons for covering their tracks, e.g. if they wish to return to it in the future.
Howard realises that in reality they are robbing the earth's resources just the same as the bandits threaten to rob them. The massive demand for casual labor and short term projects made possible by enormous capital are as unsustainable as the actions of the bandits, too. By the end of the story, robbers are robbed themselves, and the great efforts to obtain the booty is cut short just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Traven's point, I think, is that work is something which can unite people and give life a purpose, but when you work only for gold only the worst parts of human nature can come out, and nobody really wins, who plays this game, except for a handful of winners and a whole lot of pipedreaming losers (who are, in this setting, brutally dispatched of).
No man has ever originated an idea. Any new idea is the crystallization of the ideas of thousands of other men. Then one man suddenly hits on the right word and the right expression for the new idea. And as soon as the word is there, hundreds of people realize that they has this idea long before.
When an enterprise takes definite shape in a man's mind, one can safely say that numbers of men all round him cherish the same or a similar plan. That is why movements catch on and spread like wildfire.(p.46)
All that might not have been so bad. The worst was that by taking out a licence [for a gold mining project], however careful you might be, you were pretty sure to bring bandits about your ears - those bandits who reap without sowing, who lie in wait for weeks and months while their victims do the hard work, and then fall upon them as soon as they load up to go, and take their gold from them. And not only their gold, but their donkeys and even the shirts from their backs. It is not easy to find the way back to civilisation without donkeys or trousers or shirts or boots. Often the bandits, realizing this, are kind enough to take their lives too rather than leave them in such a perplexity. Who is to say where the poor wretches have got to? The bush is so vast and so impenetrable and its dangers so many. Sometimes there is a search for a missing man. And before the search is even on foot the bush has disposed of the body almost to the last bone. From this last bone it has to be made out who the man was to whom the bone belonged. And the culprits, of course, will be brought to justice. But for that, they must first be caught. And because of this, the bandit's trade is an easy one, much easier than getting gold by the sweat of his brow.(p.64)