I can't think of anything else written during the 1500's (or probably in any year up to this novella's publication and perhaps a century after) that rI can't think of anything else written during the 1500's (or probably in any year up to this novella's publication and perhaps a century after) that rolls along in such a delightful, accessible, irreverent and hilarious way. It would be tempting to think that the book was written by a time traveler if it didn't display such an acute awareness of peon-level Europe in the grimy era of indulgences, squires, etc.
A few tastes of our hero's voice:
"Rather than throw the rope after the bucket, the poor woman got a grip on herself and obeyed the sentence. And in order to get out of harm's way and escape malicious talk, she went to work as a servant to the people who at that time were living in the Solana inn. There she was subjected to a thousand indignities, but she managed to bring up my little brother until he could walk, and me until I was big enough to fetch wine to the lodgers."
"All I can say is that my new master had collected all the stinginess in the world and was hoarding it. Whether he had been born with that character or had put it on with his priest's cassock I don't know."
"I satisfied him on the subject of myself insofar as my talent for lying permitted. I expatiated upon my good points and kept quiet about everything else, for I didn't feel it was the moment for intimacies."
Lazarillo's grievous privations are hilarious because they reveal the failings of his social superiors without causing him any lasting trouble. It's not surprising (given the author's treatment of the Catholic church and other authorities) that this book was banned for quite some time, and it's a pretty good testament to the impact of its social and cultural criticisms.
Save this book for an afternoon where you need a two hour dose of good, old-fashioned humor; or use it to help introduce people to the notion that they might want to read things first written 500 years ago....more
This was an accidental purchase, made hastily in a used bookstore because the price seemed right and because the spine only said "Murakami." After aboThis was an accidental purchase, made hastily in a used bookstore because the price seemed right and because the spine only said "Murakami." After about two paragraphs, it began to seem very unlikely that Harukai Murakami was responsible for the flavorless, graceless and awkward prose. I checked the publishing date and thought, well, okay, it was an early effort . . . I'll give it a chance. After ten pages or so, I gave the book the sort of thorough exploration that would have prevented me from buying it and discovered that I wasn't reading something by an author who I respect and enjoy. But that's not Ryu's fault, so I read another 60 pages and I want my time back.
His characters are flat and predictable. He lacks the confidence to let his story-telling communicate subtleties and has a penchant for lame summary sentences that are designed to drive home his blatant and tedious moments of character definition.
The dialogue is deplorable. I might have given the title characters some time; but as soon as the "Anemone" section started I began to consider not finishing this book. When the description of "Toxitown" was over, I was pretty sure I wouldn't make page 100 and when the murderous cab driver with his unrealistic monologue held forth, I put the book back into my bag and started reading something else that had seemed really slow to me before, which really triumphed in the contrast.
Avoid this unless you have never read experimental fiction before or unless you feel like "edginess" or shock value are acceptable substitutes for talent....more
Right from the beginning, you get the sense of how much is fastened, rattling, to the train of this man's thought. A sentence from page two:
"I wonderRight from the beginning, you get the sense of how much is fastened, rattling, to the train of this man's thought. A sentence from page two:
"I wondered, standing in the midst of this chaos, this proliferating vegetation with its endless complications, my head full of the rattle and clatter of the nightlong train journey, insufficient sleep, the air and the sun and the tramp through the heat with this man Fuchs, and Jesia and my mother, the row about the letter and my rudeness to the old man, and Julius, and also Fuchs's troubles with his chief at the office (about which he had told me), and the bad road, and the ruts and lumps of earth and heels, trouser-legs, stones and all this vegetation, all culminating like a crowd genuflecting before this hanged sparrow--reigning triumphant and eccentric over this outlandish spot."
The narrator obsessively accumulates arbitrary signifiers, shuffling every loose end back into play in an effort to make things cohere. When his associative chains threaten to disintegrate, he begins to act and advances the plot with his compulsive, crowded manifestations. On the one hand (via the character of Leo) eccentric, privately-gratifying constellations of meaning are presented in a disarmingly sympathetic manner that becomes almost celebratory in the final quirky moments. On the other hand, the narrator, last name Witold, grinds his teeth over his different obsessions to an uncomfortable degree; a fact that he acknowledges in scattered moments of especially self-aware narrative:
"I must stop connecting and associating." "Such a continual accumulation and disintegration of things can hardly be called a story" And "Oh, merciful, almighty God, why was it impossible to concentrate on anything?"
While the inevitability of Witold's relentless recombination of items (a hanged sparrow, a deformed lip, a pattern on the ceiling) gets a bit oppressive, there is a dependable vein of humor in "Cosmos" that makes it a pleasurable read. The characterisation of Leo's family, his maid, two newly-wedded couples, Witold's friend and a fidgety rural priest is distinct, detail-oriented and intense. Witold finds the comic elements of everyone who surrounds him and skewers them to the wall.
BIG CAVEAT: This book is called a "version" of "Cosmos" because it is a translation of two other translations (to English from the French and German translations from Polish). I'm not really comfortable with a text so far removed from the actual language of its author and I might not have purchased or read this "version" of the text if I had noticed what a game of telephone it has already passed through.
_____________[Review of "pornografia" forthcoming]___________
"Pornografia" is more entertaining than "Cosmos" and a better introduction to Gombrowicz. The narrator contextualizes his "feverish" excitability--the animating force, mirrored in Frederick, his peer, that bullies this story forward--by saying, "it must be understood that all this suddenly happened to me after stifling, gray years of horror and exhaustion, or of insane extravagance. During which I had almost forgotten what beauty was." Frederick and the narrator set about trying to manufacture beauty in a delusional and ruthless fashion, using all of the ancillary characters of the book to advance their scheme of prompting a young man and a young affianced woman to hook up with one another, simply on account of their proximity and youthful freshness.
As in "Cosmos," much of the reality is compiled and determined by two quite similar middle aged men with too much free time and great psychological insight with little psychological grip. A representative passage: "He was abject, humbly odious in this submission to his own horror--and his abjection contaminated me to such an extent that my own worms arose, crawled out, climbed up, and polluted my face. But that was not the limit of my humiliation. The sinister comicality of this situation was mainly due to the fact that we were like a couple of lovers deceived and rejected by another couple: our passion, our excitement had nothing on which to feed and now raged between us." "Sinister Comicality" may be the best overall descriptor of Gombrowicz's style. His protagonists are decidedly creepy, unstable looming voyeurs, who for all their menace are endearing for their superior intelligence and dependable wit.
Readers see everything from the perspective of these idle men, who are happy to introduce other characters in this fashion (of Hippolytus): "He looked as though he were bloated by a tumor that had distorted his limbs and stretched his flesh in every direction so that his repulsively flourishing body was like an erupting volcano of meat." And when this same man is speaking, "At the same time his disillusioned, implacably present face was a real insult to Amelia and her guests. The destructive force of his speech was inconceivable, and you could see this force, this marginal force, carry away the orator like a bolting horse." The humor in these excerpts is characteristic of "Pornografia," which for all it's violence and foul intent is lighter and more digestible than "Cosmos."
I wonder what influence Gombrowicz had on Thomas Bernhard....more
I went out on a limb and bought a book of poetry based on the goodreads star rating of someone I don't know who seemed to have decent taste in obscureI went out on a limb and bought a book of poetry based on the goodreads star rating of someone I don't know who seemed to have decent taste in obscure literature. Plus, I am trying to make an effort to read living poets who write in English.
Of Flynn's first four poems, three were about suicide, two referenced guns, two referenced painkillers (by brand name) and one mentions cutting himself. It only got worse from there. Blah blah "my father is . . . a bottle wrapped in a paperbag" blah blah "shelters,/ shitsville" blah blah "I eat all her percodans, to know/ how far they can take me, because/ they are there." blah blah "she could whisper the wordburn/& I'd turn to ash.."
Seriously? This book strengthened all of the dismissive, prejudiced opinions that I hold about modern American poetry and how completely pathetic and unworth reading it is. This guy has been published all over the place and awarded several prizes. If I had just researched him enough to realize that he actually published a "memoir" called "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" I would have suspected that he has no business writing poetry.
There is rarely a reason for his language not to be presented in paragraph form as bad prose. It is rarer for him to use italics effectively--though he seems to think they have a place in most of his poems. The language itself is thin. He is too busy seeking to legitimize his composed proximity to suffering and ruin by cheap association with narcotics, suicide, violence and alienation to actually attend to the sort of details and feelings that make poetry real. His love poems show this shortcoming particularly ("my tongue opened you &/ soft birds let loose their grip on the earth" "like whiskey his kiss like whiskey/ tear away at the skin"--he can't even write a good poem about a girl eating a peach.).
I only read the whole book because I had purchased it new, because it was short and because I wanted to have a solid foundation from which to offer criticism. However, on a note that will hardly balance this review, his first two epigrams were very well chosen and I enjoyed "Emptying Town" enough to make two friends read it (for the chuckle value of the closer--not for the unimportant first stanza or the melodramatic second) and "The cellar machine whirring through the night" seems to be about as good as he can write.
Shteyngart reminds me of Michael Chabon or Jonathon Safron Foer, which isn't good. These authors are passably clever, very up to date, committed to inShteyngart reminds me of Michael Chabon or Jonathon Safron Foer, which isn't good. These authors are passably clever, very up to date, committed to including only comic-booklike characters in their improbable retro chic plots and, I think, tiresome. I find that their stories have a solid amount of momentum . . . until you put them down.
(I should add that I appreciate Shteyngart's lack of earnestness, especially when dealing with his concentration camp visit; it was a very deliberate rejection of manipulative victim prose and, when juxtaposed with the more modern threat of occasional jack-ass skinheads, it was rather effective.)
However, and in general, and finally, making fun of hipsters, and trust-fund babies, and fat girls and euro-trash is easy and useless. If I wasn't stuck on a very long bus ride, I'm not sure I would've made it through. ...more
At its finer moments, “Among the Thugs” conveys a powerful and contagious desire for violence. Maybe this is easier to do than I realize—many HollywooAt its finer moments, “Among the Thugs” conveys a powerful and contagious desire for violence. Maybe this is easier to do than I realize—many Hollywood films fill me with bloodlust and I’ve got enough disdain for hooligans to think they deserve one another—but Buford walks a fine line. He’s keenly aware that he could write a jaw-breaking work of pure sadistic voyeurism; but he largely refrains from doing so.
He dips into the mayhem enough to establish his credibility and by highlighting instances with totally innocent victims or prolonged, lopsided beatings, he ensures that his readers can’t romanticize or dismiss the violence. But, more often than not, Buford turns soberingly away from the spectacles that he spends dozens of pages deftly working up to. For instance, after a long and gripping description of two rival firms chasing one another around Fulham in an effort to find an area with no police presence that they could use to knock one another senseless, he writes, “I will not describe the violence because what I want to depict is this precise moment in its complete sensual intensity—before chronology allows the moment to evolve into its consequence.” A few paragraphs later he writes (and it really feels like he’s rubbing it in your face that he won’t tell you what happened), “Crowd violence was their drug. What was it like for me? An experience of absolute completeness.”
Here is Buford’s niche: “Crowd theory tells us why . . . but crowd theory rarely tells us what: what happens when it goes off, what the terror is like, what it feels like to participate in it, to be its creator.” It’s a bold and eccentric task to set oneself as an independent journalist; but Buford seems to pull it off. “Among the Thugs” is written from a rare and imbedded perspective; it spills over with pathetic and villainous drunks and it made me unusually sympathetic to law enforcement professionals all over Europe.
Because it stuck in my mind, I leave you with this sentence, “For Neil the evening represented a chance to prove himself, and, if things went wrong, then his career as a fascist would advance no further.” ...more