Really engaging for the first few pages, but beyond that, it became apparent that this was quite a silly, tongue-in-cheek story, not the tale of suspeReally engaging for the first few pages, but beyond that, it became apparent that this was quite a silly, tongue-in-cheek story, not the tale of suspense/intrigue/secrets that I was hoping for....more
Just a short story, but an atmospheric, powerful one. The first-person POV of a small-town observer is used brilliantly to tell the tale of a mysterioJust a short story, but an atmospheric, powerful one. The first-person POV of a small-town observer is used brilliantly to tell the tale of a mysterious newcomer who has a penchant for painting oddly realistic animals. The creepiness is kept to a minimum, which makes the climax all the more effective. I'm marking Michael Marshall Smith down as a writer whose short stories I'd like to investigate further....more
Set in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad DecSet in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are by turns funny, disturbing and moving. Saunders' characters are invariably weird, eccentric, even occasionally horrifying, yet they end up feeling more human than the majority of fictional characters. It's also satisfying to find I can now detect Saunders' influence in the work of so many other writers I admire - to name a few: Lindsay Hunter's short stories, Kaaron Warren's novel Slights, and recent favourite You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.
My favourites from this collection were the title story and 'The 400-Pound CEO', and I also found the insightful author's note - which is really another story, albeit an autobiographical one about the creation of this book - to be just as enjoyable to read as the stories themselves.
If only I could stop hoping. If only I could say to my heart: Give up. There's always opera. There's angel-food cake and neighborhood children caroling, and the look of autumn leaves on a wet roof. But no. My heart's some kind of idiotic fishing bobber.
I believe he [God] takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a need for love, and no way to get any. He gives us a desire to be liked, and personal attributes that make us utterly un-likable. Having placed his flawed and needy children in a world of exacting specifications, he deducts the difference between what we have and what we need from our hearts and our self-esteem and our mental health....more
The unique idea at the heart of this story is instantly intriguing. Mark-Alem, scion of the powerful Quprili family, is given a job at a prestigious iThe unique idea at the heart of this story is instantly intriguing. Mark-Alem, scion of the powerful Quprili family, is given a job at a prestigious institution: the Tabir Sarrail, or Palace of Dreams. Transcriptions of citizens' dreams are collected here in their thousands, then pored over, analysed and interpreted for indications that they contain some divine prediction, a message of glory (or doom) for the Empire. The eventual aim of this mammoth task is to identify the 'Master-Dream', the most meaningful and portentous of them all, which is delivered to the Sultan on a weekly basis.
Unsurprisingly, the novel has often been compared to the works of Orwell and Kafka. Mark-Alem's job is bureaucratic yet bizarre, and cloaked in so much mystery that at first, he doesn't even know what he's supposed to be doing, or the way around the vast Palace, or what all the oddly-named departments do. There are recurring scenes in which he wanders the corridors, lost and disorientated. Parallels are drawn between being swallowed up by this place and the experience of sleep - or even death. Having become accustomed to its strange ways, Mark-Alem finds real life comparatively insipid: 'the whole world seemed to have lost all its colour, as if after a long illness... How tedious, grasping and confined this world seemed in comparison with the one he now served!' Yet when he's at work, the dream transcripts often seem incomprehensible to him. At times he marks them at random, and it's this cavalier approach to the task that ultimately brings about the plot's bloody climax. Its meaning as a political allegory is clear, but the novel is always equally enjoyable as an imaginative (often quite suspenseful) story.
Had this been a smoother read, my rating would be higher, as I really liked the story. However, I thought it had a stilted and awkward feel all the way through, and I'm convinced this can only be the result of it having been translated twice - this English version is not translated directly from the original Albanian, but from the the French edition. There were a couple of unusual recurring phrases that really jarred, and seemed like inaccurate choices; certain words were repeated with irritating frequency. I found all of this really offputting and I'm afraid it also makes me less likely to read more Kadare (though I'd first need to establish whether all of them have been through the weird Albanian-French-English treatment)....more
Very simple but quite gripping suspense novel - felt like it needed an edit, and I didn't think it was worth taking the time to read the whole thing,Very simple but quite gripping suspense novel - felt like it needed an edit, and I didn't think it was worth taking the time to read the whole thing, but I was interested enough to skim-read it until I found out What Happened That Night All Those Years Ago. The payoff wasn't worth it, tbh. Had the (actually quite nice and comforting) feel of a kids' book, though it isn't one....more
Beautifully written, lots of amazing sentences, but so stylised and mannered and empty. I didn't hate the characters - I found them so unreal that I cBeautifully written, lots of amazing sentences, but so stylised and mannered and empty. I didn't hate the characters - I found them so unreal that I couldn't even think of them in terms of whether I liked them. I couldn't see Paulina and Fran as actual people, their friendships or relationships as something that would ever exist outside the pages of a novel. I didn't believe in their connection for one second. Paulina's success with her hair products brand felt like something a 12-year-old would make up about their future dream career. It all reminded me of a book version of Mistress America, about which I had similar reservations. The (ahem) climax of the protagonists' college relationship was just so lazy, too easy, but like everything in this story, it seemed more symbolic than anything else.
I did warm to Paulina at points like this (and wish there had been more of these moments of humour):
p102: The dance floor was barbaric and free. Mystic shined a flashlight over the dancers. Paulina closed her eyes and replayed the compliments she'd received about her hair. She opened her eyes and saw Sadie dancing with Fran. Sadie's hand caressed Fran's curls and they danced, flitting around each other like preteens. Paulina raged inside herself. Why couldn't people stay where she put them? They were always pairing up to destroy her! "Babe, meet Darlene," Mystic said. "She's an art history major too." Paulina glanced at the slight redhead before her. She had the figure of a pencil. "Art history is dead," Paulina said and stormed off to find drugs.
p114: As she approached campus, she passed huddled groups of her classmates and paid them no mind. What the fuck were they whispering about? Her? Art students are so dramatic, she thought, weaving around them. She wasn't like them. She was a scholar. God, no, scholar sounded so stuffy and tweed and blah. She was one of the great thinkers of her time.
I didn't much like the whole but I loved certain details. This was incidentally similar to the last book I read - Yelena Moskovich's The Natashas - in that it's filled with brilliant similes and creative descriptions of people and things (it's fittingly arty throughout), but the characters feel forgotten about in comparison, and lack depth. I just wish Glaser had applied her sparkling style to something more interesting than a bunch of students sleeping with each other. (Maybe you need to be the same age as Paulina and Fran, or younger and in awe of the type of lives they lead, to really enjoy their story. And to be fair, I'd heard a lot about this and never intended to read it - I only changed my mind because I found it at the library.)...more