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.
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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.
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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.
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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?).

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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!
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

ChokeChoke by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being my first Palahniuk(thanks to Banned Book Reading Group), I find ”Choke” as an intriguing, hilarious and convoluted book: not only by its subject, but also by its twists. I think the book it is about the antihero Victor Mancini’s effort of anchoring himself in the world, by projecting his “need of the other” upon the others. The need is however an addiction that stresses the limits of dissolution. Victor Mancini is dissolving himself in sex and almost kills himself by choking in fancy restaurants, trying to explain his “numbers” as an act of unlimited generosity, almost a sacrifice. Though the other do not realize, they need him as much as he needs them.

Being more a hostage of his own troubled mother, Victor Mancini felt always as an outcast. All his endeavors of becoming normal were again and again stopped by his mother, who lies now into a nursing home paralyzed and destroyed by Alzheimer. She looks now to be her son’s hostage, but this is not true. She still keeps the secret of his origin that could explain why he is so different. And from this point, the story starts to have a metaphysical meaning as well. It becomes quite obvious why Victor Mancini is changing the world, by changing, though illusory, the life of the others.

And it follows another twist, which “puts down” again Victor Mancini on his place. He still remains a lonely soul that needs the others, but he now probably is freer. Of his mother .. and his/her demons?
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When I Was MortalWhen I Was Mortal by Javier Marías
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A 12 short-stories collection that revealed me another face of one of my loved writers: Javier Marias. He is here more a columnist than a novelist, trying to adjust his rhythm of storytelling to the penurious length of the newspaper’s columns. Therefore perhaps, I feel the stories unfinished and brutal twisted. Marias has a seductive style, with a delicate rhythm that harmoniously leads the story from “the waiting” to “the happening”. But in this collection the happening happens either too early or too late. However, the pretext is pretty smart: mystery and exploration of different “paths” of the same story. And the story is mostly about death or crime.

I cannot tell that I liked or disliked a certain story. I read them trying to find again that seductiveness from A Heart So White (funny, but Heart So White is now a horse’s name). But unfortunately, I didn’t :(
(I would really liked to give more then 2 stars, but since 2 and half do no exist...)
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stalins køerStalins køer by Sofi Oksanen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stalin’s cow is a goat! The Danish title of the debut novel "Stalins Køer", by Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen, is fantastic. It both means “Stalins’ cows”, but also “Stalin's queues” - those famous queues in front of the socialist stores, to which Oksanen makes frequent references. Those queues where did not matter what was sold, because anything was sold, everybody needed it. Otherwise, "Stalin's cow is a goat" is the sentence that actually refers to the essence of the novel: the depersonalization and disimulation of him/herself.

As in Purge (the book with which Oxanen won in 2010 the Nordic Council Prize for Literature), "Stalin's Cows" episodically describes the lives of three generations of Estonian women. The grandmother - survivor of the Stalinist nightmare from '40s-'50s, the mother – who, being raised in the full soviet era, succeeded to marry and escape in the neighboring, "enemy and capitalist country", Finland and finally the daughter - half western, half eastern, lost somewhere in between two worlds. Three generations of women who became traumatized by changes that more or less they could not control. Women who lost their individual freedom, but by dissimulation they did sharpen their self-preservation instinct. And loss of freedom seemed to evolve hereditary from the obligation, to the option.

In "Stalin's Cows" grandmother, Sofia, became kholhosnic and stahanovist because she had no choice. Mother, Katriina, had a choice and married a Finn, and became more Finnish than the Finn. Daughter, Anna, had apparently no choice since her mother forced her to hide their origin, because only like that she could avoid the "whore" label, which all Estonian and Russian women in Finland bore. And Anna ate, ate, ate and vomited, lied, and stole and hid from herself in a shrinking 50 kilograms body. The self-retrieval is the chance only for Anna, and it occurs with the return "home", return to the roots...

Oksanen is a gifted writer with a great force of evocation. She is honest, sometimes rough honest, brutal, and melancholic. Her prose ranges from the upper lyrical and naturalistic poetry to the most grotesque nostalgia. "Stalin's Cows" is worth reading, though the "Purge" is with one star atop.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are so many excellent reviews for this book! And they made me, I think, to read (actually to listen) it with a very critical eye. I expected to disappoint me, but this didn’t happen. Because “The Help” is the very good example for a book that soon and safe becomes a bestseller.


The story is entertained and well written. The subject, which once was controversial, is now solved and classified as racism. The characters are sharply, strong and well defined. The rhythm is alert, vivid and easy to follow. But, unfortunately, this is all. Despite the fact that I very much enjoyed the audition, I find nothing to really impress me. The entire book is monochrome and one dimensional from the very beginning, until the very end and I got annoyed of the predictable and, somehow, cheap happy end!
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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Mrs. DallowayMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book! It is round, deep, fresh, sophisticated, daring, tragedy and comedy, has wit and humour…it’s mesmerizing. Reading "Mrs. Dalloway" is like looking at a Picasso’s portrait, with its many surfaces (un)matching within an imagine that is far away from perfection, from the Divine Proportion. But if you come closer and look attentive at each detail, shadow, and perspective, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of all meaning. Mrs. Dalloway and her own nemesis, Septimius Warren Smith, are actually the human being in all its depth. In its splendour and futility, its happiness and fears, its hopes and disappointments, in its struggle with the transient condition of the mortal soul.

The style is splendid. It has the madness and sweetness of a dream; it is equivocal, but perfectly balanced. The passage between voices, memories, images, and moments is magnificently pointed by the hours, by the almighty sounds of the Big Ben. Everything has middle, and what is next is only the reflection of the past. The symbols and metaphors are subtly used and the references to Shakespeare and Ulysses are smartly placed in the text. Nothing is too obvious or too explicit.

But beside all the ambiguous and contradictory characters, we also have London, the imperial town hit by the hot wave of midsummer. We have its streets and squares, its houses with their opened windows. It is a sensorial abundance of views, sounds, colours, smells. London is vivid and alive despite the disillusionment with what once upon a time was The British Empire, and with… life.
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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

El sueno del CeltaEl sueno del Celta by Mario Vargas Llosa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Without any doubt, this is a good book: a great story about an interesting character, written in the well known fluent and catching style of Llosa. But unfortunately, not as good as I was expecting. Yes, I understand that Llosa wanted to present his representation of Roger Casement, the controversial Irish hero who was adulated and hated, honoured and despised, respected and forgotten and then respected again. And the resulted portrait is quite a success, but somehow Llosa was too expeditive. The stories about Casement’s work in Congo and Amazonia are pretty much the same. They developed in the same frame of black and white and they had the same generic characters with almost no exception. Moreover, these stories are considered to be the reason for Casement’s political radicalism and nationalism, and therefore I think, Llosa failed to explain the big change in his hero’s life, the gap between his early believes and late actions. He idealised Casement, though he intended the opposite. His own interpretation of The Black Diaries is also part of the idealisation process: yes, Casement was a homosexual, a sinful catholic, but no, under any circumstances he was not able to really do what he pretended that he had done.

"The Dream of the Celt" reminds me very well of "The Way to Paradise", and I find many similarities between Roger Casement and Paul Gaugain, as they were portrayed by Llosa. It is both touching and disturbing their destructive way of following their dream. But being honest, I enjoyed more “The Way to Paradise” .
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Her Fearful SymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to admit that only my admiration for Audrey Niffenegger’s first novel, “The Time Traveler's Wife” (which I found it stunning, compelling, and very original) made me to finish her second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry”…or cemetery. Otherwise, I am pretty sure, I would have put it away after its first half played (I actually listened the audiobook).


The exploration of love beyond life and time continues also in “Hear Fearful Symmetry”. And not only love, but also identity. A pretty ambitious subject that perhaps was a little bit too much, this time, for Niffenegger. She started well, by creating that cold and ethereal atmosphere of death, that painful feeling of loss and sorrow. But soon she got lost and stuck in those too many threads that she had woven for launch the story. A far too many characters: two pairs of twins, a couple who gets apart, a PhD lover who never ends his thesis, a husband who pretends he doesn’t know who is his wife, an old pair that (misleadingly?) looks like keeping an old secret, and a poor kitten that has twice to die in order to reveal some peculiar forces of … a ghost!! And then another ghost, and many others. And also many plots that fail to merge. The result is a “ghosthic” story, inconsistent, un-deepen and, what is worse, unreasoned. The only exception from this disastrous literary attempt is the cemetery: Highgate Cemetery given by Niffenegger in all its glory!
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Appointment: A NovelThe Appointment: A Novel by Herta Müller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Though this is not one of my favourite books by Herta Müller, I still recommend it. It is representative for her style, which I personally find breathtaking. It is strong and sharp, expressing sadness, frustration and even a kind of guilt of living within an oppressive regime, like that one of Ceausescu. A regime that forced people to become cowards and to renounce their humanity; and those who cared about their conscience remained alone, very alone, isolated, unable to rely on somebody or something. Herta Müller does not forgive anyone, including herself. But what makes Müller to be a very special writer, in my opinion, is not only her obsession (with Securitate and Ceausescu), but her incredible force of playing with words, weaving them, creating wonderful and fresh associations, transforming ugliness in beauty. My favourite readings by her are “Nadirs” (a collection of short stories), “The King Bows and Kills” (essays about her youth in Banat), “Everything I possessed I Carry With Me” (what a cruel disappointment to find out that her best friend, the poet Oskar Pastior, who inspired her in writing this novel, had been a collaborationist himself!) and “Travelling on One Leg” (a very touching story about her experience in West Berlin, after her emigration from Romania). Her “collage” books with poems are very interesting as well …and very creative!
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Monday, July 18, 2011

The Sacred NightThe Sacred Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

La nuite sacrée, The Sacred Night – the night of purge, the night of truth, the night of rebirth. With this night, the 27th one of Ramadan, starts the Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book: a very promising beginning. But what is next is just … disappointing. It is a tale about the role of woman in the Islamic world as a dark, dense, intricate, surrealistic, and almost unbearable story. It is not only the mix between reality and hallucinations that disturbs, but also the blending of poetry and violence, and especially that heavy eroticism. Sex is abused in this book. It is used as a measure of control, lie, freedom, love and desire, hate and revenge. And if Zahra may spiritually have won the right to her feminity, she still remained a slave from the sexual point of view. And this is only half of freedom.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Under the FrangipaniUnder the Frangipani by Mia Couto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a simple, but a strong and grave voice (which reminds me of Ismail Kadare), Mia Couto recreates in “Under the Frangipani” the history of his country, Mozambique: with its traditions, beauty and complexity, with its struggles across the centuries of occupation and years of weird freedom. Not only the whole story, but every sentence of this original micro-novel is a fable. The big truths, in all their deepness, are said within an amazing simple way that only can come from the wisdom of the already lived life; or, better, from the afterlife.  In the Sao Nicolau fort is no time, and (almost) no life. There are only dead people and dead souls. Alive is only frangipani, the old big tree, which first has to lose his leaves, in order to blossom up again. And this is hope; the hope of life after the death.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The InfinitiesThe Infinities by John Banville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Infinities?? Yes, there could be many as worlds could be. Like at Arden, where old Adam is lying on his deathbed, while the Greek Gods are continuing their demiurgic jobs. Where life is never ending, though the death is pretty close. Where gods and people are the same: half funny and half gloomy, half smart and half stupid, unpredictable. Pretty normal, could be said. Banville created this mixed universe full with “the mysteries of the others” using his unmistakable style, which consists of a smart dosage between dark humour and optimistic poetry. I found this book both intellectual and funny and I loved the characters: especially Rex, the dog (who else?), that seemed to be the most intelligent creature from Arden. However I felt some flaws, a kind of inconsistency in the way in which narration develops. But this is only Hermes’ guilt! :)
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A funny and a honest novel about the beginning of what we name today "multiculturalism". Andrea Levy's characters are smart, sharp, intelligent and very stupid in the same time. Except Bernard who is very "grey". Nothing pretentious, but a vivid, entertained and unexpected story.

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