**spoiler alert** Fiction that stretches the definition of fiction - composed of index card length bits, much of which are quotes or facts about write...more**spoiler alert** Fiction that stretches the definition of fiction - composed of index card length bits, much of which are quotes or facts about writers and visual artists, the other part the slow deterioration of a mind. Compulsively readable in a very happy way. Markson gets the order and the juxtapositions right. Poetic collage. I keep picking this book up and re-reading it.(less)
A sex crazed newt-Queen Victoria, a bottled Hottentot twat, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson visiting limbo -- this is the funny twisted 19th century...moreA sex crazed newt-Queen Victoria, a bottled Hottentot twat, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson visiting limbo -- this is the funny twisted 19th century sf world Paul Di Filippo has created in The Steampunk Trilogy. If you like your sf wacky, bawdy and crammed full of allusions that send you off in the wide world of lit then this is the writer for you.
While "Victoria" came off as an extended dirty joke and "Walt and Emily" had the poets quoting their poetry to each other, I thought the longest of the three novellas "Hottentot" fired on all cylinders - a satiric taking apart of 19th century racist science and the hapless Swiss born professor, all carried along on Di Filippo's mercilessly funny picaresque plot.(less)
"So it strikes me there are no commonplace people in the crowd, said Joe, and no innocents in the game of life really. We all seem to be double and tr...more"So it strikes me there are no commonplace people in the crowd, said Joe, and no innocents in the game of life really. We all seem to be double and triple agents with unknown sources and unsuspected lines of control, reporting a little here and a little there as we try to manage our secret networks of feeling and doing, our own little complex networks of life..." (Chp 18, 'Crypt/Mirror', 336-7)
Nile Shadows is a sort of Heart of Darkness/Citizen Kane, where Joe O'Sullivan Beare is brought in by a British Intelligence agency to 1941 Cairo to investigate and discover just what his old compatriot Stern Strongbow is up to, possibly with the Germans under Rommel. As the book opens Stern is already dead, killed by an apparently randomly tossed grenade into a seedy bar. Most of the the book is a flash back of Joe's investigation of the mysterious Stern.
But this is as much a spy thriller as The Crying of Lot 49 is a mystery novel. Whittemore does mix genres, but after what feels like in retrospect spy MacGuffin, the book falls into a rhythm of Joe having long cosmically metaphysical conversations with Stern's friend's that make up the bulk of the chapters. (Like how in Citizen Kane the reporter interviews the people in the newspaper tycoon's life.) Perhaps paradoxically, it is the encounter with Ahmad the Poet (now the desk-clerk at the Hotel Jerusalem), a 50 page meandering conversation which earns the book its longueur tag that is also one of my favourite sections -- even though it basically just halts the book. In a novel where one of the major themes is the impossibility of meaning and absolute knowing, you know the mystery is just going to get bigger and more diffuse, not smaller. Oh, and in any self-respecting spy novel the baddie would get a final resolution scene (possibly with him blowing up or falling off a building or something). You don't have to go more than a chapter or two to realize Whittemore's ambitions are more on the Proust level than the le Carré.
A major hole in the book for me is Stern himself. Whittemore handles the mystery, the ambiguity, the paranoia, the charismatic cult around this unknowable shadowy figure well, but when the actual dude finally does show up... He just doesn't seem all that interesting. He is just this guy, you know. (Have to furnish your own German psychoanalyst accent.) His appearance doesn't really answer any of the questions: which Joe frustratingly doesn't seem to want to ask. And it really does feel like a deflation. But no, after this section and the novel goes on, and Joe doesn't seem to have changed his view of Stern. That was a let down for me, though I guess it is equally possible that I missed the point on my rather fragmented first reading. (I'm sure there is a whole graduate thesis to be done on all the pillars of smoke in this novel, all leading to the columns of smoke coming from the Nazi death-camps.)
This is a book organized around friendships, and that is one of its real strengths on a character level. I really felt Joe's connection with Ahmad, Liffy (oh Liffy!), Bletchley and the Sisters. Again, not as much with Stern, because when Joe gets to Stern he sort of starts ranting at him, and so the dude we're expecting answers from spends a lot of time sitting and listening to Joe speechifying so there is not as much a connection show. The romance in the book is kept small which is good, because I found the scenes with Joe and Maud (who is now connected to Stern) rather too sentimental, and didn't jibe with a harder view of other things in the world. Actually I expected Maud to betray Joe, but in the end this doesn't seem to have happened, though it might have also been too subtle to me. (Again, I am rambling. There is a LOT in this book.)
But I still give the book four stars. Thank goodness Whittemore much different writer than Pynchon. Even though he's dealing with complex, mysterious, secret worlds, he doesn't feel the need to clog his prose with the same obscurantism. Whittemore is hugely ambitious, he swoops and he weaves everywhere, almost Proust-like in his scope. He wants to cram everything into his book. He has a kind of earnestness which may not be in style today (thus my own distaste for his romance sections) but the book really is enormously rewarding.
This is the first Whittemore I've read, based on a recommendation by another author I love, Jeff VanderMeer. Though it is a stand alone novel it's the penultimate book in the Sinai Tapestry series (also the only Whittemore my local library had). The earlier books are supposed to have much more fantastical elements (while Nile Shadows on its own is more an absurdist spy novel in places). I'm quite happy to have discovered this 'hidden treasure' author and can now hunt down the rest of his books.
Oh, and a blurb on the back (of the 1983 ed)that cuts through the usual bullshit of blurbs:
"If the price of whiskey goes up again and the wife leaves me, I'll sit down and reread this book." -- Hugh Murphy, reader, County Donegal
January 29, 2011
A happy little update (for me). I was in the library and the very copy of Nile Shadows I read was in the discard bin for one dollar! Snatch. I celebrated by ordering all the other books in the quartet from Powell's in Portland through AbeBooks.(less)
"It's a fascinating book. It's got pace, it's got momentum, it's full of humor, and I think the writer has a story to tell. We've struck gold."
This is...more "It's a fascinating book. It's got pace, it's got momentum, it's full of humor, and I think the writer has a story to tell. We've struck gold."
This is as good a review as I can give right now. That the above is one of the two main characters talking about Mein Kampf, which they are translating into Yiddish, gives you an idea of the tone. Biting satire, but satire kept in a disturbingly real, grounded reality. (Well grounded for the majority of the book. Grunberg slowly wound his characters up and in the final section of the book everything is fast and unbelievable.)
Grunberg is the most awesome writer than probably 97% of the reading public would not touch with a ten foot pole. But if you like your lit straight up, fearless and difficult he is the dude for you. If you want to scare a friend or relative go up to them with big puppy dog eyes, hand them the novel and say softly, "I love this book..."*
*(I would never do this in real life, but on the internet I'm okay with scaring the crap out of all you imaginary people.)(less)
A comic tale of a bored earth man, a thirty-one year old adolescent, swapping bodies with a Martian to go on vacation. Things go wrong almost immediat...moreA comic tale of a bored earth man, a thirty-one year old adolescent, swapping bodies with a Martian to go on vacation. Things go wrong almost immediately.
Put me on the side of people who really enjoyed the humour in this book. Sheckley jumps from parody to parody, most pulled off with great verve and skill. It benefits from being written before 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and I would argue it is probably a more timeless book than Adams' work - which seems much more locked in the 80s than Sheckley's 60s work.
Under the humour is the serious intent to investigate how we know anything. At one point the main character Marvin Flynn remembers he is not supposed to judge people by their appearances, unfortunately no one ever told him what he is supposed to the judge them by instead. A comedy of a hapless man careening through the universe - or to put it another way a totally realistic novel about the human condition.
You could argue that instead of a failed novelist Sheckley suffers (in some reader's eyes) from being too ambitious, almost experimental. In the final half of the novel Marvin suffers from 'metaphoric deformation' and so does the novel. I enjoy how everything spins off madly - and that in the end Sheckley refuses to tamp everything back down into a safe cognitive box for the reader. No, he gives us his joker's smile and bids us adieu.(less)
A great cartoon polemic for the artistic importance of comics. McCloud clearly wants to free the form from the superhero genre he feels it is handcuff...moreA great cartoon polemic for the artistic importance of comics. McCloud clearly wants to free the form from the superhero genre he feels it is handcuffed to in the West.
I have mixed feelings about this approach. As a kid I loved Spiderman, the X-Men, and Superman, to name a few. I left superheroes and comics behind but then came back in for many of the artist-creators that McCloud clearly sees as the future of the comics: Speiglmen, Hernandez Bros, R. Crumb, Heriman and others. Yet there is a part of me that insists there is something of the childishly unrestrained ID in comics that shouldn't be lost by elevating comics to big a - ART, many of the artists I enjoy retain that wacky element in their 'serious' work.
I do wonder if McCloud's hopes for comics, written in the 1990s, has really panned out. The dominance of the DC and Marvel comic factories continues and commerce is still not very friendly to the artists that I dearly want to see more work from! Which is another way of saying that not enough people like me are buying artists' works. Expense is a major barrier to comic appreciation.
But I'm just blathering. I'm sure webcomics or torrents or something will have all the artist rolling in dough in no time. Who knows? Not me.
McCloud applies a 'textual/visual' analysis to comics coming up with filters that illuminate aspects of the form I have never thought of and while I don't agree with everything he said and have some questions about cavemen and art history it is clearly a valuable and influential work. It's existence as a comic essay is proof of the diversity in the field. It is very rare when art criticism can become art itself, Understanding Comics achieves this.(less)
I picked this up remembering that Cheryl Morgan had recommended it some time back and wasn't disappointed. Going solely from reading this book I can s...moreI picked this up remembering that Cheryl Morgan had recommended it some time back and wasn't disappointed. Going solely from reading this book I can see that China Meiville didn't just arise from nowhere, because this book reminded me a lot of some of the better aspects of Meiville's earlier novels (the only ones I've read so far). There is a lot of sex power - magic - goddess talk in the book, but it isn't as airy fairy 90s grrl power blather as that might sounds to the more cynical of you (or of me).
I really enjoyed how I came to love, and well love, the trans character Zambia Crevecoeur. At first the descriptions of the character were on the side of horrifying, but this has to do with the inner state of the character at that point in the novel. Constantine was amazing at taking me into a character who was falling in love with hir. (Yes the novel uses hir and SHe, and while I have ZERO knowledge of the use, context or history of those pronouns, they seemed to work quite elegantly and naturally in the context of this novel.)
It does get quite - let's say - metaphorical towards the end, but I liked that and felt that the novel earned it. There are some novels that get all wild and abstract towards the end and it seems like the novelist is simply waving their hands in the air chanting - "you know! you know!", but you don't know. This novel feels like it achieves it climax in a way that brings the reader along. Will be reading more of Constantine.(less)
Who know if this is the correct edition, but you get the idea. I've read and loved the other six. This is the last and in a quite Proust-like fashion...moreWho know if this is the correct edition, but you get the idea. I've read and loved the other six. This is the last and in a quite Proust-like fashion I've been putting this one off. Ah, delayed gratification, the ecstasy of the unopened book... Take this as a warning, Proust may very well warp your mind.(less)
I only give this little, little volume 3 stars because it is only the opener in what promises to be an AMAZING story, but so far while there is much g...moreI only give this little, little volume 3 stars because it is only the opener in what promises to be an AMAZING story, but so far while there is much goodness and lots of bizarre T.V. headed royalty this is just the set up. Can't wait for more!(less)
The epic saga of the life of Skafloc Elven Fosterling, The Broken Sword has an amazingly tortured villain and a hero who gets darker and darker and mo...moreThe epic saga of the life of Skafloc Elven Fosterling, The Broken Sword has an amazingly tortured villain and a hero who gets darker and darker and more thwarted as the story goes along. The central relationship of Skafloc and the fair Freda is the emotional heart of the book and also its greatest tragedy reaching the emblematic status of some Greek plays I could mention but won't for fear of spoiling the book.
The writing, especially at the beginning is similar to the old Norse sagas and may put off some readers, but it becomes more poetic and dense as the novel goes along - that or the book trained me up for the rest of it. For such a short work it recalls many of the themes of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which the book first published in 1954 then altered and republished in 1971 is a contemporary of.(less)