Not sure what to say about it. It is an interesting book in that it is very different from most of what I read and it was reasonably entertaining. I k...moreNot sure what to say about it. It is an interesting book in that it is very different from most of what I read and it was reasonably entertaining. I know it has some literary historical significance which was one of the reasons I read it. So on the whole it was worth my while I felt. On the other hand it is not something that effected me much.(less)
I read Siddhartha when I was a teenager and it was pretty formative for me. I also read Demian but don't remember as much about it. I tried reading St...moreI read Siddhartha when I was a teenager and it was pretty formative for me. I also read Demian but don't remember as much about it. I tried reading Steppenwolf several times but it wasn't till I was older that I finished it. I guess I kind of felt I was over Hesse by now, but my wife recommended this one strongly. I'm glad she did. Hesse can be a bit heavy handed with his theories and in some ways the story is very directly an allegory for spiritual paths. Still, it's enjoyably done and thought provoking throughout. I've been thinking about art and spirituality myself lately so this kind of hit the spot.(less)
I felt mixed about this. There were pieces I like a lot and pieces I didn't like at all. I also wonder if part of the reason this book gets rated so h...moreI felt mixed about this. There were pieces I like a lot and pieces I didn't like at all. I also wonder if part of the reason this book gets rated so highly is because of it's subject matter.
I liked the "Sweetheart..." story because it seemed like the kind of story that might get told there by soldiers sitting around. I think this was one side of the book that was interesting. There are different types of stories, that work in different ways but that still function to give a reader like me, who wasn't there, a feel for the experience.
I liked "On the Rainy River". I felt I could connect with what he was going through and the idea of running away to some random roadside hotel to work through it.
I liked some of the images of the soldiers talking, the sketches of their personalities. I thought that stuff rang true.
On the other hand, I felt some of it was preachy, for instance "How to tell a true war story". I also felt that the book was hypocritical in that some of the pieces did seem to be emotionally manipulative rather than "true". For instance, "the man I killed". I really felt uncomfortable about his imagined story for the dead man. The whole notion of telling that kind of story and the sort of pity he seems to take on the dead guy was stomach turning. It's a cliche and it's wasn't well done. I think some times he does want to come out with some kind of moral in his stories.
On the whole I didn't think he was that great a writer. I didn't like the way he put in notes like "Start here:" for instance. I can understand he was trying to mess with notions of art and the story but it didn't feel interesting, it just made it seem messy. There's a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" in this book. I feel like there are a lot of short cuts in places. Places where the fact that he's just not a very good writer shows through in an inability to use language to create an effect or to carry an idea. He just kind of hacks at the problems sometimes.
I also think there are just some cliches that really permeate this book. The whole notion that danger can be exhilirating and make you feel more alive. I don't object to this being part of what you are doing, but he states it like it's something that so uniquely true of his experience that it justifies him just bald face saying it repeatedly. That stuff doesn't help me appreciate the experience any more.
As far as the unpleasant or uncomfortable stuff in there. That stuff I can appreciate. That did make me feel more like I was there. It made me feel uncomfortable. I think that was the intended effect. I liked that he presented this stuff with a feeling of understanding for the people who did those things, without trying to justify them. The purpose of these parts did seem "true" to me. That's just what it was like. He isn't engaged in trying to make those things seem more humane, but he's also not presenting them in the spirit of holding them up for us to feel outraged by. I think these are some of the places he can express more subtle effects. He communicates both the humanness of the soldiers doing these things, as well as horror of the actual actions.(less)
I was excited by this at first. It reminded me of China Mieville's "The City and the City" and I thought the alternate history stuff had definite pote...moreI was excited by this at first. It reminded me of China Mieville's "The City and the City" and I thought the alternate history stuff had definite potential. At first the writing seemed exciting as well. Lot's of unexpected comparisons to liven things up. I also was interested in the chess angle. As the book got past about the halfway point though I started to feel dissatisfied. I felt that the idea of plot with the unblemished cow and the location outside of the district wasn't that exciting and felt kind of cartoony. I also was getting kind of tired of the characters. They also kind of felt unreal. Particularly with Landsman I just kind of started feeling that both his degeneracy and his turnaround were ridiculous. Lastly, I felt disappointed with the chess angle. It was always kind of hanging around the story, but there wasn't really that much to it, and the ending with the puzzle seemed anti-climactic both in terms of the explanation of the solution and how it tied into the plot. I do wonder if my experience didn't suffer some from reading this right after a Faulkner novel that I thought a lot of. This is definitely much lighter material and perhaps I judged it unfairly. Still, as I mentioned, at first I thought it would be better than it was.(less)
I liked this a lot. Fowler is an interesting character. The atmosphere of the book is very engaging. It's not the deepest book, but there provocative...moreI liked this a lot. Fowler is an interesting character. The atmosphere of the book is very engaging. It's not the deepest book, but there provocative thoughts throughout.(less)
The tone felt strangely light as I just read Naipaul's "In a Free State", but I liked "Our Man..." a lot. It reminded me of "Crying of Lot 49" in some...moreThe tone felt strangely light as I just read Naipaul's "In a Free State", but I liked "Our Man..." a lot. It reminded me of "Crying of Lot 49" in some ways (though it's been like 15 years since I read that). The tone is comic-absurd-mysterious in a similar way. A quick fun read.(less)
Recommended by my mom who thought it was great. The 3 stars is really provisional here. I feel I need to think about the stories more. I started readi...moreRecommended by my mom who thought it was great. The 3 stars is really provisional here. I feel I need to think about the stories more. I started reading the book a second time right after finishing it so I could maybe get a better grasp. I also read the reviews here and some other places on the web.
The prologue: I really liked this part. I felt Naipaul did a great job giving the feel of the place and the dynamics among the people. I felt I could relate to the tramp, as well as to the viewpoint of the narrator. The boat is full of a very international mix of people and it's interesting how easily people establish a sort of society. The tramp is just very disconnected from everybody, but is also probably borderline mentally ill. It's unclear specifically what he did during the night to disturb the rest of his cabin mates. The Yugoslav is an instance of a loner (for whatever reason) that doesn't stick out the way the tramp does. I thought it was interesting that everybody has a very sharp national identity except for the tramp who might be English and the narrator who is undefined. Also why is the tramp English? The English who till recently have been so powerful in the world and as a major colonial power a bully. It's also interesting that when the tramp lists where he's been, the places except for Egypt are English speaking. It's obviously a story about the cruelty of people to someone who disturbs them. There's a general lack of sympathy, many people just coming to watch them mess with him. The narrator himself says that he's afraid to get involved with the tramp. Maybe it's about a loss of privelige. The tramp is old and maybe used to a certain kind of world order that is passing. These people don't respect his Englishness. I don't know, probably worth some more thought.
One Out of Many: I think in some ways this was the easiest story to read, but I really didn't respect it much. I felt the whole character of Santos was overdone in his absurd naïveté. I felt it was just an exaggerated characture of an Indian immigrant. One point that really stuck out was when Priya shows him a room and there's this really dumb misunderstanding about whether he was being offered the cupboard or the room. I just felt that "joke" is so old I really felt strange that Naipaul actually used it. The same thing with the "weed". I felt that was another very cliched joke. The story wasn't all bad and there were some interesting things about the emotions Santos goes through after he leaves his first employer. I also thought the ending was interesting but on the whole I didn't really find Santos' character to be very believable. I think that despite the fact that the ending isn't a feel good ending, still wasn't really convincing and I don't really feel I understand what Santos is saying there as part of an evolving character.
Tell me who to kill: this one is tough. It is hard to read because it is so negative. I think it's well written just because of how effectively it communicates those feelings. It's hard to say who to blame. Obviously he has a rough life, but he also seems to take everything so hard. He seems trapped by the bleakness of his choices but also by his own mind. In some ways there doesn't seem to be much to take out of it except the desperation of some lives. One major point I don't get is just what the thread about visiting the college friend who get's a knife stuck in him is. Is it a dream, a vision, or real? It doesn't make much sense to me as real, but not sure how to understand it beyond that. I feel that more could be said about all the stuff that goes on with the narrator but somehow not quite sure how to do it myself.
In a Free State: this one is also difficult to read due to the unpleasantness of feelings aroused. In terms of writing I thought this was the best of the pieces. The description of the landscapes that they pass through was great. The dialogue was very interesting but also difficult. I felt that the dialogue was disjointed. I don't mean that as a criticism because I think it was intentional and effectively communicated the feeling that these two were talking to each other with somewhat cross purposes. There is an interesting sense on the one hand that they are both part of a fairly small world and so some of that disjointed feeling comes from the fact that they share this context and so that common experience fills in some of the gaps. On the other hand that disjointedness also expresses that they are somewhat in conflict in terms of their views. So when one person says something, the other will reply in a way that goes off in another direction. At one point Linda talks about a conversation as a chess game and in some ways that seems to fit how the two are relating to each other. They are both playing this game of being provocative within the constraints of their etiquette. I think another level of complexity in the dialogue was the psychological dimension. That is, as the reader we are learning more about the character or psychology of the two as the story unfolds. So there's the sense in which the dialogue and the responses they have to what is said is revealing their self deceptions as well as their more conscious commitments. Obviously, there is also a big social dimension to what takes place. The two main characters are finding a place, Bobby feels quite committed to Africa, while Linda seems to see herself as more of a visitor, Africa as more incidental as setting for her adventures. On the other hand there is the actual political situation. The post colonial scene. Two tribes fighting for control of a country that only really exists as a colonial structure. I think I had more trouble understanding this dimension of the story. I felt I was able to key into Bobby and Linda's psychology to a decent degree particularly after the second reading, but still feel vague about the social commentary. I'm not sure what the significance of the journey itself is, nor many of the incidents along the way.
So I guess my 3 star rating is due to a mix of factors. The writing particularly in the title piece is great, but the subjective experience wasn't really pleasant due to the unpleasant feelings roused by much of the book, and the sense that I don't understand the book particularly the title piece as well as could be hoped.(less)
I'd seen some of Ceridwen's reviews of China Mieville, and recently was looking at his page here on goodreads where I saw an interview with him where...moreI'd seen some of Ceridwen's reviews of China Mieville, and recently was looking at his page here on goodreads where I saw an interview with him where he discussed this book a bit and the things he had to say about trying to write a mystery story intrigued me so I bought this. I didn't know what to expect really except that it was supposed to be a mystery and that there would probably be a "weird" dimension to it.
I found the book difficult to get into. I didn't really like the writing style much and I had a bit of trouble coping with the first elements of the "weird" as they were introduced. As I picked up on what was going on though and through the rest of the book, I thought the idea of the two cities was really cool. I liked in particular something that I noticed but that Mieville also mentions in the interview published with this book, which was that it's not just how people obey the taboo but also the various ways they break it, often in small ways. I thought it was neat that there were a number of small details that he mentions about how people live with it, such as the example of children throwing a lizard through an area of the other city back into their own. He also talks about little ways that people negotiate the unseeing when they sort of have to recognize an intrusion of some kind. I could just easily imagine a lesser writer perhaps even being afraid to look at the possible problems with this idea let alone actually include them in the story, or make the division so artificial it isn't as interesting. Another example is tourists, how do they handle being there. Furthermore I liked the ways in which I could see aspects of that world in my own experience of cities. I thought it was interesting to see his opinions on allegory and metaphor in the accompanying interview.
As far as the mystery I found it engaging and interesting. I was excited to keep reading and to find out what was going on.
I never really got to like the style of the writing. I also had a lot of difficulty figuring out who was speaking at times due to the way he used paragraph breaks and his habit of following a statement in quotes meant to be spoken by one character with a descriptive statement about the narrator.
Another thing was that I didn't really like the way breach played into the novel. I really liked the way that the overlapping of the cities is sort of mysterious but at the same time is really low key in a way. I thought it was interesting that it was held into place so much by the efforts of the people themselves rather than by some sort of explicit magical force or something. I also liked the idea of breach the action as a concept. What I didn't like was breach as this sort of alien police force with sort of magical powers. It just felt too heavy handed in comparison with the more subtle flavor of the notion of the cities themselves.
Another point was that I ended up a little disappointed that more wasn't revealed about the nature of the cities through the course of the story. I understand from the interview that this was a very conscious choice on his part but it left me hungering. I guess with this though I am pretty willing to see it as more something I was hoping for and didn't get rather than as something that should have been the way I expected.
Another point about the resolution or maybe just another way of saying the same thing was that it was a little disappointing how prosaic the mystery ended up being when there is so much mystery swirling around. I suspect that this was also a conscious part of fulfilling the noire genre concept, in the interview I think Mieville describes the ending (maybe the interviewer) as "deflationary" and that that's a fair assessment. I wasn't horribly disappointed or anything, just looking back feel it could have been better.
On the whole very interesting central idea, engaging mystery, not so great writing style, somewhat disappointing resolution. It wavers between 3 and 4 stars.
I liked this collection but not in any terribly urgent or exciting way. On the other hand, I do feel that I did like I often do and read the stories q...moreI liked this collection but not in any terribly urgent or exciting way. On the other hand, I do feel that I did like I often do and read the stories quickly. I have a definite feeling that if I spent more time thinking about them I might find them more valuable.(less)