Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (2.5/5)

First published: 2001
Page count: 124

The back says: The Body Artist opens with a breakfast scene in a rambling rented house somewhere on the New England coast. We meet Lauren Hartke, the Body Artist of the title, and her husband Rey Robles, a much older, thrice-married film-director. Rey says he's taking a drive and he does, all the way to the Manhattan apartment of his first wife. Lauren is left alone, or so she thinks...

I say: I was expecting a lot more from this, and although I get what DeLillo is doing, it just didn’t work for me.

At all.

First of all I didn’t like the prose. It was mostly jerky, common and disjointed in a way that made me focus more on the way things were being said rather than what was being said. However, every now and then there would leap out a sentence or a passage that was almost poetic to keep me trudging on.

But these were quite few and far between.

The story itself could have been interesting, but I find it hard to focus on a story that is so dependent on words when the words used to tell it bother me. I’m not sure how to explain it properly, but the question of Lauren not being alone felt contrived and just meh.

It also made her come across as a bit creepy and pitiful.

After I finished this I saw a review comparing it to The Turn of the Screw (which I hated), so yeah, 2.5/5 because this type of ghost story does nothing for me.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Små Citroner Gula/Yesterday's News by Kajsa Ingemarsson (4/5)

First published: 2004
Original title: Små Citroner Gula
Original language: Swedish
Translation to English by: Neil Betteridge, 2012
Page count: 326

GoodReads says: ”It wasn’t the first time someone had grabbed her breast. Nor was it the first time a man had panted in her ear and pressed his hard crotch against her. But it was the first time someone was doing it against her will.”

The woman in trouble is Agnes. In Yesterday’s News she will rebound from personal tragedy and find courage in the face of the unknown. In the end she stands there as the hero of her own life.

Yesterday’s News is one of the greatest bestsellers of all time in Sweden with more than 800,000 copies sold – 1 in every 4 Swedish women has already read it!

The main character Agnes has most things in life: a family who is always there for her, a good job at a fancy restaurant, a boyfriend who loves her, and a best friend whom she knows inside out. Or does she? All of a sudden things begin to crumble, one by one, and soon nothing is as it was. Her boyfriend Tobias leaves her for a big busted singer, and she is fired by Gerard, the sexist and abusive owner of the restaurant where she works. She gambles everything she has on the success of the newly opened restaurant, but the road to the glowing review which will open the door to fame and fortune has, to say the least, unexpected twists and turns.

I say: I read this in Swedish for uni and had no idea that it was so popular, since I tend to ignore everything chick-lit, but having read it I can understand why. The characters were very realistic; the problems they went through relatable (well, most of them); there was an abundance of emotions and drama; and all the talk about working in restaurants made me miss working in a restaurant pub.

But most of all I think I enjoyed this because I could relate to Agnes in more ways that I’d really like to admit.

It’s chick-lit so there’s really not that much to say about it, and the synopsis above pretty much says everything; it was fast-paced, honest, oftentimes infuriating, pretty predictable but with humour in the right places. I read it in one sitting, not so much because it was intriguing, but more because I enjoyed being in Agnes’ head and world – her parents were so cute - and it had a sweet ending.

So yeah, chick-lit that I, not only enjoyed, but am also recommending as a nice feel-good novel without any of the usual drivel.
Oh, and apparently it's been turned into a film that's being released in a month (and looks nothing like the book)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell (4/5)

First published: 2012
Page count: 309

The back says: Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.

I say: I bought this solely due to the five first sentences above, desperately wanting to know what would lead Marnie and Nelly to bury their parents in the back yard. Well, it actually says in the synopsis why they buried them – so they wouldn’t be taken into foster care - so rather, I wanted to know what happened to them. But then, as I kept on reading, I kind of didn’t want to know anymore.

It was an emotional read.

First we have Marnie who does well in school, has a lot of friends, works part-time for and sleeping with the married owner of an ice cream van that sells drugs on the side, and extremely protective of her younger sister. Then we have Nelly who hilariously speaks in archaic British English, is a genius at the violin, obsessed with Harry Potter, but also a little bit “out there.” And then lastly we have Lennie, the neighbour that everyone hates and who normally keeps to himself, but starts taking care of the girls when he realises that their parents are missing.

The reason it takes a while for people to start questioning is because both parents are on the dole drug addicts who are prone to leave the kids for days on end. And that’s the centre of the sadness, how easily – emotionally - they bury them in the yard and keep on living; they’re used to taking care of themselves. They’re so different, Marnie and Nelly, but I love the way each considers herself as the strong one that has to take care of her sister.

And I love, love, love everything about Lennie.

The best part about the book is the way the narratives weave seamlessly into each other and you hardly even question the plot. The three main characters are so real, and so vulnerable, witnessing the way their lives entwine is almost like poetry; a silent hope for everyone involved. But it's not all doom and gloom; there's a lot of humour sprinkled all over to keep you going.

I read this in one sitting as I became increasingly desperate to see how it would all turn out.

There are two plot twists that I really didn’t care for, hence the 4/5 rating, but I can’t go into them without revealing spoilers. They just seemed contrived and jarred the beauty of the prose, forcing the characters to dance around the improbability of it all.

Either way, this was a near magical piece of work, and I wouldn’t mind reading it again sometime.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Solstorm/Sun Storm by Åsa Larsson (3/5)

First published: 2003
Original title: Solstorm
Original language: Swedish
Translation to English by: Marlaine Delargy, 2006
Page count: 349

GoodReads says: On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies mutilated and defiled–and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall... So begins Åsa Larsson’s spellbinding thriller, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award and an international literary sensation.

Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she’d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess...

I say: I read this in Swedish for uni and would never have picked it up myself because I don’t like these Nordic crime novels – honestly; they’re all pretty much the same but with different names and places.

Having said that, this was neither good nor terribly bad; it was actually pretty ok.

I think the reason I sort of liked this was because it involved a church full of corruption and evil deeds, and I love that sort of thing. It was interesting to see how all the churchgoing townspeople were determined to stick together and keep the police out of the investigation. Another reason this was rather good was because I grew quite fond of Rebecka; she wasn’t your typical crime solver, but more a normal person who was determined to help her childhood friend Sanna – and also to find out what happened to Sanna’s brother. Most of her actions were plausible, and even though she did make some silly mistakes here and there, I believed in the character.

All the others, however, were such stereotypes it was painful reading about them. I could tell the way the church was heading and what the outcome was going to be; even though I didn’t figure out who the murderer was until a few pages before it was revealed. In fact, if the characters had been less stereotypical I would have liked this better.

However, it was fast-paced and easy enough for me to finish it in one sitting without getting bored. Larsson isn’t the best of writers, but when it comes to these crime novels she gets the job done without too much unnecessary fuss, and I wouldn’t mind reading the other books involving Rebecka – because of course this was part one of a series.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Endgame by Samuel Beckett (5/5) [re-read]

Wiki says: Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is a one-act play with four characters, written in a style associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. It was originally written in French (entitled Fin de partie); as was his custom, Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, opening on 3 April 1957. It is commonly considered, along with such works as Waiting for Godot, to be among Beckett's most important works.

I say: This was yet another re-read for uni and I loved and understood more this time around. As with a lot of Beckett’s plays, it requires the audience to play close attention to pick up on little titbits here and there in order to piece the puzzle together.
Or just enjoy it for what it is without much thought.

The horror...

Endgame only has four parts; Hamm who is blind and unable to stand; his servant Clov who is unable to sit; His parents Nagg and Nell who have no legs and live in dustbins in the same room. As this is a very absurd play it’s difficult to give a clear synopsis. Hamm and Clov seem to go through the same thing day after day, and although they appear to hate each other, they also stay together for some reason. The parents pop their heads out of their dustbins a few times, for various reasons, and we are never told why each character has some physical deformity.
For my essay I had to explain how and why Hamm and Clov suffer existentially and that is what I think makes this play so brilliant; that juxtaposition between knowing that there’s only one way out and still being unable to take it. I am not going to go into any philosophical ponderings here, but I will say that although the play is rather bleak and sad, there are a few humoristic moments in it that always make me chuckle.

If anything, it’s a great conversational piece; and sympathising with either Hamm or Clov brings me closer to my own thoughts about life and what makes it worth living – and that is always a plus for me.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (4/5)

GoodReads says: Written in 1912, Pygmalion quickly became a legend in its own time. The characters, situations, and dialogue George Bernard Shaw supplies are rich, ebullient, and unmatched in wit, as the infamous Henry Higgins prepares to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe."

Thus begins this classic tale as Shaw pokes fun at smugness and priggish conventionality. Who can forget either professor Henry Higgins with his passionate interest in the science of phonetics and the improvement of British speech, or of course, poor Eliza Doolittle, who is one of the great heroines of the 20th century?

Get ready to enjoy the greatest Shaw romp of them all as Higgins prepares to transform a common flower girl into a creature "the king of England would accept as royalty."

I say: I have read so many quotes from this play in my life that it’s really quite embarrassing that I have never actually read it until now. I even used to go around sarcastically whining:
“I’m a good girl, I am.”

So yeah, it was a joy reading this up until the final act when things got all emotional and preachy. The play does what it says on the tin; Higgins and his friend Pickering decide to turn poor Eliza into a lady in six months, and we follow them through their ups and downs. What I most love about Shaw is his sharp wit and genius way with words. The dialogue is often very fast and Higgins’ insults keep hitting everyone around him like pellets.
Mrs. Pearce: Don’t cry you silly girl. Sit down. Nobody is going to touch you.
Higgins: Somebody is going to touch you, with a broomstick, if you don’t stop sniveling.

But Higgins also had a lot of sage advice to give – even if he did it in the rudest manner possible. However, I love this type of humour and was laughing out loud throughout the play. Needless to say, my favourite character was Higgins and the most annoying character was Eliza. I found her manner to be so coarse and her pride so foolish it was grating. I can see how people would see her as a heroine, but to me she mere came across as a silly and ungrateful brat.
I long to see this on stage.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Fröken Smillas Känsla för Snö/Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg (2/5)

First published: 1992
Original title:
Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne
Original language: Danish
Translation to Swedish by: Ann-Mari Seeberg, 1994
Page count: 445

GoodReads says: She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love. She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories – a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land. And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...

It happened in the Copenhagen snow. A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building. While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident. But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own. Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow. For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice...

I say: I have both a Swedish and en English edition of this novel, but thought I’d read it in Swedish as it was for uni and it makes quoting easier. However, having finished it I doubt that I’ll ever touch my English edition as I didn’t particularly like this.

I don’t like crime novels, so this was doomed from the start. What I do like is challenging myself, and studying literature I have to do that a lot, so I started off with an open mind, and I actually liked the beginning.

I have to point out that the Swedish synopsis isn’t nearly as dramatic as the one on Goodreads, but there you go.

What I liked about this novel was all the information about Greenland, of which I knew nothing but its location. It was really interesting to hear about the culture, the hunting, and also about the way it was colonised. Knowing so little about the country I didn’t know that it was treated by its settlers (the Nordic countries and America, mostly) like most other ex-colonial countries. It was also interesting (and aggravating) to learn about how the Greenlanders were discriminated against in Denmark.

Another thing element that I liked was that about snow, ice and the weather. Smilla learned at an early age how to read the different signs left in snow; the different types of ice; and the way the weather works in general. Usually when I see a footprint in the snow I go “someone’s been here already,” whereas Smilla went “someone was running.”

I wish I could do that.

What I didn’t like was pretty much everything else. Smilla is trying to find out who might be responsible for the boy’s death, and in that search she uncovers a lot.

And it was all utterly unbelievable.

I couldn’t even retell it if I wanted to (which I don’t) because the story was so complicated and I lost interest about 100 pages in, but I had to continue. There would be pages of boring information that went completely over my head – mostly because I’d lost interest in the story and was merely analysing the way it was written – and then there’s be a few pages of something really actiony that would draw me in, and then white nose for a few pages, a few flashbacks, some info about snow/ice, and the boring information.

It was a tedious read if ever I encountered one.

I don’t have much to say about the writing, other than it was a surpassingly literary novel; usually crime novels aren’t that literary and you just plough through them, but this one was quite skilfully written, and I would have loved it if it weren’t for that damn murder to be solved.

I don’t know much anything about Høeg, but I wouldn’t mind reading more of his work – as long as it’s not crime.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Filth by Irvine Welsh (5/5)

First published: 1998
Page count: 393

The back says: With the festive season almost upon him, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is winding down at work and gearing up socially – kicking off Christmas with a week of sex and drugs in Amsterdam. There are irritating flies in the ointment, though, including a missing wife, a nagging cocaine habit, a dramatic deterioration in his genital health, a string of increasingly demanding extra-marital affairs. The last thing he needs is a messy murder to solve. Still it will mean plenty of overtime, a chance to stitch up some colleagues and finally clinch the promotion he craves.

But as this single-minded career cop spirals through the lower reaches of degradation and evil, he encounters opposition – in the form of truth and ethical conscience – from the most unexpected quarter of all: his anus. With such an adversary you can run, but you just can’t hide. Things are beginning to go badly for the Detective Sergeant, but in an Irvine Welsh book nothing is ever so bad that it can’t get worse...

In Bruce Robertson, Welsh has created one of the most corrupt, misanthropic characters in contemporary fiction and has written a dark, disturbing and very funny novel about sleaze, power, and the abuse of everything. At last, a novel that lives up to its name

I say: Bruce Robertson is the most disgustingly depraved character I have ever encountered, and a few pages in I was questioning myself whether or not I’d be able to stomach his offensiveness for nearly 400 pages.

But I did.

Somehow, I did.

It’s just before Christmas, his wife has left with his daughter, a black man is murdered and Bruce is put on the investigation. To be noted is that Bruce is a racist and spends a lot of time harping on about how he doesn’t care about solving the murder – in not so pleasant terms, of course. However, there is a promotion to be had and he uses this murder case to bring down some of his competition in the vilest of ways.

Really, I thought Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day was bad, but he has nothing on Bruce.

Bruce is cheating on his wife with numerous people (while having some nasty kind of rash on and around his genitals); indulges in copious amounts of drugs and alcohol; is not above stealing from the public – or beating them up – but his biggest problem seems to be a parasite in his stomach that keeps interrupting his thoughts. Seriously, sometimes it covers entire pages with interruptions. Like so:


Reading this was a serious challenge for me, and not just because of the Scottish vernacular that I had to sound out loud to get an idea of what was being said; or the abundance of rhyming slang (such as Dame Judi Dench = stench); but because Bruce was so utterly offensive to anyone who wasn’t of pure Scottish nationality, Christian, straight, male and a detective (or maybe a talented football player). Everyone else was constantly referred to in the racist, homophobic, and sexist terms invented.

It was horrible.

Having said that, this novel is a masterpiece because Welsh didn’t sugar-coat anything and just let the reader have it all – unfiltered. Obviously this isn’t a depiction of all of Scotland’s police, but I’m sure there are a lot of policemen like Bruce out there (and every now and then we read about them in the news).

Ah, they have apparently turned this into a film to be released sometime this year. I doubt I’ll have the stomach to see this, but I also wonder how much will be edited out (there’s zoophilia in here).

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

About These Books...

I’ve been thinking about reading resolutions and challenges for this year, and I thought that apart from the on-going 100 Classics Challenge and the Tea and Reading Challenge, I may join The Classics Club to push myself to read more classics (even though I read 67 classics last year – bang on 50%). However, The Classics Club wants you to make up a list of the classics you plan to read – and they want a timeframe – so I may have to think about that for a while.

I am addicted to books and used to organise them by colour (yes, I still knew where to find them) and last summer my brother helped me put up two shelves on my wall, like so.

Note: the first time I put them up with the recommended screws they both fell down on top of my head. So we had to get stronger screws (and then I couldn’t be arsed to do the whites properly cos I kept thinking they were going to fall down again). I still want to put up 3 more shelves beneath those so that most of my books can be on that wall (maybe add shelves on the right of the picture as this is only half the wall). I just want a full wall of books.

On the opposite side of the room we have this makeshift hoarder’s shelf that clearly needs some serious organisation.

Yes, those are my 5” inch heels (and another 4” in the box behind them), and the pile second to the right is my library pile.

And yes, I have two guitars (don't ask), and about half of the highest tower is DVDs (my other obsession). Then I have 2 boxes of books in the cellar, and another box in the closet, so my resolution hope for this year is to sort out this monstrosity spreading across my bedroom. There are no books in the living room because I like looking at them. Ultimately, I’d like to move into an apartment with a spare room I can turn into a library, but until then, this will have to suffice.

I counted 264 unread books (that I can see) and so this year I hope to reduce that number to at least below 200 – so I am going to keep a serious eye on how many books I’m buying this year (unless they’re for uni) just to make sure that I’m not adding to the unread pile.

So yeah, my book obsession isn’t nearly as bad as people would have you believe.  

Monday, 7 January 2013

Hunger by Knut Hamsun (5/5) [re-read]

First published: 1890
Original title: Sult
Original language: Norwegian
Translation to English by: George Egerton, 1921
Page count: 224

GoodReads says: This powerful, autobiographical novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author made literary history when it was first published in 1890. A modern classic about a penniless, unemployed young writer, the book paints an unforgettable portrait of a man driven to the edge of self-destruction by forces beyond his control.

I say: This is one of the most absurdly comical novels I’ve ever read, and will continue to read. Obviously it sounds strange to call a novel about a poor and hungry writer comical, but the things he gets up to on the streets of Oslo are so peculiar and without reason that they become hilarious. Like following two young ladies around while continuously telling one of them that she’s dropped her books; or jumping into a carriage and rushing the driver towards the home of a person he’s just made up on the spot.

I would have loved to hang out with this man one night.
But then there is also the issue of him being poor and hungry, selling everything he has to sell, and as soon as he gets a little money, he squanders it. He writes articles and takes them to papers for publication, but, unfortunately, he is unable to get anything published for a while – hence the poverty and hunger. More than external circumstances it’s his own fault that he is in this predicament, something he refuses to acknowledge and constantly blames fate, God or whomever is conveniently present for his problems.

It’s sad and infuriating at the same time.
Although biographical, Hamsun has been very influenced by Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Both in the style of writing as well as some of the traits of the narrator and the philosophical ponderings he has. One thing that sort of throws the reader is the mixture of present and past tense in the writing, something which some translations have removed, and although I had to do a double take at first, it quickly became clear that this was Hamsun’s way of showing his narrator’s confused state.

Strangely enough I’ve never read this in Norwegian (the original language) or even in Swedish, and will have to amend that straight away since I always prefer to read novels in their original language when I can.
Having said all that, I re-read this perfection for my existentialism course (as per usual) and have spent a good deal of time analysing it. However, even if you’re not into dissecting the philosophy of Hamsun, this stands great on its own as just a story about a poor, and slightly mad, writer.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Outsider by Albert Camus (5/5) [re-read]

First published: 1942
Original title: L’Étranger
Original language: French
Translation to English by: Joseph Laredo, 1982
Page count: 119

The back says: Albert Camus’ laconic masterpiece about a Frenchman who murders an Arab in colonial Algeria is famous for diagnosing a state of alienation and spiritual exhaustion which summed up the mood of the mid-twentieth century. Today, more than fifty years after its first appearance, we can see that the success of this Existentialist classic was no passing fashion. One of the most influential books of the century, The Outsider continues to speak to us of ultimate things with the force of the parable and the excitement of a thriller.

In other words: The Outsider (also known as The Stranger) starts off with Meursault going to bury his mother, whom he has put in a home. Once there he doesn’t cry or show much emotion. The following day he goes swimming and then the cinema with his girlfriend. A while later he finds himself on a beach where he unfortunately shoots and kills a man.

I say: I re-read this for the fifth time for my Literature and Existentialism uni course and, as per usual, love love love it. I wrote a review in 2011 and I’m about to start writing my analysis, so my mind is in a serious dissection mode right now, and I don’t want to go too far into it here.

I do feel the need to address that the difference between the past four reads and this one, is that for the first time I didn’t find anything lacking between the trial and the end. Perhaps this is because I’ve been studying so much about existentialism and the absurd, or perhaps it’s just a change in me. Either way, I find that I now, yet again, understand Meursault better than ever; and I love that feeling of getting deeper and deeper into his psyche while dissecting his words and actions.
I really need to start buying all the different translations and compare/analyse them.

So yeah, 5/5 for this superb masterpiece that I urge absolutely everyone to read, and now I am off to shall write my essay.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle (4/5)

The back says: I swooned the first time I saw Charlo. I actually did. I didn’t faint or fall on the floor but my legs went rubbery on me and I giggled. I suddenly knew that I had lungs because they were empty and collapsing.

I say: The novel starts with a young policeman coming to Paula’s door to tell her that he husband, Charlo, is dead. Throughout the rest of this first half of the novel Paula’s narrative weaves in and out of her present and different parts of her past. She talks about growing up poor, going to school and finally meeting her husband, Charlo; and, at uneven intervals, we follow her through the present, witnessing how she deals with the news of her husband’s death.
These are the parts I liked the best.

About halfway through she begins talking about the domestic abuse she had to suffer at Charlo’s hands, and it is here that I think the novel somewhat loses some of its magic. Prior to this I thought that this was going to be a story about coming-of-age in the poor parts of Dublin, but it turned out to be about Paula’s struggle to deal with the abuse.
“They could smell the drink. Aah. They could see the bruises. Aah, now. They could see the bumps. Ah now, God love her. Their noses led them but their eyes wouldn’t. My mother looked and saw nothing. My father saw nothing, and he loved what he didn’t see. My brothers saw nothing. His mother saw nothing – at first. [...] The woman who kept walking into doors.” – p 187

Paula winds up in the emergency room several times and always has the same excuse; she walked into a door, and the most depressing part was reading about how everyone turned away from her. She, in turn, thought that she deserved what she was getting. In a way, it feels condescending to say that I’ve heard the story before, but I have – with different words. This isn’t what I wanted to read and I felt lured in by the early childhood memories.

But I kept on reading because Doyle’s writing is excellent.
The way that he weaved the episodes into each other, with Paula continuously questioning herself and her memories, was masterful. At first I wasn’t sure why she would be so unsure about her past, but once the element of abuse was introduced I understood the doubt. There prose is languid and sombre at first, and then starts commoving and ends in a way I could never have imagined.

I look forward to reading more of Doyle’s work.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (4/5)

The back says: Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone's jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

I say: I’d wanted to read this for a very long time, and am now quite pleased with myself for finally buying and reading it; even though I was a tad disappointed by the way it ended.

It was too predictable.

However, the novel does pretty much what it says on the tin. When Charlie decides to take part of the experiment he is told to keep a journal, and at first I found his writing quite annoying to read. He only has an IQ of 68 at the beginning, and, therefore, a childlike persona; but the ease of reading his updates grew along with his IQ. The heart-breaking part of this novel was very predictable at the beginning; the fact that he would soon realise the way that people treated him before wasn’t right, and often downright cruel. What I didn’t expect was the way that people reacted to his increasing intelligence; but then I didn’t know exactly how malicious some of the people Charlie called his friends really were.

Most of his path towards genius was expected, but Keyes kept throwing me a few curveballs every now and then. Like how isolated Charlie started feeling after a while of not having anyone to discuss things with; and how disillusioned he became when he realised that all the professors he had looked up weren’t nearly as gifted as he had thought. But then again, he did become rather insufferable and it was difficult to comprehend how someone who once had been subject to so much ridicule wasn’t more self-aware.

The bullied somehow turned into the bully.

One of the most poignant moments was when Charlie says:
“It may sound like ingratitude, but that is one of the things that I resent here – the attitude that I am a guinea pig. Nemur’s constant references to having made me what I am, or that someday there will be others like me who will become real human beings.
How can I make him understand that he did not create me?”
- p 101

It’s hard for me to understand treating people of lower intelligence as anything but people, or like people of lower value. Yes, I myself previously referred him as “childlike,” but that to me is not so much reducing as relating to – pedantry, some may say; but not to me. You meet and acknowledge people on their level, and that is why I didn’t understand how Charlie could become so arrogant when he became a genius. It didn’t sit well with me at all, but there you go.

I guess.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Tea and Books Reading Challenge 2013

Earlier this year I signed up for the Teaand Books Reading Challenge hosted by Birgit at The Book Garden. I signed up as a Sencha Connoisseur – which is appropriate since all I drink is green tea – and what it entails is that I have to read 8 books over 650+ pages.

Easy peasy, says I.

I haven’t made an official list yet, because I have this issue with the page count since I prefer to read Wordsworth Classic Editions as they seem to always have the best translations; and I like the typeface and price; but their text is generally smaller than other editions which means that they have less pages. I haven’t really decided how I’m going to deal with this, but as of now I’ll just add the books that are 650+ pages that I know I’ll manage (!) this year.

1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – 733 pages.
2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – 981 pages.
3. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill – 643 pages (yes, I’m cheating 7 whole pages).
4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 768 pages
5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – 800 pages
6. The Story of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding – 875 pages
7. Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky – 694 pages
8. Les Miserable by Victor Hugo – 1463 pages