Pratchett's story, set in a fantasy world of sorcery and dragons, follows a tourist, Twoflower, who repeatedly misinterprets the real dangers about hiPratchett's story, set in a fantasy world of sorcery and dragons, follows a tourist, Twoflower, who repeatedly misinterprets the real dangers about him as amusing features of an exotic culture he is exploring while taking his vacation.
While Twoflower's cluelessness is the driver of much of a plot of narrow escapes and near misses, the main character of the book is a wizard, Rincewind, through whom the narrative is focalized, and who manages to keep himself and Twoflower alive through a combination of hard-won, frequently cynical knowledge, and sheer, sometimes implausible, luck.
These and other characters in the story are well-defined--but then many of them are stock characters. That is not necessarily a negative thing: stock characters and situations can be entertaining if they are done well. In that regard, I think Pratchett's writing style was what kept me interested as I read the book. Sometimes I found myself wanting to know what would happen next to character X or Y, but through almost the entire book I was most interested in how Pratchett would deploy his visually descriptive, sometimes cinematic language to represent those happenings....more
To a large extent, my own expectations got in the way of my enjoyment of this one. To be blunt, I found it lacking in imagination, at least compared tTo a large extent, my own expectations got in the way of my enjoyment of this one. To be blunt, I found it lacking in imagination, at least compared to other writers of science fiction whom I enjoy, such as J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.
Not all of this is Heinlein's fault. In 1966, the year Heinlein's book was published, and three years before the Apollo moon landing, this story of a colony living and working on the moon must have seemed wildly imaginative. Sixty years later, although colonization of the moon is still not a reality, yet the idea does not seem so outlandish as previously it might have.
The science-fictional effect of "Mike," a super-computer with artificial intelligence, was also diminished for me insofar as many of his duties in the novel included those that I suppose many of us take for granted today in a world in which computers are regularly used in connection with ballistic guidance systems, with complex communication networks and with the regulation of artificial environments.
To reiterate, this is not Heinlein's fault. Moreover, if in 2016 his science fiction appears to be our science fact, does not this recommend Heinlein as an astute prognosticator of (what would for him have been) the future?
Apart from its dated-ness, though, I came to this novel with other, more formal, expectations, that I feel could have been met more successfully. To his credit, Heinlein's moon colony is a fully realized world with the kind of organization and complexity one would expect to make such a setting possible in reality. However, for me, at least, once I gained a certain level of familiarity with this fictional world, I found that very little happened in it that surprised me. Much of the action was taken up with political discourse and parliamentary rules of order, such that the novel seemed more political science than science fiction (which is not a bad thing, but in choosing to read Heinlein rather than something else, I was expecting more science fiction).
My complaint about the lack of surprise in the fictional world represented in the novel can be extended to the characters as well. Although they speak and behave realistically, they are not so individualized as I would have liked, and in general I did not find myself surprised by much that they did.
The apparent "flatness" of the characters is perhaps most obvious in the instance of Manny O'Kelly-Davis. Because he is the novel's narrator, his consciousness is continually before the reader--and for me at least, it is not that interesting a consciousness. Understand, I am not necessarily looking for another Hamlet or Leopold Bloom (Ulysses), but I think the book could have been more interesting had Manny had some personal issues to work out along with the political issues that constitute most of the tale.
(And while we're on the subjects of narration, linguistic representations of consciousness, and the individuation--or lack thereof--of the characters, I had a problem with the way Manny distinguished his own discourse from that of other characters by the frequent omission of different parts of speech--articles, for instance, or deictic terms--from his narrative discourse and from his spoken utterances. The effect, for me, was reminiscent of a Hollywood representation of a Russian speaking in broken English. This would not have bothered me so much, except that in his narrative, Manny represents most of the other characters speaking a fairly uniform and conventionally syntactical English. [The one notable exception to this general practice comes when Manny relates the speech of a woman from Kentucky--complete with the orthographical deviations to signify her drawl.]) It seemed odd, too, that Manny's deformed English seemed peculiar to him.
But that's just me. I suppose that in the revolutionary context represented in the novel I should be chided for my bourgeois interest in psychology and literary style (and I would not completely dissent from the criticism).
In fact, I could even go as far as to say that on the basis of what this novel tries to do, which is to tell the story of a revolution, and to include lots of useful tips for would-be revolutionaries, it has its value. As a work of science fiction, however, much of what Heinlein speculated sixty years ago feels rather familiar today, with the result that the story seems neither so futuristic nor so fantastic as it must have when it first appeared....more
For me, The Kite Runner is a fantasy, both of revenge and of (partial) redemption. Speaking metaphorically, the story includes both a dragon to face aFor me, The Kite Runner is a fantasy, both of revenge and of (partial) redemption. Speaking metaphorically, the story includes both a dragon to face and a princess to rescue.
It is a male-dominated book. There are some female characters, but in general they are relegated to the sidelines. For the most part, the story concerns the bonds between (male) friends and between sons and fathers.
The story is narrated not by the hero, but by his best friend whose failure of courage during a critical moment sets the latter on a path of psychological self-flagellation.
Give Hosseini his due: the man knows how to tell a story. However, I think he overdoes it with the inclusion of details the main function of which is to contribute to an illusion of realism. I do not know how much you know about this book, but (view spoiler)[not knowing anything about it myself, at first I thought I was reading an autobiographical work: I honestly did not know it was a work of fiction. Hosseini employs one of those narrators with incredibly retentive memories, and as I read the vivid descriptions of settings and actions, I did find sometimes that the narrator's ability to recall in detail events that transpired years ago strained my credulity. Then, about midway through the book, I came to what for me was a jaw-dropping coincidence, at which point I began seriously doubting that I was reading a work of non-fiction. The story ends on another coincidence, and I remember thinking "Oh no, not again!" once I realized what appeared to be happening.
As my reviews go, I am aware that this one is more negative than is usual. Understand, though, that I did not entirely dislike The Kite Runner, nor do I have a problem with having initially believed that what I was reading was an account of actual events, only to realize midway through that I was in fact reading a work of fiction (indeed, I have enjoyed works of fiction that have represented fabricated events as true, of which the example that most readily comes to mind is Gravity's Rainbow). No, my main problem is with the simplicity of the plot. Perhaps it is not the most fair comparison, but The Kite Runner reminded me of another book in which "the past is prologue": for me, Zadie Smith's White Teeth also traces the re-echoing of the historic event in the present moment, but does so with more restraint and distance (it is a comic work, after all), and with a complex, almost Dickensian plot involving a large cast of interesting characters.
Okay, perhaps my criticism does arise in part out of a sense of disappointment associated with learning that The Kite Runner is a work of fiction. For me, the revenge and redemption fantasy with which the book ends did not jibe with the realism of the representation with which the book began.
The fact, I suppose, is that The Kite Runner is not the kind of book I normally would read, or want to read, so perhaps it should be expected that my review would reflect that bias to some extent. (hide spoiler)]...more
Fantasy and farce. I think it works as a nightstand book, as something to read before going to sleep. You may find it changes the way you look at thriFantasy and farce. I think it works as a nightstand book, as something to read before going to sleep. You may find it changes the way you look at thrift shops and used book and CD stores....more
City of Saints and Madmen is a selection of novellas and short fictions set in the fictional city of Ambergris. The book begins with “Dradin, in Love,City of Saints and Madmen is a selection of novellas and short fictions set in the fictional city of Ambergris. The book begins with “Dradin, in Love,” which describes a missionary returning to Ambergris during a local festival to discover how his hometown has changed during the many years he has been away. “The Transformation of Martin Lake” juxtaposes art criticism with narrative to tell of a dark period in the life of Ambergris’ foremost painter. In “The Strange Case of Mr. X,” a doctor’s meetings with and thoughts about a patient he is observing in a psychiatric institution becomes an inquiry into reality and madness.
Michael Moorcock’s mention of Titus Alone in his introduction to Vandermeer’s book should give readers some idea of what they might expect from City of Saints and Madmen: like Gormenghast, Ambergris is a complex and fascinating fictional world with its own history, politics, and religious and artistic culture. In addition, like Peake’s, Vandermeer’s work is fantastic and frequently grotesque.
City of Saints and Madmen is the most entertaining book I have read since reading House of Leaves eight months ago. I was only just past halfway through this book when I went to a nearby bookstore (not the Borges Bookstore of Ambergris, alas) specifically to find more works by this writer (the bookstore had a copy of The Steampunk Bible, so that’s what I’ll be reading next)....more
In Snow Crash, a computer hacker investigates a mysterious virus. Assisting him is Y.T., a courier who skateboards into and out of a number of tight sIn Snow Crash, a computer hacker investigates a mysterious virus. Assisting him is Y.T., a courier who skateboards into and out of a number of tight situations while providing the protagonist with an additional set of eyes and ears. The story is set in a technologically advanced future whose economy and infrastructure is controlled not by government but by for-profit organizations (the protagonist is employed both as a pizza delivery man for the Mafia and as a collector of data for the Central Intelligence Corporation). Much of the action, which includes sword fighting and skateboard and motorcycle chases, is set in virtual reality, referred to by the characters as “the Metaverse.”
Also set in the Metaverse are long expository dialogues between the protagonist and the “Librarian,” a virtual character with whom the protagonist discusses computer programming, linguistics, religion and ancient civilizations. It is out of these discussions that the protagonist is gradually able to piece together the facts about Snow Crash and the conspiracy behind it. ...more
This novel does not have much of a plot. It depicts a three-men-in-a-tub situation (to be exact, two men and a baboon). The three experience a seriesThis novel does not have much of a plot. It depicts a three-men-in-a-tub situation (to be exact, two men and a baboon). The three experience a series of adventures, some with mortal consequences, as they visit different fantastic islands. The novel includes a lecture by Faustroll on ’Pataphysics.
The writing, with sentences like “The place where the sun sets has the appearance, between the folds comprising the Town’s mesentery, of the vermiform appendix of a caecum” (59), will send some readers scrambling for their dictionaries. Others, though, may enjoy Jarry’s sense of humor (but for pure farce, Jarry’s play Ubu Roi is probably a better choice than Doctor Faustroll).
Jarry was a Dadaist, and Dadaism was a paradoxical movement, seeking to produce anti-art (one of the better-known Dadaist works was a signed urinal, a “readymade” attributed to Marcel Duchamp). In this context, perhaps the ridiculously mannered style and the episodic, and ultimately pointless, narrative reflect an anti-artistic, anti-literary impulse—although an argument could be made that Jarry intends the episodic narrative as a parody of travel journals and picaresque novels. If, though, Faustroll is intended as anti-literary, how is one to rank it? As George Carlin asks, “If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?”
I’m giving to this book three stars: one for its indifference to literary convention and readers’ expectations, a second for the way it throws a Godelian monkey wrench into the machinery of critical ranking systems, half a star for the sophomoric story, and another half a star for its style (consider this, for instance: “The meshed base, unsinkable because of its oily coating, rested upon the waves’ denticulation like a sturgeon upon several harpoons, and beneath it was a keyboard of water and air alternately” )....more
A family moves into a house and finds a strange architectural feature in one of its rooms. The father of the family, a professional photographer, explA family moves into a house and finds a strange architectural feature in one of its rooms. The father of the family, a professional photographer, explores the anomaly, shooting videos and taking pictures as he investigates, first alone, and then later with his brother and his friends. However, in a Borgesian kind of play with fabula and sjuzet, Danielewicz does not supply the reader with a direct representation of these events; rather, the “novel” is a reproduction by a group of editors of obsessed student Johnny Truant’s arrangement of researcher Zampano’s chapters and notes for what were to be a book-length critical analysis of the films the father shot. Like Flann O'Brien’s The Third Policeman or José Carlos Somoza’s The Athenian Murders, much of the fun of this novel comes from the looping (and loopy) footnotes that add another level (or maybe three, or maybe another dimension) to the narrative. A great tale about family, love, relationships, obsessions and darkness that is at times as surreal as a novel by Murakami and at others as creepy as a story by Lovecraft or Poe. As of this time (October), of the books I have read this year, House of Leaves is the one I have enjoyed the most.
In this “novel,” Hell begins with a scene set in a small town that appears to be based on a personal memory. Before he has brought that scene to any kIn this “novel,” Hell begins with a scene set in a small town that appears to be based on a personal memory. Before he has brought that scene to any kind of conclusion—before he has even gotten his reader interested in it—he shifts to a different action and a different location: New York City and a rock and roll playing vampire and his zombie friend. There appears to be no connection between this scene and the one that preceded it. It is like a surrealist film. However, the vampire and the zombie appear to be two of the “main characters” as much of the rest of the “narrative” is about their experiences (there are subplots, too, one of which is about a pair of women killing one another).
It would be difficult to say what the “story” is, and whether what the book depicts is some objective but fantastic fictional world or the world with which we are familiar, but which has been distorted by the perceptions of the narrator who sometimes interrupts the story to include surrealistic or schizophrenic little asides and essays.
There may be some point Hell is making, whether about America and its violent history, or about New York City as an urban experience, or about the rock and roll lifestyle, or about the kinds of ideas one gets when one combines late-night B films with the poetry of Gerard de Nerval. I am not sure whether it is about one of these things or some or even all of them. The book is raunchy, excessive, unfocused, confusing, and I enjoyed it a lot. ...more
While the typical conspiracy thriller depicts characters discovering signs of a conspiracy and then reacting to it, in Foucault’s Pendulum three charaWhile the typical conspiracy thriller depicts characters discovering signs of a conspiracy and then reacting to it, in Foucault’s Pendulum three characters invent a conspiracy theory as a sort of intellectual diversion. One of the characters, Casaubon, who also narrates the novel, is an academic who specializes in Medieval studies and who wrote his thesis on the subject of the Knights Templar. The other two characters, Belbo, and Diotallevi, work at a publishing company that puts out books on occult and esoteric subjects. Once Casaubon starts working at the publishing company, the three begin sharing ideas and, as a way of making fun of some of the more fantastic of the manuscripts they see in their work, they invent a conspiracy theory that they refer to as “the Plan.”
The Plan is ambitious, hypothesizing not only how the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons and the Illuminati are connected with one another, but also how these secret societies are connected to Atlantis, the Assassins, the Baconian theory and the Nazis. The three characters have among them a vast knowledge of European history, and because of this they are able to employ historic facts in their construction of the Plan, both as a way of connecting different parts of the theory together, and as a way of increasing its plausibility.
But, as Alexander Pope wrote, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” As the characters work on increasing the historical accuracy of their theory, the line between fantasy and reality blurs and the characters begin to wonder whether the Plan is not just a fiction they thought up, but a real conspiracy that they are in fact discovering.
The line blurs for the reader as well. The Plan goes through a number of versions, each more complex than the previous, because with each new version the characters include another set of historical events or another secret society that was not mentioned in the earlier versions. Thus, once the characters have worked out a version of the Plan that describes the connections between the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, for instance, they discover a historical event or coincidence that will make it possible to include the Freemasons as well. To do this, however, they have to reinterpret the connections between the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians. After such sets of connections have been drawn and re-drawn three or four times, it takes a feat of memory to keep any version of the Plan entirely sorted out in one’s mind.
Contributing to this blurring of fact and fiction is the paranoid logic of of the characters’ thought processes: frequently, they will begin with a hypothetical connection between two historical facts and then build other hypothetical connections upon this first connection, supporting many of the subsequent connections with whatever historical facts seem to fit, with the result that sometimes one forgets which parts of the Plan are based in fact and which represent the fictional connections among those facts.
I found Foucault’s Pendulum challenging to read. I was not able to do it, but I suppose some ideal reader would be able to follow the details, both factual and fictional, of each version of the Plan, while keeping in mind an idea of how the general shape of the Plan is changing with each version. At one point, Casaubon supplies Belbo and Diotallevi with several pages listing a number of historic events, each of which might or might not be employed in the next version of the Plan. Casaubon’s narrative reproduces this list for the reader, without narratorial commentary, and while a reader with a strong grasp of European history and a good knowledge of the history of secret societies might be able to grasp what the list might suggest with regard to the shape subsequent versions of the Plan might take, I found as I read it that I was truly unable to see the forest for the trees.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. Eco’s novel depicts his characters overwhelmed by the connections they are able to make among various historical events, and if the reader is overwhelmed by those connections, perhaps he or she better understands what the characters are experiencing.
Difficulty level? Not as high as Gravity's Rainbow or Ulysses—you won’t need a companion or a reading guide or even Wikipedia to get through this one: Eco explains most of his references, and in fact much of the “action” of this intellectual thriller (with the emphasis on “intellectual”) consists of dialogues among the characters that could be read as essays, in dialogic form, on the different subjects the characters discuss. Like Platonic dialogues, but here instead of Socratic method becomes paranoia and the search for truth a search for the ultimate secrets of power. ...more
Years ago, following the discovery of corporate spies who were stealing his secrets while working in his chocolate factory, Willy Wonka fired all of hYears ago, following the discovery of corporate spies who were stealing his secrets while working in his chocolate factory, Willy Wonka fired all of his workers and closed the gates of his factory to the public. Since then, no one has been allowed in, and no one knows what goes on inside—until now. A letter appears in the newspaper, written by Mr. Wonka, telling readers that he will be allowing five children and their guardians to visit his factory and see how he makes his chocolate; moreover, each of these children will receive from Mr. Wonka’s factory a lifetime supply of chocolate. But to be among these five children, one must find one of the five golden tickets, each of which has been packaged in one or another of Mr. Wonka’s delicious products.
While every child in the world (and probably many of the adults as well) would like to have a chance to visit the famous factory and meet its mysterious owner, one child for whom such an experience would be particularly exciting is Charlie Bucket. Charlie and his family are poor, so Charlie only gets chocolate once a year; moreover, he and his parents eat boiled cabbage at most of their meals because it is all they can afford. To make things worse, Charlie has to walk past Mr. Wonka’s factory every day, and as he passes, he smells the smells coming from there and they make him think of the chocolate he enjoys so much, but has so seldom.
Unlike some of the other children in the story, Charlie is patient and polite (and perhaps the alliterative possibilities are intended to suggest that these personal qualities are related to Charlie’s poverty—the other children, significantly, are rich, rapacious and rebellious), and it seems to be because of his strong impulse control and his ability to delay gratification that Charlie avoids making some of the mistakes made by the other children.
But Dahl’s book is not all serious moralizing. The exaggerated representation of poverty, the caricatured characters, the fantastic interior of the chocolate factory, and the unreal volubility of the factory owner himself, suggest that in this narrative Dahl is more interested in humor and fun than in communicating standards of good behaviour to children. A satiric work, and just the thing for a still-developing sense of schadenfreude. ...more
Following a car crash on an icy road, a young man is taken to a hospital where he gradually comes out of a comatose state. Suffering from a brain injuFollowing a car crash on an icy road, a young man is taken to a hospital where he gradually comes out of a comatose state. Suffering from a brain injury, he has no memory of the details of his accident. More disquieting, while he has no trouble recognizing his friends, he is suffering from an uncommon psychological condition termed “Capgras delusion,” causing him to believe that his sister is not really his sister, but an imposter posing as his sister.
While some of the narrative is from the point of view of the brother (with several interesting stream-of-consciousness passages representing his emergence from his coma), much of it is from the point of view of the sister, and it is in these passages that Powers makes his most interesting points about identity: although in many instances the sister tries to find ways to prove to her brother that she is who she says she is, in others we see her adjusting to her brother’s delusional beliefs, resulting in her questioning her own identity.
A third character, a neurologist whom the sister contacts to work with her and her brother, supplies an additional perspective on the theme of self and the identity, and while much of his commentary reflects scientific views on the brother’s psychological disorder, the neurologist’s perspective is not entirely one of critical distance inasmuch as he is experiencing an identity crisis of his own. Thus, Powers constructs an interesting triangle in which the doubts and frustrations of each character function to comment on the other characters.
While Powers’s The Gold Bug Variations, narrating the early history of DNA research, contains a lot of scientific discourse, and his Prisoner's Dilemma, with its exploration of the stories families tell about themselves to one another, is formally innovative, The Echo Maker seems a rather conventional novel. There is some scientific discourse, but not as much as I was expecting, and there is little experimentation with narrative form.
For me, the novel is flawed. A lot of it seems extra-ordinarily true-to-life, particularly the psychological tensions among the various characters; in this respect it reminded me of some of the best work of Philip Roth. However, there were some events in the action that seemed like things that could only happen in a novel, and juxtaposed to the realism of the rest of the work, they seemed artificial and forced....more
Shortly after finishing this, I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a novel that builds up a high degree of suspense and expectation iShortly after finishing this, I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a novel that builds up a high degree of suspense and expectation in the reader through the first four-fifths of the narrative, but that is flawed by the last fifth, in which we learn the main character’s actual situation, the specifics of which seem a bit trite given the Orwellian or Kafkian possibilities with which the novel begins. Similarly, Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase ends in a way that does not seem to fit with the way it begins. It is narrated by a nameless protagonist who, because of an action that was insignificant in itself, has come to the attention of a mysterious “boss” who now holds the power of life and death over the protagonist. The boss gives the protagonist a job to do, and the protagonist, through some detective work and a number of fortunate coincidences, learns more about the meaning of the job he has been assigned.
Through the early part of the novel, most of the events the protagonist experiences are realistic, and they are narrated in a realistic style (a kind of contemporary noir style that reminded me of Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy). However, somewhere halfway through the novel, events turn fantastic and build toward a denouement that to me seemed like a deus ex machina inasmuch as the protagonist is given the answers he is looking for rather than finding them for himself. Moreover, while the deus ex machina supplies the protagonist with his answers, for me it raised other questions with regard to the structure of the novel and the fictional world in which the narrative is set.
Nevertheless, it does work. Murakami’s novel, particularly the latter half of it, asks for a rather considerable suspension of disbelief, and in my case I went with it. This was largely because of that realist style that made the book so enjoyable for me: even as events become a little less credible, Murakami continues to employ the same style, writing of unreal events realistically (somewhat like Salman Rushdie or Gabriel García Márquez).
So is Murakami’s realist style in this novel simply a bait-and-switch? I am no longer so sure. I think back on events earlier in the novel and think some of them could have been fantastic as well (very likely in fact), but that at the time of first reading about them I viewed them as realistic not only because they seemed possible, if unlikely, but also because of what I expect with regard to a certain style of writing.
And perhaps this is Murakami’s intention in this genre-bending work: to call the reader’s attention to his or her expectations with regard to genre and style. And on this, the level of postmodern experiment, Murakami’s novel works almost as well as it does on the level of style. ...more
Perhaps the best-known novel to have come out of Oregon is Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, about the lives of some of the patients in a pPerhaps the best-known novel to have come out of Oregon is Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, about the lives of some of the patients in a psychiatric hospital. Some of the events in that novel are based on Kesey’s own experiences while he was employed in such an institution in Oregon, but it is in his later work, Sometimes a Great Notion, that Kesey attempts to communicate something of the experience of living in Oregon. The novel is about the logging industry, and in particular about a family of loggers, the Stampers, who are working to fill a large contract, and their battle with the other loggers in the community, who have unionized and are on strike. Because of the size of the contract (and possibly also because of the scarcity of non-striking temporary help—although the novel seems vague on this latter point) the family contacts one of its members, a young man who has lived in New York City much of his life, to return to Oregon to help with the logging. In this brother’s return to Oregon is emblematized not only the familiar theme of the clash between an urban liberal culture and a conservative rural culture, but also the contrasts between the pioneer and the modern mentality.
One way in which Kesey represents this clash is through the experimental technique of representing the story through shifting points of view, employing different members of the Stamper family to narrate different parts of the story. In addition, while not narrated by them, some parts of the story are represented through the point of view of several minor characters. Some of you may be thinking of William Faulkner, and there are these similarities and possibly others between these two novelists to be explored, but while the narrative techniques of Faulkner’s work are very controlled, there is a spontaneity to Kesey’s employment of the device, reflected for instance in the way that the point of view will shift very suddenly from one character to another, frequently mid-paragraph, and sometimes mid-sentence. Not only does this increase the dramatic tension of the events in the story; it also calls attention to the differences in cultural background among the different characters (particularly the two brothers, one of whom was a high school football player and a soldier, and who now works as a logger, and the other of whom is a university educated urbanite); at the same time, the manner in which the representation of one character’s thought may flow into the representation of another character's thought contributes to suggesting the strength and depth of the familial ties among those characters; indeed, the events of the story emerge primarily from the history between the two brothers, and the emotions connected with this.
In addition to its story, its characters, and Kesey’s psychological observations, the book is worth reading for its natural description; Kesey lived much of his life in Oregon, and the passages in this novel on the different types of birds, animals and plants reflect his knowledge of and his deep connection with his natural surroundings. ...more
In this work of fiction, the Khazars are a people who were prominent in early medieval times, but whose numbers have gradually decreased until now theIn this work of fiction, the Khazars are a people who were prominent in early medieval times, but whose numbers have gradually decreased until now there are almost none left. In the twelfth century and again in the twentieth, they are the focus of a number of scholars researching the conversion of this people from their traditional religion to one of the major organized religions; the twist is that the Islamic scholars claim the Khazars converted to Islam, the Jewish scholars that they converted to Judaism, and the Christian scholars that they converted to Christianity.
Perhaps because of all the work by Jorge Luis Borges I have already read, a lot of this seems to me imitative of the Argentine's fictions. The book is in the form of three dictionaries, one reflecting the Islamic, another the Jewish and a third the Christian viewpoint on the “Khazar polemic.” One of the metafictional devices in the work is that some of the information in each dictionary is about the production of the dictionary. Also like some of Borges’s work, Pavic’s novel employs the conventions and style of non-fiction writing to comment on fictional books. In addition, there is much about dreams, dopplegangers, mirrors, alphabets and ephemeralities, themes I associate with Borges’s fiction. One story in particular reminded me of Borges’s “The Circular Ruins”; something else in the book reminded me of something that happens in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had not already seen some of these ideas elsewhere. Pavic’s writing here is poetic, and while sometimes he employs the form of the story, at others he uses the form of the historic chronicle, paratactically juxtaposing miscellaneous facts together not because of a narrative relation between them, but because they are details in the biographies of the individuals about whom he is writing. While this is a difficult style to read, it also seems to resemble the style of pre-modern historic writing; thus, it contributes to the “realism” of the book.
One distinction between Pavic and Borges is that the latter never wrote a novel, and for me this is one significant difference between this book and Borges’s stories: while Borges imagined possible hypertextual novels in his short fictions, in his Dictionary, Pavic supplies us with one, and it is this aspect of the book that makes it unlike most others I have read (the exceptions being other hypertextual novels like 253: A Novel and Pale Fire). As you read around in it, you find that each of the “books,” the Red, Green and Yellow (the Christian, Islamic and Jewish dictionaries respectively) is connected to the others in ways that are not apparent to their respective authors. While at times I found the experience of reading the book to be something like following the links on a Wikipedia article, at others it was more like hearing first one side of a conference call, and then later hearing the second, and then the third side....more
A train on the Bakerloo line in the London Underground leaves Embankment Station, stopping first at Waterloo Station and then at Lambeth North StationA train on the Bakerloo line in the London Underground leaves Embankment Station, stopping first at Waterloo Station and then at Lambeth North Station on its way to its terminus at Elephant and Castle Station. The train has 7 cars and there are 36 people in each car: including the driver, there is a total of 253 persons on the train.
253, or Tube Theatre is divided into seven “chapters,” one for each car in the train; each chapter is divided into thirty-six sections, one for each of the passengers. Each section is 253 words long.
Geoff Ryman’s work is like a phone book, but with annotations. It is not so much a novel as a series of very short stories, each representing 7 ½ minutes in the life of one or another of the characters. As Jean-Francois Lyotard said, postmodernism is “a scepticism toward meta-narratives.” Or Lawrence Dobkin: “There are eight million stories in the naked city.”
Each section includes the name of a character, a physical description, information about who that character is, and a description of what the character happens to be thinking about or doing at the moment. The characters represent a range of people, including the wealthy and the poor, the young and the old, the native-born, the immigrant and the visitor. There are professionals, trades persons, students, retired persons, and the unemployed. Some characters travel in small groups while others travel alone.
Part of the fun of the book is seeing the way that one character’s story connects with that of another. For instance, people who already know one another in their professional or personal lives might be on the train at the same time, but on different cars, so that they do not meet during the trip. Other characters might interact with one another because of the situation in which they find themselves. Still others may not interact with one another, but it is always possible that the reader will find other ways of connecting one character with another.
This book refers to itself as the “print remix” of 253, or Tube Theatre, which first appeared online as an interactive novel. ...more
Richard Hell is probably best known as the singer and bass guitarist of the early punk band The Voidoids. His novel Go Now, based on some of his own eRichard Hell is probably best known as the singer and bass guitarist of the early punk band The Voidoids. His novel Go Now, based on some of his own experiences, is like Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting in that it explores the social and psychological effects of heroin addiction. The book is narrated by Billy, who often comments on how messed up he is both by junk and by rock and roll culture, and who gets himself into injurious situations, perhaps to prove to the reader (and to himself) how messed up he is.
The story begins with Billy, a musician in a punk rock band, being hired to fly from New York to Los Angeles with a woman named Chrissa; from there they are to pick up their employer’s DeSoto Explorer and return to New York. As part of the job, Chrissa is to take pictures and Billy to write about their experiences as they drive east. So the narrative is in the form of a picaresque or, to employ the more popular term, a road trip. Or so it seems.
The pair travels through cities like San Francisco, Reno and Denver, places that would probably be interesting to know about, but the fact is that for much of the narrative Billy limits himself to describing how he feels—before, during and after sex, for instance, and before, during and after his drug fixes. Sometimes, he does comment on the strained relations he has with the people around him—which is a good thing, because if he didn’t, he would be like the narrator of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, commenting on little beyond the events in his own mind. Fortunately, late in the novel Billy wakes up from his drug-induced stupor long enough to pay attention to his surroundings, and to describe them in some detail. This is in Lexington, Kentucky, Billy’s hometown—and perhaps not so coincidentally the hometown of the book’s author as well.
The book is messed up on the level of its discourse as well. In many instances Hell’s prose seems over-written, and there were a few purple passages that I thought could have been improved by leaving out an adjective or three. However, if it is true that “each man kills the thing he loves,” as Oscar Wilde writes in “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” then Billy’s mixed metaphors, split infinitives, redundancies and neologisms (or are they misspellings?) supply evidence for his frequent claim that he loves language. Perhaps his mangled grammar can be interpreted in the context of Ezra Pound’s “Make it new.” And in fact there are some very good passages here—analyses of feelings, philosophical comments on identity, and a discussion on the psychology of the serial killer that reminds this reader of some of the ideas of Georges Bataille. While the book is not quite On the Road, often it is as hyperbolic and yea-saying as that important peripatetic work. ...more
Dutch Schultz was a New York gangster of the 1920s and 30s. On October 23, 1935, he was shot by Charles Workman, a hit man who worked for Murder Inc.Dutch Schultz was a New York gangster of the 1920s and 30s. On October 23, 1935, he was shot by Charles Workman, a hit man who worked for Murder Inc. Schultz was taken to the hospital where he remained alive for 22 more hours; during this time, he was in and out of consciousness. Detectives and a police stenographer sat by his bed, questioning him and writing down what he said. Some say that Dutch Schultz’s last words represent a mind in delirium; others think that they are clues to secrets about the criminal underworld. They could also be read as an instance of stream of consciousness poetry.
Although William S. Burroughs’s The Last Words of Dutch Schultz is structured around the event of the shooting and the police interrogation, in fact this text is not only about Schultz’s last words, but also about Schultz’s life from his childhood until his death. The text does not include Schultz’s last words in their entirety (but there are websites on the Internet where you can read the transcript).
This work differs from other Burroughs works in that it is not a novel, but a film script, with the events in the narrative divided by shot. In addition, the text is divided into columns, with the right hand side describing what is happening on screen, and the left hand side describing what is heard on the soundtrack.
Another difference between this book and other fictions by Burroughs is that this one is relatively linear. While cause and effect relations between scenes are not always clear, the events in the narrative are represented in roughly chronological order, beginning with Dutch Schultz in the hospital, and then flashing back to his childhood and his criminal activities as an adult. However, there is little conventional exposition; I found I had to look up some details about Schultz’s life in order to be able to follow the script (and to find out which of the characters are in fact Burroughs’s fictions, as opposed to those characters that are based on actual people).
While the dialogue is not experimental in comparison with Burroughs’s novels, some of the ideas he suggests for filming the script are. In one section, for instance, Burroughs suggests that the conventions of silent film be employed to represent a particular sequence of events. Elsewhere, he specifies shots using stock footage. There are experiments with the soundtrack, as well as with visual representation. For example, the script includes sequences in which a film sequence is “looped,” and repeatedly interrupts the main action. As well, there are scenes that repeat other scenes, except that they employ different actors.
The book also contains reproductions of photographs, some representing Dutch Schultz and people with whom he is associated, and others representing details from the period in which Schultz lived. ...more
The Dice Man resembles comic narratives set in academia, such as David Lodge's Small World: An Academic Romance or Robert Grudin’s Book. However, thisThe Dice Man resembles comic narratives set in academia, such as David Lodge's Small World: An Academic Romance or Robert Grudin’s Book. However, this is not only a satire of the psychiatric industry in America; at times, it reads like the type of radical re-thinking of reality that often accompanies the emergence of a new religion. Its protagonist is Luke Rhinehart, a professional psychiatrist who decides early in the novel to let dice determine his actions. Before long, his dice-throwing has serious consequences both in his personal and professional life.
Not long ago, I wrote a negative review of Terry Southern’s The Magic Christian; there, I complained about the lack of depth in the main character and the somewhat formulaic plot. For me, The Dice Man makes obvious what I find problematic with Southern’s novel. Rhinehart’s protagonist is complex, and while some of his dice-dictated behaviours are merely whimsical and eccentric, others go against his own sense of morality. The question, then, is how far is Rhinehart willing to go in allowing the dice to decide for him? In addition, in contrast to Southern’s Guy Grand, who is wealthy and can afford to lose money, Rhinehart frequently experiences real loss as a result of his dice-throwing, and is almost always at risk of losing more.
The novel half-seriously includes passages from “The Book of the Die,” a fictional work that comments on the “dicelife” in language that parodies the Bible. I refer to this as “half-serious” because in fact the novel makes a strong argument that throwing dice to make decisions is just as sane and wise as any other method of determining one’s future actions. In this respect, The Dice Man resembles some of the great novels of ideas, like The Brothers Karamazov or The Magic Mountain. In its philosophical gestures, The Dice Man is not too far from the work of Herman Hesse.
Although the book gets into big ideas, the writing is rarely abstract. In this, the author follows Henry James’s writing in the preface to Daisy Miller that the novelist must “dramatize.” Nor does Rhinehart experiment with prose; apart from the scriptural parodies, most of the passages that stand out stylistically are those depicting sexual actions. In addition, the prose has a very contemporary tone to it—apart from some references to Vietnam and encounter groups, there is little making this novel feel “dated.”
The novel is well-plotted. As Rhinehart refers more and more of his decisions to the dice, there is an escalation of the amount of the risk into which he puts himself. For much of the narrative, this increased risk results in comic situations. Late in the novel, however, Rhinehart’s dice-throwing involves some life and death decisions (and there is one such decision that some readers may find has turned out a little too conveniently—but if it had turned out much differently, this would have been a different kind of novel). The author maintains the plot well and, in comparison to many other novels, the conclusion to which the narrative builds is one of the most satisfying I have seen; it is certainly one of the best kinds of conclusions one could employ with regard to the ideas the novel explores.
To sum up, The Dice Man is entertaining, funny, philosophical and worth the time. Read it, and you too may find yourself questioning what is “normal.” ...more
Like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who employed fiction to represent significant ideas in existential philosophy, Houellebecq deploys fiction inLike Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who employed fiction to represent significant ideas in existential philosophy, Houellebecq deploys fiction in an ethical inquiry. That this is a “novel of ideas” is reflected in the characterization of the two protagonists, a pair of half-brothers whose attitudes toward sex are in sharp contrast with one another: Michel lacks interest in it while Bruno is obsessed with it. The book’s didacticism is also reflected in the many philosophical passages interrupting the narrative. Indeed, the story of the half-brothers merely seems to function as a device to motivate the narrator’s observations on subjects such as youth and old age, disease and death, and New Age thought. Like The Corrections, Houellebecq’s novel explores dysfunctional relationships; unlike Franzen’s work, however, The Elementary Particles typically takes a broader view. For instance, the brothers’ dysfunctional relationships can be traced in part to their relationship with their free-spirited mother; however, the narrator points out that the mother’s behaviour is merely a symptom of the ideology of individualism that dominates Western culture....more
The action alternates between a polite conversation the protagonist, Guy Grand, is having with his aunts, and descriptions of Guy’s practical jokes, mThe action alternates between a polite conversation the protagonist, Guy Grand, is having with his aunts, and descriptions of Guy’s practical jokes, many of which have to do with his buying a large company (a newspaper, a cosmetics company, a marketing company) and then finding ways to make the business lose money. In this way, the book satirizes the excesses of capitalism and middle-class respectability. There is not much of a plot, however. We never see Guy Grand questioning what he is doing, nor are we ever told why he does what he does. Basically, there is no character development. So, after a few chapters, the action becomes kind of predictable. For instance, late in the book, when Guy Grand buys a cruise ship, we know that the passengers are going to have an unpleasant time, and this turns out to be the case. So, while some of the situations are funny, the book was not as good as I was hoping it would be....more
No doubt many know that The Bell Jar is a novel about a young woman gradually slipping into depression, attempting suicide and getting treatment. TheNo doubt many know that The Bell Jar is a novel about a young woman gradually slipping into depression, attempting suicide and getting treatment. The plot makes the descent more dramatic by beginning with the young woman working with eleven other women at a popular magazine and going to parties, fashion shows and film premieres as part of her assignment. There is a clear contrast between these events, during which the protagonist/ narrator pays a lot of attention to her makeup, hair and clothing, and to the details of objects around her, and events later in the novel, when she stops bathing or laundering her clothes and begins carrying razor blades around in her pocket book. The novel is ambiguous about why the young woman becomes depressed, but there are some suggestions. Early in the book, the narrator says that her father died when she was nine, and later she says that the last time she remembered feeling happy was when she was nine. As well, there is a lot of discussion of a boyfriend by whom she had been disappointed, and in fact the narrator associates some of her actions with this disappointment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that either or both of these events cause Esther’s depression, but the information is included in the novel, and supplies a background against which Esther’s experiences can be interpreted. However, Plath’s interest is not in the etiology of depression, but in a first hand account of a person experiencing the disease. Indeed, there are few characters in the novel that comment on the protagonist’s condition; typically, they ask her how she is feeling, but they do not tell her what they think about her situation. Inasmuch as Plath’s novel is a representation of depression as it is experienced subjectively, the confessional mode she employs contributes to the psychological realism of the narrative. Precise descriptions of the behaviour of other people also contribute to the realism, as do the descriptions of sights and sounds, some of which descriptions are as vivid as Imagist poems....more