TBR authors beginning with C


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TBR authors beginning with C

heinäkuu 27, 2022, 12:10 pm

John le Carré - A Perfect Spy
I have several Le Carré novels sitting unread on my bookshelf and this one published in 1986 was the first one that came to hand. I have not previously read any le Carré, but was reasonably assured that his novels were well written and this was certainly the case with A Perfect Spy. I was soon under the impression that the novel was in some respects autobiographical and this turned out to be correct. It is a long novel, not always easy to follow, but once the reader gets the idea that the book is largely a back story to the defection of a British spy, then this back story becomes the most interesting part of the book.

Pym is a spy, a British agent and probably a double agent. He has suddenly gone missing and the British, the Americans and the Czech secret services are all frantically trying to locate him. The story of Pym's life from his miserable childhood to his difficult relationship with his con-man father is told in parts by Pym himself in a letter to his son, by his handler: Brotherhoods attempts at tracking him down and by other witnesses to a life both complicated and banal. Voices come and go but they all build a portrait of a shallow individual skilled in the techniques of spying, but never entirely sure who he is spying for and why he has lived the life he has led. Much of this is explained and this reader did not for a moment feel compassion for a rather feckless individual. I think the book is very well crafted and if the reader can live with this cast of anti-heroes who make up this unglamorous undercover world, then it is a very good read. 4.5 stars.

syyskuu 29, 2022, 7:24 am

Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The next unread book off my library shelf was Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It is a short novel, just under 100 pages in the penguin edition, but the text is dense and at times quite difficult to read. I know that the film Apocalypse Now is based on the book and is the story of an adventurers nightmare journey up a remote river in search of a white man who is rumoured to have gone native. In the book it is the Congo river and Marlowe is heading towards a remote trading post, sometime in the late nineteenth century in search of Mr Kurtz. The film takes place during the war in Vietnam and Willard is heading up the Mekong river searching for Kurtz who is an army commander in a remote and advanced position. Knowing the story and some of the themes of the film is helpful when staring out on the book.

The book was published in 1902 and is now considered to be an influential work of modernist literature. I do not want to get into technical reasons but from a generalist point of view, I think this is because the narrative flow leaps forward unexpectedly, passages of close description of events are followed by gaps in the storytelling. Conrad seems more intent on describing the atmosphere, the surroundings and the environment rather than motives for the action. The reader has to work hard to follow the story which seems to move in and out of consciousness. It is told in the first person and Marlowe's thoughts often appear confused. He is trying to grasp the unknowable and often just falls back on snapshots of remembered events.

The novel opens with Marlowe on a sailing boat on the upper reaches of the river Thames, he is with four companions and the atmosphere of a grey day on the water with little movement, provokes him into telling his story of his adventure in Africa. He sits buddha like with his back against the mast as his story unfolds. He was fascinated by unmapped areas of the world and manges to gain command of a steamship plying its way up to remote regions of the Congo river. He finds himself in a Belgian trading post and describes the treatment of the black Africans by their white masters and he is shocked when he encounters six Africans chained together being forced to carry baskets of earth up a hill after the blasting of a hillside.

They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete deathlike indifference of unhappy savages........I've seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed and the devil of hot desire: but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red eyed devils, that swayed and drove men - men I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside , I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.

Just as well that Conrad was talking about the Belgians and not the British colonisers. Marlowe has to wait three months at the trading post while his boat is being repaired and he finally gets going with a Belgian manager several pilgrims of 'The international Society for the Surpression of Savage Customs' and a crew of African cannibals. They are travelling upriver to Mr Kurtz trading post which has outperformed all other such posts in the supply of ivory. Kurtz's unusual methods which entails recruiting and leading his followers in war parties against other tribes is the reason for his success. He has become a god-like figure, not afraid to commit any amount of horrific crimes to further his ambitions.

When they finally reach Kurtz station he is a sick man being carried around on a stretcher. He is semi delirious and is not able to give much of a clue to his heart of darkness. He is worshipped by the motley collection of Africans who surround him, and his speaking voice and charismatic personality give some clue to his success. His hold however is weakening and Marlowe although fascinated by him is never able to explain or come to terms with why this should be so. In a way this is frustrating for the reader, who is never able to see Kurtz at the height of his powers.

Reading other peoples thoughts on the book reveals this dichotomy. It is a book that some people find overhyped, the struggle with the text becomes a pointless exercise, while others acknowledge it as a great piece of literature and I can see both points of view. What struck me was the continual references to a dream like environment, this is underlined by the fact that Marlowe is retelling a story to his friends and also still trying to come to grips with his own thoughts and feelings. He is still confused and the dreamlike environment is more like a nightmare, one which he has survived, but has made a lasting impression. Perhaps he has come to some understanding of the heart of darkness even if it is only the more prosaic thoughts on the evils of exploitation. Yes 5 stars.

syyskuu 29, 2022, 2:10 pm

5 stars indeed ! Surprised you haven't read it before.
it was the Apocalypse movie of '79 that directed me to Conrad's book which I first read in French : Coeur des tenebres. I have reread in English a few times and it indeed tells an interesting story. Thanks for bringing this up

lokakuu 22, 2022, 6:46 am

Heart Of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (Norton Critical Edition)
If ever a book of Novella length (77 pages) deserves the Norton Critical Edition treatment it is Heart of Darkness. The book runs to over 500 pages and my second hand edition was full of post-it notes in nine different colours. There is no evidence who the literature student was who posted all the notes and so when I removed them all I had a perfectly clean copy. It was no longer clean when I had finished it, but I did use a pencil (a stadilo pencil 160 coming from the Czech Republic).

My last review of an English language book was the penguin edition of Heart of Darkness and LolaWalser (of course) posted a comment recommending that I look for criticism of the book by African Writers as white people are constantly finding excuses for Conrad's strident racism. The norton critical edition has Achebe's essay: An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but all the other critical essays are from white authors, some of whom do address Achebe's concerns. In fact J. Hillis Miller asks the question 'Should we read "Heart of Darkness"

"Heart of Darkness has often received a heavy sentence from its critics. It has been condemned often in angry terms, as racist or sexist, sometimes in the same essay as both.................Nevertheless, according to the paradox I have already mentioned, you could only be sure about this by reading the novella yourself, therefore putting yourself, if these critics are right, in danger of becoming sexist, racist, and Eurocentric yourself.

Chinua Achebe says:
The real question is the dehumanisation of Africa and Africans, which this age long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in this world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanisation, which depersonalises a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot...........................Whatever Conrad's problems were, you might say he is safely dead. Quite true. Unfortunately his heart of darkness plagues us still. Which is why an offensive and deplorable book can be described by a serious scholar as "among the half dozen greatest short story novels in the English language." And why it is today perhaps the most commonly prescribed novel in twentieth-century literature courses in English Departments of American Universities.

Achebe originally called Conrad a bloody racist, but toned this down in a later revision as a thoroughgoing racist. He says:

Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation, but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth.

In my opinion, the dichotomy of the book is that from a late 20th century perspective Achebe was correct in everything he says, however Conrad was writing his novel in 1902 some seventy years earlier, when the term racism had not even been invented. By all accounts he was conservative in his outlook, but this did not stop from him being horrified by what he saw and publishing a novel which at the time expressed liberal views. Paul B Armstrong says:

This conflict is only the latest chapter in a long history of disagreement about whether to regard 'Heart of Darkness" as a daring attack on imperialism or a reactionary purveyor of colonial stereotypes.

So we come back to the question of whether we should read this book. Speaking for myself I would want to read and re-read a book that has caused so much controversy. Being a white male I could not be personally offended by Conrads depiction of African natives, and although recognising it as racist from a contemporary viewpoint I am in a position to understand Conrad's viewpoint which reflects the culture and attitudes of his times. I do also of course understand why some people would choose not to read it.

The Norton Critical edition includes textual variants to the original novella and there are over 100 pages devoted to Backgrounds and Contents, which deal with Imperialism and the Belgian Congo and there is a section on 19th century attitudes towards race. Conrad and the Congo describes Conrad's own travels down the river by excerpts from his diary and selected letters. There is 200 pages of criticism ranging from contemporary responses to essays comparing themes in Hearts of Darkness to the film Apocalypse Now. It does lack criticism from black writers (only Achebe's essay is featured), but there is enough to enjoy and perhaps study Conrad's novella. 5 stars.

lokakuu 26, 2022, 1:33 pm

Great story whatever one thinks about it.
Another good review chief Bas

joulukuu 12, 2022, 6:35 am

Illywhacker - Peter Carey
The next unread book from my shelf was Illywhaker published in 1985 and shortlisted for the Booker prize. I have to admit that I felt like putting it back on the shelf during a bit of a slog through its 600 pages. Peter Carey is Australian and this is an Australian novel that rambles across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and describes places such as Jeparit, Bendigo, Geelong and Terang and ending up in Sydney: Great names and I was curious to look up some of these towns on the internet as a theme of the novel is Australian identity.

An Illywhaker is a conman or a liar probably both and is a story told by Herbert Badgery who claims to be 139 years old. He is in hospital at the end of his life and reminisces about his life and times. We first meet him when he is 32 years old in 1919 landing his small aeroplane in a large lot or garden area and meeting Jack McGrath a wealthy former bullock herder. They become good friends and Herbert persuades Jack to invest in an aeroplane factory to make Australian aeroplanes. Herbert marries Jack's daughter Phoebe and the omnipresent narrator continues the story of Herbert's family and the people that fall within their orbit, most of whom are crazy, weird or both. Herbert's plan to make Australian aeroplanes fails because investors insist that parts and specifications must be taken from other countries: tried and tested rather than inventing something new. There are similar issues with automobiles when Herbert turns his talents to selling cars. Herbert's story of failures and catastrophes, of lovers and deaths barrels on across the Australian landscape. Herbert is cynical sometimes contemptuous, but never loses his lust for life. He keeps on keeping on, adapting and surviving in his own self centred way: he claims he wants to be a good person, but of course we do not believe him.

Peter Carey has written a novel packed with tall stories, told in Herbert's inimitable style and it is this style that for me outstayed it's welcome. Herberts jaundiced views dressed up in a sort of garrulous humour that looks down on other people even though the narrator takes the world in his stride, seems to belong to another era. I could not warm to it even though I appreciated that it was well done. it is a novel written to entertain, but it failed to hold my interest throughout its length and so 3.5 stars.

joulukuu 27, 2022, 5:56 pm

Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
This was the next unread book off my shelf and its going straight into the recycling bin. This Pulitzer prize winner is over 600 pages and so the good news is that there will now be space for two new books. I have to admit that I did not finish it, giving up the struggle at page 361. Many of the unread books on my shelves were purchased some time ago in various Charity shops when I lived in England and this paper back edition was published in 2001. It cost 95p and that together with the moniker saying it was a prize winner was probably the reason I bought it, not knowing anything about the author Michael Chabon.

It is obvious that if we buy a lot of books that some of them are going to disappoint, but its is extremely rare for me not to struggle through to the end, but I started to resent the time I needed to spend to finish this one. It tells the story (the amazing adventures of) a couple of comic book writers and illustrators who rode the wave of the boom in comic books starting in 1939. Joe Kavalier a jew born in Prague had trained to be a magician and escape artist, he also went to art school. His family sacrificed everything to pay for his passage on a boat to America and he promised himself he would work to get his younger bother out from under the heel of the Nazis. He found refuge with his teenage cousin Sammy Clay and family. Sammy was fascinated by the early comics and copied many of the illustrations. The two cousins had all that was necessary to get a start in the comic book business. They become very successful and started mixing with the most fashionable people in the artistic world of New York.

I am still not certain why I found this book such a trial. It seems to have been well researched with the central imaginary characters slotted into the artistic and political life of New York, which should have been fascinating. I do not read comic books now, but when I was a teenager I was addicted to American DC and Marvel comics: I knew all the names of the writers and Illustrators. The book serves as a chronicle to the life and times of writers and artists in a fledgling industry at a time when America was considering entering into the second world war and so there should have been enough to keep me reading. Perhaps it was the humdrum lives of the two central characters that started to bore me. Two workaholics producing pulp by the yard to sell to the youth in America and beyond and even if you take into account that one of them had recently fled the Nazis in Prague and the other discovers that he is gay, the author never really attempts to tell us more about them: never gets beneath their skins. Chabon seems to compensate by surrounding them with the names of the glitterati. For me the book only came alive when stories from the comic books suddenly intrude upon the main story line. For goodness sake if you are going to write a book about the Amazing Adventures of............ then you may want to use some imagination in telling the story.

Stopping reading at three fifths of the way through, because of lack of interest does not qualify me to write a review, but it has provided me with a New Years Resolution. I am not going to plough ahead with books that do not interest me.

joulukuu 29, 2022, 1:16 am

I recognize the feeling of bogging down at 3/5 of a books length. Half of what I start reading, I do not finish. I seems I become more impatient with books as I grow older. Don't waste precious time Bas.

tammikuu 16, 6:38 pm

The Secret Pilgrim - John Le Carré
This was the next unread book on my shelves, published in 1991 and picked up in a charity shop somewhere in England. There are nine novels in the George Smiley series and this is the eighth and the first that I have read and so I have come rather late into the sequence. In fact Smiley is close to retirement and has headed out onto the lecture circuit, where he is giving a speech to young trainee spies. The secret Pilgrim is Ned also coming up to retirement who has been in the service as long as George Smiley, sometimes working for him and at other times their paths have crossed, but Ned has always seen Smiley as a mentor. Smiley's speech brings back memories for Ned who is sitting in with him, and it is these memories that are welded into the stories in this book. They cover much of Ned's career from his first assignment, where he made a bit of a fool of himself to assignments that were life threatening to him and to the spies (Joe's) that he controlled. There are thirteen chapters and each tells a story and/or takes the reader back to Smiley's lecture.

The stories take us around the world: Berlin, Hamburg, London, Poland, Cambodia, Lebanon where the British secret service battles both foreign agents and American spymasters, sometimes winning sometimes losing. Although much of their work is routine they are never sure who they can trust and they run considerable risks much of the time. The novel does not only feature these stories, but sketches in a history of British intelligence in accordance with the world peopled by the spies of John Le Carré. It also allows Smiley to contemplate the part the intelligence service played in winning the cold war: wondering if they did win or if the other side just lost. The time span covers the cold war, leading up to and beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revelations of the double agents working for Russia. Near the end of the book Smiley is getting to grips with his own motives for working in the intelligence services and passing on his words of wisdom to the students.

The world of the spies and their masters portrayed in this book is very British, one would not be surprised if those at the top of the hierarchy, had all gone to the same school. Their methods and gadgetry hardly advance over the time period, they continue to keep doing the same things with equipment that sounds just a bit dated. As in many occupations competition can be fierce, but this is laced with suspicions at all levels, where trust is at a premium. Le Carré dwells on this, creating a world that will be recognisable to many readers. He is good at creating dialogue and gives his characters enough time to think through their actions. I enjoyed immersing myself in John Le Carré's world and sometimes thats all you need; I have got more novels by Le Carré and I am looking forward to reading them. 4 stars.

helmikuu 4, 8:00 am

Don Quijote - Miguel de Cervantes (Norton Critical Edition)
Many people have heard of Don Quixote (or Don Quijote in this translation), but to read both volumes of the book takes some reading commitment. It was the next book on my shelf and although not unread; I had read it such a long time ago I had only a vague impression. Reading today a revised translation by Diana De Armas Wilson with its introduction by the original translator Burton Raffel was very much in keeping with Miguel de Cervantes claiming that his Don Quijote was a translation from the Arabic historian Cide Hamete Benengeli, which put me in tune with the meta fictional aspects of this book.

It has been labelled as the first novel ever written, (first volume published in 1605), but I can vouch to the fact that this is not true having read novels from the previous century. It's claim to be the first modern novel bears more consideration, as from my reading experience it shines like a beacon of light, a sort of lighthouse beacon which lights the way for character development and interior reflections, authorial interventions, open ended interpretations, and endless discussions on the aims and objectives of the author. The dark side of the lighthouse beacon is its disparagement of the subject matter of the popular fiction of its time, the books of chivalry: knights in armour riding out to do fantastic deeds. These are the very books that caused Don Quijote to go insane. He was of the opinion that all the stories written on chivalry must be historically accurate, because they were printed in books. Why would anyone write about things that were not true, that did not happen. There is a scene very early on in the first volume when Don Quijote has returned exhausted from his first adventure and the priest and the barber go through his library throwing out of the window all the bad books on chivalry that they intend to burn.

The basic premise of the novel is that a rich landowner Don Quijote has become infatuated and addicted to books of chivalry and takes it upon himself to revive the whole idea of knight errantry. Cervantes says:

"Indeed his mind was so tattered and torn that finally, it produced the strangest notion any madman ever conceived, and then considered it not just appropriate but inevitable. As much for the sake of his own greater honour as for his duty to the nation, he decided to turn himself into a knight errant, travelling all over the world with his horse and his weapons, seeking adventures and doing everything that, according to his books, earlier knights had done, righting every manner of wrong, giving himself the opportunity to experience every sort of danger, so that surmounting them all, he would cover himself with eternal fame and glory"

Don Quijote recruits an employee of his Sancho Panza to be his squire and saddles up his old horse Rocinante, puts on some old armour and together they ride out; Sancho Panza on his beloved donkey, looking for adventures. Not only is Don Quijote insane, but he also suffers from hallucinations, seeing wayside inns as castles, windmills as giants, and herds of sheep as a marauding army. He also dreams of an impossibly beautiful woman who will be the love of his life and to whom he will dedicate his conquests: the matchless Dulcinea del Tobolso. Tobolso is a town near where Don Quijote lives and he might have caught sight of a pretty girl there.

There have been many interpretations of Don Quijote. A ribald, knockabout, slapstick comedy; there are certainly many funny incidents along the way that can make the reader laugh out loud. A loveable idealist who follows his heart and an unflappable optimist. A tragic hero figure in the best traditions of a romantic interpretation. Christians might interpret him as a Christ like figure, or that it is a cabalistic Jewish text. Some may think it is an allegory of Spanish politics or an attack on romantic chivalry that Cervantes claims it to be. It is in my opinion primarily a novel about insanity, self delusion and how other people handle, care for, or make fun of people who are insane. Don Quijote's sanity comes and goes, in book two his periods of lucidity increase until he returns home almost cured of his delusions. During his adventures people are often surprised by his educated response to questions, he gives Sancho Panza excellent advice on how to be a governor of a municipality. Don Quijote's insanity leads inevitably to mood swings, he is easily angered and in fact twice tries to kill Sancho Panza.

Many classic works are infused with thoughts and ideas about writing and literature and Don Quijote is no exception to this. The prologue of the book addressed to the idle reader written by Cervantes talks about the difficulties of writing the prologue, reminding readers that he is only the stepfather to the book not its parent. He then tells of a conversation with a friend who tells him shortcuts to write a successful piece of literature. Throughout the actual novel there are pauses where Cervantes reflects on the art of writing.

The two volumes were printed nine years apart and in the second volume the metafictional aspects take another turn. We are told that Don Quijote has become famous, because people have read about his exploits in the first volume. He starts to be recognised and some people take advantage of his fame. He complains however, that there seems to be two Don Quijote's riding around; one who is a bit of an idiot and one who is accomplishing good deeds, one book is poorly written while the other can stand up as a piece of literature. This together with authorial interventions, perhaps by the parent: Cide Hamete Benengali or perhaps the step father Cervantes himself adds further to the innovations that are introduced by the author.

The two volumes together make a superb reading experience. There are Don Quijote's sometimes rather puzzling exploits, there are stories within stories. There are two tremendous characters in the knight himself and his proverb loving squire Sancho Panza, who develop characteristics from each other. The stories are funny, sometimes violent, sometimes contemporary to that period of Spanish rule: the expulsion of the Moors and the jews feature heavily. Of course the reader rides along with Don Quijote sucking up the atmosphere of Spain in the early 17th century wondering about the next adventure that will befall the insane duo and caring about the health of the duo as well as despairing about the damage they cause. The Norton Critical Edition contains an excellent introduction and a beautiful translation. The criticism section however, leaves something to be desired. I know it is difficult to come to a conclusion about the main theme or thrust of this novel, but most of the extracts focus on individual stories. Some attempt at an overall impression would have been welcome. It is a book that one can return to and enjoy individual stories and exploits, with the whole scope of the book firmly in mind. Wonderful and a five star read.

helmikuu 4, 2:51 pm

5 star review ! Great to remind us of this masterwork Bas.

maaliskuu 5, 8:24 am

Colette - Claudine at School
The first novel written by Colette was attributed to her husband Willy when it was first published in 1900. Colette later said that her husband Henri Gauthier-Villars (Willy) had found a draft of her first novel and suggested how his wife could improve it, in order to get it published. There is no doubt that "Willy" a notable figure in the literary world would have been able to find a way of publishing the novel, which he did under his own name. The question which remains unanswered is how much input he had in the final text. The novel is largely autobiographical and tells the story of 15 year old Claudine's final year at school. It could only have been written by someone who had experienced that final year and is written in the first person. It reveals the burgeoning sexuality of a young girl eager to launch into a lesbian relationship with a nineteen year old woman and her frustration when the object of her affections is stolen from her by the head teacher. Claudine however is in control of her situation she is learning about life while still involved in all the frivolities of a fifteen year old schoolgirl. This is related with such candour and such pride that the reader feels it could only have been written by Colette.

The book today reads as a light and frothy entertainment with an underlying knowingness of the sexual mores of the time. Claudine is fortunate in going to a village school where the majority of the girls are farmer's daughters. She is intelligent and has a talent for singing, drawing and french composition and her father is a naturalist/scientist certainly belonging to the middle class, therefore Claudine is able to dominate her fellow students and to hold her own with the teachers. Claudine loves the scratchy working village which is surrounded by glorious countryside. She is left very much to her own devices by her father as there is no mother figure in evidence. Apart from arithmetic and problem solving Claudine finds the schoolwork a breeze, especially as she is plundering her fathers library at home; educating herself.

We meet Claudine roaming through the countryside on her way to school and follow her through her lessons. The headmistress has hired a new teacher and a teaching assistant and Colette describes them:

"As for Mademoiselle Sergent, she seemed anything but kindly and I augured ill of that redhead. She has a good figure, with well rounded bust and hips, but she is flagrantly ugly. Her face is puffy and permanently crimson and her nose is slightly snub between two small black eyes deep-set and suspicious......... her assistant the pretty Aimée Lanthenay attracts me as much as her superior repels me......... "Little Mademoiselle Lanthenay, your supple body seeks and demands an unknown satisfaction. If you were not an assistant Mistress at Montigny you might be - I'd rather not say"

Claudine attempts to seduce Aimée, but is eventually rejected when Aimée enters a lesbian relationship with Mademoiselle Sergent. There are two new male teachers hired for the boys school next door, who attract the attention of the elder girls. There are two big events in the book one of which is the 15 year olds matriculation examinations which take place in a town a couple of hours train journey away and Claudine and her close group of friends must endure two days of being examined. This is a fascinating episode that homes in on the trials and tribulations of this two day event. The nervousness of the girls, the characters of the examiners, who stage a one day oral examination and the worry of the teachers who do what they can to help their pupils are all brought to our attention through the eyes of Claudine. The other event is the welcoming committee back in Montigny for a Deputy of the French Senate when the whole village is "en fête" and Claudine has a starring role as a singer and speechmaker at the village school.

The competition between the girls in Claudine's class is intense, tricks are played, physical intimidation is rife and Claudine is master of it all. They try to outdo each other in making themselves attractive and/or seductive. Every new item of clothing, every look, every nuance towards elder girls or men is dissected in the mind of Claudine. She follows meticulously the exchanges between AImée and Mademoiselle Sergent, spying on them when she can. Colette does a marvellous job of placing the reader inside the head of a precocious fifteen year old girl, but she also informs the readers of the situation of those girls, who are dependent on the goodwill of their teachers, but more dependent on the men who might eventually choose them for marriage. They must also tread a fine line with some local dignitaries who might press them for favours or worse.

Colette portrays school and village life in lively fashion. Through Claudine she is amused, sometimes bored by the petty restrictions, but always passionately involved in the life around her. Claudine's forthright expression of her thoughts and feelings are seductive in themselves and her connection with the village and its natural surrounds are well portrayed. The novel pushed heavily by Wily was a success, even a bit of a sensation. Colette said that he encouraged her to spice up her story and no doubt was able to proof read for her; there were three more novels continuing the story. I read an English translation by Antonia White in a penguin edition - 4 stars.

toukokuu 18, 10:40 am

Angela Carter - The Passion of New Eve
Angela Carter explores sexual desire in this dystopian science fiction novel. Sex dominates this novel, painful, erotic, disgusting perhaps, but mostly controlling, it is life pushed to extremes as the veneer of civilisation dissolves, as extreme climatic conditions are tearing the world or at least America apart. The male phallus is taken to extreme limits as the beautiful boy Evelyn is forcibly transformed into the new Eve. Is it punishment for his aggressive male sexuality or is it a transformation to the female that can ultimately repopulate a dying world? well of course it is not as simple as that. The key word in the title of the book is passion; sexual passion, obsession, suffering, religion and myth making are all part of the mix. Everybody suffers, mostly as a result of others sexual needs, rape is the most common form of sexual possession; Evelyn is raped once as a man and continually raped as a woman, but she can also be a mother figure, transcending the sexual chaos, whatever her role her most significant trait is passivity.

Angela Carter hangs all these themes onto a solid road-movie like story; told by Evelyn. Obsessed by the film star Tristessa, he leaves London to carve out a new life for himself in New York, but his stay is soon overshadowed by a city collapsing in on itself. He is seduced by the eroticism of Leilah, a black woman of the city, but when she gets pregnant, Evelyn drives her to have an abortion. He leaves her in a mess and flees the city and his responsibilities to find himself in the desert like landscape that is sucking up America. He is captured by the women of Beulah who see him as the new Eve. He is forcibly led deep underground to the the womb-like operating room of Mother; an enormous woman who rapes Evelyn to collect his seed, which she will use to impregnate him when she has surgically changed him into a woman. Evelyn now Eve escapes before she can be impregnated, but falls into the hands of Zero a Charles Manson like figure who is worshipped by a bevy of female slaves. Eve becomes one of his slaves, but Zero is becoming increasingly obsessed by tracking down Tristessa who he accuses of robbing him of his fertility. More adventures follow and the book figuratively leads Eve back to the womb.

"Tristessa had long since joined Billie Holliday and Judy Garland in the queenly pantheon of women who expose their scars with pride, pointing to their emblematic despair just as a medieval saint points to the wounds of his martyrdom."

The book can be read on a number of levels; from an erotic science fiction dystopian romp through America or as a full scale analysis of gender confusion theory topped by matriarchal control. There are obviously layers of meaning to be picked over at the readers leisure, but although these are not always clear, the power and potency of Angela Carters writing most certainly is. Her commentary on modern society segues into a tightly controlled storyline, there are no throwaway wisecracks, just deep insightful writing that can resonate with even the most rapid reading of this novel. She does nastiness, brutality, love and eroticism, but weds this too a story that seems to pour itself into an ending that is logical and satisfying. It is a no holds barred drive across a future America that can also supply that sense of wonder that makes for good science fiction reading. Originally published in 1982, its ideas and themes might seem a little passé today, but I doubt that any contemporary writers would be able to compete with the quality of the writing. I can see some people rating this novel as five stars, but for me, who can hardly keep pace with modern trends in violence and feminist literature, I give it a cowardly four stars.

kesäkuu 22, 6:00 pm

The Russia House - John Le Carré
This proved to be a good holiday read. You know what you are going to get when you pick up a Le Carré novel especially one entitled The Russia House. It is the time of Perestroika in Russia, but the spying game continues as normal. The British spies think that they have stumbled onto a scoop with a high placed Russian teetering on the edge of revealing the state of Russia's armaments programme. The only problem is that the connection has been made by the director of a publishing firm who publishes occasional Russian novels and who twenty years ago had been on the books of the British secret services. Barley Blair is typically upper class English with possible communist leanings: we all know the type, but there is a file on Blair on which someone had written 20 years ago "No Further Action (in brackets Ever)." What could possibly go wrong in recruiting Blair again, but the prize or the bait was so tempting.

The first part of the story deals with the services attempts re-recruit Blair, he is reluctant, but has fallen under the charms of a Russian woman he met at a publishing bash in Moscow, who is the key to the source of the tantalising information. The Americans get involved working with the British in trying to ascertain the reliability of Blair and the information source. The British team full of characters, old hands in the world of spying, pitch in to work with the more professional American Team. Barley Blair likes a drink, in fact drinking gets him through much of his life, but he has charm and is intelligent enough to avoid obvious pit falls. Much of the early part of the book is conversations usually with or about Barley Blair and it is these conversation that provide a link to a narrative that drives the second part of the novel.

Le Carré makes his spies human, they are characters, not cogs in a machine. Probably the office clerks or the computer people do all the hard background and number crunching work, but we do not hear much about this. We understand that agents in the field play a dangerous game and that "Joes" (people controlled by the professionals) are in fear of their lives, but any violence or assassinations take place outside of the narrative. It is a novel that thrives on mystery, the dropping of clues as to who is reliable or who plays a better game. Office politics seems more dangerous than the actual spying; It's all a bit of a cuddle really, but I was happy to go along for the ride and so 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 22, 6:32 pm

Wilkie Collins - The Woman in White
I am late in getting around to reading anything by Wilkie Collins. Published originally in serial form 1859/60 this strikes me as being quintessentially a Victorian novel. Wordy of course, slow moving, atmospheric in describing a world that has largely vanished: pre-motor car, servants, train timetables, letter writing, human messenger services and a rigid class system. The narrative has been painstakingly put together in an epistolary format as the mystery slowly unfolds. I cannot add much to the hundreds of reviews of this novel, but my first impression of Collins as a Victorian novelist is that he is not amongst the greatest authors of that era, but this is a minor quibble in what is a thoroughly entertaining story. 4.5 stars.

heinäkuu 18, 10:07 am

The Resurrectionists - Michael Collins
I get it, I really do - why Michael Collins novel drenched in the underbelly of American life was shortlisted for the booker prize, however I had to wait to the final chapters and the 'big reveal' to be convinced. It is one of those novels where I wish I had known the ending long before I got there, so that I could have appreciated what the author was really writing about. On the surface it appears to be a well written crime novel where a struggling middle aged man tries to come to terms with the guilt he feels following the death of his parents in a fire at their home, when he was a young boy and which he probably caused.

It is written in the first person; Frank reads in a newspaper that his uncle who raised him has been murdered. He immediately thinks that there may be something in it for him as the sale of old farm house should be split between him and his half brother as there are no other claimants. As he says to himself "where there is a will there is a relative". He telephones his brother and is told in no uncertain terms to stay away. Frank is in a new relationship with Honey whose ex (Ken) is currently awaiting execution on death row, Honey had two children with Ken; the 14 year old and difficult boy Robert Lee and the five year old Ernie. Honey is still in love with Ken, but is persuaded by Frank to hitch her wagon with him in a journey to near the Canadian border to the small town where Frank was born. Frank is broke he has to steal cars to make the journey and looks for an opportunity to steal money to support his new family, while he argues over his rights under Uncle Ward's Will. When Frank arrives in the freezing north the pressures that made him leave his home town are still in evidence, people treat him with suspicion and he becomes a suspect in the murder of his Uncle Ward. The major part of the novel is the unveiling of the story of his parents death. Frank admits that he is un unreliable witness, having been committed to a mental institution some time ago, where he underwent electric-shock therapy and life in his home town is complicated with the needs of Honey and Robert Lee.

There are no likeable characters in this inverted world of the American Dream. Frank himself is not above committing horrible crimes, Robert Lee is a teenager full of angst, Norman; Franks brother is a simple soul bored with his life as a farmer and his wife is not above framing Frank for murder. Frank's new work colleague Baxter is an alcoholic, bent on cheating his way to more money with a Donald Trumpian attitude to women. Their boss is busily putting into practice some of the worst aspects of Dale Carnegie's advice in "How to win friends and influence people" and the psychiatrist who treated Frank as an adolescent is creepy. Everybody in town seems to be inured in the low-life and everybody seems to watch trashy day time TV. Franks efforts to uncover the mystery of his parents death are getting nowhere until the murder of another suspect and so much of the story in the meantime, is about Franks efforts to keep his new family together and to become a useful citizen in his new environment, there are relapses and no assistance. The story is set in the late seventies: America is coming to terms with Vietnam, there are plenty of veterans around, the cold war is still in full swing and Watergate and political scandals have soured any respect for political leaders. Jim Jones mass suicide is a daily feature on TV and the shocks seem to keep on coming. Michael Collins has set his story as a reflection on American trauma at this time and this is the strength of this novel. Franks struggles are indicative of the loss of the American dream for many people. It is more difficult to survive for somebody like Frank and when the final pieces of his story are put into place one can appreciate better all of what has gone before. 4 stars.

elokuu 20, 5:49 pm

Raymond Carver - Where I'm Calling From: The Selected Stories.

"Maxine said it was another tragedy in a long line of low-rent tragedies"

This is a quote from one of the 37 short stories featured in this collection and could summarise many of those stories. Where I'm Calling from was published in 1988 the year of Carver's death and features stories that appeared in magazines and earlier collections published between 1971 and 1987. The main subject of the stories is American suburban life, but one might also add alcoholism. Many have an unnerving feel of real life situations as characters fight or succumb to events that appear largely out of their control. They fight against taking another drink or succumb to having another shot, always looking over their shoulder, but never quite becoming destitute. Men cheat on their wives, on their girlfriends and occasionally the women fight back. It is a tawdry selection of subjects on which Carver has chosen to base his stories, but they are so well written and so convincing that they draw the reader in.

Carver appears to have been an alcoholic for much of his adult life, in the mid 1970's he claimed that he had given up writing and had taken to full time drinking. In his stories almost everyone drinks and as a good proportion of them are written in the first person they have an autobiographical feel to them. His characters are exceptionally well drawn and their dialogue hits the mark almost every-time. Couples argue and fight, cheat and deceive, pretend they do not see what is right in front of their eyes. They act like people in a TV soap opera, but are totally convincing. Some of the stories are mere snapshots of events in his characters lives, but have a lasting impression, there is often not a clear resolution and God forbid there should be happy ending.

Almost all the characters are white Americans, lower middle class or blue collar workers, none of them are out and out criminals, but often choose to act out of pure self interest or are dumbed down by the need to earn a living in a society that takes few prisoners. Mostly it is not a pretty picture and like people who suffer with alcoholism there appears to be an overlying trait of self deception. It is a sobering collection.

Carver when he was able, taught literature at colleges and was a guest lecturer as creative writing courses, but took on miscellaneous jobs when he needed. He states in the preface to this collection that his chosen medium was short stories and was interested in paring the stories down to precise images that reflected the real situations that he was depicting. How far he succeeded in this and how near he came to presenting a culture of a section of life in 1970's America will probably depend on each readers own experiences. Sexist and occasionally racist in accordance with the unenlightened 1970's but good short story writing that can be uncomfortable to read: 4 stars.

syyskuu 12, 8:31 am

John Le Carré - Our Game
The next unread book on my shelf was a John Le Carré novel and Our Game proved to be an excellent novel if you sign up to the idea that British Intelligence was run by a bunch of public schoolboys who never really grew up. Come to think of it that is also a description of the British government over the last fifteen years or so. In addition to this the hero of the story is Tim Cranmer; a retired spy and I enjoy reading about retired individuals who can bring a more balanced view to the world in which they live.

Tim Cranmer like many public schoolboys gets rich due to his inheritance and so is not unduly worried when he is forced to retire from British Intelligence after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is disturbed from his struggles in managing his English vineyard by a visit from the police who wish to interview him about the disappearance of Professor Larry Pettifer who they believe was a close friend of Tim. In fact Larry Pettifer was a double agent who Cranmer handled throughout his service as a spy: Pettifer had also seduced Cranmer's younger girlfriend (the beautiful Emma). Things get more difficult for Tim when he is summoned back to MI5 headquarters and discovers that they believe that he is implicated in a plot to embezzle millions of pounds from Russian oligarchs, that he would have known when he worked for the intelligence services. Tim realises he must use all his spy-craft to work for himself and track down Pettifer.

Le Carré introduces his readers to the wilds of the North Caucasus and the tribal Russian republics of Chechenia, Ossetia, and Ingushetia following the breakup of parts of the Soviet republic, (decent map supplied), this contrasts with the gentlemanly culture of the British intelligence service which takes up two thirds of the novel and is really Le Carré's forte. Cranmer's character is well presented: a man having to get back into harness with a world that he thought he had left behind; he is not a super-hero, but with a little luck and some skill manages to make some headway. There is perhaps no fool like an old fool and Tim comes close to realising this when he looks back on his relationship with Larry and his love for Emma.

Le Carré takes the violence out of thriller writing, but still manages to create enough tension and grittiness to make his stories feel real enough and he has a good story here. He also imbues a more balanced and nuanced view of international politics and the world of spying. The Russians are not all beastly savages and the Brits and the Americans are not as sure footed or as unprejudiced as their governments would have us believe. A criticism of Le Carré's approach is that perhaps he makes it all appear too much of a game, (hence the title of this book). In this novel there is a bit of a hole, character-wise, because we only get to meet Larry Pettifer through flashbacks from Tim Cranmer and information from other characters, and so as readers we only get second hand information on his aims, ambitions and his conscientiousness. Is he a selfish, grasping, crook or is he an idealistic, man-of-his-word trying to make the world a better place? The answer of course lies somewhere in between, but he remains an inconsistent character. When the adventure part of the story gets going it becomes a page turner, but there is much to enjoy in the internal and external politics of the police and intelligence agencies in the meantime and so 4 stars.