Sunday, 25 November 2012

fifty-five.

the Crow Road by Iain Banks (1992)

 "It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach."

The book dwells around Prentice and his near and far family from Gallanach in Scotland. Prentice is a history student in Glasgow and clever as fuck, in love with one Verity, doesn't speak to his father because of religious dispute and has a tendency to occasionally drink too much. His family is a bunch of eccentrics and the biggest mystery is the disappearance of his uncle Rory who wrote an amazing travel book about his experiences in India.

I love Prentice, I love his amazing family and I had dreams about castles and whisky and I found myself reading out loud in an horrible Scottish accent.

If that first sentence doesn't get you to read the book, I doubt anything will. And then you will be really missing out on one of the best books ever. If I weren't broke right now, I'd totally buy all books by Iain Banks because I think he has quite the possibility to become one of my favourites. 

fifty-four.

the Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794)

 Emily and her father set out on a journey southwards after her mother's death. On this journey, the father dies and Emily is left in her aunt's care. Emily's aunt isn't the nicest, and she dislikes Emily's beloved, Valancourt, and takes Emily with her to Italy and eventually to the castle of Udolpho. But the new husband of the aunt is a terrible man and there is no way to escape the terrors of Udolpho.

700+ pages. In my opinion about half of them could have been skipped as they are boring observations of the scenery of France and Italy. And the real story doesn't start until 30% in to the book. Luckily the last 30% of the book is such a wild tale that it makes it worthwhile.

I was not looking forward to reading this as it sounded too scary for my nerves and the start was promising with the mysterious happenings in the cottage. But the whole Udolpho business wasn't as scary as I thought, but certainly entertaining. The whole fainting women thing was something I could not take seriously. I did, however, love it when the story completely changed and I think the title is very misleading. I'm glad I read it, but I won't do it again.

This was November's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

fifty-three.

the Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (2007)

 Raj is nine when he meets David, ten at the hospital in Beau-Bassin, Mauritius. Raj is there because his father had one of his drunken violent outburst and David is there because he's sick and a Jew. The boys form a friendship which Raj still clings to sixty years later after David's death.

The Jews who came with a ship in the autumn of 1944 are interned at the prison which also holds the hospital. The boys sneak out at night and play and communicate in the language they both barely speak, French. And after a violent storm, David escapes from the prison and the boys eventually run off together.

Such a thin, quiet and beautiful tale of yet another aspect of the second World War. I really enjoyed the childish angle and the observations of Raj. Appanah has also entwined the present tense Raj in such a simple and beautiful way. And there is plenty to be learnt from it about Mauritius, and World War II. And the cover perfectly illustrates the book.

The story is based on the true events of the Jewish internment on Mauritius. Read it! And I will definitely be looking out for more books from Nathacha. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

fifty-two.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

 "ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn't seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, Be My Baby on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so."

Patrick Bateman, 26, strives to be perfect on the outside. He wears the right clothes, goes to the right places, dates the right girls and spends money on art and his body.  But all he can think about is the smell of blood and how to torture his next victim.

First part of the book shows off Patrick's perfect shell, where you only sense something is wrong when a murder is mentioned, as in a parenthesis. But then he starts to lose control and his dark side starts to show. He gets more and more grotesque and confused.

Some of the scenes described are really disturbing and reminded me a lot of Marquis de Sade in the style and plot. And I skimmed a lot of them and especially the cannibalistic parts. Yet I had to keep reading, just to find out how it would end. Bret Easton Ellis has done a great job writing the portrait of Patrick and I could easily picture him and the 80s on Manhattan among the rich and famous. Still I won't recommend it to anyone as it is grotesque and what sort of persons recommend those kind of books (yet I would tell you to read Crash by J.G. Ballard in a heartbeat)?

“...there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.”

Thursday, 8 November 2012

fifty-one.

Baby Jane by Sofi Oksanen (2005)

 What is wrong with Piki? She used to be an outgoing person, had plenty of friends and partied all night. And now she isn't capable of buying groceries or even take out the trash. Her girlfriend tries everything, but watches Piki slowly fading. They start a successful business together; providing phone sex and shipping used underwear to their customers. Their relationship is dwindling and it doesn't get better when the girlfriend discovers that Piki's ex is doing the laundry and shopping for her.

Sofi knows how to get each sentence to punch you in the guts. I was only able to read a couple of pages a night because they are all so heavily loaded with emotions. And as the story unfolds and you get to know more about Piki and the girlfriend, you know it's not going to end well. But still there are plenty of surprises.

It could easily have been a perfect read, but the last couple of paragraphs ruined it. It reminded me of all the stories of my students which are nicely built-up and then end terribly because they run out of time.

I'm still amazed that only one book by Sofi has been translated into English. Luckily they are found in many other languages.

Monday, 5 November 2012

fifty.

the Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1996)

“Films are for everyone, collective, generous, with children cheering when the cavalry arrives. And they're even better on TV: two can watch and comment. But your books are selfish. Solitary. Some of them can't even be read, they fall to bits if you open them. A person who's interested only in books doesn't need other people, and that frightens me” 

 Corso is an agent who finds rare books for others and he isn't afraid to cross the line in order to satisfy his customers. But this time he has two hard cases; he has to find out if a piece of a manuscript is a part of the original The Three Musketeers by Dumas and find the original occult book called The Book of Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows. But the cases are more complicated, mainly because he is nearly killed by a man who looks like the crook in the Three Musketeers. And then there is the young girl who protects him and says she is the devil. Are the two cases connected?

This book had all the ingredients to be a book after my tastes. But having all the correct ingredients is useless when you cannot follow the recipe. My biggest beefs are the language and the horrible editing. It might have been the cheap Kindle version, but almost all sentences lacked punctuation and even some words seemed to be missing. And although it has a great, yet very predictable, plot, the writing style ruined it. How can you make something exciting so boring?

I'm surprised that it has survived four editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, but I suspect it is only because it mentions other books and authors in such academic ways. If you plan to read the Three Musketeers you definitely need to do that before reading this one as it is full of spoilers. 

One good thing: Some noteworthy quotes about books and reading. And a lot of other people seem to love it, but it wasn't for me.   

ps: the film version is called the Ninth Gate and is starring Johnny Depp and I have higher hopes for it than the book.

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