The Crazed was the first of Ha Jin’s books I read after stumbling across it as a new release when working at a public library. I did not remember much...moreThe Crazed was the first of Ha Jin’s books I read after stumbling across it as a new release when working at a public library. I did not remember much about the book other than a considerable feeling of disappointment and a few of the main characters. After re-reading War Trash (which has become my favorite of his novels), I decided to revisit The Crazed as well.
The Crazed shares many common themes with the better known Waiting. Both novels mix a detailed look at domestic China (complete with the mixed views on post-Mao communism) with a bitter love story--or a series of bitter love stories in the case of The Crazed. However, the rich vividness and vitality of Waiting is oddly missing in Ha Jin’s later novel. The Crazed is a more heavy-handed affair with readers being repeatedly reminded of the distressing excess of communism in even the most mundane ways from prohibiting students the use of electric stoves to the banal stupidities of local political corruption. Ha Jin never relies overtly on scenery and place, but this seemed to be a Conrad-esque character of a landscape. It cheapened an already less evolved narrative and a highly limited cast of character. Ultimately, there are pieces of The Crazed that are still stunning, but they are wed to an overall novel that is just not as powerful or subtle as Ha Jin’s other works.
There was an element that remained just as striking in my second reading as it was in my first, although I do not know if it is entirely intentional. Ha Jin demonstrates the overwhelming geographical scale of China quite effectively, a feature often lost in literature that turns frequently to the equally large scale of China’s population. He does this by keeping the student protests and the Tiananmen Square massacre at the fringes of the novel throughout the book. They are both forces at work in the society of The Crazed, but their presence can be described as minor echoes until Jian, the protagonist, makes an ill-fated decision to join some of his fellow students in a trip to Beijing to join the protestors. Even accounting for official efforts to suppress the scale of the protest movement, the world of The Crazed is equally removed from the popular stirrings by them simply being too distant for much practical impact other than driving action among already dissatisfied local radicals.
Overall, I am sort of amazed I picked Ha Jin back up with this book being my first exposure to him several years ago. He has far better books to his name, and I recommend either Waiting or War Trash to those wanting to make a first encounter.(less)
**spoiler alert** George Moore played with more than a few interesting concepts and a particularly intriguing character in his novella, but I am left...more**spoiler alert** George Moore played with more than a few interesting concepts and a particularly intriguing character in his novella, but I am left with an overall feeling of disappointment after reading Albert Nobbs. The story is restricted in many ways by its narrative-near stream of consciousness-format that rudely grabs its characters and forces them into an all too brief, staggeringly linear format.
Besides Albert herself, the cast of Moore's store are little more than set pieces in an equally shallow sketch of nineteenth century Dublin. Albert's employers, associates, and acquaintances (there were no characters that knew Albert in any appreciable sense) are almost as much spectators as the reader and offer little more than an outlet to emphasize the tragedy of Albert within the novella's framework. The exception is the painter Hubert, another woman masquerading as a man, whose existence requires a suspension of disbelief I was a bit too unwilling to make. Two women successfully hiding as men in Victorian society is plausible, but the incident of two such women meeting by accident is mechanical and an example of the narrator's naked hand exposed as a magician caught in the middle of an illusion.
With its stifling form and heavy reliance on all to convenient coincidence, Albert Nobbs reads as a story that would do quite well as either a play or a film. It's no surprise Moore's work was transformed into both. I am assuming both the play and the recently released film must take extensive liberties with Moore's original story. At less than 100 pages, the original text makes for either a play shorter than most street performances or a film easily outstripped by the final project of a film-making course. Moore's rough sketch does provide a framework with wealthy potential for someone willing to delve more deeply into the character's possibilities and give Albert's tragedy a certain amount of visual splendor. Glenn Close's touching forward in this specific edition suggests Albert Nobbs found a patron willing to visit its 'perhapser' potential more intimately than its author. I fully expect this to be one of the rare occurrences when the film far outmatches the book.(less)
McCarthy's prose is incredibly vivid, and his descriptions offer a peculiar window into a post-apocalyptic world. It certainly is a refreshing break f...moreMcCarthy's prose is incredibly vivid, and his descriptions offer a peculiar window into a post-apocalyptic world. It certainly is a refreshing break from the majority of such literature that is so overwhelmingly overt and heavy-handed that it is physically painful to read. However, I could not make up my mind if I liked the way the book was structured as a whole. The Road reminded me a great deal of stream of conscious, a style I am not normally fond of. It did make the novel move along quickly and captured how detached time--or any sense of locality--has become from the protagonists' world. I think my problems with it stem largely from it not jiving with my personal aesthetic rather than from any failings on the part of the author. I do agree with the many assertions that this may be McCarthy's best book to date, and I am incredibly interested in seeing how effectively the film managed to capture the book(less)
There is little surprise in the fact that Haggard was a friend of Rudyard Kipling. Both authors provided part of the literary culture and popular imag...moreThere is little surprise in the fact that Haggard was a friend of Rudyard Kipling. Both authors provided part of the literary culture and popular imagery that immortalized life at the edges of empire in Victorian Britain. Kipling wrote extensively about India, and Haggard made similar use of his life experiences in emerging British territories of Southern Africa to bring the characters and setting of King Solomon's Mines to life.
King Solomon's Mines is often seen as one of the founding works in the larger field of adventure novels. Haggard's role in defining this genre is evident in that many later works borrowed from the first adventure of Allan Quartermain. The novel will seem familiar to readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World and Kipling's Man Who Would Be King. It's pivotal role in establishing the framework for the adventure novel is further evidenced by the repeated times King Solomon's Mines was adapted into feature films. Most of them do not even begin to capture the essence of Haggard's novel.
However, King Solomon's Mines is definitely set in the late Victorian mindset, including conceptions of native populations and the impact of the British imperial presence in Southern Africa. This may make the novel less accessible to some modern readers, and it means that Haggard's novel is frequently the target of various slurs that range from bombastic imperialist propaganda to some sort of horrific bastion of dated racism. For those willing to embrace King Solomon's Mines for what it is, the novel is a brilliant piece of escapist literature providing a look at a pleasing simple world in early adventure literature when the villains are vile and the heroes are the quintessentially forces of truth and moral order of their day.(less)