Everyone gets the depression he deserves. Or, perhaps, the novel he or she deserves.
Briefly: Absurdist, with surreal attention to detail, or Surreal,...more Everyone gets the depression he deserves. Or, perhaps, the novel he or she deserves.
Briefly: Absurdist, with surreal attention to detail, or Surreal, with absurdist attention to detail, or subsurdist—yeah, that’s it; I’m sticking with that.
While reading, I kept thinking this would make a spectacular graphic novel, a form for which I have little interest, because this is an image-rich novella. For a real review, I suggest Nate's, and be sure to check out the artwork he brings to our attention—they are very much images from RotN.
Wrong book at the wrong time with way too little knowledge of artwork Burns uses with abandon.(less)
Less briefly: A tale told in high register, of arrogance and honor, the fine lines between conflicting emotions, irony, Oxford University, the righteous and the self-righteous, the femme fatale, fantasy meeting reality, anticipatory metafiction—wondrously frustrating and frequently comic, keep a dictionary at hand (a good one). Cormac McCarthy meets Jane Austen, or Bartleby, the Scrivener in extremis.
I’m one of those people who always enjoyed hearing Christopher Hitchens speak—on anything—in his confrontational style, with his humor, his lightning-fast logic, with the breadth and depth of his intellect always on display. I miss Christopher Hitchens. Even when I disagreed with his position (the invasion of Iraq), I’d still marvel at his grasp of fact and adamant (belligerent) defense. I miss him.
In Mortality, Hitchens describes his diagnosis, treatment and the subsequent failure of the body, while elaborating on the ‘fighting’ illness metaphor, his trademark stance on superstition (religion), and the importance of friendship, including his religious friends whose treatment of him, while ill, speaks well of them. He writes about the irony of prayer, what to say/not say to those who are terminal, and losing one’s voice. Never whiny or self-pitying, Hitchens’ plight unfolds in his own words before trailing away into partial thoughts—paragraphs and thoughts included by his wife in the text, some spoken to already, but perhaps only partially. An all-too-brief account of Hitchens’ ‘year of living dyingly.’
Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it in your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you.
Five stars, unapologetically. It’s Hitchens—to give it less would be to blame him for not living longer.
Here it was he talked about the RAF. So? [10 space gap] So must others, for ever, or talk about something like it, and it does not matter to them, now, it cannot have mattered at any time to me, so why this, if it is so meaningless, anything means something only if you impose meaning on it, which in itself is a meaningless thing, the imposition.
…why do reasons matter?...Sometimes I think I shall become a Surrealist.
Another day, another review, hopefully one which will encourage the reading of The Unfortunates, even though I’m likely to discourage as many as are prodded on. As is frequently the case with the books I’ve been reading, this isn’t one for everyone—it could be, but it won’t be, as it should be, yes, no, maybe, perhaps.
The narrator, one B.S. Johnson, travels to a city to cover a soccer match for a newspaper, and the travel, the pre-match wandering through the city, the sights, all conspire to remind the narrator of an old friend, now deceased, who had been a good friend and trusted ally in the narrator’s budding career as a writer. Rather a bland premise, but…that story isn’t the story. The story is the randomness of recollection, the bits and pieces, remembered in detail or remembered in part. Embellished. Romanticized. Contrived. Non-linear. Scatter-shot. Cumulative while disintegrating. Exactly the way Memory works, the memories that matter.
Johnson (the author) employs a style that some may find tortuous. Polysyndetons without the conjuctions, memory upon memory. Heavily punctuated demanding the reader slow down, slow down. Gaps in the text suggesting the narrator’s mind has wandered off, on to something else. Disclaimers undermine and reinforce.
So, about that book-in-a-box—WTF is that? Is it a gimmick? Of course. Is it a useful gimmick? Decidedly. Does it add, embellish, contribute, reinforce? So many questions. The answer, I believe is it does add. It reinforces the idea of the randomness of memory. It reinforces the idea that no two readers ever read the same book.
If you’re lucky enough to have a copy at hand, take a moment. Prop up the front cover from behind—so that the box stands open. Consider the topmost surface covered in a muted, off-white color of satin with a small pillow resting on it. A casket. The contents of which holding the objects of Memory. The contents to which most Memories are headed. A cliché, yes? No.
The joy of this book isn’t in the story. The joy of this book is in the reading.
My, my, my. What to say? What to say? Perhaps, only, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. If it were a review, I’d be able to recommend it or dissuade a potential reader. I can do neither.
B&G came to my attention via a 5-star, revelrous review by my favorite Scot (who will remain my favorite Scot, at the very least, until I’ve met a second one). I read his review, ordered it immediately (after all, did he not turn me on to B.S. Johnson and Gilbert Sorrentino?) and let it sit on my TBR shelf for an entire year—until I went looking for something that might be read quickly. Its moment arrived, and I read it.
But before reading it, I noticed another GR friend’s review—an ominous 2-star-er, with an advisory “Recommends it for: I couldn't.” Uh, oh. Two well-read GR friends with virtually opposite reactions. Not wanting to be further predisposed, I waited until after reading B&G to read the second review. Oy!
As luck has it, they each reflect my feelings on this one. I liked it, sorta, and didn’t like it, sorta. I liked the character of Billy and his constant bemoaning a life in pain. Oddly enough, a quote hit my feed today, "...and there was nothing to do except to wait and to hurt." — Mark Haddon. I’m a Haddon fan. I liked the odd brother/sister banter that rings true. I liked the author’s style—fast-paced and blistering. On the other hand, I never did get quite accustomed to a comfort level with not knowing what was happening (I still don’t know if there was one Louise or two). And that ending? Someone needs to pay.
So, on this one I’m Switzerland. I can neither recommend or dissuade, praise or condemn, love or hate. In general, I liked it, hence the 4 stars, but that doesn’t mean: rush out and get it. If you really must read it, I’ll say what I’ve said before, get it from the library, or borrow mine (you know who you are).
What strange language it is to read, this book. How peculiar, to me, my self, too, the reading. The book. This book. That I’ve held, in my hands, this book, my hands have held. Great fun, to read, too, this book, for me, myself, this book, it is. Wonder the punctuation, abundant, too, from McCarthy and Faulkner came? Wonder the syntax, not Dutch, Pennsylvanian or otherwise, too? (I’m going to throw the horse over the fence some hay). Right then, write, write on, read, read more. This read and that, the book, too, that one, above cited. And hurry. Then build, build, design, build then.
How many writers get to use the word aposiopesis? Everyone uses the concept, but few know the meaning (hell, yes, I had to look it up). And if you don’t believe me, well, I’ll—
One for the die-hards.
Easily four stars, probably closer to five. Screw it, five it is.
I’m working my way, slowly, through Roberto Bolaño’s Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003, loving it, and adding titles zeal...moreI’m working my way, slowly, through Roberto Bolaño’s Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003, loving it, and adding titles zealously from those he recommends to my TBR list while kicking myself in the ass for not learning Spanish and reading some of the recommendations in the original language—one of many great losses to me. In a brief essay called The Perfect Story, Bolaño extols the virtues of Max Beerbohm’s Enoch Soames. For a Bolañophile, there’s no ignoring that story, especially since it’s free for Kindle users. It’s brief; it’s fun. The Aha moment(s) surprise. Bolaño says of this title:
If I had to choose between the fifteen best stories I’ve read in my life, “Enoch Soames” would be among them, and not in last place.
I can’t speak to its perfection. I’m really not an avid reader of short stories or novellas and can’t speak to them authoritatively. I can say that this is a helluva story and heartily recommend it. One for the fantasy heads, one for the supernatural heads; genre-reading I can live with. (less)
In Youth Is Pleasure—Just prior to the beginning of WWII, Orvil Pym, a fifteen-year-old British boy, departs his hated public school for a summer vacation with his father and two older brothers at a remote hotel. Orvil is timid, yet adventurous; he’s not close to his family, but he has a comfort level while around them. He misses his deceased mother, who he had not treated all that well, and no one in the family may discuss her while the father is present. The reader is privy to all that occurs to Orvil, by virtue of an intrusive, all-knowing narrator—we share his fears and marvel at the unreal visions he imposes on those around him. He’s a dreamer longing for his own solitary adult life while dreading the experience necessary to get him there. So intense is his self-torture, that readers cannot help but rally to him as his story unfolds. Readers may wonder as they proceed through this novella how such a gently told tale would appeal to William S. Burroughs, who wrote the introduction, but at the very end of the story—the Whoa! or the Wow! moment—one can’t help but think, ‘there it is.’ Beautifully told, gentle, optimistic. Orvil’s (and the author’s) eye for detail is stunning, some say Proustian, a victory for readers as interested in the telling as the tale.
At the end of the meal, Orvil followed the others into the court. Already, squeaks and tunings could be heard coming from the distant ballroom. Orvil had the whimsy fancy that the instruments were whining and complaining to the musicians, trying to escape their duty, like boys who think that a master has set them too much ‘preparation.’
Orvil (‘Vil to his brothers, Microbe to his father) is Welch’s instrument—finally tuned, stretched to the snapping point, endearing, caught in the longing for protection and independence, forever safe in the memory of the reader. A cozy comforter for the Anglophile who enjoys reading with a dictionary at hand.
I Left My Grandfather’s House— Can an artist be forgiven for being thoroughly unlikeable? Should he/she be? In 1933, a young art student, Denton Welch, departs his grandfather’s home with the intention of doing a walking tour from Henfield, Sussex to Devonshire and back. Helluva hike. As he wends his way cross-country, he encounters numerous people for whom he recounts varying degrees of dislike and numerous ruins which he does like and would make habitable for himself. His rather constant droning on the faults of those he encounters becomes almost unbearable. Fellow travelers disappoint the artist-to-be, the staffs of the various hostels fare no better, and even the relatives he visits briefly are portrayed as unfortunate, if not merely silly or mean-spirited. A rather depressing journey. But… there’s an ending, an ending in which readers might feel something for the narrator that hadn’t been foreshadowed…an aspect, a side to which, redemption is possible. A gentle surprise, perhaps, only available to a character of an artistic bent…someone for whom a consideration must be given. Perhaps, an artist you’d rather know of than know. But, then, isn’t that often the case with artists?
I have found that the one thing that enrages me is to overhear what I have been meant to overhear.
This isn’t one for everyone; it is one for me.(less)
Law’s interests lie in ‘intellectual black holes,’ those systems of belief which defy reason and thwart discourse that challenges those beliefs; his goal with this book is to, “help immunize readers against…some key tricks of the trade by which such self-sealing bubbles of belief are made.” All well and good, however, Beyond Belief will, at times, sound more like a diatribe against some of those beliefs (especially religion) and less like the rhetoric/logic/debate/critical thinking text one might expect. The downside of using so many religious examples is that Law might lose the religious reader before he/she arrives at a point where they might see themselves in the examples provided and said readers might too quickly write this volume off as another Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris anti-religious screed. That’d be a shame.
Law proceeds to define eight strategies which thwart or undermine discussion, attempts to explain ‘what is wrong’ with those strategies, and provides examples of their usage. Some readers (this reader) would have preferred the traditional logic/rhetoric name for the types of strategy being discussed to Law’s renaming them; he does, for instance, mention apophasis, but does not discuss equivocation as such. I mention this only because the text might have been more useful to students.
Oddly, Law regularly attempts to distance himself from appearing to bash ideas in favor of speaking to the logical/rhetorical devices at play, i.e. he often takes a sort of ambivalent stance toward the idea, while the rhetorical defense is pretty thoroughly trounced, almost necessarily making the idea itself questionable.
Among the things I found interesting was a discussion of ‘the H.A.D.D. hypothesis’— a hyperactive agency detector device—a possible evolutionary explanation of the prevalence of believing in things unseen (gods, spirits, contact with the dead, etc.). In a nutshell, this ‘agency detector device’ kicks in when someone hears something behind him or sees a shadow cross over them or in any way senses the presence of an agent that could be harmful—natural selection favors inheritable traits, and traits that keep one safe endure. Attempting to be Switzerland on HADD, Law says simply there might be something to it. Discussion of evidentiary evil and the point at which it becomes gratuititous (skeptical theism) is frequently visited. And, in what could be a final sort of insult to Christians, Law includes a section called The Tapescrew Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Guru, in which, an older aunt, Tapescrew, advises her nephew, Woodworm, on capturing and retaining his first mind. C.S. Lewis fans don’t have to be concerned with a compelling novella here, but some might find using Lewis in this way is, well, unholy.
5 stars if considered as a YA novel; 4 stars if read as an adult (it probably deserves more, Hill does a fine job—more to follow.
"It’s not a story; it’s a history lesson." So says one of the characters of Department Nineteen with regard to the novel Dracula.
It’s been a long, long time since I read something that has been such a page-turner, something plot-driven, something this exciting and this well-done. Dammit. It’s just not right. This is exceptionally well-written FanFic which melds historical fiction, supernatural fiction, and the novels Dracula and Frankenstein bringing all to the present time with a vengeance. Not only that, but in ways that do honor to the original novels and, hopefully, will inspire young adults who haven’t read them to do so while waiting for the next in the series to come out—and it bugs the hell outta me that I don’t know when it’s coming and that I’m looking forward to it so much.
Department Nineteen begins with multiple story lines: a contemporary story wherein Jamie Carpenter witnesses his father’s violent death at the hands of masked, futuristic military men before seeing his mother kidnapped by a loathsome vampire, Alexandru, some two years later; the story of what happens with Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries; and various stories of the descendants of those survivors who hunt vampires in the intervening years. All this and Frankenstein, to boot (the monster, who has since taken on the name of his creator).
Of course, it sounds hokey; how could it not? Yet, Hill succeeds in bringing his tale through a relentless 540 pages to its stunning conclusion and set up for the next volume. All great fun, a great book for young adults which is action-based and not a silly romance (although, potential for a budding romance is certainly built in—and what a peculiar romance that could turn out to be). Gore and brutality might render this one better suited for boys (I know, stereotyping, but there it is), however there’s enough compassion to recommend this one to anyone—young adult or adult. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s fun.
Recommended to anyone who might have opportunity to get good fiction into the hands of young adults, and to any adults who have an interest in FanFic or supernatural fiction. This was included in a box of ARCs that was sent to me by the publisher; after passing over the 'girl' stories (for reading at a later date), this one didn't leap out so much as it hisssssssssssssssssed out, saying, "Read me, read me." I did, and I'm very glad I did. Very nice break from some of the other things I enjoy reading.
This novel’s humorous tone and the author’s suicide will put some readers in mind of John Kennedy Toole and his A Confederacy of Dunces. The protagon...more This novel’s humorous tone and the author’s suicide will put some readers in mind of John Kennedy Toole and his A Confederacy of Dunces. The protagonists of both novels share a general loathing of their circumstances and the people around them. CMOD-e is, however, much more fun and funnier. Johnson’s metafictional account of Christie Malry’s attempt to balance his life’s accounts is, at first, easy to identify with and creates in the reader a sympathetic reflection.
At one point the intrusive author/narrator says of the protagonist:
And he had contrived a method of throwing these switches by remote control, so to speak in an unusual way which I am not going to bother to invent on this occasion. But I will go so far as to tell you that it involved a shovel, which was naturally already there and available for use, a length of nylon twine, and a small hard ball of compressed rubber of the kind delighted in by many children of all ages; and that once this apparatus had worked, the only objects left were a shovel, which had every right to be there, and a child’s ball with about a yard of twine attacted.
I’ve provided this quote for two reasons:
1. it exemplifies the narrator’s insistent and humorous tendency to short-circuit expectations, and
I’m not sure why I put off reading this for so long: it’s listed in the Bibliography of James Wood’s How Fiction Works (and now has a √ after it like so many other great titles he cites), it received five stars from MJ Nichols and Greg, (who’ve written much finer reviews), and now, finally, I’m reading it because it was listed as a Cult Books group read; go figure.
At one point the author/narrator interrupts the text with:
…this novel is not an unrelieved progression of successes, you know.
I’d suggest he’s wrong, the novel is, indeed, a ‘progression of successes’ culminating in a major success. While reading this brief novel, I highlighted any number of passages to share in a review, most being the funnier intrusions, but instead of providing them I offer the following suggestion: Read this book, it’s fast, it’s funny, and it’s worth it.(less)
With funerals as an arching motif, great humor, and unnatural deaths, this longish novella is as if written by Agatha Christie after a crash course on...moreWith funerals as an arching motif, great humor, and unnatural deaths, this longish novella is as if written by Agatha Christie after a crash course on writing with Poe and having drunk just enough with Roberto Bolaño.
“Such a tolerant, openminded, and grown-up sort of place”—such is the way McEwan describes the city of Amsterdam, and such is the way I’d describe the novel, Amsterdam—a story of mature friendships made vulnerable by differing views of tolerance and openmindedness and the growing realization that the two protagonists had not known each other as well as their long friendship might suggest. The novel speaks to maturity and human faults, friendships jeopardized by experience, loyalty, memory, civic obligation—themes that may not address the concerns of every reader.
Amsterdam is well-crafted—every detail serves a purpose and reveals its place in the narrative—all the pieces fit together perfectly. In fact, the novel is so tightly crafted, it reads like the best of short stories and lends itself to a very quick reading, and from which, it gains. Each character’s character is rendered up gradually, informing the reader as each protagonist’s personal character is realized by the other. Splendid.
Why only four stars? Why not five? I’m not sure. It’s not my favorite McEwan, even though I like it quite a lot. Possibly because I liked Atonement so much more. The novels are so different, it’s as though they weren’t written by the same author. Most likely, the fault is mine and due to my own expectations.
I’m reminded of a beleaguered Joni Mitchell on a live recording (Miles of Aisles) who, between songs and amid shouts for particular songs to be played next (requests for popular favorites she’s probably heard thousands of times), laments, [and I’m paraphrasing here]:
“You know, a painter does a painting, and that’s it. He hangs it in a loft somewhere, and maybe somebody buys it or no one buys it…but…you know? No one ever asks Van Gogh ‘Hey, paint a Starry Night again, man. He did it and that was it.’” Then she laughs.
Have fun with Amsterdam. Laugh along with it. I think it was part of McEwan’s goal, and the humor is there for the taking.