Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a short novella set in Russian province in the second half of 19th century. The subject matter is pretty powerful: passion,...moreLady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a short novella set in Russian province in the second half of 19th century. The subject matter is pretty powerful: passion, adultery, murder and betrayal. Yet, for all that, the book is very unsentimental and true to life. It is full of dark humour and the characters are very real and believable. It is a shame that it does not seem particularly well-known in the West, for it is, in my opinion, one of the best works in Russian literature.(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)
I meant to write a review but I was feeling quite ambivalent about this book. Still do. I guess I'd better jot some thoughts down before I get complet...moreI meant to write a review but I was feeling quite ambivalent about this book. Still do. I guess I'd better jot some thoughts down before I get completely diverted onto other things.
I definitely thought this was interesting. The idea of an alien race that functions as a single organism (almost) and the problems that humanity would have in communicating with and understanding such a race, the ideas about military manipulation, war tactics and online political debate influencing the real world were all pretty good. I saw a lot of reviews where folks thought that the book was boring and had trouble visualising the fight scenes. I actually had no problem with this aspect, though I do agree that the whole thing was very repetitive. I had too many other problems with this book to truly enjoy it, though.
The writing was primitive. I get that he was trying to write for kids and make it as simple as possible in terms of language but it all read forced and fake to me. The way these kids spoke and acted just didn't ring true and this whole they are all geniuses so that's why they don't act or talk like kids just didn't work for me. Characterisation was appalling. Barely anyone had any character at all. Mostly they all seemed like carbon copies of each other with the only thing to differentiate them being their attitudes to Ender. And those seemed to be always polar opposites. Love or hate. No one was allowed to be indifferent to Ender.
The Russians as the head bad guys was completely cliche. I also didn't really like the little description of the earth politics that we saw. It seemed too much a reflection of the international politics as they were at the time the book was written, in early to mid eighties, with Cold War in its dying throws but still alive and, it seems, very much in Card's mind.
The treatment of women in this book was appalling, with most of the female characters mainly serving the purpose of manipulating Ender and Graff stating at one point that there were hardly any girls at this super genius military school because "too many centuries of evolution are working against them". One could argue, I suppose, that this is a reflection of Graff's prejudice and those of the military establishment in this world, rather than the author. But, again, I don't buy that. The author at no point indicates that he might disagree with this point of view and he is the one who has created this world in this fashion.
But most of all, I just couldn't believe in the whole premise that space warfare is really indistinguishable from playing computer games (as much as it may stroke the ego of computer nerds everywhere) and that the military command would put a bunch of kids who don't even realise they are fighting a war in charge of all military strategy and operations. Up until the very last moment I kept on believing that he would not go there. That he could not possibly expect his readers to believe this. Of course, he did.
I also wondered whether I might have enjoyed this book more if I wasn't aware of and disliked intensely the author's views on subjects which are not necessarily connected with the book. It's possible. I do believe the author's conceit and prejudice played a big part in my being unable to enjoy this book. Perhaps, it wouldn't have been so apparent without that awareness. Who knows. At the very least, it threw the homo-, perhaps even paedo-, erotic undertones of this book, that other reviewers have referred to, into starker relief.
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a f...moreThings I learned from this book:
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a five year old can do it;
- if you let a psychotic hippy with a penchant for psychological experiments bring up kids on an isolated island, the kids will invariably turn out to be looneys (well, duh).
This was good overall. I enjoy Banks' writing style and the characterisation was superb. The demented world of a teenage psychopath is delightfully realistic and logical and the book is full of black humour, the telephone conversations with the brother who is on the run from a mental institution were particularly hilarious.
"Porteneil 531." Pips sounded.
"Fuck it, Frank, I've got luna maria callouses on me feet. How the hell are ye, me young bucko?"
I looked at the handset, then up at my father, who was leaning over the rail from the floor above, tucking his pyjama top into his trousers. I spoke into the phone: "Hello there, Jamie, what are you doing calling me this late?"
"Wha-? Oh, the old man's there, is he?" Eric said. "T-ell him he's a bag of effervescent pus, from me."
"Jamie sends his regards," I called up to my father..."
"And how are you keeping?" I said quickly. "I mean, you must be sleeping rough. Aren't you catching cold or something?"
"I'm not sleeping."
"You're not sleeping?"
"Of course not. You don't have to sleep. That's just something they tell you to keep control over you. Nobody has to sleep; you're taught to sleep when you're a kid. If you're really determined, you can get over it. I've got over the need to sleep. I never sleep now. That way it's a lot easier to keep watch and make sure they don't creep up on you, and you can keep going as well. Nothing like keeping going. You become like a ship."
"Yeah? What did you forget?"
"Forget? I didn't forget anything! I remember everything! Everything!" screamed a familiar voice at the other end of the line.
I froze, then gulped, said: "Er-"
"Why are you accusing me of forgetting things? What are you accusing me of forgetting? What? I haven't forgotten anything!" Eric gasped and spluttered.
"Eric, I'm sorry! I thought you were somebody else!"
"I'm me!" he yelled. "I'm not anybody else! I'm me! Me!"
"I thought you were Jamie!" I wailed, closing my eyes.
"That dwarf? You bastard!"
"I'm sorry, I-" Then I broke off and thought. "What do you mean, 'that dwarf', in that tone? He's my friend. It isn't his fault he's small," I told him.
"Oh, yeah?" came the reply. "How do you know?"
"What do you mean how do I know? It wasn't his fault he was born like that!" I said, getting quite angry.
"You only have his word for that."
"I only have his word for what?" I said.
"That he's a dwarf!" Eric spat.
"What?" I shouted, scarcely able to believe my ears. "I can see he's a dwarf, you idiot!"
"That's what he wants you to think! Maybe he's really an alien! Maybe the rest of them are even smaller than he is! How do you know he isn't really a giant alien from a very small race of aliens? Eh?"
"Don't be stupid!" I screamed into the phone, gripping it sorely with my burned hand.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you!" Eric shouted.
"Don't worry!" I shouted back.
"Anyway," Eric said in a suddenly calm voice, so that for a second or two I thought somebody else had come on the line, and I was left somewhat nonplussed as he went on in level, ordinary speech: "How are you?"
The ending was really disappointing though, and not the big reveal either, but the protagonists' musings afterwards. I was kind of enjoying the fact that Frank is a sociopath, misogynist and generally bat-shit crazy, so to have all of that rationalised, wiped clean and brushed under the carpet at the end (a) was a complete betrayal of the rest of the book and (b) just didn't make any logical, metaphysical or any other kind of sense. Oh yeah, I killed all those kids because I believed the ability to procreate had been taken away from me by cruel fate and they represented that very promise which I was forever denied. What? Frank was 5 at the time of the first kill, supposedly. I'm sorry but a 5 year old feeling seriously bereaved by the fact that he cannot have sex or kids to the point of homicide is ridiculous.
P.S. When I was very young (maybe 4 or 5 but the memory is very vague so I cannot be sure) and visiting my grandparents for the summer, one of my cousins (there were three of us in attendance) suggested we play concentration camp with catepillars. None of us thought this was in any way objectionable and we got as far as collecting a load of them in a jar, which we then put in the fridge for safekeeping. The story ended rather badly for us as we didn't bother putting a lid on the jar and the caterpillars went literally everywhere. Let's just say our grandmother was not best pleased. I'm not sure what my point is here, really. Both my cousins and I grew up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults despite our early sadistic tendencies so, maybe, it is that there is a little bit of a psycho in all of us and, given the right set of circumstances, it is totallly possible that I could now be checking sacrifice poles, fighting killer rabbits and collecting belly button fluff for ritual use. (less)
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 minu...more3.5 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. (less)