I contemplated leaving this book unfinished, but decided to stick it out. I can't say I'm glad I did, as the whole experience left me feeling a bit am...moreI contemplated leaving this book unfinished, but decided to stick it out. I can't say I'm glad I did, as the whole experience left me feeling a bit ambivalent.
That surprises me because on paper I should like this book quite a bit - the story of a sick/dying girl reconnecting with her dead father through his library. But the story meanders quite a bit, and the author (or we can say narrator) Really Likes To Emphasize Ideas With Extra Capital Letters. This is something that is one of my top pet peeves of all time, right up there with people who try to take my rights away and people who can't follow through. I Really Hate It, and that made it Impossible To Connect with This Book.
(However I am writing down this quotation to use in my storytelling class): "We tell stories. We tell stories to pass the time, to leave the world for a while, or go more deeply into it. We tell stories to heal the pain of living."
And this one's just for me: "I didn't want to be a writer, I wanted to be a reader, which is more rare. But one thing led to another."(less)
The writer will occasionally find it convenient or necessary to borrow from other languages. Some writers, however, from sheer exuberance or a desire to show off, sprinkle their work liberally with foreign expressions, with no regard for the reader's comfort. It is a bad habit. Write in English."
I forced myself not to read more than 100 pages a day so I wouldn't finish this book too quickly. I was happy to see David Mitchell going back to the...moreI forced myself not to read more than 100 pages a day so I wouldn't finish this book too quickly. I was happy to see David Mitchell going back to the threaded storylines and fantastical diversions that I loved so much with Cloud Atlas after the historical fiction turn he took in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
The hardback has a beautiful color and silky pages. :)
I'm putting all my thoughts behind a spoiler, in case details ruin your enjoyment of discovery. (view spoiler)[
The book is written in sections, each occurring in a different decade.
"A Hot Spell" takes place in 1984, and sets up the character of Holly Sykes and quite a bit of the rest of the book.
"Myrrh is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume" is in 1991 at Cambridge University. Holly is in it but not the focus.
"The Wedding Bash" from 2004, featuring Holly and her journalist husband.
"Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet" is about an author in 2015 who is suffering a bit of a setback after a scathing review. Mitchell plays a bit with narrating voice here, and Hershey goes back and forth talking about himself by name and from first-person.
These first four chapters connect directly to one another and seem a cohesive unit. When you get to the next section, it is a much greater leap.
"The Horologist's Labyrinth" jumps to 2025, with a secret message delivered to an unknown character from another unknown character in Norway. This is where the horologists really get explained and the novel turns into something completely different (but which the author has been working towards all along).
"Sheep's Head" takes place in 2043 in a post-oil, post-tech society for the most part. You know how I love my apocalypses. "Let's take it one apocalypse at a time."
Things I love: The way David Mitchell can throw in words that wouldn't work for other authors: "I hear the boomy scrape of an airplane." Honestly since hearing him give a reading, I hear the entire thing in his voice.
The way the author can throw in completely fantastical elements to a scene from reality, such as the Anchorites of the Dusk Chapel of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of Sidelhorn Pass."
Characters or places from previous Mitchell novels that find their way into The Bone Clocks. I only marked two, but I know there are seven, if I remember what he said correctly.
"I've got this cousin, Jason, who grew up in this village in Worcestershire called Black Swan Green." (Black Swan Green)
"In my last life I lived on the Dutch Factory in Nagasaki, and practiced with some Chinese merchants." (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) (484)
"It can't all be misery and postindustrial decay." (168)
"A book can't be half fantasy any more than a woman can be half pregnant." (364) (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I had to think about this book for a while before writing a review. The trouble I'm having is with the main character, Harriet (Harry) Burden. The bas...moreI had to think about this book for a while before writing a review. The trouble I'm having is with the main character, Harriet (Harry) Burden. The basic story is that this aging female artist claims to have used three male artists with various types to prove to the art world that they respond differently to women. The story is told posthumously, through written and transcribed interviews with people in Harry's life, art reviews, journal articles (sometimes written by Harry herself in other names), and Harry's journals. This style of storytelling kept making me think of the movie Stories We Tell, which if you haven't seen, you should.
My problem is this: how much of Harry's story is true? Could she have been crazy/smart enough to make her journals match a fabrication? How much planning did she do vs. how much art did she make? As a woman I want to believe in the noble sacrifice of the female artist but she is intentionally unlikeable and her art as described is questionably palatable.
I enjoyed reading this book because I liked not knowing what I was supposed to think. The author doesn't really make judgments on her own characters in that way, and everyone has flaws and everyone lies. It's up to the reader.
I also liked reading this because it highlighted all I don't know about art and philosophy and Kierkegaard. Except for the tiny details of the most central of characters, every reference in this novel is something that exists outside of it. While I didn't know Kierkegaard, I loved how Harry also brings in science fiction authors as philosophers and grants their ideas the same weight in the thought process she took into her art. Vernor Vinge vs. Kierkegaard.
As far as the Man Booker Prize goes, this author could easily be one of the reasons they chose to extend the award to Americans for the first time. I'd keep this novel on the shortlist.
A few bits I liked:
"Life is walking tiptoe over land mines. We never know what's coming and, if you want my opinion, we don't have a good grip on what's behind us either. But we sure as hell can spin a good story about it and break our brains trying to get it right."
"This amnesia is our phenomenology of the everyday - we don't see ourselves - and what we see becomes us while we're looking at it."
"...Niceness is not only overrated, it is far less attractive than it's cracked up to be. People love a large, meaty ME. They say they don't, but in the art world a cowardly, shrinking personality is repellent and narcissism is a magnet.... If you don't seduce people you don't have a chance... Entitlement works."
"We live inside our categories, and we believe in them, but they often get scrambled. The scrambling is what interests me. The mess."
"Time is thick in the present, a distension, not a series of points, subjective time, that is, our inner time. We are forever retaining and projecting, anticipating the next note in the tune, recalling the whole phrase as we listen." (apparently this is paraphrasing Husserl in The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, fascinating stuff)
Ah hell, I'm going to give this another star just because I'm still thinking about it.(less)
I am very impressed by the Booker longlist this year. And this was my first experience with Richard Powers, and he is someone I'll read more of.
"I wan...moreI am very impressed by the Booker longlist this year. And this was my first experience with Richard Powers, and he is someone I'll read more of.
"I wanted music to be the antidote to the familiar. That's how I became a terrorist."
A lot of what I liked about this book is personal, and I can't expect most people to have the same experience. If you majored in music, this is definitely going to resonate with you on more levels.
-Musical language, well it permeates everything. The main character is a composer, not necessarily all that successful. Entire descriptions of compositions that you only can hear in your head, plus a very lovely telling of the first performance of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time.
-Bloomington! There is more than one connection to the town, but that's where he lives in the present day, and he names places I have been.
-Synaesthesia and composing to cause change in the world - sounds like Scriabin although he's never named. Ironic, because one of the papers I submitted that successfully got me into a PhD program at Indiana was on this topic.
-George Crumb, who I met a few years ago. His philosophy is quoted extensively near the beginning, alongside John Cage who I wish I had met.
-A major and attempted career in music, only to feel deep down it should have been the hobby....
Somehow all of this is wound around a story about a composer who retires and starts manipulating DNA, and is on the run from the FBI for bio-terrorism. The ending was satisfying and I enjoyed the story along the way. I stayed up until midnight reading "the last 300 pages."
There are no chapters. Just almost 400 pages with no break, but that goes along with how the story is told, backwards and forwards in time. There are little excerpts that are explained later, and I won't ruin that surprise.
"Be grateful for anything that still cuts. Dissonance is a beauty that familiarity hasn't yet destroyed."
"To call any music subversive, to say that a set of pitches and rhythms could pose a threat to real power... ludicrous. And yet, from Plato to Pyongyang, that endless need to legislate sounds. To police the harmonic possibilities as if there were no limits to music there." (less)
I started this book from the Booker 2013 longlist, expecting to abandon it. I really didn't think I'd find anything new in one more World War 2 novel....moreI started this book from the Booker 2013 longlist, expecting to abandon it. I really didn't think I'd find anything new in one more World War 2 novel. To my surprise, I couldn't put it down, because this isn't a story about war, but a story about people dealing with the inconvenience of war almost just in the background, except that war is the reason for everything.
It also made me cry, so there's that. That's pretty rare for me as a reader, but MacLeod captures the internal lives of her characters so well that I really felt for them.
Geoffrey and Evelyn are living in Brighton in 1940, and waiting to be invaded. They listen daily to the broadcasts from Hitler and London, and read papers, in a surreal holding pattern where not much is yet felt. But they know yet is temporary.
"Gulls wheeled over the Park. Geoffrey reached for a piece of toast and a grilled kipper. The impossible had happened. There was even a photo on the front page. Paris had fallen in just four days, Paris, yet here they were, eating Sunday breakfast on the terrace under yet another untroubled blue sky...."
Some of the novel looks back to easier times, when everyone could focus on courtships and spats over ideology.
I loved this description of why Geoffrey fell in love with Evelyn at a party: "She'd been lovely, awkward... and she had so much life, such spark and brightness in her eyes that the honesty of her gaze made their polite conversation seem a nonsense.... She'd somehow transformed them both into their real selves. In the pulse of that moment, she'd felt like a familiar, a loved one."
There are a few events in the book that are a major test for their relationship. Without giving it away, I'll pull a few little bits in:
"We are broken by everything we cannot say."
"There is no invasion as fearful as love, no havoc like desire. Its fuse trembles in the human heart and runs through to the core of the world. What are our defences to it?"
I'll be looking for more by this author, and I absolutely enjoyed this novel more than many of the books that made it to the Booker shortlist.(less)
This is another book long and then shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and fits nicely in what seems to be a theme for displacement, immigra...moreThis is another book long and then shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and fits nicely in what seems to be a theme for displacement, immigration, and opportunity.
The central character, Darling, is 10 years old for the first half of the novel, 10 years old in a Zimbabwe where the locals have been forced out of their land and the teachers have fled to better-paying African nations. The children move in packs, stealing guavas to fend off hunger, and not fully understanding the terrible events surrounding them. The author knows though, and so does the reader, and this makes their lives heartbreakingly sad.
Halfway through the novel, Darling moves to America ("Destroyedmichigan") to live with her aunt. In the "land of opportunity," her aunt works 2-3 jobs so she can send money home, purchasing luxuries for the family members in Zimbabwe that she can't afford in her Michigan apartment. Darling feels as underparented in a home with two parental figures as she did in her child pack in Africa, and the reason is the same - the parents have to be away to provide a semblance of survival.
NoViolet Bulawayo captures the separate world of children well. She doesn't shy away from violence and inequality, although sometimes it felt thrown in for shock value. She doesn't tie up the story by showing Michigan as the land of opportunity, because she leaves Darling in a place of having to count beer bottles at the grocery store and clean homes just to raise enough money for community college. She does all these things well, ultra-reality, but because of this, it was the opposite of a pleasure to read. Maybe I don't want so much truth in my fiction. It reminded me quite a bit of Say You're One of Them in the approach, if not the characters or story. Hard to read, but a distinct voice. (less)
I gave this book 50 pages but as far as I can tell it is a fairly typical crime novel. I'm perplexed as to why it made the Booker longlist, but not en...moreI gave this book 50 pages but as far as I can tell it is a fairly typical crime novel. I'm perplexed as to why it made the Booker longlist, but not enough to finish it.(less)
It took me the length of one U2 album to read this novel of connected stories, but it was not light reading. It takes place in recent Ireland, in a sm...moreIt took me the length of one U2 album to read this novel of connected stories, but it was not light reading. It takes place in recent Ireland, in a small town suffering economic collapse after the housing market didn't have the expected boom, and most men in the town are without employment (or unemployment benefits.) Each story is told by a different character but the story moves forward. I loved the different voices, the different perspectives, and I hope this book makes the Booker shortlist.
Ryan has a great capture of personalities. Take this blurb on Bobby's father, from the son's perspective (I also like this one because it sounds so familiar): "I'll never forgive him for the sulking, though, and the killing sting of his tongue. He ruined every day of our lives with it... Sober, he was a watcher, a horror of a man who missed nothing and commented on everything. Nothing was ever done right or cooked right or said right or bought right or handed to him properly.... We couldn't breathe right in a room with him. We couldn't talk freely or easily."
Most of the characters become exactly this familiar, this known to the reader, within the vicinity of just a few short pages. Excellent writing for a first novel by Donal Ryan!(less)
This book was perfection. I was so wrapped up in the second half of it that I forgot to eat dinner!
Five Star Billionaire follows 4-6 characters (depen...moreThis book was perfection. I was so wrapped up in the second half of it that I forgot to eat dinner!
Five Star Billionaire follows 4-6 characters (depending on how you look at it) in very modern Shanghai as they attempt to survive expectations and pull themselves up economically and socially through plain hard work - or through deception, if needed. It's like the "Protestant Work Ethic" without any time for religion, turbo speed.
I appreciated the portrayal of a very modern China. So much of what I read, even from living authors, feels somewhat traditional to the point of old-fashioned. This was a world where a girl might spend the last money on her copycat handbag in hopes that it will help her acquire the new job/boyfriend that will change her life, where people are sitting around eating matcha muffins, sipping lattes and talking on their smartphones. The characters believe in this China, and in their potential to do more, to be more.
"This was China, she told herself. The unfeasible had a habit of being true; she had to believe the unbelievable." (Yanghui)
"This was what life was like in China: Stand still for a moment and the river of life rushes past you. He had spent three months confined to his apartment, and in that time Shanghai seemed to have changed completely.... Everyone in this city was living life at a hundred miles an hour, speeding ever forward; he had fallen behind, out of step with the rest of Shanghai." (Justin)
"She had learned that the appearance of classiness in Shanghai was no guarantee of truthfulness, and she treated all approaches from men with the same caution as she would when shopping for counterfeit luxury goods. China was full of copycat products and people." (Phoebe)
"Shanghai is a beautiful place, but it is also a harsh place. Life here is not really life, it is a competition." (Walter)
The characters cover a wide span of experiences - Phoebe is a migrant worker from Malaysia who does everything she can to erase her past on her way up the ladder; Justin is the only person who can save his family's business; Gary is a pop singer pulled out of obscurity and into the perils of fame; Yinghui is a minorly successful businesswoman without a lot of practical sense. Their stories link together and aren't told exactly in order, but still everything leads up to the very satisfying ending.
I picked this up because it was on the Booker longlist, and I really hope it is included in the shortlist. Very deserving, highly recommended.(less)
Abandoned at page 86. The book is only around 200 pages but isn't really going anywhere. I needed a more compelling story within this setting of the s...moreAbandoned at page 86. The book is only around 200 pages but isn't really going anywhere. I needed a more compelling story within this setting of the shift from feudal to livestock raising. That in itself just isn't interesting, and the character narrating is uninteresting. I had a similar issue with one of Crace's dystopian novels, Pesthouse. He spends too much time on describing a place and not enough time on a story. This might be for some readers but isn't for me.(less)
I read this after it was longlisted for the Booker prize. I wouldn't have read it otherwise, and I have yet to find a Toibin that I connected with.
Thi...moreI read this after it was longlisted for the Booker prize. I wouldn't have read it otherwise, and I have yet to find a Toibin that I connected with.
This slim novella is an imagined version of Jesus's mother's view of events as her son begins to proclaim himself the son of God, perform miracles (which she seems skeptical of), and refuse to heed her warnings leading up to his crucifixion. I'm not really sure what to think. I'm still too close to the Biblical accounts. Which mother wouldn't want to protect her son, and to not want to be alone? The depiction of Lazarus was particularly sad, and makes Martha and Mary (his sisters) into a far more important catalyst than I've seen them portrayed otherwise. I'm not sure any of them are portrayed in a historically accurate way, and maybe that's why this just doesn't ring true (note that I say historically, not Biblically, but considering gender and society rules, some of the characterizations seemed impossible for the time.)(less)
When this book was named to the Booker longlist, I was disappointed that it wouldn't be published in the USA until 24 September, far beyond when the s...moreWhen this book was named to the Booker longlist, I was disappointed that it wouldn't be published in the USA until 24 September, far beyond when the shortlist was announced. But then I got a review copy of the audiobook from Random House Audio, and moved it to first in line.
The audiobook is read by Sunil Malholtra, who I hadn't heard before, but he does a good job capturing the characters of Subhash and Godi (sp?). I somehow had the tracks out of order, so my initial complaint as I was listening that the story glossed over too much of the opportunity for more in-depth examination of the characters wasn't actually accurate, I just didn't hear it until after I knew the end of the story. Whoops.
I didn't know a lot about the Naxalite movement in Calcutta, and the story revolves around one brother who is killed as a revolutionary. The other brother marries his wife and takes her to the United States where both of them pursue educations and raise the first brother's daughter. While Lahiri's previous works have dealt very intentionally with the theme of immigrant life, in The Lowland, that is an element but not the central story. It centers around the brothers and their wife.
The only complaint I have about the book is that I just didn't connect emotionally to the characters. Everyone had a coldness that I could not get past. While the characters make mistakes that have consequences, they never seem to really grow and change because of those mistakes. Instead they often pull back from their lives as if they can't stand the contact. I didn't feel sympathetic to any of them, and I would have liked to. I'm not sure it's the author's best work; it's definitely not my favorite, but it did make the Booker shortlist, so it has a 1 in 6 chance of winning that prize.
I read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia earlier this year, and wouldn't have picked up another book by Mohsin Hamid. Except it was chosen for my...moreI read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia earlier this year, and wouldn't have picked up another book by Mohsin Hamid. Except it was chosen for my in-person book club, for our end of the year meeting where we go out to eat and I couldn't miss that. So I read it.
This is the second book of his written entirely in second person. I find that so exhausting. I would have been much more absorbed in the story if it was just told, not interrupted constantly by the man in the restaurant in Pakistan making constant commentary about the appearance of the American he is talking to. I didn't even care to consider what happened at the end. Not because it was dramatic or shocking - I just didn't care! I was glad it wasn't longer.
I don't want to punish Hamid because I already knew he wasn't really for me. The story of Changez is sad, just bad timing to be a Pakistani working for a big deal NYC company. The story of the woman he wants to be his girlfriend is sadder, (view spoiler)[and I was a bit horrified at the description of how he rapes her, pretty much. He only stops because he realizes she isn't enjoying it. Am I the only one really bothered by that scene? Incredibly selfish, and who goes from first kiss to sex in one night, when the other person has been very reluctant about physical contact and is still grieving? And he never connects that night to her breakdown which IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS that night. I dunno. I know it's not the point of the novel but this seemed absurd. (hide spoiler)]
It will definitely be interesting to discuss in a group of people from all over. I'm sure September 11, 2001 will be one discussion, also kneejerk racism, the difficulty of being in the USA when you aren't from there (this is a theme in our discussions), and returning "home."
I am a wee bit disappointed that the book isn't really anything about a reluctant fundamentalist. That sounded like an interesting story. This is a movie, and I wonder how they change the story to translate it to film. I'll have to try it.
A few bits I marked:
Changez's reaction to the World Trade Center attack: "My initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased."
His frustration with American culture being lauded over Pakistani: "...In the stories we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and - yes - conquering kings. We built the Royal Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in this city, and we built the Lahore Fort with its mighty walls and wide ramp for our battle-elephants. And we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen small colonies, gnawing away at the edge of a continent."
In leaving Pakistan and returning to New York as Pakistan headed into war: "In our case it was the fittest and brightest who were leaving, those who in the past would have been most expected to remain. I was filled with contempt for myself, such contempt that I could not bring myself to converse or to eat."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I slogged through this in order to say I had read all of the Booker shortlist before the award was announced, for once. Let's make one thing clear - w...moreI slogged through this in order to say I had read all of the Booker shortlist before the award was announced, for once. Let's make one thing clear - without that compelling reason, I would not have kept with it.
There is a difference between difficult writing and good writing. I personally think Will Self careens toward difficult without giving a thought to the reader. Oh, I'm not just complaining because this is hard to read. I get many of the references and imitations, I just didn't think they were necessary to do all at once. As Self himself said on page 86, "simply wishing the madness away won't make anyone regain their sanity."
First of all, you have the obvious comparison to Ulysses by James Joyce. In fact, just in case you dared to miss the comparison, he starts with a quotation from Ulysses - "A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella." This quotation comes back to haunt the reader towards the end of the story, but I won't ruin that particularly moment for the two other readers who will make it that far.
Ulysses has something very important that Umbrella does not - variety. It morphs between storytelling styles and points of view, with a rise and fall that keeps the reader interested. Umbrella goes FULL SPEED AHEAD with no chapters, no paragraphs (maybe a few indented starts), no dialogue signs, no breaks. Characters have dialogue and internal thoughts in the same breath, and italicized words aren't one or the other but are frequent throughout the book. There are three time periods covered by the novel but you never know where you are. Is an event being remembered or narrated? Are we moving linearly or going back and forth? Who are all these people? Ha.
Also, if this is Ulysses, this is if Ulysses took place in a mental institution in a Cockney accent. Oh yes. Before I forget, a good portion of the spoken words in this novel are Cockney slang. Good luck.
Suddenly, I got to page 138. And a character said "We're'erebecausewe're'ere." All in one word, no spaces, and repeatedly, and I thought, "Where have I heard that before?" I thought it was either Lem or Huxley, and guessed right by rereading my review of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, where one of my favorite bits was people chanting or singing "We're HERE because we're HERE because we're HERE because we're HERE!" Woah. Okay. So a reference to Lem, interesting. So it must be okay that I don't know where I am and nothing makes sense.
I do think it would have been nicer to hide in a bathtub than to force myself to finish.
I took to a deep skim of the rest. If you try to pick out the important bits, you uncover a story that isn't that different from Awakenings, where a psychiatrist treats a patient with Postencephalitic parkinsonism. Audrey Death, the patient, appears throughout the novel in her youth, in her mental hospital self, and everything in between. As far as I can tell the characters DO things but don't feel anything. It is impossible to connect with anyone when you're being bombarded with the songs they have in their head.
I sound impatient. I feel impatient. I read some lovely books this year that were nominated for the Booker. I'm worried the judges will select this one because they don't understand it, because it intimidates them, and therefore it must be good. I hold that this technique itself is not a bad idea, but would be far more interesting in smaller doses.(less)
This is a truly incredible book, and is my pick to win the Man Booker Prize this year, and I say that even before reading the last of the six.
Publishe...moreThis is a truly incredible book, and is my pick to win the Man Booker Prize this year, and I say that even before reading the last of the six.
Publisher summary: After studying law at Cambridge and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp.
The story is told in a dual way with some side trips. Part of the story comes from the time shortly after Yun Ling is no longer a POW, and part of the story comes from the time after she has retired from being a judge and comes back to the garden. She has aphasia and is trying to capture as much of her life as she can before she loses her memory. The author does something really interesting with the storytelling in that she will have a conversation in her present-day life in one chapter where a phrase or person will be mentioned, but as the reader you don't discover the details about the person or phrase until she goes back to tell the story. It isn't done in an obvious way, but in the natural way that stories unfold, where a passing mention of something can recall a memory you didn't even know you have access to anymore.
I learned a lot about Malaya/Malaysia from British and Dutch occupation to World War II to the "Malayan Emergency." The philosophy behind Japanese gardening and the Tao Te Ching both weave their way throughout the novel, and the author seems to embrace the aesthetics of both in his writing as well. While Yun Ling is being taught to slow down, breathe, focus; I felt I was being asked to do that as a reader.
I can't pick out specific examples because this is a novel that should be experienced as a whole. (less)
The Lighthouse is a brief novel, following two characters that interact only at the beginning and end. B...moreAnother one from the 2012 Booker shortlist....
The Lighthouse is a brief novel, following two characters that interact only at the beginning and end. Both live lonely, isolated, unhappy lives; both seem powerless to change anything.
I did enjoy how the book was written. It felt like at least four simultaneous stories were being told - Futh in present day, where he and his wife have separated and he is doing a walking loop in Germany; Futh as a child right as his mother has left; Futh as a young adult, newly married; Ester in the present day, helping her husband Bernard run an inn. Despite everything going on, it was never confusing, and the characters themselves seemed to be reliving the memories during the story, and this was very effective. In some ways this is a book of memory and how bad decisions impact the future, sometimes not even your own bad decisions.
Sigh... poor Futh: "He could not stop thinking about all the ways in which he had annoyed his wife during their marriage."
There isn't much more I can say without giving away most of the plot. It could have seemed imitative but the characters were written very realistically, albeit hopelessly. I'd consider this a very strong first novel, but I wouldn't expect it to win the Booker (however I'm usually wrong). I'm teetering between three and four stars here, and I think this is worth the read - it only took me an evening to read.(less)
Publisher summary: Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick and potent. A bea...moreAnother one from the 2012 Booker shortlist.
Publisher summary: Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick and potent. A beautiful young woman leans to hold a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her dark eyes. Around her, men sprawl and mutter in the gloom, each one drifting with his own tide. Here, people say that you introduce only your worst enemy to opium.
Outside, stray dogs lope in packs. Street vendors hustle. Hookers call for custom through the bars of their cages as their pimps slouch in doorways in the half-light. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. There are too many of them to count in this broken city.
Narcopolis is a rich, chaotic, hallucinatory dream of a novel that captures the Bombay of the 1970s in all its compelling squalor. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.
When the first chapter was one seven-page sentence, I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into, exactly. It turns out that was the perfect introduction to the drug-riddled world of this book. The writing was compelling, and I enjoyed the way the world was slowly explored, all centering around one opium den (and later, heroin den), following tangents of seemingly minor characters all leading back to the central place. I never knew where it would head next, and this style allowed for multiple perspectives of Rashid, who owned the place (through his landlord, son, everyone except his wives, which would have been interesting); and Dimple, the eunuch who prepares the pipes (through her older Chinese lover, among others).
The story starts out in the Bombay of the 1970s, and moves all the way up through 2004 with some of the characters. And I suppose if you count Mr. Lee's own story, it also includes the China of his childhood.
The poverty of the setting is well-described, with some commentary such as this:
"Only the rich can afford surprise and/or irony. The rich crave meaning. .. The poor don't ask questions, or they don't ask irrelevant questions. They can't afford to. All they can afford is laughter and ghosts. Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts and rage addicts and poverty addicts and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and tenderness that substances engender." (39)
There is a direct connection between the drug culture and the poverty, made by one of the more unpleasant characters: "How the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" (211)
Some of the characters have incredible experiences together because of the opium, and there is a very memorable scene between Rashid and Dimple that includes the line: "Dreams leak." (184)
One of the characters, after trading up the opium addiction for harder and more damaging drugs, ends up in rehab. She explains addiction in a different way: "There are so many good reasons and nobody mentions them and the main thing nobody mentions is the comfort of it, how good it is to be a slave to something, the regularity and the habit of addiction, the fact that it's an antidote to loneliness, and the way it becomes your family, gives you mother love and protection and keeps you safe.... It isn't the heroin that we're addicted to, it's the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that's the real addiction and we never get over it; and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options we are offered - why would we choose anything else?" (229)
Another important element in the setting is the conflict between Muslim and Hindu, more importantly how it has an impact on business relationships. There are moments throughout the novel where violence traps the characters inside, although they don't really seem to mind.
A few other tidbits I liked:
This is a taxi driver who has been taking an opera singer around town. I think it gives a good example of the tone and the writing: "...That's when she tells me to open the sunroof and she starts to sing, and all of the sudden I got it, you know? ... The function of opera, I understood that it was the true expression of grief. I understood why she needed to stand and turn her face up as if she was expressing her sadness to god, who was the author of it. And for a moment I understood what it was to be god, to take someone's life and ash it like a beedi. I thought of her life, her useful life, and I wanted to take it from her for no reason at all." (226)
I also think the author has a sense of humor about his characters, considering that the following quotation (and a much longer reflective passage on doubt and confidence) comes from a man who is in jail, filthy, and high (also possibly a murderer): "Doubt is another word for self-hate, because if you doubt yourself and your position in the world you open yourself to failure." (232)
When I started writing this review, I had ranked the book at 4 stars, but honestly, I feel like this is well-crafted, I hadn't read anything like it, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It looks like he is otherwise known as a poet.
The way this story is told, it is almost as if everything has already happened before it begins, except everyone is still alive. Then little layers of...moreThe way this story is told, it is almost as if everything has already happened before it begins, except everyone is still alive. Then little layers of details peel off as the novel moves through the week, with some repeated dialogue and repeated images. Different forms of verbal prowess have to be demonstrated to account for a poet, a possibly crazy poet, a journalist, and a young girl. I enjoyed it as an unusual addition to the Booker shortlist, although I understand this author is highly acclaimed if infrequently published. I liked the writing and would like to read more of her work.
"Early humans had once lived in this mountain forest. They knew the past lived in rocks and trees and they knew desire made them awkward, mad, mysterious, messed up."
"It shouldn't be happening, his search for love in her, but it was. He would go to the ends of the earth to find love. He was trying not to, but the more he tried not to search, the more there was to find...This was more her landscape, a catastrophic poem in itself."
"The tension of waiting to meet each other again had made them do things they did not understand."(less)
I didn't read Wolf Hall, but if you know enough about English history, this book doesn't require a precursor. The Wolf Hall books chronicle the Tudor...moreI didn't read Wolf Hall, but if you know enough about English history, this book doesn't require a precursor. The Wolf Hall books chronicle the Tudor period by focusing on the life of Thomas Cromwell, and Bring Up the Bodies focuses on the time of Anne Boleyn as queen.
The book only gets three stars because it was just nothing new. There were moments of excellent writing, but I know the story. Nothing was surprising or different. Cromwell has always been a central figure and a villain, and having him as the focus wasn't enough of a different take.
I wanted to include a few bits here so you can get a sense of the writing. Honestly if you're not too familiar with the Tudors, these books would probably be five star.
"She looks as if she is seeing him for the first time and considering all sorts of uses for him, all sorts of possibilities, which he has not even thought of himself. To her victim the moment seems to last an age, during which shivers run up his spine. Though in fact the trick is quick, cheap, effective, and repeatable, it seems to the poor fellow that he is now distinguished among all men. He smirks. He preens himself. He grows a little taller. He grows a little more foolish."
"You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws."(less)
This novel is on the 2012 Booker longlist, and is not described as short stories; it seems to be ten different narratives in the same fictional city....moreThis novel is on the 2012 Booker longlist, and is not described as short stories; it seems to be ten different narratives in the same fictional city. This city has such a strong effect on people that it becomes its own character. There is a drawing accompanying each section that comes from part of the title page, and appears to be a segment of the city.
There are unknown creatures (maybe monsters?) in at least one story, unnamed narrators, and the city morphs between feeling Soviet to English to futuristic to noir. The city might lead to eternal daylight. The city may be controlled by a child-like being who creates one in the sitting room. The city is dangerous at night. And a flâneur wreaks havoc at night.
My favorite was "The Song of Serelight Fair." It had a component of mystery to it that almost all the stories did, where I was pretty much scratching my head at what had happened, but instead of it making me want to quit reading, I wanted to experience more of it. "Gallathea" is more of a straight detective story, and "Good Slaughter" made me squeamish.
To try to categorize or compare this writing, I find more kindred spirits in speculative fiction, like China Miéville, or who could forget the maps of Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. It even made me think of Mark Z. Danielewski with the house that grows and takes on a character that is to be feared, or at the very least not understood.
As far as my own experience with the Booker goes, I think I'd put it in the same category of "C" by Tom McCarthy, another book I really enjoyed while feeling I barely grasped it. I think it is incredibly good for a first "novel" (if we're calling it that) and I hope to see more from this author.(less)