Sunday, 31 January 2010

Summer reading - some brief thoughts

James Joyce - Ulysses*
See previous post

Greg Egan - Incandescence
Whilst I'm giving this a 3/5, it is not due to being a bad book. The concept and story is galaxy-bending as ever. The hard part for me was the maths. Basically, he takes Einsteinian and Newtonian physics and explains them through the emerging understanding of an alien race whose intelligence is genetically programmed to trigger them out of docility in the event of threat. The maths is explained in terms of alien understanding, there are no references to Einstein or Newton, just complex descriptions of the the sort of maths and geometry being developed by the race to understand what is happening. But still, Egan delivers.

John Milton - Paradise Lost*

Plato - The Republic*
His simile of the cave, and his view on art and representation, are still relevant in the 21st century. Timeless

Linda Jaivin - A Most Immoral Woman*

Michel Foucault - The History of Sexuality Vol.1
An interesting little read. Picked this up cheap as a Popular Penguin. Good way to test my understanding of Foucault's ideas learnt throughout the year.

John Keats - The Complete Poems
Presently inspired by Jane Campion's 'Bright Star', here is a poet that enamours the soul and touches the spirit. Some of the loveliest writing in the English language.

Jacques Derrida - Of Grammatology*

Jhumpa Lahiri - Unaccustomed Earth
This was a real delight. Lahiri has a measured charm to her writing and tells delicate and moving stories. Her characters are simply realised. Overall it's a wonderful example of poised and restrained prose, which helps her bring out the nuances of the immigration experience of Bengali/Americans.

Albert Camus - The Outsider
I really enjoyed this. A very interesting character and an evocative story well told. To be read again, and again.

Albert Camus - The Myth of Sisyphus*

Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
My first taste of Victorian literature. The text was heavily weighted with biblical and Romantic allusions, only some of which I picked up unassisted. Jane Eyre is an expertly and vividly drawn psychological character. Bronte's writing was breathtaking and whilst the overall vibe was somewhat dour, her attention to domestic detail was delicate, leaving a delirious sensation on the soul.

Nam Le - The Boat
A collection of seven brutally honest short stories by debut author Nam Le, fiction editor of The Harvard Review. His characters are intimately drawn covering everything from the Vietnamese immigrant experience; to the story of a child assassin in Columbia; to an American lawyer on the streets of Tehran; to the moments of a Japanese girl before the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima; and a wonderful and very Australian story set in a fishing village dealing with adolescent ins and outs and a dying mother. How he manages to cover such a diverse range of cultures with such unerring honesty and accuracy is beyond me. The mind boggles at such talent.

Emma Jones - The Striped World*

A.S. Byatt - The Children's Book
I write this mere moments after the last page was turned. The screen shimmers from the moisture in my eyes which threatens to spill over. Having traveled through the best and worst parts of the young character's lives as they grow up in the last decade of the 19th century, the inevitable consequences of war threaten and upset what is a beautiful and ideal story. Set against the back drop of Fabian Society, the Arts and Crafts aesthetic movement, and women's suffrage, A.S. Byatt weaves a textual dream that can only end in the history from which it was drawn.

Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
I found this to be such a sympathetic and sincere story, and whilst it is set in Nazi Germany, it has a wry and irreverent take on the German experience. He takes you not just into the world of the young book thief, but also into the lives of the neighbours, friends and rivals in the town in which most of the story is set. It's also quite obvious that Zusak has a love of words, but also a deep understanding of their contradictory power; to bring good, and evil. Highly recommended.

Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
So, was it deserving of the Man Booker Prize? There is no denying the sheer brilliance of the novel. Mantel has achieved a remarkable project in reconstructing the psychological character of Thomas Cromwell and the goings on of the Tudor Court from 1520-1535. Her research and dedication to the finest detail is exquisite. The book is flawed, however, and this is not just my own criticism. Mantel overuses the personal pronoun 'he', so you often find yourself lost as to who is speaking.

In my opinion, Byatt's 'The Children's Book', was a more deserving winner. Sometimes, second best is the best.

Cormac McCarthy - The Road
The best word that describes this is bleak. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story is about a father and son's love and their journey along the road, as they move south through a desolate, cold and barren landscape. Under constant threat from survivors turned cannibal and the gnawing need for food and water, they do the best they can with what they have, all the while carrying the fire - a metaphor perhaps for their inner spirit or goodness. The prose is bleak, halting and trudging, very much like their journey along the road.

Iain Banks - Transition

I was suprised at how much I didn't enjoy this. Here we have Banks in his non-SF guise, but writing a quasi-SF novel. The concept is clever, but poorly executed. The characters are thinly drawn and over viced - too much pointless sex, and gratuitous drug references, which were the only veneers holding the characters together. Rip that away and the characterisation is vacuous at best. This is unusual for Banks and this sort of thing more resembles Peter F Hamilton. The use of multiple first person perspective was not particularly effective, and it wasn't really until the meeting of Adrian and Tem, that any benefit of the style choice was realised. The moments of clever philosophical insight and play with the overall concept were unfortately overshadowed by the novel's negative aspects. Still, I remain a fervent Banks fan - that's Iain Banks with an 'M' - and look forward to the next Culture novel.

Hesiod - Theogony; Work & Days*

* = if there are no comments, this does not mean the book was undeserving; rather it means that I didn't have time or was unable to write once I'd finished the book. My reviews are spontaneously composed at the time of completing a book and are the words in my head which spill out through my fingers and onto the screen.

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