**spoiler alert** I don't want to slag this book or author - the book is fine if a bit predictable. So predictable in fact, the publisher anticipated**spoiler alert** I don't want to slag this book or author - the book is fine if a bit predictable. So predictable in fact, the publisher anticipated its reception among women by pre-printing it with bookclub discussion questions.
As historical literature goes, it's a swift piece about character types we have seen many times before - only here the heaving bosom romanticism is played up a bit, something which actually helped me distance myself as the characters blunder from one victimizing catastrophe to the next. The protagonist is a white Irish indentured servant who ends up marrying the landholder's son - there's a crazy wife who lives in the upstairs bedroom, an absent father who dies before making right his promises to the slaves, lots of inter-racial sex, violence, near rapes, actual rapes (none of which are described in detail thankfully), an exhaustive beating over the head of the utter subjugation of women and slaves in general culminating in a Tara-esque burning down of the big house and a two paragraph wrap-up of the final outcome. Faint attempts to be literary involve the constant introduction of bird comparisons or bird items. Meh....more
My problems with this book lie in the plot's execution. The reader is put into a setting with a family, but the plot's pacing rapidly expands and consMy problems with this book lie in the plot's execution. The reader is put into a setting with a family, but the plot's pacing rapidly expands and constricts, sometimes jumping seven to ten years in the space of a page, then jumps backward in the next section. It also moves in a staccato fashion from one character and their struggles to another, which made it difficult to stay fully invested in any particular point of view.
In addition, there is a singular event which happens (one brother's death), that affects all of the characters, and perhaps it was just bad billing by the press, but this event, predicated on the Naxalite rebellion, seemed to be a focal point for the plot (and it is), yet it takes nearly the whole book to "find the whole story" due to the unreliable narration/views of the characters. And even when it is revealed, it's done in such a slipshod fast way that there's basically nothing to really say about it. I was left feeling like all of the characters were unrealistically wooden, unchanging and flat.
What is the message? It was simply a catalogue of the character's flaws at points. Even the characters whose lives "meant something" to themselves seem to be so lightly connected to the world around them that if they ceased to exist, they would barely be missed. Ultimately, I felt like that was the ultimate feeling the book left me with: it was so lightly connected, it caused me as a reader to have missed the point entirely. It's frustrating, because this story had extremely deep potential. I'm frankly surprised at its Booker nomination; it was by far the weakest of the shortlist so far....more
The title is the opening sentence in this strangling little novella - I read Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya inI am not complete in the mind
The title is the opening sentence in this strangling little novella - I read Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya in something like two GRIM HOURS. It’s hard to believe I was laughing at page 60-something and then by page 135 I felt I’d been beaten up. The style is breathless and fast - starting right off with enormous sentences peppered with commas that run the length of three and a quarter pages, the violence tangental and brutal, and the narrator’s mental decompensation at first funny and then frightening as he tries to both conflate and improve himself with survivors from the San Salvadore genocide.
The author blurb on the back is from Roberto Bolaño, who sadly died before this book was published; he says:
[Castellanos Moya’s] vertices are horror, corruption, and an ordinariness that trembles on every single page he has written, and makes the reader tremble as well. [He] writes as if he lives in the depths of one of the many volcanoes in his country. This sentence sounds like magical realism. Nevertheless, there is nothing magical about his books, except perhaps his ‘will to style’ …One of the great virtues of [his work]: nationalists of all stripes can’t stand it. Its sharp humor, not unlike a Buster Keaton film or a time bomb, threatens the fragile stability of imbeciles who, when they read, have an uncontrollable desire to hang the author in the town square. I can’t think of a higher honor for a writer.
Our yearning for meaningful novels, for novels that will truly change us for the better, is so constantly thwarted that when we come upon the work of
Our yearning for meaningful novels, for novels that will truly change us for the better, is so constantly thwarted that when we come upon the work of a contemporary who has written such a work our first reaction is astonishment. It is something we no longer expect. We have lost faith in many of our imaginative writers; we have begun to look elsewhere for the experiences that only the novel--when it is at its best--can really give us.
Margaret Drabble's "The Needle's Eye" is an extraordinary work: It not only tells a story deftly, beautifully, with a management of past and present (and future) action that demonstrates Miss Drabble's total mastery of the mysterious form of the novel, but it succeeds in so re-creating the experiences of her characters that we soon forget they are fictional beings (perhaps they are not. . . ?) and we become them, we are transformed into them, so that by the end of the novel we have lived, through them, a very real, human and yet extraordinary experience.
I feel as though Drabble was my mother's generation's Franzen. This was so deftly done - it is meticulous and exhaustive at times, reading about the mundane lives of the people who have clawed their way into wealth and those who have rejected and fallen from it. The characters are constantly floundering to express and articulate their ideals....more
The plot drug on. The descriptive phrases used for each major character get used over and over again. Hendon's blue eyes, Miss Jarvis's attitude and mThe plot drug on. The descriptive phrases used for each major character get used over and over again. Hendon's blue eyes, Miss Jarvis's attitude and mode of dress, St. Cyr's yellow eyes, catlike reflexes, blar blar blar.
This book takes its place as the king of the junkie fiction genre alongside other notables like Trainspotting, Drugstore Cowboy, Reqiuiem For A DreamThis book takes its place as the king of the junkie fiction genre alongside other notables like Trainspotting, Drugstore Cowboy, Reqiuiem For A Dream and Naked Lunch.
It is a difficult read sometimes, written in a stream of consciousness, with paragraphs left dangling from the edge of abandoned ending sentences. But, it becomes a part of the dialogue and flow after a moment, and causes the reader to hurtle along in the same ugly rush as the wasted characters.
I thought it was an incisive and succinct social commentary for a book of 180 some pages. The plot careens around the ways in which society's 'fix' for the plight of the homeless is to get them talking about their past and goals for the future in exchange for a free doctor visit, the loss of human touch, the omnipresent movement and physicality of begging and fix acquisition and their visible-invisibility to people and organizations, and most of all the withdrawal of human connection, even while it is theoretically on display in social assistance programs.
McGregor struck just the right balance between gritty realism and commentary without getting preachy or sentimental. It's a tough book, but one well worth the effort, every bit deserving of the IMPAC....more
Perhaps that is what is meant by ‘lonelyness’ — knowing that even at your moments of most exalted emotion, you do not matter (perhaps this is precisel
Perhaps that is what is meant by ‘lonelyness’ — knowing that even at your moments of most exalted emotion, you do not matter (perhaps this is precisely the moment of most exalted emotion) because these things will always be here: the dark trees full of summer leaf, the fading light that has not changed in seventy-five years, the peace that lies perpetually in wait.
There's really no better closer in any book I have ever read - how he manages to take the stinking mess of millions dead, the forgotten fog of war, the grand and unknowable scale of destruction, and then make you feel that it will be alright in the end - that's the brilliance of Dyer....more
This one, I am sorry to say, was by far the weakest story of the three and seemed to suggest to me that Collins was getting pressed to publish. The exThis one, I am sorry to say, was by far the weakest story of the three and seemed to suggest to me that Collins was getting pressed to publish. The exhaustive recaps of plot & emotional state could easily have been edited down and probably make up a good fifth of the book. **SPOILERS FOLLOW**
And then, far be it from me to get at all sanctimonious about content, but it was a complete bloodbath. I felt at least that the first two had a message - not to suggest that any YA book has to be neatly packaged with a moral imperative - but this one seemed to deviate so far from the original point that I felt like this could only be the product of an author who had a fast looming deadline or "we need to capitalize on the market share you're holding" Sword of Damocles over her head. Otherwise, what was the merit in killing off practically everyone, including Prim in the most chaotic, random buildup ever, and then completely isolating the protagonist you've spent three books sheltering? I don't expect that everything gets neatly wrapped up into a happily-ever-after bow, but the PTSD/Horror/Senselessness of War angle was getting ample coverage, so the ending could have at least received something a little more dignified than a pointless yardsale of corpses. Maybe she was trying for a Kafka angle - I'm not sure. It just seemed incongruous to the first two....more
Frazier again knocks it out of the park with this book, a very honest and not editorialized/moralized tale of historic and modern life on (primarily)Frazier again knocks it out of the park with this book, a very honest and not editorialized/moralized tale of historic and modern life on (primarily) the Pine Ridge reservation of the Oglala Sioux. I thought the story was refreshingly told, with lots of interviews and historical documents but none of the insipid kinds of commentary that usually follow. The state of affairs here is the result of complicated interactions of history, temperament and greed with blame falling to all parties involved, and he seems to really tease that out in his writing. Most inspirational of all, is the tale of SuAnne Crow, a brilliant athlete from Pine Ridge who lost her life in a car accident, and her lasting legacy there.
"Africa, for nearly a century, was governed with the iron hand of European colonial economic interests: these ran Africa as though it were a torture-c
"Africa, for nearly a century, was governed with the iron hand of European colonial economic interests: these ran Africa as though it were a torture-chamber. Africa has known the iron rod, the whiplash, thumb-screwing and removing of testicles: Africa has been humiliated one way or another. I am not saying anything new if I add that whether British, French, Belgian, Spanish, Portugese or Italian, the colonial mafiadoms which, on behalf of the civilised world, administered the colonies barbarously, savagely, never considered it expedient to allow the same democratic rights as they themselves had, both in their own countries and in their privileged positions as rulers, viceroys or governors. For the colonies, they created a small elite that, in a world of make-believe behaved as though they were on a par with their European classmates, their university colleagues. But wait. ... Are you saying that Africa is the same or nearly the same torture-chamber as it was when the colonials were here? Or are you saying that African dictatorships are but a re-creation of the same methods and things these career-soldiers learned from their colonial masters during the toughest struggles?"
"Or something like that."
Stylistically this book is something of a prose poem. Nights slither like snakes, days break open. Politically, this is an indictment of the failures of petty despot dictators (Mohamed Siad Barre Jaale Siiyad in fact - though the plot does not follow history exactly - who seized power and formed a military junta with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union based on the ideology of 'scientific socialism'), who like the colonials before them, cloak themselves in academic and religious morality while carrying out the same barbarisms learned from colonial times. Worse still, it is an indictment of the people who permit it to happen with inactivity, with lack of education (to wit, the part about the General surrounding himself with illiterates in order to force all 'security' business to be conducted via oral tradition in order that no paper trail be created) and beast-of-burden acceptance. There's a wincing exchange that takes place between a butcher and a goat that just wraps up the whole plot in one succinct page: the General is the butcher, the people of Somalia his goat that he prods, threatens, mistreats with the knowledge that he's just going to kill it in an hour anyway, but he has to remind it of its place.
Farah doesn't spare the colonials, and he doesn't spare modern nation-states who continue to meddle just as hamfistedly, if not quite so openly, in the political spectrum (the Chinese cigarette and match factory, the Soviet Marxist 'help' by training the Security forces in KGB tactics).
And Farah doesn't stop there - he also laments the plight of women, both as victims of political torture, social subjugation and religious/educational inequality. This is a dense, thoughtful book and I think the heavy handed poetic prose is the only thing that keeps you somewhat detached from the abject horror of what he's describing....more
I think I should be clear that I hated everyone in this book. There is no redemption here, nothing pleasant to read, and no respite from damaged peoplI think I should be clear that I hated everyone in this book. There is no redemption here, nothing pleasant to read, and no respite from damaged people acting terribly damaged. The 'excusable cruelty' Erika perpetrates on everyone around her is really unbearable. Her mother is unbearable. Klemmer is unbearable with his youth and vim and vigor. Even stylistically, it is unpleasant with its short staccato sentences, and burdensome repetition. It is like sitting down with a porcupine. But, it doesn't for a single second get sentimental about anyone; there is no sigh of relief at the end as someone finally gets themselves together - save, maybe, the mother slightly. And, unlike horror porn, it's not gratuitious either. Everything in the book torments itself, but they don't torment themselves or each other simply. There's a lot of thought, a certain ethic to what they are doing - it brings in issue of culture, philosophy and nurture without flatly branding one or the other as the easy bag-man holding the blame.
I think it takes a pretty formidable talent to make a reader confront all of that....more
This is so good. I knew virtually nothing about Siberia, except its dubious identity as the receptacle for millions of Soviets exiled to toil in the gThis is so good. I knew virtually nothing about Siberia, except its dubious identity as the receptacle for millions of Soviets exiled to toil in the gulags. It is 1/12th of the planet's landmass. It has such a rich, millenial history, and a checkered one. People lost in it went mad, lost the ability to speak Russian, people imprisoned there rarely escaped. It is a giant climate meltdown waiting to happen. It's been the source of economic resurgence for the nation. There were so many informative things in this book (particularly the history between America/Siberia) that I had to read it slowly. Frazier himself seems to display all of the truculent/enraptured poles of temperament with his subject matter (culminating in this sixteen-year-long mission) that are the comforting hallmarks of great travel writing - the kind seen in O'Hanlon, Theroux and Bryson.
Travel anywhere one is an outsider, especially to interiors where one's 'outsiderness' is grossly apparent is one of the most demeaning and exalting acts an American can engage in, I think. I felt acutely for Frazier's commitment and failures in learning the Russian language, which is an exquisite frustration to try to become capable in.
All told, I think this is/should be a classic of the genre....more
I found this book frustrating. On the one hand, Carre is taking dead aim with outrage at sub-Saharan African politics, back-room dealings and the geneI found this book frustrating. On the one hand, Carre is taking dead aim with outrage at sub-Saharan African politics, back-room dealings and the general indifference/greed of the remaining global nation-state coterie who appear willing to wait out short breaks in the constant bloodbath to run in and scoop out a chunk of mineral wealth. His quivering outrage is clear. He reiterates it over and over and over, even though the best and brightest part is this almost chess-like philosophical and linguistic awakening that Bruno has while he is translating a back-room deal between a faceless Syndicate (global conglomerate) and three Congolese warlords. But, because of the repetition and the endless hand-wringing that Bruno does throughout the entire book, it made it difficult to stay with the plot, and certainly difficult to feel an ounce of sympathy for him as he (quite confusingly since he's highly educated, street-savvy and married to a journalist???) blunders madly from one Bad Person Who Has Clearly Shown Evidence of Not Being A Friend to the next while trying to "out" the back-room deal and avert a new wave of bloodshed. You have a man who knows enough to get away from his home, disable his cell phone and/or only make calls within no real range of his house, but he blindly trusts all of the people he works for in the secret service, and whom he has AUDIO TAPE RECORDINGS of doing enormously, awfully illegal things? REALLY? It was this part which made me feel like I was almost reading a Black Sambo tale "Oh look how charmingly stupid and feckless they are" which I'm quite sure le Carre didn't mean to engender....more