Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a fifteen year old book named Kafka who runs away from home to find his mother and sister. Although the alternatKafka on the Shore tells the story of a fifteen year old book named Kafka who runs away from home to find his mother and sister. Although the alternate chapters tell the story of Nakata; a strange old man who has the ability to talk to cats. Like many of Haruki Murakami’s books, Kafka on the Shore blends pop culture with magical realism in order to explore the psyche of the characters involved.
It is often hard to try and give an overview of a Murakami book because they tend to come out weird and I do not want to give the impression that his novels are not worth attempting. For Kafka on the Shore, the magical realism allows the reader to explore the psychological mind of fifteen year old Kafka Tamune. Not only is Kakfa a young man discovering his sexuality, Sigmund Freud would probably suggest that he also has an Oedipus complex and has developed an unhealthy obsession with his mother and sister.
According to Freud, an Oedipus complex stems from the unconscious mind and normally caused by the repression of a mother (or father) figure. Freudian psychoanalysis theory suggests that this is a key psychological experience needed for normal sexual development. However if it is unsuccessful at resolving it may lead to neurosis, paedophilia, or homosexuality. Without going into the problematic thinking of Sigmund Freud, this does make for an interesting analysis of Kafka’s journey throughout the book, especially with his interactions between Sakura and Miss Saeki.
If we continue looking at this novel through the lens of psychoanalysis theory, we might even get some interesting insights into Nakata. I always thought the loss of mental faculties was due to the psychological trauma, he experienced as a young boy. He was one of sixteen schoolchildren picking mushrooms in a field trip towards the end of World War II, when they were all rendered unconscious from a mysterious light in the sky. However it has also been suggested that maybe Kafka and Nakata are two different parts of the same person.
Every time I read a Haruki Murakami, I am reminded of his brilliance (with the exception of 1Q84), and I want to explore more of his works. I am also reminded that I need to learn a whole lot more about psychoanalytical theories, and how much it would help with books like Kafka on the Shore. For me this was a bildungsroman book about sexual development and memories. However, I found myself more interested in the chapters centred on Kafka over those about Nakata but maybe that was because I understood them a little better.
Yet again Haruki Murakami has impressed me with Kafka on the Shore and I am eager to pick up more of his books. I know magical realism can be scary for some people but I love the way Murakami uses it to explore the mind. My only real criticism of this book is that it was a little bloated and could have been trimmed down a little and still achieve the same. This might be due to an aversion to big books that I really need to overcome and not a true reflection on Murakami. I highly recommend giving this author a go if you have never tried him but Kafka on the Shore is not a good starting point; may I suggest trying Norwegian Wood first.
Aliens exist, and now they need our help. After Earth is ruined by nuclear and environmental disasters, it is puzzling that humanity has been given fiAliens exist, and now they need our help. After Earth is ruined by nuclear and environmental disasters, it is puzzling that humanity has been given fifteen habitable planets to start a fresh. The Jackaroo assist with the move to the new planets, infrastructure is built and humanity is saved. Chloe Millar is mapping out the changes caused by importing alien technology when she stumbles upon a pair of orphaned children that appear to be possessed by an ancient ghost. On one of the new planets, Vic Gayle is investigating a murder in a remote excavation site that could lead to a war between rival gangs. Something is Coming Through is a new novel by prolific science fiction novelist Paul McAuley.
Something is Coming Through interlinks the story of Chloe Millar and Vic Gayle, all the while trying to understand why the Jackaroo are helping humanity. The premise of this book sounded too intriguing to pass up; think a science fiction crime novel that explores the concept of first contact. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work within the book; it tries to do so much but everything moves too slowly to make it enjoyable. Even the Jackaroo sound like they are an interesting race but there is no real exploration into their motivations which really hurt the novel.
I am not sure if I am no longer into reading science fiction; it has been a while since I enjoyed this genre (with the exception of Russian sci-fi). Or maybe I just need to stick to the classics, those novels from the 60s and 70s that explore sociology and philosophy. I just found Something is Coming Through to be a very bland novel that relied too heavily on dialogue. I have to accept the fact that I enjoy novels with substance that explore themes or ideas over plot; this is why Russian sci-fi is still great.
I struggle to find anything positive to say about Something is Coming Through; it is one of those occasions where I should have abandoned the book. I honestly cannot even remember why I decided to pick this book up but I was intrigued by the premise. Sadly I found nothing enjoyable about this novel and I do not know if I will try Paul McAuley again. I would like to think I was willing to try authors again but at the moment, there is no way.
Angelus Thomsen is an officer working at Auschwitz; on August 1942 he gains his first sight of Hannah Doll, the wife of the camp’s commandant. After aAngelus Thomsen is an officer working at Auschwitz; on August 1942 he gains his first sight of Hannah Doll, the wife of the camp’s commandant. After a few encounters, their relationship becomes more intimate. Despite their attempts to be discreet, Hannah’s husband Paul becomes suspicious. He threatens a Jewish Sonderkommando into killing his wife. However things are not that simple and life is far more complex.
The Zone of Interest is Martin Amis’ fourteenth novel and the second to focus on the holocaust (his 1991 novel Time’s Arrow being the other). The novel is told from prospective of three narrators; Angelus Thomsen, Paul Doll and Szmul the Sonderkommando. This allows Amis to explore the three different sides of this budding romance and betrayal, however what it does not talk about is far more interesting. Thomsen and Doll are so focused on Hannah, while Szmul is unwillingly dragged into this complex situation.
I found the plot to be a bit flat and the ending of this novel anti-climactic but it was Martin Amis was not saying that really stuck out to me. The way Amis told the story allowed the reader focus on the melodrama of this love triangle but we have to remember this was set in Auschwitz. We can explore the indifference towards human suffering and the prisoner’s general psychology without the need to talk too much about this situation. Szmul’s narrative does focus more on the life in the concentration camp from a Jewish point-of-view but it is the Germans’ lack of interest that stuck with me. The more I think about this novel, the more I admire the way Amis wrote this book. I cannot think of another novel that explores an issue like this by actively trying to avoid the topic.
At the time of reading this book, I found this novel to be average. However, it was the post-reading experience that really stuck with me, and I really appreciate the satirical approach Martin Amis took. I am determined to try some more of his works; I need to find out if he uses satire consistently in his novels. I would love to know which novel I should check out next from Martin Amis.
In the title story “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A specialist recommIn the title story “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A specialist recommends that she takes rest cure; a treatment in which has her lying in bed all day and only allowed two house of intellectual activities a day. After a few months of staring at the walls, things are far from improving.
While this is a collection of short stories, I am focusing on the title story simple because it gives you a sense of what to expect when reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the decline of the protagonist’s health, both physically and mentally. Written in a series of diary entries, the story not only looks at depression but, on a deeper level, gender roles. The doctor and her husband are portrayed as repressors; while their intentions are to help her heal they never take into account her own opinion.
This in turn critiques that position of the woman, especially when it comes to the institution of marriage. Gilman looks at marriage as a hierarchy; the male is actively working and knows what is best for the house, while the wife is put in charge of the domestic jobs (cooking, cleaning and so on). The wife becomes a second class citizen; a servant only there to serve her husband. When the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” gets sick she is demoted further and her role becomes similar to a petulant child.
While I have focused on the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, these similar themes are found throughout this collection. What I found so satisfying is the way Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses irony to express her opinions. The use of both verbal and dramatic irony is found in all her stories but I enjoyed the sarcasm the most. There is a lot of symbolism and motifs within the stories well worth exploring that really empathises her point.
I loved this collection of short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, there are so many interesting topics worth exploring and I used “The Yellow Wallpaper” to emphases and provide a glimpse into what you can expect. I am determined to read a whole lot more of Gilman’s works, I fell in love with her writing style and got so much pleasure out of reading these stories. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories is a collection of stories well worth picking up and adding to your personal library.
The world of short stories has had a rocky history, but every now and then there are authors that make you excited about a collection of stories againThe world of short stories has had a rocky history, but every now and then there are authors that make you excited about a collection of stories again. When I think about great short story collections, I think Raymond Carver with his book What We Talk About When We Talk about Love, George Sanders (especially his recent collection Tenth of December) and now Molly Antopol with her debut collection The UnAmericans. Even I have to admit that I have often struggled with short stories but then something like The UnAmericans comes along and I feel ready to take on more collections.
Molly Antopol is a lecturer at Stanford University where she teaches as part of their writing program. In 2013, she was one of the recipients of the “5 Under 35″ award from the National Book Foundation, which highlights five young writers to watch and she has been someone well worth watching. Her debut, The UnAmericans was nominated for countless awards including the National Jewish Book Award and the National Book Award. Though her collection of short stories did not take home any major awards, this is the start of a very promising career for Molly Antopol and is someone I plan to follow closely.
The UnAmericans is a collection full of stories about families, heritage, identity and all the things that define us as humans. With a strong focus on immigration this book is a post 9/11 exploration into America. Exploring the lives of all those people that might have felt excluded as American due to difference in heritage, skin colour, religion, and political or moral beliefs. While it does not typically focus on America or events post 9/11, it is the kind of story that could have only been told after a tragedy like that day.
Each character is richly developed, coming from places like Kiev, Prague, Tel Avid and Soviet Moscow, the stories all explore the same similar themes but in away that never feels repetitive or preachy. Antopol appears to be interested in exploring peoples differences and similarities and trying to get the message across that we are all the same. All the different places these people live in and they all want the very same things, love and acceptance. While their heritage often plays a big part in their identity it doesn’t make them UnAmerican; we are all humans.
I was extremely impressed and it made me want to read more short stories; if Molly Antopol can give so much depth into her characters as she did in The UnAmericans then it makes me excited for the rest of the genre. I did go on to read another collection of short stories right after this one, this time it was by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I hate to say it; The UnAmericans was great but then going on to read The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, changed everything yet again.
Journalist, Raoul Duke heads to Las Vegas with his attorney Dr Gonzo in order to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. After experimenting with some recJournalist, Raoul Duke heads to Las Vegas with his attorney Dr Gonzo in order to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. After experimenting with some recreational drugs, LSD, ether, cocaine, cannabis and alcohol, their assignment was quickly abandoned. What follows is a series of hallucinogenic trips that end in disaster from trashed hotel rooms, car wrecks and much more. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is a roman à clef, with autobiographical elements in which Hunter S. Thompson writes a retrospective of the 1960s countercultural movement.
Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist, but he was best known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While working in Journalism he coined the term Gonzo journalism which is a writing style he adopted for his first person narratives. The style is a combination of fact and fiction that allows Thompson a more personal approach to his articles. Combining elements of sarcasm, humour, exaggeration and profanity it allowed a first person look into social criticism. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a result of Gonzo journalism and was originally published as a two part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971.
When thinking about the life of Hunter S. Thompson, I find it hard to imagine him as someone who critiques the 1960s counterculture. I think of him saying things like “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Thompson has often stated that this novel was an exploration into the death of the American Dream but his views on counterculture are so fascinating. Drawing inspiration from his two favourite novels The Great Gatsby and On The Road, Thompson combines ideas of travelogue and the American Dream and goes on to show the reason why drug use was not the answer to social problems.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a pretty confronting novel; the descriptions of drug-induced hazes and lurid hallucinogenic trips are very vivid and confronting. I am pretty sure I have read this book in the past but I had not marked it as read on Goodreads, LibraryThing or even the spreadsheet I keep. However going into the novel everything felt so familiar and I cannot tell if it was due to the movie adaptation or if I have actually read the book before.
The experience of reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is enhanced by the illustrations done by Ralph Steadman. My edition of the book stated in the introduction that Hunter S. Thompson requested the art to be done by Steadman because he believed this illustrator really understood the concept of Gonzo journalism. The novel is an interesting book and well worth exploring, and I was interested to see the satirical side and surprised at the way Thompson criticised his own lifestyle in this autobiographical novel.
Detective Inspector James Quill is a member of the Shadow Police, a squad dedicated to solving supernatural crimes. When an invisible murderer kills aDetective Inspector James Quill is a member of the Shadow Police, a squad dedicated to solving supernatural crimes. When an invisible murderer kills a high profile cabinet minister in an unusual way, the Shadow Police are called to solve it. Things take a turn when the lead detective from the squad goes missing. Things start to fall apart; can Quill solve this mystery and bring the team back together?
I was really enjoying the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch lately and I thought I would look for more urban fantasy novels that centred around a detective, when I remembered London Falling. I loved this book which was the first in the Shadow Police series; it was dark gritty and blended police procedural with urban fantasy really well. I read it a while ago and thought it was time to try book two, The Severed Streets. Unfortunately this book did not hold up and suffered the same fate as Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (book two in the Bobby Dollar series).
While London Falling went for a dark and gritty, noir feel to it, The Severed Streets seemed to go in a different direction. It felt too gimmicky and I felt like Paul Cornell was offered a book deal based on this series but had already run out of ideas. First of all, the book is set in London, so it obviously had to reference the 1800s Whitechapel murders. Jack the Ripper has been done to death, especially in urban fantasy; I was immediately reminded of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Also this book has Neil Gaiman as a character and I never enjoy it when they use living people as characters. It is a little hit and miss when a book includes a famous person who is deceased but when it comes to living people, it is normally always a miss.
I feel so angry about this book but mainly because I went in thinking it would be like London Falling. I would have been better off not reading this book and just letting the first novel remain a standalone. Take out Jack the Ripper and Neil Gaiman or replace these characters, and it might have been a decent book. However, for me, it was just a gimmick that did not work. I will not be continuing with the Shadow Police and I have to start my search for a new dark, gritty urban fantasy series to enjoy.
Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar does everything by-the-book, he is organised and knowledgeable on the laws of the land but thiAssociate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar does everything by-the-book, he is organised and knowledgeable on the laws of the land but this tends to rub people the wrong way. When a body is found burnt beyond recognition, Chacaltana’s life is never going to be the same. The investigation into this unique murder leads the associate District Prosecutor to question the choices the government are making. Set during Holy Week in Peru, Red April is a chilling political thriller that explores a twisted murder and a morally bankrupt government.
Red April takes place during Lent 2000, mainly in the Peruvian city of Ayacucho and follows a methodical prosecutor as he investigates a bizarre crime. These were the final days of Alberto Fujimori who vacated the presidency and fled the country in November 2000 due to a major corruption scandal and allegations of human rights violations. When Fujimori came to power in 1990, Peru was dominated by two terrorist organisations, the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso and the Marxist-Leninist organisations known as Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). It was not until about 1997 when most of this internal conflict resolved, but this was achieved by the Grupo Colina, which was a death squad made up of members of the Peruvian Armed Forces.
Set in the early 2000s, this novel explores that period of time where people loved Alberto Fujimori for making them feel safe but corruption is becoming a big problem. Even the main protagonist struggled with the idea of not supporting the president. Saying something like “the terrorist killed my mother, brother and sister but since the president took office, no one else from my family has been killed. Why would I vote for somebody else?” This hold on the past is something that runs strong throughout the novel, particularly with Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar who holds on to the memory of his mother. The book is set during Lent and then Holy Week which is a time of reflection and to remember the past, when Christ died for the sins of the world.
Peru is a very religious country, in the 2007 census only 2.9% identified as non-religious, with 81.3% claiming to be Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church is a very important part of the country, even Article 50 of its constitution states that “[the Church is] an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation.” The city of Ayacucho, in which the majority of this novel is set. lays claim to 33 Catholic Churches (one for every year of Jesus’ life) and hosts a large religious celebration during Holy Week every year. When reading Red April you quickly learn just how important religion is to the Peruvian people and the plot of the novel.
One of the things that fascinated me about Red April is the culture depicted within the book. Santiago Roncagliolo did not shy away from depicting the dark themes or the problematic political situation that Peru faces. He questions the counter-terrorism strategies of the Fujimori government but also depicts the overall sense of relief that the people had when terrorist organisations were dealt with. The corrupt government and the bureaucratic nightmare that Felix lived through all gave a sense of the political landscape. The Associate District Prosecutor did everything to the letter of the law, including sending rapists to prison; however this made him an outcast, even the rape victims got angry that they were unable to marry their attackers and get their reputation intact.
One reason I read a lot of translated fiction is because I find it interesting to explore different cultures and worlds. The Peru depicted in Red April is so foreign to me that I could not help but be spellbound by the cultural differences. Red April was the 2011 winner of the International Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP), a literary award I have started to follow closely now that I read more books in translation. The novel was translated into English by Edith Grossman and is a book that I picked up in order to read more books from South America. I am very glad to have read Red April, not only is it an excellent mystery/thriller but as you can see it was an interesting insight into Peru.
This is the story of T.S. Garp, named after his biological father Technical Sergeant Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields was a determined nurse who wantedThis is the story of T.S. Garp, named after his biological father Technical Sergeant Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields was a determined nurse who wanted a child but not a husband. She eventually becomes a feminist icon before being killed by a crazed man for what she said in her autobiography A Sexual Suspect. Garp went on to become a writer as well and The World According to Garp tells the story of his life.
This is my first attempt into the writing of John Irving’s writing and I was impressed with what I read. Many people recommend starting with some of his other books (A Prayer for Owen Meaning or The Cider House Rules) but I think I made the right choice with The World According to Garp. What stood out to me within the book was the constant struggle that T.S. Garp experienced his entire life. Even his decision to become a writer was made in the effort to get a girl. This was a struggle with lust and the way it took over his whole life. It was like he had no control over his own sexual desire but then again he never really tried. Lust took over everything within Garp’s life but other characters also struggled as well. I really enjoyed the way that Irving explores the beauty and destructiveness of sex and desire.
This is not just a novel the focuses on lust, this is also a book that explores life and death. It is fair to say that T.S. Garp had a fascination with death, especially when his book The Pension Grillparzer saw seven of the nine main characters die. Even his third novel The World According to Bensenhaver featured many death scenes. There are so many more scenes about death, you can look at the death of Garp and his mother and see the similarities and symbolism.
There were moments where I was worried that this book would turn transphobic but the way John Irving treated the character Roberta was done really well. Gender roles play a big part in this book, starting from Garp’s mother rejecting a man and deciding to raise her child alone. The novel also explores feminism, the women’s rights movement and misogyny. What I loved about this book is that there are so many issues tacked within the pages, when I thought I understood the major theme it offers something different.
I like how The World According to Garp explored the whole life of Garp from birth to death. Written like Garp was telling the story, it still covers parts of his life that he could not possibly know, including his birth and his death. I was really impressed with John Irving’s style of writing that I plan to read so many more of his books. I hear A Prayer for Owen Meaning is the next book I should tackle but I would love other suggestions too.
Go Tell It on the Mountain is the first major release by James Baldwin and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Harlem. James BaldwinGo Tell It on the Mountain is the first major release by James Baldwin and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Harlem. James Baldwin never knew his biological father and his stepfather was a strict Baptist minister. Go Tell It on the Mountain mainly follows the character John Grimes (who is the autobiographical character in the novel) but really shifts focus to other characters, to allow the exploration of John’s immediate family.
It took James Baldwin ten years to write Go Tell It on the Mountain and he has often stated that it was not a book he wanted to write but a book he felt he had to get out of his system before he would write anything else. This is a semi-autobiographical novel that focuses mainly of the hypocrisy within the community. James Baldwin’s stepfather was a minister and the way he acted in church was vastly different than when he was at home. He was a strict and abusive parent and this hypocrisy was evident within this novel.
However, there is so much more to this novel than just exploring how different people act when at church. Baldwin has a lot to say about the community and, while racism plays a big part within this debut novel, it was some of the other themes that interested me the most. The struggle between life and faith is a topic that I am fascinated in and while it is not the same as found in the memoir The Dark Path, this is explored in an interesting way within this novel. John Grimes had a spiritual awakening as a teenager and went onto become a preacher, however the hypocrisy he found within the church disheartened him and eventually he walked away from that life.
Yet Go Tell It on the Mountain goes a little deeper in exploring the hypocrisy of the church with subtle references to Baldwin’s sexuality. This is not explored in great detail within this book but it is a major theme in Giovanni’s Room. The way this novel explores the church life is fascinating and he shows great care for his characters; take for example John’s stepfather Gabriel, he may be hypocrite but he still requires some sympathy. He married John’s mother and raised him even if their union would be considered controversial within the church. I love how this novel plays with the religion and the way people differ between their church and home life.
This was my first James Baldwin novel but I have had the opportunity to read some of his short stories in the past. On the surface Go Tell It on the Mountain does sound like it is just focused on the hypocrisy of the church but I love the depth James Baldwin put into this book. The characters are so well crafted that even if you want to hate them you still feel a little compassion towards them. I cannot put my finger on James Baldwin’s writing style; at times it reminds me of dirty realism but all I know is that it makes me want to read more of his novels.
General Franco was at the height of his power in Barcelona, 1952. When a wealthy socialite is found murdered in her mansion, the police scramble to seGeneral Franco was at the height of his power in Barcelona, 1952. When a wealthy socialite is found murdered in her mansion, the police scramble to seize control of the investigation. An over eager journalist named Ana Martí Noguer is assigned the task of shadowing the lead investigator, Inspector Isidro Castro. However, Ana discovers a bunch of letters that dramatically contradict the official statement made by the police. Now she is in mortal danger; her information can expose a conspiracy of murder and corruption.
The Whispering City (originally title: Don de lenguas) is a Spanish novel written by Sara Moliner and translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem. Sara Moliner is the pseudonym of the writing duo of Spanish author Rosa Ribas and former German philosophy professor Sabine Hofmann. This is their first book together and, with their backgrounds and the premise, I went into this novel with high expectations. Sadly, this turned into a run-of-the-mill thriller novel which is not a bad thing; I just was hoping for so much more.
The back drop of a fascist government, known for their shadowing tactics, mixed with the philosophical background of Sabine Hofmann meant I was hoping for some interesting insights. I was hoping to learn about the cultural landscape and the political impact of Barcelona in 1952 but the main focus on this book was the murder and the conspiracy. Having recently read Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (translated by Edith Grossman), which explored the political and cultural issue in Peru at the time, I was expecting something similar with The Whispering City.
The Whispering City is in no way a bad novel, and I found it incredibly entertaining and worked as a palette cleanser for me while I was reading The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis and The Stranger by Albert Camus. One of the main reasons I am drawn to books in translation is the insight into the cultural life and I did not get that with this book. The Whispering City reminds me a bit of The Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, with a journalist as a protagonist investigating murder and corruption. While it was not as dark as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I found it a lot more enjoyable but still the same thriller formula.
Sean Phillips lives an isolated life since a disfiguring injury that happened when he was seventeen. To past the time in his Southern Californian aparSean Phillips lives an isolated life since a disfiguring injury that happened when he was seventeen. To past the time in his Southern Californian apartment he has created an interactive survival strategy game called Trace Italian, which can be played via mail. Two high school students, Lance and Carrie from Florida, start exploring the world of Trace but manage to take their role playing into the real world. Disaster strikes and Sean is called on to account for his actions and figure out how this could happen.
For those of you that don’t know, John Darnielle is the singer-songwriter for the indie folk rock band The Mountain Goats. While the band is currently a three piece, Darnielle had been the sole member for many years. Wolf in White Van is the first novel by John Darnielle and the man knows how to write. When a musician turns to writing, I feel a little hesitant but Darnielle’s debut blew my expectations out of the water. Wolf in White Van sets itself apart from most debut novels by going for something different and more complex.
Wolf in White Van is an interesting novel to talk about because the structure of the book is told backwards. So the readers are given the beginning of the story and the climax right at the end of the novel. This structure works really well with exploring the character of Sean Phillips, and slowly it is revealed just how he ended up so isolated and lonely. This allows for the exploration of loneliness and the game Trace Italian is an interesting device that allows others, who are also lonely, to interact with Sean Phillips.
I am fascinated by this game Trace Italian. First of all, it is unique in the sense that it is a text based survival game that is played through the mail. People send their next move and based on that Sean Phillips sends them the next part of the game. The goal of the game is to make it to safety in the post-apocalyptic world; while there is a possibility of completing the game, Sean believes that no one will ever do so. There is also the events that happen with Lance and Carrie which, while not really a spoiler, I will not mention it, except to say this event explores the ideas of artist responsibility. There is constantly stories where music, movies or video games are blamed for tragic events and the way John Darnielle explores this issue is very interesting, at least from a creator’s point of view. The idea that this novel is told backwards really plays on the whole idea of playing music backwards may reveal hidden satanic messages.
Wolf in White Van is a brilliant debut, full of unexpected depth. It is a fascinating character study and there is so many interesting themes to explore within this novel. I am extremely impressed with John Darnielle and I hope there are many more novels to come from this brilliant songwriter and author. Wolf in White Van may sound like a it is heavily focused on this role playing game but really it is a character driven novel that just involves a game. Highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in the themes mentioned above.
Rose Tremain is a name I have heard so often but never had the chance to read on of her books; in fact her name is familiar but I couldn’t tell you anRose Tremain is a name I have heard so often but never had the chance to read on of her books; in fact her name is familiar but I couldn’t tell you anything about her books. She has published thirteen novels including The Road Home (which won the Orange Prize in 2008) and Music and Silence (winner of the Whitbread award in 1999). She taught creative writing at the University of East Anglia until she was appointed chancellor in 2013 and she is married to Romantic biographer Richard Holmes (not that her marriage affects her writing, just an interesting fact). She has also written five collections of short stories including her latest The American Lover.
While I sometimes struggle to read and review short story collections, I still wish to talk about them (just so I have a record). I picked up The American Lover because it mentioned a story about a famous Russian writer’s (story was inspired by Tolstoy’s life) final days living in a stationmaster’s cottage outside of Moscow. As most people know, I am a fan of Russian literature and books about Russia itself. When I looked at the author’s name, I was excited even more, it was a chance to finally dip into the writing style of Rose Tremain.
Without going into all the stories within the book, Tremain goes into some very interesting topics from transgressive love, sex, reflections of life and even a very unusual story about Daphne du Maurier. What I found in this collection is that Rose Tremain has a great ability to create characters and express emotions. There are some brilliantly dark and sometimes comical moments the she masterfully crafted into her stories. She has produced a collection centred around so many different emotions and skilfully managed to fit them into such short stories.
I really love the characters and emotions expressed in these stories and really makes me want to experience Rose Tremain’s style in long form. However I am not sure which novel to start with and would love some recommendations. The American Lover was a brilliant way to dip into Tremain’s writing and I am so glad to have finally had a chance to do so. If her writing abilities work just as well in her novels, she may have found a new fan.
Save Me the Waltz is the story of Alabama Beggs, a young Southern girl who meets and falls in love with David Knight during World War I. The two ineviSave Me the Waltz is the story of Alabama Beggs, a young Southern girl who meets and falls in love with David Knight during World War I. The two inevitably get married and David goes on to become a successful painter, before moving their family to the French Riviera. However Alabama is determined to find her own success and takes up ballet. When she lands her first solo debut in the opera Faust the cracks in their marriage become evident.
After an episode of hysteria in 1932, Zelda Fitzgerald was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment. Dr Adolf Meyer, an expert on schizophrenia was her doctor and as part of her recovery routine he got her to write at least two hours a day. Save Me the Waltz was written over the course of six weeks and was the first and only novel to be published by Zelda Fitzgerald. Her husband was outraged that she took so much of their personal life and added it into this novel. Despite the fact that the majority of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels are also autobiographical and he used the same material for his novel Tender is the Night.
I wanted to read Save Me the Waltz after reading Tender is the Night to compare the similarities. The problem I soon discovered is that Save Me the Waltz has possibly been whitewashed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently he helped Zelda revise her book and the amount that has been changed is unknown because her original manuscript has been lost. However Scott went from being irate to writing to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner (their publisher) “Here is Zelda’s novel. It is a good novel now, perhaps a very good novel—I am too close to tell.” I am inclined to believe that he has made sure he comes across better than originally written but without the original that is purely speculation.
The major theme within Save Me the Waltz is around the intense desire for Alabama/Zelda to succeed for themselves. It was not enough for either person to be the wife behind a successful man, and it explores the problems faced in doing this in a male dominated society. When Alabama gets her dream job in Naples with the San Carlo Opera Ballet Company, David does not want to move. Considering that he is a painter and could really work from anywhere, it says a lot about their marriage. This does not hinder Alabama from perusing her dreams and she goes to Naples anyway, leaving her husband to look after their child alone. Now this move may make people uneasy but it really plays with the power dynamic of marriage. Zelda Fitzgerald wants to challenge the conceptions people had of the role of a wife in a marriage and ask why it was alright for a man to go away for work but not the woman.
This can be a very difficult novel to read, knowing the historical context and history behind the story. Comparing this book with Tender is the Night does not leave F. Scott Fitzgerald in pleasant light but then again his novel did not do that either. One of the most powerful lines in this novel can be found right near the end and it beautifully wraps up the whole book into a few lines. “Emptying the ashtrays was very expressive of myself. I just lump everything in a great heap which I have labelled ‘the past,’ and having thus emptied this deep reservoir that was once myself, I am ready to continue.”
While I cannot say that Save Me the Waltz is a strong novel, it was a fascinating exploration into the lives of the Fitzgeralds. I am glad to have read and compared this book to Tender is the Night but I think it has only fuelled my interest into this couple. I still need to read a biography or two on the Fitzgeralds but I am beginning to get a better idea of their lives. I think if you are going to read Tender is the Night, you need to read Save Me the Waltz so you can have perspective on the autobiographical elements; even if they were tainted by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s edits.