Eric Nyuland's Microsoft-commisioned novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach, is an excellent addition to the Halo canon. As a sci-fi novel, though, it is mere...moreEric Nyuland's Microsoft-commisioned novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach, is an excellent addition to the Halo canon. As a sci-fi novel, though, it is merely adequate. Nyuland proved himself a better writer than expected, but this book was still a little hammy and overstated in places. The set pieces are spectacular – truly thrilling and cinematic throughout – but the novel's pace was jeopardised by its running time. At almost four hundred pages, and with the titular battle of Reach resigned to the last seventy pages (like an afterthought), this was far longer than it needed to be.
To Nyuland's credit, though, main characters, Captain Jacob Keyes and John-117, are handled with a lot more depth and conviction than their handling in the sister stories of the video games. Each of the main characters had layered, believable motivations and – gasp! – feelings. (That's right, Master Chief had opinions about war long before 343 Industries gave him a more well-oiled voice box.) Master Chief's origins were particularly well-handled, and I also found the head of the Spartan Project, Dr Catherine Halsey, a necessarily complex individual.
At this point, with Halo: Reach and a slew of other expanded universe stories out there, one might question the relevance of Halo: The Fall of Reach. Effectively, this book serves as the immediate prequel to the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved and, I think, its relevance holds after all these years. See, it's one thing to have a loose understanding of the history of the Halo universe, but reading about it – involving yourself in the lives of these characters as the events happen – is another entirely. The Fall of Reach really coloured the events of Combat Evolved for me. It also gave the Human–Covenant war a greater resonance; a reader really feels what's at stake for humanity, whereas, in the games, it's just neat to blow stuff up.
For anyone with even a passing interest in the Halo universe, Halo: The Fall of Reach is essential reading. It could've been better, sure, but it also could've been a whole lot worse.(less)
Compelling and intense, 'In Cold Blood' is a certified masterpiece, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The scope is what impressed me the mo...moreCompelling and intense, 'In Cold Blood' is a certified masterpiece, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The scope is what impressed me the most. Capote gives us so many viewpoints, including the hysterical townsfolk and the chilling(ly human) murderers. Some of it (50-100 pages) didn't need to be there, but otherwise this was perfection.(less)
The first five stories resonate the most, but there are many in this collection that will stay with me. Such is their conceptual ingenuity (and, hey,...moreThe first five stories resonate the most, but there are many in this collection that will stay with me. Such is their conceptual ingenuity (and, hey, the execution isn't half bad either – Carey knows how to wring weight and implication out of the barest of sentences). While some of the themes border on the surreal side, most of these stories are propelled by pure universal human drama.
The standouts for me were 'Do you love me?', 'The Chance' and the title story, 'Exotic Pleasures'. These three, I feel, represented a perfect marriage of high-end spec. fiction concepts and nuanced, true to life relationships. 'The Last Days of a Famous Mime' and 'Peeling' were taut and suggested a philosophical leaning lacking in the others, while 'War Crimes' and 'The Fat Men in History' were perfect bookends, representing similar, yet contrasting ends of the same spectrum.
'A Windmill in the West' was the only real letdown. It wore out its premise early and degenerated into a frustrating dirge (though, to be fair to the damn thing, that was – in part – the point).
I recently read Ian McEwan's 'First Love, Last Rites', a collection that shares a lot of similarities with this one. To Carey's credit, I actually got a lot more from this. While the prose styles and concepts are similar, the stories here are deeper, more convincing, and are more intellectually nourishing than a lot of McEwan's gimmicky early stuff tended to be.
The only detractor – and I have this a lot with short story collections – is the lack of cohesion. There doesn't seem to be any grand intent; 'Exotic Pleasures' is a hodgepodge collection of quality work. With some focusing on character and some on concept, the end impression comes off a little scattered.(less)
This was a tricky book to review. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece — it left me reeling all night after I had finished reading it - but it's also tedio...moreThis was a tricky book to review. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece — it left me reeling all night after I had finished reading it - but it's also tedious and challenging.
Albert Camus is one of the greatest writers of philosophy I've ever read, but if I assess this as I would a contemporary novel then I'd have to say it was a chore – a work of art, definitely, but tiresome. The framework of 'novel' felt flimsy and contrived; clearly, this was a just a vehicle for Camus to get allegorical and wax lyrical. I'm certain there's an audience for that kind of thing, but when I read that it was about a isolated town being ravished by the plague I expected ... well, something else.
Aside from that spot of negativity, this book left a tremendous impression on me. I honestly don't think I'll forget the way it made me feel. By the time it reaches its climax, I felt like I had been there suffering right alongside these townsfolk. I felt a genuine emotional response by the conclusion, and that seldom happens to me (especially when the book in question was such work to even get through).
To sum it up, Albert Camus's 'The Plague' frustrated and moved me in equal measure. I give it three and a half stars for stirring such contradictory emotions in me.(less)
I've seen a fair amount of criticism levelled at this book because some readers don't like Sedaris on a personal level. Apparently, since this is a me...moreI've seen a fair amount of criticism levelled at this book because some readers don't like Sedaris on a personal level. Apparently, since this is a memoir, that sort of criticism is justified, but I don't buy it. Yes, Sedaris reveals himself to be selfish and yes, he's a terrible friend/son/employee who, nine times out of ten, will manipulate every situation to his advantage. But – and this is the kicker; this is why such his detractors' argument loses steam – no one's asking you to like him; you're reading a fine piece of acerbic literature, not holding a friendship audition.
Whew. With that out of the way I'm free to gush about what an enjoyable read this was. I came to 'Naked' on a whim, entirely free of expectations. I'm glad I did this, though had I had expectations they surely would've been surpassed. This book is, to borrow a cringe-inducing PR phrase, laugh-out-loud funny. I'm not one of those jolly sailors who laugh heartily at every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, either; I'm a cynical young man with the heart of a gargoyle, yet not two pages went by without at least eliciting a chuckle.
'Naked' is a collection of vignettes that detail different periods of Sedaris's youth – from childhood to his confused twenties. The stories that star members of his larger-than-life family are the best (the one about his Grandma was a hoot), though his hitchhiking days are also quite memorable. Sedaris tells his anecdotes with searing precision. He is observant by nature and oh-so-self aware. The common criticism that I opened with bothers me because it comes from a place of ignorance. Sedaris is a self-professed bane on humanity, and is the first to direct his jokes inward. He isn't arrogant, he's all too aware of his flaws. In fact, accepting these flaws is, in many ways, the entire point. Hence the title, 'Naked'. This is human nature at its rawest and dirtiest.
Despite our different backgrounds and orientations, I found it pretty easy to relate to Mr Sedaris. There is a core theme to most of these stories: he is on a quest for place, purpose/meaning, and understanding. He sees things as they are (his disillusionment with society is hilarious, and entirely on the money) but lacks the assertiveness to better them. His brazen qualities almost always come from an honourable place, but that's neither here nor there. The best part of reading about David Sedaris's life (other than the satire and the razor-sharp observations) is that he's utterly and perfectly fallible.
I think people shy away from this book because they don't like the kinds of truths it fails to withhold. Talk about a freaking mirror for society! This is a celebration of what it means to be human, whether you're a traditionalist Greek grandmother; an unstable, blue-collar factory worker; or a nudist colony enthusiast who can't bring themself to say 'penis' or 'vagina'. It's true that the third quarter tended to sag (this sentence is possibly too close in proximity to the one about the nudist colony), but still it is highly remarkable that this book manages to bring the smiles at every possible turn.
I honestly can't wait to delve into more of the writer's work.(less)
Consider this a high three stars, a seven out of ten.
Saturday is the ninth novel by revered British author, Ian McEwan. It is also his attempt at a 'd...moreConsider this a high three stars, a seven out of ten.
Saturday is the ninth novel by revered British author, Ian McEwan. It is also his attempt at a 'day in the life' novel, a style popularised by Joyce's Ulysses. To be honest, I found it a bit of a slog. Getting through it took far longer than I'd care to admit – and it's not even that long. This is because it’s packed with detail; Saturday’s focus on day-to-day minutiae is nothing short of staggering. Reading Saturday is the written equivalent of trudging along a highway in saturated clothing.
As the title suggests, the events take place on an ordinary Saturday – ordinary if you're a successful neurosurgeon who has everything he ever wanted. There's been some criticism levelled at McEwan for his decision to depict a wealthy, well-adjusted family who haven’t any 'serious' problems. There are problems, but chances are they won't be relatable to a large cross-section of readers. This is a fair criticism to make, but it didn't bother me one bit. Perhaps you'll find it an issue if you aren’t empathetic, or if you struggle with suspending disbelief. Henry Perowne's background is nothing like my own, but I had no problems investing in his journey. As a protagonist, Henry is affable, inoffensive and a well-drawn professional. I was more than happy to follow for the day, listening to him ruminate on England’s social landscape, or on the inner-workings of the human brain. His insights and motivations, which likely mirror McEwan's own, were on the money. Henry also has a daughter, Daisy, who is his ideological opposite. Hearing these characters play off each other was great.
Henry Perowne's suspicion of art and politics make him a kind of upper-middle class everyman. His musings are brilliant, but oppressive, because McEwan’s prose is incredibly precise. McEwan renders everyday moments in such a way that you have to kick yourself for failing to notice their obvious beauty, a beauty you feel has somehow always been there. Truly, Saturday is Real Life in its most convincing literary form. But still there’ll be times when you'll bang your head against the wall wishing that something – anything! – would come along and advance the plot.
In regards to its narrative, Saturday is unquestionably dull. Though it's book-ended by two high stake scenes, you'll need perseverance to clear the sagging middle section. Fortunately, my fondness for McEwan's prose (which is astonishing here: truly 'top of his game' stuff) ushered me onward. Patience is advised, though. Had a lesser author attempted this, I might've given up at the halfway mark.
Saturday is not a fun read, but I guarantee you’ll have a deep appreciation for it by the time you finish. Like most of McEwan’s oeuvre, it's powerful and relevant. Just don't go in expecting the immediacy of some of his earlier work.(less)
I was told that reading Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' would be a bizarre experience, that it was brilliant as well as perplexing. In a sense, some of th...moreI was told that reading Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' would be a bizarre experience, that it was brilliant as well as perplexing. In a sense, some of those things ring true, but — and here's what the Kafka fans neglected to tell me — it was also a very moving story. I never expected it to elicit such a strong emotional response; I suppose I went into 'The Metamorphosis' expecting something light and farcical: you know, man gets turned into a giant insect, laughs ensue — how will he get out of this zany caper?
While there are a few psuedo-comic moments within, I would say this book was a largely melancholy affair. Jerome's plight, while strange, functions as a brilliant metaphor for any kind of real world debilitation (either he is someone from a mistreated minority, or he is someone with a serious illness). His inability to express himself is heart-wrenching, as is his family's (particularly his father's) inability to deal with the change. The family's love and revulsion interchange and intertwine, poisoning the household and creating a maelstrom of guilt for all involved.
The ending packs a wallop, too; I tried empathising with Jerome's family to see what I would've done and felt in their position — not pleasant.
'The Metamorphosis' is written with plain, accessible language, and is only a quick little read. I wasn't aware that it was taught in high school english curriculums; I'm actually envious of anyone who got to discuss and deconstruct this wonderful book.(less)
Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is part memoir, part essay collection. As of 2006 (the initial publication date), Muraka...moreHaruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is part memoir, part essay collection. As of 2006 (the initial publication date), Murakami had successfully run twenty-six marathons and published eleven novels, making him an authority on writing and running. But this is not a How-To guide; from the offset, the humble writer stresses that his only intention is to share his accumulated wisdom and experience. And that’s precisely how this book should be taken. Murakami candidly and casually details his philosophies on writing, running and growing old. I didn’t learn a whole lot from this, but I don’t think I expected to.
Although this is billed as a sort of memoir, the biographical components of the book are the lightest. Murakami shares plenty about his running history, but comparatively little about his early life or fiction. I found this somewhat disappointing. Before I picked this up, I’d heard that the book equally explored Murakami’s writing and running lives, and that there were parallels between them. In reality, only about fifteen percent of this book deals with Murakami’s fiction, and the parallels drawn between novel-writing and marathon-running are pretty superficial. Make no mistakes: this book is for runners, not Murakami fans.
Fortunately, running’s my new favourite pastime, so I found plenty to enjoy. Murakami pens his thoughts as they come to him, giving us great insight into the mind of someone preparing for a long distance event. Events are jumped between with abandon and, when combined with a stream of consciousness approach, left the book feeling structurally disjointed. This was something I was unable to get past. It all feels a bit haphazardly thrown together, and the later portions (where Murakami digresses into discussing triathlons) drag. I can’t really pinpoint what would’ve made this a better-rounded read. It’s a little repetitive (Murakami trains for a marathon, completes it, does not meet his own unrealistic expectations, trains more, tries again), but then it’s only a short book so I’m not sure how much could conceivably be cut.
Regardless, the actual content of the book is (mostly) very good. Murakami has a unique way of seeing the world. He’s a modest guy, and his unpretentious views are wonderful. We’re so used to reading things that are laced in irony, so when someone as sincere and earnest as Murakami comes along, we have to stand and pay attention. Murakami views running as some transcendental act – although he’s careful not to get all metaphysical. It’s impossible not to absorb some of Murakami’s passion. I would genuinely call this an inspiring read, and that’s not a descriptor I’d use lightly.
Reading Running, one could think Murakami is foolish, doggedly stubborn. He is, in a sense, but has a remarkable spirit. His story really demonstrates how much we’re capable of achieving with just a strong work ethic and the right attitude. All the rest (bar luck and talent) is superfluous; Murakami teaches us to believe that anything is possible. Reading this, I may just believe it.(less)
I wanted to give this three stars because it really does shine, at times. Unfortunately it was about as consistent as a party mix of lollies and I cou...moreI wanted to give this three stars because it really does shine, at times. Unfortunately it was about as consistent as a party mix of lollies and I couldn't commit to a favourable review knowing I had to talk myself into it.
That said, there's plenty to like about this book, or at least the general premise. Humour is its greatest strength, and this is most apparent in the hilarious foiled-bank-robbery opening. When the focus stays on Ed and his three friends (a pack of self-identified losers), the results work best. The four have a natural chemistry, a chemistry that feels completely authentic (especially in the lower-class, suburban Australia this is set in). If the actual narrative took a different tact and didn't bother with all the hockey messages, I think this would've been a much stronger book.
Ed Kennedy is an interesting character. You never completely warm to him, but he's compelling enough. He's got a lot of family baggage and, for the most part, seems too self-aware of himself to be leading such a meaningless existence. But he's likeable. Funny, courageous and with a good attitude, considering his circumstances.
The messages (mysterious cards with cryptic instructions) are by far the worst parts of this book. They undo all the dry, sarcastic humour with cheap sentimentality. In fact, the book seemed at odds about what exactly it wants to be. For one, the frequent allusions to sex and swearing (as well as some notably 'adult' insights) make it feel like a book with distinctly "adult" sensibilities. But the messages, the 'believe in yourself and you can achieve anything!' hooplah, seem to contradict what I thought the book was all about. They're also insultingly hard to swallow. Ed stumbles across solutions in the most farfetched of ways. He devotes much of his time to spying on random families all across town. Then, when he's sussed out what he perceives as 'the problem', he forces himself into the situation and intervenes based on whatever creepy hunch he's concocted. Disturbingly, none of the people he encounters has a problem with any of it. In fact, they're more than welcoming and will usually bare their souls to Ed within five minutes of meeting him.
I'm all for suspending disbelief for a neat concept, but to be asked to do so for an entire book was seriously insulting. How can Zusak expect the reader to be moved by the positive outcome of the message if it doesn't ring true and barely makes sense?
That's a good segue to talk about the sentimentality. This. Book. Is. So. Phoney. It's full of false platitudes about helping your fellow man. Ed "changes people's lives" by performing the most incidental tasks (buying a stressed-out single mother an ice cream, telling a gifted – though confined – runner not to wear shoes), and for his efforts they are forever in his debt. I know the world can be a bleak and selfish place (another reason I expected Ed's messages to met with suspicion), but I refuse to believe there are people out there that starved for a little positive attention. But that's just a personal reaction; it wouldn't hold up in court. I mean, Ed Kennedy is a 21st Century Saint! I know this because the book tells me so. A lot. In fact, Ed likes nothing more than to constantly berate the reader with rehashes of his past messages. He even revisits the poor souls he's met along the way, to show us how they're now – post intervention – enjoying wonderful lives on the straight and narrow. But seriously, Ed seems to retread old messages for no other reason than to feel good about his past deeds. These sections really hurt the pacing (it's a short book, but it *feels* long) and generally wear thin on the reader's patience.
There are maaaany passages about love/the goodness of humanity that stick in the reader's throat. They're so goopy – twee, excessive and oh-so-corny (so much so that it's hard to believe this is the same book that had that brilliant sarcastic opening). Ed has an infatuation with his best friend, Audrey, but you never grow to care. As a sub-plot, it's laughable. Ed thinks of her the way Edward Cullen thinks of Bella, yet we're supposed to buy into it and proclaim it beautiful. After all, Ed does. He loves to declare how lovely and meaningful everything is, and he LOVES to reflect on how much growth he's made since becoming The Messenger. It's about as subtle as a brick through a window, and really hurts what could've been a fairly admirable theme.
Zusak's writing is the final thing I want to take aim at. At times he crafts brilliant, razor sharp prose that doesn't flounder about with unnecessary description. This is how I know he's a writer with talent, and this is why I'm willing to see past this mess of a book and give 'The Book Thief' a try. But there's one stylistic device that Zusak likes to lean on, one that became grating in no time at all.
Zusak peppers. Every scene. With. Fragmented sentences.
They're there so. You'll know. Something profound is. Happening. So you'll know that. This sentence. Requires extra attention.
Something moving is... ...about to happen...
The device is okay when used sparingly – I mean, it does exactly what it intends to do. But it rings false when every one of Ed's trivial thought gets emphasised in this way. It's used so frequently it borders on parody (it's not, though; this book wants nothing more than for you to take it seriously). It tries so damn hard to be sharp and provocative that it ends up sounding hollow and, at times, embarrassing. It's basically the reason this book isn't as big as it appears to be. It's got a lot of pages, sure, but there's a lot of blank spaces because of Zusak's compulsive need to highlight every. dramatic. aside.
So, there we have it. A book with initial promise, let down by its many logically-unsound shortcomings. Zusak seems like an interesting writer, and I'm glad he's found critical and commercial success, but to me 'The Messenger' stands as a document of an author still finding their feet. (less)