Monday, January 30, 2012

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is a while since I have finished this very acclaimed book, and the disappointment and the feeling of "a big mess" that occurred after I’d read it, are still no faded. I can't definitely call this book a novel, but rather a collection of short stories more or less linked each other. The overall sensation is of a crowd; a crowd of too many characters, times and styles, a daring but an incoherent mess. I am sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about this book as a revived Dadaist experiment, an obsolete avangardist literary attempt to mix everything up: people, voices, moods, moments, music, silence, words and slides… Power Point slides, I mean! And what it really disappointed me is that this book, or novel or whatever it could be called has even got the Pulitzer last year!
View all my reviews

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Marriage Plot: A NovelThe Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took a while until I finished this book (about 3 weeks) and I believe that not only my lack of time was the true reason for reading it so slowly, but also a kind of inconsistency in its style and subject. The book starts slowly, with semiotics and readings that influence young people. I found this part not much as heavy, as more pretentions. Although the references to Victorian female writers made clear the plot of “The Marriage Plot”, those to “A Lover Discourse” by Roland Barthes were- how should I say – a little bit …forced. My first impression was that they do not necessary reason the plot/the story, but they mostly use the story in order to be displayed. I said my first impression, because reading further I discovered that what Leonard had thought when Madeline was telling him “I love you”, defined how actually Madeline comprehended not only her love for Leonard and his madness, but also her attitude toward marriage and life. And without this point, the first two parts of the novel tend to appear boring and overwritten. Especially the second one, when Eugenides jumped abruptly and very academically from semiotics, in the subject of genetics of the …yeast.

What I really liked very much was how the third part was written. The part in which the reader is immersed slowly and dangerously in Leonard’s illness: manic-depression; a sickness that dramatically evolves from the small differences in the intensity of how Leonard feels, until his crazy and grandiose gestures; a sickness that spreads around depression and insanity. I found, for instance, disturbing the episode from Salt Water Boutique, which gave a glimpse of madness... and not at its height.

Despite its weak points (a too long and slow beginning, a too thesistic part about how yeast daughter cells multiply themselves or split each other for a more effective survival, an almost non-convincing portrait of Mitchell), I enjoyed “The Marriage Plot”. It’s intelligent written and is challenging. But it’s still no good as “Middlesex”. Only 3 stars from my part, though I would have liked to give half more.
View all my reviews

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant short novel about age, time, mortality, memory and remorse. Barnes’ hero, Tony Webster, is a man in his sixties who gets that sense of en ending, who feels that disturbing moment of futility of life, of powerlessness, of impossibility to change neither the past (of the others), nor the future ( of himself). Toby Webster is in that moment of his life when life obliges him to reevaluate his past, to make him try, though unreliable, to correct his memories, to rewrite his history - and not as “a lie of the victors”!

Despite his dull present (with a tidy house, nice occupation, a friendly ex-wife and a normal adult daughter), Toby had an interesting past. A past with intelligent friends (among whom, Adrian was the most intelligent and logical), with big ambitions, and with a frustrated love story with Veronica, who later became Adrian’s lover. A past that Tony (or rather his memory) corrected in such a way that he can live with. And then, a letter from a law firm came: according to the will of Sarah Ford (Veronica’s mother) Tony inherited 500 ponds and the diary of his long dead friend, Adrian.

A diary might be a piece of evidence, a proof (or not) of Tony’s memory. But this is not the case, since Veronica comes back on stage (after 40 years) with all her allusions and mystery, which always was scaring and attracting the young (and old now) Tony. And from here further, the story is a succession of new expectations, reevaluations, remorse and …discoveries. The discovery, for instance, that life takes its course no matter what- sometimes like the Severn Bore; the discovery that life only and truly is a problem of building up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And moreover, the discovery that any past action is irreversible, irreparable and final in its consequences, as death is.

I liked very much the way in which Barnes put Tony to recollect his life. It is there a mixture of subjectivism and precision, of vanity and honesty, of youth and maturity that challenges, annoys and pacifies the reader. I think it was a good choice for Man Booker Prize 2011.
View all my reviews

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The HoursThe Hours by Michael Cunningham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a dramatic, heavy start (of how Virginia Woolf had drowned herself, with a big stone in her pocket) started “The Hours”, by Michael Cunningham. A very special book, unique in its delicacy, but also in its subject: a book after a book…and not only. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous novel, “Mrs. Dalloway”, Michael Cunningham recreated in “The Hours” a day from three women’s lives: a woman who writes the book, a woman who lives the book and one who reads it. They are women from three different (and successive) generations, but all of them are confronting their existence, mortality and sexuality. They are women whose interior life is much richer than their exterior one. They are women who love, in essence, the beauty of life and who enjoy the life as long the life is bearable.

The beauty of life can mean flowers, a party, a fresh summer morning, a city, a lovely apartment and its comfort, a tinny bird on its flower dead bed, a new beginning or just few hours to freely read. But the beauty of life could be also an escape or that moment of conscientious decision between life and death.

I found surprising the freshness and, as I said, the delicacy with which Michael Cunningham rewrote a book … about women. It is not only the recreated style of “Mrs. Dalloway” that impressed me, but the deeply understanding of women’s nature. Cunningham managed in “The Hours” (and with the help of time) to explore and develop themes and motives that Virginia Woolf only sketched them or made allusions to them. The condition of woman in the twentieth century, for instance: from a perfect host, to the inexperienced but devoted housewife, and further to the self-confident and trustful friend. Or the exploration of women’s sexuality; from a woman’s daring kiss on her sister’s lips, until the public and committed relation with another woman.

In “The Hours” we miss London, but we have New York. We miss Big Ben’s strikes that marked the hours, but we have the years that smartly connect lives, deaths, and women with a book.
View all my reviews

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Final Testament of the Holy BibleThe Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the most hippy book I have read; more hippy than a beat has ever written, with the clear message that “love and laughter and fucking make one’s life better” (pag 259)

Hearing that James Frey has been sued by his readers, I couldn’t wait to read “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible”. But I had to wait three months until the only copy from the Danish Public Library became available. And, of course, I had great expectations, which only partially were fulfilled. The subject is challenging: what would it actually be like if the Messiah arrived, or if Christ returned? The concept is original: a story of Messiah, as that of Jesus Christ from the Old and New Testament. The idea is quite simple: the only religion that should be on earth is LOVE. No matter it is spiritual or physical. Most physical, since the orgasm is “the closest thing any human on earth would ever know about the Heaven “ (pag. 232).

And Messiah, as he came now, is given by the perspective of his family (mother and sister), of acquaintances, friends and followers. And the story is interesting until page 216, after which everything starts to repeat, over and over again. The message of love (love between man and woman, between man and man, between woman and woman, between man/woman and many others) becomes a cliché, a redundancy and a reduction. It becomes really boring to hear the same idea all over again in different circumstances, but almost within the same words: the religion is a shit and the humanity is going to destroy itself in the name of greed and religion.

The characters are sketches, but I believe that Frey did not purposely want to develop them further. He simple counted on the archetypes of their name: Ruth, Jeremiah, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Judith, Peter. But not Esther, who, in my opinion, is the most confusing character (she is old enough to sign her mother hospital papers, but “too young” to leave his older brother and live her life!).

I liked the first half and I became bored of the second. It was not only the repetition that annoyed me, but mostly the reductivism of thought that only “love and fucking” can save the world. This book is definitely challenging, but is far away of being a revolutionary book, as the back cover promised us.
View all my reviews

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Forty Rules of LoveThe Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After reading “The forty rules of love” I left with ambiguous feelings. There is a form of attraction and interest in the subject (Sufism and the spiritual encounter and companionship between the great Muslim poet and mystic, Rumi and the wandering Persian Sufi Dervish, Shams of Tabriz). But there is also disappointment. I found not only populist the approach with which Elif Shafak introduced the reader in Shams’ “forty rules of love” theosophy, but here and there quite cheap and even vulgar. I disliked, for instance, the way in which Ella imagines Shams - a “macho” who rides a shiny red bike, or how Kimya arose exactly when the Dervish explained her the Koran.

The book started however very promising: with the idea that a modern, wealthy and bored housewife, in the beginning of her forties, awakes due to a manuscript that introduces her to Sufism. There is also a promising pedantry, since Shafak looks to pay attention to details. The number 40 is consistently explained, and each chapter starts with the letter “b” (coming from “bismilahirahmanirahim” word, which should contain the secret of Koran). But very soon, the story looses in coherence. The narrative is created by first person characters’ points of view, and when Shafak misses one, she has no restraint in creating a quick and disposable new character (like Husam The Student). Everything ends in a glossy, soapy story, a kind of “serious” chick lit.

At a certain moment I thought that Elif Shafak was too ambitious with this subject. But then I found out that she actually holds a Master degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Ph.D. in political science and she is pretty close with Sufism. Therefore, I presume, she has the “tools” of tackling any subject (and especially one about the forty rules of love) in a more deepen and rigorous way. Thus, I am intrigued and I cannot grasp why Shafak chose to write about “spiritual encounters” in such a consumerist way. Intrigued enough to also read her previous and acclaimed book, The Bastard of Istanbul (btw, is something glossy with her titles as well, isn’t it?).

View all my reviews
Acerca De RodererRegarding Roderer by Guillermo Martínez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With creativity and charm succeeded Guillermo Martinez to explore, in only 100 pages, few of the big literary themes: friendship, intelligence and knowledge. The approach is mathematically philosophic, in the good (and safe) tradition of Borges and Hesse, and with a “Faustian” pinch of Mann.

Being himself a mathematician, Martinez had as premise for his first novel the controversial topic in the foundations of mathematics: the question of what is true versus what is demonstrable. And from here, he started to model two forms of human intelligence: wit and genius, with their reciprocal relationship and their ways of relating to the world. The exponents are two high scholars: the unnamed narrator – a brilliant young man who gets the knowledge by absorbing it, much and quick, and his best friend, Gustavo Roderer – the genius, the one who questions everything, even the proof, the one who tries to go beyond, to reach the unattainability. The genius is however an unearthly quality; at least, it does not belong to this world. Roderer has to first suppress his human knowledge and then his human mind (thanks to the opium) and finally, his human body in order to achieve his goal. To be the first one who is above. On the other hand, the clever narrator has to suppress his small and humble feelings (such envy or vanity) in order to have the chance of understanding, of passing beyond. But this unfortunately is not the case. The only human chance, as Martinez suggested, is love. The pure and unconditional love.

Again I miss halves of star. It’s not quite a 5 stars book, but is definitely more than 4!
View all my reviews