Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (3.5/5)

The back says: Few writers have been as successful as F. Scott Fitzgerald in conveying autobiographical materials into literary art. The Beautiful and Damned transforms the now-familiar stories about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s early marriage – the scandalous public behaviour, the nights of drunken revelry and says darkened by the ever-present shadow of insurmountable debt – into a captivating work of fiction.

Anthony Patch, “one of those many with tastes and weaknesses of an artist but with no actual creative inspiration,” and the beautiful, flirtatious Gloria, are newly married. Anticipating an inheritance from Anthony’s family, they embrace a style of life far beyond their means. In chronicling their decline – moral, physical, and financial – and offering a grimly ironic twist at the end, Fitzgerald created a satirical yet poignant portrait of the generation he and his work would define, not only for his contemporaries, but for all future readers.
I say: Anthony and Gloria have got to be two of the most tedious characters I’ve ever read about. Honestly, everything about them wearied me to distraction and I often contemplated just giving up on the story. But, as per usual, I stuck with it – and even though they only annoyed me more and more as the story progressed, the end sort of made up for it.

And not just because I no longer had to follow their stupidity, but because... actually, that was the only reason.

I despise the end and all of its implications.

When I read The Great Gatsby I was extremely underwhelmed, and the more people I talked to, the more I sort of started questioning if I hadn’t missed something. However, having now read my second novel by Fitzgerald I realise that it’s not necessarily me missing something, but more me having an issue with the prose and the characters; the first being exceedingly sentimental and the latter attempting to be larger than life, but rather turning out to be absurdly hyperbolic – and I can’t stand either. The way that Fitzgerald describes everything from the weather and the scenery to the people is tinged with a sensation that I cannot relate to; he’s romanticising these things when I can look upon them with nothing but scorn.

I don’t understand Anthony and Gloria, nor do I have any wish to. They are two spoiled brats used to getting everything they was without having to work for it, and cannot fathom why they shouldn’t spend the rest of their lives that way. There’s one instance, after a bit of hardship, where I thought that Anthony had perhaps grown when he says:
“I’ve often thought that if I hadn’t got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success. I suppose that at one time I could have had anything I wanted, within reason, but that was the only thing I never wanted with any fervor. God! And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone –“ – p 282
But, much like everything else Anthony says, it was either a moment of clarity that he later discarded, or fancy words he spoke just for the sake of it.

I’m giving this a 3.5 because despite the fact that I hated was wearied by Anthony and Gloria, as well as the prose, there was some instances of excellent writing – like the above quote – that really kept me going. Moreover, Fitzgerald painted a vivid, if somewhat partisan, portrait of New York’s high society at the beginning of the last century.

*This is my twenty-sixth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Monday, 27 August 2012

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (3/5)

The back says: A Visit from the Goon Squad vividly captures the moments where lives interact, and where fortunes ebb and flow. Egan depicts with elegant prose and often heart-wrenching simplicity, the sad consequences for those who couldn’t fake it during their wild youth – madness, suicide or prison – in this captivating, wryly humorous story of temptation and loss.

I say: This is a book that’s seemingly been all over the place for some time now, and that has been getting some great reviews, which generally means that I stay clear of it. However, as always in these cases, I saw it at the library and decided to give it a go.

And I did, but wasn’t impressed.

In my opinion, this reads more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. The reason it’s called a novel is, I suppose, because each new chapter deals with someone that was mentioned in the previous one.

In a way, I felt cheated.

Yes, cheated.

Mainly because I had no interest in some of these characters, and I was sort of lured in to continue to read just so that I would be able to find out what was to happen to the characters I did care about. We visit the characters in different eras, ages and states of fortune, and although I understand why some people would find this type of narrative appealing, hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get into it all.

Having said all that, I have to agree with some of the praise Egan has been getting for her beautiful prose. Regardless of what I think of the plot, the narratives flow together rather seamlessly for the most part, and although I think that some of the characters were approached with a similar ‘voice’, it was well-written enough for me to keep reading.

Except for the interview/article about Kitty Jackson that read so pretentiously that I merely skimmed through it.

So yeah, 3/5 because of the prose – otherwise I would have given this a 2/5.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Dracula by Bram Stoker (4/5)

The back says: 'There he lay looking as if youth had been half-renewed, for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey, the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst the swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.'
I say: I had never read the complete and unabridged Dracula prior to this, but since I have seen half of Francis Ford Coppola’s version about ten times (I always fall asleep when they get to London), it all felt very familiar.

So, this is an epistolary novel made up of a collection of newspaper clippings, letters, and diary entries – all of which somehow refer to Count Dracula – from mainly seven people. It all starts with Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor hired by Dracula to find him a house in London, travelling to Transylvania to meet the Count. While at his castle he is experiences several strange occurrences which lead him to desperately fleeing the place.

Meanwhile in England we have his fiancé Mina is getting distressed over not hearing from her betrothed, while visiting her friend Lucy, who has just accepted the proposal of Arthur Holmwood, after declining both Dr Seward and Mr Morris. Soon Lucy begins to wither away due to some strange illness, and Dr Seward asks his old professor and friend Van Helsing to come and help with the case. He arrives from Amsterdam and spends some time going back and forth while keeping quiet about what he suspects may be the matter with Lucy.

And these are the seven people whose experiences we follow.

I could go on more about the plot, but that would just lead to spoilers, so I won’t. Instead I shall speak about what I liked with this novel, which is mainly the way that Stoker weaved in so much myth about Dracula into it. As an avid Buffy fan I have been interested in vampires since I saw the original film (yes, it’s bad but that’s what makes it so great), and throughout the series there were much vampire folklore. The way that Stoker described the things Dracula could do were already familiar to me, apart from the fact that he couldn’t travel across water on his own, but had to be carried across.

The novel started out in the best of ways, and my favourite parts were probably Jonathan’s initial diary entry about going to Transylvania and his experiences in the castle. If it had started in any other way, it may not have grabbed my attention in the same way, because, to be honest, a lot of what happened in the middle of the novel rather bored me.

However, I did find myself falling in some sort of love with Van Helsing (when he wasn’t going on and on with his vagueness instead of just getting to the point).

What I didn’t like annoyed me was the way they all had to declare their love for each other in the most saccharine hyperbole every other minute. It didn’t seem genuine at all and just ended up getting on my nerves. Another thing was that I simply refuse to accept how utterly oblivious the men were, sans Van Halen, of course. I had a hard time believing that they were all highly educated and yet so slow to put two and two together.

Yes, I know that they were meant to dismiss all superstitions, but even so...

I suppose there should be an honourable mention of Dr Steward’s mental patient Renfield, who was just pure perfection, as well as utterly disgusting. I found myself cringing while reading about his exploits, but I still found myself wanting to read more about him.

Poor hapless man.

I really have to give the film another try now; I mean, Tom Waits is Reinfeld.


*This is my twenty-fifth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Verificationist by Donald Antrim (3.5/5)

The back says: Twenty psychoanalysts meet for dinner in a pancake house. Tom finds himself locked in a bear hug by Bernhardt, who is merely trying to keep him from a food fight, but the effects are disastrous as Tom is forced into an out-of-body experience, floating himself up to the ceiling and from there looking down on himself and his companions. Over the course of the evening he watches as his life unfolds and unravels, until in a catastrophic finale, he loses the very sense of himself as a man.
I say: Goodness me, what a mind fuck mental trip this was. I genuinely love books that throughout, or at the end, make me go what the hell did I just read; and this may be the king of them all.

I genuinely had no idea what to expect when I started reading this, and I doubt that anyone ever could. As the synopsis says, Tom gets locked in a bear hug and has an out of body experience in which he goes through different episodes in his life that have in some way lead him to where he is today.

Thus far, I was with it all.

But then Tom convinces the waitress to hold on to him so that they can float above the restaurant together – and she does – as you do. However, thinking that this was as weird as it was going to get was a mistake, because more people climb on board this strange hallucinatory trip just below the ceiling and I can’t even begin to understand how this would work in reality.

Not that I even really care...

There’s a certain type of comedy underlining everything that’s going on in this absurd story that I can’t really pinpoint – it’s funny and yet extremely sad at the same time – but to call it bittersweet would be to trivialise it all. Clearly, Tom (and most of his colleagues) has some issues that he’s not ready – or able – to deal with, and as the story progresses we get little clues as to what it could be, but since everything we hear is said by psychoanalysts, we can’t really trust that it’s the truth.

And, for me, that is the beauty of it all.

A part of me would like to have Antrim explain what it all means, but another one is convinced that doing so would overshadow my own interpretations. I’m convinced that this is the type of book that, every time you read it, will leave you with new or different interpretations – in other words; just the type of book I adore.

I’m giving this 3.5/5 because either I’m too stupid to get the plot or there is no plot and I’m too stupid to realise that – i.e. we’ll talk more when I’ve given this another read.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Kort Kjol av Christina Nord Wahldén (4/5)

Baksidan säger: Äntligen sommarlov! Stämningen är hög och Myran och hennes klasskamrater från första ring åker ut till Djurgården för att fira. Det blir en ganska blöt kväll. Myrans bästis mår illa och åker hem, men Myran följer med två klasskompisar hem på efterfest, två killar. Hon tycker inte att det är något särskilt med det, de är ju kompisar... Festen urartar och de två killarna utsätter Myran för en mycket grym våldtäkt.

Boken skildrar sedan tiden efter övergreppet, rädslan som kommer, polisförhören och rättegången. Hur ska man kunna leva vidare som vanligt? Bara detta att komma tillbaka till skolan och alla vet vad som hänt...

Jag säger: Fy fan, vad otroligt otäck den här boken var. Jag visste vad den handlade om, men trodde inte att det skulle vara så hemskt som Nord Wahldén skildrar det hela. Våldtäckten i sig är brutal, men det som Myran får genomgå efteråt beskrivs med sådan detaljrikedom att det verkligen känns i hjärtat och ända ner i själen.


”Orden blir så konstiga, tänker själen på fönsterbrädan. ”Omfattande sexuell aktivitet.” Det låter väldigt kliniskt, så renskuret, så ofarligt. I verkligheten handlar det om blod, svett, ångest och smärta. Ett liv slaget i spillror, en söndertrasad framtid.” – p 114

Detta blir en kort recension då jag inte ens vet hur jag ska hantera ämnet; det är en sådan bok som man helt enkelt måste läsa själv för att riktigt förstå hur ofattbart illa det är. Och det är inte bara sveket i sig som förstör Myrans värld, utan det att hon anklagar sig själv och sin korta kjol och verkligen tror att det var anledningen till att våldtäckten ägde rum. Jag känner människor som verkligen tror att om man klär sig på ett visst sätt så får man ”skylla sig själv”, och det gör mig så hemskt illamående.

Våldtäckt är våldtäckt oavsett vad man har på sig.

Jag älskar hur boken börjar nästan i slutet av historien och hur vi får följa Myran när hon blickar tillbaka på det som hände. Vi vet att hon klarar sig igenom det hela, men till vilket pris?

Jag kan inte annat än att rekommendera den här boken, och tycker att den borde vara obligatorisk läsning i högstadiet. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (4/5)

The back says: Cops and criminals have always been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D – which Arctor takes in mammoth doses – gradually splits the user’s brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn’t realize that he is narcing on himself.

I say: I saw the film/animation version of this a few years ago when I was high on my Keanu wave, and loved the trippy feel of confusion. However, I could barely remember much of the plot – just some bits here and there – so it was almost like encountering this for the first time.

I also believe there were some changes in the film – I’ll have to re-watch it to see.

This novel was just as trippy as I remember the film being. We are, of course, dealing with drug addicts of various degrees and most of their conversations sound just like you would imagine they would; completely nonsensical. I will have to point out here that Fred knows that he is Arctor at the beginning of the novel, but as it progresses, and he uses more and more Substance D, he starts getting his personalities confused. I love the absurdity of Fred listening to conversations he had as Arctor and being completely appalled at the sheer nonsense of it all.

Absolutely brilliant.

Arctor lives in a house with two friends, and the more drugs they do the more paranoid they get. It’s amazing the way that Dick managed to sprinkle in that paranoia in small doses here and there, never really allowing it to take over the entire plot, but remaining close enough for me to start second guessing everyone. Their own theories were full of rubbish, of course, but sometimes they did manage to get eerily close to the truth. But being the heavy drug addicts that they were they soon forgot most of what they had previously discussed.

As much as I love this, there are a few things about this novel that I didn’t like; first it was all of the technical jargon that went straight over my head. This is science fiction so I have no idea how plausible any of it is, but it got a tad too heavy every now and then. Even when they were talking about a faulty car it went a bit too in depth and I got bored.

Another thing that was confusing was the ‘scramble suit’ – a suit that Fred wore that scrambled his voice and continuously kept flashing millions of physical features and thus impossible for anyone to identify him. Although I understand how this is meant to work since I saw it in the film; merely reading about it would have confused me.

It still sort of does actually, but whatever.

Finally, I simultaneously love and hate the ending. In a way it was pure perfection out of a philosophical point of view, if one wants to go that way. But if merely focusing on the plot, I thought it was a bit insufficient. I wanted more answers and explanations, but alas, it was not meant to be.

This wasn’t as fast paced and action filled as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but it was the same excellent writing, and I would have loved to live inside of PKD’s mind for a day or two.

*This is my twenty-fifth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (4.5/5)

The back says: Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

And as Lake becomes increasingly obsessed with Emiko, conspiracies breed in the heat and political tensions threaten to spiral out of control. Businessmen and ministry officials, wealthy foreigners and landless refugees all have their own agendas. But no one anticipates the devastating influence of the Windup Girl.

I say: Every now and then I come across a book that amazes me so much that I don’t really know how to even begin a review about it, and this is one of those books.  There was just so much that happened in the 500+ pages that I’m finding it near impossible to distil them down to a few hundred words.

There are just so many different plots intertwined, I’m going to just refer to Wiki.

First of all, I think that the title is a bit misleading; it denotes that Emiko is at the centre of all things, when I don’t really think that she is. It’s a good while before she even becomes relevant, and when she does, it’s in such a way that although she is at the centre of things, she functions more as a catalyst.

But before I get too negative, Bacigalupi has managed to create a most excellent post-apocalyptic world, and it was nice to read one that wasn’t situated in the west. I don’t read much Asian literature, so it was fascinating to take part of this new world that still had a somewhat strong connection to the “old” traditions. In this new world scientists manufacture food, as well as diseases that are used in warfare. They’ve also bred New People used as slaves for the rich – also known as Windup Girls due to the way that they move – which are illegal in Thailand. There are so many details put into this world, some of which went over my head, that it’s near impossible to account for them all.

I was impressed and in utter awe at the realistic portrayal of the ever scorching Bangkok.

Each chapter is narrated by a different person, which is one of the reasons why I found everything so confusing in the beginning; there are just so many people involved. In a way, I wish that Bacigalupi would have kept the narrators to three or four of the key players, although I can understand why he chose not to – this way he covers every angle, but somewhat at the expense of the flow. There were so many names mentioned that I didn’t know if they’d be relevant, and since I’m not accustomed to Thai names, I kept getting them all mixed up.

However, there rarely seemed to be a quiet moment and we were whirled across the city of Bangkok at a oftentimes great speed. If we had only followed one narrator, this wouldn’t have been a problem, and as soon as I found out how they all connected it stopped being one. It was thrilling at times, and I had a hard time putting this down – even just to go to the bathroom – it was that exciting.

Looking back at the characters I can now see that a lot of them were rather one-dimensional and only present to serve one specific need, only to later be discarded. Nevertheless, this wasn’t something I paid too much attention to while reading. Yes, the relationship between Emiko and Lake was rather cliché, especially as soon as he told her that there was a colony of her kind living up north and she was determined to go. But there was just so much going on that I didn’t have time to reflect too hard on that.

I just wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Initially I wanted to give this a full 5/5, but the more I let it marinate in my brain, the more little annoyances I stumbled upon. There was a lot of technical/biological jargon that was too advanced for me (I don’t even know if any of it was plausible, so I merely read and agreed), but on the other hand there were a lot of Thai words and expressions that added a sense of authenticity to the novel. In the end I have decided to stay at 4.5/5 because it’s a basically a great story, well told but with a slightly less satisfactory execution.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (4/5)

The back says: It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a licence to kill.

Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard’s assignment – find them and then... “retire” them.

Trouble was, the androids all looked and acted exactly like humans, and they didn’t want to be found.

I say: Prior to reading this I have always thought that the title referred to counting sheep; as they tell people to do if they can’t fall asleep. Don’t ask me why, nobody knows why my mind works the way it does.

Having admitted that ridiculous folly, I will follow up by saying that I really liked this novel. It had all the makings of the type of novel I normally shy away from, but since I’ve read great reviews by bloggers who I’ve learned to “trust”, I just had to give it a go.

So, Rick is hired to retire, i.e. kill, androids, a job that he doesn’t particularly like but does mostly because of the huge bounty. He wants to own a real animal, which have become scarce and ridiculously expensive since “the war,” so he sticks with it. However, while hunting the latest model of androids he realises that he has somehow come to empathise with them, making his job a lot more difficult.

Dun dun dun duuuun...

I liked the plot well enough; it’s been done before and was presented in an exhilarating way here, but wasn’t really what made me want to continue reading. Strangely enough I wasn’t so interested in whether or not Rick would find and retire these androids, but more the small subplots that kept popping up; like whether or not Phil Resch was an android, what was going on with John R Isidore, would Rick ever get his sheep, and what was the deal with Mercer and the empathy box?

How come they bled from the rocks?

As much as I liked the empathy box; a thingy (yes, that’s the technical term) that allowed you to connect with other people connected and share your emotions while talking to Mercer, some form of prophet-type person, and climbing a hill where rocks were thrown at you, I did think that the whole connecting with others and sharing their pain and joy was laying it on a tad too thick. Yes, there was a war that left the earth a desolate place (healthy people emigrated to Mars, I think) and if you were alone this may be your only connection to other living entities, but even so.

One of the ways that Rick tested androids was to measure their reaction to certain situations that would make humans uncomfortable; such as witnessing animals being harmed. In this post-war world, all humans supposedly react emotionally when hearing/imagining these things, and it felt quite heartening that they lived in such a world – unlike certain humans of our present age. And not just that, as much as we were supposed to pity those unable to leave earth, I still liked the way they lived. Yes, there was dust everywhere, buildings were crumbling, no animal life to really speak of, but I never got that defeated dystopian feeling.

Also, whenever they felt down they had a moon stimulator that allowed them to set their own moods.

Can someone invent that now, please?

So yeah, as much as I enjoyed it I’m not the least bit interested in seeing Blade Runner. What I am interested in is reading more works by PKD.

*This is my twenty-fourth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Monday, 13 August 2012

Junky by William S. Burroughs (3.5/5)

The back says: Before Trainspotting, there was Junky: the original, first-hand account of heroin addiction which outraged the ‘50s America and influenced generations to come.

William Burroughs, legendary drug addict, founder member of the Beats and author of Naked Lunch, relates with unflinching realism the highs and lows of maintaining smack, from initial heroin bliss to dependency, the horrors of cold turkey and back again.

I say: I find it quite telling that a few pages in I started wondering how many times the word ‘junk’ was used in this novel. It’s telling because, to me, it means that I am focussing more on the way things are being told rather than what is being told – which is never a good thing.

I’ve read quite a few books about addicts from different perspectives and walks of life, so there was nothing new or shocking in this novel. In fact, I found it all to be rather straightforward, and seeing that it’s a semi-autobiographical work, it confirms what I’ve known for quite some time; that Burroughs has lived and done a lot. As it says in the prologue:

“You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all. And you don’t really know what junk sickness is until you have had several habits. It took me almost six months to get my first habit, and the withdrawal symptoms were mild. I think it no exaggeration to say it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict.” – xv

I am not going to discuss that quote in depth because that would be deflecting from the review. However, I do think that it’s quite telling how the protagonist, Bill, thinks of his habit; as something definite; a life sentence. He tries to get off the junk several times, for different reasons, and manages it as well, but always winds up back on it.

“An addict may be ten years off the junk, but he can get a new habit in less than a week [...].” – p 116

It’s a dismal way of thinking, a dismal way of life, and in consequence a rather dismal novel.

The reason I’m giving this a 3.5/5 is because Burroughs does a great job of describing the withdrawals and the sickness, the desperation to either try to stay clean or find another shot. We are brought into this world of drugs that feels authentic and not full of merely degenerates, but intelligent people hustling their way through – or is it towards – their addiction. As far as books about addiction go, this does what it says on the tin, but not much more than that.

*This is my twenty-third entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Thursday, 9 August 2012

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (5/5)

Goodreads says: As I Lay Dying is a novel by the American author William Faulkner. He claimed to have written the novel in six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant, published in 1930, and described by Faulkner as a "tour-de-force." It is Faulkner's fifth novel and consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th century literature. The title derives from Book XI of Homer's The Odyssey, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades."

The novel is known for its stream of consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths; in fact, the shortest chapter in the book consists of just five words, "My mother is a fish."

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members – including Addie herself – the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

I say: It took me a while to get into this, and then when I did, I got ill and stopped reading due to some weird superstition. Having gotten over that, I returned to these unfortunate people and felt my blood almost boiling all the way through due to their collected mistakes.

Especially the father, Anse.

Goodness me, what an idiot.

When we meet these people the wife and mother, Addie, is dying, while one son is building her coffin outside of her window so that she can watch the progress, and two others head off to make a delivery. While they are gone Addie dies and is put in the coffin the wrong way around so that her wedding dress won’t be wrinkled. Mourners come and go, and a few days later the two sons return home. It is now time for the family to take the body to Jefferson town to be buried, as per Addie’s last request, and it is on this journey that we accompany them.

Now, the book is narrated by 15 characters over 59 chapters, which was the cause of my initial confusion – it took a while to get a hang of who was who. Also, most of these people’s narrations are in some sort of Mississippian vernacular, which was quite annoying to read before I got into it.

It was constantly “durn this” and “durn that” and all I could think about was the South Park episode Goobacks and the men going “dey tuuk uur juurbs.”

I know, I know...

Having overcome all of those obstacles I really started enjoying the novel, even if most of these characters enraged me to no end. Anse, who was a complete idiot, and the one forcing his children on this godforsaken mission, kept making one stupid decision after another. And when things didn’t work out the way he planned, which they never did, he started either going on about how he was the most unfortunate man to ever walk the earth, or used his dead wife as a means to guilt people into helping him out.

It genuinely amazed me how unbelievably docile and loyal these children were – ok, so the three eldest were men – especially after Addie’s chapter where she explained how she felt about them. Instead of continuing to judge them, I felt a strong sense of pity.

It’s quite amazing they made it into adulthood.

I’d love to say more about this family, but it feels as if it’ll just turn into spoilers, so I shall refrain from doing so. This is my first Faulkner novel, and since it was written in so many different voices, it was hard for me to pinpoint his literary style. I particularly enjoyed Darl’s chapters since they showcased a sensitive, eloquent and very observant man; and the prose bordered on beautiful quite frequently. I am in awe of him managing to keep separate all these 15 voices, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

5/5 because this is a masterpiece from beginning to very surprising end, and I can definitely see myself re-reading this in the near future.

*This is my twenty-second entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (5/5)

The back says: When a freak cosmic event renders most of the Earth's population blind, Bill Masen is one of the lucky few to retain his sight. The London he walks is crammed with groups of men and women needing help, some ready to prey on those who can still see. But another menace stalks blind and sighted alike. With nobody to stop their spread the Triffids, mobile plants with lethal stingers and carnivorous appetites, seem set to take control.

"The Day of the Triffids" is perhaps the most famous catastrophe novel of the twentieth century and its startling imagery of desolate streets and lurching, lethal plant life retains its power to haunt today.

I say: Goodness gracious me, it’s when I finally get to read classics like this one that I sort of desperately wish that I had started this classics project much sooner in life. To say that I loved this would be an understatement;

I flove this (if I may be so tweeny – my sincerest apologies).

To be noted is that I only started seriously reading catastrophe novels a few years ago, so my experience with them is limited. However, this is most definitely one of the best I have come across (however little that means). As almost always, I didn’t read the synopsis before starting this novel, so I had no idea what it was about, but luckily we are drawn straight into the plot with this epic first sentence:

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

We follow Bill as he walks the streets of London trying, at first, to find out what has happened, and later, simply to survive. Everyone who saw the lights in the sky winds up blind, and it’s only those who, for whatever reason, weren’t exposed to the phenomenon that maintain their sight. As expected, London is quickly turned into a quasi-warzone where fractions of survivors fight to keep themselves and their acquired goods safe. Bill quickly teams up with Josella and together they try to make their way out of the city and towards something more sustainable.

The one thing that I really loved about this was the way that Wyndham presented the triffids; he made it all seem so disturbingly probable. We are not entirely sure how they came about, but know that they are cultivated for their capabilities of providing cheap oil, and soon enough they start to take advantage of the blind population. Even though I know that it’s fiction, what’s to say that there won’t be any triffids in the future?

And that freaked me out a bit.

Furthermore, having previously lived in London, it was eerie to read about how all these places I have known know were slowly crumbling – it was just so realistic following Bill’s treks across the soon-to-be desolate London streets. And the same goes for when they left the city. I’m not sure if the feeling would have been less intense if I didn’t know these places, but I’m convinced that I gained a lot from being able to picture the parts of England that they visited.

I don’t want to say that Bill was stupid, but sometimes it felt like it took him a while to come to certain conclusions that seemed obvious to me – especially considering that he was a biologist. Perhaps it was necessary for the plot for him to be rather ignorant not so street-smart, but that was probably the only thing that I though was a tad off with the story. Other than that,

it was pure perfection.

I can’t wait to push this on everyone I know and hope that at least one of them reads it so that we can discuss it, because there are so many thoughts that are spinning around in my head about this post-apocalyptic world that Wyndam so genially created.

And as much as I want to see the film and BBC mini series of the book, I'm afraid it may ruin it for me.

*This is my twenty-first entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis (4/5)

The back says: Like all good medieval coaching inns, the Green Man in Farenham, boasts a resident, if retired, ghost Dr Thomas Underhill, a notorious seventeenth-century practitioner of black arts and sexual deviant suspected of two particularly savage murders. The landlord Maurice Allington, veteran addict to the spirits of this world, is the sole witness to the renaissance of the malign Underhill in the oppressive August of 1968.

It had been a trying summer for Allington. In addition to a series of major staff crises, his new wife was unresponsive, his teenage daughter withdrawn and symptoms of advanced middle-age hypochondria aggravated by twenty years’ hard drinking. The death of his father after an unnamed vision of horror, the series uncanny manifestations, the glimpses of nightmarish creatures on the edge of reality, affect Allington with an alarm which even the delicious prospect of a romp with his wife and mistress fails to alleviate. Led by curiosity and an anxious desire to vindicate his sanity, Allington uncovers the key to Underhill’s satanic secrets and is brought face to face with the monstrous agent of his evil purpose.

I say: I realised late last year that I am not really the fan of horror that I used to be in my youth and Stephen King days, so it was a sort of surprise for me to realise that this was a horror story – or, not really, since I’ve since long stopped to read synopsis. Had I known what this was about my prejudices would have kept me from it;

hence the no longer reading of synopsis.

Either way, I am falling deeper and deeper in love with Amis’ writing, which is just so full of brilliance, humour and pure perfection I can’t even know what to say. What I love is that sometimes his humour is so subtle I’m not sure if it was meant as a joke/quip or if it’s just me, whereas at other times it’s so blatantly in your face and British I have to laugh out loud. When I read Lucky Jim I noticed that his sense of humour reminded me of my favourite Russians and it was a delight to recognise that I still got that feeling when reading this.

I know, British and Russian humour isn’t the same thing, but there’s a mix of both here, in my humble opinion.

I really liked Allington with all his obvious flaws and ridiculous ways of dealing with things; which usually started with him having a triple gin or whiskey. Since I suck at solving mysteries, I really liked the fact that Allington and I were more or less on the same page regarding the ghost – ok, sometimes he was way ahead of me, and others I was wondering how he could be so dense, but it all evened out in the end. He was funny, drunk, stupid, sex-obsessed, inattentive, and just the perfect type of antihero. And I have to admit that all his imperfections made for this being more than a pure horror story, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much.

The ghost story was inventive enough for those who like that sort of thing, but it didn’t take over so much that it was merely about ghosts. We had the subplot of him trying to arrange a threesome with his wife and mistress, his daughter who was desperately trying to get his attention and his son and doctor who thought he was going insane rather than seeing ghosts.

So yeah, 4/5 because of Amis’ writing and his brilliant portrayal of a selfish and alcoholic owner of a haunted inn who you really should hate but can’t help but find endearing.

*This is my twentieth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Monday, 6 August 2012

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The back says: Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

I say: I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to read this – or even find out what it’s about – since this is yet another book that I’ve known about my entire life.

Shame on me.

As per usual, I didn’t read the synopsis before starting to read so it was a bit confusing at first, but I quickly got into it. Fahrenheit 450 is the temperature that fire burns at, hence the title, and even though it is understood quite early on that this is going to be one of those novels where the protagonists winds up going against society, I think Bradbury did an excellent job in unfolding the Montag’s awareness. It wasn’t just one thing that made him become suspicious, rather he had these little inklings all along, but didn’t know how close attention to pay them.

And then there was, of course, that one big moment that changed everything.

This is science fiction, so pretty much no holds barred, but what I cannot understand is the living room setup with all the screens with people talking to Mrs Montag. I understand that she was hooked on  sleeping pills and spent most of her waking hours talking to the people “in the walls” and not worrying about life outside (as did her friends), but could it really be as insipid as Bradbury’s way of saying that this is how fleeting life had become?

That’s obviously a rhetorical question, since Bradbury has pretty much said as much, but it is also one of the main reasons why this didn’t get a 5/5 rating – it was just too obvious for my liking.

It somehow feels a tad superfluous to talk about the burning of books on a book blog that’s called Kill Me if I Stop, so I’ll just add, for the sake of it, that Bradbury’s dystopia is my idea hell. And here one can argue whether or not I would feel this way if I had been born into a world without books, but I flatter myself to believe that if I had had some poetry read to me I would have done whatever it takes to find the books.

Two of the most poignant quotes from the novel are both uttered to Montag by Faber, a professor who tries to help him on his search for truth, and I just had to share them here:

“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” – p 91

“Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for the shore.” – p 94

*This is my nineteenth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Spy in the House of Love by Anaïs Nin (1/5)

The back says: Beautiful, bored and bourgeoise, Sabina leads a double life inspired by her relentless desire for brief encounters with near-strangers. Fired into faithlessness by a desperate longing for sexual fulfilment, she weaves a sensual web of deceit across New York. But when the secrecy of her affairs becomes too much to bear, Sabina makes a late-night phone call to a stranger from a bar, and begins a confession that captivates the unknown man and soon inspires him to seek her out.

I say: I had very high hopes for this and was so unbelievably let down; I can’t even know what to say.

Actually I can, but I’m going to make it short because there’s nothing positive in here.

Everything about this novel felt so contrived; from the ‘lie detector’ - that she called who then began following her - to her silly little affairs, to her lying to her husband (I think they were married) about being an actress and yet she was never in any plays and he seemingly never picked up on this, to her pretentiously “bourgeois boredom.”

It was all just too much.

And this is without me mentioning her stereotypical portrayal of the Africans in the club, and the artists who had exchanged America for Europe, only to once again return doing nothing.

It was like watching a Stilleben; the characters were so without depth.

And the supposed erotica was a mere meh.

On top of all this I didn’t care for Nin’s stale and hyperbolic writing. Maybe I’ll try another of her books if it falls into my lap, but I won’t be seeking anything out.

So yeah, 1/5 makes this is the worst book of the year.

*This is my eighteenth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).