**spoiler alert** I just wrote a lot of a review, but then it deleted my review, which is very annoying. (To be honest, I typed something incorrectly**spoiler alert** I just wrote a lot of a review, but then it deleted my review, which is very annoying. (To be honest, I typed something incorrectly and then the window closed, so I can't blame Goodreads.)
To sum up what I wrote before: basically, I liked the book for parts of it, and it is very quoteable, but it is very much about a totally selfish person's post-retirement crisis. It starts at various points to be about other things, but the point of the book perhaps is that he is a totally selfish person who wants to think about big ideas, but is really only thinking of himself.
I liked a good deal of the book, and it is easy to read and not very long. And it makes you think of interesting things - is this the end of the age of print? Are we book lovers dying out? What does the new generation of literature mean? In the end, though, this is a sort of middle-aged (or older) man's reasoning for believing that the world will be worse without his influence, and then feeling unsure that his influence was great enough (presumably to keep the world on course).
There are basically no women in this book - only the wife (a somewhat annoying character whom the main character, Riba, essentially ignores) and an attractive woman who is the daughter of the South African ambassador to Ireland. Riba measures his sexual prowess/how old he is against how much she seems receptive to sleeping with him. It would be better if there were actually genuinely no women in the book.
The best part of the book were the meditations on whether he even knows who he is anymore because he has gotten so buried by his "catalogue" - i.e., the books he has published (see quote below, p105). It is a pertinent question for all of us - we were someone, and then we decided to become something (a journalist, teacher, publisher, whatever), and then we lose the realness of ourselves at that point, or it become buried in the achievements of the something, rather than realness of the someone. That is very resonant with me, and this is done better in this book than anywhere I have read in the past (although the quote indicates I should read more Blanchot...).
I also want to record the part that annoyed me most. At the very end of the book, he ends up at a funeral for a young person, who he has seen around the city (Dublin) at various points, but never spoken to. Nonetheless, because he looks like a new Beckett, Riba believes that this could be the author that he, as a publisher, has always sought to discover. So he is at the funeral for this person, and compares it to the funeral for the end of the age of print that he set up. He observes at a brief moment that this funeral is more tragic than his funeral. Then he thinks, maybe not. And I got very annoyed - partly for specific reasons (I have lost a young person/friend recently, and it seemed tragic) - and partly for general reasons. But that debate around whether the individual or the meta is more tragic is basically fine with me.
What annoyed me is when he decides to turn it around and make it about himself - it is tragic because it is his failure as a publisher to find a great author, and it is the death of the author, etc. So this books is not really about whether the death of an individual or an era is more tragic; it is about whether this specific character's pathetic-ness is more tragic than any of it. I guess I think not.
I don't know if I would read another book by this writer. I would rather read another Javier Marias book.
(Nonetheless, it's very very quotable.)
----- FAVOURITE QUOTES ----
"He has a remarkable tendency to read his life as a literary text, interpreting it with the distortions befitting the compulsive reader he's been for so many years." (4)
"Maybe he loves her so madly because she is someone he will never know everything about." (26)
"Really, coffee was devised as a way of concentrating better on the internet, he thinks." (47)
"nothing tells us where we are and each moment is a place we have never been in." (54)
"He believes that if talent is demanded of a literary publisher or a writer, it must also be demanded of a reader. Because we mustn't deceive ourselves: on the journey of reading we often travel through difficult terrains to understand the other and to approach a language distinct from the one of our daily tyrannies." (62)
"What logic is there between things? None really. We're the ones who look for links between one segment of our lives and another. But this attempt to give form to that which has none, to give form to chaos, is something only good writers know how to do successfully." (92)
"It's just as true that when it gets dark we all need someone as it is that, when dawn breaks, we always need to remember that we still have some goal in life. New York fulfills all the requirements for being a real driving force for staying in the world." (99)
"For years now he's led his life through his catalogue. And in fact he now finds it very hard to know who he really is. And, above all, what's even harder: to know who he really might have been. Who was the man who was there before he began publishing? Where is this person who gradually became hidden behind the brilliant catalogue and the systematic identification with the most interesting voices contained within it? Now some words of Maurice Blanchot spring to mind, words he's known well for a long time: 'Would writing be to become, in the book, legible for everyone, and indecipherable for oneself?'" (105)
"It ocurs to him that, if he had to choose an auspicious image for the new rhythms his life is moving to, he would choose that one: the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times - noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring - belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars." (117)
"After all, life is an enjoyable and serious journey round the most diverse funerals." (159)
"They don't seem aware that all life is a process of demolition and that the hardest blows await them." (176)
"They don't realise that the apocalyptic is now, but it was already there back in the mists of time and will still be there when we have gone. The apocalyptic is a very informal man or a feeling, which doesn't deserve so much respect. The important thing is not that the print age is foundering. The really serious thing is that I am foundering." (232)
"The death of Malachy Moore ends up seeming like a much more serious event than the end of the Gutenberg era and the end of the world. The loss of the author. The great Western problem. Or not. Or simply the loss of a young man with round glasses and a mackintosh. A great misfortune in any case, for the inner life of life and also for all those who still desire to use the word subjectively, to strain and stretch it towards thousands of connections of light still to be established in the great darkness of the world." (309)...more
I don't read many hiking or adventure memoirs, so I don't know if I have just discovered a new genre to like. But I liked this book a lot, and I thougI don't read many hiking or adventure memoirs, so I don't know if I have just discovered a new genre to like. But I liked this book a lot, and I thought the writing was excellent. I don't think there was any time I disliked the book, and I read the entire thing on a flight back to the UK from a funeral, at a point of life when I didn't feel like reading in general. So that is a recommendation in itself.
(I also don't read a lot of self-discovery memoirs (such as Eat Pray Love etc) so I don't know if this is a book that is typical of that genre.)
Anyway, I don't think that this is a "great" book, but it is a very good one, with very strong writing and impressive story. I put it down and wanted to hike a mountain and spend several weeks outside, and it ignited in me an admiration for the self-sufficiency of people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
----- FAVOURITE QUOTES ----- "I thought of my mother. Thought of how in the last days of her life so many horrible things had happened. Small, horrible things. My mother's whimsical, delirious babblings. The blood pooling to blacken the backs of her bedridden arms. The way she begged for something that wasn't even mercy. For whatever it is that is less than mercy; for what we don't even have a word for. Those were the worst days, I believed at the time, and yet the moment she died I'd have given anything to have them back. One small, horrible, glorious day after the other." (100)
"Everything but me seemed utterly certain of itself. The sky didn't wonder where it was." (142)
"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from *The Dream of a Common Language* that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore... [to the end]" (311)...more
I am not going to write that much about this book, but it is very good. Mitchell is clearly a gifted storyteller, and the main problem with this bookI am not going to write that much about this book, but it is very good. Mitchell is clearly a gifted storyteller, and the main problem with this book is that I didn't see the wider social purpose (at least not really) of the novel, and because it is kind of a historical novel (which I don't really read or get into). Those objections aside, I enjoyed reading it, although the writing style took a few dozen pages to get into, and I read it quickly. I sometimes didn't like when conversations were broken up by other observations at really intense moments, as it was just distracting, but also useful as a dramatic device. And to say it doesn't have a wider social purpose is a little unfair, as it is really about human cruelty and the individual in society, which are pretty universal themes.
Basically, I didn't LOVE this book, but I did like the fact that this writer is doing interesting things with interesting topics, rather than just writing about his own personal crises, as many popular authors tend to do. Should it win the Booker (am writing this before the prizes are awarded)? I am not sure. I haven't read any of the others, but I tend to think it should probably come in, like, second.
THE QUOTE I LIKED MOST "Creation never ceased on teh sixth evening, it occurs to the young man. Creation unfolds around us, despite us adn through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it 'Love'". (124)...more