I am an Ishiguro enthusiast if ever there was one. I have read his oeuvre. That's why it pains a little me to say that The Buried Giant is a disappoinI am an Ishiguro enthusiast if ever there was one. I have read his oeuvre. That's why it pains a little me to say that The Buried Giant is a disappointment. I say this not because I think Ishiguro's skills as a novelist are one whit duller than usual. But because I did not care for the story or its characters. They did not engage me. He's going after a new readership with this book. He's going after the vast fantasy market. That's fine. A writer must write what he must write. Just don't expect me to tag along. In abeyance here is Ishiguro's wonderful sense of humor. The book is stolidly earnest in its depiction of an ogre infested, post Arthurian, post Roman Britain.
The first three chapters are straightforward chronology. I suppose I'm used not only to Ishiguro's wit, but also to his keen ability to shift about in time. I understand that a straightforward, unwavering chronology to open the book will have a greater appeal to less nimble readers, but for me — a reader of subtle capacities — it was an absolute slog. Only with the introduction of the boy, Edwin, does the narrative start to deepen, but it never achieves true Ishiguroian depths. What do I care about this dead world of British myth?* I've never really cared for Malory's Round Table tales. They're terribly one-dimensional. I tried to read a recent treatment by Peter Ackroyd but it was just so shallow storywise, and redundant. Ishiguro returns the favor. How many times do we have to be reminded that it's better to forget than to remember? Not to mention the interminable politeness of the chivalric code, which, if you do a little reading, you will discover was the exception rather than the rule. Most knights were out for booty and they murdered anyone who got in the way of that goal. Unhindered knights turned Europe into a charnal house. Read Sir Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades or Norman Cohn's Pursuit of the Millennium. Anyway, for me the novel's a dud, though I suspect it will appeal to many new readers. Recommended with reservations. I suppose it's mandatory if you've read all of Ishiguro.
P.S. I disagree with Ms. Kakutani's view that Ishiguro's prose here is "ham handed." It is not. He writes as vividly as ever, it's just that the story is a bore. He had to stumble sooner or later. Let's be happy he's gotten this one behind him....more
Highly oneiric. Revolutionary Mexico. Swift jumps from conciousness to conciousness, yet with the purpose of generating a coherent narrative. The langHighly oneiric. Revolutionary Mexico. Swift jumps from conciousness to conciousness, yet with the purpose of generating a coherent narrative. The language is spritely, sullen, erotic by turns. The old gringo, American journalist and author Ambrose Bierce, is a bitter man come to Mexico seeking death at the hands of the revolution. He meets the younger rebel General Tomas Arroyo whose innate machismo turns his relationship with the old gringo into a Game of Manhood. A game only the general seems to be playing. The old gringo fearlessly marches straight into the most dangerous faceoffs with the Federales. He seems invulnerable, god-like. The bullets don't so much as graze him. Arroyo's rebels marvel at him. Arroyo resents him for how can he shine by comparison? In a comandeered train the general, his army, and the gringo cross the desert for a day and a night to the famous Miranda Hacienda. It was here that Arroyo was fathered by Señor Miranda. It was here Arroyo grew up and came to know intimately his nation's "aristocracy." It is in the destruction of the hacienda that the general seeks to make a grand statement. On arrival he and the old gringo find the white woman -- the "gringa" -- arrived only hours earlier from the U.S. to teach English to the Miranda children, long since flown the coop. Her name is Harriet Winslow. She becomes Arroyo's lover. One feels she could use the workout. She positively screams uptight white anglo-saxon protestant, and the destruction of personal property is incomprehensible to her. She discounts the long history of oppression in a trice. Somehow she feels -- laughably -- even in the absence of the departed Mirandas, that she is responsible not only for stopping the destruction of the hacienda, but also for seeing to its restoration. (She sets the peons to ridiculously whitewashing the place.) Yet like certain characters in Anita Brookner's oeuvre, she knows she's missed much of life in her 31 years. The old gringo sees her submission to Arroyo only in terms of the general's machismo. He does not for a minute imagine the attraction this man of action might hold for Harriet. The sex is electric. As I've said elsewhere, I am no fan of sex in literature. It's almost always badly done -- but not here. Here the sex is integral, it works to push the story forward; whereas, usually, all the action of the fiction must stop for nookie time. It's almost too long, the sex. Fuentes pushes it about ten pages too far. But one can see why. It's working so well. The novel's onieric bent seamlessly blends backstory, dialogue both thought and spoken, hopes and dreams, you name it. The prose is consistently dazzling. You must read it....more
Just a brief note before I begin. Among my friends The Royal Family is either five stars or one star. So I take it this is not the kind of book one feJust a brief note before I begin. Among my friends The Royal Family is either five stars or one star. So I take it this is not the kind of book one feels ambivalent about. Well, I loved his Europe Central and have high hopes for this one. I understand he's particularly good at writing about sex, which is very hard to do. We'll see.
Quickly fell off the go cart. Will give it another try. Enjoyed what I read but was distracted by other books....more
One of the few writers I have read who can show sex convincingly on the page, so that it reinforces character and extends action, and doesn't become aOne of the few writers I have read who can show sex convincingly on the page, so that it reinforces character and extends action, and doesn't become a narrative sinkhole in which entropy prevails.
Depressingly great. One of those books one knows one could never write yet still one wishes -- pointlessly -- that one could do so.
Laden with vivid detail. It moves almost flawlessly, from sequence to sequence with nary a foot put wrong in terms of diction or tone.
Relentless storytelling, like diamonds pouring endlessly from a sack. Enormous reading pleasure. A bit too lacrhmose toward the end for my taste, but this is a quibble. On the whole a shattering novel despite it conventional structure.
A book which must not be rushed through, that's how beautiful the language is. It's hard to believe it was translated from the German. A book about thA book which must not be rushed through, that's how beautiful the language is. It's hard to believe it was translated from the German. A book about the will to live, among other things, and the richness of life even in reduced circumstances. To read it merely as an account of life in the Gulag would be too limiting. It goes much deeper.
Late in life a gay man remembers what it was like to be transported from his family home in Romania to the Russian Gulag. It was 1945 and he was a 17-year old ethnic German and so must be made to pay for the crimes of Hitler. Romania was a combatant allied with the Axis Powers. Needless to say, this young man had nothing to do with it. Moreover, what should have been for him a memorable period of sexual awakening was in fact a time when homosexuality was a crime punishable by death, a time when Stalin--the murderer of 20 to 40 million of his own people--still ruled.
The novel is based on the true story of the poet Oskar Pastior who lived just long enough to give Herta Müller the background for the novel. That's why it's so filled with authentic facts and vivid description. Every little trick of survival is recalled. How he starved is given particular depth and resonance. With regard to the small cooking fires inmates would make to prepare meals in the evening, the narrator says:
When I had nothing to cook, the smoke snaked through my mouth. I drew in my tongue and chewed on nothing. I swallowed my spit with the evening smoke and thought about bratwurst. When I had nothing to cook, I walked close to the pots and pretended that I was on my way to brush my teeth at the well before going to bed. But by the time I put my toothbrush in my mouth I had already eaten twice. First I ate the yellow fire with the hunger of my eyes and then the smoke with the hunger of my mouth. As I ate, everything around me went still, all I could hear was the rumble of the coke ovens from the factory yard. The faster I tried to leave the well, the slower I went. I had to tear myself away from the little fires. In the rumble of the coke ovens I heard my stomach growling, the whole scene was filled with hunger. The skies sank back onto the earth, and I staggered back to the yellow light of the barrack.
Dear friends and supporters, a moment of silence...
There's something I clearly dont get about Flanagan. Maybe it's the Aussie rhythm I can't assimilate, though I liked Gould's Book of Fish. Whatever tThere's something I clearly dont get about Flanagan. Maybe it's the Aussie rhythm I can't assimilate, though I liked Gould's Book of Fish. Whatever the reason, much as I liked the POW side of the story here, I loathed the cheesy romance. It struck me as a pale imitation of John Updike's Couples and I found myself in no mood for a Rake's Progress. My overwhelming impulse was to skip the sex, especially the geezer sex, and go straight to the subject matter that interested me most. I may do that yet. For now a pause and no rating....more
Comments on my first reading of The Zone of Interest. That a book merits rereading is to my mind high praise.
I never thought Martin Amis would attemptComments on my first reading of The Zone of Interest. That a book merits rereading is to my mind high praise.
I never thought Martin Amis would attempt an historical novel. But he has and it's quite a good one. I found the opening pages thrilling. My problem is not so much with the novel, as with the historical background that informs it. My problem is with historical novels in general, which I tend not to read. About the Holocaust, I've read extensively. So when I came across familiar facts in this novel I found I had little interest in plowing through them again. But I had to do so if I was going to get to the story of the characters, which is fresh and new. So the brilliance of the writing itself--I've always admired Martin Amis' work--was in this instance not enough to keep my interest aloft. My interest sagged and rose as I read. The goodreads star rating system has always been for me basically a pleasure meter. How much did the book transport me? How much did it take me out of myself and absorb me in its dream? In the case of The Zone of Interest I'm afraid the answer is, not much. I suppose I'm Shoah'd out. A special case. I wonder if this isn't really a novel for future generations, which might perhaps join Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen and a few other books as a concise introductory to the era's horrors. For it is, without question, masterfully composed.
Another thing: like most historical novels this one was written in the day and age in which it was written. Please look at the Afterword; as you can see, Amis had access to vast amounts of research and he has arranged events in a way that wouldn't necessarily have been foremost in the minds of those living at the time. I'm not talking about the simple chronology. I'm talking more about what was known at the time. This is what I dislike about historical novels generally. They're too informed about their own historical context. This, for me anyway, ruins suspension of disbelief and undermines the very foundation of the fiction. Now, all novels have an historical context, but not all novels are historical novels. Usually the historical moment is just part of the setting, for the historical novel history is the subject matter, too. I could run on about this, but you get the gist. You might argue: "Well, yes, but the novelist can't unlearn aspects of the history he or she writes about for purposes of giving the proper lopsided view," and I would agree. The historical novel has an epistemological conundrum at its heart.
A novel of blazing, indefatigable brilliance. A tale in which absolute power of a uniquely Caribbean variety corrupts its possessor absolutely. Year bA novel of blazing, indefatigable brilliance. A tale in which absolute power of a uniquely Caribbean variety corrupts its possessor absolutely. Year by year el presidenté grows ever farther from any connection with his people until he's a pampered Howard Hughes-like recluse. In his detachment he looses a succession of evil proxies on his people, who perpetrate genocides without a cause. In one, 20,000 children are murdered for their unwitting collusion in a lottery scam which el presidenté always wins. Then there's the time he literally roasts one of his generals for perceived wrongs and serves him up with fava beans and a nice chianti to the man's officers. At the start of el presidenté's hundred-year reign, he is illiterate; he signs documents with an inked thumb, like a criminal being booked. When a Catholic novice he has despoiled teaches him how to read, entire daily newspapers are produced with an print run of one copy solely for him. How, please tell me, does García Marquez keep the tone skimming adroitly between the comic and tragic? It's entertainment dripping with blood.
The reading is no simple task. You've got to want this one; you've got to have the fire in the belly! Written in a Modernist style with many of its esthetic conventions: run on sentences (stream o' consciousness), intersecting/multiple voices without identifying tags, dreams interlarded with so-called reality, with fleeting fantasy, shifting points of view, asynchrony, etc. This works well with the so-called Magic Realism the author helped pioneer, though in this context I begin to think Magic Realism's roots were in Modernism all along. There are oracular basins, seas turned to lunar dust, vanishing virgins, and lots of divination--by tarot card, palm of the hand, coffee grounds--and murderous purges resulting from it. There is also a pervasive sense of the eschatological. Its 255 pages reads like 400 since it's virtually one solid paragraph all the way through. I particularly enjoyed the sacrilegious parts; especially the move by the capricious presidenté to have his mother canonized by the Vatican. Cruelly funny stuff. Not to be missed! Your patience will be amply rewarded....more
This is the classic gothic horror haunted house story revisited with an SF twist.It's a testament to the obtuseness of mankind, particularly unemotionThis is the classic gothic horror haunted house story revisited with an SF twist. It's a testament to the obtuseness of mankind, particularly unemotional, Cold-War era, scientific man. Three scientists on the remote planet Solaris seek contact with the lone enormous sensate creature occupying it -- the ocean. All sorts of experiments are tried over a century or more, but the planet and the humans never achieve, at least to the humans' satisfaction, adequate evidence of a measurable intellectual exchange. The ocean busies itself morphing into these massive shapes -- geometic, organic, and otherwise -- which strike the reader as expressive, but which are nevertheless inarticulate in human terms. When the scientists start bombarding the ocean with xrays, for lack of a better idea, the planet sends to each of them a visitor from an emotionally charged period of their own lives. The simulacra are derived from their memories and dreams. Kris Kelvin has just arrived on the planet. In his case, the simulacrum assumes the identical physical appearance and personality of his late wife, Rheya, who took her own life years before. The simulacra obviously constitute contact of a very high order, an enormously rich opportunity, it seems to me, to communicate one on one with the entity. But the horrified scientists never see that. They never talk to their visitors. They never come clean. Their fear drives them, purely fear, so all they can think of is a way to destroy the visitors. Therefore, they miss their chance. How sick and sad is that? This reader came to understand what was necessary after about page 100 or so. Yet the book drones on for another hundred pages. The novel is imaginative, certainly, but it runs out of ideas far too soon. The scientists never get it. One grows disgusted with them. The book never seems to end....more
Non-stop, rebarbative descriptions of the sex act in a graveyard. An awful slog. For me, Roth is one of those hot or cold authors. This one left me stNon-stop, rebarbative descriptions of the sex act in a graveyard. An awful slog. For me, Roth is one of those hot or cold authors. This one left me stone cold. Hey, if you're looking for masturbatory fodder, this is your novel. I happen not to be. As an alternative I would recommended any of the following: American Pastoral, The Counterlife, The Ghost Writer, or The Human Stain. Certainly the first two here are masterpieces....more
Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family.Brilliant. A wonder and a joy! It's the mid-1930s and Herr Professor and Frau Mitwisser, being Jews, have fled Hitler's Germany with their big family. Thanks to the charitable Quakers, known for their tradition of religious tolerance, the Mitwisser Family is brought to New York, to Albany, where the professor begins to lecture at the Quaker college. Mrs. Mitwisser is deeply depressed, however, sometimes verging on the delusional, having had to abandon her high-profile scientific pursuits. (She'd worked closely with Erwin Schrödinger). She has now withdrawn from the rest of the family and lies inert in a remote sitting room. Our narrator, eighteen-year-old Rose, answers an ad in an Albany newspaper and comes to work for the Mitwisser. Actually, the ad is hilariously vague as to just what Rose's duties are going to be, but she answers it anyway because she has to get out of her cousin Bertrand's apartment since he's fallen in love with loudmouthed Communist Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), and Rose has fallen for Bertrand who, though very kind, just thinks of her as a "kid," which she resents.
The Mitwisser household also includes sixteen-year-old Annaliese, three younger boys (Heinz, Willi and Gert) and a toddler daughter (Waltraut). Soon they move to the Bronx because the professor, torn from Europe's great libraries due to the imminent war, has to continue his scholarly study of a heretical group of tenth-century Jews, the Karaites, at the New York Public Library. Interlarded with the story of the Mitwissers and Rose and the Karaites is the story of The Bear Boy. As a child, during the decade of The Great War, this fellow became the model for his father's dazzlingly successful series of children's books. Now in mid-life he's a lost soul who hates his immense wealth and lives a semi-debauched, drifter's existence. That's pretty much the setup, so I'll leave you hanging there. Suffice it to say, the novel's language is rich without being daunting, its plot sprightly, and its structure awe inspiring. I really came to care for these vividly drawn characters, even the cynical Bear Boy, whose influence as patron of the Mitwisser household causes major friction between the professor and his wife. Cynthia Ozick is my new favorite writer. I plan to read everything she's written. Also exquisitely good are her The Messiah of Stockholm and The Puttermesser Papers, both of which I have reviewed....more
As you read this review, please bear in mind that The Puttermesser Papers really defies summarization. What I offer here can only be the most impoveriAs you read this review, please bear in mind that The Puttermesser Papers really defies summarization. What I offer here can only be the most impoverished of overviews. The book must be read!
Ruth Puttermesser is a woman, an attorney, living alone in New York City. Her mother, retired with her father to Florida, writes to ask Puttermesser to fly down to check out an acquaintance's newly divorced CPA son. "Well," writes her mom, "he's divorced now no children thank God so he's free as a bird as they say his ex the poor thing couldn't conceive." Puttermesser disdains the idea. She is a woman with a considerable intellect, and if there’s one thing she’s not obsessed by it’s her biological clock.
"She went to work for the Department of Receipts and Disbursements. Her title was Assistant Corporation Counsel." She works in a great cumbrous municipal office building to the northeast of city hall — it actually exists — which Ozick describes with a kind of Dantean glee. "It was a monstrous place, gray everywhere, abundantly tunneled, with multitudes of corridors and stairs and shafts, a kind of swollen doom through which the bickering of small-voiced officials whinnied."
Rappoport, her married lover, a fundraiser for oppressed Soviet Jewry, leaves her one night because she prefers Plato’s Theaetetus to his embraces. She develops periodontal disease and fears the surgical exposure of her bones. At work, alas, she’s too smart for her own good. Her presence creates uncomfortable contrasts for those who are less so. Perhaps inevitably she is demoted and hidden away in Taxation. There she writes snappy, indignant letters to her boss. “Dear Mayor Mavett: Your new appointee...Commissioner Alvin Turtleman, has forced a fine civil servant of honorable temperament, with experience both wide and impassioned, out of her job. I am that civil servant. Without a hearing, without due process...” and so on. She does not receive a reply.
In her distress one night, Puttermesser doesn’t quite remember how she’s done it at first, she creates a female golem. A nice little overview of the golem in history follows. The golem, Xanthippe, knows everything her “mother” knows. She is taken to work at the cumbrous municipal office building where she begins to type. She produces a Plan. In short order, that plan has made Puttermesser New York City’s mayor by popular vote and the city flourishes as a low crime, highly civilized quasi-utopia. The murder rate plummets. Sobbing muggers walk into precinct houses, arms raised. Vast gardens thrive all over the city.
But now Rappoport has returned. He is not long in discovering his lust for Xanthippe, whom he takes to bed in Gracie Mansion, for the golem of course is among Puttermesser’s closest advisors. Soon Rappoport is sexually exhausted, raw. He leaves the city with a limp. Xanthippe, however, having tasted human lust, runs amok (as it is historically within the purview of golems to do). In her insatiable craving for boo-tay, one by one she fucks each of Mayor Puttermesser’s esteemed commissioners — presumably also the women — into Rappoportian insensibility. Gradually, the mayor’s carefully selected lieutenants, one by one, resign. Their marriages break up. They move to Florida. They enter monasteries. And just as gradually the city morphs back into the crime-ridden dystopia that it was before our heroine took office. Suffice it to say that Puttermesser does not seek reelection. She takes a year off.
Puttermesser, her name means butterknife in German, is lonely without anything to occupy her time. She reads widely about the life of her favorite novelist, George Eliot, and admires that single woman’s at-the-time scandalous relationship with the married George Lewes. Puttermesser understandably pines for her George Lewes. One day in the Met she comes across Rupert Rabeeno, twenty years her junior, copying David’s Death of Socrates with an accuracy that borders on the uncanny.
Rupert’s card reads “Reenactments of the Masters.” It turns out that this very postmodern art form is how Rupert earns his living. His reenactments are reduced to postcard size and sold in stationers shops. Puttermesser explains to Rupert her dream of finding her own Lewes, and in time she comes to believe she’s found him in Rupert. What follows with their relationship — after long nights of rereading Eliot’s novels and comparing all the major biographies — amazes the reader and defies summary. It must be read.
Then Puttermesser is visited by her Muscovite cousin. Lidia — a cynical, mercenary young woman — has seized on her New York connection in order to make money. God knows she can’t make any in Moscow. It is the era of Gorbachev and perestroika. Lidia comes to New York laden with all sorts of tchotchkes: Lenin as a boy pins, Russian nested dolls, etc. She finds a naive fellow she calls Pyotr, a man utterly without guile, whom she promptly seduces. (One thinks of Lidia as Peter’s first lover ever.) Puttermesser has installed Lidia on a sofa bed in her living room. Soon this is a veritable warehouse filled with Lidia’s inventory. Volodya, Lidia’s man back in Vladivostok, calls every morning at 3 am, inevitably waking Puttermesser. Soon, Lidia, having made her pile so she can marry Volodya, exits. Peter is shattered.
The novel has been rendered in the form of interconnected stories which were previously published independently. Yet together they make an indissoluble whole. It’s quite a trick on Ozick’s part. One studies the book deeply but exactly how she’s done this remains a mystery. Moreover, Ozick’s ear is exquisite. There is only one other such ear I have ever come across in my wide reading and that belongs to Martin Amis. Both writers have this innate zingy facility with language, both use vocabulary as punchlines, and both have unerring narrative instincts. Both also, it might be said, though their respective subject matters differ greatly, put enormous loving care into their work. I’ll spare you the usual superlatives, yet there can be no question that The Puttermesser Papers rises to such an exalted level.
Like Cather, Cynthia Ozick is an essential American novelist. So far her work has been egregiously overlooked by the mainstream. I have the pleasure of robustly recommending it. Please read as well Ozick's The Messiah of Stockholm and Heir to the Glimmering World, both wonderful, which I also review here....more