On paper, Nightmare Abbey sounds like a great read: a gothic satire poking fun at all the big Romantics (Shelley, Coleridge, Mary Wollstonecraft) andOn paper, Nightmare Abbey sounds like a great read: a gothic satire poking fun at all the big Romantics (Shelley, Coleridge, Mary Wollstonecraft) and their ideas.
Unfortunately, Nightmare Abbey is completely unreadable and unenjoyable for anyone who hasn't studied the Romantic period. Think of a joke today, about someone famous. How do you think it will translate two hundred years from now? Will anyone laugh? Will anyone care? This is the problem with Nightmare Abbey: it's a nightmarish cemetery for stale and obscure jokes.
The version I have of Nightmare Abbey doesn't have any footnotes. This might help the reader, if there is such a version around. Academics familiar with the Romantics probably love this book, but for everyone else it will probably just feel like homework....more
This interesting little book is useful to readers and writers alike. James Wood, considered by many as the best literary critic currently at work, proThis interesting little book is useful to readers and writers alike. James Wood, considered by many as the best literary critic currently at work, proposes two things in it: to explain why realist literary fiction now rules the shelves, and how it works.
It's a slim volume - almost like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations - divided into sections such as "Metaphor" and "Character", with examples from the great, white old men of Western literature (plus a few women, like Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen) that emphasise Wood's point. His main theory is that something called the "free indirect style" is the best way for a writer to achieve a work that connects emotionally with the reader.
If you're someone familiar with experimental fiction, you might balk at some of his ideas, and he seems a bit dismissive of genre fiction. There's also a certain academic tone that might be off putting to some. But I think Wood's general passion for the subject, plus some great insight into why literary fiction is where it is at the moment, makes this a great read. It probably improves on second and third readings, too....more
Mark Leyner's opening piece, "Gone with the Mind", is a funny, if slightly pretentious, monologue short story masquerading as lunatic non-fiction. MyMark Leyner's opening piece, "Gone with the Mind", is a funny, if slightly pretentious, monologue short story masquerading as lunatic non-fiction. My boyfriend laughed out loud a few times when he read it.
Charles Simic and Peter Gizzi's poems are OK, but nothing memorable. The interview with Hilary Mantel, however, is excellent (as expected.) Didn't realise she was such a recluse, partly because of health issues, but also an obsessive. I also admire how candid she is towards previous work she doesn't deem that good.
The interviews with Lydia Davis and Elena Ferrante are also good reads. Davis is quite dry and extremely intelligent, Ferrante is a fascinating incognito - she's apparently one of the major writers at work in Italy today yet nobody knows her true identity and what she looks like!
James Lasdun's novella "Feathered Glory" is very good, though it doesn't break any grounds. It's just well written, with all the symbols hanging there for you to look at in the end. Sometimes you don't want to think too hard after leaving the museum, and that's fine.
Finally, I really loved Susan Stewart's poem "After the Mowing".
I think I need a Paris Review subscription......more
Reading "The Dreaming Void" was akin to watching an epic sci-fi film scripted by a horny male teenager who'd never read anything other than sci-fi.
PeReading "The Dreaming Void" was akin to watching an epic sci-fi film scripted by a horny male teenager who'd never read anything other than sci-fi.
Peter F. Hamilton has an impressive imagination and in this novel he paints an awe-inspiring future: vast civilisations trading with each other, a cyber world where people can upload themselves if they are fed up with their material bodies, and my favourite: the possibility of cloning oneself as many times as possible and being able to exist in all bodies at the same time.
The problem is that "The Dreaming Void" is quite flat when it comes to its characterisation. This future is a scientific one untouched by any art outside of standard sci-fi troupes, and this reflects in its two dimensional characters. Beautiful and engaging descriptions are often brought down by incredibly cliched or poor dialogue. This makes it seem as if most characters are interchangeable.
What's worse, "The Dreaming Void" is actually not the first of a trilogy, as the book cover promises, but the third in a cycle of five novels. So, for example, a dangerous woman shows up half way through the story who was apparently killed in one of the first two books. The reader is expected to know who she is and the importance of her return, but if you haven't read the first two books, as was my case, you feel slightly lost.
By coincidence, while I was reading this novel, I heard about the Bechdel Test, named for the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who came up with it with her friend Liz Wallace for the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For" in 1985. According to Wikipedia, the "Bechdel test" asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Though half of the protagonists are female in "The Dreaming Void" I couldn't spot any that didn't spend her time talking or worrying about the men in their lives, or who wasn't there solely for a sex scene....more
This is the first time I've read the Paris Review and I completely loved it. If I could, I'd get a subscription.
Highlights for me included the shortThis is the first time I've read the Paris Review and I completely loved it. If I could, I'd get a subscription.
Highlights for me included the short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh and Joe Dunthorne, poetry by Frederick Seidel, great interviews with Vivian Gornick and Michael Haneke, and non fiction by Karl Ove Knausgaard (regardless of what one thinks about his opinions, it's hard to get away from his seductive way with words).
Michael Haneke's interview, in particular, should be essential reading for any writer (I was surprised to learn that he sees himself foremost as a writer and only started filming at 45.) And Joe Dunthorne's story appears to be an extract of a novel still in development which I'd love to check out when it's finally published....more
Brasil is the largest Catholic country in the world. Like other Catholic countries, we celebrate our dead by throwing a wake for them, where family anBrasil is the largest Catholic country in the world. Like other Catholic countries, we celebrate our dead by throwing a wake for them, where family and loved ones gather - usually around an open casket - to spend the night in contemplation of this life and what lies beyond. Wakes for us - as for the Irish Catholic, our cousins across the pond - are a chance for neighbours to socialise, gossip and pick over the life of the recently deceased. In my town, there are people who won't miss a wake for the world, even if the deceased is somebody they didn't know.
In the case of Maud Abilene Harrigan, not much loved but recently deceased in Derry, Northern Ireland, there's a severe lack of anyone interested in holding her wake. When Jeremiah Coffey's mother decides to wake her in order to show up the neighbours, the stage is set for a list of characters to cross his path during a long night, including the ex-girlfriend, Aisling, who left him for another woman.
Colm Herron brilliantly sets the Coffey home like a stage, where the town's drunks, priests and do-gooders rub shoulders and share gossip. There's something in this of Mike Leigh's theatrical humour. The dialogue is sharp and witty. When Jeremiah has an incident with his clothes and locks himself in the bathroom, I was reminded of Leigh's "Abigail's Party", with its painfully awkward characters who create a comedy of manners and satire on the society that houses them.
Herron's black humour leaves no stone unturned. One second Jeremiah is blasting the church, the next he's turned his bitterness on lesbians. Does Maud stand for Northern Ireland? The dead "body of politics" on the kitchen table that the Irish stand over, squabbling and arguing about? Is Maud, the neighbour nobody wanted to have, a symbol for Catholics and Protestants? The second half of the book is about Jeremiah trying to get back his ex-girlfriend, entering her world of queer rights and street protests. The threat of violence looms over each hill, with Catholics marching perilously close to Protestants. Maud's wake is perhaps a foreshadow of the conflict in this divided society, but as readers all we can hope is that Jeremiah finds some love with Aisling and manages to carve some sort of happiness....more
When Agatha Christie published this novel - her first one - in 1920, she couldn't have known that one day she'd be listed as the most widely publishedWhen Agatha Christie published this novel - her first one - in 1920, she couldn't have known that one day she'd be listed as the most widely published author of all time, only losing to Shakespeare and the Bible. It's probably fair to say that Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective who would recur in much of her work and makes his first appearance here, is one of the great iconic figures of the 20th Century.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles features many familiar tropes to the golden age of crime - the locked room mystery, a cast of suspects stuck in a house, a surprising denouement. One particular trope which Christie would use to better effect in later novels is the unreliable narrator - in this case, Arthur Hastings, a slightly dim-witted "Watson" to Poirot.
Hastings recounts his time at Styles, of how he was invited by his friend John to spend some time there, during which time John's stepmother is poisoned. It just so happens that Hasting's friend Poirot, a celebrated detective, is in the village with a group of Belgian refugees. Hastings, with John's consent, invites Poirot to look into the case.
Because Hastings is seen as a bit of a fool, incapable of keeping information to himself, Poirot often feeds him (and, consequently, the reader) wrong information, in the hope of keeping the killer unaware of the circle closing in. Some could say this is unfair of Christie, despite her dropping many hints along the way that Hastings can't be relied on and is a bit of a joke (his sudden marriage proposal to one of the suspects and her burst of laughter being one example.)
Styles is based in a village in Essex, and its family has some political views that would make UKIP members blush today. One of them, for a house party, smudges herself with a burnt cork to look like a black person (Christie uses the n-word). And others can barely hold back their disdain and suspicion of a local doctor that happens to be a Polish Jew. I'd like to think Poirot, who is also a foreigner - and a refugee to make matters worse! - changes their mind a little bit by saving the day....more
I gave The Cuckoo's Calling to my boyfriend as a birthday gift. I kept quiet about who was really behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)I gave The Cuckoo's Calling to my boyfriend as a birthday gift. I kept quiet about who was really behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) as I knew he wouldn't be aware of this fact: I was curious to see what he'd think of the novel.
Halfway through the book he turned to me and said: "it's strange but it feels like this novel was written by a woman." Why? I asked. "The way the main character, Cormoran Strike, describes his secretary doesn't sound like the way a man would think."
Because I knew J.K. Rowling had written it, I couldn't think of anything else but "Why did she write this?" as I read on. Why did she bother? Why did she choose such a simple style, such a middle-of-the-road approach? The novel brings absolutely nothing new to the crime genre. It reminded of something ITV would come up with, like Midsomer Murders - and in fact some plot points don't get resolved and are clearly meant to be developed over various books.
The characters felt very paper-thin and stereotypical (with perhaps the exception of Cormoran Strike himself) and the uncovering of celebrity life in London after the suspicious death of a supermodel was more superficial than a Heat magazine article. Most disappointing of all, the first remotely exciting plot development only happened on page 360!
This novel is more chick-lit than crime fic but only because J.K. Rowling chose for it to be so. But why? I ask myself again. Was she afraid of delving deeper into the crime genre? Afraid she'd be found out so she stuck with something easy to swallow, that would sit prettily by a cashier's desk at the supermarket and wouldn't reflect badly on her?
The end was somewhat satisfying and neatly concluded the main mystery - almost as if Agatha Christie had been channeled for the task (I was reminded of how Christie started her novels by writing the end first and I get the suspicion that's what Rowling did here.) I hope though that she takes some risks in the next books in the series....more
Lawrence Sutin's memoir reminds me of Lynda Barry's graphic novel "What It Is", in particular her creative writing exercise involving images. Barry teLawrence Sutin's memoir reminds me of Lynda Barry's graphic novel "What It Is", in particular her creative writing exercise involving images. Barry teaches that you can create short narratives by taking random images and asking yourself various questions about who's in the picture, where it takes place, and so forth.
Maybe Sutin read Barry's graphic novel and decided to do just that with his vast collection of postcards. Through them he tells the story of his Jewish parents arrival in America, his childhood in the American Midwest, the women he loved, the women who didn't love him back, his university years and finally his writing and family life.
Most passages are as short as the postcards that inspire them, and not all are that interesting. But sometimes Sutin writes beautiful and touching passages, like the one on his grandmother's death in a concentration camp, or the one about his daughter....more
Books on creative writing are a whole genre unto themselves, and quite enjoyable in my opinion. Like other self-help books, they don't really solve anBooks on creative writing are a whole genre unto themselves, and quite enjoyable in my opinion. Like other self-help books, they don't really solve anything - if they did, there wouldn't be any need for more of them! But they are worthwhile reads if you want to know what makes a particular writer tick, what a basic story structure looks like, etc. And if they encourage you to put your derrière down and write, even better.
I've read nearly all of them: from How to Write a Bestseller to Writing Down the Bones, from Ken Follett's tips to Ursula K. Le Guin's helpful advice, and I'll probably keep doing it until my last days. Reading about how to write well is a satisfying accomplishment in itself.
Stephen King was halfway through this memoir in 1999 when he was hit by a van driver while out on a walk. The event, which nearly killed King, was caused by a reckless driver that King describes as "straight out of one of my novels". The incident is one of this memoir's bookends - the other one being Carrie, the novel that launched King's career - and it reads like an urgent missive, as if King had to put down his thoughts on writing before death finally took him.
The first time I read this memoir I came away thinking King doesn't revise much of his work - he only goes through it a few times before handing it over to his wife (his first editor) then his publishing house. This second time around, I listened to an audio version of the memoir (quite a few times actually as I kept falling asleep through it!) and King does make the point that revision is important. I would add that a good editor is also essential, and that he needs one! His similes are weak, his toilet humour slightly too prominent. But perhaps this is his charm, his defiant love for America's "down-to-earth" blue collars that puts him at odds with literary critics.
His memoir's main theme is that you can’t improve a poor or good writer, but you can turn a competent one into a good one. I’m not so sure about that – does he also include storytellers in that mix? – but I agree with him that you need a space of your own to write, to shut out the world, and that you need routine. Otherwise nothing gets done.
He believes that plotting ruins a story, stiffens it - kills some of the surprising elements in it. Better to just put your characters in a situation and then watch them try to get out of it. What happens when a mother and son get trapped in a car, attacked by a dog? (Cujo) What happens when a family move into a remote, empty hotel and the husband goes nuts? (The Shining).
One surprising fact I learnt from this re-read: King was part of a rock band with Barbara Kingsolver!...more
Cinco amigos. Rio de Janeiro, Século 20. Mulheres, bebidas, drogas, casamentos, divórcios, mortes, enterros. Fim. Uma piadinha aqui, outra ali, quaseCinco amigos. Rio de Janeiro, Século 20. Mulheres, bebidas, drogas, casamentos, divórcios, mortes, enterros. Fim. Uma piadinha aqui, outra ali, quase que Os Normais. Álvaro, Sílvio, Ribeiro, Neto e Ciro. E as mulheres que eles maltrataram, ou que lhes levaram à loucura. As mulheres que sobreviveram também. E o Padre Graça, sempre ali no funeral de cada um, tentando achar uma palavra boa entre tanta melancolia.
Fim é um romance curto, rapidinho de ler, o primeiro de Fernanda Torres. É um romance que levanta a questão: porquê Torres resolveu focar nesses cinco homens? O leitor não leva muito embora consigo depois da última página.
Esses casos familiares lembram um pouco as estórias de Rubem Fonseca, embora sejam menos impactantes. São cinco protagonistas cariocas que você não gostaria de dividir uma cerveja, nem mesmo um cafézinho. A conversa com eles é sempre a mesma coisa: não importa se você gosta de Bossa Nova, se malha todo dia na praia, se é um marido fiel, se segue todas as suas paixões, o Fim chega eventualmente e ele é SEMPRE feio.
(Com apenas uma exceção - um tipo de surpresa que Torres reserva para o final...)...more
This is Martins most literary novel in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, and the least loved by fans (apparently). After the intrigues of A Game ofThis is Martin´s most literary novel in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, and the least loved by fans (apparently). After the intrigues of A Game of Thrones and the war, gore and horrors of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, Martin slows down the tempo and focuses the story on characters that have been, until then, Supporting Cast. He can finally take some time to flesh out the complex fantasy world he has created.
The pace is reflective, the chapters lacking the cliffhangers so expertly used in previous books. Martin takes more time to describe the world the characters inhabit - a world torn apart by war, picked over by crows, left to take its bearings during a short interlude. Not having to worry about protagonists, antagonists and obstacles, Martin can bring forward some beautiful and evocative passages that add pathos to the drama.
As readers we crave to know more about Tyrion, Jon Snow and Daenerys, the apparent heroes, but all we get are rumours and gossip from innkeepers, sailors and soldiers. Action is elsewhere, like Greek tragedy. Because we know Martin well by now, though, we can´t trust everything we read......more