I read this book in part I admit because I have always thought it had a cool title. And I guess George Orwell has a track record, 1984, ANIMAL FARM, e...moreI read this book in part I admit because I have always thought it had a cool title. And I guess George Orwell has a track record, 1984, ANIMAL FARM, etc.
What I really admired about this book was it's clarity. It was just in such good taste, so clearly and unpretentiously written. I have been reading a lot of development research at the moment (votes: should I blog about this? I know this blog is supposed to be about everything I read in 2010, but are you really tough enough for posts on such gems as IMPLEMENTING THE SADC PROTOCOL AGAINST CORRUPTION: RECOMMENDATIONS AND DRAFT RULES OF PROCEDURE? Suspect not) and this research is just so jargon laden, and overwritten as shit. I suspect it's because they've nothing real to say and need to cover that up.
The bio is hilarious, wait, let me quote: “He served in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel BURMESE DAYS. Several years of poverty followed.” I don't know if they mean it to be funny, but it is. Ah, the arts and how they don't pay anything. So this book follows those years of poverty in Paris and London, where Orwell is homeless and near homeless. This must have been an experience and a half for an old Etonian, but we don't learn much about him – it's not autobiographical in that sense – it's more about the people and places he ecountered, and the difficulties of living on little money and food.
At one point, when he hasn't eaten in three days, he gets a job as a plongeur, which is I guess some kind of dishwasher at fancy Parisien hotels. This is a dreadful job, apparently, with 17 hour days being quite routine. Unsurprisingly, he is pretty big on the subject of how fancy hotels are useless, and has a lot to say on what's wrong with a world in which people can be enslaved for the useless purpose of fanciness.
He ends with what he's learnt: “I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning”
It's an interesting picture of poverty in any period, and an interesting picture of its time in particular – for example, men with shell shock are a routine problem, as they keep people awake in the paupers' dorms with their screaming. It's also of its time in being rather anti-semitic, misogynist, and homophobic. But there you go, you can't have everything.
Subtitled: Why the Poorest Counties are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Basically, this guy thinks that most peoples' lives in the developing wor...moreSubtitled: Why the Poorest Counties are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
Basically, this guy thinks that most peoples' lives in the developing world are getting better (eg Brazil etc). However, there are about a billion people in the poorest countries whose lives are not improving at all and show no signs of improving. He thinks aid etc should be focused almost entirely on this relatively small group of countries, and its a matter of habit/culture that development assistance is not focused that way.
He argues that these countries are stuck in poverty because of one of more of these traps: conflict, massive natural resources, being landlocked with bad neighbours, and bad governance. He suggests various measures which include assisting elites in these countries to turn things around (by for example producing model charters that can be easily adapted), military intervention (eg Sierra Leone, which was a huge success for British military intervention – saved many lives – and never gets talked about), and removing trade barriers.
He has some amusing things to say about the current state of aid work, pointing out that one reason for the focus outside the bottom billion is that everyone would rather be posted to Rio than Bangui. He spends quite a lot of time bashing on Bangui (extra points if you know where that's the capital of?). Apparently the World Bank doesn't have a single person stationed there, though it's one of the poorest countries in Africa (little clue there for you).
His arguments seem to have plenty of merit, but it's hard to tell, as I know very little about eg. international trade law, and he doesnt really present the other side of the question at all. Which makes one a little dubious. One feels even more dubious when he declares that the economics department of one university is either niave or 'has been infiltrated by Marxists.' What the hell does that mean? 'Infiltrate' is quite sort of emotionally laden and Cold War, but it's better than Marxist! Who even uses that word any more? Why doesn't he just say . . . has a generally leftist view' or something.
He tells some sad stories. In 2004, a study was done to see how money was spent in rural clinics in Chad. What the study found was, don't worry about how it's spent, less than 1% of it even gets to the clinics in Chad – the rest is pilfered by various officials as it leaves central government. Nice.
Oh yes we are back on the Trollope. Book 4 or something or the Barchester series. I woke up at 2.30am the other day, and it was not a good night, so I...moreOh yes we are back on the Trollope. Book 4 or something or the Barchester series. I woke up at 2.30am the other day, and it was not a good night, so I decided to read and it kept me going till 4.30.
This parson agrees to provide security for an apparently wealthy man he wants to impress and ends up deep in debt and shame. This parson's sister loses her father and comes to live with the parson. The parson's good friend, a peer, falls in love with her. He then rescues the parson from his debt. Happy ending!
Fabulous, sweet little book. Everything you need to know about the style is encapsulated in the title of the last chapter 'How they all got married and had two children and lived happily ever after'
Well, this is one of those books that makes me feel like I better become an author. Seriously, can any old crap become a bestseller? If so, let me sta...moreWell, this is one of those books that makes me feel like I better become an author. Seriously, can any old crap become a bestseller? If so, let me start writing. That's a bit mean, but DUDE. It was a bit rubbish.
It tells the story of a young man who as a university project goes to study a Renaissance garden in Italy. It's written in the past, and opens with him in university, and the narrator says of his past self: "Try as he might, he couldn't penetrate the workings of that stranger's mind, let alone say with any certainty how he would have dealt with the news that murder lay in wait for him, right around the corner." I mean, seriously. Murder . . . right around the corner. Hurl.
So it's quite charmingly evocative of an Italian summer, but then it goes down a sort of de Vinci style what secret was hidden in the garden 400 years ago type route, which is distinctly borderline as a plot. We discover a 400 year old murder and also a contemporary one, and also have a love interest and some distinctly dodgy sex scenes.
I got it at a short story reading event I went to quite randomly, where there were cupcakes with labels saying 'Eat Me' (as in Alice in Wonderland) and books saying 'Take Me' - of which this was one - and so though I didn't enjoy the book I enjoyed the rather sweet way I came by it.
I just have to tell you that the first line of the author's bio is "Mark Mills graduated from Cambridge University in 1986." I guess that's the beginning and end of his life and everthing we need to know about him. Hurl.
This is a famous book that one keeps meaning to read, so one has decided to read it. I bought it on Amazon, where the customer reviews are the sort of...moreThis is a famous book that one keeps meaning to read, so one has decided to read it. I bought it on Amazon, where the customer reviews are the sort of mouth-frothingly eager ones that make one feel all the more required to read it. Check it out. Charmingly, it comes to me in Zimbabwe as a discarded book from a library in small town Arkansas, complete with index card sleeve.
It's not really the sort of book that one can call 'good,' because that seems sort of disrespectful. Quality terms don't really apply to this sort of book.
Basically, Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in a hard labour camp under Stalin. He actually got off lightly, as typical setences were ten to twenty five years. He was jailed for being a literary person, but you needn't think you actually needed to be guilty to go to the Gulag. Essentially, areas had quotas, both for jailings and executions, so anyone and everyone could be arrested quite randomly, and thousands and thousands of people were. They really wanted 'confessions' and lists of 'co-conspirators' (ie, your acquaintances, to make arrests less effort). So there was a lot of torture, stomach-churningly described. Incredibly, to me, lots of individuals refused to sign anything, or give up any names, and so as Sozhenitsyn puts it about one case, 'died a victor in his cell.'
It actually boggles the mind. You can't believe it really happened. They also sent whole groups - like millions of people - to exile in Siberia, where many died. Just twelve years after the Russian Revolution had divided up the land fairly, some people were already doing slightly better than their neighbours, presumably through hard work as they had no material advantages. These 'kulaks' were viewed as class enemies and sent into exile - millions of them - which immediately caused a three year famine, in which millions more died.
Being in Zim at the moment, I'm especially struck by two things: one, how angry the author is, and two, how madly brave he is. He is naming names and ripping shit up. Like, he tells us who informed on who simply to get his girlfriend, and then tells us where he currently lives in comfort in Moscow. Madly brave.
So onto THE LOST DOG by Michelle de Krester. This tells the story of a man who loses his dog. He is in the middle of some kind of half hearted love af...moreSo onto THE LOST DOG by Michelle de Krester. This tells the story of a man who loses his dog. He is in the middle of some kind of half hearted love affair, and we cut back and forth between the love affair and the hunt for the dog. This is one literary-ass book. It is so literature I kind of want to barf a bit. It was full of images. There they are buying like whatever, noodles or something, and the noodle seller has . . . exquisite hands. Oh yes. Oh god. Part way through I just had to stop and read the author bio and the back flap, and what do you know, she is a professor of English Lit. Barforama. But other than that it was okay. And don't worry I'm still also on Trollope's DR THORNE. More on this later.
These are a pair of charming little plays written by a Ghanaian woman in the 1960s. She was born into a royal (and I'm assuming wealthy) Ghanian famil...moreThese are a pair of charming little plays written by a Ghanaian woman in the 1960s. She was born into a royal (and I'm assuming wealthy) Ghanian family in 1942, and must have had some forward thinking parents, because she got a bit of formal education. She was sent to a convent school, and her headmistress there gave her her first typewriter. It's interesting to see what she has to say, because there are very few people who grew up in a rural, traditional African household and were given a chance to write about it before colonialism wiped that lifestyle out.
There was a very small window between those cultures meeting the West, and being able to dialogue with the West as 'themsleves' - as it were - and the West then wiping them out. Well that sounds a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean. It's like LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD by Flora Thompson. In one of the weirder comparisons of this blog. There's lots of writing about rural English people of the 19th century, but very little of it is by rural English people of the 19th century. The number of people who actually came from those communities and had the time, interest and access to write is tiny. By the time a large number had been sent to school, and learned to think about writing as a job (as opposed to digging potatoes or whatever) the rural community was gone, as they'd all been sent to school and were planning on being writers.
DILEMMA OF A GHOST is about a man whose Ghanaian family has scraped and saved to send him to University in the US. He returns with an African American wife, and neither wife nor family are happy. ANOWA tells the story - I think traditional - of a woman who rebelled against her family, and chose her own husband; and then, when her husband to everyone's surprise became successful, rebelled against him too. Both plays have strong central female characters, which is interesting, and unusual, and probably tells us a good deal about Aidoo. Both also have a good line in comedy, with the gossipy older ladies being particularly successful. Both set up strong and interesting oppositions. In DILEMMA, who will win our young man's soul? In ANOWA,what is wrong with Anowa? Both plays could be really great! But - you knew there was a but, huh? - both seem to go horribly wrong about three quarters in.
The big reveal in DILEMMA, which shocks and apparently (?) reconciles the family to the newcomer is that she is not barren, but simply waiting to choose when she will have children. And the big reveal in ANOWA is that her husband has become impotent. They both kills themselves upon hearing this news. I can only say: ?
This was a fantastic book. Hilariously, I've been studiously avoiding it up till now, when my boyfriend got it out the Library for me randomly. I avoi...moreThis was a fantastic book. Hilariously, I've been studiously avoiding it up till now, when my boyfriend got it out the Library for me randomly. I avoided it because a) I see she has a mother who is a successful author (3 times nominated for the Booker herself). This is always a bad sign, shades of Martin Amis - how did she get published, how (puke) literary is it? and b) It's all about migrants, and I feared it would be a bit of a politically correct misery memoir. I'm a migrant myself and I don't really need to read about the misery.
But meanwhile, back at the ranch, much to the delight of my boyfriend, as I rolled my eyes when he brought it home, it's fabulous. It tells two stories, more or less, one of Sai, who is a teenage orphan girl living in the Himalays with her distant wealthy grandfather, and the second of Biju, who is Sai's grandfather's cook's son, and an illegal immigrant in New York. Sai falls in love with her lower class maths tutor, who abandons her when he gets taken up by the movement for Gurka indepedence, which movement severely threaten Sai's lifestyle. The demonstrators take land and possessions from the rich, and open Sai's eyes to the economic world she's living in. Meanwhile, Biju is scraping by in New York, wondering why so many Indians try and move to the US. He's making very little money, and feels a host of complicated feelings about what he's lost in leaving his home and family. Eventually he decides to return to the Himalayas, just as the political unrest means his home area is entirely shut off. He manages to get a ride, only to be robbed of all his belongings, his clothing, and his hard earned savings. He eventually makes it back to his father, barefoot in a borrowed dressing gown.
So what did I so much like about this book? It's hard to say. First, it dealt with some very complex emotions and ideas in an accessible way. The question of what it means to move, of what it mean to belong, in this globalised world (blah blah blah) are immensely complicated, and as they really effect only a very small proportion of the world's writers, are very rarely written about with any understanding or intelligence. This thing - of being a new kind of person - a person of more than one culture - is becoming more and more common, but it's still very new in the literature. There's kind of a lag. If you are one of these people you usually have to work all this out by yourself, and it's fun to find a book that's working on the same project.
Plus, all this heavy stuff is dealt with with a lovely lightness of touch and sense of the absurd. I feel like I would like Kiran Desai if I met her. Read this Guardian interview with her, it's quite sweet. And makes me feel guilty I wrote her off as a product of nepotism.
There are some awesome bits:
The police are checking the house for evidence: A thousand deceased spiders lay scattered like dead blossoms on the attic floor, and above them, on the underside of the tin sieve roof, dodging drips, their offspring stared at the police as they did at their own ancestors – with a giant, saucer-sized lack of sympathy.
A hotel manager talking about rich tourists: “Hah! What money? They are so scared they’ll be taken advantage of because of their wealth, they try and bargain down on the cheapest room . . . And yet, just see.” He showed them a postcard the couple had left for the front desk to post: “Had a great dinner for $.450. We cant believe how cheap this county is!”
When Biju is deciding to return home: Shouldn’t he return to a life where he might slice his own importance, to where he might relinquish this overrated control over his own destiny and dperhaps be subtracted from its determination altogether? He might even experience that greatest luxury of not noticing himself at all.
Fabulous. Loved it. I read somewhere else recently that the great joy of exile or immigration is that you are set free from fate. It's interesting to see here he regards having to choose your own path as a curse not a blessing.
A very poor woman cleaning the airport: Eyes lowered and swatting bare feet with a filthy rag, she introduced some visitor sfor the first time to that potent mixture of intense sympathy and intense annoyance.
A minor character we meet in the airport, an Indian who lives in Omaha: He knew what his father thought: that immigration, so often presented as a heroic act, could just as easiy be the opposite; that it is was corwardice that led many to America; fear marked the journey, not bravery; a cockroachy desire to scuttle to where you never saw poeverty, not really, never had to suffer a tug to your conscience; where you never heard the demands of servants, beggards, bankrupt relatives and where your generosity would never be openly claimed; where by merely looking after you own wife-child-dog-yard you could feel virtuous. Experience the relief of being an unkown transplant to the locals and hide the perspective granted by journey.
I'm still trying to figure out what the title means.
I've had this in my bookcase for a while; it belonged to a friend of my father's, who was forced to leave Zimbabwe during the Gukurahundi (if you don'...moreI've had this in my bookcase for a while; it belonged to a friend of my father's, who was forced to leave Zimbabwe during the Gukurahundi (if you don't know what this is you really ought to Google it), lived in Darfur for a while, setting up schools (most of which were burnt down in the recent events there - definitely Google that if you don't know what that's about) and then had to move to London as he badly needed the NHS, due to an incident with a stomach virus and some vets. He spent the rest of his life in a tiny flat, a fine example of living in a way above and beyond your circumstances: books, newspapers, music, his flat was as big as the world mentally, for sure.
ANYWAY. I still didn't really want to read this soppy "Memoir of Africa," (that's it's very dodgy subtitle). I just had it because it had his name in it in his rather charming old school hand. Anyway, I was too hungry to lug my ass to the Library, so I needed someething to read and had a look through the bookcase. I thought it would probably be kind of racist, and full of weird issues about being 'British' in this exotic land, even though she's lived in Africa since she was four, so how it's exotic I'm not clear. So I thought that was how it would be and I wouldn't like it, but what do you know, that is how it is and I kind of like it!
Actually, it's not very racist; it's problematic by our standards, but it's very clear from her description of her life that she was far more liberal than anyone she knew. She was in Bulawayo from the age of four, and we learn all about her WWI veteran father, and her parents' horribly bad marriage, and her weird childhood; she wasn't allowed to play with white children in case she lost her upper class accent. She got pregnant at 16 by the first man she kissed. This being the 1940s, she had to marry him and went on to have 25 years of misery. They founded a farm in Matopos, and have moved to camp in the middle of the Okavango Delta - that's where I am now.
The book is firstly interesting, and quite charming, for her clear love of the African landscape, and, in a strange and mixed up way, her love of African people. It's full of vervet monkeys getting into the chicken coop and throwing eggs at each other and at the chickens, of chats that fly into her bedroom in the morning and wait to have some of her toast, of sunset over the granite hills and so on. She spoke fluent Ndebele, and knew a great deal of the culture and wife of life of these people - she even knew a man who'd fought in Lobengula's impi (Google also).
It's also interesting as a view into her community and the ideals of her time. She's totally not bothered to tell us she never got on with her mother: no remorse, no bitterness, and even better, no psychologising. Very not modern. I love it. Apparently once her mother was moaning about something, and our author told her not to, and the mother replied, with pride "But I've always been a grouser. I've always been a moaner." This is too much for our author.
It's more or less a biography, but fabulously also she spends little time on her children. Love it. You certainly get the impression that the farm and the landscape were of far more interest to her than her children, and, incredibly interstingly, she feels no societal pressure to pretend it isn't so. She gets pregnant for the third time, and is with good reason too scared to get a backstreet abortion, so goes through with it, and refers to it quite frankly as a little wretch.
Also, there's lot of sex and naked dinner parties, which goes very oddly with the fact that she felt she couldn't get a divorce.
After the acrimoious divorce, she keeps bleating about wanting to go back home to England. Bizarre, as this was a place that by my calculations she'd maybe spent 6 months in her whole life in. I guess as all the cultural life came from there, she felt that - despite it having nothing to do with her actual real life - that was home. Interesting that culture is actually a stronger predictor of 'home' than mere circumstance. ANYWAY. I just want to say, she moved to Norwich. This is a woman who used to chew up and spit up ground up doves for her orphan civet cat. Whole doves. With their feathers on. Yup. Her pet lion once mauled her son and she cheerily pumped him with the vet's antibiotics. NORWICH.
I actually read this last year, but I found out at the great blog Reading Matters that it's been nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize,...moreI actually read this last year, but I found out at the great blog Reading Matters that it's been nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which is for translated literature.
It's an epic (very epic, like 900 pages of epic) story of a bureaucrat's involvement in the Holocaust. I think the author (an American writing in French, impressively) intended to show how we are all potential Nazis, and he succeeds sort of. He definitely succeeds in writing an interesting, revealing, well researched novel of WWII. I learnt, which I thought was very interesting, that far more people died through mass shootings in the area of the old Soviet Union than died in the camps.
You probably don't need to be warned that some parts are a bit grim.
There's some interesting things going on narratively, because as the novel goes on it becomes increasingly clear that he's not quite sure what it is he's telling us. For example, he goes to sleep, and when he wakes up, his parents have been murdered and are covered in blood. He's naked and the clothing he was wearing has been washed. Hmmm. There's also some very unfortunate sexual self-abuse incidents. These I skipped.
"Smart, funny and hip . . . I love this book" said the Independent. A publication that clearly needs to smoke a good d...moreThis book was pretty much pants.
"Smart, funny and hip . . . I love this book" said the Independent. A publication that clearly needs to smoke a good deal less crack. There were lots of other similar reviews. Many emphasized the books 'coolness,' and my theory is that many of the reviewers were sort of older - like maybe in their fifties. As this is a book clearly written for/about people in their twenties and thirties, the reviewers must just have thought that while the book was blantantly crap, that crap must be how the kids roll these days. Let me tell you what, we definitely don't roll as follows: ".... the indolent hours unfurled". What the hell IS that?
Essentially the novel told the story of Lucinda, a 29 year old in a band that is on the cusp of success. The book opens with her having just broken up with the band's lead singer. She then gets involved in a strange, not very believable and very sexual relationship with an older man(maybe that's why the critics like it). Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend has abducted a depressed kangaroo from his day job at a zoo. Surprising though this plot line sounds, it goes nowhere. Eventually the relationship with the older man kind of fizzles out and she ends up back with the lead singer.
I really can't think of anything much I like about this book. Particularly irritating was the way the book and the characters are both so totally in love with the idea of the hipster, and with themselves as hipsters. Also irritating was the way people never eat in this book, they only ever 'gobble' or 'wolf' or 'choke down' or 'slurp.' Yuck. Anway, it was only like 223 pages. Onwards and upwards.
This book tells the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes, a woman of the seventeenth century, who was the wealthiest heiress in Eng...moreA rare burst of non-fiction.
This book tells the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes, a woman of the seventeenth century, who was the wealthiest heiress in England, and possibly in Europe. At one point a certain Capt Stoney defends her honour in a duel, and she is assured by multiple medical men that he is about to die. His dying wish is to marry her, and in a burst of romance, she does so. Hours after the ceremony, he miraculously recovers.
He then starts to spend her money with a vengence. He does other things with a vengence too, such as beat her up. As is common in domestic violence situations, it gets worse and worse. Eventually, she's not allowed to move from one room to another without someone escorting her. She's not allowed out, even to her beloved greenhouses in her own garden. She was a noted naturalist, and funded one of the first botanical expiditions to the Cape. (She was in fact responsible with this trip for proving the existence of giraffes to Europeans - previously these had been thought to be mythic. She donated the carcass to John Hunter, of the Hunterian museum here in London. He cut off it's legs and left it in his entryway to boggle his guests' minds).
Stoney was intent on convincing people that he was the long-suffering and caring husband of a strange and eccentric wife, so he'd give her instructions, before dinner parties, for example that she could only say 'yes' or 'no', no matter what was said to her, or had to remain totally silent and so on. So people thought she was crazy. He also didn't let her get any new clothes, so she was virtually in rags, and barely let her eat. Meanwhile he spent her money with gay abandon. The phrase 'stoney broke' actually comes from him. When his younger sister came to live with them (though her parents tried to dissuade her, as even they knew he was crazy), he controlled her too, not letting her out at all. She eventually escaped after three years and fled back to her parents in Ireland.
Eventually it got so bad Mary genuinely thought she was going to die. Peviously, all the maids had been handpicked by him, and most were his mistresses, either willingly or unwillingly (ie, he was also a rapist). On this occasion however he'd let someone else choose a maid, and that person, Mary Morgan, was well educated and tough. Usually he chose very ill educated poor people. So anyway, this lady clocks what is going on, and she and two other maids organise for Mary to escape. So they leave the house too, without any pay, and hide her in their slum homes. She then finds a lawyer, willing to fight her case on a no-win no-fee basis.
She stays in hiding while her case proceeds, but eventually Stoney manages to abduct her - in broad daylight, on a busy London street. This is too much even for the very sexist legal structures of the day, and they are swiftly pursued. As he runs, dragging her around the country, the poor woman is so determined to die rather than have anything further to do with him, that she manages to stand up to him. At one point he says he will shoot her if she doesn't sign a renunciation of her legal claims, and she basically says "Shoot and be damned" - which he does, but luckily for her it's a misfire.
So eventually they are found, and she gets her divorce - one of the first in England - laying down an important precedent, that while it was okay to beat your wife(!) it wasn't okay to beat her to a pulp. In jail, let me tell you, this Stoney guy gets some twenty year old girl interested, and KEEPS HER LOCKED UP IN A CELL WITHIN A CELL for twenty years. Very Austrian basement. No one sees her, she has five kids. Now this I think merited a novel in itself, but I guess there's less research material to base a book on with a very poor, illiterate woman than with this Mary. Even Mary's school books survive, and small things - such as, for example - the note she managed to scribble while she was being abducted. (Naturally Stoney tried to claim she wanted to be abducted, later, at the trial, so this was important evidence)
100 points to Wendy Moore for keeping the story really gripping. I was up till 2am. It was also a good reminder of what people have suffered to get women to where they are today. So all those girls today who who go out with the intention of being bought drinks all night, or who aspire to be Page 3 girls, or whatever. BE ASHAMED.
Well, this was a doozy. I keep meaning to read something by her, because she's someone one has heard of, not so much in a literary quality way as in a...moreWell, this was a doozy. I keep meaning to read something by her, because she's someone one has heard of, not so much in a literary quality way as in a slightly weird self-help kind of way. I sort of associate her with slightly overweight, long haired kind of men. I think we know who I mean.
The book tells the story of one Howard Roark, who is an architect absolutely committed to following his artistic vision. He is willing to be kicked out of school, lose jobs, lose big contracts, be reduced to penury, etc, rather than sacrifice one iota of his vision. It was in some ways quite inspiring. Her basic thesis is that everyone's only duty is to themselves, and to be true to their view of the world. She argues that the hardest thing in the world is to do what you want to do.
She contends that religion aims to keep us under control, and that the way to do this is to keep us unhappy. It therefore teach us that self sacrifice is to be valued and admired, while she believes self-sacrifice is killing the only thing in the world that is real for us: the self. She also thinks religion aims to make us unhappy by convincing us we are wrong or evil. Roark at one point is commisioned to build a temple of all faiths, and is taken to court when he builds not a soaring monument, taking us away from ourselves and up, but something built to the scale of the human form, and celebrating the human scale.
At the end of the book, he is taken to court once again, for blowing up one of his own buildings, because it was not built exactly to his specifications. There, the people in the court are struck by the way he stands as a man 'innocent of fear.' They are reminded of occasions when they have suddenly thought of what they should have said in such-and-such a situation, of who they are in their minds, shining and incorruptible, before they are in real life shackled by fear. He is presented as an example of who we could be if we lived without compromise, and without need for other people.
There are some fantastic bits, like her contempt for people who would rather give money to a 'pregnant slut' than a 'starving man of genius.' Appallingly sexist, but fabulous. You get the distinct impression that Ayn Rand may have struggled as a writer for quite some time, and had to stick to her guns with some ferocity, as she is really big into the idea that you are to be judged only by how much you love your work, and how hard you stick at it, basically: don't let the bastards get you down. There is something very freeing about her idea that success is not gauged by others' opinions, or even by your own outer achievements, so much as it is about you holding firm in your own mind.
So, some interesting ideas. I found it a quite gripping read, which surprised me really, as the book is not exactly notable for it's literary style. In fact, it's kind of badly written. Coincidences abound. Cliches most definitely abound, and abound everywhere. Characters are sort of interchangable. Weirdly, given that the author is a woman, and must have been quite an exceptional woman, it's quite sexist. It absolutely adheres to the stock style: male as centre of the plot, virgin/whores left and right, evil mother crushes genius. There is one strong-ish female character, who I strongly suspect is Ayn. But she's devastatingly beautiful, blonde hair, blah blah. Oh yes, and she enjoys being raped, in one unforgettably weird chapter. Oh yes, my friends, the book has dated in several ways. Not least the name Howard. It's hard to take that name seriously for the ideal man.
I think the strength of the book, what keeps pulling you in, when your good taste tells you to get out, is the fiery power with which she believes in her idea, and her desire to have you believe it too. It's an unusual idea, and I think (viewed in the right light) an empowering one. It's rare to come across a book that wants to change your life.
Though the above would be a good ending, I just have to say: it is kind of elitist. Also I suspect it could be used, and probably has been used, for some dubious ends. Eg. at one point she says that the whole movement of culture, away from 'savagery,' is a movement towards privacy for individuals. Yikes.
Now, this is another kind of unusual book for me, because:
a)it was left at my house randomly, I didn't choose it b)for some reason, it is in large prin...moreNow, this is another kind of unusual book for me, because:
a)it was left at my house randomly, I didn't choose it b)for some reason, it is in large print. Which is odd, as the person who left it at my house has normal eyesight c)this is a re-reading. And I almost never re-read
I re-read it because I hadn't got to the Library and I was feeling a bit blah and I happened to see it and it looked cheering. It looks more sort of mangled, now, as it fell into the bath several times during this reading. Oh dear.
WHEN YOU ARE IN ENGULFED IN FLAMES is a series of comic short stories. The longest one is very long, and is about his attempt to give up smoking by moving to Tokoyo. David Sedaris actually really reminds me of Proust. Now, don't be hating, and thinking I'm pretentious. I totally get to say that because a) it's true and b) I've actually read IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, which, let's face it all you Tolstoy loving bunch of bitches, is probably the best novel ever written. And I'm just saying 'probably' so as not to appear too dogmatic.
But please, let's not even deny it's the best novel of the twentieth century, because that's just blatantly true, whether you like it or not (all you James Joyce loving bitches out there).
What I find similar in them is the kind of unassuming honesty they possess. It's a book that makes you feel like you are less alone in the world; that other people are experiencing the day-to-day as you are. JANE EYRE is a fabulous novel, but it doesn't deal at all with 95% percent of our lives - the pedestrian part.
The character that is David Sedaris in these stories is sort of sweetly imperfect. It's interesting also that he seems to have blown large sections of his life on being kind of drugged up. So yes, basically, I find it encouraging that David Sedaris wasted that much of his life and still seems to have got somewhere. Not that I'm some big druggie, but I've certainly wasted my fair share of time here and there.
I find Sedaris' use of language strangely brilliant. I'll laugh out loud at a sentence, and then spend ages trying to understand what about that turn of phrase made it so funny. It's less about the comedy of incident,and more about the comedy of language, which is SO DIFFICULT. So well done that man.
He does on occasion try, especially at the ends of his stories, to give us a kind of literary thrill, or a sense that he's been talking about something larger than we at first thought. This is only sometimes successful.
Disclaimer: Okay, I skipped some stories this time round. I really didn't feel I could handle the death ones. Maybe when I know you better I'll tell you why.
So I started the year on page 700 of A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth. Which is pretty awesome. I deliberately stopped reading the night before- well it...moreSo I started the year on page 700 of A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth. Which is pretty awesome. I deliberately stopped reading the night before- well it wasn't that much effort, it was quite convenient actually - on pg 699, so I could begin on nice fresh round numbers. I was on holiday for three weeks in Kenya, and I had brought a big book with me. I actually spent some time choosing the book. I had massive lay overs, blah blah, and I HATE running out of stuff to read. God, then I might have to be alone with my thoughts, and we don't want that. So I bought this book off Amazon for less than the p&p. If you keep reading this blog, and if I keep it up, you'll see this is unusual for me. I virtually never buy books, and certainly not from online sellers. One thing that might make my reading interesting is that it's largely driven by what's in Southwark libraries. There's no way I can afford to keep up my reading habit, nor would I want to: I can't imagine storing all those books. And I wouldn't like to have to remember books I want to forget. Plus, I don't really like books I've read lying about looking at me, unless I really loved them. Only books I love get to stay at my house.
So A SUITABLE BOY. As it was kind of a big commitment - I couldnt just give up if I got bored - I actually looked it up on the internet. I never do this, and I've discovered this is with good reason. What the hell? People on forums have got some stupid ass opinions. So have people on blogs, I guess. People were all like: why is there so much about Indian politics, about shoes, about land, etc etc. Have these people never heard of a state of the nation novel? Have they never read a Victorian novel?
So anyway, I liked it. It was absorbing. I can't say I loved it. I appreciated what he was trying to do - give a kind of literary life to India, on a massive scale. As a fellow citizen of the old Empire - I'm Zimbabwean - I totally admire and respect that impulse. But I have to say, and this is a sort of hard: I just felt that he did it well, but it's been done far, far better. It was interesting while I read it, I was engaged in Lata's love story (do we believe who she chooses in the end? Jury's out, I think), I learnt a lot about India, and about Pakistan, which was enjoyable, but will I remember it? Don't think so. I'll forget about it. Not in a horrid way, but just in a - oh well - there it goes, like a meal in a chain restaurant kind of way.
For me it's a big like Lord of the Rings in that way. I enjoyed it, which is nice, but it's a bit so what. I didn't feel that the most important part of me gained anything from it. Though, as I said, I admired that claiming a British form - the Victorian novel - for the rest of the world. That's a very hard thing to do. I'd love to do it for Zimbabwe, but let's face it, it's hard. As we see from Seth's very good effort. I mean obviously for me it'd be hard, as I'm not a writer (I work in the theatre) - but for anyone. It's very hard I think to decolonise the mind, and give our own people the space they need. I was talking about the difficulties of expressing the diasporic Zimbabwean experience to a British person the other day, saying how few examples of Zim memoir there are, and then I realised: imagine being British! Not only are there thousands of examples, but some of them are Shakespeare! Now that's difficult