Monday, December 26, 2011

'Revolutionary Road' - Richard Yates 1961.

Richard Yates must have had some truly destructive relationships in his life. No one could write with such melancholy about the disintegration of relationships without having experienced this kind of destruction. While doing some research into Richard Yates I found this statement he made about his life's work, and I think it explains a lot about the tone of both the novels I have read by Yates ('Cold Spring Harbor' and 'Revolutionary Road'): "If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy."     

'RevolutionaryRoad' has so many similarities to 'Cold Spring Harbor' that I even considered writing about them together. So if you would like to read about the sadness, frustration and desperation which permeates Yates' writing you can read about it here, as it applies fully to 'Revolutionary Road' but I would like to avoid repeating myself.

'Revolutionary Road' is the far more famous novel, owing almost entirely to the success of the film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (which I have not yet seen). But it is also a far more enjoyable book to read. It has drama and intrigue, and a lot of plot progression and character development, all things which 'Cold Spring Harbor' was lacking. Oddly the cast of characters is not as strong, but there are a few unexpected delights, such as the real estate agent's husband who tolerates his wife's inane chatter by turning off his hearing aid at night.

The main story is about Frank and April Wheeler a married couple with two young boys. Frank commutes to a dull desk job which he considers a joke, and imagines he undertakes ironically. April is a housewife, but dreamt of being an actress before her marriage. The the novel opens with scenes of an embarrassing terrible local amateur theater production she is starring in. This is significant as the argument the couple has afterwards starts a chain of decisions which leads to; a decision to move to Paris, infidelities by both parties, an attempted abortion, and a death. The setting is a vivid portrait of 1950s suburban America, and the relationship between April and Frank feels real, with very natural dialogue between the two. The thread throughout is a lesson to be learnt; being be honest with yourself is just as important as being honest with others. I did enjoy reading this book, despite the very depressing overtones. If you are interested in 1950s suburbia, or want to read a novel with excellent dialogue, or even just a novel which deals frankly with the realities of lives filled with disappointment, then this might just be for you.

Love it, Read it,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Deadline'- Mira Grant 2011.

'Deadline' is the second novel in the 'Newsflesh Trilogy' of zombie novels by Mira Grant, and if you haven't already read 'Feed' then I suggest you start there before diving into 'Deadline'.

If I had written this post last night at 2am when I finished 'Deadline' it would have consisted of "No way, she [Grant] didn't, oh no she didn't, ah" and so-on, interspersed with mutterings about "too many cliffhangers for one person to handle" and finished off with "best book I have read all year". However, I have a nights sleep and a few hours of perspective and though those sentiments are still valid I have toned them down a little.

Anyone who has read my original review of 'Feed' will realise that I was totally smitten. I ordered 'Deadline' almost immediately after finishing 'Feed', and intended to savour it over a few weeks reading. That didn't happen. Despite having work and social commitments I still finished 'Deadline' in less than 24 hours. I enjoyed this novel immensely, despite it being missing some of the characteristics which made me love 'Feed'. By focusing only on main character Shaun, rather than the original shifting perspective, the tone of the novel was quite different. The other shift was away from what I saw as using zombies as an allegory for various other 'real-world' issues manipulated to control population through fear. While the theme of control through fear is still prominent, as the storyline moves deeper into determining the specifics of the manipulation it becomes less and less of an allegory and more of a whole-world-conspiracy story. While I did miss the focus on the truth, integrity and reporting of 'Feed', as long as the next book can void the many whole-world-conspiracy clichés I think it will still be a great read.

There were a few irritating points throughout 'Deadline', beginning with the repetition of the opening scene. While I understand that opening with a similar [read: almost identical] scene is a stylistic decision I think it was poorly executed. In addition, the repetition of some phrases and actions throughout the novel became irritating. This included constantly explaining how blood-testing units operate and their results, and mentioning whether or not the members of the group wanted snacks when someone went to the kitchen. The second one may sound silly, but no one EVER wanted anything, and yet every time a character goes to the kitchen this is repeated, and since a large portion of the book has them holed up in a house, it happens fairly often.

One of the biggest improvements in 'Deadline' was that the entire book was relevant to the plot and contributed to both building suspense and characters, rather than the dragging, irrelevant first section of 'Feed'. This was a major plus, and did not mean the sacrifice of the wonderfully unforgiving nature of the plot. Grant has no qualms about killing off main characters, or inflicting mental trauma on others, and this really adds to the overall tension.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and highly recommend the series, especially if you like zombies. I'm off to play Left 4 Dead 2, and pretend I'm Georgia Mason, wish me luck.

Love it, Read it,

'John Dies at the End' - David Wong 2011.

This book was an odd choice for me, a whim really. It was mentioned in passing and the title intrigued me. Would I enjoy reading a book where the (presumed) main plot point is revealed in the title? I thought I might, and ordered it. It was only really downhill from there. This post is going to contain a lot of spoilers, so if you were intending to read the book, I suggest you look at some cute pictures instead.

'John Dies at the End' was written by Jason Pargin, editor of Cracked, as a series of extended blog posts under the psydonym 'David Wong', which is also the protagonist's name. There are so many things about this novel that don't work, and many of them can be tied to the inexperience of the writer and the format in which it was originally created, compounded by what I suspect was a complete lack of editing.

The format is a common one, with David Wong is recounting his adventures of the past year to a reporter, in the setting of the present day. As David is telling his own story, and often suggests he is 'mostly' honest, he falls into the category of an unreliable narrator, in much the same way that Nick is in 'The Great Gatsby'. There are brief interludes which focus on the reporter and David, but for the main 3/4 of the novel the action is taking place in the past. While this is a style which can work very effectively (it was one of my favourite elements of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind) here it becomes increasingly irritating as the book progresses. When the 'reporter' plot point is finally resolved as being just a 'projection' and the segment of 'retelling' is finally over, the book almost redeems itself. The writing style and the plot is much more interesting in the final 50 pages then in the preceding 400.

Unfortunately I still strongly disliked this book in the end. Simply because it promised me one thing, and much like 'The Clash of the Titans' in which no Titans actually clashed, 'John Dies at the End' let me down. In fact, I am prepared to say that if John had actually died I might have been able to say that the few hours of my life that I spent reading it wern't wasted. But as the most undeveloped, irritating character lives on, I must add this book to the list of missteps in my reading history.

Love it, Read it,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

'The Great Gatsby'- F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925.

'The Great Gatsby' is often referred to as a 'Great American Novel', yet initially after reading it I was still not quite sure I understood why. What follows is an attempt to work through my experience of reading and understanding 'The Great Gatsby', and the concept of a 'Great American Novel'.

As usual my starting point was wikipedia, which defines a 'Great American Novel' as a novel that is an "accurate representative of the zeitgeist in the United States at the time of its writing". 

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote 'The Great Gatsby' between 1922 and 1925, and the story is primarily set in 1922. So to find the zeitgeist of the time, I had to think about the historical context, particularly the social elements prominent during the 1920's. But first I had to find the zeitgeist of Fitzgerald's novel.

Things I learnt about America and American society from 'The Great Gatsby':
- Class divisions will always define you.
- Those with 'old money' from the 'right side of the tracks' will always have the luxury of walking away from unpleasant situations
- People always desire what they cannot have.
- Yet if they obtain the seemingly impossible, it will not fulfil them.

These four lessons of sorts paint a picture of a society stifled and straining against its structures, yet falling into timeworn patterns of constraint, privilege and opportunity. The society of 'The Great Gatsby' is also one of potential transformation through various forms of social mobility, which were previously of negligible importance and are key to social patterns in the 1920's. Two examples in the novel are social status gained, firstly through 'merit' during the Great War, or secondly through income from 'bootlegging' made possible by prohibition. This perceived potential for greater mobility becomes frustrated as the realities of old social constraints and prejudices between classes remain the dominant reality, leading to the 'stifled' feeling evident throughout 'The Great Gatsby'.

My next thought was that perhaps 'The Great Gatsby' is a Great American Novel because of the distinctly American voice of  Fitzgerald. British novels of a similar period (I'm thinking of 'Antigua, Penny, Puce' and 'Cakes and Ale' in particular, though both are 1930's) tend to characterize America as a socially neutral/flat place of opportunity, loud voices and entrepreneurship. Yet 'The Great Gatsby' has a complex setting, with many layers of social constraint and opportunity beyond any simplistic, cartoon-ish notions, which could only have been written by someone who understood and experienced America in the 1920's.

And finally I decided that I would add another element to the criteria for a 'Great American Novel' and that would be the ability to transcend ages, and resonate with readers from any period. 'The Great Gatsby' is currently being made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and parts of it were filmed in Sydney. There is a long list of other film, television and even opera adaptations of the story and I think many of the central elements can be seen in contemporary pop culture. The social changes that occurred during the 1920's are definitely still relevant, and ongoing. Though US pop culture loves a 'self made' or 'rags to riches' story (though perhaps not with the obsessive delight of Australians) the reality of contemporary US society is still starkly divided, though perhaps at different levels to the 1920's. Social mobility may still be for many an unattainable dream, just as despite his (ill-gotten) wealth Gatsby was unable to shake his past.    

After much thinking I have decided I agree that 'The Great Gatsby' deserves the title of a 'Great American Novel'. Despite this I must say that I found the first half of the book incredibly slow, and the style of the 'unreliable narrator' frustrating at times. However the overall feel of the novel, the themes and issues it raised and the wonderfully entangled climax, make it a memorable read.

Love it, Read it,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

'Beatrice and Virgil' - Yann Martel 2010.

It is rare that I actually dislike a book. I enjoy reading, enjoy narratives, and enjoy various styles of writing, even if I am not always convinced by the characters or plot, or the writing is simply of poor quality, I can usually find something that redeems a book. The only redeeming element of 'Beatrice and Virgil' is not enough that I can say I enjoyed it, and I would not recommend anyone read it. The book was originally given to my sister (who didn't read it) as a gift, I decided to read it as I was intrigued by the blurb and seemed to be outside the, admittedly quite wide, scope of novels I read.

'Beatrice and Virgil' is a story of two layers. The first layer the is protagonist Henry a writer who wrote a very successful first novel, but is having a lot of difficulty writing his second, which he wants to be about the Holocaust. Through the fame of his first book he is contacted by a taxidermist who requests help in finishing a play he is writing. The second layer is the play, which is about a Donkey named Beatrice and a Howler monkey named Virgil. The two animals are close friends and have been driven from their homes and are travelling around a country called 'Shirt' which is stripy. It is eventually deduced by Henry that the play is actually about two Jewish people fleeing from persecution during the Holocaust.

The only redeeming element of this novel was a couple of sections of the 'Beatrice and Virgil' play, especially the scene in which Virgil describes a pear to Beatrice who has never seen or heard of one. There is something beautiful about the way this section is written. Unfortunately a couple of pages of excellent dialogue cannot redeem this book for me. The whole plot of the book is completely pretentious and the way in which it is structured feels forced, as though the author is trying desperately to convince the reader that the book is being clever.

Ultimately Yann Martel awkwardly and forcefully attempts to batter readers into believing that a subtly brilliant story has been created, by writing about an author who cannot write a book about the Holocaust and including segments of a play about the Holocaust, and thus actually writing a book about the Holocaust. What it really feels like is that Martel is simply writing about himself, not so subtly. After the huge success of his novel 'Life of Pi' which won many awards, including the prestigious Man Booker Prize, Martel seems to have been beset by overwhelming pressure to produce another award winning novel. I have not read 'Life of Pi' and now have absolutely no desire to, but if anyone has read it and thinks it really is deserving of all the praise I may be convinced to give Martel one last chance.

Love it, Read it,

'Cold Spring Harbor' - Richard Yates 1986.

While reading this book I realised that a very large number of the books I have been reading recently have been written in the 1930's. This was certainly not by design, merely by coincedence, but it is still interesting. Though Cold Spring Harbour was published in 1986 it is set throughout the 1930's and 40's, which would have been the time of Richard Yates' childhood (he was born in 1926). The setting is also that of Yates' childhood, and though I didn't realise this until after I finished the whole book, the obvious realism of the setting gives this book much of its 'flavour'.

The story scrolls through the perspectives of a number of characters, but mainly centers around the life of a young man, Evan Shepard. After a troubled adolescence, followed closely by a tumultuous relationship which resulted in a child at an early age, and then divorce, at the beginning of the book Evan is living at home with father and mentally unhinged mother, and works in a menial factory job. From Evan's chance meeting with a lovely lady, Rachel, the novel charts their swift marriage, and their downward spiral into unhappiness.

Despite enjoying the setting and the 'time capsule' feel of the book, overall I didn't really enjoy it very much. The plot is quite vague, consisting of very little more than the above paragraph.. There is something quite depressing about a book in which none of the characters, central or peripheral, are able to achieve anything of note or live to their full potential, almost entirely of their own volition. Without exception the characters are all hopeless in all their pursuits. This sense of hopelessness and entrapment permeates all aspects of the book, and left me with a feeling of sadness. Definitely not a cheerful puff piece to read at the beach this Summer.

Love it, Read it,

Saturday, November 12, 2011

'The Windup Girl'- Paolo Bacigalupi 2009

'The Windup Girl' is one of the most genuinely frightening dystopian novels I have ever read. While many dystopias are frightening for their sometimes bizarre abstraction from our current reality, or huge disasters or cataclysmic events leading to dramatic change, 'Windup Girl' frightened me as it was (in my opinion anyway) based on a quite plausible premis; human expansion reaches it's peak when oil reserves are depleted fully, resulting in conflict over food production, consumption and distribution. Bacigalupi imagines this to be followed by aggressive, competitive, genetic engineering of food for maximum 'calories' by huge transnational (but particularly American) corporations, referred to as 'genehacking'. Apparently there is a whole genre of this kind of dystopia, it is referred to as 'biopunk' and I am definitely looking forward to exploring it a lot more!

The novel is set in Thailand in the 23rd Century and only alludes to the conditions of people in other parts of the world. The setting is beautifully realised, tying together elements of the current Thai system, such as the royal family and traditional religious/cultural practices, with some 'futuristic' elements such as the use of genetically altered Elephant-like creatures to generate power. One thing which I found a bit irritating about the book was the use of various Thai, Chinese and Japanese words. While it is not a prominent as in 'A Clockwork Orange' for example, I did find it difficult to remember the meanings of some of the Thai words. This is probably a personal preference, as the Thai/Chinese/Japanese terms do add colour to the language, and help to differentiate between how various characters see the world.

I was not immediately drawn into the narrative of 'The Windup Girl', and could not see why one of the minor characters gave the book its title. However, as the novel progressed the characters began to interlink and the main thrust of the narrative became clearer, culminating in one of the most breath-taking climaxes I have read in a long time. I had to take breaks from reading between the last 4 or 5 chapters so that I could fully digest the complexities of the unfolding situations.

That 'The Windup Girl' is a debut novel was a complete surprise to me, as it was written with such finesse. I can see why it is so highly praised and won both the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards for Science-Fiction writing. I am definitely going to be watching out for more novels by Bacigalupi, and intend to track down some of his short stories as soon as possible.

If you are interested in other dystopian novels I have read and  recommend, then have a read of my review for 'A Brave New World'. But remember that 'The Windup Girl' is now at the top of my list of dystopian favourites.

Love it, Read it,

Saturday, November 5, 2011

'Dance, Dance, Dance' -Haruki Murakami 1988 (English translation by Alfred Birnbaum 1994)

Murakami's novels are so unusual I find them very hard to describe. He is definitely one of my favourite authors, for a number of reasons relating to his style of storytelling, but especially because I read two of his books while travelling in Japan alone earlier this year and they became a big part of my journey. Thus far I have read (in this order); NorwegianWood(The movie of which I saw recently and enjoyed), The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, and today's review Dance, Dance, Dance. All four feature a Japanese male protagonist who deals with love, loss, loneliness, rejection, dislocation and friendship. Feelings of isolation and despair are pervasive in all four books, yet somehow they are not depressing.

But for today we will focus on 'Dance, Dance, Dance'. This is the sequel to 'A Wild Sheep Chase', something I did not realise when I bought the book, but was immediately clear once I began reading. I think you could read 'Dance, Dance, Dance' alone, however reading 'A Wild Sheep Chase' beforehand would definitely help to make sense of some of the more bizarre supernatural elements.

I honestly believe that the people who write the blurbs on the back of books must not have read the books they are writing about (This is a long running bugbear of mine). The same goes for many reviewers, or the people who choose which quotes go onto book covers. With 'Dance, Dance, Dance' this was especially irritating, as the blurb and some of the quotes (in my opinion, feel free to correct me) completely misrepresent Murakami's work. Dance, Dance, Dance, is not science fiction. Murakami is not 'imagining the future' as one reviewer mentioned, the book is set in the late 1980's in Japan, a real time, and in real places. There are real celebrities mentioned, many many real songs from the correct periods mentioned, and references to real events such as the Vietnam war, World War 2, student riots in Japanese universities etc. None of these events are 're-imagined' and the world is not an alternate universe, a dystopian or indeed utopian future. The closest thing to 'science fiction' are the supernatural elements I mentioned before. However they are written in such a way that they could be explained as vivid dreams revealing the (unnamed) protagonist's subconscious. The main supernatural character 'Sheep Man' is described as being a part of the protagonist, and the supernatural worlds visited are described as belonging to the protagonist (though a hotel receptionist also accesses one). Another main character described by the blurb as a 'lovely teenage psychic' specifically says she is not a psychic, though he abilities add a strong element of the metaphysical to the novel, and I think you could call her an empath.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I love the way Murakami writes (there are a couple of quotes below to demonstrate), and the story like that is a slow building detective novel or crime drama. As more and more information comes to light and more and more people become implicated, the original investigation reveals many related crimes, and ultimately there is a resolution and a mostly happy ending. 

[With regards to advances in phone communication] "But no matter how advanced the systems, no matter how precise, unless we have the will to communicate, there's no connection" (p126)    

[Dick North is a character with one arm, who, in the preceding chapter, died] "The house was still haunted by Dick North's presence. Dick North was still inside me as well. I remembered his smile, his surprised look when I asked him if he used his feet to slice bread. Interesting man. He'd come more alive since his death." (p335)

Love it, Read it,

Monday, October 31, 2011

'Cakes and Ale' - William Somerset Maugham 1930.

Cakes and Ale is a rather biting satire of the life of various notable British writers, including Thomas Hardy, who were prolific in William Somerset Maugham's time. Though he vehemently denied that there were any links between his characters and real life figures, which I suppose makes the definition of it as a 'satire' a little presumptuous. But at the time it was published Virginia Woolfe saw one of Maugham's friends in tears, as he saw that one of the characters presented as an unscrupulous literary social climber who churned out books of low quality, was actually himself.  

My favourite character in this book was Rosie, around whom most of the novel winds itself. She is vivacious and flippant, the muse for many of the central characters, and ultimately somewhat enigmatic in her motivations and desires. You can see an artists impression of her on the cover of my copy, from the first scene in which the protagonist meets her. Aside from her strength and sense of fun, her ability to ignore with ease the social conventions of the times are what made her so much fun to read about.

There are many memorable quotes throughout this book, however my favourites are those relating to 'Americans' such as: 

Alroy Kear: "You don't know America as well as I do. . . .They always prefer a live mouse to a dead lion"

William Ashenden: "The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried this device [the use of "ready-made phrases"] to such a height of perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment's reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication."

You can find more quotes from the book on wikipedia and other places around the internet, but if you find these entertaining or interesting I suggest you buy and read the whole book. It is quite short, and as it is now published by 'Vintage' it is also quite inexpensive. 

Love it, Read it,

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Scoop: A Novel About Journalists' - Evelyn Waugh 1938.

Evelyn Waugh is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. A few months ago I read one of his most famous novels 'Brideshead Revisited' which I highly recommend. The way he uses language is masterful, if writing was ever like music, or dance, it is in Waugh's books. Interestingly enough in the introduction to the Penguin edition of 'Scoop' there was a quote from Waugh himself, which I think illustrates my observation:

"I regard writing not as an investigation of character but as an exercise in the use of language... I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech and events that interest me"

This statement positions Waugh as the antithesis of writers such as Émile Zola who writing is deeply interested in exploring the psychological elements of character, especially in his book I have mentioned previously, Thérèse Raquin. Though I have enjoyed both in their own way, there really is nothing more enjoyable than excellent prose (I think anyway).

But now back to Scoop. It is a great little novel, with a plot based on awkward situations, misunderstandings, miscommunications and social gaffes. The plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity, where a reclusive nature write is mistaken for an up and coming journalist with the same surname. He is sent (reluctantly) to Africa to cover a civil war as it unfolds. There were many genuinely hilarious moments which made me laugh out loud, though when trying to explain them I cannot recreate the humour, so deeply based is it in the way Waugh uses language. My one disclaimer in recommending this book is that it is a reflection of its time, and in quite frequently (and I suspect unintentionally) racist. If you can take the book for what it is (a satire of foreign correspondence and the British press) then I think it can be thoroughly enjoyed.

Once again my studies certainly influenced my enjoyment of this book, the subtitle is "A novel about journalists" and much of the comedy is based around the lies and ridiculous lengths journalists will go to in order to create a story. As I am currently researching media representations of war, this was, entirely coincidentally, the perfect novel for me to read.

Little piece of trivia for you, Evelyn Waugh and I were born on the same date, 28th of October.

Love it, Read it,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Fight Club' -Chuck Palahniuk 1996

This is a guest review from the 'Handsome Leper':

I don’t consider myself to be a reader of literature. I was about to insert some witty sentence here about you giving me a book by such-and-such author, but I’m so ‘uncultured’ I can’t even think of a relevant name. Dostoevsky? Even his name puts me to sleep. If I find myself unable to read at night, I’ll read a page or two of 1984 and that knocks me out in no time (sorry princess...). I’ll be honest though; I haven’t read much of classic literature to begin with. I’m a fantasy and science-fiction fan, through and through (though given my distaste of 1984 a sentence ago I draw a line even in the genres I truly love) so it was with no small amount of trepidation that I bought ‘Fight Club’ from the ‘indie’ kind of independent book store in the swanky part of Melbourne city a while ago. I’d seen the movie, so unfortunately the ending was spoiled (and will be for you if you hadn’t watched or read the movie or book, so consider this my warning), but I was sucked in by the first couple of pages, so I decided to risk my hard-earned fifteen dollars and buy the thing.

Well, I can’t say my money was wasted. But then again I don’t know what to say.

Let’s start with the technicalities. The book was good. Really good. Incredibly good. I can see what everyone’s been going on about. First rule, second rule, et cetera. I have finally been enlightened. Granted the book’s hardly old enough to be considered a classic, but it is nonetheless literature, and I did in fact enjoy reading it. And there’s an added bonus that I’m now one of the clique who can look down their noses at those who have ‘only’ watched the movie and haven’t read the book that inspired it.

Okay no, not really.

The writing style was thick and fast in the truest sense of the words. To me the book felt like a key. Not because it unlocked some hidden thing within myself or any of that nonsense, but rather in the design of it. A key is simple. It’s plain. It unlocks things. That’s all it does. It doesn’t have any unnecessary bells and whistles attached to it, because it doesn’t need them. All it needs is... well, itself. As it is. ‘Fight Club’ is just like a key. It has no superfluous description. No flowery words, no unnecessary paragraphs describing someone’s hair. Not unless said description was utterly crucial to the plot or the development of the central characters.

And yet, I still found it hard to read through. Perhaps in the way that someone finds it difficult to live off multi-vitamins and baby food. Sure, you’ll get all the nutrients and vitamins you’ll need, but damn, that’s just no fun.

I’m not going to talk about the themes it presented because frankly, they’ve been talked to death already. I’m just going to say that personally, once I finished this book I didn’t really get the urge to form anarchic fight clubs, develop a borderline-psychotic alterego and unleash him on the town and myself. In fact, after I finished the book I nodded, relieved I had managed to plow through a piece of ‘literature’, and began reading the next book in the Codex Alera series.

But maybe I’m just weird.

And from Little Raven:
I read this book in a single afternoon, which should give an indication of how absorbed I was by the narrative. That said, having only recently watched the movie I found that I did not imagine/visualize the book, I was simply recalling the visuals of the movie and overlaying that with the additional dialogue and scenes. In the end I loved it, despite wishing I had read it before seeing the movie, it was all kinds of brilliant and that is enough for me.

Love it, Read it,

Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Brave New World '-Aldous Huxley 1932

Ultimately I enjoyed this book. As a story it has all the elements of an entertaining reading experience, and it is deserving of its status as a 'classic'.

In summary, it is slightly older, slightly weirder and slightly less well-known than George Orwell's 1984, but I compare the two because they both are dystopian novels. Huxley's vision of the future is, to the best of my knowledge, unique for it's time, and a long time afterwards. It is a book with a bleak vision for the future of humanity. Much bleaker and more frightening than Orwell's world of censorship and coercion and perpetual war, is Huxley's vision of a population manufactured into castes, educated to desire, willingly drugged into compliance. This subversion of will is really what frightened me about 'Brave New World', there is no way to resist when you are constructed from conception to comply. Although the population of 1984 were deceived through propaganda there was the (albeit very small) possibility of resistance.

Aside from their prominent status as classic dystopian novels, part of the reason I draw so many comparisons between Orwell and Huxley is this comic. Stuart McMillen has interpreted a section of Neil Postman's book 'Amusing Ourselves to Death', and all of the text is a direct quote from the book. While I am fascinated by Postman's conception of humanity and our descent into distraction via media and communication technologies I don't think the comic really represents either Huxley or Postman's work accurately.

The comic implies a passivity in humanity which isn't present in Postman's writing, and to equate twitter, facebook and reality TV with some of the mind-numbing social distractions of Huxley's world is a stretch. While facebook et al., may be argued by some to be 'mind-numbing social-distractions', we do not use them and engage with them because we have been sleep-taught by the government to do so. We still retain agency, the ability to choose to engage, something unthinkable in Huxley's world. I think this is a really important distinction, and while reading Brave New World I found very little, beyond the superficial distractions of the society, which would indicate we are living in 'Huxley's World'.

As a closing note, aside from 1984 and Brave New World, some dystopian novels I have read and would recommend are: Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep, The Forever War and Jennifer Government. (A couple of these probably would also fall into 'post apocalyptic').

Love it, Read it,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

'Feed'- Mira Grant 2010.

I must first admit that I have a soft spot for zombie books, and apocalypse books in general, which is what originally made me buy this book online. Mira Grant's book 'Feed' did not disappoint, it had a sizeable helping of gadgets and gore which is expected of this kind of book, but what made me love it was all the unexpected angles on inquiry into society.

The first surprising thing was the setting, or rather the time of the setting, 20 years after the 'Rising' is not you usual starting point for a zombie novel. In the genre the good (who could go past 'World War Z'?) and the bad (I want 5 hours of my life back- 'Married with Zombies') seem to have all, or at least most, of their action taking place during the main 'rising'.

My favourite part about reading this book was thinking of it as an allegory for the US fear-mongering in response to the threat of terrorism. Yes, my university degree impacts on how I read zombie novels, and I am well aware that Grant may not have had any intention of it being read like that, but it doesn't make it any less interesting as a political commentary in the face of a threat.

Since I have also been reading extensively on propaganda, communication techniques, narrative theories and all sorts of other wonderful things (like disconnection from traditional media sources and what that means for politics), Grant's version of future news media as blogging was also fascinating. I especially enjoyed some of the commentary on 'ethics' and 'truth' because if you ignore the zombies this book has a lot of insightful observations about the media culture in the US (and the rest of the world).

Another plus for this book was decent non-Mary-Sue female protagonist! I don't want to give anything away, so I shall not say any more. But I did find it really refreshing to read a novel filled with a number of interesting, multi-dimensional female characters, rather than a token cookie-cutter female victim or hero.

My final good point about this book is fearless plot progression. I recently read the first book of the Codex Alera Series (which I will review when I read the next few) but my main bugbear with Jim Butcher is his addiction to ALMOST killing all/most of his main characters in every single book, only to have them revive in time for the rest of the series (Harry Dresden *cough*). It drives me mad.

The only downside to this book was the slow plot development in the first third of the book, I feel like there was a lot was superfluous information which, while helping to build a picture of the 'world', but didn't really contribute anything to the main plot.

An interesting little tit-bit I discovered, Mira Grant is actually Seanan McGuire, I can see why she wanted to name herself Mira...

Love it, Read it,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

'Antigua, Penny, Puce' ‐Robert Graves 1936.

I must admit I judged this book by its cover. While browsing in a secondhand book shop something made me pull out the battered Penguin Classic. I had never heard of Robert Graves, his rather surly image is on the back cover as you can see, and I knew nothing of the story, but I bought it anyway. What I love about this book is its story, the story of the book, as well as the story in the pages of the book. On the inside cover is written in ink "A Happy New Year, Pegg. Just a little something to read on the tram. I hope you enjoy it. The gloves are lovely, many thanks, Love Jacque". From the publication date we can assume if the book was purchased new as a gift that the dedication was written around 1947. There is something so wonderful about that, and as I read the story I imagined 'Pegg' reading it on the tram some 70 years ago.

So, now we come to the story itself. I really enjoyed this novel, it was based around the conflict between a brother and sister, which centers around the contested ownership of a stamp album and a particular stamp which give the novel its title. The story weaves together everything which one would assume was simply mentioned in passing to flesh out a scene, and any potential red herrings are pointed out if they are not relevant later. This makes for an interesting read, where many of the stylistic elements of the novel are referred to or explained as they occur. In this way it is a little similar to 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller' by Italo Calvino, though certainly it has a much stronger central narrative than Calvino's unusual book (Which I may not review, as I read it some months ago, but I highly recommend).

Overall the characters are vivid and I became quite involved in the dispute, silently cheering on one sibling over the other. This vividness is probably owing to the quite small cast of characters, and a series of supporting characters who reappear as needed throughout the book. This is a technique used very effectively by Émile Zola in 'Thérèse Raquin' which made this novel easily adapted for the stage, and contributed to the claustrophobic feeling of the book. In the case of 'Antigua, Penny, Puce' it reinforced the interlinking nature of the plot and of families and friendships.

The only other thing I will add is that, as an Australian I am always very interested to see how Australians are portrayed in novels, and this book had some interesting character assessments and other references to what Australian people are like. This provided a nice contrast (in my mind) to another book I recently read 'The Getting of Wisdom', which is interesting as an Australian perspective on what Australia was 'really' like in a slightly earlier time period. I am beginning to amass a little list of books from 1900/1940s which use Australians as plot devices, I might share it one day soon. Amusing stuff.

Love it, Read it,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome to My Library

This post is a placeholder really, to remind myself that I have created a space to write about my ever expanding library. A space where I can review the books I read, as I read them.

I am yet to decide if I will go back and review books I have read before the creation of this blog. Though perhaps it is best if I don't. As then I may fall into bad habits.

I read, on average, 1 book each week, so hopefully this will be conducive to regular posting. If I am reading a particularly long book, or have been swamped with university assignments then perhaps I shall fall back upon things I have read and love this year.

Be warned, my reading habits are eclectic and my passion for narrative of any kind is far greater than my desire to find a 'perfect' book, so there is always something I admire or love about every book I read. I have also never studied literature, and lack any kind of formal training in how to critique a book, a plot, characters etc. what I do have is 15 years of accumulated passion.

Love it, Read it,