Just as the title states, Scenes from Village Life, is neither a collection of stories nor a novel but eight stories which together make a portrait ofJust as the title states, Scenes from Village Life, is neither a collection of stories nor a novel but eight stories which together make a portrait of the life of the century-old village, Tel Ilan. Oz's characters, whether male or female, adolescent, middle-aged or elderly, are so very real, nothing generic about them. His writing is always engaging, often surprising in its apt description and turn of phrase:
Her shoes grated on the gravel path as though they had picked up some tiny creature that was letting out truncated shrieks. (26)
He would go down to the old farmyard, his head thrust forward almost at a right angle, which gave him the look of an inverted hoe, frantically searching for some pamphlet or letter in the abandoned incubator, the fertilizer store, the toolshed, then forgetting what he had come for, picking up a discarded hoe with both hands and starting to dig an unnecessary channel between two beds, cursing himself for his own stupidity, cursing the Arab student who hadn't cleared the piles of dead leaves, dropping the hoe and reentering the house by the kitchen door. (46-7)
I love how nothing is resolved in these stories, the characters continue with the absorbingly familiar and unfamiliar puzzle of their lives. At least two of the stories are really stunning: "Waiting" and "Strangers." But all of them are riveting. I had thought I'd recommend this book to my mother for her book group, but I'm afraid she'll find it depressing. I suspect the lack of resolution together with the sometimes darker place the stories take us and leave us might make her (and others) find it so. But it's beautiful in its mysterious sadness....more
An unconventional novel in the tradition of realism, and I'll take David Szalay over Jonathan Franzen any day. The subjects are romantic love, money,An unconventional novel in the tradition of realism, and I'll take David Szalay over Jonathan Franzen any day. The subjects are romantic love, money, social class. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Katherine and James, which though many months in, still feels like early days. James is maddeningly passive, inert. And yet... Horse racing also figures in. Not a lot happens in terms of a traditionally constructed plot, it seems Szalay is trying more for the ebb and flow of real life, business, and affairs. The writing is exquisite. You do need to be patient but there is a pay off if you are. Original in its construction....more
This was very good...engrossing, well-written yet slight somehow. It felt more like a novella than a novel. Pity that nothing else of Nakamura's--as fThis was very good...engrossing, well-written yet slight somehow. It felt more like a novella than a novel. Pity that nothing else of Nakamura's--as far as I can tell--has been translated into English. He's a young writer, and it's likely he'll get even better with age. The Thief, which won the Oe prize, has a spare feel to it. A crime novel but the crime--he's an expert pickpocket--is clean, without violence. The thief gets enmeshed in a gang, against his will, but he's sharp-witted as well as light on his feet and with his hands... Would like to find him again in another novel. ...more
Help! This is the first Julian Barnes novel I've read and there is no way that it's his best, or even among his best. What do you recommend I read ofHelp! This is the first Julian Barnes novel I've read and there is no way that it's his best, or even among his best. What do you recommend I read of his?
Needless to say, reading The Sense of an Ending was extremely disappointing. I kept feeling like I'd read it before, but of course I hadn't. The plot may be different but the voice is not. Tony Webster is self-absorbed, self-contained, with little self-knowledge, and well, boring. Adrian is much more interesting, but though the novel hinges on him and his actions, we don't get to be around him very often or know him very well.
Not deserving of a Booker, as many have already noted. Not deserving of being read really, as there is nothing fresh here. It feels like familiar territory, familiarly drawn. Kazuo Ishiguro does it much more elegantly, Patrick McGrath much more interestingly (now there's someone who doesn't seem to have written a novel recently, or am I wrong?).
I'm a huge Peter Cameron fan but this novel, with its stilted dialogue and not always believable characters, disappointed. There were stretches of itI'm a huge Peter Cameron fan but this novel, with its stilted dialogue and not always believable characters, disappointed. There were stretches of it that were quite wonderful, a sustained mood of melancholy and loneliness, a dreamlike atmosphere, but it never reached the artistry of "The City of Your Final Destination' or 'Andorra.' ...more
I recently finished a Booker Award finalist, Snowdrops by A. D. Miller. On the surface these two novels would seem to have little in common (other thaI recently finished a Booker Award finalist, Snowdrops by A. D. Miller. On the surface these two novels would seem to have little in common (other than they both take place in snowy regions), but in fact they're similar in that they both are most of all about place: Finland in this case; Moscow in Miller's novel. Place (as well as the Finnish language in this novel) is the central character and any story line is secondary to the place(s) described. Miller's novel has more narrative pull than this one, but it's not necessarily the better novel. This one is more original. That said, I needed more story line, more narrative drive; I wanted to be caught up in the novel more than I was....more
I'm giving 4 stars not because the collection is full of stunners (though there are a few) but because almost every story here is enjoyable and surpriI'm giving 4 stars not because the collection is full of stunners (though there are a few) but because almost every story here is enjoyable and surprising. An anthology I got from the library (yay, my library!) and one which I wouldn't mind owning....more
I'm glad to have read this. It's a novel I admire more than love, however. The language and textures make it a rich read, but the lack of a compellingI'm glad to have read this. It's a novel I admire more than love, however. The language and textures make it a rich read, but the lack of a compelling narrative--story, that is--keep me from falling in love. And man, those New Englanders...what a tough breed....more
Very uneven. The story by the token American (well, there are two actually) is embarrassingly bad...a writer I've never heard of (but what do you expeVery uneven. The story by the token American (well, there are two actually) is embarrassingly bad...a writer I've never heard of (but what do you expect when his bio reads in part: "Social and jovial, the author plays violin, flute, tympani, and drums. He has raced sports cars, shown dogs and now teaches imaginative writing and aesthetics to his university students"?) The best stories are by Wolfgang Buschmann (Germany), Shirley Geok-lin Lim (Malaysia) and M.G. Vassanji (Tanzania). The one by Claire Larriere (France) is charming as well and the Australian one isn't bad either. Perhaps with four to six out of fourteen, I shouldn't complain. There were one or two other passable ones as well, but too many amateurish clunkers that sunk the collection....more
Irreverent, insightful, at times beautiful as well as just plain fun, I Am a Japanese Writer is a novel about writing a novel, the contemporary publishing scene, the poet Basho, Montreal, race, identity, cultural politics, and well…life.
Written in 2008, I am A Japanese Writer was translated from the French by David Homel and recently released in the U.S. At this point I want to tell you that Laferriere was born in Port au Prince in 1953 and makes his home in Montreal, but I have the novelist’s voice in my ear: “I don’t understand all the attention paid to a writer’s origins. Because for me, Mishima was my neighbor. Very naturally, I repatriated the writers I read at the time. All of them: Flaubert, Goethe, Whitman. Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Kipling, Geothe, Whitman, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Kipling, Seghor, Cesaire, Roumain, Amado, Diderot—they all lived in my village. Otherwise, what were they doing in my room? Years later, when I became a writer and people asked me, ‘Are you a Haitian writer, a Caribbean writer or a French language writer?’ I answered without hesitation. I take on my reader’s nationality. Which means that when that when a Japanese person reads me, I immediately become a Japanese writer” (14).
The novel, just under 200 pages and written in short titled chapters, starts off at a lightning pace…it’s dazzling to read a novelist with a voice as fresh Laferriere’s, and David Homel deserves kudos for capturing it in English. We follow Laferriere--the writer’s alter ego, that is—as he traverses Montreal—on subway or by foot, with Basho as his companion, being treated all the while to his rich interior monologue. Given Laferriere’s resistance to pigeon-holing, it’s easy to see how the title is decided upon, and then once given and accepted—welcomed—by his publisher, he’s off, and the reader along with him, in search of a novel. First up: finding a Japanese character, or group of characters (a hip young group is decided on), and then, “a novel needs a death” which is soon provided by an unexpected suicide…One of the richest aspects of the novel is the interest the Japanese Consulate takes in this (not yet) novel with the arresting title. The sleuthing that ensues is richly comic, and well, worthy of a Japanese novelist. In this era of Murakami (this week sees the release of the American edition of his opus 1Q84 and suddenly Murakami profiles and reviews are everywhere), and to a much lesser extent, writers like Banana Yoshimoto and Natsuo Kirino, it’s understandable why Japanese is settled on, in the same way, thanks to Stieg Larsson, one might say, “I am a Swedish Crime Novelist” if one were writing mysteries. In fact, Murakami is given a nod in the novel, but it is Mishima and more so, Basho, whose sensibility guide it: “My intention is to live like Basho this time. Underneath a banana tree. But the winter is too harsh”(139). Indeed within the oddness of Laferreire’s quest and world, there are moments of poetry, beauty and tranquility. This is not a novel where quirkiness and zaniness rule for sake of it; rather, the novel offers a multiplicity of tones, textures, characters and scenarios. But it is the sensibility of the novelist—now like Basho, now like Murakami, always most essentially Laferriere--that prevails....more
An absolutely delightful read. What I love about Spark is that each of her novels is entirely different from the next...yet one can always count on aAn absolutely delightful read. What I love about Spark is that each of her novels is entirely different from the next...yet one can always count on a generous dose of charm and wit along with keen observation and insight. And so far (I think I've read five of her novels), A Far Cry rises to the top of the heap.
According to Stannard (Spark's biographer), when the novel appeared, reviewers contented themselves with repeating Mrs. Hawkins' bon mots, her clever advice: The best way to diet is to eat only half of each dish. The best way to write a novel is to imagine you are writing to a friend...For concentration, one required a cat, for a successful relationship, it was wise to start off early and ease off; for rheumatism, a banana a day (half a banana if you're following the diet)...[don't marry] before seeing the fiance drunk. The novel is highly quotable: 'I had a sense he was offering things abominable to me, like decaffeinated coffee or coitus interruptus.
I love the novel for its lively narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, her smarts and her boldness; she is not to be intimidated and she speaks the truth when no one else does: Hector Bartlett is a pissuer de copie! She delights in doing so, even to his face (and his back). The novel also has an intriguing plot, a mystery of sorts at its center.