Tuesday, 28 July 2015

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (2/5)

First published: 1991
Page count: 416
The back says: Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and works on Wall Street; he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath. Taking us to a head-on collision with America's greatest dream - and its worst nightmare - American Psycho is a bleak, bitter, black comedy about a world we all recognize but do not wish to confront.

I say: Such. Effing. Tedium.

Ugh.

I had to force myself to finish this. Why? Because I kept waiting for something magnificent.

It never came.

What I got was pages and pages of designer names, ridiculous conversations, and misogynistic violence and gore. The only shocking part of this novel was how utterly dull and pointless I found it. Psychopathic Wall Street guy kills and dismembers people in between talking trash with his equally shallow friends and obsessing over The Patty Winters Show and other random pop culture. Though I do realise that this is satire, a so called ‘black comedy’, which is saturated in inane violence for the sheer shock factor of it all, it merely left me deflated and counting the amount of pages left until I was done with it all.

Meh.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Belkin Tales by Aleksander Pushkin (4/5)


First published: 1830
Original title: Повести покойного Ивана Петровича Белкина
Original language: Russian
Translation to Swedish by: Eugen von Sabsay and C. Sterzel

Page count: 112
GoodReads says: Ivan Petrovich Belkin left behind a great number of manuscripts... Most of them, as Ivan Petrovich told me, were true stories heard from various people.

First published anonymously in 1830, Alexander Pushkin’s
Tales of Belkin contains his first prose works. It is comprised of an introductory note and five linked stories, ostensibly collected by the scholar Ivan Belkin. The stories center variously around military figures, the wealthy, and businessmen; this beautiful novella gives a vivid portrait of nineteenth century Russian life.

It has become, as well, one of the most beloved books in Russian literary history, and symbolic of the popularity of the novella form in Russia. In fact, it has become the namesake for Russia’s most prestigious annual literary prize, the Belkin Prize, given each year to a book voted by judges to be the best novella of the year.
 
I say: I read four of the short stories in a Swedish translation before finding the last one in an English translation, which, unfortunately, somewhat affects the way I thought of them; mainly because I hate reading Swedish translations. The reason I did so now was because I could download the Swedish translation from the Swedish library, whereas the Newcastle library didn’t have it (they barely have any Russian books here).

Having said all that, I do realise that the story remains the same in each language, but since I am a huge fan of words in and of themselves, it does affect my reading experience if I find the translation choppy and laborious – which I did with the Swedish translation of the first four stories. This was only heightened when I read the English translation, so I will write another review when I have read all the stories in English.

And on to the review.

I really liked all of the stories, which are presented in a foreword as having been told to Pushkin by Belkin. None of the stories have anything to do with Belkin - or each other (apart from, as the synopsis says, they “center variously around military figures, the wealthy, and business men” in nineteenth century Russia – other than having been told to him previously. I always find it hard reviewing short story collections without going into too much detail about each story, so I’ll say that a couple of them had predictable endings whereas the other three surprised me. There are some humorous passages and sentences sprinkled into the stories as well as descriptions of the bleak Russia that I have come to love.

I am very much looking forward to reading more of Pushkin’s works, in English, and will revisit this collection to give a better review in the future. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov (2/5)

First published: 1972
Page count: 105
The back says: Transparent Things revolves around the four visits of the hero - sullen, gawky Hugh Person - to Switzerland... As a young publisher, Hugh is sent to interview R., falls in love with Armande on the way, wrests her, after multiple humiliations, from a grinning Scandinavian and returns to NY with his bride... Eight years later - following a murder, a period of madness and a brief imprisonment - Hugh makes a lone sentimental journey to wheedle out his past... The several strands of dream, memory, and time [are] set off against the literary theorizing of R. and, more centrally, against the world of observable objects.

I say: For such a short novel this sure felt like a long and tedious read. I had no interest in the protagonist, found him very unlikeable, and none of his actions made sense to me. The only interesting part of the story was the aftermath of the murder, but that happens three quarters into the novel – and doesn’t last very long.

Ugh.

Nabokov uses that annoying narrator that is overly familiar with the reader and interjects silly comments here and there. Surprisingly, I was not impressed with Nabokov’s writing, which is probably why I couldn’t enjoy this at all.

It was all just meh.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Svenska Serier

Jag som sällan läser serier är nu i farten igen. 

Ligga Still av Kristian Berglund (5/5) – 2012, 20 sidor – Två ord vardera på 15 sidor om ett helt liv. Jag älskade denna och skulle köpa den direkt om den fanns som fysisk bok. Det går inte att förklara hur klockrena alla bilder är, och hur lysande de blir ihop; man måste läsa och se själv. Mer sånt här.









El Dystro av Jan Karlsson (4/5) – 2011, 12 sidor – 10 serier om hur det är att vara arg, deprimerad och frustrerad över att livet inte blivit som man hoppats och att världen inte reagerar som man vill. Jag gillade verkligen bitterheten och hopplösheten i dessa serier, och det var hög igenkänningsfaktor.












 

Feminister av Hans Lindström (3/5) – 2006, 88 sidor – En samling av Karlssons bästa serier om feminister. Jag skrattade högt åt vissa, skakade huvet åt andra, men ägnade mesta delen av tiden funderandes på jag skulle tolka dem. Vänligt tankeväckande och provocerande. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Eye by Vladimir Nabokov (5/5)

First published: 1930
Original title: Sogliadatai, Соглядатай
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Dmitri Nabokov in collaboration with Vladimir Nabokov, 1965

Page count: 121

The back says: Nabokov's fourth novel, The Eye is as much a farcical detective story as it is a profoundly refractive tale about the vicissitudes of identities and appearances. [Spoilers, highlight to read]Nabokov's protagonist, Smurov, is a lovelorn, excruciatingly self-conscious Russian émigré living in prewar Berlin, who commits suicide after being humiliated by a jealous husband, only to suffer even greater indignities in the afterlife.

I say: This was a really clever story and I absolutely loved the ending. It is becoming apparent that I am unable to figure out how Nabokov’s stories are going to end other than it is in the way I least expect them to.

I love it and hope it continues.

If you haven’t highlighted the entire synopsis: don’t. It will take away a lot from the story and the way the protagonist deals with his attempted or successful suicide. That is the catapult of the story; he commits suicide and then becomes convinced that he has died and what comes next in the story are the last of his imagination. He then starts spying on Smurov, whom he is convinced is a spy or a double agent, among other things, and the brilliance lies in his perceptions of things. In the same way that we know the narrator in Lolita to be unrealiable/unrealistic, but also the only voice we have to go by, we have to cipher through the emotions and logic of the protagonist to try to solve the mystery of what has really happened to him and who Smurov truly is.

I love it.

This was Nabokov’s first novel with a first person narrator, and since I often find the narrator in his stories overly familiar with the reader, I really loved it. I don’t think there would be a better way to tell the story since the heart of it lies inside the protagonist’s head and how he perceives the people and world around him.

5/5 and I will re-read this in the future when I have forgotten the ending.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Mary by Vladimir Nabokov (3/5)

First published: 1926
Original title: Машенька, Mashen'ka
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Michael Glenny in collaboration with Vladimir Nabokov, 1970

Page count: 144
The back says: Mary is a gripping tale of youth, first love, and nostalgia - Nabokov's first novel. In a Berlin rooming house filled with an assortment of seriocomic Russian émigrés, Lev Ganin, a vigorous young officer poised between his past and his future, relives his first love affair. His memories of Mary are suffused with the freshness of youth and the idyllic ambience of pre-revolutionary Russia. In stark contrast is the decidedly unappealing boarder living in the room next to Ganin's, who, he discovers, is Mary's husband, temporarily separated from her by the Revolution but expecting her imminent arrival from Russia.


I say: I have conflicting emotions about this novel, and as I read more of Nabokov’s works it is becoming a somewhat recurring issue. On the one hand, I didn’t find it enthralling enough; and on the other hand, I love Nabokov’s use of language and the emotions his stories tend to provoke.

It is confusing.

There are several interesting characters in the building, out of which Ganin, the protagonist, is actually the least interesting. They get together for their meals in the dining room, but other than that tend to steer clear of each other. It takes a while before we realise what Mary means to Ganin, having first been introduced to her as Alfyorov’s wife who is on her way from Russia to join her husband in Berlin. Even though the story of Ganin and Mary is somewhat curious, I would much rather have read a story about the old poet in the house.

But I do not get to decide these things.

There are elements of humour in this novel, which I always welcome, but more than the writing and the story itself I enjoyed all the emotions to be drawn from the work. Love - requited and not – longing, selfishness, regrets and perseverance. And, as seemingly always, I loved the ending and did not see it coming.

I really need to find that book club. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (3.5/5)

First published: 1957
Page count: 208
The back says: Pnin is a professor of Russian at an American college who takes the wrong train to deliver a lecture in a language he cannot master. Pnin is a tireless lover who writes to his treacherous Liza: "A genius needs to keep so much in store, and thus cannot offer you the whole of himself as I do." Pnin is the focal point of subtle academic conspiracies he cannot begin to comprehend, yet he stages a faculty party to end all faculty parties forever.

I say: It feels like I should have more to say about Pnin than I do, and maybe it’s because I insisted on reading other people’s praising reviews about it and failing to feel the same way.

I’m not sure.

The story itself wasn’t confusing, in fact, it was very straightforward and therein lies my confusion: it should be boring because I found Pnin boring, but his boring aspects also made him somewhat lovable. There’s nothing special about him, really, and nothing exciting happens in the book, but I still kept on reading because I was waiting for something.

Anything.

The saving grace is Nabokov’s writing with the underlying hint at magnificence. I feel that since the narrator is talking about Pnin there must be something special about him or his life.

Perhaps I just didn’t get it...

3.5/5 because of the writing and the ending.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov (5/5)

First published: 1935
Original title: Приглашение на казнь, Priglasheniye na kazn'
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Dmitri Nabokov in collaboration with Vladimir Nabokov, 1959

Page count: 240
The back says: Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading [spoilers, highlight to read] for "gnostical turpitude" an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws, who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.

I say: I really wish I had read this as a teenager because there are so many things going through Cincinnatus’ head that my younger self could relate to. Thus not stating that my current self couldn’t relate to the, I just wish I had picked it up sooner.

As with most literary works.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I would say that this also resembles Kafka’s The Trial, but with the difference being that Cincinnatus knows what he is being accused of, even though he doesn’t seem to fully understand it, and accepts it. It is a seriously peculiar (to say the least) crime and as he recalls his life he alternates from considering it inevitable that he should wind up in that cell to being mystified by how it all came about. I admit to having read several reviews and interpretations of the crime, and what I truly love about this is that there are differing views on what it truly entails.

I need to join a book club that has this on the reading list.

Besides the philosophical ponderings around the crime and Cincinnatus’ reaction to them, I loved the pure confusion and randomness of the characters surrounding him. It was all a mixture of head-scratching and laughing out loud to sheer disbelief and sorrow. I must re-read this because there are certain passages that I am still unsure of how they came about.

Kafkaesque indeed, even though Nabokov claims to not have been familiar with his works.

Beside the plot and hilarity, there is the magic of Nabokov’s writing. He has a way with words that is intelligent and captivating and I did find myself re-reading a lot of in order to proper savour the words.

“What a misunderstanding” said Cincinnatus and suddenly burst out laughing. He stood up and took off the dressing gown, the skullcap, the slippers. He took off the linen trousers and shirt. He took off his head like a toupee, took off his collarbones like shoulder straps, took off his rib cage like a hauberk. He took off his hips and his legs, he took off his arms like gauntlets and threw them in a corner. What was left of him gradually dissolved, hardly coloring the air. At first Cincinnatus simply reveled in the coolness; then, fully immersed in his secret medium, he began freely and happily to... The iron thunderclap of the bold resounded, and Cincinnatus instantly grew all that he had cast off, the skullcap included. [...] - p. 28

To call this anything short of perfection would be a grave mistake – and serious understatement – for there are so many magical elements to be discussed; especially the end.

5/5 because I had to stop myself from re-reading the entire book when writing down the above passage. 

Selfish Pigs by Andy Riley (4/5)

First published: 2009
Page count: 96
The back says: Nothing. But this is a collection of pigs behaving selfishly.

I say: I first heard of this collection of hilarity from a post at Sad and Useless with their favourite pictures and knew instantly that I had to buy it.

And how I love it.

This type of humour is right up my alley; ridiculous spite that is just teetering on the edge of too much. Well, mostly, some of the drawings were a tad too much even for me, but I will be buying more of Riley’s work as he is also responsible for Bunny Suicides.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Bitterfittan / Bitter Bitch av Maria Sveland (3/5)

First published: 2007
Page count: 221
The back says:
On a miserable January morning Sarah is sitting on a plane to Tenerife - dickheads' destination of choice - for a week-long getaway. She's just realised that she's very angry and becoming a bitter bitch, despite being just thirty years old. With her on the plane she has a copy of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and wishes it were 1975 instead of 2005. Sarah never intended for things to turn out the way they have: she just dreamed of love like everyone else. But now she's sitting here, thinking about all the injustices she's suffered. Thinking about how thoroughly fooled she was by the promise of love - the one that makes us want to start a family. Thinking about all the women she knows who, like her, were drained of all their energy by family hell - an inheritance passed down directly from generation to generation, from her restless mother's eczema-covered dishpan hands to her own nervous over-achiever complex. Angry and candid, Bitter Bitch is an uncompromising novel, at the heart of which is one of the most important women's issues: how can we ever have an egalitarian society when we can't even live in equality with those we love?

This is, according to Sveland, not an autobiography but rather a work inspired by her own experiences. The book criticizes the institutionalized nuclear family from a feminist perspective, pointing out issues such as women's unpaid domestic labor, sexual violence, and the disproportional male/female use of parental leave.

I say: I read this in Swedish, but since it has been translated I may as well write the review in English.

As Wiki states: “Bitterfittan is a Swedish compound noun, and could be translated either as The Bittercunt or The Bitter Cunt, or, less literally, The Bitterbitch or The Bitter Bitch.”

I wanted to like this far more than I did, and I think it’s because I remember the hype around it when it was first published. A few friends and I could identify with what was being said about the book, and what Sveland was saying, so much that we refer to our far too seldom get-togethers as bittercunting - as in,

it’s time for some bittercunting.

What I loved about the book was Sveland’s flashbacks to her childhood and the way she understood and connected the relationship she had with her parents to the relationships she had with other people. I often find it interesting to see which episodes of a person’s childhood they mark as significant and how they affect them as adults. Sveland is very candid about her feelings towards her parents and her husband, and what struck me was that she was reluctant to call it a betrayal when she was forced to stay in the hospital due to illness after giving birth and her husband decided to go home at night with their new-born son. She explains it in more detail, but it was interesting that she didn’t feel entitled to own her own emotions;

to title them as she saw fit.

What I did not really care for was the constant referral to Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. I haven’t read it and probably won’t unless I have to, but even though the referrals flowed within the text, I wasn’t interested in the way Sveland compared her life/experiences/expectations to those of Jong. This is a huge part of the book, which is why it didn’t really appeal to me.

Another part that didn’t really appeal to me was the feminist perspective that Sveland writes from. I am not going to go into a discussion about it, but I read and agreed with some of what was being said, and disagreed with other. There’s a lot of contradictions in here and I appreciate that she was aware and highlighted most of them. The book is written in such an everyday language that made for a quick read, but because it is occasionally stream of thought it was also somewhat scattered jumping from anecdotes to quotes from Jong to social commentary.

All in all 3/5 because it was a somewhat worthwhile read.