citizenkelly's aide memoir
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1. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (#1, below)
2. Das Tennisgenie. Die Roger Federer Story by René Stauffer (#4, here)
3. The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham (#13, here)
4. Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier (#15, here)
5. The Dig by John Preston (#25, here)
6. At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman (#30, here)
7. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (#38, here)
8. Ground Water by Matthew Hollis (#40, here)
9. Q&A by Vikas Swarup (#47, here)
10. A Human Being Died That Night by Pumla Gobodo-Madikize (#50, here)
11. Der Turm by Uwe Tellkamp (#57, here)
12. Some Prefer Nettles by Junichirō Tanizaki (#58, here)
13. The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (#59, here)
14. Schweigeminute by Siegfried Lenz (#60, here)
15. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin (#61, here)
16. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (#62, here)
17. Herr und Hund by Thomas Mann (#63, here)
18. At the Sign of the Cat and Racket by Honoré de Balzac (#68, here)
19. How Much of Us There Was by Michael Kimball (#79, here)
20. The Presence by Dannie Abse (ditto)
21. Falling Off the Catwalk by Robert N. Reincke (#80, here)
22. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (#85, review pending here)
23. Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten by Christian Kracht (#86, here)
24. Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James (#87, here)
25. Lighthouse by Tony Parker (#96, here)
26. Salt by Jeremy Page (#106, here)
27. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson (#107, here)
28. Sad, Bad and Mad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 by Lisa Appignanesi (#110, here)
29. The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett (#120, here)
30. The Apple Cart by George Bernard Shaw (#124, here)
31. Buchmendel by Stefan Zweig (review to come)
32. The Ball at Sceaux by Honoré de Balzac (review to come)
33. Gedichte (Poetry) by Sergej Jessenin (#127, here)
34. Erniedrigte und Beleidigte (The Insulted and Humiliated) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (review to come)
35. Städte der Welt (Cities of the World) published by Taschen (#129, here)
36. My Ántonia by Willa Cather (#130, here)
37. Estates by Lynsey Hanley (review to come)
38. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (review to come)
1. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) 321 pages.
I'm starting with this one, although it's something of a reread – back in September, when this book was merely a Booker-shortlisted novel, I read about two-thirds of it before putting it aside. Needless to say, I didn't favour it to win the Booker Prize and – needless to say – I was utterly wrong. So, on New Year's Day I picked it up again and reread it from the beginning.
While I stand by my original rating of 3 stars, and am glad to have finished the book, I still wasn't hugely impressed by The White Tiger, but in this case, the problem really lies with me. It is an accomplished debut, well-plotted and jauntily written, and gives us a worthy insight into life in modern-day India (primarily Delhi). However, the narrator's tone annoyed me intensely from start to finish – cynical, know-it-all, dripping with irony and implausibly epistolary. It reminded me very much of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in its narrative technique, and it was precisely this technique that ruined the latter book for me too.
But, as I say, this is very definitely my problem, or rather, it is definitely not my taste. Nevertheless, the technique is perfectly legitimate and is sure to appeal to others. I wouldn't even criticise the Booker judges for their decision, which was a brave one in a relatively weak year. Well, I would criticise their choice of short list in general, but that's another matter.
So. My year started off with the satisfaction of completing an important title left unread in 2008. Grand!
2. Das Tennisgenie. Die Roger Federer Story by René Stauffer (2006) 271 pages.
Okay, I have to explain this one. I play tennis. I like tennis. And I like Roger Federer – but not in a million years would I ever considering buying or reading his biography. However, my dear tennis coach, who only read one book last year (and that was this one, about his absolute idol) gave me a copy for Christmas, and pleaded with me to read it ("if you like books, that is…"), so I dutifully did.
It was awful. Loosely translated, it went along the lines of: "He stayed in (such-and-such) hotel. It was short walk to the tournament grounds. There, he changed in the changing room and strode onto the court. (There follows an extremely detailed, blow-by-blow account of the match). It was the most important match of his career.
For the next tournament, he travelled to X. He stayed in (such-and-such) hotel. It was short walk to the tournament grounds. There, he changed in the changing room and strode onto the court. (There follows an extremely detailed, blow-by-blow account of the match). It was the most important match of his career."
Of course the nibbles of biographical information were slightly interesting at times (but we are talking about clean-cut Federer here). Sadly, the book was written and published in the Spring of 2006, so the fascinating duel with Nadal over the course of the last two years is missing. Simperingly sycophantic, utterly uncritical of its subject, but at the same time curiously sweet and innocent… I do regret the time I wasted in reading this, but for the sake of my tennis coach, who is a darling man, I'd do (almost) anything, so there we have it.
*Off to find some nice words to say about it…*
I too love your reviews.
3. The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham (1929) 208 pages.
I should really preface my comments by admitting that I don't normally read crime or detective novels. However, I'm planning to expand my horizons a little this year in that direction, which will probably include titles by Peter James, Craig Russell, Stieg Larsson, maybe Henning Mankell and Ian Rankin, some of whom I've already read…
And then there's all that classic stuff, ah yes, the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and all that.
My main reason for picking up The Crime at Black Dudley was the fact that it was written in 1929, and thus perfect for Project 1929. The fact that it's the first of Allingham's novels made it even more appealing.
What can I say? Everyone is gathered together in a big old creepy and cold manor, where they cheerfully commence a game which involves turning off all the lights, hiding from each other and passing around a ritual dagger as quickly as possible. Would it be divulging too much information to say that a murder occurs while all this is going on? I mean, would you, upon finding yourself in a big old creepy and cold manor, even entertain the thought of embarking on such silliness? Well, it seems that life was much more innocent in 1929, when women were little girls without brains, brawn or courage, and men rushed around bopping thugs on the head.
It was quite a lark, and I enjoyed the whole thing up to a point, but my distaste for detective whodunnits was not diminished by the fact that I figured out very early on whodiddit, even if there was no rational way of knowing the preposterous reason whyhediddit, but I really couldn't have cared less. There were thrilling moments, to be sure, and tales of international intrigue to match even John Buchan, but it didn't grab me, I fear. However, I am grateful for the (albeit small) insights into the life of the Suffolk landed gentry and the young London professional classes in 1929, with their seeming obsession with motor cars and their pretty extreme anti-German views (this was amusing at first, but got a bit tiresome after the 224th mention of Huns, Teutonic features etc), not to mention the bizarre appearance of a group of hunters on horseback. The very last chapter was positively awful, I think poor Margery was definitely flagging at that stage and was dying to get the fool blasted book finished with and where's the bloody gin?
Well, onwards and upwards – my next criminal treat from 1929 will be The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie, but not for some time yet!
4. Le grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier (1913) 214 pages.
Major credit to kiwidoc for reminding me of this charming book. I first read it when I was sixteen, and thought it so terribly profound and sad, matched only by the non-stop Smiths cassettes I had playing in the background.
My second reading, now twenty years on, was almost as fruitful, although in different ways. The sense of loss and yearning, the constraints of youth and geography, the irrational but very real and overwhelming curse of infatuation, the BOREDOM of teenagerhood (which we often forget in hindsight) – it is all still there, only now I can read it in a detached manner, like some kindly aunt.
I remember wondering how some bloke writing about turn-of-the-century rural France could possibly know me so well, could understand my stinking life and convey my very own sense of desolation in such a precise manner. The fact that I didn't have a stinking life, but a normal middle-class one just adds to the ridiculousness of these thoughts, but then it is this very conceitedness and self-absorption of youth that is presented so well by Alain-Fournier. The theme is simply a universal one, but while the book does capture more than the spirit of the age in which it is written, it is, of course, made all the more poignant by the fact that the author died in the war that began a year after publication.
I was certainly less moved by the 'puberty' and the skewed and pointless sense of honour this time round, but I did notice other enriching and enlightening aspects – in particular, the description of village life in 1890s France, populated by farmers and weavers and basket-makers and wheelwrights and farriers, and the many observations concerning the countryside and the seasons and the weather, for example:
But on the third morning after these events, as I went down into the yard, I suddenly realized it was spring. A pleasant breeze, smooth as warm water, flowed over the wall. During the night a fine rain had washed the peony leaves; recently dug beds in the garden gave off an earthy smell you could almost taste; and in the branches of a tree near the window a bird was trying to learn music…
And one of the best scenes of all is the narrator's exhilarating description of a bicycle ride through the countryside.
Something I would have wished for this time was humour, which is sadly lacking throughout this intense and troubled book – I found myself frowning slightly all the while, and nearly put on The Smiths again. And the last section became rather tiresome in its melodrama. That said, it's a very satisfying circle, being filled with nostalgia when reading a book that is itself filled with nostalgia, and I'm glad to have read Le Grand Meaulnes again. Repeated thanks to kiwidoc, who now looks as if she might well induce me to re-read all of Dostoyevsky this year. Oh boy. More frowning to come.
Edited because I simply could no longer bear that spelling mistake.
Fabulous review of LGM. I agree that the melodrama at the end is the weakest link - perhaps thoroughly dating the book to its time period.
Also concur with the descriptions of the countryside and French life - the most appealing part to read for me.
I hope you paste it to your review page so it gets attached to the book details.
I am glad you are accepting the Dostoyevsky gauntlet??
I wonder why you haven't explored the crime/mystery genre more, citizenkelly? I myself have never been a big reader of the them because I'm not interested in what happens in a novel as much as why it happens. In mysteries, it is often not until the end that we know why, so I have wasted an inordinate amount of time to get to what I want. Of course, there are always those that combine character and depth of thought with the plot-driven mystery -- those are the ones I like to find. You?
>19 kambrogi: I fully concur, kambrogi. Crime bores the ears off me. I tend not to really see the point (particularly with the gruesome, modern stuff), but I realise that this is a narrow-minded attitude. That's why I'm giving it one more chance this year...
>20 tomcatMurr: *sneezing*
>22 FlossieT:, 23 - nice to see you here, Rachael! I'm also relieved that you agree on the Adiga, and you are, of course, absolutely right about Sebastian. How nice that he won the Costa Novel Award! As for Le Grand Meaulnes, I read the Davison translation on both occasions.
5. The Dig by John Preston (2007) 231 pages.
Oh my. A short novel, acquired ages ago and left to wither under teetering piles of books – I only found it again last week (I hadn't even entered it on LT, yegads!!!) and, on a whim, decided to read what is unquestionably my best read of the year so far.
This is a wonderful and moving book. Set in Suffolk in the summer of 1939, a summer filled with rain clouds and opressive heat, both real and metaphorical, excavations begin on a group of unassuming mounds of earth, situated on the property of Mrs. Edith Pretty, overlooking the Deben estuary. It's clear to the reader from the off that we are talking about the amazing Sutton Hoo discoveries, but it is one of the most charming achievements of the author that he manages to convey a sense of barely contained excitement and wonder, as the treasures are painstakingly freed from the earth.
While the immediate attraction for me was the archeology of Sutton Hoo – a topic that has always fascinated me and which receives an honourable, even if not entirely accurate, fictional treatment here – the core of the book is actually to be found in the characterisation and relationships of the players involved.
Told from three perspectives, we catch a glimpse of inner lives that are, at times, incredibly moving. Whether it's the suffering of a lady plagued by illness, mourning her husband and almost sick with love and worry for her young son; the quiet pride of a poorly educated yet expert archeologist, trusted this far but no further; or the sadness and desperation of a young bride coming to the realisation that she has made a big mistake – Preston skillfully draws us in and leaves us almost aching for the unspoken pain that is felt (in particular by the two women). Some extraordinarily beautiful imagery is used, including nightingales and thoughts about Victorian photography and the inevitable confrontation with death, decay and commemoration – and all of this with a very deft hand…
Despite this great depth, I've decided not to grant the book five stars – probably because of the relative light weight of the book in total. A large part of me simply wanted more heft. It could well be that the beauty of the book, with its small subtelties, could not be improved upon with extension, but I'm not sure. And we'll never know.
Nevertheless: The Dig, while perhaps similar in atmosphere and tone to The Welsh Girl or Atonement, is actually far superior to both, in my opinion, and I enjoyed it immensely.
I read The Welsh Girl and enjoyed it but was disappointed at the same time. I can't remember exactly what it was about the story. I think it was the Hess stuff. Something didn't hang together. I just had a look now and I gave it 4 stars, but I think I've got harsher in my ratings in the last few years as I've read more and more fantastic books!
I wonder if the reader has no great interest in archeology or the English countryside would find the book has the same grip on the reader?
>28 kiwidoc: I wasn't sure at first, but after a very short while I was convinced that it would appeal to all stripes, whether interested in Anglo-Saxon ship burials or not! It's the characters wot does it.
6. At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman (2007) 220 pages.
Another spontaneous pick from the pile, AND ABOUT TIME, TOO. Indeed, most of you can just move along now and check other messages or paint your nails or something, since I'm coming so late to this. However, and I don't know if you know this feeling, this was a book that I have been saving, or rather, it's one of those books that I couldn't bear to read, because I enjoyed the predecessor so much and wanted to have something as my 'Sunday best'. And this was certainly the case here, because I LOVED Ex-Libris.
I loved Ex-Libris so much that I wrote one of the very few fan letters of my lifetime and – what is more extraordinary – received a reply. On April 15, 2000 I wrote an e-mail, telling the author among other things: "You should also know that you have become a minor celebrity here in Berlin – I run a small and struggling English-language bookshop, and I've been recommending your book to everybody. The feedback I've received so far has been very positive, and now I find I can't import the book half quickly enough!"
The reply came nine days later, thanking me for my kind note and adding that the book was about to be translated into German: "How they'll do the German translations of long words, typos and so on is anyone's guess! But since I don't speak German, I'll have to operate on the principle that what I don't know can't hurt me."
Well, we then made a loose arrangement for her to read at the bookshop on her next visit to Europe but – alas – the bookshop folded at the end of 2000, and that was the end of that. But I digress.
At Large and at Small didn't disappoint, even if I was less in thrall than with Fadiman's previous work. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm older. However: Thoughtful, witty and wise, she manages again and again to stimulate and delight the reader on a phenomenal number of topics. I think what appeals most about Anne Fadiman is that she is not only a marvellous writer, but a top-class reader too, weaving erudition into every theory and observation, and presenting her own readers with a mirror of their reading selves – perhaps less accomplished, but just as passionate about books as she is.
The reason for a lower rating of this book lies in the very eclectic nature of the subjects – so varied and, at times, unique, that they won't appeal in equal measure to everyone. I didn't find the chapter on ice cream as invigorating as that on mail, for example (and even the latter flagged towards the end). I was left utterly unmoved by the chapter entitled 'A Piece of Cotton', about the U.S. flag and its symbolism; whereas the final essay, about the death of a canoeing school comrade, struck me in a way that is inevitably emotional, particularly for all those who have suffered similar losses as teenagers. I might well have expected more from the promising essays on Balzac's coffee mania, or Arctic exploration, but all of this is forgiven in light of such excellent essays as those on butterfly collecting (and collecting in general), the miscreant Coleridge, the revered Charles Lamb (and it's a fantastic coincidence that I've just been reading about his sister, Mary's, madness in Sad, Mad and Bad) and – finally – the majestic 'Procrustes and the Culture Wars'. I doubt I will read a better essay this year, and I shall read those twenty pages again and again. I remain in awe of Anne Fadiman, even if there'll be no fan mail this time.
7. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007) 128 pages.
It is a testament to the emotional power of this book that I burst into tears at page twelve. It was very embarrassing. I was lying in bed when it happened and Other Half looked at me as if I had gone completely and utterly bonkers – I very rarely cry. However, scenes of farewell, whether real or fictitious, always grab me by the throat, and I tend to handle them badly. And there is a farewell scene at the beginning of The Arrival (after all, you have to leave before you can arrive), that was so sparingly and poignantly and beautifully drawn, that I just couldn't stop myself. Thereafter, everything was fine again, because this is actually a joyous and uplifting work of art.
It was a gift out of the blue from a very dear friend, who thought that the story might resonate with me, as someone living in a foreign land. And it is all there: The shock of the new, the cultural alienation, the weirdness of the other. Strange people wearing strange clothes and eating strange food. An incomprehensible language, a fantastically huge and confusing city; the humiliation of being poor, clueless and helpless, all sense of adult competence being now null and void in this new situation. The yearning for home, the excitement about the future. Almost everything is covered in this remarkable illustrated book that does not feature a single word. It is beautiful and brilliant and very moving.
I did wonder about the universally positive portrayal of the migrant experience, although it's not something I wish to criticise. However (and this may be a small spoiler, so move on to the next paragraph if you're worried): we meet three sets of friendly immigrants who have, respectively, fled torture/hard labour, fascism and war, and added to that are the economic push-factors that sent our protagonist abroad. While there is no disputing the fact that most emigrants from a country are fleeing some sort of hardship, it is a.) not always the case, and b.) not all of them have such a positive experience as immigrants in the new country. That said, this is Shaun Tan's story and I fully accept his take on it. The loneliness and homesickness, the cultural confusion and communication difficulties are hardship enough – why make it worse.
Until now I've just wittered on about the themes of the book, but of course its strength lies in the illustrations, which are simply exquisite, a mixture of a sort of photorealism and fantasy. Shaun Tan says on his website that it took roughly a week to complete each page of up to twelve drawings, and one can definitely see the painstaking work that has gone into producing this jewel. Since it is difficult to adequately describe in words the appearance of a picture, I strongly recommend visiting the website, which has a small selection of images from the book (Better still: buy the book!). I certainly hope that the author can profit from the current craze for graphic novels, of which I have read quite a few over the years.
Why did I lop off half a star? Well, it probably has more to do with my own sense of unimaginative realism, but I can never really see the attraction of surrealist art. On an intellectual level, I can understand what the author was trying to do (making the new world a place full of extraordinary and inexplicable and foreign things, at times scary, at times magical) and I can judge that he most definitely succeeded in that, but it just wasn't my aesthetic.
On the other hand, the subdued sepia tones throughout the book certainly did appeal greatly to me, as did the many, many realist and semi-realist drawings, some of which managed to convey feelings and situations so well that I could only gasp: One example being the range of emotions – from hope to pride to incomprehension to desperation – experienced by our protagonist upon reaching the (Ellis-Island-style) Immigration Hall… marvellously portrayed in twelve simple panels. And I have stared at the evocative faces on the fly-leaf many, many times over, in thrall as if I were a child.
In summary, this is a wonderful book, in the literal sense that it is full of wonders, and I am eternally grateful to my dear friend, an occasional visitor to this thread, for this gift. THANK YOU!
8. Ground Water by Matthew Hollis (2004) 61 pages.
Another title that has been languishing on my shelf for far too long, but I find I really have to be in a suitably contemplative mood in order to read poetry and – what's more – I do prefer to read entire collections at a time, to get the full picture and measure of the poet. In this case, it took me longer to read these 31 poems than it did to read The Dig.
Water is everywhere in this sad and sweet collection. It rains, it snows; there are rivers and seas and rockpools, torrents and raging floods, breaking waves – there is even a poem called Isostasy (a marvellous take on walking on water). It is a very melancholic collection, in which the author deals with the death of his father and the breakdown of a relationship, the latter finding expression in possibly the best poem ever written by and about an abandoned lover ("Sandwritings").
(It's quite immaterial that I might have said the same thing about another poem before and will perhaps do so again next month – it's how I feel now! It swept me away.)
And from "The Small Rain Down Can Rain": the author is holidaying in Ireland, where it is (inevitably) raining, a slight, almost invisible rain that is wetter than it seems,
But how the small rain down can rain –
so tiny in its feet we barely note
its passage through the fibres and pores
until suddenly it's overcoming, at the skin;
a reminder how little that is outside
stays that way for long.
And just then, he learns of the death of his father.
Many of the poems also have strong agricultural notes (the author was born in Norfolk in 1971), very reminiscent of the early Seamus Heaney (and I mean that in a positive way). One example is "The Fielder", which, happily, is reproduced along with two other poems from the collection on this website.
The second half of the collection is slightly inferior to the first, in my opinion, but does contain some highlights. All in all, it is a fine piece of work, and a shame that Hollis hasn't produced a solo collection since. I live in hope.
Followed your link to the Shaun Tan website and came across his 12 Ellis island pictures - very well done, the sense of foreign - ness and other wordly - ness is so well conveyed.
9. Q&A by Vikas Swarup (2005) 336 pages.
Since last Sunday, at the very latest, when the Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire won the Best Picture award at the Golden Globes, people have been talking both about the movie and the book upon which it is based: Q&A. I've had this book on my shelves as an ARC for almost four years, so I figured it was finally time to give it a read. As I have recently finished The White Tiger, which also highlights poverty in contemporary India, I thought the two might complement each other well.
I won't say much about the book except that it was an enjoyable read, narrated in a breezy, naïve and direct style. Although less 'literary' in its ambitions, it was – in my view – a better book than The White Tiger. Why? Apart from the less smarmy tone of 'voice', what appealed to me most was that, although each book is based on a somewhat incongruous premise, Q&A was the more convincing, and its characters were much more sympatico. The book was structured very, very cleverly, even if the quiz thematic wore slightly thin at times (but the quiz is only the framework, and a much better one, for example, than that of a Bangalore entrepreneur writing to the Chinese premier, as in WT). All the hardship and cruelty of the Indian underclasses can be found here, but the author has a refreshing touch, and manages to find the right pitch, neither too uncaring nor too melodramatic.
A few things annoyed me about the book, but they're not worth talking about because a.) I'm feeling generous and b.) this is never going to make my list of favourite books anyway. But for all that, I had an interesting time in Delhi and Mumbai. I'm looking forward to the film.
Touchstones acting up
ETA: BUT A FINE BALANCE IS BETTER!!! Hehe
10. A Human Being Died That Night by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (2003) 194 pages.
I think it was on kiwidoc's 75-book thread that discussion turned from Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead to Holocaust literature and generally to Man's inhumanity towards Man, when kambrogi recommended this book that, while pertaining to South Africa, was more than relevant in that particular context. Well, I've had the book on my shelves for a year or two, and – trusting kambrogi as absolutely as I do, particularly in matters South African – I decided to give it a go.
As the author herself describes, the main question raised in this book is that of examining and understanding "remorse and forgiveness after mass atrocity". In post-apartheid South Africa, the psychologist Gobodo-Madikizela finds herself on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and decides to conduct a series of private interviews with Eugene de Kock, the "behind-the-scenes engineer of apartheid's murderous operations," now serving a 212-year prison term. The impulse to do such a thing was sparked by the – on the surface, incomprehensible – forgiveness shown to de Kock by two of his victims' widows.
From the very first chapter, in which she revisits three linked experiences from her past, Gobodo-Madikizela's account is full of humanity and sadness. Nor is she free from humility and self-doubt, which makes her all the more credible. The most fascinating aspect of her encounters with de Kock over the course of six months is the fierce internal struggle that consumes her, as she wrestles with questions of compassion and mercy, violence and intent – good and evil, and the paper-thin line between them.
It's a well-written account, with an assured literary style and perfect pacing. This can be seen from the very first chapter, in a tense and intriguing build-up as she drives through the streets of Pretoria on her way to her first meeting with de Kock at the prison.
It is fascinating to observe the psychologist in action, attempting to place de Kock on a cognitive map and thus determine his level of culpability. In examining the mind of one man, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela dissects the most fundamental questions that concern all of humanity. Her journey is one worth sharing.
Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? I really enjoyed it, but fear that fame will spoil the effect of this small film. Ironically, I recently heard that the author of Q&A lives in ... South Africa!
As to stories of poverty in India, I agree that A Fine Balance is one of the best things out there (if you want your heart broken completely). I also learned a lot from City of Joy, although it leaves a lot to be desired on several levels. (Sorry to babble on -- you hit on two of my favorite topics, India and South Africa!)
Please, don't ever edit your reviews down. I really get a sense of the books from your reviews in a way that always resonates and informs. You read with such insight and write with such clarity and humour.
On a website devoted to books, the love of books, which are made up of these wonderful things called words (or drawings if graphic novels), I think everyone should stop apologising immediately for going on about said books. It's the whole point of the place!
I gave my daughter The Arrival for Christmas, based on teelgee's enthusiasm for it, and of course it's now gone to Knoxville with her and the cat. Why didn't I absorb it myself before she came home? DUMB. She never would have known!
Don't worry, I'm not getting stagefright (unlike during my dismal performance last year!), but meant it in a Jim Carrey/Mask sort of way. (I like neither Jim Carrey nor that film, incidentally, but the catchphrase "Somebody STOP me!" has echoed in my head for ten years+).
I'm just back from a ten-day stay in Ireland, so I'll have a couple of reviews to add, as soon as I've gathered my thoughts. Am at present rather homesick.
11. Der Turm by Uwe Tellkamp (2008) 976 pages.
In order to balance out my rather scantily-paged reading in the first half of January, I last week turned to this whopper. It was the literary sensation of 2008 in Germany, winning the prestigious German Book Prize in October and receiving all-round praise in the feuilletons and book pages. I normally would have read it sooner, but I was bogged down in another project at the time, which is why I finally ended up lugging this tome all the way over to the wilds of Ireland, making an absurd figure as I completed my ten-hour journey with one shoulder higher than the other and the equivalent of two bags of sugar banging against my thigh.
Was it worth it? In a word: Yes. I'll admit it up front – despite my suspicion of all things hyped, this really is quite probably the most important book written in German since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Set mostly in the beautiful city of Dresden, East Germany, in the mid-1980s, we follow the lives of various members of one extended family, as they go about their as-normal-as-can-be-expected existences under the shadow of the GDR. We are presented with an educated class filled with doctors and musicians, writers and other intellectuals, a class that actually wasn't supposed to exist in the ideology of the communist state. With passivity, resignation and humour, they confront a system that is already clearly crumbling, yet that still has a hold on individual destinies.
At once both meticulously detailed and sweepingly panoramic, Tellkamp opens our eyes and gives us such a clear view of an everyday existence in which bribes and influence are more important than talent or hard work; subversive literature is brutally edited into submission before publication; blackmail replaces punishment as a method to keep citizens on the straight and narrow; and everything one says or does can be spied upon, observed, overheard and reported. Yet people got on with it, sometimes taking chances (e.g. by secretly listening to West German radio), sometimes not (e.g. in the question of whether to flee the state). As a family saga, the book is a great success, with an exciting plot, believable dialogue and very good characterisation. Sometimes the author comes over all "flowery" and conceptual, and some of the repeating imagery (most particularly concerning clocks) got on my nerves, but all in all, it was an incredibly rewarding read.
I'm going to so much detail here, because I know that the English translation has already been started (I just don't know who's doing it, and for which publisher, though I suspect Picador (Macmillan), and it will probably be called "The Tower"). I don't envy the translator* the job of communicating such complex terminology and that particular mood into another language, but if he/she is successful, then I can really, strongly recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in that time and place. Incidentally, it is the perfect complement to the movie The Lives of Others, which I also heartily recommend.
This novel has been compared to Proust and – most specifically – to Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, comparisons that certainly have some merit, in my opinion. This is an Epic with a capital E and the author (not quite 40 when he published this, his second novel, and a practising doctor to boot) is unapologetic in setting out his stall as a major literary force on the German scene. Even if he never writes anything else, I'm convinced that Tellkamp's name will now find its place in the canon for many years to come, and deservedly so.
*That's not true. I envy the translator.
12. Some Prefer Nettles by Junichirō Tanizaki (1929) 160 pages.
I expected to enjoy this more than I did, mainly because I so wholeheartedly admired The Makioka Sisters when I read it many years ago. The fact that I didn't probably has much to do with my aversion to puppet theatre (Childhood trauma? Roll up all you amatuer psychologists!) At any rate, the book bored the liver off me, and the characters left me unmoved, despite their personal crises…
Written in 1929, the book provides a surprisingly modern insight into Japanese middle class society and mores – subjectively surprising in this case, since I know so little about Japan at that time. But it is this modernity which seems to form the ideological core of the novel, as Tanizaki embeds a conflict between traditional Japanese and modern Western culture into the story of a failed marriage. Kaname and his wife Misako have grown so far apart that even the slightest, unintentional touch between them is treated as something unseemly, almost immoral. Although Misako openly has a lover, both display a 'show marriage' to the outside world – ostensibly for the sake of their young son and Misako's elderly father, but really (as it appears to me) because they are each simply too lethargic and apathetic to get their finger out and arrange for a divorce. They go through life side by side, but without sharing any intimacy with each other.
Kaname gets wrapped up in the world of the puppet theatre, a world in which his father in law is completely at home. Indeed, Misako's father has himself obtained and 'trained' a young puppet-like lover for himself. Kaname pores over banned pages of the Arabian Nights, and loses himself increasingly in thoughts about women and puppets. Is it not preferable to have a woman whom one can mould and manipulate according to one's desires? Are not the female puppets of the Bunraku Theatre more alive and vibrant than those made of flesh and blood?
To be honest, I really didn't care, and I found the ending most unsatisfactory, on all sorts of levels. I think it's just not a book for me, even though I can recognise that it's not rubbish. I think a re-read of The Makioka Sisters might be in order.
13. The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy (2008) 250 pages.
Well, my first thought was one of utter admiration for any parent that would give their child such a cool name, but it turns out she was originally a Pamela. Not that Pamela isn't a cool name *looking nervously towards Melbourne*, but you know what I mean.
Similarly, my enthusiasm for the book, which promised all sorts of interesting things, waned pretty much from the beginning. This is my very first Early Reviewer specimen, and I find I'm struggling to write a review that is now well overdue (I got the book months ago, but only read it now), without trashing it too much.
I was intensely irritated by a number of things in the book, from the pretentious "look at what a kooky cookie I am" author photo to the hyperbolic blurbs on the back cover. I have, however, two major bones of contention: the premise behind the essays, and *ahem* the essays themselves.
Kennedy goes to great lengths in her introduction to explain the genre in which she is working, except that the explanation seems more like a justification. Apparently, you see, Kennedy is really very creative and has always felt more at home writing fiction and well, you know, fell into writing non-fiction quite by chance, because some magazine editors asked her to. Thankfully, though, Kennedy is so creative, so much a master of "the nonfiction novel", that she manages to "explore the outer limits of nonfiction" in this "groundbreaking collection of nonfiction lit". She clearly and expressly sees herself in the tradition of Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe, yet yearns to claim some special place in the genre for herself, admitting very reluctantly at one stage: In official terms, I was a "magazine writer". But, really, I'd embarked on a safari, searching out a particular kind of true story.
Hmm, I thought. Well, let's see. The essays in the collection deal for the most part with "visionaries", mainly in the field of scientific invention, although there are also weightlifters and rock singers and eccentrics to be found. While some of the subjects interested me, I was generally left unmoved by the topics covered and – sadly – by the writing, which was often simply sloppy, no more so than in the title essay. Perhaps it's me, but it felt as if she had no natural sense of rhythm in her prose. I had resigned myself to accepting this flaw and looking more kindly at the book as a whole, but something undefined was niggling the bejesus out of me… and then I realised what it was.
I know (from the introduction) that all of the essays bar the first appeared originally in either The New York Times Magazine or The Boston Globe Magazine - but there were no dates! Not only was not a single date to be found, but I had the creeping realisation that most, if not all of these essays were really old, which was often apparent from the appending of an "update" to many of the stories. Whether it's the weightlifter preparing for the 2004 Olympics, or the political clown at a John Kerry (!) rally, or various scientists making discoveries a few years ago, I found myself repeatedly declaring WTF?! Why in goodness name am I reading this stuff, when it's not even relevant to now? Yes, I still read Joan Didion's journalism from the 60s, but this is definitely not of a calibre even remotely similar! I've rarely been so pissed-off.
I'm not saying that Pagan Kennedy is without talent, and one of the better essays from this volume is reproduced here for you to judge for yourselves. That said, Pagan Kennedy, self-proclaimed Queen of the 'Zines: judging from this collection, you are a magazine writer, and a mediocre one at that – no less, but certainly no more. Get over it.
14. Schweigeminute by Siegfried Lenz (2008) 128 pages.
More hype, this time about one of Germany's greatest living writers. Other Half is a huge admirer of his work, and I plan to read a number of his books this year. Sadly, I started with his latest, the title of which translates as "A Minute's Silence", and was very disappointed.
The sorry business started off with me getting the wrong end of the stick. All I knew about this book before I read it was that it dealt with grief, and I assumed that it would somehow be connected with the (then recent) death of Lenz's wife, to whom he was married for over fifty years and about whom he spoke very movingly in various interviews I had seen. Instead, this novella - about which everyone was absolutely raving - turned out to be a return to the days of his youth in a coastal town at the Baltic Sea.
Our young protagonist is still at school, and we learn of the development of a relationship with his English teacher. She dies in a boating accident, and he is left to mourn her in private, since nobody knows of their involvement. The book opens at her memorial service, and the young man's thoughts go back over the time they spent together. I suppose it's not a bad plot, but I found the writing so sentimental and saccharine, so idealistic and unrealistic, that I wanted to shred the thing. Just imagine getting stuck in the corner of the room at a wedding reception with a maudlin old relative who insists on telling you, in the greatest detail, about his first love, and you'll understand how I felt.
I shan't give up on Lenz yet, but I'll jump straight to his masterpiece (Deutschstunde, The German Lesson) the next time and hope that he was better at his peak.
15. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin (1839) 448 pages.
Well, it's Darwin Year, with the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and I have so much Darwin-related literature lying around here UNREAD, that I have resolved to get it all behind me this year and then I'll know everything (for which read: considering my utterly non-scientific brain, I'll have at least a vague idea).
What better place to start than The Voyage of the Beagle?! This rather hefty paperback has accompanied me throughout January and it has been a joy. Naturally, it as much a travel diary as a naturalist journal, and both aspects have delighted me no end. I've always been fascinated at the thought of all these young explorers heading off to all corners of the earth. This is a big, dirty secret, of course, being the feminist and anti-colonist that I am, but I suppose we all have our little perversions. I just can't get enough of the adventure and the hardship and the wonder and the sense of discovery, while at the same time being appalled by the consequences for so many human beings on our planet.
No great cause for guilty feelings here, though, since we are dealing with the scientific examination of non-humans, and although a fair amount of shooting and culling and skinning and dissecting goes on, my nancy-pancy vegetarian sensibilities can just about deal with that in light of the extraordinary leaps and bounds made by Darwin on the path to his theory of evolution, for which we must be eternally grateful.
Extraordinarily, he was only 22 when he embarked on the voyage, and indeed one of the most fascinating aspects of the journey was the relationship he had with the 26-year-old captain of the ship, Robert FitzRoy. Despite their very different natures and – increasingly - beliefs, the two men developed a friendship out of necessity. The trip was originally planned for two years, but ended up lasting five, and in that time Darwin collected a huge number of specimens and a mountain of knowledge, all of which were to change perceptions of nature, biology, geology and – ultimately – creation in the second half of the 19th century and beyond.
The detailed journals were never tedious to read, and I was confronted with many things that amazed and delighted me, the main example being that this was much less a voyage at sea than a journey on land. Although the voyage lasted five years, Darwin spent only one-fifth of the time on the Beagle (which is just as well, considering his awful seasickness), instead spending weeks and months at a time exploring coastlines and mountains and hinterlands on shore. This means we are treated to wonderful accounts of his trip to the Andes, as well as reports on the 1833 revolution in Argentina and the lifestyle of the Gauchos. It is marvellous stuff.
As expected, the chapter on the Galapagos Archipelago is a highlight, but I honestly didn't expect to be so thrilled by the rest of the account too. I'm utterly enamoured of Mr. Darwin now, and can't wait to delve deeper!
16. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1846) 141 pages.
I've been trying to figure out why the devil I'm baulking so much at writing a review for this book. Partly, it has to do with Time Elapsed, that scoundrel who stands in the way of all best intentions. I'm learning that I really need to formulate and express my thoughts on a book straight away, without starting on the next one. Damned discipline again, and am I learning from my mistakes? I am not.
The real reason for my hesitation in reviewing, however, is that I despise writing about 'classic' literature ('classic' in the sense of pre-contemporary, not in the ancient sense). Do I really need to rehash all the details of plot, characterisation and development? Is this, dearest one, what I should be writing? Why must I place myself on such a pedestal? Moreover, how could I possibly do justice to the book without regurgitating what has been said, over and over? How, I repeat? Of course, I might pretend that I am unaware of any other reviews; but, alas! I discover to my chagrin that an entire blooming group has sprung up to discuss the novels of Dostoyevsky, and in chronological order!!! What am I to do? What THEN will folk not say and think?
Oops, I seem to have slipped into Fyodor-speak there, no doubt still under the influence of this tragi-comic and unexpectedly deep novella. It is written entirely in the form of letters of correspondence between two cousins, Makar Devushkin and Varvara Dobroselova. The former in love with the latter, but it all ends desperately, at least for one of them. I adore epistolary novels, the whole back and forth of it all (which is why I didn't like the back-and-forth-less excuse for an epistolatary novel The White Tiger, I suppose.) Full of excruciating sentimentalism revealing a real psychological depth, replete with literature and with nods to my beloved Gogol, it offers a scintillating and vibrant look at the lower classes of St. Petersburg, at their lives and concerns amid squalour and hardship. I can't recommend Poor Folk enough, especially to those who might be approaching Dostoyevsky for the first time.
Now, I would love to carry on with the next novel, Netochka Nezvanova from 1849, but I can't find my blasted copy anywhere, and I've even scoured my bookshelves in Ireland looking for it. So I shall be skipping it entirely... thing is, do I even have a copy of the next one? Groan.
17. Herr und Hund by Thomas Mann (1919) 144 pages.
The English title of this little novella is Bashan and I and I can heartily recommend this book to both Thomas Mann fans and dog lovers. If you happen to be both, as I am, then you're in for a delight. Mann is a master of capturing thoughts and actions in elegant prose and – while he was often arrogant, clinical and distant in his writing and in person – the beauty of this book lies in the obvious love, joy and respect that exists between the man and his dog. The playful side of Thomas Mann is something one doesn't encounter very often (that said, some parts of The Magic Mountain make me weep with hilarity), but this is a great example of unadulterated and unashamed feeling, displayed for all to behold.
It is a masterclass in the art of observation and description. Mann succeeds in beautifully pinpointing the minute actions of his short-haired pointer in such a way to be familiar to all of you who, for example, have ever experienced the mad, dervish-like scramble of your dog as he runs to greet you – tongue hanging out, front paws on your chest, out of his mind with joy and excitement. There are scenes in which Bauschan (his German name) sniffs around after squirrels and rabbits, or examines twigs and leaves, or is just bored in the garden – all of which is very mundane, but not when described by Mann.
It's a charming and delightful little book that has often made me think of my own little dog, who was with me from my ninth to my 21st year. My thoughts have also very much been with two friends, each of whom has lost a beloved canine companion this week. While Thomas Mann never lets us forget how much separates humans and dogs, he has, at the same time, given us a timeless gift of prosaic affection and erected a wonderful monument to his noble and silly friend.
Glad to see a Dosteyovsky on your list - I will be interested in your comments on it - I see you gave it 4 stars.
18. At the Sign of the Cat and Racket by Honoré de Balzac (1829) 53 pages.
Monsieur Guillaume looked at the Rue Saint-Denis, at the neighbouring shops, and at the weather, like a man disembarking at Havre, and seeing France once more after a long voyage. Having convinced himself that nothing had changed while he was asleep, he presently perceived the stranger on guard, and he, on his part, gazed at the patriarchal draper as Humboldt may have scrutinized the first electric eel he saw in America.
I've been reading Balzac on and off for about twenty years, but in a rather willy-nilly fashion. Since he wrote his many books in a willy-nilly fashion, there's nothing at all wrong with this approach, but I seem to be developing a rather anal strain of OCD in my middle years, which means that I not only want to read and/or re-read all of Balzac over the next 90 months or so (that's the enjoyment part, in case it's not apparent), but I want to do it according to the plan as set out by the good Honoré himself (the compulsive part).
Thankfully, there's a very useful outline of the intended structure of Le Comédie humaine on Wikipedia, and I decided to align my reading and re-reading of Balzac to that – starting, therefore, with At the Sign of the Cat and Racket.
It's one I haven't read before, slotted into the group Scenes from private life (Scènes de la vie privée) and I'm looking forward to devoting myself to this section of the human comedy throughout the year (and for most of next year, by the looks of it…)
I don't want to give too much away, plot-wise; suffice it to say it is a tale of innocent love, parental disapproval, artistic sensibilities and the inability of the lower middle classes to appreciate same, and the terrible effect this can have on a marriage. It is about love found and love lost, about universal feelings, both good and ill. It contains arrogance and misery and not a little humour. It is a swift and enjoyable read, although not necessarily one I'd recommend to Balzac-newbies.
I've been wanting to analyse exactly why I was so crazy about reading Balzac as a teenager, and – while I'm not completely overwhelmed so far – I'm starting to get an inkling of why he is so magical. Partly, it's that everything is described with such exquisite detail, from the clothing to the appearance and content of the haberdasher's shop. The historian half of my brain sucks up all of these details greedily. But, if I'm honest, the real attraction probably lies elsewhere, and is much more profane: Balzac has created the greatest and the longest-running soap opera of all time, and one can't help but lose oneself in it. Le Comédie humaine is a huge, sprawling narrative, not always logical or lineal, but utterly fascinating, once you have entered the characters' lives. Indeed many characters reappear in different novels – sometimes in starring roles, sometimes as mere bit-players. Balzac wrote and wrote like a coffee-crazed maniac, and I think he would still be writing novels in the series today, were he alive. Years before Second Life, I had my own parallel world to inhabit, and I'm very excited to be inhabiting it once more (and more completely).
4484 pages (145 pages/day)
78% written by men (oops)
33.3% non fiction
Average rating: -and-a-bit
And I love the stats too and am going to copy them for my thread.
Actually, I always do it, because I find it interesting to see how real life impinges on my reading, month for month! An average of 145 pages a day isn't great, especially as I was on holiday for ten days, but I've been pretty busy otherwise, so...
And I have a strange tendency to read more men than women, not that it particularly bothers me or influences my choices, but I like to keep an eye on it.
Ahem. By whose standards? I read ~68 pages per day in January ! What am I, chopped liver?!
19. How Much of Us There Was by Michael Kimball (2005) 144 pages.
20. The Presence by Dannie Abse (2008) 304 pages.
It was the strangest thing. My eyes hovered along my bookshelves, looking for something to read, when I disovered an ancient ARC from 2005, which I had received from Harper Collins and stowed away without a second thought. Somehow, I believed it to have something to do with the Holocaust, but when I freed it from the tight clutches of the row of Ks I realised I was completely mistaken. I read the first couple of lines… and was hooked.
At about this moment, my friendly postman was five floors below me, manoeuvering a package into my letterbox. This package contained a book that I had ordered a couple of weeks ago, on a whim. The coincidence was that both of these books concerned elderly men who were each grieving the loss of their elderly wives. I read them both, one after the other, in a single sitting.
How Much of Us There Was is an incredibly moving, heartwrenching and tear-inducing novel (and part memoir, but I'll get to that in a second). A man of very advanced years awakens to find his wife suffering a seizure. We follow events as she is brought to hospital, treated there, and eventually released, dying in her home some time later. Almost everything is told from the perspective of her bewildered, desperate, and frightened husband, who has to cope with one overwhelming situation after another. Love shines through this story, as well as loss, and I was strangely touched by the narrative style which, were it a painting, I would call naïve. It's the kind of writing that would normally get on my wick, a sort of over-literal, step by step construction of sentences favoured by many American authors – but in this case, it held me in thrall and kept me close to tears. The chapter titles alone give an indication of the style: How I Woke Up and How My Wife Would Not Wake Up / How They Helped My Wife to Breathe, How They Lifted Her Up, and How They Drove Her Away From Me and to the Hospital / How the People at the Hospital Couldn't Find My Wife or My Wife's Name and How They Couldn't Find Out if She Were Still Alive. It is prose that would be cutesy in any other context, but here it just demonstrated the elderly man's vulnerability and disbelief and his struggle to cope. It is a book filled with dignity and love.
Something I could have done without was the memoir part, which intruded here and there. The characters were actually the grandparents of the author, and this book was his attempt to imagine just what his grandfather went through. He managed this admirably, I just wish he had kept himself out of it.
The Presence is equally moving, but infinitely more cerebral. It is a memoir, very reminiscent of Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, written by the 81-year-old Dannie Abse, following the death of his 78-year-old wife Joan in a car accident. I've read much of Abse's poetry over the years and have, frankly, never warmed to his style, but this examination of grief in prose is very powerful indeed. Abse, who is also a doctor, prescribed a diary as a means of therapy for himself, and we accompany him on this terrible journey of the heart and mind during the course of the following year. He is a man consumed with grief and loss and loneliness and anger, but his diaries are filled too with great humanity and humour. Abse looks back over his life with Joan – herself a writer – in anecdotal episodes, strewn with poetry. The language is simple and beautiful and the yearning is carried with fortitude. When he writes: "…just thinking about Joan turns me over", I myself have trouble swallowing. It is a book that has affected me greatly and I can recommend it.
21. Falling Off the Catwalk by Robert N. Reincke (2008) 244 pages.
Defendant: But Your Honour, I swear I don't remember requesting this Early Reviewer book!
Prosecutor: You didn't request it, or you don't recall requesting it?
Defendant: Em, well… maybe it was sent to me by mistake?
Prosecutor: Objection Your Honour! The court will be perfectly aware that such an error is impossible!
Prosecutor: Are you saying that there is no way you could have requested this book?
Defendant: Em, no, I mean I'm not sure…
Prosecutor: Is it indeed not so, that you, possessor of perverse literary tastes, knowingly requested this book about an evangelical Christian who comes to terms with his gayness by becoming an international male fashion model and are now pleading diminished responsibilty in order to extricate yourself from this mess??!!
Defendant: Well, I do live in Germany, and you know what a rotten deal we get when it comes to the pick of Early Review titles…
Judge (now awake): Enough of this! I find the defendant guilty of willful procuration and hereby sentence her to read the book in its entirety and to write a review for all to see. *thwack* Case dismissed.
There was never going to be much of a chance that I would truly understand this book, since I happen to believe that homosexuality is perfectly alright and that we actually need to find a cure for evangelical Christianity, but there you go. I know for a fact that our hero is a very polite and considerate chap, judging from the handwritten note enclosed in the book, and it's a quality that can be found in his narrative. This is a memoir covering some very confused yet exhilarating years of Robert's life and - while the writing is poor, there is too much emphasis placed on reproducing pointless journal entries, and the whole text is screaming for an editor – I found it strangely intriguing. Yes, there are clichés and unending stories of drug and alcohol usage, masturbation and other yawn-inducing activities, but there are also some very enlightening passages on the fashion industry in places like Paris, Milan, Tokyo and New York, all of which was new to me*. I appreciate the insight I gained into this world of vain insecurity, and I found Reincke's wide-eyed innocence and inner turmoil rather refreshing. I can even forgive him his nasty comments about Hamburg! And yes, kiwidoc, the photos are definitely a bonus. One-and-a half-stars, simply to spite Pagan Kennedy.
*This probably suggests that drug and alcohol usage and masturbation are not new to me, and therein lies the danger of a sloppy text. Let it be a lesson to you.
Judge *falls off bench in alcoholic stupor* Mmph. Brrrb, Phewer ZZZzzzz
CK - Seriously STELLAR reviews. I am considering not visiting your thread anymore as I am teetering on the brink of bankruptcy - your reviews are making me want to buy EVERYTHING. I am defo buying The Presence* if I cannot find it in the library.
*edited as I could not find touchstone for this one.
I'm continuing my Darwin year with a 600+ page novel about his voyage on the Beagle, This Thing of Darkness, but I shan't be reviewing it for a few days yet...
And more Darwinia here...
23. Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten by Christian Kracht (2008) 192 pages.
The title of this book translates as "I'll be here in sunshine and in shadow", which, as any of you familiar with old Irish sawdog tunes will know, is the high bit in the song "Danny Boy". Quite what that has to do with this book is a mystery to me.
We have here a counterfactual novel of the most extreme degree, which was praised and lambasted in almost equal measure upon its publication last autumn. Since it's unlikely that it will be translated into English, and since I'm not really recommending it anyway, I'll cut to the chase: the premise of the book is a great idea that suddenly loses its way, and ends up pretty crappily.
For those hankering for more information on the great idea: it takes place around about now, in the Swiss Soviet Republic, which was founded by Lenin, who did not leave Zürich for St. Petersburg in 1917. The SSR has been at war for the last 96 years with the fascist powers of Germany and England to the north, while it has itself annexed much of Italy. Russia exploded many years ago and is now irrelevant, but the Hindustanis are making huge progress from the East. Amexico is consumed by civil war and thus doesn't play much of a role in the narrative. Most of East Africa has also become Swiss, and there is an absence of racism. Taking all of this into account, the first sixty or so pages are actually quite thrilling and very well written. After that, the author just goes mad and fills the rest of the book with a load of shite and please don't ask me to go into detail, it was bad enough reading it.
Two-and-a-half stars, which is probably a little too generous.
24. Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James (2008) 587 pages.
This won't endear me to my local Neighbourhood Watch scheme, but my "Give Crime a Chance in 2009" campaign continues apace. In an effort to convince myself that this genre has some sort of intrinsic value, I'm alternating classic detective fiction with modern, gritty 'police procedurals', as they now seem to be called. And so, to Peter James.
This is actually the fourth in his series of Roy Grace novels, and – untypically for me – I've read the first three. Naturally, only because I had to: In a previous professional incarnation, I organised a reading tour of Germany for Peter, picked him up at Hamburg airport, ate and drank with him, and moderated his first public reading of the tour, complete with questions and so on. So there was really no other option.
This was two years ago, so I had only a vague memory of how much I suffered in carrying out my research. Indeed, my recollection was quite positive, because a). he's a very nice chap and b). the first book was actually very thrilling (starting as follows: on a stag night, four friends bury the groom-to-be in a shallow grave for a laugh, intending to leave him there for an hour or two while they bugger off to the pub. However, after they leave him, they're involved in a car accident, which kills every one of them. And nobody else knows about the prank…).
Well, what I had forgotten was that all subsequent books went downhill from there, and the same can be said of this, the fourth title in the series. There was too much mindless cruelty for my taste (what sort of person do you have to be to think up such horrible forms of torture and murder? And what sort of person enjoys reading that?), and the quality of writing is really very poor. Worst of all was the use of 9/11 as a plot device to cover up someone's disappearance. I know that this has been done already, so it doesn't even have the benefit of originality, and to me, it came across as being quite tactless. Nothing against post-9/11 literature, of which there are already some fine examples, but this isn't literature, and Peter James doesn't have the finesse to treat it sensitively, in my opinion.
My advice: Read the first one, Dead Simple, and leave it at that.
I have just spend time watching them all, instead of cleaning the house and getting in food!!
Saddened to see comments on the site that have to open the religion debate or denigrate Attenborough and his amazing programs. I guess atheism and Darwinism vs religion and creationism will continue to be the topic of debate for years.
Thanks for the Darwin links. I haven't looked at them yet, but my husband will be interested. His birthday present from me last year was a beautiful (if I say so) boxed set of The Voyage of the Beagle, On the Origin of the Species, and The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. He hasn't managed to read them yet but I'll make him soon!
More Darwinia here:
I am always amazed at the inertia of society and even the medical profession to new ideas. How often truths seem illogical, (reading Lewis Wolpert pointed this out to me), such as the simple idea of the sun moving across the sky, which does not suggest we rotate around it!! (how many people died trying to bring that one into the mainstream.
An example of inertia in medicine is illustrated by the discovery of Heliobacter pylori in causing stomach ulceration several years ago. No-one would believe the discoverer - (he is Australian but I think that is irrelevant). He decided to prove it and swallowed wads of the bacteria - promptly ulcerating his entire bowel, and ending up in hospital ICU. We do believe him now!!!
Thanks for the great link, tomcat - I fully concur with your view and that of kiwi. (Ulcerating his entire bowel??? Deliberately??? Eww.)
Rachael, I haven't yet given up the quest, so who knows - perhaps I will come around to your way of thinking!!! (Our tastes in mainstream fiction are similar, after all!). I have Agatha Christie coming up next month, and then the first Stieg Larsson in April - have you read that one?
Cushla - LUCKY HUSBAND!!!
LW3... all in good time! There's so much that I still need to compress and process, but I liked it very much.
And cabegley (#77) - I was starting to think you had put a wee curse on me, but then...
25. Lighthouse by Tony Parker (1975) 296 pages.
Yes, it's my first five-starred book of the year, and what a book it is. I don't know if any of you are interested in social history, or oral history, or rural history, or maritime history, or sociology, or philosophy, or psychology. Perhaps you're drawn to tales of loneliness, courage, marital strife and marital happiness. Or maybe you like reportage and travel writing, an unobtrusive observer allowing simple yet eloquent subjects to speak for themselves…
If any of the above applies to you, then you will like this book!!!
There's not much else I can say about it, except that it sucked me in and held me in a sort of daze until I came out the other side. Written throughout 1973, Tony Parker spent many weeks himself learning to be a lighthousekeeper, and went through all the travails attached, accompanied by his wife, Margery. He befriended and interviewed a large number of lighthousemen and their spouses, and the result is just marvellous. The book consists almost entirely of these interviews, and Parker rarely intrudes, leaving the subject to talk for him or herself. It is utterly absorbing.
Full marks go to the magnificent publisher Eland Books, which has taken upon itself the task of reprinting and reviving "great travel books that have fallen out of print. Although the list has diversified into biography and fiction, it is united by a quest to define the spirit of a place. These are books for travellers, and for readers who aspire to explore the world but who are also content to travel in their own minds."
It is so poignant to read this book now, so many years after the last English lighthouse has been automated and the profession of lighthousekeeper has been made obsolete. Tony Parker, who died in 1996, has given us a powerful piece of social history, and I, for one, am very grateful.
I have already put Nicolas Bouvier on my wishlist after clicking into the Eland site.
I wouldn't say I read a lot of crime books, but when I do - they're always the ones that keep me up till the wee small.
Quick question for you (prompted by your admission to crying on page 12 of the Arrival, did Fine Balance choke you up? I had to concoct a recovery plan when I finished it..
Nope, it was on my wishlist. I'd just forgotten I put it there.
Gets excited all over again.
Have you read Stargazing by Peter Hill? It's a memoir of a summer the author spent working on the lighthouses, which I loved. My favourite fact from it was that lighthousekeepers tend to dream of the sea:
"And then there were the dreams. Dreams that I still enjoy. Dreams of islands rising out of blue seas that reflected the golden setting sun. Dreams of gliding across those waters in a rowing boat with William Blake at the helm and Samuel Taylor Coleridge pulling up a lobster creel..."
Well, I have been reading, it's just a matter of trying to get some reviews written... The Lazy Freelancer in me would rather just read, but... oh, all right, I'll just shut up and get on with it...
26. Salt by Jeremy Page (2007) 336 pages.
For some reason, I seem to levitate towards East Anglia with alarming regularity, what with The Dig and The Crime at Black Dudley being based in Suffolk, not to mention some of The Road Home, which doesn't feel like that long ago, although I read it roughly this time last year. And now, to Norfolk again, where I've already been immersed in Matthew Hollis' poetry, and a to bit of Lincolnshire. Indeed, the book gets a resounding recommendation from La Tremain herself, who annoints this novel "Stunningly good".
Well, I'm particularly fond of the area, having been on a solo hiking-and-camping trip along the north Norfolk coast just two years ago, and I can say that I know exactly what our Rose means when she says that the book was stunningly good – I have rarely experienced such magnificently descriptive nature prose. A watery land of saltmarshes and sand dunes, of huge, grey skies transporting clouds that sometimes dash, sometimes lumber, filled with grey moisture than can spit and can drown… all of this is stretched on a fine canvas and painted with the deftest of touches. The author is utterly at one with the area, and at times it as if he breathes the words, rather than writing them. The seeping tide, the wildlife – it's all there, and exactly how I remember it:
She inhabits a landscape that is so big and flat it seems the edges slope up into the sky all round, where mud meets cloud banks and seems to continue up there till traces of creeks and water can be seen there too – she often thinks she stands in some vast and dreary dish which has no end (…) Sandpipers pass her, skimming the creeks with wing-tips so fast they seem blurred. The tide slowly rises and falls it its long-fingered weave through the marsh.
Oh, there's a story too? Em, yes, and this is where the book lost out, in my humble view. It is a family saga going back generations to a crazy grandmother who plucked a German airman out of the sucking mudflats near the end of the war, only to become first pregnant and then abandoned. The daughter produced by this union is unstable in her own way, marries unhappily and bears the narrator, a boy who, in the finest Tin Drum tradition, refuses to speak. And so on… It is a tale filled with fantasy, with superstitions and old wives tales, which is definitely not my taste at all, although the juxtaposition of a sort of Indian or South American type of magic realism plonked in the marshes of Norfolk must earn a degree of respect. In general, though, the story failed to grab me, even if I'm glad to have read his powerful descriptions of place.
27. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson (2005) 768 pages.
This is a fictionalised account of the famous voyage of the Beagle, and thus forms part of my Darwin Year of Reading. Having read his journals of said Voyage last month, it has been most pleasing (though at times admittedly tediously repetitive) to re-live it all in fiction. Reading the factual and the fictional version so close together might well have driven me mad, but the novel thankfully focuses more on the commander of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, on his seafaring experiences, and on his desperate struggle with the black dog of depression. While perhaps not as accomplished as a work of adventure fiction, it brought to mind the fabulous series of Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian, whom I adore. The book is terribly well researched, so much so that the dialogue is somewhat wooden and the description somewhat leaden, but all in all, it is a fine, rollicking read, even if it is really no substitution for reading the real thing. I can certainly recommend this as a holiday read, as long as you're not planning to drag it along in one of the tiny cabins as described therein…
Speaking of Darwin, I came across this splendid edition of The Lancet, which has published its entire Darwin Special online, for free. Bless them.
I've just remembered that I failed to answer Pummzie's quick question (#102) re: A Fine Balance. Yes, I was devastated by the whole thing, but I also recall being very irritated by the relentlessness of it all. There was something of the pompous about the book, I felt, although I still think it's one of the finest Indian novels I've read. Interestingly, it was sent up mercilessly by A.L. Kennedy during a reading I attended last year. I love her to bits, and was pained that she thought it was so bad!
28. Sad, Bad and Mad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 by Lisa Appignanesi (2008) 560 pages.
Another gift from a very good LT friend, and I'm really very grateful. Yes, five more stars (and finally another female author!)
Lisa Appignanesi examines not only the heads of women from 1800 to the present day, she also examines our entire Western culture and its attitude to "frenzies, possessions, manias, melancholy, nerves, delusions, aberrant acts, dramatic tics, passionate loves and hates, sex, visual and auditory hallucinations, fears, phobias, fantasies, disturbances of sleep, dissociations, communication with spirits and imaginary friends, addictions, self-harm, self-starvation, depression, monomania, neuroses, hysteria, dementia, schizophrenia and anorexia", to name but a few maladies.
Appignanesi returns again and again to the same question: Is it true that women are more susceptible to mental illness than men? If so, why? Is it caused by something internal, innate? Do certain events in a female's life, such as childbirth and menopause, play a role? Or is it solely due to the way women have been viewed and treated for centuries? Why do women seem to respond better than men to 'talking' cures? Has the feminist movement of the last 50 years led to a decrease in mental ill health through emancipation?
As someone with only a passing knowledge of psychology and psychiatry and absolutely no professional qualifications whatever, this was the perfect book for me, in the sense that there was a fabulous mix of case histories, thrilling, sad and horrific, as well as appearances by the literary likes of Mary Lamb, Virginia Woolf, Zelda Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, and other figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Théroigne de Méricourt. The theories of Freud and Jung and Lacan are, naturally, also examined, and the whole experience of reading this rigorous and intelligent text has left me teeming with thoughts and impulses … for example, that anorexia is an illness of plenty, not of famine, as depression is one of times of peace and prosperity, not of war. That it is only a relatively new habit of doctors to actually confer with their patients in an attempt to diagnose illness, or to consider childhood experiences as precursors to adult (mis)behaviour.
But back to the central question, which should trouble anyone who has, for example, noticed that the covers of modern psychology magazines always and exclusively feature women… I shan't spoil the ending by revealing Appignanesi's conclusion, but you'll be relieved to hear that good sense prevails throughout, as it appears that all of us – women and men - are sad, mad and bad at times, and we should be careful about classifying those who seem excessively so, because, in labelling them, we are merely labelling the human condition.
This is an extraordinary book that gives one a simultaneous feeling of wanting to read on as quickly as possible (because it's so well written), but also wanting to stop and savour and think very hard about what has been written. I ended up doing the latter, mostly, and yet I still feel the need to go back and re-read various pieces. It's frighteningly brave of the author to embark on such a huge project, and the resounding success of her book is testament to her cleverness, compassion and clearsightedness. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: I am not normal. Treatment: Other reading material.
you've got me all intrigued by Mad, Bad and Sad - just when I told myself NO MORE BOOKS in a very matronly tone.... Very good review.
It sounds like Appignanesi discusses the cultural and political framework of female mental illness. (Of course all doctors were male until 50 years ago, which is a very important factor.)
I am assuming that she is referring to neurotic disorders and framing her discussion as such?? 'Cos it does not fit the current psychiatric profiles of the genders!!
I suspect that men have overall more morbidity and mortality from psychiatric ills. Especially if you consider that the serious 'Major Mental Illnesses' such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have a known 7-8 and 6-7 fold LESS frequent incidence in the female population respectively, it may be that more attention should be focused on the male!!
And kiwi - THANK YOU!!! She mostly concentrates on the cultural aspects, I would say.
And you're right about the gender divide - Appignanesi makes the point that women have a greater propensity to suffer on the 'sadness' end of the madness scale, rather than on the psychotic. However, I thought it was interesting to note that suicide attempts are more frequent among young women than young men, even if actual morbidity is higher among the latter... It's really a fascinating read, I could go on and on about all the things that wowed me (and I KNOW I'll have to read it again soon, since my own mind is a porous as a limestone rock).
29. The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett (1989) 96 pages.
Well, regular listeners of BBC Radio 4 will have been thrilled by the broadcast of The Lady in the Van last Saturday, with the majestic Maggie Smith reprising her stage role as Miss Shepherd, and Bennett himself playing the part of Alan Bennett 2 (as opposed to the part of Alan Bennett, which was played by Adrian Scarborough – are you all keeping up?).
I listened to it, and it is the most delightful thing I have ever heard – ever ever ever. After the first five minutes I rooted around for my own copy, so that I could read along, only my copy is a stapled-together version from its initial publication in the London Review of Books and not the pretty edition pictured above. The last page has separated itself from the rest, which made me even happier to hear the piece for all of 90 minutes.
Absolutely hilariously funny, and incredibly human, we follow the fortunes of Bennett as he passively gives a vagrant old lady some space in his garden to park her home on wheels – the van. What should have been a stay of three months became one of 15 years, and the activities of Miss Shepherd, not to mention her deranged-yet-strangely-sensible conversations with her unofficial 'landlord', with social workers and with doctors are a joy. There's an undercurrent of melancholy beneath the humour, as we are confronted with the situation of an outcast of society, set adrift due to age and poverty as much as to mental illness.
I'm an enormous fan of Alan Bennett, who has made an art form of overhearing normal, everday conversations and incorporating them to marvellous effect in his writings, and every year I look forward to the January edition of the London Review of Books for his diary of the previous year – they never disappoint. Many of these diary entries have been collected in the volumes Writing Home and Untold Stories, both of which I can highly recommend. The former even contains the journals pertaining to the real Miss Shepherd. He is a treasure.
Interestingly, when training, we were taught about 'parasuicide' - the cry for help masked as a suicide attempt, which we were taught was a female phenomenon. This, also, being taught by men!!
However, although the outward expression of distress is usually much more visible in the female, the male is much more likely to complete a suicidal gesture, and much less likely to show outward distress beforehand so lessening the chance of intervention. I have never had a female in my practice commit suicide (touch wood) but have had several males - mostly completely unpredicted by family, friends and MD!!
Kiwi, everything you say confirms what I've always thought, and Appignanesi doesn't necessarily disagree - most of her book is concerned with the prevalence of the "cultural illusion" (her words) of female mental illness. I find it very hard to give her multitude of thoughts justice in the space of a short review, so please forgive the flimsiness of my report! :-)
Flossie, you know, I was going to write that he was a National Treasure, but that struck me as being slightly presumptuous, seeing as I'm Irish (although I do also have a British passport, hmm).
So - it's the end of February and, while I have read a further nine books this month, I'm way behind with my reviews and have no time to write them today, so I shall repeat my sin of last month by posting the framework now, in the hope of filling in some content from tomorrow onwards... (and no, LW3, I haven't forgotten about The Sound and the Fury!!!)
30. The Apple Cart by George Bernard Shaw (1929) 128 pages.
This was a fantastic read, such wonderful fun. It is exactly my kind of political satire, and I had a wide smile from beginning to end, except for those moments when I was reduced to helpless laughter. It's a fine example of serious silliness, in which the Prime Minister and his Cabinet present the King with an ultimatum, the object being to deprive the monarch of "the right to influence public opinion through the press" – in short, to make him little more than a figurehead. Including an hilarious sub-plot, in which the Ambassador of the United States proposes a reunification of both countries under the crown, the play reaches a marvellous denouement when the king attempts to retain his authority by threatening to stand for election as a royalist candidate in the next election. What on earth should a good democrat do?
The extraordinary thing about this play is the reaction is got upon its production in 1929. It was met with uproar from those on the left, who felt that Shaw – great socialist and democrat that he was – had betrayed the cause by portraying the King in such a positive light, and apparently favouring the institution of monarchy over that of parliamentary democracy. The German Social Democratic Party of the time even banned the play from being performed in Dresden, due to its perceived insult to the ideals of democracy.
In fact, as Shaw himself pointed out in his incisive preface to the printed version, the play brilliantly exposes "the unreality of both democracy and royalty as our idealists conceive them". On reflection, the heated reaction is quite understandable for the time – just a decade earlier, monarchs had been disposed of willy nilly in the wake of the First World War, with some of them losing their lives, others slinking off into exile… but not, of course, in the case of the victorious United Kingdom. And while the Allies were crowing about self-determination and the right of nations to exist freely and independently, the attitude of Britain with regard to its own colonies and possessions was directly contradictory to this lofty attitude. Shaw, the feisty Irishman, Fabian and socialist, did not regard the institution of monarchy highly, so his perceived 'turncoat' behaviour here was bound to whip up a storm. He is, however, right on the money in his portrayal of all political animals as bumbling, self-serving and hapless creatures, whether placed in their positions by election or by divine right. A cynical view, to be sure, but a perfect exercise in satire too.
The entire play is available online, thanks to Gutenberg Australia, as well as further fascinating resources about this lively and provocative political extravaganza.
31. Buchmendel by Stefan Zweig (1929) 34 pages.
Review to come. I'm a great admirer of Stefan Zweig, and it's great to see him gaining such massive support as a result of recent translations of his work into English. Another Project 1929 book.
33. Gedichte (Poetry) by Sergej Jessenin (1910-1925) 80 pages.
Thanks to Tim Jones, I've grabbed a copy of Esenin's poetry with a view to translating some of his stuff from the German translation into English, in order to then compare the result with Tim's translations directly from Russian (and others may be weighing in with translations via other languages…) All the fun can be found here. I've just posted three translations.
It's pretty morbid stuff, which is unsurprising when one considers that Esenin killed himself in 1925, at the age of 30. I'm not entirely convinced by the German translation (by Karl Dedecius in the 1960s), but as far as one can tell, the language is full of the rhythms of the land of the Russian provinces. The experience of nature and weather is everywhere, but instead of being uplifting, the poetry is filled with grief, forebodings of death, feelings of inadequacy and separation from the world. It is a melancholy farewell song to a disappearing world, which didn't leave me unmoved, but didn't excite me either.
34. Erniedrigte und Beleidigte by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1861) 483 pages.
Review to come. I suspect reviewing this will take me as long as it did to review Poor Folk – it's one I hadn't read before, and I discovered to my distress that I didn't even own a copy, which meant I had to scour Other Half's library, thus finding only a German translation. Let's just say for now that there is a lot to absorb, and I may even end up changing my rating…
35. Städte der Welt by Georg Braun, Franz Hogenberg and Stephan Füssel(ed.) (2008) 507 pages.
I can't put it any better than tiffin below, when commenting on the price of this baby – ay carumba indeed! It's a big, fat, glossy and beautiful publication; a wealth of sumptuous and opulent illustrations, with clever and exact texts to accompany them; a record of a by-gone age, preserved for posterity – yes, folks, this is MAP PORN!!!
Anyone who knows me slightly better will know about my map fetish – I adore maps of all descriptions and can lose myself in them for hours on end. From the functional, such as the A-Z London or the Ordnance Survey publications, to the schematic, such as the iconic map of the London Underground, to the fanciful and pictorial, such as the beauties in this book – each and every one sends me into raptures, so the darling person (not an LTer this time!) who gave me this book as a birthday present knew exactly what they were doing.
These 'Cities of the World' were originally published between 1572 and 1618 by the theologian Georg Braun and the engraver Franz Hogenberg, and it was the most comprehensive collection of city views of the entire early modern period. Breathlessly detailed and drawn perfectly to scale, these birds-eye views of the cities of Europe, Asia, America and Africa represent a cartographical wonder. One of the most poignant aspects of the collection is the fact that it was completed in 1618, just as the 30 Year's War was starting, which would destroy beyond recognition many of the European cities featured here. As a source of cultural and urban history, it is therefore priceless.
All of which is not much use if the reproduction is not up to scratch, but of that there is no fear: The quality of this book is of the highest standard imaginable. The maps are large enough to be enjoyed in detail, even though the editors wisely decided to dispense with the original folio formatting at times, in order to include commentary, notes on further reading, or the excellent introduction, for example. It is so instinctively well laid out, nothing is lost, and indeed certain illustrations are enlarged, all the better to focus on scenes and costumes.
It is simply orgasmic, and for an idea of what I mean, take a look here at the English-language edition.
This book has been trumpeted as a 17th century precursor of Google Earth, which – while in a sense true – strikes me as much too profane a description for a work as wonderful as this.
36. My Ántonia by Willa Cather (1918) 272 pages.
Although I'm not actively participating in the Monthly Author Reads group, I have allowed myself to be inspired to read some Willa Cather this month, and not only because so few women have made it onto my list, ahem.
As a consequence, there are loads of very good reviews of the book circulating at the moment, and there's not much more I can add to the positive vibes… a great example can be found on FlossieT's thread, in which she expresses my opinion exactly, particularly regarding the descriptive beauty of the book. It occurred to me that I have so many images of prairie life impressed upon my brain, whether from literature or from films and television, but it's not the same as having experienced it personally – I've never seen a prairie in my life. And here was the beauty of My Ántonia for me: Cather created such a strong image in my mind that not only enhanced all of the pictures I already had, but solidified them even more. As for the story itself, it was a fine mix of the tragic and humorous, the poignant and lovely. The struggles of the newly-immigrated fascinated me no end, as did the hardships of life in the barely-tamed wilds, where children became adults well before their time. It is a lovely, slowly-paced book in which to wallow peaceably.
Until now I had only ever read one Cather novel, One of Ours, ages ago, and I thought was it was marvellous. Quite why I left it so long before reading something else is a mystery to me, but it's a mistake I don't plan to repeat.
37. Estates: An Intimate History by Lynsey Hanley (2008) 256 pages.
I remember 'nudging' this book to someone before Christmas (Flossie, was it you? Have you read it?) purely on the basis of the Introduction, which is all I had read of it at the time, and now – finally, thankfully – I have read it in full. It is simply brilliant. Five stars, and I'd give it six, only for the tendency I have to get wildly inflationary and we all know where that can end.
Review to come.
38. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938) 224 pages.
Review to come. It's a re-read, prompted by discussions elsewhere on LT. Interestingly, I've downgraded it…
5945 pages (212 pages/day)
85% written by men (yikes!)
30% non fiction
Average rating: (almost)
ETA Well, I wouldn't exactly say no drivel, although thinking back to book 21 brings memories of some dribble...
ETA a verb
I was sorry to see that the cities book you so thoughtfully posted, is not available in English (YES - I took a look). I loved looking through it on the computer - thanks for posting that.
The Estates book is going onto my TBR. But 6 stars???? Is anything that good (however Lindsacl has told me I am parsimonious with my grading so I am not one to comment.)!!
BTW - what is the English title of the Dostoevsky - I have promised to read all his stuff this year and I don't have that one. Only 31/2 stars?? I see you are not a huge fan.
tiffin! Crumpets toasted, just for you! Visit me whenever you like.
lindsacl! You MADwoman! Just like meee!
Pummzie! You may well be right, but you know I should be WORKING, instead of reading, which, after all, will not pay the rent, somehow...
Kiwi! You are too kind. The English title is The Insulted and the Humiliated, which does not reflect my current state of mind. (And you're right. Six stars are simply excessive.) (A further parenthesis to say that Amazon.com has the English version of Cities of the World. It's bloody expensive, though - I got it as a birthday present last month...)
Will try to do your collective compliments justice tomorrow.
Defo a no-no for now. Can enjoy on the net, instead (although I could not read the small print). Thanks for the link.
Oh no, I've got so many of your reviews to catch up on, I didnt think it was that late in the year ;-)
Although, I have no idea how I'm going to keep up with my own reading now plus your reviews.
Do love the flashing coloured balls. Not that you need any bells and whistles, just love your reviews.
And yes, it was me you nudged Estates for - I bought it on the strength of an interview and excerpt in the Grauniad around publication, but I still haven't actually read it. With a six-star rating from you though... eagerly awaiting your review.
edit for clarity, I really should be in bed
It has various titles in English:
Humiliated and Insulted
The Injured and the Damned
The Insulted and Injured
I'm reading it now, and really enjoying it (if enjoying is the right word for something so gloomy but it's very compelling.) Can't wait to read your review, ck.
Can you say a word or two about the illustrations you have posted for your Balzac read ck? They are beautiful and intriguing. I discovered yesterday that Humiliated and Insulted was also published with illustrations. I love the 19th century practice of illustrating books, and I think there should be a law that makes it obligatory for modern publishers to publish these old books with the original illustrations.
39. Wohl denen die gelebt: Erinnerung an Marie Luise Kaschnitz by Christoph Meckel
40. An Improbable War?: The Outbreak of World War I and European Political Culture Before 1914
41. Caught in the Machinery: Workplace Accidents and Injured Workers in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Jamie L. Bronstein
42. Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
43. And Now You Can Go by Vendela Vida
44. The Damned Utd by David Peace
45. The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson
46. I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
47. Der Spaziergang by Robert Walser
48. The Art of Taking a Walk by Anke Gleber
49. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
Update: woah, I have a fairly slow connection here in Ireland and am shocked at the amount of time this thread takes to load... apologies to anyone who has had to suffer - I'll start a new thread for March/April as soon as I get back from Ireland!
Update 2: I'm back from Ireland, but somewhat shrouded in worries right now. I'm keeping up with my reading in my head, at least, and hope to communicate more soon.