Monday, 18 August 2014

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (3/5)

First published: 1604
Page count: 104

The back says: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe, based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. Doctor Faustus was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe’s death and at least twelve years after the first performance of the play.

I say: I have been meaning to read this play for the longest time, and now that I have, I wish I had done it much earlier – before I read other interpretations of the same story, because this was very underwhelming. 

Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for anything he wants for 24 years with Mephistophilis, one of the devil’s henchmen, as his servant. His wish is granted, but during that time he doesn’t really do anything of importance, just lecturing to people and visiting heads of state.

He does play a joke on the Pope that offered some comic relief.

[Spoilers – highlight to read] At the end of his 24 years, Faustus starts regretting eternity in hell and tries to repent in order that God will forgive him and allow him into heaven. This doesn’t happen and the play ends with Faustus being taken into hell.

What bothered me the most was the language – the play was written at the end of the 1500’s – which was archaic and cumbersome. It wasn’t hard to understand, just not what I am used to. Having said that, there are a few passages that were quite beautiful. Like when Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he is out of hell and he replies:
 

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

 
I must admit I found it rather surprising that Mephistophilis would try to talk Faustus out of entering the deal with the devil, but it gives the play a deeper meaning beyond the simple one I have always presumed.

Another thing that I didn’t care for was that whenever Faustus was questioning his faith or considering repentance, a good and a bad angel would appear and plead their cases. This felt contrived and, again, probably because I have seen it done so many times it merely annoyed me.

What is left are the play’s literary and philosophical merits, which I don’t want to get into on this blog. More than the play itself I gained more from reading about it and pondering the question of selling one’s soul to the devil.

So, 3/5 because of its literary importance (the play itself would otherwise get a 2).

Friday, 1 August 2014

On the Move

I've moved to Edinburgh, Scotland (from Sweden).

Hence the silence.

New job on Monday and soon after that I hope to get back to my reading.

*as you were*

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (2.5/5)

First published: 1956
Page count: 57

The back says: Allen Ginsberg's Howl & Other Poems was originally published by City Lights Books in the fall of 1956. Subsequently seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police, it was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene.

I say: I expected so much of this collection simply because of the beauty of the first four lines of Howl. These four iconic and classic lines:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

 

The rest of part one of Howl is about the things that these ‘minds’ are and do, and it is beautiful in that broken and deprived way. Ginsberg was a part of the Beat Generation and this poem personifies himself, his peers and their surroundings.

The rest of the poems were not my cup of tea, at all. Some of them bored me to tears, while others were tolerable.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland (3/5)

First published: 2001
Page count: 279

The back says: In a cheap motel an hour from Cape Canaveral, Janet Drummond takes her medication, and does a rapid tally of the whereabouts of her children. Wade has spent the night in jail; suicidal Bryan is due to arrive at any moment with his vowel-free girlfriend, Shw; and then there is Sarah, ‘a bolt of lightning frozen midflash’ – here in Orlando to be the star of Friday’s shuttle mission. With Janet’s ex-husband and his trophy wife also in town, Janet spends a moment contemplating her family and where it all went wrong. Or did it?

I say: I have been meaning to read more Coupland for years; buying his books and shelving them for another day. Well, today was finally that day and it wasn’t as grand as I had hoped.

In fact, it was rather meh.

There were only two elements of this novel that interested me; the first one being the reason Janet has to take medication and the family’s past. It was gritty and sad, and even though I don’t particularly savour stories of hardship, there was something about Janet and Wade’s perseverance that endeared them to me. Out of all the characters they seemed the most genuine, despite their flaws and repeated mistakes.

And there were many.

The main reason I didn’t enjoy this was that there were too much random nonsense and silly plot twists that turned the novel into a farce. Supposedly there is humour in here, but I never laughed once and, quite frankly, couldn’t pinpoint a single joke.

Maybe the irony of it all was meant to be funny?

Meh.

I don’t know if I like Coupland’s prose – it got the job done with little no offense. It had moments of present action mixed with flashbacks that revealed the steps that led the family where they were, and kudos a plenty for the exciting patchwork that made up this family drama.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Klangernas Bok: Dikter av Göran Sonnevi (3/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 1998
Antal sidor: 114

Baksidan säger:
Göran Sonnevis nya diktsamling Klangernas bok innehåller 102 orimmade sonetter i en sammanhållen diktsvit. Boken anknyter formellt till Göran Sonnevis tidigare bok Små klanger; en röst, men är öppnare och personligare i sin intensiva flätning av kärlekens och dödens teman.

Jag säger: Jag tyckte att den här samlingen var lite ojämn. Ibland var den otroligt vacker och intensiv, och ibland var den lite för alldaglig. Sonnevi talar om sin mor som är döende i cancer; sina funderingar över livet och döden; vad som gör oss människor och då och då smyger han in vardagen med sin älskade.


Trots att detta inte helt tilltalade mig så läser jag gärna mer av Sonnevi.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond, #4) by Ian Fleming (2.5/5)

First published: 1956
Page count: 235

The back says: An international diamond-smuggling pipeline has opened up and the British Treasury wants to know who's controlling it. Impersonating a captured courier named Peter Franks, Bond infiltrates the criminal ring and finds an unlikely ally in Tiffany Case, a gorgeous American with a dark past. As the ring's stateside go-between, she may be just another link in the chain, but Tiffany is also Bond's best shot at finding the elusive figure at the head of the operation - a syndicate boss known only by the initials ABC. But if Bond's cover gets blown, he’ll find that the only thing harder than a diamond is surviving the payback of a pair of murderous henchmen. With a sparkling trail of smuggled gems as bait, Diamonds Are Forever leads Bond on a globe-hopping mission where deadly assassins lurk behind every corner

I say: Just as I start praising Fleming and asserting that these novels are getting better, this comes along.

Oh deary me, what a mess.

The most interesting titbit was probably that this is the first time we find out that Bond likes his Martinis shaken, not stirred. He has been very specific about the amounts of spirits and lemon peel before, and I was wondering if the classic line was going to emerge or if it was a product of the film version.

Now I know.

Other than that we are treated to yet another boring assignment - that the synopsis outlines so well that I have nothing to add – with improbable escapes, a love interest, chauvinism, racism and derogatory remarks about homosexuals.

I really dislike Bond.

This instalment has also made me realise that I don’t care for Fleming’s prose. I find reading these novels trying because there is so much excess information and the remind me of watching CSI in that you know all will be concluded in the eleventh hour. Of course, I knew this from watching the films, but it is getting on my nerves.

Assignment. Sexual attraction to a woman. Boring facts and non-happenings. Locating the bad guys. Action. Capture – usually with the woman. Improbable escape. One paragraph conclusion.


Sigh.

There’s a huge probability that I won’t read all of Fleming’s novels about Bond and just stop this project after the next one, simply because it is part of my 100 Classics Challenge.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) by Ian Fleming (3.5/5)

First published: 1955
Page count: 245

The back says: ”For several minutes he stood speechless, his eyes dazzled by the terrible beauty of the greatest weapon on earth”

He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.

I say: Well, well, well, these novels are getting better as I go along.

Or am I merely getting used to it all?

As the synopsis says, Drax has made millions and yet cheats at cards at a private gentlemen’s club in London. A friend of Bond’s boss, M., asks if they can help him solve this puzzle. The situation is delicate because Drax is responsible for the building of the Moonraker, a missile that is meant to be able to target any major city, thus making England a big threat. In five days it is set for a test run and the entire nation will be watching.

As in Casino Royale, there is never any doubt that Bond is going to figure out how Drax is cheating; it is simple a plot device to get Bond somehow involved with the man responsible for the Moonraker. Another plot device is that the following day one of the security staff at the site gets shot and Bond is called in to investigate.

In this novel we find out that Bond isn’t permitted to work in England, but, of course, they make allowances for him to save the day.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the Drax’s elaborate background – more so than the main plot itself – and even though I had my suspicions, Fleming did a great job with this one. As always, there were improbable escapes mixed with blatant chauvinism and uncouth behaviour from Bond, and I’m finding the formula of the obligatory sexual tension with female co-star extremely wearisome.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2) by Ian Fleming (3/5)

First published: 1954
Page count: 230

The back says: "Her hair was black and fell to her shoulders. She had high cheekbones and a sensual mouth, and wore a dress of white silk. Her eyes were blue, alight and disdainful, but, as they gazed into his with a touch of humour, Bond realized that they contained a message. Solitaire watched his eyes on her and nonchalantly drew her forearms together so that the valley between her breasts deepened. The message was unmistakable."

Beautiful, fortune-telling Solitaire is the prisoner (and tool) of Mr Big — master of fear, artist in crime and Voodoo Baron of Death. James Bond has no time for superstition — he knows that this criminal heavy hitter is also a top SMERSH operative and a real threat. More than that, after tracking him through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the everglades and on to the Caribbean, 007 has realized that Big is one of the most dangerous men that he has ever faced. And no-one, not even the mysterious Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end...

I say: The second instalment of Bond was less offensive than the first, and I think the main reason is that Fleming put more thought into the plot. This time he is going after Mr Big whom he suspects of smuggling ancient pirate loot in the form of gold coins that have suddenly shown up around Harlem. Bond (and his people) believe that Big is smuggling in the coins from the Caribbean and goes to investigate.

Of course.

While in Harlem, Fleming does that which I hate with a passion: writes the African Americans’ lines in vernacular. I find this tedious to read and don’t see how it added anything to the story.

There was less chauvinism in this novel and Bond didn’t really annoy as much. I still find his manners grating, but because there was more action this time, I didn’t dwell that much on what he was doing. I was more concerned about the improbability of the majority of happenings. Yes, I know that this is fiction, but come on.

Aside: I’m trying to figure out if Bond is an alcoholic.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Casino Royale (James Bond, #1) by Ian Fleming (2.5/5)

First published: 1953
Page count: 156

The back says: 'Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.' In Casino Royale, the first of Fleming's 007 adventures, a game of cards is James Bond's only chance to bring down the desperate SMERSH agent Le Chiffre. But Bond soon discovers that there is far more at stake than money.

I say: First of all, I have to admit that I hate the film version of James Bond – all of them – because all I see is a smug chauvinistic know-it-all that thinks he is god’s gift to everything. However, because I love to torture myself in the name of academia boredom wanting to settle a score (a friend who insist Bond is all things perfection and that pesky 100 Classics Challenge), I decided to read all 12 novels and 2 short story collections about Bond by Ian Fleming, starting with Casino Royale.

Oh, the humanity.

Since I do not like this genre of literature – spy, detective, crime – this is going to be a long a painstaking process. My only reprieve is that they are short and easily read. Fleming’s prose is straightforward and although I don’t particularly care for it, there is nothing negative I can say about it.

Not really.

James Bond, on the other hand, is a nuisance.

In Casino Royale he is to gamble and make agent Le Chiffre lose all his money. If anyone for any second believes that this isn’t going to work, they have never encountered Bond before. Sure, there are some twists and turns along the way, and the real mystery actually begins after Bond wins.

Needless to say, it all bored me to tears.

I “amused” myself by noting all the chauvinistic, psychotic, and just plain offensive things Bond believed. Like this gem about luck:


Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued. – p 45


Charming.

Or how about this gold nugget:


This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men. – p 88


Swoon.

I fear there will be more of the kind in the next 13 novels and I am not sure if it’s a triumph to report that Bond is worse than I had imagined or simply a tragedy because people like and him. Granted, the last Bond I saw was Roger Moore, he may not be so bad in the films.

All I remember as a young child was that I hated him.

A quick wiki search has revealed to me that after Fleming’s death other authors have written about a jillion more novels about James Bond and for the sake of my own sanity, I will not read them.

Unless I suffer a serious brain injury and start enjoying them.

2.5/5 because ugh.

Aside: Bond explains here that the double o entails having killed in cold blood. However, he does insist that it is nothing to be impressed by.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana (3/5)

First published: 2005
Page count: 184

The back says: In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

Three of the eight chapters are told from the point of view of Christine’s two older sisters, Patti, a born-again Christian who finds herself starving at her boarding school, and Rosa, a free spirit who tries to “magically” seduce one of her teachers. But the star of
Tropical Fish is Christine, whom we accompany from her first wobbly steps in high heels, to her encounters with the first-world conveniences and alienation of America, to her return home to Uganda.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer.

I say: For some strange reason I expected more from this collection of short stories that it left me disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the stories, they merely failed to move me.

At all.

I found myself reading for the sake of reading without any particular interest in the characters or their fate, and I attribute much of this to the prose, which I found rather childlike and without sensation. In essence the stories should appeal to me - they are all interesting - but the execution hindered my enjoyment. The only time I felt anything was in Lost in Los Angeles when Christine was describing the way the Ugandans would meet up to talk about home.

Everything else in that story – and most of the others as well - felt contrived; like relatable clichés.

3/5 because it could have been better if I hadn’t expected more (that’s what I get for succumbing and reading the accolades on the cover).