Thursday, 27 February 2014

Selected Short Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (2.5/5)

First published: ?
Page count: 134

Translated into English by: William Radice

The back says: In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he remains one of the most important voices of Bengali culture to this day. These short stories, written mostly in the 1890s, vividly portray Bengali life and culture. Tagore's treatment of caste culture, bureaucracy and poverty paint a vivid portrait of nineteenth-century India, and all are interwoven with Tagore's perceptive eye for detail, strong sense of humanity and deep affinity for the natural world.

I say: The only reason I bought this short story collection was because of my new challenge to read at least one work of all the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Also, the library only had Swedish translations and I wasn’t in the mood for Swedish.

To say that I was unimpressed would be the most diplomatic way to put it. I didn’t find much interest in the topics the stories introduced; the prose had too many similes and tiresome allegories that inspired many a rolling eye; and the message of the stories were too blunt and obvious.
 
It was all just meh.

Somehow this collection has left me feeling cheated, of sorts - as if I’ve missed out on something great - so I may buy a collection of his poetry (it’s on sale) or try one of his novels in the future.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Orkney by Amy Sackville (5/5)

First published: 2013
Page count: 252


The back says: On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?

I say: It’s been a while since I read a book that was so beautiful it broke my heart, and this is the main reason it took me over two weeks to finish Orkney. I knew from the get go that this was going to be a novel to savour, to read slowly in order to make it last.

In order to drown in all the emotions.

The prose is achingly beautiful, drifting into poetry every so often, lulling the reader into this world inside the professor’s head where his fear of losing his new wife dominate every move he makes. There’s a laborious desperation to his fixation that he himself cannot account for, and as he recalls how the two of them came to be – and how they are now – the end becomes more evident each day.

It is this gentle wait for the inevitable that Sackville does so brilliantly.

The professor is writing an anthology of women in folktales and fairy-tales that lure men away, and I loved the literary references throughout the novel; comparisons that heightened the relationship between them. What I also loved was the word games they played, especially the ones with colour.

‘Periwinkle’ she says. ‘I had a crayon by that name, as a child.’ Me, too, I say. How extraordinary. We fall quiet again.

Mauve, now, I say.

[...]

Tyrolean purple, I offer; it is almost entirely dark. I am almost near her, now. ‘Indigo,’ she says, softly, so as not to stir the silence. ‘Prussian blue.’ Indian ink. ‘Mussel-blue. Midnight blue.’ Not quite, I say. But come. Let’s go in. ‘Bedtime blue,’ she sighs.

- p. 229/230

Perfection.

I have already put in order for Sackville’s first novel, The Still Paint, as I have a sneaking suspicion that she is going to be one of my new favourite authors.

 

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 3 by HITRECORD, Joseph Gordon-Levitt & wirrow (5/5)

First published: 2013
Page count: 127


The back says: The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt says:
 

 

I say: Volume three of my most favourite series of tiny stories. Happy, sad, confusing, thoughtful and pretty much every emotion known to man is depicted in words and illustrations in this collection, and like the two volumes that came before it, I love this one.

One of my favourites:

The poets pinned tragedies
to their chests like ribbons.
- p 48

This one features 82 artists, is the thickest one yet and can’t wait for the next instalment.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer (3/5)

First published: 1994
Page count: 307


The back says: France. A skint, clapped-out British philosopher meets an incompetent, freshly-released one-armed, armed robber. The Thought Gang is born as the duo blag their way from Montpellier to Toulon for the ultimate bank robbery.

I say: I’ll be honest, the only reason I picked this up was because there’s a picture of Nietzsche on the cover and it was free from yearly the library culling.

Free books?

Why yes, thank you.

Either way, the story is told by the British philosopher Eddie Coffin who has to flee England for reasons I won’t reveal. He winds up in France, where he meets one-armed, one-legged, Hubert who tries to rob him at the hotel he’s staying. However, Eddie has just been in a car accident and lost all his money, so for some reason they decide to go rob a bank together.

As you do.

After the first robbery is a success (Eddie even manages to get the number of the cashier of the bank they robbed), Hubert decides that they are going to name themselves The Thought Gang and proceed with bank robberies across France. Eddie pretty much goes along with it because he has nothing better to do.

Oh and because Hubert shows interest in his philosophical ponderings.

As far as the story goes, it was nice enough. Not really my cup of tea, but it was interesting with a few twists and some harmless levity.

The writing, on the other hand, was a different matter altogether. It fluctuated between comedic brilliance, to linguistic acrobatics, to far too much information about dead philosophers, to almost every word beginning with the letter z in the English language.

Seriously.

I got through about half the book before realising there was a dictionary at the back with the z-words listed. So even Fischer knew he had gone over the top with his character’s annoying language.

In a lot of ways I loved this; it fed the linguistic and philosophical beast within me, and in theory it would be the perfect novel for me. But somehow it left me rather deflated and I can’t really put my finger on why.

3/5 for now (because chances are high I’ll return to it in a few years).

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Life Less Ordinary by John Hodge (2.5/5)

First published: 1997
Page count: 217


The back says: Celine just shot her boyfriend in the head. He will never practice dentistry again.
Robert has been fired from his job. They replaced him with a robot.
Jackson and O’Reilly have been sent from heaven on a mission of great importance. They are not happy.
Thus is set in motion a train of events that is designed to lead Robert and Celine to fall in love. But even the grandest of designs is subject to the effects of chaos. As Robert and Celine negotiate the trials of kidnap, bank robbery, karaoke and bad poetry they are unaware of the forces that seek to control their hearts.

In any case, they have more immediate concerns. Why, for instance, does a man called Tod sharpen his scythe every day? Why does O’Reilly favour such solid footwear? And why doesn’t Mayhew worship Buddha?

I say: Every once in a while, in a weak attempt at broadening my view, I start reading a book that I know I’ll wind up hating, hoping against all odds that I’ll be wrong and love it.

This was not one of those times.

I’ll be honest, it took me over a month to finish this because I kept getting annoyed at the plot and the writing. It’s meant to be a black comedy, but I found it neither dark nor very funny. Wiki tells me that the screenplay came first, and then the novelisation.

If anyone cares.

The good thing about this novel is the premise, two angels are sent to earth – against their will - to make two random people fall in love. But then so many incredibly silly and pointless things happen that I had to force myself to finish it. Nothing was believable – although I doubt that it was meant to be – and little made sense.

2.5/5 because of the angels (at least that’s what I think they were), I liked them.

Needless to say, I will not be watching the film.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa (4.5/5)

First published: 1981
Original title: La guerra del fin del mundo

Original language: Spanish
Translation to English by: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1984

Page count: 750


The back says: The War of the End of the World is one of the great modern historical novels. Inspired by a real episode in Brazilian history, Mario Vargas Llosa tells the story of an apocalyptic movement, led by a mysterious prophet, in which prostitutes, beggars and bandits establish Canudos, a new republic, a libertarian paradise.

I say: This was a real tour de force if ever I experienced one – at least for the first 500 or so pages when I couldn’t put it down. And even more so after finding out that it is based on The War of Canudos that took place in Brazil 1896-97.

The basic premise of the novel is that the Councelor, a preacher, manages to encourage over 30’000 people to resettle in Canudos, where he speaks of the end of the world. His sermons reform a lot of former bandits, who take up arms, alongside the other converts, against the Brazilian military who are trying to destroy the new community.

And then add a lot of politics and philosophy.

According to Wiki there are 18 main characters in this book (I didn’t feel like counting myself, so I’ll trust that number) that are allocated the protagonist voice of a different chapter. Of course, most of their lives come to intertwine at some point in the novel, since they all have some relationship to Canudos. This was the most impressive part of the novel; Llosa’s masterful spinning of this incredibly intricate web of characters, politics, religion and philosophy.

I must admit I know very little – if anything at all – about Brazilian history and/or politics, so it was a great feat making me understand the goings-on of the time. However, as the war progressed and the military got more and more involved, I lost interest in the details of the government’s side of the war, and simply wanted to know the fates of the characters. Yes, it was all an intricate part of the conflict, but even so.

Although I love a meticulous plot and well-crafted characters, I do feel that this novel was about 250 pages too long. Perhaps it’s impossible to write about this any conflict without properly presenting both sides, but some of the information we learned about the generals and army doctors felt superfluous. Granted the most intriguing part for me was how the Councelor - so Jesus-like in everything – managed to convince all these people to build a new community with him, and then later to take up arms to protect it. On the other side of that coin, was the fascination with how the government used false information to warrant and attack on this, seemingly, harmless group of people.

I could go on for days about this, and probably will at some point, and I do see myself re-reading it sometime. Llosa’s vivid descriptions of the landscape, the emotions, the rotting flesh of the casualties is one of the main reasons I got so drawn into the story. Needless to say, I’ll be reading more of his works.

4.5/5 because it was too long.

Apart from that it was pure perfection.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

I Survived.

The blog name.

Probably because I didn’t so much stop reading as stop writing reviews. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. But now I’m back – for good, I hope – and will try to do something about the books of last year that I never reviewed.
If I still remember what they were about.

And also, as if things aren’t stressful enough with work and a new uni course (I’m the eternal student), I shall bring forth a new challenge (that I’ll get halfway through and then discard for another one):

Nobel Prize winners.
I have already started and will be reading at least one work of each author – in no particular order – and fill them up as I go along.

So yeah, I’ll welcome myself back and all that.