I don't know how to rate this book or what to think about it, really. On the one hand, I cannot deny that it is a beautifully written, lyrical and per...moreI don't know how to rate this book or what to think about it, really. On the one hand, I cannot deny that it is a beautifully written, lyrical and perfectly constructed piece of literature. On the other hand, it is a parable about a journey to spiritual enlightenment. I hate parables, particularly ones about spiritual enlightenment, with an intensity that really cannot be healthy for me. The words "spiritual enlightenment" generally make me want to stab somebody in the face repeatedly, preferably with a rusty fork. There is practically nothing else that can inspire as much rage in me as the smug spewing of vague meaningless drivel that typically accompanies the words "spiritual enlightenment".
You've probably guessed by now that I am not a particularly "spiritual" person and, frankly, I do not wish to be one. Personally, I believe that the meaning of life is life itself and, for me, that is enough. I do not wish for spiritual enlightenment or nirvana. So, it is perhaps no surprise that this book largely irritated and baffled me. Yet, I cannot deny that it also made me think about certain things that I wouldn't ordinarily think about, all be it that in most cases either my views were at odds with those in the book or the book's message was irrelevant to me or my life. Did I learn anything particularly valuable or profound? No, but a whole day later and I am still thinking about it. Struggling to understand what it is I am not understanding.
It seems to me my main problem with the book is its self negation. One of its central messages is that wisdom/enlightenment is not something that can be learned but is something that must be experienced which is fine, but it goes further than that. The point seems to be in how "experience" appears to be defined to exclude knowledge and thought altogether.
"Knowledge can be transferred, but not wisdom. It can be found and lived, and it is possible to be carried by it. Miracles can be performed with it, but it can't be expressed and taught with words." "The words are not good for the secret meaning, everything always becomes a bit different, as soon as it is put into words." "This are things, and things can be loved. But I cannot love words. Therefore, teachings are no good for me, they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no smell, no taste, they have nothing but words. Perhaps it are these which keep you from finding peace, perhaps it are the many words. Because salvation and virtue as well, Sansara and Nirvana as well, are mere words, Govinda. There is no thing which would be Nirvana; there is just the word Nirvana." "I don't differentiate much between thoughts and words. To be honest, I don't have a high opinion of thoughts, either. I have a better opinion of things. Here on this ferry boat, for instance, a holy man who for many years believed simply in the river, and nothing else, has been my predecessor and teacher. He noticed that the river spoke to him and he learned from it. It educated him and taught him; the river seemed to be a god to him, and for many years he did not know that every wind, cloud, bird, and beetle was just as divine, knows just as much, and can teach just as much as the reverent river. When this holy man went into the forest, however, he knew everything. Without teachers or books, he knew more than you and I do—only because he had believed in the river."
I cannot understand or agree with this. Yes, knowledge does not equal wisdom but equally, I don't understand what "experience" is if does not include knowledge and thought. Not only is this complete anathema to me as a book lover but I fail to understand what, then, is the point of this book, which is, in essence words, a teaching?
Also this idea of universal unity and time as illusion:
"The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect or on a slow path towards perfection; no, it is perfect every moment. All sin already carries divine forgiveness within itself, all small children already have the old person within themselves, all infants have death, all the dying have eternal life. It isn't possible for any one person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path, because the Buddha is waiting inside the robber and the gambler, and the robber is waiting within the Brahmin. It is also possible through deep meditation to put time out of existence and to see all the life that was and is and ever will be as if they were all simultaneous; in that simultaneity is everything that is good, perfect, and Brahman. I therefore see whatever exists as good. Death is like life to me, sin is like holiness, wisdom is like foolishness; everything has to be just as it is, and everything requires only my consent, willingness, and loving agreement to become good to me and work for my benefit, unable to ever harm me."
Obviously, the very basis of this is the belief in the eternal soul and divinity which, I'm afraid, I do not share. And that's really the bottom line, I suspect. The book and I are working from a different set of beliefs and will always be at cross-purposes because the beliefs are at cross purposes. (less)
It is clear to me now what the modern European politicians are doing wrong. They are, obviously, not reading their classics.
Europe is in the midst of...moreIt is clear to me now what the modern European politicians are doing wrong. They are, obviously, not reading their classics.
Europe is in the midst of a dire financial crisis with all sorts of complicated schemes being proposed to resolve the situation. And here we have a practical and sensible solution that nobody appears to have considered, despite the fact that it has been around since 1729!
If you don't have enough money to feed your kids, EAT THEM!
What could be simpler?
Now, the author mentions that this is a solution devised specifically in the context of Ireland. And I admit that the calculations will need to be re-done to reflect the demographics and circumstances at hand. But really, there is no logical reason why this solution would not work in the context of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.
Somebody needs to send this to the Greeks.
Certain celebrities have already endorsed the idea:
Narrator: Damn, this house is creepy. *checks out reflection of the house in a pond* Yep, still creepy. I...more**spoiler alert** Here's my abridged version:
Narrator: Damn, this house is creepy. *checks out reflection of the house in a pond* Yep, still creepy. I'm here to see a school friend, Roderick Usher. He's rich and aristocratic. Here he is. Oh dear, he's a bit weird looking at the best of times but now he looks like shit. He's probably an alcoholic or an opium fiend.
Usher: I am sick. I suffer from a morbid acuteness of the senses. I'm gonna DIE. I also believe that the house is sentient. My twin sister Madeline is sick too. She's wasting away and has bouts of catalepsy and there are rumours that we are lovers. Here she is gliding past like a ghost. *bursts into tears*
Narrator and Usher: *spend several days painting, reading and playing guitar.*
Narrator: That dude seriously needs to cheer up.
Usher: *sings "Haunted Palace* Yo, my sister is dead. But because I know she has catalepsy which could mean she is alive after all, I am going to put her in a vault for two weeks, instead of burying her straight away.
Narrator and Usher: *put Madeline in a vault, making sure to screw the coffin lid down and secure the metal gates*
Several days later...
Narrator: Usher is not taking this at all well and I am starting to get creeped out. It's a dark and stormy night and I can't sleep, so I'm going to go for a wander. *bumps into Usher* Dude, it's too creepy for you to be wandering around in your mental state. I'm going to read a book to you instead. *reads "Mad Trist"*
*weird noises* *screaming*
Usher: *mutters like a maniac* She is alive. I've been hearing her for days.
Madeline: *appears, bloody and emaciated, and falls on top of Usher with a cry*
Let me first make a confession. I am one of the very very few people in the western world who has never seen the film. I am, of course, aware of the f...moreLet me first make a confession. I am one of the very very few people in the western world who has never seen the film. I am, of course, aware of the film, and even have an Audrey Hepburn box set which includes it but have, for some reason or other, never got around to watching it. My excuse is that I grew up in soviet Russia where western cinematography was hard to come by until I was a teenager.
The outcome is that I went into the book with pretty much no expectations, other than an iconic image of Audrey Hepburn in a black shift and pearls with her wide bambi eyes and that elusive joie de vivre which comes across even in a photograph at the back of my mind and some vague idea that this might be something along the lines of the Audrey Hepburn films I have seen, which are Sabrina and Roman Holiday. Well, for all I know the movie may well be, but the book certainly was not that.
The first shocker was that Holly Golightly is, in fact, blond. She is a blond glamorous foul mouthed vacuous slutty emotionally damaged 18 year old setting the social scene in WWII New York on fire. A quintessential manic pixie dream girl, "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures" (as defined by film critic Nathan Rabin, according to wiki).
It was, perhaps thanks to the very limited length of this novella that Holly manages to stay just on the right side of fascinating without tipping over into irritating too much. She is exactly the kind of character that I would normally despise but there is just enough broken doll air to her to keep her on the darker side of the MPDG spectrum and keep me interested.
To add to the fun, the narrator is a total creep who doesn't think twice about rifling through the garbage of a woman he barely knows and generally stalking her about the place and there is this disturbing backdrop of paedo-eroticism with all these old-er men constantly perving after Holly.(less)
After I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement....moreAfter I finished this book I kind of just sat there for a while. Stunned and reeling. To say that this book is disturbing would be an understatement. It is disturbing in a very obvious big way because of the subject matter but also in a very subtle and understated way because there is very little actual violence or gore on the pages.
A repressed, lonely, unstable young man, Frederick Clegg wins the lottery. Clegg has been fascinated and secretly "in love" with Miranda, a beautiful art student for quite some time. So when his aunt and cousin (who are his entire family) very conveniently depart for Australia to never return, he gradually starts putting a plan together to kidnap Miranda and keep her captive. It's a bit of a contrived set up but an easy one to swallow in the context of the book.
Clegg is a butterfly collector and classic sociopath, completely unconcerned for and unable to empathise with the feelings of others, even the object of his devotion, and with a very strong tendency to rationalise and blame others for his behaviour. Miranda is simply an object to be put on a pedestal.
"I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful."
Miranda's feelings and desires are as irrelevant to Clegg as those of a postage stamp to a philatelist. We are told of the preparations he makes to kidnap Miranda in a cold emotionless voice and as though most of them happened by accident without any real intent on his part.
"The van was the one really big luxury I gave myself. It had a special fitting in the back compartment, a camp bed you could let down and sleep in; I bought it to carry all my equipment for when I moved round the country, and also I thought if I got a van I wouldn’t always have to be taking Aunt Annie and Mabel around when they came back. I didn’t buy it for the reason I did use it for. The whole idea was sudden, like a stroke of genius almost."
"In one of the Sunday papers I saw an advert in capitals in a page of houses for sale. I wasn’t looking for them, this just seemed to catch my eye as I was turning the page."
"All this time I never thought it was serious. I know that must sound very strange, but it was so. I used to say, of course, I’ll never do it, this is only pretending."
Yes, I was tidying in the nude, tripped over a hoover and my penis just got stuck in the nozzle, honest.
Yet all the time the reader can see Clegg going through very thorough and meticulous preparations for what he is about to do, buying a van, a house, outfitting and securing the cellar, cutting himself off from all outside contact, trying to foresee every eventually and all of this in a remarkably detached and unfeeling way, except for some flickers of pride, a sense of achievement and satisfaction at his own work and cleverness.
Many readers appear to have felt a lot of sympathy for Clegg, yet I have to confess I never did. He does not appear able to see that what he is doing is morally objectionable and there are clearly some abandonment issues from his childhood (his father died when he was two and his mother left him to be brought up by a strict and emotionally vacuous aunt) but there is nothing particularly horrific lurking in his past, no particular trauma that might explain how he became what he is. Here's what happened but I never meant it to turn out the way it did, it's not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me is the leitmotif of Clegg's narration.
"I thought, I can't get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea she would understand. I only wanted to do the best for her, make her happy and love me a bit."
Yet this is interspersed with such obvious meaningless little lies and self-delusions that he almost reads as pathetic. Despicable as well as horrifying.
The middle portion of the book is narrated from Miranda's point of view in a form of a diary she secretly keeps. While this does cover the same time period as Clegg's narration so we effectively get two versions of the same event, I thought it was quite powerful and necessary in terms of showing Miranda as a person, with her own feelings, hopes desires and flaws.
This was a very unsettling and uncomfortable read but one that I think will stay with me for a long time. It painted a vivid and complex picture of the power dynamic between captive and captor and, though it feeds on that basic fear of evil things lurking in the dark and being powerless, unable to escape that evil, it never felt emotionally manipulative. (less)
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, recolle...moreThis 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.(less)
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 h...moreVeronika 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. (less)
I needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying...moreI needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying booker shortlisted novels several years ago, back when I was still keen to impress myself and fellow commuters with my reading choices.
The books starts with a funeral of Molly Lane, a member of that happy breed of fabulous women who has a horde of ex and current lovers with all of whom she remains friends. We never learn much else about her but she is not important, since she is merely a plot device and the people who matter are the three ex-lovers who attend her funeral. Every single one of them is a self-absorbed, self-aggrandising selfish snob and they set on their course towards a resolution which is both hilarious and tragic.
I was surprised, because I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought I would. I settled on three stars but it's somewhere in between three and four. I didn't expect it to be funny yet it was. Not in an obvious laugh out loud kind of way but the more I think about it the funnier it is. It's a great example of an enjoyable read about despicable people and it's under 200 pages long. (less)
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 S...moreThis 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. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is a story of Sethe, a former slave at Sweet Home in Kentucky. Sethe lives at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati with her daughter Denver. Having e...moreThis is a story of Sethe, a former slave at Sweet Home in Kentucky. Sethe lives at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati with her daughter Denver. Having escaped from Sweet Home while heavily pregnant with Denver, Sethe knows nothing about the fate of her husband, Halle. Halle's mother, Baby Suggs, holy, who was Sethe's destination during the escape, is dead, having, effectively, given up on life. Sethe's two sons have run away and 124 is haunted by the ghost of Sethe's baby daughter. Unnamed. Whose gravestone merely reads "Beloved".
I can see why this won the Pulitzer prize. I really do. This book was horrific in so many different ways. And beautiful. Heartbreakingly so at several points, though it is certainly not pretty. Based on real events, there was not even a hint of a sob story or emotional manipulation. As horrific as the events in the book are, I don't feel like this was written to elicit horrified gasps.
There is an underlying sadness, almost numbness, to the narrative. It is vague and unclear and confusing with its erratic spotlight approach to plot development, dizzyingly abrupt changes in narrative perspective (to the point that at times you are not sure who is talking or that the perspective has changed) and magical realism elements. All of these distance the reader from the characters and their reality. At least, for me, this wasn't quite the visceral experience I was expecting. After all, Morrison is writing about one of the most heinous crimes human beings have ever committed against other human beings. So, perhaps, it should be visceral and raw and devastating. Intellectually, this was there. It asked all the right questions and said all the right things. I had a number of little lightbulb moments of thinking this is it, this is exactly it. But on the emotional level I found it very hard to connect to.
I also wish we found out what happened to Amy. (less)