Briefly: This is definitely NOT a novel informed by the “show, don’t tell” school of writing. Lessing tells, and tells, and tells, and tells. Like a 3
Briefly: This is definitely NOT a novel informed by the “show, don’t tell” school of writing. Lessing tells, and tells, and tells, and tells. Like a 300+ page polysyndetonic description of a train wreck (and MQ’s life is a train wreck from slow start to slightly sped up finish) but without the coordinating conjunctions. Any favorable characters are only implied (Joss Cohen, Andrew Matthews, Joss’ uncle) and remain largely undeveloped—perhaps, the next four volumes will make more/better use of them (four volumes, FOUR volumes!) Martha is a mess—readers might remain hopeful, but their hopes, unfortunately, won’t be realized until one of the other four volumes (FOUR volumes!) If Lessing’s intention was to emphasize the slow, laborious, painful, perpetually unrealized maturation of a young woman, then she accomplishes that, minus the maturation of the young woman.
On the plus side, she does have a fantastic sense of Place, and on occasion, provides a wonderful paragraph or sentence that I almost cared enough to underline for inclusion. Operative word: Almost. Mostly, I just wanted this one behind me. That said, I’ve ordered and expect to read A Proper Marriage.
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 no
4.5 stars rounded up.
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.
Law’s interests lie in ‘intellectual black holes,’ those systems of belief which defy reason and thwart discour
Interesting in a textbook sort of way.
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.
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 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....more
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 onWith 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.
Hitchens makes a compelling case against the major world religions and claims of religion being ‘essentially a force for good.’ His essays are presentHitchens makes a compelling case against the major world religions and claims of religion being ‘essentially a force for good.’ His essays are presented with his characteristic wit, erudition and bravado (in the positive sense of defiance and courage). Unafraid to name names, point fingers, and challenge orthodoxy, Hitchens makes his case masterfully and in a most readable manner. As previous reviewers have mentioned, he’s mainly ‘preaching to the choir’ but he also provides an abundance of information to newly realized skeptics and atheists in search of additional ‘ground to stand on’ when faced with the inevitable challenges of the religious.
A provocative story rendered in a straight-forward compelling manner by a contemporary master of literary fiction.
Trevor (see above review) has it rigA provocative story rendered in a straight-forward compelling manner by a contemporary master of literary fiction.
Trevor (see above review) has it right: many who approach this novel expecting science fiction are likely to be disappointed. It does, I suppose, lend itself to the qualifiers of ‘science fiction’ or ‘horror,’ but those aspects of this story, while present, speak more to setting than the author’s point which seems to be the profound resignation to life’s circumstances no matter how dire they are.
Lit majors might tire of hearing ‘good authors teach you how to read his or her novel,' but Ishiguro, a great author, does exactly that. His narrator speaks in a familiar, almost blasé, manner describing daily events at a children’s live-in school, but there’s always a sense of something else going on, something sinister, something ‘behind the curtain.’ Kathy, the narrator, engages the reader directly, expressing the need to go back to another event or enquiring if the reader’s experience is similar; in doing so, she breaks down the barrier between reader and fictive narrator exposing the reader to a more devastating finale. To his further credit, because you’ve begun to so identify with the narrator’s resignation, when dénouement occurs, it’s easier to withstand.