Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt (4/5)

The back says: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. Across 1000 miles of Oregon desert his assassins, the notorious Eli and Charlie Sisters, ride - fighting, shooting, and drinking their way to Sacramento. But their prey isn't an easy mark, the road is long and bloody, and somewhere along the path Eli begins to question what he does for a living - and whom he does it for.

The Sisters Brothers pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable ribald tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life-and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

I say: Last year I kept seeing this cover everywhere without really paying any real attention to it; so when I saw it at the library about a month ago I took it upon myself to find out why it was all over the place. I didn’t read the synopsis before starting to read (I hardly ever do that anymore) and I’m glad I didn’t because it doesn’t sound like anything I usually read.

This is an instance where I’m glad I judged the book by its awesome cover.

First of all, I loved the plot – even though it starts out as your typical Western (my father was obsessed with Western films, so I grew up watching them) – and even though there was quite a bit of violence, it didn’t bother me that much. I think that the thing really made me love this was all the random and borderline absurdity of the plot and characters. Like the crying man they met who may or may not have been of significance, the little girl in the town who was up to no good, and the boy who started following them.

Brilliant ridiculousness.

Another reason I loved this was the two brothers and how different they were. I am not sure if Charlie was some kind of crazy or if he was just a product of his childhood and environment. Maybe a mix of the two, but the dynamic between his readiness to kill and rob and Eli’s compassion is part of what made their journey so interesting.

And exciting.

I really like the way Dewitt writes. It was fast paced, random, clever and very humorous; I laughed out loud several times. It felt nice being in Eli’s headspace (probably since he wasn’t as crazy as his brother); his thoughts and actions felt genuine. The way Dewitt had him describe the scenery and most of the plot came across as authentic and I could see these two brothers riding across the plain in my head as I read it.

I am definitely going to check out more of Dewitt’s work.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (3/5)

The back says: Because I’m reviewing all three books, I’m going to be lazy and link to the wiki page.

I say: Initially I was going to write a separate review for all the books, but since I read them all back to back in a day I figured I might as well just do them all in one go. There have been so much talk about these books for what feels like ages, and I’ve deliberately been avoiding them (for who knows what reasons) but since the film is out, and I wanted to see it, I thought I’d read the books first.

And so I did.

While I was reading The Hunger Games I could clearly see why it has become such a huge hit. It was interesting, intriguing, fast paced and full of suspense. Collins has an amazing way of drawing you into the story and keeping you on the edge of your seat, and I liked that.

In the first book.

When it came to Catching Fire and Mockingjay it seriously felt like she jumped the shark with the storyline (especially in Mockingjay). The plot was relatively simple in The Hunger Games, and, although I wanted to know more about the world they inhabited, once I got that knowledge I was a tad annoyed. It all felt over the top; too much action, too much violence, too many implausible things happening.

Just too much.

Of everything.

It was almost as though Collins knew that in order to top the first book and keep people interested she had to bring something more exciting to the table. Now, I don’t want to overly critique the two last books, all I’m saying is that it wasn’t for me.

Another thing that wasn’t for me, and that actually annoyed me to no end, was the way that every chapter ended with a cliff hanger. I know that writers do this to keep you reading, but it was so exasperating. Some chapters were clearly cut short just to be able to end with a cliff hanger, and it simply felt contrived to me.

And so on to the character of Katniss, who, essentially, is the epitome of a Mary Sue. It wasn’t as apparent in the first book, but became extremely blatant in the last two books. Actually, it started somewhere at the end of the actual hunger games in the first book. How utterly annoying this girl became in Catching Fire – and the way she changed was partly because of the where the plot went – but how one-dimensional can you make a character? Well, apart from Peeta and Gale and pretty much everyone apart from Haymitch.

Honestly, I didn’t like any of these people.

And here I have to take a moment to merely mention the customary Mary Sue trait; having more than one boy fall in love with her and not be able to choose. Ugh, that lame ‘love triangle’ really brought nothing but annoyance to the story.

As did all the ‘fashion’.

And that ending.

*sigh*

Well, I could go on for a good few hours about this, but to summarise before this turns into an essay; I enjoyed The Hunger Games, thought Catching Fire was good, but Mockingjay was merely ok. If I knew then what I know now I would have only read The Hunger Games (no, I wouldn’t because I always have to finish things).

I’ll probably go see the film over the weekend, so I’ll do a book vs movie comparison then. I’m really excited to see how they’re going to do Katniss’ fire dress as well as how graphic they’ll make the actual hunger games. Considering that it’s allowed from 11 years here in Sweden (not sure about other countries) it can’t be too gruesome. It’s over 2 hours long (which seems a tad excessive), but if anything, I’m hoping to enjoy the action.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Boat by Nam Le (4/5)

The back says: The seven stories in Nam Le’s masterful collection takes us across the globe from the slums of Colombia to Iowa City; from the streets of Tehran to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea. They guide us to the heart of what it means to be human – and herald the arrival of a remarkable new writer.

I say: I have seen so many discussions concerning the authenticity of Le’s writing, but I’m not going to bother myself with that. Some of what is written in the stories is a bit questionable, or maybe I should say it’s a slightly cliché, but at the same time I feel as though judging the author based on his past experience can be a slippery slope that I like to stay clear of.

I have fallen in love with the way Le writes, and his language in most of these stories. He writes in that alluring, almost poetic prose that I adore, and completely draws you into whatever world it is he’s created.


Without touching too much upon the previous paragraph, most of the voices he uses do come across as realistic and beautiful. But I have to say that what really made an impression on me where the endings; even of the stories that didn’t really interest me.
Le has a way of just making me stop and reflect on myself, my life and my experiences based on a few final sentences.

Perfection.

Favourite stories: Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, Hiroshima and The Boat.

Monday, 5 March 2012

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (4.5/5)

The back says: This crisp, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Khrushchev himself, during the Russian thaw, is said to have authorized the publication of this spare, stark description of life in a Siberian labour camp. 
 
I say: As soon as I started reading I realised that I have actually read this before, which turned out to be all well and good since I loved it, but only a couple of days after I had read it and had time to reflect over the impact it made (on me and the world).

There’s not really that much to be said about the writing; it does exactly what it says on the tin: Ivan takes us through a day in his life in a labour camp. He talks about the abuse from the guards, the food they are given and how he has to cheat and do favours to get enough, as well as how despite the fact that it’s hard work, he sometimes enjoys it.  We also get sparse information of his life prior to being sent there – as a soldier he was captured by the Germans which lead the Russians to think that he was a spy.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this was that it wasn’t just doom and gloom. Despite the fact that Ivan has been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he has resigned himself to his fate and makes the best of the situation. As the day progresses he proves himself to be extremely resourceful, cunning, and a good judge of character/human nature, which is how he manages to get more food, favours and stay out of most trouble.

Due to my obsession with Russian literature I’ve read a few books about the labour camps but none of them have been as stark as this one. I can easily see myself reading this again in the future.