Quite a strange book this one and not just the talking animals concept. I’m interested in animal welfare and the issues surrounding sentience, but I wQuite a strange book this one and not just the talking animals concept. I’m interested in animal welfare and the issues surrounding sentience, but I was aware before I started that the book wasn’t necessarily all about this topic and instead branched into other tangential areas. Nevertheless I think overall I was a little disappointed with the execution. A few other reviewers have pointed out that Graham dominates the story. I agree with one that stated “we are left following the lonely ramblings of a disagreeable old man in the woods”, a concept that isn’t in itself a problem, but wasn’t the story I wanted from this book. The Betes and their development are on the periphery of the story and I would have preferred them to be centre stage, their characters challenging the concepts of sentience and identity and consciousness. I wanted to be moved by the book but all we’re really given as an emotional centre is Graham who does get a little tiresome. In this approach it reminded me, if you’ll forgive the terrible reference, of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Not in their equivalent artistry as the films are atrocious, but in that the humans are centre stage in both and they aren’t all that interesting. The story I want from a Transformers film is big robots hitting each other, not a sweaty Shia LaBeouf shouting about cars and girls. Likewise, in Bete I wanted a story of animals that are given a voice, not an angry farmer who loses his job and lives in a forest for a bit. That story was well told and well written, but wasn’t the one I wanted to read....more
A long and dense book that I think will need a few more reads to really get a feel for, something I’d have no reluctance to do. But some initial thougA long and dense book that I think will need a few more reads to really get a feel for, something I’d have no reluctance to do. But some initial thoughts. The book is dense in character rather than plot. Anyone looking for a space missionary tooling up and taking down the heathen aliens hoards will be disappointed. Also, this isn't a sprawling space opera. We really only get to know three or four people. And the odd alien. Which is enough. Once again Faber vividly brings his characters to life, their external existence but more importantly the internal.
I’m coming to the conclusion that Faber is a master of absence(s), both in narrative and in character. He has the ability to leave just the right gaps that allow the reader space to create and connect with his characters and their stories. I’m aware that some readers of The Crimson Petal and the White (which might just be a masterpiece, you know) resorted to throwing the book across the room in frustration at this technique, but it worked perfectly for me in that book and here.
He’s also not afraid to make his characters difficult and unlikeable. Because he has the skill and talent to create people that are rich in emotion, motivation and contradiction i.e. human, that I as reader want to follow.
I’m not up enough on my theology to comment in any meaningful way about what the book does with this theme, but the depiction of a faith tested was powerful, as were the parallels with faith in relationships being tested at the same time.
Where the book really hit home for me was its exploration of communication, connection and understanding. The inadequacies of communication mediated through speech, technology, human consciousness across a gulf of time and space. The gnawing anxiety of a message sent and the interminable wait for reply. The difficulty of finding the right words in one’s own and an alien language. The breakdown and re-forming of relationships and societies. All were expertly presented.
If you’re not keen on aliens or worse, literary aliens, this one really is worth a try....more
An extensive, enthralling but ultimately not entirely satisfying biography. For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, despite the depth ofAn extensive, enthralling but ultimately not entirely satisfying biography. For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, despite the depth of its research and its sources I felt Williams remained somewhat at arm’s length. The book is dealing with the most difficult period of Williams’ life to chronicle, when addiction and mental health problems overtook him, and the erratic lifestyle may hinder a comprehensive narrative. However, there is perhaps something in the structure and tone of Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh that gets in the way. I certainly agree with other reviewers here that labelling the book as Volume II, in conjunction with Leverich’s superb “Volume I” would help place it in a better context. The brief dip back into early life feels strangely perfunctory and unbalances the narrative. And while Williams is certainly not always likeable I felt there was a trace of disapproval from Lahr in some sections, where a more thoughtful analysis of just how ill Williams was would have been appropriate.
As has also been pointed out by others, the relative omission of the short stories is a failing of the book as they contain some of Williams’ best writing. However, Lahr is very strong, as one would expect, in his analysis of the plays and his defence of some of the later works is particularly convincing. So, as any good literary biography should – and this is a very good biography despite my criticisms - it makes me want to return to the original works with fresh eyes – and also to Leverich – to find something of the man and the character that was lost. ...more