The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay kicks off in 1939 and tells the story of Josef Kavalier’s escape from German occupied Czechoslovakia withThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay kicks off in 1939 and tells the story of Josef Kavalier’s escape from German occupied Czechoslovakia with the sacred symbol of the Jewish people, the Golem. It also tells the story of Sam Clay, a young boy growing up in New York, and cousin to Josef. The two meet in New York when Josef’s sojourn branches away from that of the Golem. This opening section of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Chabon is gripping in the extreme, but is only the jumping off point for a sprawling story that largely mimics the real life story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman.
In a story that spans several decades, we get a beautifully delineated glimpse of New York in its heyday, replete with many of its real life movers and shakers, a lovingly crafted evocation of the Golden Age of comics, a look into the wheeling and dealing and backstabbing of a number of its key players, and the subsequent witch hunt of the McCarthyite era that resulted in the creation of the Comics Code. We experience the creation of Kavalier and Clay’s comic book character, the Escapist, the early days of the comic book and the later popularity of the character as a radio show. While the two young men have the Escapist fight Hitler and Nazi Germany throughout the Second World War, there is a heartrending account of Kavalier’s struggles to get the rest of his family out of Czechoslovakia. And as if that weren’t enough, there is also an astonishingly vivid account throughout the novel of the incredibly restrictive legal situation that oppressed gay men of the time.
It may seem like quite a mix of incompatible elements, but Chabon manages to capture the sheer majesty of an era and place where anything was possible, or at least where its citizens believed anything was possible. Interlaced with this are unsentimental ‘warts and all’ shots of the reality of the day. Ultimately, it’s a bittersweet exploration of friendship and loyalty and a hymn to a lost era of creativity and invention. It is a towering achievement, beautifully written and eminently readable, and has to rank in my top 10 books ever read....more
Oscar and Lucinda was the first of several novels I've read by Peter Carey and it's still my favourite of his books. It tells the story of clergyman OOscar and Lucinda was the first of several novels I've read by Peter Carey and it's still my favourite of his books. It tells the story of clergyman Oscar Hopkins and heiress Lucinda Leplastrier, both addicted gamblers of opposing type: one obsessive, one compulsive, both necessarily secretive, both bound by the strictures of mid-19th Century Australia, and both drawn to each other in a love that cannot be permitted by the code of the day.
Many will have seen the movie and enjoyed it, but anyone who has read the book will find the movie disappointing. The primary reason is that the movie dispenses with the first half of the novel (some 300 pages!), which is the complex and beautifully written story of each of the main characters before they meet each other. It is this part of the book that lends the second half of the novel its tragic and compelling power. The sheer impossibility of their love for one another is painstakingly delineated as impending disaster approaches.
The language of the novel is truly Dickensian in its detail and its scope and lends the story a convincing verisimilitude. There is also much humour throughout; a particularly memorable scene relating to the entry of a lady of high moral fibre through the window of Oscar's presbytery drawing room while he tries to hide evidence of his gambling nature is hysterically funny. We are also treated to a fascinating insight into the differing qualities of Oscar's and Lucinda's addiction, with an examination of the various gambling systems they develop along the way and their degrees of success and failure.
It is a book of monumental scope and breath of vision. The only thing I'd advise readers to do is persevere through the first 40 pages or so, which give a detailed account of the various Protestant splinter faiths. After that, the story takes off....more
The Road tells the story of a man and his son as they make their way along a road towards the coast through a ravaged landscape. Along the way, they oThe Road tells the story of a man and his son as they make their way along a road towards the coast through a ravaged landscape. Along the way, they occasionally encounter other people in various states of decrepitude and/or savagery. A worldwide catastrophe has destroyed everything to such an extent that there is little or no evidence that there can ever be any kind of recovery and the few people and resources left are declining rapidly. Nothing much actually happens and the story is unrelentingly grim, but there are two aspects to this novel that make it one of the most worthwhile experiences of my reading life.
The first is the relationship between the man and the boy (as they are referred to throughout the book). The man’s fear for the safety of his son is palpable and justified. His love for the boy and the boy’s loyalty to and love for his father are beautifully realised and severely tested as the story progresses.
The second aspect is the devastated landscape itself, which is described in great detail and assumes a strange beauty that is truly horrifying. The sheer scale and finality of the catastrophe (which is never explained, and rightly so) is overwhelming to the reader.
The final paragraph is so achingly beautiful, it actually brought a tear to my eye. I’m a fan of McCarthy’s work generally and love his spare and pared back prose. This is what some readers don’t like about his work. However, for all his simplicity of language, there is a lyricism to the imagery of this novel that makes it his very best work and one you should most definitely read....more
I’d been meaning to read this novel for some years, having thoroughly enjoyed The Remains of the Day. I was also intrigued by the premise, which utiliI’d been meaning to read this novel for some years, having thoroughly enjoyed The Remains of the Day. I was also intrigued by the premise, which utilises a major science fiction trope in a literary manner. This has developed into a trend in recent years, with several literary novelists dipping into SF for their ideas: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, and others. It’s also interesting to observe that Ishiguro was plainly happy to have the book considered as SF, unlike more, shall we say, precious writers like Margaret Atwood (whose body of work includes many SF books); he was present at the awards ceremony when Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for an Arthur C. Clarke Award (it lost out to a novel by Geoff Ryman).
It’s probably an open secret by now what the book is about, but I’ll avoid reference to the basic premise just in case anyone out there is unfamiliar with it. The story concerns the childhood of Kathy H and her growth into a blighted adulthood in an alternate 1990s England (Ishiguro wisely chooses an alternate 1990s in which to set his story as scientific advances in the last ten to fifteen years would rule out his setting the story in the actual 1990s or the present day). Kathy H attends Hailsham School, an establishment with all the trappings of a high brow public school, where she is educated in the arts and the finer things in life. As she learns more of her destiny and that of friends, the impossibility of a life she can call her own becomes more apparent and the true horror of the wider world into which she is propelled dawns with devastating clarity.
This is a story of friendship, love, the loss of innocence and the value and fragility of memory. Beautifully written and highly recommended....more