(5/10) I'm not sure how this ended up on my to-read list -- I hazily remember a book review on a politics website I no longer read. But hey, there's n(5/10) I'm not sure how this ended up on my to-read list -- I hazily remember a book review on a politics website I no longer read. But hey, there's no reason why an obscure conspiracy novel from a small press can't be just as rewarding as big-name or even canonical work. In this case, however, The Fourth Canvas shows that the personal idiosyncracies of the small press can be as much a weakness as a virtue.
The Fouth Canvas is pitched as an intellectual mystery novel, and it broadly follows that path, with a post-colonial group of disaffected academics trying to discover the secret behind a mysterious painting. Bose's strength is in developing characters and a milieu: there are a lot of great environmental details, and the characters never seem archetypal. There's also a refreshing post-coloniality (yes, I know that's not a word) to the novel, with protagonists from numerous ethnic backgrounds and a trans-national story. Bose's investment in leftist politics will become clear to the point of didacticism in the conclusion.
What Bose is not so great at is putting together a thriller, or really putting together a plot at all. Unraveling the mystery doesn't seem to require much of the characters, who regularly wander into the exposition that they need. The prose is pretty leaden throughout, and this really hurts the attempt to convince us that a certain character is a brilliant intellectual. On top of the lack of stylistic grace, the ideas presented as revolutionary and subversive are little more than warmed-over Vico that would be yawned at by contemporary academia. The novel's ending suggests that the whole point of the story was to convey a political message, but that message isn't one that you couldn't find in a muddled Counterpunch article. If you're going to write a didactic novel, at least make sure the lesson is interesting.
Convinced of its own originality, The Fouth Canvas sabotages what strengths it has. There's potentially itneresting material here, but I would reccomend the Illuminatus trilogy over this for conspiracy thriller/political polemic hybrid. If Bose was willing to get as crazy as Robert Anton Wilson, this would have been much more enjoyable....more
In my review of Warlock I mentioned that it constantly reminded me of the great TV series Deadwood. Lord of Misrule reminds me of another prematurely-In my review of Warlock I mentioned that it constantly reminded me of the great TV series Deadwood. Lord of Misrule reminds me of another prematurely-deceased David Milch HBO series, the recent Luck. Like that series, Lord of Misrule is immersed in the distinctly tragic world of modern horse racing, a grubby gambling racket built up in the shadows of legends. It also shares Milch's ear for dialogue, immersing the reader in the dense jargon of the stable. Taken together with Gordon's roughly lyrical prose, it's easy to get lost in the flow of words, which has its own pleasures but does make the plot distinctly hard to follow. I have to confess to never being fully sure who owned what horse and who owed who money, but even so the novel still had some resonance.
Boiled down, Lord of Misrule is a crime story, which like many crime stories is about the foolishness of the human quest for greater things. At the same time, to not to struggle would be even more ignoble, and Gordon treats even her most foolish characters with compassion. Even with all of the grifters and fools, the core of the novel is a trio of earthy, damaged but likeable characters: a tough female stablehand, an old black horse doctor, and the girlfriend of a young hustler who has more ambition and sense than him. In this, at least, it does Luck one better by providing multiple great female characters even in depicted a man's world.
Between the prose and the themes, this could easily pass for a lesser McCarthy novel, and it bears his influence a lot better than, say, The Sisters Brothers. I remember having some quibbles while reading this, in particular about the ending, which spells out what it should have left implied. I also didn't absolutely fall head over heels, which is usually what's required for five stars. But this is a very solid novel with a lot to recommend to it, especially for those looking for literary fiction not about bourgeois family dysfunction....more
(7/10) Great concept, so-so execution. I love the idea of reinterpreting literary authors as graphic novelists, and would love to see more done with i(7/10) Great concept, so-so execution. I love the idea of reinterpreting literary authors as graphic novelists, and would love to see more done with it. The Left Bank Gang appears at first to be just an exploration of that idea, with our (for some reason) canine authors wandering around Paris, acting like we generally expect our modernist icons to act. And then it turns into a pomo crime story, and I love a promo crime story as much as the next guy (in fact, significantly more than the next guy) but it feels like a strange direction to turn. The reinterpretation of these authors gets pushed to the background by all of the plot loops and twists, and in the end it feels like it could have been about any four lowlifes in Paris, and Hemingway and company are just what would sell best. Don't get me wrong, it's all right for what it is, it's just not what I really wanted it to be....more
(8/10) In one of its slow toesteps towards continuity, Ed Brubaker's Criminal revisits one of its characters for the first time, as we get another sto(8/10) In one of its slow toesteps towards continuity, Ed Brubaker's Criminal revisits one of its characters for the first time, as we get another story of Tracy Lawless's vaguely regretful criminal adventures. As a crime story, everything pulls together nicely. There are plenty of twists, gritty dialogue, and the searing art of Sean Phillips.
On the other hand, I can't help but compare this with other Criminal stories, and this one comes off as a little flat. I'm not sure that Tracy is really an interesting enough character to make into a long-standing fixture -- I liked his first arc, but I'd rather spend some more time with that crazy writer guy from the fourth book. Speaking of which, unlike a lot of previous installments, this one is less a meta examination of the crime genre and more of a straightforward example of it. Which also takes a lot of skill, and I recognize that, even if it isn't as intellectually interesting.
Ah well. It's not really fair to complain, since I'm trying to treat these as independent graphic novels that just happened to be serialized in the same magazine. And "less awesome than the other Criminal stories" is still pretty damn cool. But still, I'm a comics fan, so bitch I shall....more
(7/10) This is a potboiler of the first order, which probably explains both its enduring popularity and how much of the mystery/crime genre seems to d(7/10) This is a potboiler of the first order, which probably explains both its enduring popularity and how much of the mystery/crime genre seems to define itself against Christie's novels. The writing style and the characters are utilitarian and accessible, and are designed to be read non-stop without much pause for thought. For a Serious Literary Reader like myself this is a bit alienating, but I can imagine why it would be appealing to some. There are a lot of plot twists, and a pretty well-devised central mystery. The main issue is that it feels rather unemotional -- maybe it was the characters or maybe it was the pace but it never seemed like anything other than a neatly-ordered series of events. And a lot of people like that, and I don't want to take anything away from that. The book has its charms, and it's certainly probably the most effortlessly digestible thing I've read in a long time. But if I don't expect depth from fiction aimed at a broader audience, I at least expect visceral thrills, and this one didn't really have it....more
(9/10) If you only read one Criminal story, read this one (but you should probably read more). Everything that makes the series work -- its vaguely me(9/10) If you only read one Criminal story, read this one (but you should probably read more). Everything that makes the series work -- its vaguely metafictional take on the crime genre (more directly present than usual here through a crime-cartononist protagonist), the grimy surroundings, the frantic plot twists, the gorgeous femme fatales, and pulling it all together Sean Phillips' gorgeous, sketchy and moody artwork. What's great is that despite the critical acclaim and high quality of the book, it still feels like something of a guilty pleasure, a pulp novel you hide under your pillow and read with a flashlight when you're sure your parents are asleep. Awesome.
(The collected graphic novels are fine, but if you can get your hands on the individual issues -- this may involve raiding some back-issues racks -- they're even better, as each issue contains one or two articles on the broader world of noir, from a number of genre luminaries. All in all an issue of Criminal is one of the slickest productions in comics. Don't miss out.)...more
(This review is for the whole series, I'm just chucking it under the first volume because no way am I reviewing all eighteen of these.)
(8/10) Naoki Ur(This review is for the whole series, I'm just chucking it under the first volume because no way am I reviewing all eighteen of these.)
(8/10) Naoki Urasawa deserves a lot of credit for being one of the most consciously adult manga artists out there. This extends even to his art, a mostly realist style that distinctly differs from the stereotypical manga "big eyes, small mouth". But in trying to escape from the juvenile tropes around him Urasawa goes in a different direction than most American cartoonists. Instead of an introspective, autobiographical work, what we have is a sleek crime thriller centred around a psychological battle of wits that's more reminiscent of Breaking Bad or any of those other cable antihero shows.
Of course, the realism and psychological depth get a bit strained over eighteen volumes, and over time I found myself losing track of all the new characters and all the revelations about Johan's backstory. Overall we have a strong, if familiar, character arc -- Tenma chasing Johan and gradually losing his humanity through his act of heroism. But it's a worthwhile effort nevertheless, and it has some strikingly effective scenes. Plus, some of those side characters? Awesome.
I would reccomend this especially to fans of the current crop of "quality television" and/or people who are curious but wary of this mango stuff. I would also reccomend reading it all fairly close together, as the volumes don't really work on their own. Monster is far from a perfect work, but it's an important step forward for the medium....more
(8/10) A fun romp through a mystical Las Vegas, complete with tarot card poker games, casino spirits and a dead head in Lake Mead. Powers combines the(8/10) A fun romp through a mystical Las Vegas, complete with tarot card poker games, casino spirits and a dead head in Lake Mead. Powers combines the urban-mythological fantasy strain that Neil Gaiman would go on to make famous and the gambling crime novel to create a story that's not especially deep but a lot of fun, and moves fast enough that you can gloss over the questionable parts (like the somewhat retrograde gender roles or weird pseudo-incestuous romance subplot). This is largely thanks to the likeable characters and multi-threaded plotting that results in there being never a dull moment. Deserves to be on your pleasure-read stack....more
This is the first book in about a year I wasn't able to finish. It wasn't because of the two-dimensional characters or the tacked-on love story or theThis is the first book in about a year I wasn't able to finish. It wasn't because of the two-dimensional characters or the tacked-on love story or the mediocre prose -- those are all fairly standard for this type of book, and I was willing to work through them. It was because it comitted the cardinal sin for airport thrillers: it got boring....more
My second crack at Sherlock Holmes, after a bunch of Mormons ambushed me halfway through A Study in Scarlet. Although calling this a Holmes novel is aMy second crack at Sherlock Holmes, after a bunch of Mormons ambushed me halfway through A Study in Scarlet. Although calling this a Holmes novel is a bit off, as half of it is Watson wandering through a Gothic storyline and being thoroughly perplexed. That's the main thematic concern here: the rationalist Holmes coming up against a seemingly supernatural occurence, with the two worldviews butting heads. I don't think I need to tell you which side wins.
It's definitely easy to see why these books were so influential in their day, but I'm not sure how well they hold up to a modern reader. There's a lot of turgid prose and after a while Sherlock Holmes explaining how he knows tiny details about someone he's just met gets pretty dull. (Apparently his detection powers can't realize that he would save a lot of time not constantly being a smart-ass.) There are wonderful moments, sudden revelations and great plot twists, but it's a bit of a slog to get through, and I'm not entirely sure if it's worth it....more
In the second book of the New York Trilogy, Auster repeats a lot of the themes and plot elements from City of Glass, with a bit of a twist on them. OnIn the second book of the New York Trilogy, Auster repeats a lot of the themes and plot elements from City of Glass, with a bit of a twist on them. Once again we have the endless stake-out, the obsessive main character, and the rumination on language and stories. Like CoG we don't get a clear explanation of what happened, but I think there's a firmer idea of it. I have to admit to being a bit confused as to what Auster's getting at here. Hopefully Locked Room, the final book of the trilogy, will shed some more light on things.
Aside: All of the characters in this book are named after colours, which made me feel like at times I was playing Postmodern Clue....more
Simon R. Green is one of those authors who has come up with some pretty cool ideas and wants to make absolutely sure that every one of his readers knoSimon R. Green is one of those authors who has come up with some pretty cool ideas and wants to make absolutely sure that every one of his readers knows how cool they are. So you end up with a book where every third sentence is a generality about how strange and dangerous the Nightside is, and characters are introduced with a host of legends and catchphrases. It gets tiring very quickly.
The plot, as such, is that a case of a missing child drags John Taylor, a P.I., back to his home of the Nightside, a bizarre world that exists as the dark shadow of London. (There seem to be a lot of those lately). This plot is mostly an excuse for a brief tour around Green's clearly treasured Nightside setting, which never seems quite as interesting in practice as it's described as.
This book is obviously the first in a series, and in that respect succeeds, setting up some interesting recurring characters and an overarching storyline about a predestined apocalypse. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit intruiged as to what happened next. But as a novel of it's own [i:]Something from the Nightside[/i:] leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is unfocused and resorts to a lot of deus ex machinae, and for all of the punchy statements I never really got a good idea of the Nightside as a setting.
It's really too bad -- Green has come up with a setting and characters that would be interesting in the right hands. I read this directly after The Wars, a well-written but uninspired book, and it makes me wonder if we don't need more collaborations -- one writer coming up with the ideas, and one actually writing the thing. It would certainly help books like this.
But as it stands, [i:]Something from the Nightside[/i:] is a quick read but not a really worthwhile one....more
I read this book because I loved the previous China Mieville books I had read, especially Perdido Street Station. While this was also a good book, it'I read this book because I loved the previous China Mieville books I had read, especially Perdido Street Station. While this was also a good book, it's drastically different from the Bas-Lag books, which both speaks to Mieville's flexibility as an author and is something to make fans of his a bit wary.
The City and the City is in part a tribute to classic detective novels like those of Raymond Chandler. Instead of the sprawling garden of wonders that is Bas-Lag we get a drabber world told through a tight first-person narrative. Of course, this is not simply a nostalgic tribute. It's also a great piece of urban fantasy, centred on the strange dual city that gives the novel its title. The division between Beszel and Ul Qoma is the only real fantastic conceit here, and it's usually not even clear whether this is a supernatural divide or just bizarre groupthink. This allows this idea and all its consequences to be explored in full.
First and foremost The City and the City is simply entertaining. The plot moves around quickly and becomes increasingly unpredictable. It was even able to surprise a genre-savvy reader like me. The setting of Beszel and Ul Qoma are characterized with Mieville's usual skill for settings and the two cities almost seem to be the main characters. The actual characters are sketched rather broadly and not what you would call developed, but this is both part of the classic detective novel aspect and mostly unnoticeable. Flat characters are a technical flaw, but i was usually distracted by the twists in the plot or strange ideas.
While not really a masterpiece, The City and The City is a great read and recommended for any fantasy or mystery fans....more