First off, this book has THE most awesome cover EVER (or, the most awesome of the ones I can recollect off the top of my head right this minu3.5 stars
First off, this book has THE most awesome cover EVER (or, the most awesome of the ones I can recollect off the top of my head right this minute, in any case). The absence of a prettily dressed lady traipsing through wilderness is particularly encouraging.
This read very much like one of those Guy Richie/Tarantino/Coen Brothers tales of morally reprehensible but still somehow lovable thugs on a rollercoaster ride of mindless violence, quirky characters, absurd happenings which are taken in stride and abrupt twists all set in the midst of the 19th century California gold rush.
Our narrator, Eli Sisters, is one half of the infamous duo of vicious killers, the Sisters Brothers, who are sent off to California by their employer, the Commodore, to eliminate one Hermann Kermit Warm for, allegedly, thieving something from the Commodore. But all Eli really wants is some love and kindness and a peaceful life tending a store somewhere. Whereas his brother Charlie… Well, Charlie likes the things that give spice to life – violence, money, whiskey and sex (not necessarily in that order).
Like the cover, the book is bold and fun but it is also very readable and full of outstanding characters, each with their own story to add to the overall picture. Like I said, it seemed very cinematic in vision, so I am certain it will be coming to a theatre near you very soon. Oh, and I still can't stand westerns. ...more
Imagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer trImagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer troubling you and you are restored to the prime of your youth and deposited into a vast, almost infinite library filled with every book that could ever be written and where you do not age, you have perfect memory and are able to recall every word you have ever read and every event that has ever happened to you, your every injury and even death are healed overnight, your every culinary desire is met by an automated kiosk and you are surrounded by people who are pretty similar to you in background. You would think that you are in heaven, wouldn't you? Or at least a book geek's version of it. Yet, you'd be entirely and completely wrong. Because you are actually in hell. Or one version of it based on a short story by Borges The Library of Babel.
Until I read the book, just the concept of a library as hell was complete anathema to my mind. The story tells you straight up, however, that this is hell, as you are greeted by a polite but very red demon against the backdrop of bodies burning endlessly in tar and lava and told that you are here because the one true faith is Zoroastrianism, so bad luck for you unless you worship the Lord of Light and Wisdom Ahura Mazda. Here he is by the way:
(I seriously need to go read up on this stuff as this is the second book made of awesome which I have read in the last year which is based, at least in part, on Zoroastrian mythology).
The devil, of course, is in the detail and comes down to how you define a "book". Because for me, you see, in order to be a "book" something needs to not just be shaped as a book (in fact, with the advent of e-books, it doesn't even need to be shaped as a book at all) but also have content capable of conveying meaning (even if it is meaning which I am not capable of understanding). Whereas in the Zoroastrian hell library, a "book" is essentially a paper book of a set size, 410 pages long and with a set number of lines per page and letters per line consisting of about 95 characters on the standard English keyboard arranged in all possible variations which gives us 95 to the power of 1,312,000 possible books, i.e. quite a bit more than there are electrons in the universe and a library that's about 7,16 to the power of 1,297,369 light years wide and deep but the vast majority of which are just a random arrangement of letters and symbols which carries no meaning whatsoever.
Your task in this hell is to find your earthly life story without errors. "If your story is accepted, you will be admitted into a glorious heaven filled with wonders and joys beyond your imagination." Oh, and "you are here to lean something. Don't try to figure out what it is. This can be frustrating and unproductive".
This book was mind-blowing. It is a book about philosophy and religion and the meaning of life – all things that normally make me cringe and move slowly away but here it was all done in such a gentle non-patronising non-head-bashing way, it was fascinating. My only complaint is that it was not long enough. At the start, it is described as a book found by the narrator in the library. So where, I ask you, are the other 302 pages then? Yet, this is a minor complaint. For all its brevity, there is so much packed into the pages of this book. Love, loss, violence, horror, insanity, cattle mentality, sorrow, hope, hopelessness, infinity are just a few of the themes. I'm sure I will be picking this up again sooner rather than later....more
I am really ambivalent about this book. I have not been so ambivalent about a book for a long time. Maybe it has given me my own brand of bipolar neurI am really ambivalent about this book. I have not been so ambivalent about a book for a long time. Maybe it has given me my own brand of bipolar neurosis. If only I could weaponize that.
The premise is certainly fresh and different. There is no butt-kicking or fairies or werecreatures or vamps or ghosties or ghouls or zombies or any other supernatural nasties in of any kind*. The story revolves around a vigilante squad of neurotics who change the world for the better by flushing their crazy into unsuspecting criminals, thereby plunging them into a pit of despair, making them lose all their money and scrambling and rebooting their personalities.
*although there are people called highcaps with special abilities (telekinesis, telepathy, dream invasion, force fields, that sort of stuff)
The heroine, Justine (ok, not the best name and I had a really hard time trying to get rid of the De Sade connotations) Jones is a regular non-highcap human, except she is a raging hypochondriac who dreads that she has a condition called the vein star syndrome (of which her mother died) which could cause one of the veins in her brain to burst causing immediate and sudden death. She obsesses about every single twinge and pinprick in her forehead, spends her free time trolling the internet for new medical info and sudden death stories involving the decease, attends ER for cat scans on a regular basis and expects to die any minute now. You would have thought someone so whiney and paranoid about their health would be extremely annoying. But, surprisingly, no. On the contrary, it was rather endearing. In fact Justine reminded me a lot of my other favourite kook, Emma Pillsbury:
Their fashion sense seemed sorta similar too (or did I just make them have the same fashion sense in my head?) so that's how I ended up picturing Justine. I adored her, she was charming and funny and kooky. I mean how can you not like a girl who says things like this:
"I say this nonchalantly, as if I'm accepting a mint bonbon from a butler instead of a new vigilante lifestyle from a slightly maniacal mutant."
The only thing that really annoyed me about Justine was her tendency to blame herself for everything. I mean (view spoiler)[she comes home to find her boyfriend having clearly just slept with another woman and proceeds to give herself a hard time because she is making him bitter (hide spoiler)].
And now we get to the love interests:
Cubby. I don't really need to say anything do I? With a name like that the guy was doomed as a love interest from the start. He is a self-absorbed dickhead and I'd very much like to punch him in the face.
Packard. My favourite of the lot. Anyone so deliciously diabolical gets my vote.
Otto. Creeps me out. The name also doesn't speak in his favour. And what's with the beret, dude? I mean, I know what's with the beret, of course, I did read the book, but really? A beret? This was the kind of image I had of him throughout most of the book:
Until I managed to think of this which wasn't much of an improvement but now Otto is forever Che in my mind:
Also, all the hot cold I love you how could you crap. Not for me, thank you.
Overall, the world building was good but I struggled with the writing style for a bit. It felt quite distanced. Like watching marionettes with visible strings. It took me a while to get used to, but I think it worked in the end because that is how Justine views herself. Distanced. Apart from other people. There were some plot holes and inconsistencies. I also didn't like the ending. The climax was very anti-climatic. On the other hand, I loved the characters. Even the secondary ones were pretty well drawn. Shelby was my favourite. Love love love Shelby. The story was interesting and I haven't come across a UF series I have enjoyed quite so much recently and I will most definitely be finishing it off.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
What a peculiar story this is. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who go to fetch some water every day and on their way they hear the cries of the gobliWhat a peculiar story this is. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who go to fetch some water every day and on their way they hear the cries of the goblin men selling all manner of luscious exotic fruit:
Apples and quinces, Lemons and oranges, Plump unpeck’d cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches, Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries, Crab-apples, dewberries, Pine-apples, blackberries, Apricots, strawberries;— All ripe together In summer weather
Wise Lizzie keeps her head down and ignores the goblin men's cries of "Come buy, come buy" but Laura is fascinated. She hangs back one evening, buys some fruit with a golden curl and "a tear more rare than pearl" and then:
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She suck’d until her lips were sore; Then flung the emptied rinds away But gather’d up one kernel stone, And knew not was it night or day As she turn’d home alone.
Lizzie, "full of wise upbraidings", waits at the house for her sister, and the next day when the two go to fetch the water in the evening, Laura realises that she can no longer see the goblin men or hear their cries. Laura turns sick with longing for more of the forbidden fruit and, when she appears to be at death's door, incorruptible Lizzie decides to brave the goblin men and heads out into the forest to buy some fruit for her sister. The goblin men are at first willing to sell fruit to Lizzie but when they realise that she wants to take it away and give it to someone else, they turn on her:
Lashing their tails They trod and hustled her, Elbowed and jostled her, Clawed with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking, Tore her gown and soiled her stocking, Twitched her hair out by the roots, Stamped upon her tender feet, Held her hands and squeezed their fruits Against her mouth to make her eat.
But virtuous Lizzie refuses to open her mouth so that even a drop of the fruit juice wouldn't trickle in and runs home, where she invites her sister to:
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me;
Whereupon Laura miraculously recovers and they both live happily ever after.
So, what on earth is this story all about? Is this an exploration on "feminine sexuality and its relation to Victorian social mores" (quoting Wiki here), is it an allegory of temptation and salvation, is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of pre-marital sex or addiction, a celebration of lesbian/sisterly love (choose as you will), a treatise against advertising? All of these, none of them?
Whatever it was, it was a lot of fun. And I disagree with those readers that say that this is definitely not for the children. I read this with my daughter (who is 10) and it is only as dirty as your mind makes it to be (although she did go ewww when Laura was licking the juice off of Lizzie).
We read one of the free versions of this poem available online but I didn't want us to miss out on the illustrations so we did a bit of googling and we looked at the many wonderful pictures that come up and stumbled across this version, which I think deserves a particular mention. ...more
This was a really strange book. It is a story of a Japanese woman now living in England, whose eldest daughter has recently committed suicide, recolleThis was a really strange book. It is a story of a Japanese woman now living in England, whose eldest daughter has recently committed suicide, recollecting her days in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb and the end of WWII, although surprisingly little is said about the latter and almost nothing about the former.
I love love love Ishiguro. He is a fantastic writer and he does his usual unreliable narrator whose recollections gradually reveal something dark and hidden. However, this is the second of his books (the first was When We Were Orphans) which left me feeling that I really have no idea what went on or why. The twist comes very near the end, nothing much is explained, the past and present are fused together and you are left with a multitude of questions with no answers and unsure about whether anything described actually occurred at all. In fact the only certainty you have, is that if it did occur, it didn't occur in quite the way described and all the events and conversations have been heavily edited by the narrator in the re-telling. I believe that this was Ishiguro's intention, to leave the reader to work out for themselves what may have really happened, but, ultimately, I found this approach too frustrating in this book....more
Veronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once hVeronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once her youth was gone, it would be downhill all the way" and (2) everything is wrong with the world and she feels powerless to make things right. After she takes an overdose of sleeping pills, Veronika wakes up in a mental asylum and the remainder of the book is, basically, a series of interactions between Veronika and a number of the inhabitants of the asylum, including a young schizophrenic named Eduard, who mainly stands around mutely and masturbates while Veronika plays the piano. Veronika (what else!) inexplicably falls in love with him, after she similarly inexplicably regains her joie de vivre.
I suppose, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Veronika, and certainly Coelho does not add much else in terms of characterisation. Some reviewers have pointed out that to create realistic characters or believable plot is not the point of this book and certainly not Coelho's intention. I guess one really has no choice but to agree with this as it is patently obvious that this is not so much a book as a meditation on insanity with characters and plot which are merely vehicles to convey the author's thoughts on the subject and encourage the reader to reflect on the same and to explore how they may feel/behave/think in similar circumstances.
Paulo Coelho himself makes a brief and pointless appearance at the beginning of the book to tell you that it is based on his own experiences as a mental patient and proceeds to bash you over the head with his message, which is that everyone is crazy, insanity and genius are two sides of the same coin and we should all let our inner freak out and stop trying to conform.
As a reader, I find this approach supremely unsatisfactory. For some reason, I tend to be much more receptive to the message when I can actually bring myself to care about the story or the characters, however unsympathetic they may be. I am sometimes able to forgive lack of plot or character development if the book is particularly informative or beautifully written or manages to turn me on or makes me think about a subject in a new and interesting way. Unfortunately, this book did none of that. Veronika fails even as a placeholder because her actions are so absurd and incomprehensible that I was completely unable to relate to them or to put myself in her shoes. So all that was left was the message and I had absolutely no patience for Coelho's particular brand of preachy self-help pop-psychology. ...more
This is a short story about a woman's descent into madness and I have just the t-shirt slogan for the protagonist:
EXCUSE ME. I HAVE TO GO AND MAKE A SThis is a short story about a woman's descent into madness and I have just the t-shirt slogan for the protagonist:
EXCUSE ME. I HAVE TO GO AND MAKE A SCENE.
Because that's what I wanted her to do throughout, but we cannot really expect that from a genteel 19th century lady and that is when the story was written. So does that mean that it is now outdated and irrelevant to us emancipated 21st century women?
Personally, I have gone through a period in my life when I took some pretty heavy drugs, stayed up all night staring at the walls (fortunately, not covered in hideous yellow paper) and writing random quotes and poetry on them and indulged in a spot of self-mutilation. I also went through a mild form of "baby blues" after my daughter was born, mainly just bursting into tears whenever anyone said boo to me. I don't know whether I was technically depressed (is there such a thing? I feel there must be, as opposed to just a naturally sad and gloomy person with a tendency for weirdness who is feeling down, which may, I feel, be my particular diagnosis or, maybe, the term I am looking for is medically?) but, in any case, I was expecting to relate.
And do you know what, I actually did. What I think worked brilliantly in this story, frighteningly so, is the description of how the protagonist loses her mind by concentrating on the wallpaper, following its patterns, imbuing them with meaning and projecting and externalising her own problems through it. As I said, I used to have a bit of a thing for walls myself (though, clearly, nowhere near to the extent of the heroine, as I am still a sane and functioning member of society, trust me) and I found this aspect of the story, extremely creepy, recognisable and accurate.
I could even relate to the submissiveness and the apathy, because I can clearly remember feeling exactly that in my lower moments. That feeling of being completely separate from the whole world and honestly not caring one way or the other, of wanting to just sit there and being too tired to really do or feel anything. The heroine here seems to recognise what is happening, that what her physician husband prescribes as the cure is really not good for her but doesn't really have the energy or the strength of will to stage any sort of opposition other than her little rebellion in writing the journal entries. And, as much as I wanted her to scream and rant and rave, what Gilman writes is actually a much more accurate description of my own experience of the apathy of depression.
I also admired the disjointed haunted way in which the story is constructed leaving the reader with multiple questions to ponder. Is she really going mad? Would she still be going mad if she were not confined to a room and lacking any physical and intellectual stimulation? Is her husband a sinister jailer or a loving spouse earnestly trying to help her? Is he even really her husband? And what happens at the end is anyone's guess. (view spoiler)[Some believe that she hangs herself but I'm not so sure as she talks about walking around the room with her shoulder to the wall, making the fade marks she mentions earlier, and having to step over the husband who is lying on the floor supposedly in a faint. Maybe, she kills him? (hide spoiler)]
P.S. While I thoroughly enjoyed this particular story and generally enjoy books and movies about descents into madness, I also find the proliferation of mad women in film and literature somewhat disquieting. I have not done any sort of comprehensive analysis but I have personally come across many more insane female characters than male. And the women never seem to go mad in quite the same way men do either because they are so clever (as in A Beautiful Mind)or so brave (as in the case of shell shock (which is, I think, a form of male hysteria, but hysteria was, clearly, a term that was too female to be applied to soldiers) in e.g. Catch-22) or because they actually think that they are turning into a woman (as in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness). The Yellow Paper made me want to read something academic on the subject of women and madness. If anyone is able to recommend anything good on this topic, I am open to suggestions.
P.P.S. I only read the title story, so this review and rating only relate to that. ...more