I've never resented a book before, but I resented this book all through the middle of it.
I usually don't finish books I don't love - life's too shor...moreI've never resented a book before, but I resented this book all through the middle of it.
I usually don't finish books I don't love - life's too short. But Chabon's so complete in his description of his characters that I felt I'd be letting them down if I gave up on the plot. Besides, the beginning and the puzzle are pretty rewarding in this mystery. It's the fact that it frequently takes characters two paragraphs to take a sip of tea or -- no lie -- 4 pages to go up a walkway that drove me batty.
The setting threw me off at first, but at its heart, Y.P.U. is a noir. Landman, the detective at the plot's center, is a cop weakened by alcohol and a traumatic divorce. A young man in Landsman's shabby hotel is shot, execution style, in his room, and Landsman sets off to investigate. Only he's told not to, at risk of losing his badge . Notably, the story involves a puzzling chess board, which is always fun for mystery dorks, and a penguin motif, which I liked for my own reasons.
The story's told in a mythical side road of history - the Jews who survived WWII were sent to Alaska and created large settlements there, irritating native populations and the US government alike. "Now" (in the early 90s, late 80s maybe?), the Jews are about to be forced out again, for treaty reasons that Chabon explains at length but that could be summarized as, "their lease is up."
The cool thing about the setting is that it gives rise to priceless dialog - just awesome, chunky, crystal-clear accents that leap off the page. The annoying thing is that it allows Chabon to go on at length about Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish etymology, the outfits of the different sects of Jews ... I mean nothing against the Jews here, but it's sort of like how Ishmael in Moby Dick keeps going off about whaling history. You really have to be in a certain frame of mind to embrace it. And the whaling history is real, while Chabon's digressions are all about his made-up world, which makes it somewhat harder to compel myself to eat my literary vegetables.
That said, it's a gorgeous work. Luscious and overstuffed and strong, like all the foods the characters eat in Yiddish Alaska. Other noir authors should be so lucky as to create such a work as this.(less)
For once in my life, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie of a book. I enjoyed the time I spent in Precious's world, but still, this read like a sc...moreFor once in my life, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie of a book. I enjoyed the time I spent in Precious's world, but still, this read like a screen play to me - a lot of the details that I would've liked to have explained were missing. A stylistic choice for clean, crisp prose, perhaps, but I was left not knowing what to make of the heroine.
Several times, when Precious thinks she has solved a case, she finds out that she was wrong later. Maybe I wasn't giving as much attention as was needed, but I could never tell if she was learning something from these events, or if she was just sufficiently self-assured as to not let this bother her.
Also, I expected a "big bad" - a place where most of the cases in the book would come together and have a similar connection or cause. ...Not so much. I wonder if this happens in later books in the series?
Fortunately, the writing is lovely enough, the world is interesting enough, and Precious is cool enough that I want to read the rest of the books to find out.(less)
Not a review - more of a response: I read this in very small chunks to make it last. The mood is deliciously chilly, and the familiar characters (the...moreNot a review - more of a response: I read this in very small chunks to make it last. The mood is deliciously chilly, and the familiar characters (the police inspector, the whore with a heart of gold) are given more dimension than is usual in noir. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Still, like all the other male detective novelists, "Black" presents women in reference to sex, only - as givers or withholders of it. I like the women in this story, but the fact that all the plots about them boil down to these two options gets old fast.
And it was a little gimmicky and too hastily concluded. I'd love to hear what others have to say about the ending(s) when you've read it.
Quirke, the main character is classicly dark and drunk and jaded, but since the mystery was in many ways about him and his family, I would have liked there to be more to him. Like the character Phoebe, I was a little bored with him by the end of the book: "No more jokes," she complained.
....Not thaaaat tired of him. I'll probably read the next one.(less)
Update: After a week-long high, I've come down a star on this book. Characterization was not that believable. Just interesting, and that's not entirel...moreUpdate: After a week-long high, I've come down a star on this book. Characterization was not that believable. Just interesting, and that's not entirely the same thing.
So, these are some of my favorite movies, but I'm always a little too distracted by the "OMG, Matt Damon !!!!" voice in my head to follow the plot very closely. I decided to read the book to straighten out the details.
At first, I thought I'd made a wrong move: the book's plot is very different than the movie, and I realized that the details I was looking for were lingering descriptions of Matt Damon's physique. Besides, I usually hate spy novels - they're either well-crafted prose with lame mysteries or well-crafted mysteries with wooden characters and laughable dialogue.
BUT this book has the most well-designed, completely thought-out mysteries I've ever read (both the big bad and the clue-finding bits), and the characters were at least compelling androids, if not fully human.
The biggest differences between the book and the movie aren't the details of the plot (Marie is a very different character, for instance), but in the world the book inhabits versus the world of the movie.
The book's pre-cell phone, post-Vietnam, Cold War world is one in which fundamentally sound institutions, like the US government, are corrupted by greedy men who use their access to information to pad their pockets. In the book, Jason's a hero because he is above greed.
What I love about the movies is that they are post-9-11. Information has been democratized; everyone knows enough to be scared. Institutions in this world are a fearful as everyone else. So in the movies, Jason's a hero because he's above fear.
I think the difference is really revealing of the changes our country has experienced in the last 10 years. ...but the main reason to read the book aren't sociological - watching Bourne fight for integrity despite interweaving layers of betrayals is almost as rewarding as watching Matt Damon run.
Curioser and curioser. In the previous book, Mma Ramwotswe (sp?) gets engaged to the respected mechanic in town, and he proves himself to be a loving...moreCurioser and curioser. In the previous book, Mma Ramwotswe (sp?) gets engaged to the respected mechanic in town, and he proves himself to be a loving and thoughtful future husband.
In this next novel, the mechanic is basically gone. If this were a tv show, I'd assume he had pulled out of the show for some unexpected reasons and that was the reason he was "Sir Not Appearing in This Film." But there is just no plot-based reason for this disappearance. And the few details we learn in explanation are totally unsatisfactory.
Similarly, one of the mysteries Precious works on is that of an orphan boy with a mysterious background. Only, it's not at all mysterious because the first guess made about his story is probably the correct one, although we'll never know for sure. ??? Why bother continuing to mention him if you're not going to bring in any new details?
That said, I am hooked on McCall Smith's prose - it's so crisp, even when it's preachy. And even though I continue to be disappointed in individual plot lines, the characters are charming and he makes Botswana sound like heaven. And it's nice to have the mystery without the noir, for once.
So, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday.(less)
**spoiler alert** Hey, kids, if you like books in which the only major descriptive moments happen during sexual torture scenes, where major characters...more**spoiler alert** Hey, kids, if you like books in which the only major descriptive moments happen during sexual torture scenes, where major characters lack motive, and where the red herrings...stink ... this book's for you!
I may feel less strongly after a few days, but I am having a hard time believing this book has hit the best-seller lists in multiple countries.
**Rant containing Mild Spoilers**
Here are my complaints:
1. The entire book sets you up to think that the alleged killing/s were perpetrated by one or more people for complicated reasons. Spoiler: They're not. A murderer, at the climax, reveals, "I like killing [people]." That's the motive. That's it.
2. The title character has her macabre past detailed at length. The salient facts to the case - how did she come into possession of her detective-ing skills? - is left out entirely. Her emotional life is ignored until it's needed for a little plot development and then ignored again for a gazillion pages. She makes Kinsey Milhoney look like a guru of emotional awareness and self-knowledge.
3. When a MAJOR DEVELOPMENT happens in the case, like, THE MAJOR DEVELOPMENT, we the readers hear about its resolution third hand. A reunion occurs and we are not privvy to it, even though it's REALLY IMPORTANT. That is LAME.
4. Stop with the Mac commericials aleady. Is it possible that the well-financed campaign for this book had to do with the fact that the dead author couldn't object to selling Apple and Kawasaki shout-outs?
5.The two plot lines are almost entirely unrelated. They don't even intersect, really; one segues into a second, and then, when the second is wrapped up entirely, the first plot returns to end with a whimper.
6. There is a Lot of torture-porn in this book. Did I mention that? Detailed description of sexual abuse, incest, and general nastiness that does nothing to advance the plot. Really. It just takes up space making you think there are reasons for the murders, but ...no, see #1. We listened to this on cd and I kept trying to forward and ending up on the absolute worst moments. Blech.
7. Several passages written as an email conversation. It's like the author realized at a certain point that he was so bad at dialogue that he'd better just give it a rest for a while and instead use stilted telegraph talking.
8. This book was not fun or smart. I kept thinking it was about to be, but I was wrong.