How is it that Haruki Murakami can pull you into his novels without you even realising how affected you are until it's too late? His books are deceptiHow is it that Haruki Murakami can pull you into his novels without you even realising how affected you are until it's too late? His books are deceptively simple, with bland characters experiencing calm days, but before long their lives descend into a quietly mad cacophony and you're too enthralled to look away. Nobody really knows what's going on, neither do you, answers aren't quite given, but sort of are, and you wonder what happened during the last 700 pages apart from you being left absolutely mesmerised.
His way with words is second-to-none. Jay Rubin deserves an enormous amount of credit for this but Murakami is the one who creates the bewildering array of characters, genre-defying plotlines and mind-bending scenarios. I don't think there is another author who can leave me simultaneously appalled, tearful, amused, curious and educated to the extent that he does; and all of those emotions are at play to a considerable degree in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
This review tells you very little of the book. But then, I'm not sure what there is to tell. I am simply left thinking how grateful I am to live in a world where I can enter Murakami's in turn and live to tell the tale, even if I don't quite understand what the tale told, who I'm telling it to, and why I started to tell it in the first place....more
It's always fascinating reading a translated novel. It's still more so when one goes directly from the clunky, awkward phrasing of The Girl With The DIt's always fascinating reading a translated novel. It's still more so when one goes directly from the clunky, awkward phrasing of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to the delicate elegance of Norwegian Wood. I don't speak Japanese but I can't imagine that it's an easy task to adapt such a poetic novel into an entirely alien language, and do so with such expertise that the reader forgets it was written in anything other than English.
It is the phrasing and language which makes this novel so wonderful. Murukami has a turn of phrase which lifts the banal into the sublime; he is at times magniloquent, at others succinct, but always relevant, always accessible. What does it matter if you've never visited Japan, didn't live through the 1960s, are female, or have yet to experience the death of a loved one? This is a very specific tale from a single period of one person's life, yet it envelops the reader in its entirety, and keeps the attention throughout. It is, put simply, a beautiful story.
Murukami said himself that this writing this novel - comprising a love story in a straight narrative - was a deliberate challenge to himself. He pulls it off with aplomb, straying neither into the sentimental nor mundane, but for me it didn't quite reach the dizzying heights of A Wild Sheep Chase. I can't imagine that this author could ever tell a boring tale, so deft is he with language and unexpected plot twists. To me, this was a wonderful take on a "normal" novel; but he should leave that to the "normal" writers. Murukami's mind is too magical to be restrained, and whilst I am grateful that he made the effort to follow this path, on a purely personal level, I prefer it when he strays....more
In any of their sundry incarnations, I am generally not a fan of thrillers. I usually guess the twist half-way through and spend the duration of the bIn any of their sundry incarnations, I am generally not a fan of thrillers. I usually guess the twist half-way through and spend the duration of the book (or indeed film, television series, drama episode etc) frustrated that the hero has yet to make the connection. Why can’t he see the clues? When will she turn around? IT WAS THE GARDENER ALL ALONG. And so on, and so forth.
Nonetheless, I found myself watching the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo not so long ago because my housemate had control of the remote. It was far better than I had expected; dark and edgy, with a fascinating female lead who both exasperated and intrigued. The central theme of women responding to misogynistic violence ticked all the right boxes for me, and before the credits had even finished rolling I was downloading the novel to my Kindle so that I might fill in the gaps.
This might be one of those rare occurrences where the film is better than the book. I was expecting to encounter new information and intrigue but instead I found boring subplots and extraneous characters. Lisbeth Salander was fleshed out and given a more detailed history but, whilst a look into her history did explain her current psychological damage, she was also more chatty, which seemed counterintuitive. I was far more captivated by the bitter darkness which Noomi Rapace embodied so well in the film.
Perhaps the biggest problem was the clunky translation. It clearly hadn’t been done by a native English speaker, peppered as it was with awkward phrasing, unrealistic syntax and strangely-worded idioms. It’s such a shame, because a good translation is both possible and essential, and in fact occasionally – with the restrictions of the existing story already in place – they can be even more beautiful than a story in its primary language. This one is lazy, and sloppy. Had I read the manuscript without realising that it was not originally in English, I would have passed it off as amateur and badly-edited.
But mostly it’s the coldness, and the prevailing lack of emotion. I can only hope that this was intentional – and it obviously worked for most readers – but I struggled to engage with the characters and their situations. All of Larsson’s descriptions are factual and perfunctory, but even when they were listing a room’s contents, or a person’s physical characteristics, I felt none the wiser as to the way they looked and felt. Instead, it was as if I were reading a shopping list. I don’t care how many software upgrades have been integrated into a computer, nor its exact model, nor its backlit keyboard. How many times does he need to give us the exact dimensions of a room?
The main story of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is interesting and a page-turner, but only if you don’t already know the ending. Ultimately – and I say this with trepidation – I would not suggest wasting your time with the book. The best bits have been carefully plucked, trimmed and reinserted into a film which is far more exciting, and I highly recommend. I’ll watch the film again. But I won’t be reading either sequel to the book....more
From my youth and throughout my angst-ridden teenage years, I practically inhaled YA fantasy fiction. Fast forward a few years, through university andFrom my youth and throughout my angst-ridden teenage years, I practically inhaled YA fantasy fiction. Fast forward a few years, through university and a few steps up the career ladder, I presumed that my reading tastes had evolved along with my personality and lifestyle. So when my sister persuaded me to attempt Twilight, I took her copy grudgingly and with low expectations. Indeed, a few pages in and I was furious with everything about it; the characters, the settings, the descriptions, the conversations. I could only assume that it was me: my adult brain had finally shrugged off the shackles of the entire YA fantasy fiction genre, and I would never again find myself as enthralled and immersed in a new world as I had once been.
But then came The Hunger Games.
I didn't want to like it. Or, more precisely, I presumed that I wouldn't. But, having resisted the persuasive wheedlings of various friends for several months, I finally downloaded the novel to my Kindle one afternoon (less embarassing than sitting in office get-up on the tube with a teenage paperback in hand) and suspiciously got down to reading.
It wasn't until a couple of days later when, mid-conversation with a friend, my mind kept flitting away to the whereabouts of Katniss in the arena that I realised how deeply involved I actually was. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I welcomed my train being delayed because it meant I had more time to read before reaching my destination. I survived on five hours' sleep for three days because I couldn't put it down. That in itself is an incredible feat for any author.
Having said that, the book is far from perfect. The environment that Suzanne Collins has created is good, but neither as complex nor as original as those of her contemporaries. But then her aim doesn't appear to be to create a fantastically detailed new universe, but more to comment upon western society's obsession with superficiality, reality TV shows and lack of awareness of the developing world. As a concept, it's thumpingly delivered without a great deal of tact or subtlety, but it's nonetheless effective. Katniss is a flawed, frequently frustrating heroine but far more likeable than the vapid Bella Swann. Supporting characters are well-drawn and help carry the plot, which covers depression, megalomania, poverty and oppression. The inevitable love triangle (required reading for any YA novel) is believable and occasionally heartbreaking. Twists, however, are frequently too well-signposted and Katniss's stubbornness does verge on the irritating.
It's easy to dismiss this sort of novel as trashy easy reading for the videogame generation. But if you can get past the genre, and accept that this is a book written for young adults, not creaky literary snobs, then it's a cracking novel which is at times shockingly graphic and at others surprisingly emotional. Yes, the writing is simplistic and the background occasionally sketchy, but it sets out what it intends to do. I couldn't start reading the next installment fast enough....more
Children's books are often the hardest to write. They're harsh critics, kids; if they don't like something, they'll tell you. No beating about the busChildren's books are often the hardest to write. They're harsh critics, kids; if they don't like something, they'll tell you. No beating about the bush, no euphemistic comments starting "It was interesting" . . . just "I liked it" or "Can I watch tv now?"
Luckily Michael Morpurgo knows exactly how to write for them. Treading the fine line between too much information and not enough, he manages to keep the imagination firmly in his grip. Without going into excessively gory detail when describing the horrors of the First World War, he nonetheless manages to convey the universal pain and suffering, the pointlessness and the tragedy. And all this whilst narrating solely through the medium of a horse.
Perhaps because the storyteller is a dumb animal, the observation is that much more finely tuned and applicable for children. Just like any young person, Joey the horse sees things as they are, with no understanding of the machinations of the powerful men who got him into this mess in the first place.
In the programme which accompanies the fantastic theatrical adaptation of the book, there is a statistic that over 8 million horses died in the Great War. There are no such numbers quoted in the original book, but having seen the play first, it hung over me like a bad smell, and was impossible to shake. This was a good thing. I'm not a child, and simplistic versions of things maybe don't hit home quite as hard as they once did; but coming at it from this perspective, I couldn't help but think of the wider impact of the war, which isn't really the focus of the novel, and understandably so.
Of course, this rambling review is at odds with the pared down honesty of the book, so maybe I should summarise it somewhat more succinctly. Never before has a novel about World War 1 struck me with such force as this. It may be a children's book narrated by a horse, but it had me crying on the Tube. Everybody, young and old, should be aware of the hideous and gigantic sacrifices made by our grandparents' generation; every child, and every adult, should read this book....more
I am not a marketer. I am not a publisher. But I am a consumer, an avid reader, and (I would venture to hope) an intelligent person. As such I can sayI am not a marketer. I am not a publisher. But I am a consumer, an avid reader, and (I would venture to hope) an intelligent person. As such I can say with no reservations whatsoever that to proclaim that a book is so astonishingly good that they are incapable of giving anything away to a potential reader is a dangerous game to play. And I don't think that they've won this round.
This book is quite good. It's not brilliant. It doesn't deserve the mega hype, nor the publishers' desperate pleas to spread the good word without giving anything away. There's little to give away; there are no major plot twists, nor huge, story-altering revelations which must be kept secret at all costs. If I tell you that the story revolves around a Nigerian refugee and a white woman from Kingston upon Thames who meet on a beach in Nigeria and affect each others' lives in ways that they couldn't possibly fathom, then that gives away precisely nothing. And you're unlikely to feel contempt and resentment if you finish the novel and remain unmoved. Plus, it would probably intrigue a reader far more than a cryptic promise that it's the best book you're ever likely to read but we can't give anything away because it's Just That Good.
The two female protagonists are well-developed, identifiable and likeable whilst remaining flawed enough to maintain the reader's interest. Unfortunately the background characters are cardboard cut-outs. There is a child who, after the first couple of chapters, becomes supremely irritating, his speech patterns unrealistic and his demeanour grating. Certain elements of the both main characters are questionable and serve to make them less believable, not more. I stumbled over sketchy timelines, unfeasible practicalities and unrealistic physical descriptions which seemed implausible and forced, thus jolting me out of the story and making me suspicious of the parts I'd previously had no reason to doubt.
The main point of the book was obviously to make people question the way they feel about asylum seekers, in a time when Britons view them in a negative, uncaring light. In parts it did shock me, and I suspect that I will indeed view refugees differently than I have done in the past. But it left a sour taste in my mouth due to the stereotypes which he not only fails to overturn, but in some cases actually presents without a hint of irony. Some people have accused the author of racism but I don't think it's that simple. He means well, but he is using such a grossly simplified idea to deal with a complicated situation that it smacks of armchair psychology and is guaranteed to offend in both directions. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't think that Nigerians would like to be portrayed the way Little Bee is in the novel any more than I am happy comparing myself to Sarah, a white middle-class woman from Kingston upon Thames (which, as it happens, I am myself). But more than that, it's the simplification of the delicate, complicated background to Africa's political situation which is hard to swallow. I felt in some ways the same anger and distaste towards The Other Hand as I did towards My Sister's Keeper; it's admirable to try and tackle such a controversial subject in a commercial novel, but the ineffectual nature of the end result is flimsy enough that it feels like a set-back, not an advance. Some people will be affected for the better, and that's fantastic. If it makes us question our judgements and our actions then the novel has, arguably, already done its job. But if we view this as a masterpiece or panacea for the West's behaviour towards Africa then, much like the marketing ploy, we are on dangerous grounds indeed....more