Read most of this in a bed-and-breakfast in Sardinia, on vacation from my vacation.
I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one. At times I wondeRead most of this in a bed-and-breakfast in Sardinia, on vacation from my vacation.
I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one. At times I wonder if George R. R. Martin likes the pillage as much as some of the personages in here do - has anyone ever suggested to these people that maybe rape is not an admirable hobby, even for a grubby faux-Middle Ager?
The geopolitics are becoming a little formulaic, too. Most of the pivotal characters in here would get honorary doctorals from Felix Dzerzhinsky U, though Tyrion remains interesting in that he often finds ways to force the convergence of mercy and power politics. And yet by the end of the book, despite her dead moral center, it's hard even not to empathize with Cersei, which is an accomplishment.
That's not to say that there isn't some patchy writing here. Ex. A, p. 255: "Guyard the Green, who fancied himself a singer, diddled a harp and gave them a verse about tying lions' tails in knots, parts of which rhymed."
The whole series is starting to remind me of a remark in Rules of the Game - tout le monde ont leur raisons. Everyone has their reasons, whether they're incinerating their enemies, murdering children, feeding their overlords to their own dogs, or hacking off other people's limbs with whatever implements are handy. I'm still curious to see where it goes, and whether it culminates in something more grand than just a war of all against all. For all my bitchery, Arya and Tyrion are compelling me to read on.
Next book on its way already - thanks for feeding my habit, Amazon Prime. Here I imagined that during my lengthy period of unemployment I'd be working my way through the complete works of Shakespeare or doing that close reading of Being and Time I'd always planned. So much for that....more
Well, this was just way, way better than the first half of this book. Don't expect any provocative commentary here. At this point I'm reading these boWell, this was just way, way better than the first half of this book. Don't expect any provocative commentary here. At this point I'm reading these books the way some people snort coke or go to Starbucks. I'll be back at the trough as soon as I can dig enough change out from under the sofa cushions. The endless twists and turns are great fun in the short term, and even though on further reflection the hundreds of dei ex machina with which Martin populates his novels definitely tax credulity, no one with half a brain reads a fantasy novel without expecting to suspend disbelief. But whatever. George knows I'll spread my cheeks for him any old time.
Still, it's a little absurd how many of Martin's characters have adopted rape and flaying and grotesque acts of revenge as pastimes, the way some people back here in Realityland take up crochet. If everyone was that awful to everyone else, one wonders how they could possibly sustain the various internal reassurances it takes to live in society. Why wouldn't everyone just start to assume that all the people around them were sociopathic freaks, down to their neighborhood postman? There's some serious Hobbesian propaganda hidden in these pages. Why is it even as sustaining as it is, reading about so many mutually hostile parties engaged in a brutal war of all against all?...more
Writing a fantasy novel is basically begging to be compared to Tolkien - you're painting a big old target on your back. Now, I'm not the biggest TolkiWriting a fantasy novel is basically begging to be compared to Tolkien - you're painting a big old target on your back. Now, I'm not the biggest Tolkien fan, despite falling squarely in the old coot's key demographic (males with sedentary lifestyles and, shall we say, a certain number of RPGs under my belt). That's not to say I don't appreciate Tolkien, I do, just in the same way that I appreciate Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, I have the same problem with both:
They're completely sexless.
When you remove sex from fiction, you're willfully obliterating your audience's ability to recognize the world around them in your work. Tolkien was worse than most. People have spent loads of bandwidth imagining the fevered rutting of Samwise and Frodo, but it never happens in the books, and couldn't happen, because Tolkien has castrated his characters behind the scrim. Sure, Galadriel is described as "beautiful," as are plenty of other women in the Lord of the Rings, but that's like saying Monet did some "nice" paintings. Anyone who makes the remark is missing something. Even when writing for adults, his quest to write something of Moral Importance led Tolkien to ignore the fundamental drivers of human behavior, or repress them out of existence. It's a serious flaw, and one that I can't really get over whenever I read his work.
Which is why I love this book. Fritz Leiber never really did it for me, but A Game of Thrones has the best of both worlds: the sweeping politik of Tolkien and the grittiness of Leiber. The whole book is an argument against Tolkienian purity and the kind of Band of Brothers vibe that suffuses Lord of the Rings: the most compelling characters by far are Tyrion, a libertine midget, and Arya, a tomboy. Besides devoting a reasonable quantity of ink on people who have human thoughts and emotions, the world of the novel is painstakingly drawn. You don't pick up on the fact that winter here lasts not for months but for years until you read an offhand remark by a character several hundred pages in, which is as it should be.
Now all Martin has to do is write people who both think and talk like humans. I have to ding this a star because no one, ever, in the history of humanity has uttered some of the sentences of dialogue written here, or ever would. It's a peculiar affliction of fantasy that everyone's diction becomes florid, ever so slightly British, and really well thought-out, as though they compose their surprised exclamations hours in advance. This book would be perfect if not for that. I can't wait for the next one....more
Besides the odd Lovecraft, this is the first horror book I've read since tearing through dozens of Stephen King novels in high school.
I really wantedBesides the odd Lovecraft, this is the first horror book I've read since tearing through dozens of Stephen King novels in high school.
I really wanted to like it, but the writer had a couple of ticks that drove me crazy. First of all, the CAs - constant acronyms. Nearly every page, there's an aside in which the character who's being interviewed tells us what an acronym means. It's the worst kind of exposition. If you were gathering a comprehensive oral history of the 00s, and you were talking to someone about WMDs or 9/11, you (and they) would never, ever, ever in a million years stop to explain what those were. If someone's around to interview someone else about it, you both already know.
Others have also noted that all the characters talk the same. One thing that's refreshing about the Studs Terkel book(s) on which this is based is that every voice is remarkably different from all the others. Every single one has its verbal fingerprint. We all have things we do conversationally, whether we know it or not, to distinguish ourselves. I tend to offset subclauses in commas or parentheses, and I tend toward run-ons, God knows. Everyone does something like this. There're as many tells in what you say as in how you say it; people (like me) with lots of parentheticals are usually intellectually insecure college graduates. In Terkel, this is all perfectly obvious. But in World War Z, everyone just sounds like Max Brooks is writing a tremendously self-conscious novel.
All that said, toward the end I was kind of swept away by the narrative. The guy whose job it was to clear the underground of zombies, the Japanese otaku, some of the people here become individuated enough that you really want to read more about them, even if their self-expression is often clunky and full of Americanisms that you would never hear in the context presented. I just wish it hadn't been so badly written.
World War Z would have been perfect if it'd been presented as a series of interlocking short stories or novellas in third person. Who would want to read the otaku's story if it actually sounded as it would coming through a translator? No one. Honestly, I think Brooks just set himself too hard a task....more
When Amalfitano subjects his pharmacist to a short mental screed about the drawbacks of writers' minor works in 2666, this is exactly the kind of thinWhen Amalfitano subjects his pharmacist to a short mental screed about the drawbacks of writers' minor works in 2666, this is exactly the kind of thing he's talking about. A series of biographical sketches of fictional western-hemisphere writers with far-right sympathies, it'll take you no more than two or three hours to read. In its personalization of its characters' politics, it offers a bit of a clue to Bolano's modus operandi; it's just not as inventive as you'd like it to be, and not as inventive as its great premise lead me to believe it was going to be, anyway.
You can look at it as a bunch of habits of thought to avoid, or as an archaeological study of the aftershocks of World War II and the wars of ideology that followed. The Phalangists and fanatics herein are sometimes cliched - especially the two repressed homosexual poets who join the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War - but more often surprising, like the Haitian plagiarist and the murderer who writes nihilistic verse across the sky. There are plenty of Fascist versifiers who you're supposed to sympathize with, like the woman who turns to pieties of the far Right in her efforts to liberate herself from a Communist husband who beats her. Juxtaposed against the more cynical exploitation of literature by some untalented hacks (like the soccer-fiend, poetry-writing gang members) and the out-there efforts of the P.K. Dick-like writers who use Nazism as more of an aesthetic than political dictum, you get the feeling Bolano is trying to tell us: yes, these people are all nutjobs, and a lot of them are truly ill-intentioned, but some of them had their reasons.
The very tippy-toe end - which has an actual plot, one I won't spoil - suggested to me that the smug, routine abhorrence of fascism should perhaps not preclude a touch of mercy.
You just don't need a book to do that, and doing so seems a little beneath Bolano in the first place.
I'd actively discourage people interested in Bolano's work from reading this first, but I'm still glad I've read it - the continuities between this and the world of 2666 (paging General Enterescu?) make it worthwhile as a coda, at least, and there are hints of the wry third-person voice Bolano got so good at later....more
**spoiler alert** A really outstanding read, a book so vast and wide that it takes up a space well beyond its eight hundred-something pages. I found t**spoiler alert** A really outstanding read, a book so vast and wide that it takes up a space well beyond its eight hundred-something pages. I found the language in the last book a little too abstruse in places (what, for example, does desperation smell like?) and a little too declarative in The Part About Fate; I have a nagging suspicion that amid the plot of The Part About Amalfitano, there were hints as to the identity of (one of) the killer(s) from The Part About the Crimes - on one of the occasions that someone drives Amalfitano around Santa Teresa, I'm certain it's in a black Peregrino. Some of the threads that bind the text could have been tightened a little bit, I guess. But these niggling complaints are entirely subsumed by the inventiveness of Bolano's prose and his dense, fascinating characterization. Characters in 2666 don't ever appear to have boring thoughts or routine days.
Bolano remarked that 2666 has a "secret heart." This is no exaggeration - the bareness of the sinews that connect the two opposite ends of the book, Archimbaldi and the murders of the women in Santa Teresa, only becomes clear in the last twenty pages of the book or so. 2666 is full of people telling stories about things that they heard and things that happened to them, and even very few of these stories are ever corroborated or given closure. And yet it's not irritating, it just makes you curious. Klaus Haas's lawyer, who despite being well-educated has a lot in common with the whores her client is accused of killing, could have used another 300 pages or so. So could have Amalfitano's daughter. So could have General Entrescu and Baroness von Zumpe and (above all) Lotte, who is maybe the most boring person in the novel but who struck me as more empathetic than all the other characters in the book put together; reading about her was like being given a bottle of water after wandering through a desert for a week.
Bolano has things in common with Musil, Proust, Ellroy, Heinrich Boll, and Gunter Grass; he seems to be to be more strongly allied with the postwar tradition of western European writers than any South American writers that I know of. (I don't get at all what he's supposed to have in common with Borges...) But his style is completely his own. He has listened to Kundera's advice about using motifs in long prose - I kind of want to start this over and reread it just to catch all the patterns I missed the first time around. Why is it so much easier for me to connect bits of Wagner together in my head than bits of Bolano? Anyway, there is indeed a web of not symbolism, precisely, but recurring bits of business that need reexploring.
I don't think I can put this on my Masterpieces shelf - I need to read more Bolano. But I might down the road.
[300 pages in:] So far, this book is pretty remarkable for being so easy to read. It's like drinking campari and soda - you only notice when you try to stand up. Unlike other books of its scope, there aren't all that many daunting shifts in perspective or a whole lot of self-conscious experimentalism, just a completely commanding narrative voice that ever so subtly implies what the characters are thinking underneath what it tells you they're thinking. I don't think I've ever read such a masterly third-person perspective. And it's so unshowy but so icy, aggrieved, and wise at the same time. And seductive! It's really hard to stop thinking about and in, um, Bolañese.
I'm thinking in particular of this moment when Norton and Espinoza and Pelletier meet in a restaurant, and the narrator mentions in passing that the tables are somehow the wrong size, and would only seat four people uncomfortably. The three have left their fellow academic and friend Morini out of their love triangle and out of this meeting, as always, because (it is implied) none of them are capable of considering Morini a sexual threat or an object of attraction - something that he only dolefully thinks about every now and then. The narrative trick here is that there's no need for a table for four, but the possibility of a fourth person is perhaps meant to perch in the reader's consciousness as lightly as Morini's absence does in the three characters'. If I were writing a novel, this is the kind of thing I would never, ever be able to do on purpose, but which Bolano does so incredibly well.
I could be wrong, but so far, this is reading like it's going to end up on my "masterpiece" shelf....more
My Dad used this book to justify being rabidly antiunion, and always said it was the best novel he'd ever read. I suppose I ended up working for SEIU/My Dad used this book to justify being rabidly antiunion, and always said it was the best novel he'd ever read. I suppose I ended up working for SEIU/1199 for a year, circuitously and Oedipally, because of this book, then. I haven't read it, of course, but because of great reviews by Oriana and others, I feel like I probably should....more
I guess it's like Joyce said of Finnegan's Wake - when read aloud, it makes perfect sense.
Books with Victorian diction like this are why I like readinI guess it's like Joyce said of Finnegan's Wake - when read aloud, it makes perfect sense.
Books with Victorian diction like this are why I like reading about that era so much better in translation. So far, audio is really the way to go with the Aubrey + Maturin series - they just go down a lot easier. (I'm listening to these in MP3 as I go through a set of rather hideous - and hopefully temporary - upheavals in my personal life.) It's just so much easier to get swept away by the narrative when you aren't faced with, well, I don't know, words like "blackguards" in type instead of speech where they belong. ...more
There was a ten- or twenty-year period when literary fiction writers started to pay a lot of attention to science writing: Stoppard read Gleick's ChaoThere was a ten- or twenty-year period when literary fiction writers started to pay a lot of attention to science writing: Stoppard read Gleick's Chaos and wrote Arcadia; Richard Powers boned up on his Turing and wrote Galatea 2.2; and so on. This was well after the seventy-five-year drought that was modernism. (You can search Eliot's writing for days, trying in vain to find a single reference to the scientific upheavals of his time that isn't derisive, mystical, or silly.)
The problem is, there isn't always all that great a reason to use science as an analogy. When you read Galatea 2.2, the novel this most closely resembles (but falls well short of), you get the sense that Powers has given a thought or three to the content and not merely the form of artificial intelligence, that he respects scientists and considers their practices a way to inform oneself of human nature in a way that literature may not always cover. Stoppard might riff on Fermat, but the epistemological difficulties introduced by chaos theory are lived by the two sets of characters in Arcadia, and not just talked about or used as a metaphor for their couplings and quarrels.
This book is lighter than either of those other works, but not on purpose. I don't think Lethem really has the horsepower - no, it doesn't take horsepower, he doesn't have the dedication, or maybe interest - to allow physics to disclose its cobwebbed corners. It isn't as funny as Arcadia because it takes itself far too seriously to develop an incidental sense of humor. Instead, Lethem gives us a postmodern novel that fusses around idiotically with dialectics of absence, and then tries to send up pretentious postmodern professors who fuss around with dialectics of absence.
To make matters worse, Lethem's verbal spectacular can't even stand up to the weightless inanity of his plot here. This is an actual line from the book, describing the narrator's feelings toward his estranged physicist girlfriend who won't talk to him:
My inner chemistry had been hijacked by a mad scientist, who poured the fizzy, volatile contents of my heart from a test tube marked SOBER REALITY into another labled SUNNY DELUSION, and back again, faster and faster, until the floor of my life was slick with spillage.
It doesn't really feel fair to quote that out of context, but yes, it is at least as bad as that most of the way through the book.
I'm about 100 pages in and so far the story of Lucien Chardon/Rubempre is just ridiculously gripping. Balzac has x-ray vision and an amazing wit. I thI'm about 100 pages in and so far the story of Lucien Chardon/Rubempre is just ridiculously gripping. Balzac has x-ray vision and an amazing wit. I think this is going to be one of my favorites, though there's a lot left to read....more