**spoiler alert** I've not done much literary reviews lately, but seeing the strong reactions that this book elicited, I felt I had to offer my input.**spoiler alert** I've not done much literary reviews lately, but seeing the strong reactions that this book elicited, I felt I had to offer my input. In my personal opinion, this is the most intellectually honest book of the 3. I feel this maybe got such varied reactions because it's a beast of many genres spliced together (yes, i just made that analogy), and so this leads to uncertainty as to whether this is a thriller pushing through to an exciting conclusion, or something else. Expectations thwarted and people are left unsatisfied. In my view in this book more than the other three Margaret Atwood has dethroned humanity. By the end of the book, there are three humanoid species left, the Crakers, the Pigoons and us. We've become anachronistic and in my eyes there seems to be the sense that not longer after the book ends, all humans are gone.
I feel also that a good deal of book 3 is that of the characters losing their naivete. They are confronting the reality of people that they have idolized, learning to share their stories and the stories of other people and see each other for who they really are, rather than continuing to live--and suffer--under the delusions they held. This happens even with Blackbeard seeing the bodies of Crake and Oryx.
I regret a great deal that there's not a great deal of agency in the characters, but nearly everyone shows themselves to be sturdy and capable when they need to be. Now, that said, sure it is improbable how many people knew each other, but I feel that the 3rd volume makes this all the more clear. In volumes 1 and especially 2, this seemed like lazy writing, but then reading in #3 about all the greater machinations going on behind the scenes, and nothing seemed accidental or improbable. It felt like volume 3 was less about creatively trying to build on top of an existing plot structure, and rather more like excavating below one.
This is kind of a 'middle-age' novel, where you're past your infancy and you're seeing the world more clearly. Ren meets Jimmy and he's not this great person that she had idealized, a lot of the book is Toby hearing Zeb undercut the idealized version of himself. I think this is an interesting theme and it ties into the greater plot, where we are made to see humanity as not so great and wonderful. It is a severe judgement when considering how, with most of humanity gone, and a purer, idealistic version of ourselves living on without us, that life feels clean and fresh and open. I suppose this is the major Fall-and-Decline criticism that you see, where one's habits, when taken to an extreme scale, make us become sclerotic, stiff, unable to adapt and change, where life has become a prison and there's nowhere to go but down. We see some of the good people are capable of, but on the whole there's very little of it when compared to the amount of suffering these people cause each other in the pre-Flood days. Going back to the seeming improbability of all these people knowing each other before the Flood, it doesn't seem quite so improbable when the book forces you to question: would I know how to get by if any of this happens? And for the vast majority the answer is no, I'd be toast almost immediately. Then you consider the small percentage that knows how to get by, and it doesn't seem so unlikely that they happen to know each other, especially given the majority are connected to a cult that rejected all technology and had learned to live that way for years before the Flood.
Once I got over not thinking there'd be a rousing conclusion, it was a little startling that there was a mini-one in the last 50 pages with the Battle. I suppose my 5 star rating comes less from execution and more from the power and originality of thought. Definitely beats Orwell out of the water in many ways (leading me to think that this book is a bit 1984 and Animal Farm mashed together). ...more
Somehow, I heard this was a ghost story, then that never materialized. It was a misunderstanding on my part. But what a great gem! Sets out with one pSomehow, I heard this was a ghost story, then that never materialized. It was a misunderstanding on my part. But what a great gem! Sets out with one purpose and fulfills it comprehensively. Great reading, lots of good connections and superb writing. At times overwrought, with me feeling apathetic about trying to figure out what exactly he is saying, but I feel when I reread this in the future it'll be clear.
James clearly thinks ill of the adults' behavior in this book, but does a good job of showing their rationale forcefully enough that you start to sympathize until you begin to remember again the stakes. ...more
"...mememormee..." and then a few seconds trying to figure out what that says, then the tears came.
I didn't think it'd hit me so hard the last 10 page "...mememormee..." and then a few seconds trying to figure out what that says, then the tears came.
I didn't think it'd hit me so hard the last 10 pages. Up until that point, I was going to give it a solid 4, but then I was in tears. A lovely book, extremely g.d. weird, but in the most refreshing of ways. This is the book that saved Joyce's reputation in my eyes, since it's so far better in every way than his short stories and The Portrait. NOW I get it. I feel like I've read Joyce starting with the bad, then the mediocre, then the awesome. So each new book of his I read, his estimation goes up greatly. Until FW, I couldn't figure out why people revere the man so much. I'm much more of a Samuel Beckett -type. But this book was tough, but lots of moments of loveliness and exceedingly good wordplay. The last one is the most cherished one, Ulysses, so I feel glad to have saved the best for last, supposedly.
This is the way I approached it:
Read it straight through the first time, just myself and my brain. I read the intro to the Penguin edition and I think that only set me up with false preconceptions that seemed to have little resemblance to the actual work (darned intros ruining things again!). So about halfway through I stopped trying to find a/the story.
I'll read it again in a year or two, more thoroughly, and buy a copy, and read it with the annotations and things. My thoughts, though, are that the annotations won't help. A lot of these sentences, even if I know what they are talking about, still wouldn't make sense (as contrasted with Proust where there is one likely interpretation, elusive though it is). Or, you'd get the meaning of one sentence but still not be able to figure out anything around it. So I think my inclination to read it through at a moderate pace, not getting bogged down too much was the way to go.
But part of the genius of the book is the fact that each person is required to come up with their own approach as they delve into it.
I wrote this a few days ago on a G.R. friends' wall:
I've read to page 570 of the Penguin edition. My feeling was, if a lot of it is more about how it interacts with your particular brain, then getting a corrected copy wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. Near the end, and my belief seems to be holding up. It's lovely, but my approach is more "get through it, read about it, sometime in the future go through it again." But the best thing I've done is mark the pages that I liked throughout the whole thing, then I'm going to scan them to keep in a PDF, which I'd enjoy looking at from time to time. The greatest hits, the parts that touched me the most. Just, stick it out! Don't stop for even a day
then I wrote this back to him:
OK! I made it. My copy was a library copy, so hearing you say that your edition is beautiful, I'll have to buy it and then be able to experience it more fully. My thinking with my brief flirtation with annotations is that, even if I know what's being referenced, it might not add a whole lot since, even if I understand one sentence "fully", what about the others? A lot of these sentences don't seem to add up into genuine paragraphs, is what I mean. My feeling continues to be to just to keep track of your Greatest Hits, the parts that you liked the best, and in the end to me that's what the value of reading it is. Sometimes that's a whole page, sometimes it's a handful of words buried in crap. The funny thing is that the beginning I would interact with the world and I'd reevaluate all the language around me. So its like the power of the book transferred to the external world and made everything come alive. It was a similar experience of studying Chinese, when I'd close my eyes at night only to see the characters still, like as if they were burned into my eyelids. But even weirder is that the feeling went away as fast as it did.
Last thought : to me, The Wake goes a long way to show how our language is far removed from the Platonic Ideal of the English Language that you find in nearly all other books. So he's less Socrates, pointing up to the sky, and more an Aristotle, pointing to the ground. There's one example of that which is so haunting, I nearly skipped over it--or rather, saw it without recognizing it--but it was the most heartbreaking thing I've ever read. It was on the last page, the last lines, so I scrutinized it with greater urgency, and it paid off....more
A lovely man, a bit more narrow in scope at times (the Youth section is firmly focused on validating rap, which no longer needs defending, I feel). BuA lovely man, a bit more narrow in scope at times (the Youth section is firmly focused on validating rap, which no longer needs defending, I feel). But generally he is extremely capable at synthesizing and giving big picture views of the world that make sense. A bit repetitive, but a short book that I'd have liked to have seen continue on....more
This one - it's got the same issues for me as reading Ayn Rand. This one is presented as dialouge, but there's no doubt from the first pages that bothThis one - it's got the same issues for me as reading Ayn Rand. This one is presented as dialouge, but there's no doubt from the first pages that both parties will reach the same conclusions. Nonetheless, even in such a scenario a writer could present legitimate critiques, but these seem halfhearted, as if the conclusions are so sensical that its not worth exploring alternates.
But, halfway agreeing with the guy as it is, I can forgive that, but in so doing I'm wondering why I bother to read the next page. That said, I found the second half to be more stimulating by far.
I think I' have preferred if this were presented in a 50 page academic text....more
**spoiler alert** While I don't see this as a huge technical feat, like the reviewers on the back of the book say, I do say it is a feat of a differen**spoiler alert** While I don't see this as a huge technical feat, like the reviewers on the back of the book say, I do say it is a feat of a different sort. In some ways this reverberates strongly just from seeing a slew of The Walking Dead (as well as reading The Plague) lately. For all the details that are added, you wonder what gruesomeness has been left out. In some later parts this absence of back story is alluded to, saying she chose not to wrote about Long Ago because it made her too depressed. As a post-apocalyptic novel, it works well, and luckily it's far more than that.
I'd say Gaddis' wordplay, puns and grammatical interestingness/jokes are on another level up, still. One wonders how much Markson's use of sentences that can be read multiple ways later led to DFW's creating a singularly convoluted style in the express interest of trying to say something very specific. Here , the character writes several sentences to clarify what was said "poorly" before. DFW, instead, condensed such clarifications into a single sentence that, while striving to be clear, ends up somehow being even less clear--and by doing so shows he is self-consciously aware that the effect on the reader would be to similarly show the failings of language, with a similar result as of what Markson does here. So this book seems like a piece to the puzzle of DFW's style. Interesting to note that lots of the reviewers here came to it from DFW's suggestion, which is not the first such book I've come across like that.
The closest thing of late that I can point to with which to compare this is EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH, the opera. The similarities are the use of intense repetition with subtle differences only after a long period of time, which tells something to the spectator more about the spectator's mind than about the specific things being watched--all leading to a kind of catharsis relating to loneliness and alienation, a bus stop in the opera and here a typewriter by the fire. Other similarities: the beaches in both; language and sound being more important than content; historical figures that are present but that ultimately remain opaque; and at times a seeming desire to use boredom in the viewer in a constructive way. Also, the courage to repeat things page after page, rather than feeling the need to present novel ideas continuously.
Liked it a lot, enjoyable as much as it is disconcerting. Makes me want to look up a page listing all of the true facts that were mis-attributed, mistaken, or imaginary (or none of these). Because my worry started to become that I will now have false memories of historical personages' doings that never happened! Which is funny and potentially an insidious legacy for the book to have, whose lesson might just be : don't believe everything you read. ;)
I think at the end a lot of the facts were merely a kind of wish fulfillment, the writer knowing nobody would be around to contradict her, creating the world she would have liked to have seen. Or else a symptom of madness. But this expresses a similar duality to that of the larger question of the novel: do you believe her, or is she mad? Maybe this is the closest we'll get to finding out what being mad is like without experiencing it first hand!...more
The only big, tragic flaw in this is that 50% of the conversation in this book is about the stage fright of his instant celebrity. But... it's more thThe only big, tragic flaw in this is that 50% of the conversation in this book is about the stage fright of his instant celebrity. But... it's more than that, though at the core it's the fear of having released this crazily large (and amazing) book into the world, and trying to analyze the consequences of that. Again and again, the same four or five issues. I like how the second half starts to move away from that, talking about bigger ideas, looking at IJ rather than just talking about the hype. It's ironic and sad that, considering how much DFW was afraid of the book being superceded by the hype about the book, that this important document gets bogged down, from his own mouth the focus is largely directed at the hype and not the book.
So, I give this three stars, just from the amount of satisfaction that's lacking. But, then, ok, if I want DFW to talk about the big meaty subjects that he likes alot, I should go to his own output and essays. This is also not a whole lot of fun just because of the many cases of verbal irony, where we know things that he didn't then, like his fears of failing to grow up, his hopes of being able to get beyond these same fears of failure and the incredible expectations placed on him.... because, sadly, this is 96 but there is no 3rd novel after this. And he's afraid even then to find himself struggling with the same demons, and its sad to know how much they do haunt him for 12 years more.
But then, its cool when you read the section of, 'how much is IJ autobiographical?' and you see that nearly everything in it he's experienced himself, but not as fully as any of the characters... according to him, the depressive patients are 'a quarter of the mile more down the road', the drug addicts a little more addicted, the tv addicts a little more paralyzed by it. It was neat how the most fatal addiction was TV, which he personally considers his most debilitating handicap. That's a dimension to the novel that is at the front, but is one of the less sexy addictions, but man, to know that now somehow changes and enriches IJ for me in a big way....more