Thursday, March 31, 2016

House on Cold Hill-Peter James

House on Cold Hill-Peter James

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 310
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2016
novel

A ghost story about a house, its ghosts, and a family who buys the house.

I'm not in the habit of reading ghost stories-I really can't remember the last one I've read. I prefer them in movies where there are certain tropes and shock tactics that a seasoned movie watcher knows are coming that makes them a pleasure. I'm not really easy to properly scare-I was always the person who ended in the front of the group of friends in fright houses at Halloween.
James does use some of these tropes we are all familiar with. It's kind of hard to write about houses and ghosts that do not owe a lot to its predecessors but James does it particularly well. I can't go into detail without ruining them but there were points where I was actually particularly creeped out. No mean feat considering that I'm the sort of person found the 'haunted' levels of the university library to be the best place to work, easily shrugging off the occasional electrical malfunctions, inexplicable sounds, and occasional vibrations. So good job James! I also really enjoyed the more modern intellectualized touches (using physics!) as Ollie tries desperately to understand what on earth is going on.
In the end though, the motive of the ghost was unsatisfactory and really, I was not sold on the horror. I suspect though that I am simply not the correct audience for such a novel is all as it is well-paced, believable and interesting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Genesis-Eduardo Galeano

Genesis:Memory of Fire-Eduardo Galeano

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: M
nationality: Uruguay
year: 1982
non-fiction (narrative)

A collection of the origins of Latin America from the various origin stories of the tribes to the arrival of the Spanish.

This took me well over a year to read. The chapters are short, the language precise, and it starts out innocuously enough. For the first 30-40%, Galeano is retelling the numerous origin stories of numerous tribes and I was really enjoying myself. I would read a few chapters and head to the internet to find out what tribe had which origin myth to read more about them, the myths and the people. I was really enjoying the rich tapestry of worlds and beginnings as well as learning a lot.
And then, with you barely noticing it, that precise language begins to burn. The Spanish show up and the violence, the smoke of worlds burning overwhelms. By the end, I found it nigh unbearable. I was reading it in dribbles of two pages because the emotional impact was far too strong, an interior spring of dread and horror flooding my body, my mind. Galeano does not hold your hand and the voices are no less varied and yet they are all screaming and you can barely distinguish the tribes from one another.
I had to finish the book though. Not out of a stubborn sense of finish-this-book like I usually mean it but rather I felt like I owed it to myself to not flinch, to face it-my history, a subjective but wholly valid version of my birthrights.

I had read Open Veins of Latin America but I was not prepared.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Furiously Happy-Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things-Jenny Lawson

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 329
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2016
memoir

A memoir about mental illness.


I have never heard of Jenny Lawson. I've never read her blog and had no idea that she had multiple books. I was simply intrigued by "an uplifting memoir about depression."
Well, I was unprepared.
Lawson writes like someone who speaks a million words a minute and this energy pretty much bounces out of the page as she discusses lots of taxidermy and recounts lots of dialog and anecdotes that really made me kind of wonder about the true state of her marriage. This does read like a blog-a strong personal voice and irreverent adherence to rules of narrative. I enjoyed it. In the end, I did wonder whether it was all written from the manic side of depression. Though Lawson does confront her depression directly, the taxidermy raccoon got more screen time for a memoir ostensibly about mental illness. I do get it though, Lawson's point is that even though depression does drag you down, that simply means you have to make sure your ups are very up, very full of joy. Zany joy in Lawson's case. The hyperbole got to me sometimes as did the "crazy" and the "disorders have disorders" thing. But that didn't really matter so much because Lawson is so true to herself, she grabs your metaphorical hand and gets you to run along with her.

Even though I'd probably be hanging out with Victor, her too-serious husband, in real life despite my own anxieties.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Little Red Chairs-Edna O'Brien

The Little Red Chairs-Edna O'Brien

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 256
gender: F
nationality: Ireland
year: 2016
novel

A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.

I really wanted to enjoy this and really wanted to give it a chance but I think it was a bit too heavy handed from the beginning. The title is such a dead giveaway as well as the blurb so the bottom fell out of the trope of 'mysterious stranger shows up in a village' at the very start. You're never really given a chance to see 'Vlad' from the viewpoint of Fidelma because I at once immediately wondered whether this was Karadzic or Mladic. Maybe I simply came into this novel far more informed about the Yugoslav wars than O'Brien gave me credit? I don't know but so there's this kind of immediate disconnect, I wanted to skip this part to what would surely be a more interesting second half but then O'Brien throws in some violence which was abrupt and fairly unnecessary feeling. Okay, I thought-onwards? Finally at the end I was intrigued by Fidelma's confrontation of the banality of evil but it feels superficial...not the least because it was only like ten pages of the novel. There's so much potential in exploring the banality of evil using Karadzic but O'Brien doesn't take the opportunity. Meanwhile, the prose is drifting here and there like it's a little drunk or maybe with the dream sequences, it simply has taken some pills. 
This is a hard review because on the one hand, it was an interestingly crafted novel but in the end I felt it let itself down. Maybe my expectations were simply higher than they ought to have been. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Blue Guitar-John Banville

The Blue Guitar-John Banville

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 272
gender: M
nationality: Ireland
year: 2015
novel

Oliver Otway Orme is a painter and petty thief who talks us through this affair he had with his friend's wife.

Okay, I get it. We weren't really supposed to like Oliver so that's why this entire novel is so simultaneously self-aggrandizing, self-defacing, egotistical, and self-destructive. But goodness me, this was such a slog for me. I'm amazed I finished-my stubborn streak showed up for the party. I had no emotions to anything that happened in the novel. Oliver can't paint. Okay. Oliver, for no enunciated reason, estranges basically everyone he knows. Okay. Why, he moans, am I this way. I don't particularly care I thought. And the vocabulary. Why? Orme doesn't use a simple word when he can use three of obscure etymological origin. I love complex vocabulary, a lot, but primarily if it adds to the narrative or even enhances a character. In Orme however, it was just another annoying trait.
Listen, I noticed. This is such a well written novel. Banville has essentially created a three dimensional man with numerous flaws, some strengths, and definitely a distinct human being but in the end, I was bored. All this high art lyricism with no substance. "The secret to being a bore is to say everything." Voltaire's quote kept popping into my head. I can see how his writing which is like finely wrought goldsmithing has beguiled Banville's strong fanbase but this novel did not put me into that crowd. There's poetry here but not one that spoke to me despite speaking at me for 272 pages.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I Crawl Through It- A.S. King

I Crawl Through It-A.S. King

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2015
YA

A surreal novel about trauma: a sometimes-visible helicopter, a girl attached to her lab coat, a man in bushes, a girl whose hair grows when she lies, and a girl who has swallowed herself.

This is definitely one of those novels where people will either despise it and be unable to finish or people will be sucked up and carried along like flotsam on the current. I am in the latter camp. King's delivery is unlike anything else but it remains legible. Like there is clearly a reason why China has swallowed herself and is a stomach that day. Stanzi's absent parents remain there, recognizably parents who have sunk into themselves. I was an outcast in high school and I was basically Gustav, bored, hoping that somewhere out there were people who were interesting and smart and all in one place. I saw high school in this novel everywhere. The novel was not surreal to me so much as a constant manifestation of the isolation that high school kids can be in. This is not metaphor but rather a series of symbolic acts. Fascinating and so true. These kids are so alone, unable to shout in the language of adults (if any were around that is) that yes, they turn themselves inside out and watch the others around them. Even the mix of knowing the inner turmoil of each character and how others saw them and the struggles of friends to know how to help the unhelpable was so well done that I felt transported back to the mute struggles of high school. I would have made this book my spirit animal as a teenager; I was a huge Palahnuik fan at the time and this reminds me of what I loved in his novels without the slightly too precocious crudity. I've enjoyed this novel as an adult but deep inside, I really do always read YA books with that metric: Would teenage me have enjoyed it too?