Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Man: Klaus Klump-Gonçalo M. Tavares

A Man: Klaus Klump-Gonçalo M. Tavares

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 144
gender: male
nationality: Portuguese
year: 2003
novel in translation

A man is in a country at war, conquered, and then the war is over.

Klaus Klump is basically without morals, a man without much engagement with the world, which is okay because he is in a country that is being invaded. There is a chilling spareness to Tavares’s prose that lends much to the imagination as his analogies, non sequitors, and random observations never really tell you what is going on. Except that the country is in turmoil, horrible things are happening, machines are there and it’s all pretty awful. This is a short novel that you have to read in one breath, one long held breath, bludgeoned by impotency against alienation. It’s disorienting and the violent scenes are barely distinguishable from the scenes held in peacetime.


It is a hard read in that you have no idea what's really going on and I despised Klaus Klump. Which is quite remarkable given the sparseness of the entire novel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lives of Others-Neel Mukherjee

Lives of Others-Neel Mukherjee

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 416
gender: male
nationality: India
year: 2014
novel

Family saga/epic set in Calcutta. Told in two threads-that of the Naxalite son and another of the various life stories of the rest of his family.

Dense. Really dense. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of melodrama. Of course, there’s actual drama too-the Naxal subplot is never going to lack that. There is a lot of change happening, to the family as well as to the country and the book definitely focuses on the personal impacts of national events. Each family member serves almost as an allegory for the national problems-drugs, marriage, caste etc.  And it’s all told with detail-lots of detail. For me, too much detail but I won’t deny that it was the details that brought the book alive. It really overall functioned as a constant exploration of class/caste and the inequalities of the society

However, I guess it really just wasn’t for me. I seem to not particularly care about family dramas- I can’t get into characters who are quite so bitter like family dramas require. And while a lot happened in the novel, I finished it with the sensation that not much was resolved or done. Which is a bit ironic. Maybe it was the pacing which was kind of meandering-there’d be moments of fascinating changes and the like and then it’d all slow down. I ended feeling like I was pushing myself to read the novel-like it was a chore only lightened by Mukherjee’s sometimes beautiful prose.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Murder Bag-Tony Parsons

Murder Bag-Tony Parsons

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 384
gender: male
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

Seven public school mates (private school to my American friends) (i.e. there’s money) have begun to be killed in grisly ways. Dectective Max Wolfe is trying to find the killer before all seven end up dead.


A very well done procedural crime thriller. The details are what set this apart from the rest of its genre. The tour of the Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, the murder bag mentioned in the title, and the atmosphere (London, of course) are all in the details. The procedural details are precise and carry the novel forwards. The pacing accelerates which is good since I think most readers can solve the mystery rather quickly. Wolfe is made more interesting as he is a single parent so there is a distinctly human feeling to him. He’s not just a tough guy detective but a sensitive father as well. To be honest, I can’t find much to say about this novel, it’s well done but not too well done and so it proves an entertaining if not entirely memorable read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Like Sand in the Wind-Sonia Raule and Vasken Berberian

Like Sand in the Wind-Sonia Raule & Vasken Berberian

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 503
gender: F & M
nationality: Italy/Armenia
year: 2011
novel in translation

Following the 1988 earthquake in her country (Soviet era Armenia), Lena is forced to go to Italy where she works as a nanny for Alice. Alice is the wife of a prominent Armenian doctor but is staunchly Italian. Despite this, the two form a strong bond.

Predictably I was fascinated by the history of places I’ve never known and by the Soviet issues. That the earthquake clearly exposed the worst of the Soviet rule was fascinating and the authors are clearly critical of the cost-cutting that made the earthquake so devastating. The absolute desperate poverty that made the after effects more devastating are depicted in this sparse way that evoked descriptions of post-bomb Hiroshima in a way.


The story set in Italy is somewhat less unusual. There is the familiar narrative of the picture-picture marriage is actually damaged as well as the tension between immigrant and natives played out on a domestic stage were not unusual. However, both Alice and Lena are developed clearly and so you end up rooting for their relationship and that becomes the most interesting part of the story.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Kept-James Scott

The Kept-James Scott

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 368
gender: male
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Strangers have shot a family to death while the mother is away. The surviving child shoots her when she returns (thinking she’s the shooters come back to finish the job). Revenge and the revealing of secrets kept drive the rest of the novel

What a bleak novel. The opening scene is on a massacre and it is bleak. The landscape is bleak. The characters and their ability to develop is bleak. The ending is bleak.


And that is its strength as a novel. That doesn’t make it easy to read but you do have to be impressed by how much bleakness can be packed into 350 pages without driving a reader to drink. I don’t quite know how Scott managed it-perhaps it was the sparse, precise prose or perhaps it was the pacing-but this was not the most depressing thing I’ve read...though admittedly, it’s up there. There’s a lot of the elements of a traditional Western here-the horror of being in the middle of nowhere, transgressive characters, carving a space for your own, revenge, etc,-but set against the northern winter. So you have the typical gruesome details of the genre within a landscape as brutal as the desert and the usual lack of proper parenting which leads to a showdown kind of scene. I felt like I was reading a wintry Cormac McCarthy actually. Goodness, this novel was brutal but starkly beautiful albeit not for the soft-hearted.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Triangle-Hisaki Matsuura

Triangle-Hisaki Matsuura

the facts
satisfaction: down
pages: 350
gender: male
nationality: Japan
year: 2001
novel in translation

Otsuki, a recovered drug addict, is drawn into a project by the calligrapher Koyama featuring a pornographic movie.


I could not handle how bizarre this novel was. So bizarre. So weird and full of unlikeable characters and strange situations. And how bleak and so-very-not-nice the world was painted as-metaphysically. And the women in the book...objectified, harridans, and presented as worthless. I despised the main character whose flaws were never really explained seriously-just “issues with his family” type-and so I didn’t care about his downward spiral. Really just didn’t care, I have little sympathy for people with parasitic lifestyles it seems. There’s like no attempt to have a plot that makes sense and so, yes, there’s loads of plot holes and no attempt to resolve them. So his labyrinthine nightmare of narcissism, unseen malign forces, and misogyny left me cold and uncaring. The only thing of interest I took away from the novel was the concept of tomoe-a spiral that indicates harmony and stability-and its opposite.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The One Safe Place-Tania Unsworth

The One Safe Place-Tania Unsworth


the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 295
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
children's novel


In a dystopian future, a boy fresh off the farm ends up in a mega-city where he falls in with orphans and ends up in an orphanage where not all is as amazing as it seems.


Okay so this ended up being genuinely creepy. I read a lot of dystopia. A lot. For decades now. Now it’s much easier to be a big dystopia fan because there’s a lot of dystopia now on the market and so, unfortunately, things get a bit samey. This one stands out. So set in an unspecified future with more extreme temperatures and a wicked wide wealth gap (so, in other words, rather soon), Devin was once a super sheltered kid living on a farm-so sheltered he has never met anyone other than his grandfather. So he doesn’t know things like the synesthesia is unusual or whathaveyou. But since this is young adult/middle grade genre, all the adults in his life die and he ends up going to the mega-city to find someone to help him. Unsworth doesn’t do anything showy about describing the differences between the farm, the mega-city, and the eventual creepy orphanage Devin is in. Rather, it is all rather matter of fact. The horror of the merciless city, the tranquility of the farm, and the odd behavior of the kids in the orphanage are described in a way that your imagination fills in the details. The ending is well handled and I commend Unsworth on the open endedness.

So why the side? I just couldn’t place this book. The writing was middle grade style I suppose which was too simplistic for the utter intensity of the plot. I could’ve done with the plot being told in an expansive, more young adult kind of way because really, it was so interesting.