Believe it or not, despite the hints throughout about dark and terrible things to come, this novel doesn't really tur...moreGorgeous, Cynical, Well-Observed
Believe it or not, despite the hints throughout about dark and terrible things to come, this novel doesn't really turn dark until around the last fifth.
Until then it's beautiful scenery, well-observed love triangles and petty dislikes, and a new traveller trying to get to, and then assimilate into, the hidden island paradise known as the beach. However, our boy, English narrator Richard, was originally given a map to the beach by an angry/disturbed guy he met in a Thai hostel, just before he slit his own wrists. So I suppose the darkness is there right from the start.
It's odd that a story so brimming with obvious bad shit happening around the edges manages to stay so pleasant in the main - but then so does the beach itself. It is this amoral hippie oasis - beautiful and hidden, but with drug plantations and the beaten tourist trail so nearby - which makes up the essential dilemma of the piece.
The beach is set up almost like a modern fairy kingdom - a place where time appears to stop, everyone forgets about their lives back home, and the place is apparently run fairly and well - but with a slight hint of menace, too.
I was especially pleased with the narrator character, Richard. Though he does eventually do some terrible things, it's his shrewd observation, thirst for adventure, and just the right amount of cynicism and pettiness to stay entirely believable, which really makes this narrative work.
For large amounts of the story the islanders are simply fishing, or farming, or otherwise working - but it's Richard's keen observation and Alex Garland's tight plotting which keeps undercurrents churning away. Even when the day-to-day activities are repetitive, Richard's growing discoveries about the place and the people mean that the plot never stands still.
(This may not be my most well-thought out review as I only finished the book yesterday, and need to give things time to percolate a little more, but I did really enjoy - and devour - this book.)(less)
It took me two years to power my way through this one. I'm a stubborn reader that doesn't like to leave thing...moreDull, But Not Without Redeeming Features
It took me two years to power my way through this one. I'm a stubborn reader that doesn't like to leave things half-read - but believe me it was reading for grim determination rather than pleasure from about the first third onwards.
My heart sank when it then appeared on my uni reading lists and I had to go through the bugger again, but reading it again has given me a slightly higher appreciation of it.
There are some powerful descriptions, some beautiful turns of phrase, not to mention the uncomfortable subject matter is what good literature should be tackling - showing things from unusual perspectives and humanising the monster.
My problem starts when dear Humbert Humbert goes on the road, and just starts listing hotels and the most uninteresting details for hours at a stretch. At my university they argued that this was a deliberate move by Nabokov to demonstrate something about the narrator. Knowing Nabokov it probably was, but it still lost me - and putting your audience off is not a good move as far as I'm concerned.
Plus the wet fart of an ending. I know dramatic things happened, but by that point it felt like we were watching the action through a spyglass. Somehow, when the plot gets the most dramatic, it all feels bizarrely removed.
Again, I'm sure Nabokov meant it that way, and I'm sure it's terribly clever, but beyond the opening lines of the first chapter, it bored me to tears. (less)
Not the Best Place to Find the Whiplash Tongue of Mrs Parker
A Dotty Parker not at her best is still definitely worth a read, but despite some glints...moreNot the Best Place to Find the Whiplash Tongue of Mrs Parker
A Dotty Parker not at her best is still definitely worth a read, but despite some glints and flashes in here, there's a reason it took 'til 2006 to publish this lot.
Though some of the witticisms are classic Parker, and some turns of phrase and observations are great, I realised a lot of these re-trod the same territory or worse: re-trod the same punchline as each other. There were at least five poems full of lush, pastoral beauty, where the final couplet involved "and it's then that I thank God I'm a New Yorker/I have to get back to the city/All this countryside makes me want to vomit." Any one of these poems on their own would have been fine, but reading this collection means you've already heard the killer blow many times before you get to the end of that specific poem.
I found the Hatesongs one of the least appealing sections - not as tightly-written as the Dotty I know and love - and often the subjects of her ire are a little too dated for readers to work up any similar feelings of hatred for (for example) 1930s college boys.
I do feel pretty sorry for any author who has their castoffs published posthumously. Parker didn't particularly want these to go out, which is why she never published them - despite mounting debts in later life.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad collection, but it's not what her legacy is made from, either. I'd recommend this one for die-hard fans only. There are better places to start discovering the whiplash tongue of Mrs Parker.(less)
This book took me three months to read. I didn't find it particularly difficult, I didn't hate it, I just didn't love it...moreToo Measured for Its Own Good
This book took me three months to read. I didn't find it particularly difficult, I didn't hate it, I just didn't love it either and given its reputation, I was expecting a lot more.
It's funny, I always enjoyed this book well enough when I was reading it, but once I put it down I found I wasn't tempted at all to pick it back up again. Possibly the problem is its tone: it reads more like a series of short tales than anything cohesive... and the narrative voice just seemed too measured, too wise to hold any tension or intrigue for me. Smart: yes. Important: yes. Page-turner: no. When Maya Angelou is good she's damn good, but in a valedictorian sense, rather than a novelist sense. I would love her on the radio, but she's not what I want to lose myself in on the way to work.
Though I never studied this in school, I thought this slotted perfectly into my memories of secondary school. I found myself reminiscing about my old classrooms, thinking other worthy things we studied around year 8 such as Walkabout, Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls, and The Crucible. I imagined the well-intentioned (but extremely simplistic) playground debates I would have had with old schoolmates about this book, and found myself reminiscing about Mr Savage. (My old English teacher was lovely and fantastic.) But I digress.
Also, Angelou has a frustrating tendency to pick and choose from scene to scene if she's telling it from a child's point of view, or her more learned, informed adult point of view. This flicking about between registers meant the whole piece seemed to wind up a compromise between adult wisdom and the oomph of childhood - meaning the story never quite benefitted from the full effect of either. Some novels such as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha have captured a deprived childhood, and all its complexities, while keeping the child's voice. This didn't do that - but the camera never drew back to reveal the wider frame, either.
Like I said, I always liked it okay when I picked it up again - the act of reading this was never a chore - but it took me three months to finish it - in which time I also read 2 Douglas Couplands, countless bits and pieces of poetry, and a fair few magaziney non-fiction books. I took this book on holiday to America, and it lived in my bag with my 3 hour daily commute - unscathed by reading eyes for the vast majority of that time.
So: it's okay. I think this book, and my review of it, has suffered under the weight of its own reputation. Nice, good, illuminating, but I really wish I'd read it when I was 12 or so. I think I would have loved it then.(less)
For one year the whole world finds itself repeating the previous year, and their actions in it, with no free w...moreBut What Happened During the TimeQuake?
For one year the whole world finds itself repeating the previous year, and their actions in it, with no free will. Doomed to fall mess up the same relationships, crash their cars, fail or succeed at work, and everything else that happened in the past year - without any ability to change one action, one gesture, one word.
A fascinating premise, but probably not Vunnegut's best in its execution (as he acknowledges/deals with in the intro.) As per usual Vonnegut, there are some fascinating ideas and theories on the world, which make it well worth the read.
My problem is with its execution: the action begins in the few moments after people regain their free will - but have become automatons as they all stopped paying attention. The plot focuses on getting people back to full wakefulness, and it is very good - but I personally would have liked a little narrative to focus on what it was like to be doomed to repeat, trapped inside your own head and unable to alter anything. (less)
I've had to read this twice in the course of my education, and I don't like it one bit, though I tho...moreThis Pisses Me Off and Makes Me Feel Like a Moron
I've had to read this twice in the course of my education, and I don't like it one bit, though I thoroughly appreciate its status and importance. Sort of like my attitude to atomic weapons. You wouldn't dismiss atomic weapons as 'crap', but you could legitimately say 'I appreciate their significance but I don't like them at all.'
I don't think there has ever been more literary masturbation about any other piece of writing than The Wasteland, and I personally found it charmless, aloof and with nothing to engage my wish to push through that first impression.
Yes, it's all the pieces of the 'shattered' classical world, thrown together in a different and hideous mixture to reflect the modernists' belief that the world as they knew it, and all previous literary forms, weren't up to the task of reflecting their contemporary world - but I really don't like the result. It doesn't engage me and it doesn't illuminate me. Maybe that was the point. Still don't like it, and I'm not in university anymore, so I don't have to try to keep up with the intellectual dick-swinging which surrounds this piece. Thanks but no thanks.
Anything this determinedly difficult just puts my back up, and the more I learn of Eliot himself the less I feel like tackling it. Okay, Eliot, you're a misogynistic, anti-Semitic elitist who doesn't think anyone without a classical education is worthy of reading your work.
Well, fine. Fuck you. I'll take my comprehensive-educated Jewish arse elsewhere. (less)
Author Too in Love with his Own Concept to See the Gaping Blindspots
This is a novel which was recommended to me by friends as "if you liked Fight Clu...moreAuthor Too in Love with his Own Concept to See the Gaping Blindspots
This is a novel which was recommended to me by friends as "if you liked Fight Club you'll love this." Though I can see the comparison, I liked Fight Club and I really didn't like this one. Fight Club was lean and taut, this was bloated and outdated - like some lecherous late middle-aged guy you run in to at a party, who proceeds to trap you in a conversation you’d rather not be in.
Once I started reading I discovered that my friends' explanation of this book made more sense and appealed more than the book itself does. Yes, if you decide to assign random actions to different sides of dice and throw them - you will (by your own made up rules) have to go do the thing it lands on. But don't you dare lose track of the fact that you're the one who put those six outcomes on that die. You're still in control, stupid.
Psychologist narrator decides one day to just play with possibilities. His very first one is "if this die is a one, I'll go rape my neighbour." It is. He does. Lovely. How very free.
I'd been told about this bit, but I'd always assumed it was further along in the book, something dark and disturbing which he builds up to. But nope - it happens straight away, which doesn’t strike me as very good plotting. Also, the neighbour loves it, so it's not really rape. Women are always gagging for it, aren't they?
The problem at the core of this book is that narrator Luke Reinhart and the author Luke Reinhart are, (I’d venture) pretty much one and the same in their viewpoints . And it's a one-dimensional, pseudo-revolutionary viewpoint with no regard for other human beings. They both think that living randomly is awesome. Like, so totally awesome that the narrator throws away most of his established life in the process of following this dumb idea of the roll of the dice. He loses his job, wife and family along the way but it's cool, 'cause now he's living wild and crazy and free and doing stuff he’d never normally do. Well, it’s definitely wild and crazy, but I fail to see why that's the stated aim, and I don’t believe the new experiences are worth what each ‘Dice Experiment’ character throws away in the process.
Frustratingly, the plot does light on all my counter-arguments (always put forward by the narrator's psychologist colleagues), but they're always just brushed aside as unhip. Nevermind this square life where you don't rape your neighbours - this dude's living free! They fired him at work? Great: now he can really get on with his work! It's the same dumb TV logic which sees cops only catching the murderer once they're suspended from the case.
This book is a big-assed brick of a novel, and if you're not charmed and amused by the narrator, or if you're not into the machismo - yet lack of sense of self (ie personality or scruples) - which the narrator character enthuses about for most of the book, it's going to be a trudge.
I wonder how different my reading of this might have been if I'd read it in social context when it came out in 1971 (the same year as the Stanford Prison Experiment, as it so happens). It seems to be bourne of that same Stanford Prison Experiment thinking which is willing to risk treading on people en route to gaining a deeper psychological understanding of human nature. I also wonder how different this novel would be if it hadn't been written in the early 70s. The two seem inextricably linked, and not in a good way. Like I said – think bloated middle-aged guy at a party. Oh, and he’s just bought his first motorbike and wants to tell you all about it. “It’s really powerful, sensual, raw. You should try it some time, come for a ride with me.”
All in all - Luke Rhinehart - you're icky and please take your midlife crisis elsewhere.(less)
I think I like the idea of Beat better than I like the writing
The blurb said this laid Burroughs' soul bare. I haven't read much else of his to know...moreI think I like the idea of Beat better than I like the writing
The blurb said this laid Burroughs' soul bare. I haven't read much else of his to know how this compares - but this didn't strike me as particularly warm. If this is Burroughs spilling his guts then God only knows how removed the rest of his stuff is.
The style is pleasingly paired-down, but almost to the point of bragging/alienating his less cool readers: He mentions that the protagonist, William Lee, is having a bad day so he washes down a small piece of opium, and then wanders out where he meets so-and-so. Sorry, wait a sec, go back: for those of us with no idea how a 'small piece of opium' hits you, could you please elaborate?
The unrequited love aspect is well-observed - the impotent pain of knowing you've got nothing to offer the object of your affections and that your need is just irritating them. In this Lee winds up pretty much buying time with the man he loves, which is all kinds of uncomfortable.
There are some pleasing descriptions of the Latin American terrain, and some social neurosis in Lee which made me warm to him a bit more... but generally this is travel notes. There isn't any real plot, and the paired-back style is almost too throwaway. In the absence of much plot we have experiences which are, I suppose, almost freestanding - and I feel they need deeper analysis or description than just the briefest of notes. (less)
This is a book which I get is smart, clever, filled with interesting insights, suppositions and - frankly - prophesies. (All the s...moreRich essay material
This is a book which I get is smart, clever, filled with interesting insights, suppositions and - frankly - prophesies. (All the stuff with Eusa and putting all his cleverness in a box, and the leet - well before mass computerisation, the internet, or anyone calling themselves the l33t... spooky as hell.)
However, it just didn't really grab me as a piece of story telling. It was a well-constructed world and full of many interesting themes which I enjoyed unpicking and would've made rich study for an essay or a book group. I just didn't much care about our boy or his individual journey.
Frankly - brilliant little details aside - I found it a bit of a trudge to finish this one. (less)