This is my third David Mitchell novel, and unfortunately it's my least favorite so far. Unlike his other works I've read, this is more conventional in...moreThis is my third David Mitchell novel, and unfortunately it's my least favorite so far. Unlike his other works I've read, this is more conventional in that it's only really told from one point of view (aside from a few letters woven into the text here and there) and has a fairly linear narrative. What makes it a David Mitchell novel is the unique perspective that the protagonist, Eiji Miyake, tells the story from.
Eiji is a naive twenty year old from rural Japan, looking for the father he never knew in big city Tokyo. Eiji's overactive imagination and lack of regular sleeping habits make it difficult for him--and us, the readers--to tell what are dreams and what is reality, as he finds love, works in a deathly hot chain pizza joint, gets mixed up with the Yakuza, and attempts to reconcile with his estranged mother, all while stumbling around Tokyo without a yen in his wallet.
It's obvious that David Mitchell is an extremely gifted writer, but this fell short for me. It just felt really long and tedious at times (and it's less than 500 pages). Without Mitchell's beautiful prose, this would have been a two-star read for me.(less)
I completely fell in love with David Mitchell while reading his masterpiece Cloud Atlas last year, and resolved to pick up more of his work. I thought...moreI completely fell in love with David Mitchell while reading his masterpiece Cloud Atlas last year, and resolved to pick up more of his work. I thought it might be interesting to read them in chronological order and see the development of his distinct style, so I started with Ghostwritten, his debut novel.
I'm a little sad to say that I didn't love this one quite as much as Cloud Atlas, but I didn't really expect to. It's probably unfair to compare the two works, but I'm going to anyway, so get ready*. Cloud Atlas (I'm getting tired of linking it) is a really tight and polished novel: while it's a little gimmicky and meanders all over the place, changing perspective and style every 50 pages or so, the structure of it makes perfect sense. The links and connections between characters are clear and the narrative shifts occur at logical places. It's a really easy, enjoyable piece of postmodern literature to read. Ghostwritten also tells the stories of multiple characters in different locations and has shifting narration, but it just doesn't get quite up to the same level as Cloud Atlas. It's interesting to see the connections between the characters here, but it's almost like there are too many of them. I just didn't "get" all of them. Also, as opposed to Cloud Atlas, where the 6 stories are interrupted and nested and then relate back to one another, in Ghostwritten they are complete vignettes just put in order, more like traditional short stories in an anthology of related works.
I found that I liked some stories better than others, so maybe I'd better break them down. Each is titled by the location where the protagonist spends the majority of the story:
Okinawa - Narrated by terrorist hiding out after detonating a gas bomb on a crowded subway in order to purge the "unclean" in the name of His Serendipity, an enigmatic cult leader. I found this one fascinating.
Tokyo - A recent high-school grad obsessed with jazz, who works in a record store while trying to figure out what to do with his life. It follows several weeks of his life as he meets a girl and falls in love with her. Not my favorite.
Hong Kong - A corrupt, divorced, British suit working in the corporate world of Hong Kong and living in a supposedly haunted apartment.
Holy Mountain - I loved this one. It was beautiful and haunting: a bildungsroman following the life of a lonely tea shack proprietor, from when she is raped as a young girl by the Warlord's Son (because he is bored and to show he can) and shamed by her father (who could do nothing to stop it, so channeled his guilt into anger at her for allowing her loss of chastity to ruin the family's reputation) until she dies as an old woman who has seen destruction and war so many times. Her only company is her tree, who she believes is magical and can talk, but we find out more about that in the next part.
Mongolia - This is a strange one, and it took a little while to figure out who's narrating, but I don't really think it's a spoiler to say since all the narrators are listed (in order) in the book description above. The protagonist is a parasitic mental entity that calls itself a "noncorpum" and travels from host mind to host mind to find out more about its own existence. One of my favorites.
Petersburg - Narrated by a museum attendant who is seducing her boss in order to steal priceless paintings from under his nose with her boyfriend (who is an abusive piece of scum), it tells the story of their last heist and how it all went to shit.
London - A flaky, wasted musician and part-time ghostwriter, trying to decide if he should quite his manwhoring and settle down with his baby momma, who seems to be getting along fine without him. Along the way he saves a life and does some gambling.
Clear Island - A brilliant physicist from a small island in Ireland, who has been conscripted to develop new weapons for the U.S. military and is desperately trying to get out.
Night Train - A New York late-night DJ who keeps fielding mysterious on-air calls from someone who calls themselves the Zookeeper. Guess who it is? Meh.
Underground - Kind of a bonus chapter, only a few pages, it's almost a prequel or alternate-universe version of the first part, Okinawa. It's intentionally vague, and I'm still kind of undecided as to whether I liked that kind of no-end-ending or not.
*Another reason it's hard not to compare this book and Cloud Atlas is that there are actually a number of connections that can be found to the later book hidden within the text. Tim Cavendish, of "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" (the 4th narrative in Cloud Atlas) makes an appearance in the London section - turns out he's the ghostwriter's boss. His brother, a lawyer, is mentioned a number of times in the Hong Kong story. Luisa Rey, from "Half-Lives" (3rd story in Cloud Atlas) calls into Bat's radio show in Night Train. And there are a couple mentions of characters having comet-shaped birthmarks. These are passing references that a casual reader might not pick up on, but having read both books they really intrigue me. It makes me want to root around in David Mitchell's brain and see what his obsessions are - why the elaborations on these throwaway, bit parts to turn them into main characters for a later work. Or were the two books written around the same time and the allusions were made intentionally as an Easter Egg? In any case, David Mitchell is clever enough to write great, genre-bending literature without being so clever as to be obnoxious, and for that I will continue reading the rest of his oeuvre.(less)
I don't know how Agatha Christie constantly manages to fool me--I spend the whole book suspecting everyone except the actual culprit.
I've read a coupl...moreI don't know how Agatha Christie constantly manages to fool me--I spend the whole book suspecting everyone except the actual culprit.
I've read a couple of Hercule Poirot mysteries, but I figured I should go back to the beginning. This first case didn't disappoint, and if you typically like Agatha Christie you'll like this one. Yes, Poirot's eccentricities often cross the line from endearing to obnoxious. Yes, the relationship between Poirot and Hastings is a formulaic knockoff of that of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. And yes, the twisty plots, constant red herrings, and subsequent grand reveal can be extremely contrived. I still love them when I'm looking for light reading.(less)
I've been hearing so much about this book--the author has won a whole bunch of awards, it appears on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list...moreI've been hearing so much about this book--the author has won a whole bunch of awards, it appears on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list (which, while admittedly flawed, I have found to contain a lot of exceptional works)--but I was pretty underwhelmed. I mean, it's a fine book. There's nothing really wrong with the story. It's cute, and I enjoyed it for what it was: a brief, touching story of 3 people who are brought together by their individual losses and grief. The characters were likeable, if a bit bland, and the storyline is fairly interesting. Still, it just didn't do much for me.
This book also pushes one of my major LGBTQ-ally buttons. Eriko, a transsexual woman, is repeatedly referred to in the text as "a man". Not in an adversaries-calling-her-names way either. These are her son and closest friend referring to her. An example:
"There aren't many men who will open a car door for a woman. I think it's really great." "Eriko raised me that way," he said, laughing. "If I didn't open the door for her, she'd get mad and refuse to get in the car." "Even though she was a man!" I said, laughing. "Right, right, even though she was a man."
Um, no. It's made clear in the book that she's not a drag queen, she's not a transvestite. She is not a man. It pissed me off every time I read that.
I also found the dialogue a little wooden, as in the above example. I think the translation left something to be desired.
The edition I read also included a short story, "Moonlight Shadow", which was just as meh if not moreso. Overall, disappointing.(less)
I'm featured in this book (page 114-115!) so of course I had to give it 5 stars. This volume is beautifully laid out with tons of photos and illustrat...moreI'm featured in this book (page 114-115!) so of course I had to give it 5 stars. This volume is beautifully laid out with tons of photos and illustrations spotlighting recent graduates and new talent in the fashion industry. Great as a networking/hiring tool for anyone in the field, or as inspiration for aspiring designers.(less)
Meh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not eve...moreMeh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not every day after a cataclysmic event contains an epic battle between starving survivors in a bleak wasteland, a trope that occasionally makes me tire of post-apocalyptic novels. But as it turns out, without scenes like that a slow apocalypse is pretty damn boring.
Boring is pretty bad, but that's not my only complaint here. I've heard criticisms that the narrative voice didn't feel real, but I actually thought the writing style was pretty authentic as far as (intelligent, reading, writing) teenage girls' journals go. My journal around that age read very similarly. Of course, whiny teenagers with petty problems (before the event especially) and embarrassing obsessions (that male figure skater? really?) are not always my favorite things to read. There's a reason I shredded my own journals when I found them a few years ago. Shit like that is mortifying.
There's also a weird, possibly slightly sexist bent in the novel. There's this assumption by the family (and Miranda herself), that Miranda won't make it, and she's the one who should be sacrificed, and thus should eat less food, etc. than the rest of them. Why was she considered the useless one? I can't remember how many years younger than Miranda her brother Jonny was supposed to be, but in some cases he was even treated older! A few times Miranda mentioned having to be inside while the two boys were chopping wood - um, why couldn't she chop wood too? Instead, she gets laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, which she even refers to once as "women's work". I swear, at some points I felt like I might be reading a novel set in the 1800's. Maybe the author did this on purpose so then later when she becomes the hero it's more of a character change, but it seriously irritated me.
What really turned me off, though, is the obvious lack of science in this book. Normally I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but for a novel that's presumably set in our world and reality-based, some things just didn't ring true as I was reading. Then, in a group discussion here on GR, one of the author's blog posts came up. In it she basically brags about not doing research and "just guessing" at what might happen. Seriously, in this day and age, you can't spend half an hour googling some scientific facts to improve your writing and make your speculation more believable? That's fine if it's what you want to do, but I can't reward lazy writing with a good review.
I realize my review is overwhelmingly negative and maybe I should be giving it one star, but I try to reserve that for books I really hated. This one does have a lot of issues, but the plot was decent and I never felt tempted to abandon it, so two stars it is.(less)
I own several of Valerie Steele's books and they never disappoint. This one is no different. Reading like a coffee table book, it provides an extensiv...moreI own several of Valerie Steele's books and they never disappoint. This one is no different. Reading like a coffee table book, it provides an extensive history on Gothic literature, architecture, art, etc. and how it inspired fashion, from Victorian mourning dresses to the raw, experimental clothing of the first Gothic scene sprung out of the punk movement in the late 70's, the New Romantics, and the more recent Cybergoth and "Graver" trends. The book is filled with gorgeous photography, from street fashion shots of DIY outfits, to club kid photos, to high-fashion and couture runway and editorial shoots, featuring such designers as John Galliano, Hussein Chalayan, Rodarte, Elsa Schiaparelli, Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen, Comme de Garcons, and Yohji Yamamoto. There are also some beautiful drawings and paintings included. There is also a music section, entitled "Melancholy and the Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion" by Jennifer Park, which explores such artists as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, The Cure, Nick Cave, The Sisters of Mercy, etc. and their fashion, both onstage and off.(less)
I purchased both this book and the sequel several years ago when they were only available in Japanese, so I can't read them, but the photos and diagra...moreI purchased both this book and the sequel several years ago when they were only available in Japanese, so I can't read them, but the photos and diagrams are very clear and make excellent inspiration. Tomoko Nakamichi is obviously a very skilled patternmaker and draper and the clothes (shown on quarter-scale forms) are beyond creative. I haven't yet tried to scale any of the patterns up and make them myself, but this book is great to get ideas from for making your own unconventional patterns.(less)