Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Små Svarta Sagor för De Vitas Barn / Little Black Stories for Little White Children by Blaise Cendrars (4/5)

First published: 1921
Original title:
Petits contes nègres pour les enfants des blancs

Original language: French
Translation to Swedish by: Ingalisa Munck
Illustrations by: Jacqueline Duhême
Page count: 92

The back says: The trees, the birds, the animals, the people, the jungle, the wind... all mix in the magic circle of African tales told here by Blaise Cendrars.
I say: I read this in Swedish, but since it has been translated in English (although proving rare to find, and with differing titles), I’ll write the review in English.

I’m not too sure what to say about these little stories other than that I loved most of them. I grew up with African stories, and the world Cendrars evokes felt familiar and comforting.

Most of them should probably be referred to as fables – which I had forgotten I loved – and the best part was that I couldn’t predict in advance what the moral was going to be. They had little twists in them, with a dash of the absurd, and I am going to try them out on my nieces when I get the chance.
To be noted is that Cendrars didn’t write these stories, but is merely retelling them – hence the 4/5 rating. And the illustrations were nice enough.

*I couldn’t find a book cover online (and I'm too lazy to take a picture an upload it), so here is an illustration by Olga Kvasha.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Introvert: Den Tysta Revolutionen av Linus Jonkman (3/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2013
Antal sidor: 243

Baksidan säger:
Tänker du först och talar sen eller talar du först och tänker sen?

I vår tid verkar "utåtriktad och flexibel" vara de mest eftersökta egenskaperna på arbetsmarknaden, social kompetens värderas högre än yrkeskompetens och den som skriker högst får oftast som den vill. Det är en tid där inåtriktade, eftertänksamma och stillsamma karaktärsdrag har klassats som mentala sjukdomstillstånd. En tid där introversion ofta förväxlas med blyghet, arrogans och asocialt beteende. Inget kunde vara mer fel. I en värld där allt går fortare och fortare och där bruset blir starkare för varje dag kan det rentav vara en fördel att vara introvert, och de som fått den gåvan kan skatta sig lyckliga.

Jag säger: Jag förväntade mig så mycket mer av den här och blev ganska besviken efter bara ett tiotal sidor in. Av någon anledning trodde jag att det skulle vara en mer akademisk bok som ingående noggrant analyserade introverta och som skulle ge mig lite mer insikt i hur de (jag) är som personer och hur de (vi) fungerar i samhället. Istället fick jag en bok med visserligen hög igenkänningsfaktor, men som språkmässigt var svag och kändes som att den var skriven för barn.

Jag tröttnade väldigt fort.
Det var mycket ”en professor sa” och ”i en studie” vilket fick det hela att kännas oseriöst. Nu vet jag inte vad Jonkman studerat eller om detta är menat som en lekmans syn på introverta, men det var inte det jag ville ha.

Varje kapitel slutar med en sammanfattning i punktform och i slutet finns ett test man kan göra för att se hur introvert/extrovert man är, så om man inte vet någonting om ämnet kanske det här är ett bra ställe att börja.  

Monday, 19 August 2013

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (2/5)

First published: 1959
Page count: 201

The back says nothing, but Wiki says: Naked Lunch (sometimes The Naked Lunch) is a novel by William S. Burroughs originally published in 1959. The book is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes. Burroughs stated that the chapters are intended to be read in any order. The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The vignettes (which Burroughs called "routines") are drawn from Burroughs' own experience in these places, and his addiction to drugs (heroin, morphine, and while in Tangier, "Majoun" - a strong marijuana confection — as well as a German opioid, brand name Eukodol, of which he wrote frequently).
I say: Every once in a while I read something, and although I understand the words on the pages, none of it makes any sense.

This was one of those whiles.
And what a long while it was...

In the introduction Burroughs writes:
I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness... Most survivors do not remember the delirium. I apparently took detailed notes on the sickness and delirium. I have no precise memory of writing the notes which have now been published under the title Naked Lunch. The title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. I did not understand what the title meant until my recent recovery. The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED Lunch – a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.
What follows are insane ramblings about random nonsense filled with sordid details of rape, orgies and murder that were, far too often for my liking, nauseating to read. I have no idea why Burroughs is so obsessed with anal sex/rape, ejaculating penises and hanging people after copulation – nor do I want to know – but it was too much.
Far too much.

It took me about two weeks to bring myself to finish this, and I pray that I will never have to return to it again. People seem to either love it or hate it; whereby those who love it claim that those who hate it don’t get. And they’re right;
I don’t get it.

Nor do I want to get it, either.
The writing is too crude and base to warrant any excuse for the horrible acts depicted (not that one can ever write beautifully about such things, but Lolita is disturbingly about paedophilia but it’s captivatingly written). The only redeeming parts are the introduction and the appendix which consists of Burroughs' definitions of that what his experiences with the different drugs are. The appendix is an article written to The British Journal of Addictions in an informative and intelligent way.

2/5 because of the introduction and appendix, and I suggest that anyone who wants to read about Burroughs' drug abuse reads Junky instead.

This has also been made into a film that I initially was too afraid to watch, but after reading the synopsis and realising that it appears to be nothing like the novel, I may give it a go (when I have absolutely nothing better to do) because David Cronenberg.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Long day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’neill (3/5)

First published: 1956 (but written in 1941-42)
Page count: 156

The back says: A spoilery review from The Times, here’s Wiki.
I say: This is another classic title that I’ve heard of all my life but never really bothered to find out what it entailed. Even when I bought it last year, I did so because it was a classic, but then put it on the shelf and forgot about it.

Until now...
I never rarely read synopses of classics anymore because they always tend to be full of spoilers, and this time I’m really glad of that because I enjoyed trying to figure out what was wrong with Mary Tyrone.

The play starts right after breakfast and ends just after midnight – hence the title – and it is the type of play that I’ve lately come to really enjoy; a family full of secrets that slowly unravel. At the beginning we learn that Mary has recently returned from somewhere and her husband James and their two sons Jamie and Edmund are trying very hard not to upset her. She is extremely self-conscious and as the play progresses we learn where she’s been and why the family is so anxious to act friendly around her.

I am not going to say what her problem is, because I enjoyed figuring it out before it was revealed and perhaps others do as well.
James and Jamie don’t get along for various reasons; the classic father disappointed in his son plot; and although Jamie and Edmund are close brothers, there is, not exactly a sibling rivalry, but an animosity of sorts between them – more so from Jamie who resents Edmund for a lot of reasons. Edmund tries to act as the peace keeper in the family, but even he loses his temper several times during the day.

The entire play is of the family trying to tip-toe around each other and their issues, but failing miserably and fighting intensely.
Then they stop and apologise.

Talk in soft tones for a bit.
And then someone says something and they’re off again.

It was a tiring family to be around and I found their pettiness exhausting. They all resented each other for things they both could and couldn’t change, but instead of trying to work them out, they argued.
And drank.

They drank a lot.
There were a couple of surprises along the way, but mostly it was you classic dysfunctional family. It is autobiographical and in the dedication to his wife O’Neill says that it’s a “play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” It is a stark and emotional play and the reason it gets 3/5 is because the level of dysfunction was uncomfortable to read. I think I would prefer to see it live; there is so much in Mary’s facial expressions and mannerisms that begs to be witnessed rather than read.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Sodom and Gomorrah (In Search of Lost Time, Vol 4) by Marcel Proust (4/5)

First published: 1921/22
Original title:
Sodome et Gomorrhe

Original language: French
Translation to English by: C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (revised by D.J. Enright)
Page count: 496

The back says nothing, but here’s my short synopsis: The first 100 or so pages take place at a Princesse de Guermantes’ party, where we are introduced to a lot of gossip about everyone in Parisian high society. The narrator starts a relationship with Albertine in Paris, which continues when they return to Balbec. At the seaside they go to parties and gossip.
I say: It’s been a year since I read the third volume, The Guermantes Way, and it felt awkward and fumbling being back in Proust’s Paris. Not because of the writing as such, but because I didn’t feel interested in the first part dealing with the party. Even if some of the descriptions of the people were beautiful and humorous, Proust spent far too much time describing their lives and detailing idle gossip. I have little, if any, interest in Parisian high society and it was all extremely tiresome.

It took an age to make it through those initial 100+ pages.
Once the narrator leaves the party things get a lot more interesting, although I have to say that he has started acting like a complete idiot from time to time. It is understandable that he is spoiled, but the way that he treats and plays with Albertine were not to my liking at all. Granted she was playing games with him as well, but it showed a neurotic, manipulative and extremely selfish side of him that thus far had only been hinted at.

But then he returns to Balbec and remembers his grandmother in a couple of pages in which Proust so eloquently, so finely, and so perfectly describes that aching feeling you get when you want someone and suddenly, almost as if by surprise, remember that they have passed away. I was holding my breath while reading it and fell in that usual awe of Proust’s ability to so vividly and exactly dissect any human emotion and explain the process as he cuts deeper and deeper.
This level of writing makes me forgive all.

Homosexuality is a big theme – if not the theme – in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the narrator deals with it in different ways. In The Guermante’s Way we learn that Charlus is gay and in this volume we are introduced to Morel, his boy toy, and the way that society dealt with homosexuality in those days. Gay men are referred to as “introverts” and homosexuality is called “sexual inversion” – and once the word pederast is used when Charlus is discussing works by Honore de Balzac. Knowing that Proust was gay and that the narrator is really him, it was a bit troubling to read the way that he (the narrator) viewed Charlus and homosexuals.

Albeit other reasons dictated this transformation of M. de Charlus, and purely physical ferments set his material substance 'working' and made his body pass gradually into the category of women's bodies, nevertheless the change that we record here was of spiritual origin. By dint of supposing yourself to be ill you become ill, grow thin, are too weak to rise from your bed, suffer from nervous enteritis. By dint of thinking tenderly of men you become a woman, and an imaginary spirit hampers your movements. The obsession, just as in the other instance it affects your health, may in this instance alter your sex. – p 270

It’s not just Charlus that is identified as gay; the narrator suspects that Albertine has had lesbian encounters, which causes him serious distress and he tries everything to keep her away from her female friends (some known lesbians and one whom he witnessed having an encounter with Odette, if I’m not mistaken). He doesn’t see Albertine as a lesbian and tries to convince himself that she is being seduced, which leads him to make some questionable choices – much to his mother’s great dismal.

Sodom and Gomorrah is the last volume that Proust revised himself, and I’m a bit apprehensive to see what the other volumes will bring. So far, this has been the weakest, but I am anxious to find out how if the narrator is going to dump Albertine – I can’t stand her.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Svart är en färg man kan bli sjuk av av Anna Karlsson (2/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2008
Antal sidor: 238

Baksidan säger:
En bok om kärlek, relationer och svartsjuka.

"-Din djävla hora! Du är allt bra kåt på honom, va! Gå hem till honom då! Gör det! Jag ser ju att du är intresserad!
Hon hade bara pratat i vänlig, normal ton till en annan man. Och redan när hon gjorde det visste hon att det var ett misstag. Hon hade noterat hur mannen hon älskar sett med svarta ögon på henne och sedan vänt henne ryggen..."

Vad är svartsjuka? Är svartsjuka och kärlek sammankopplade? Eller handlar det om missunnsamhet och avund?

Här finns tretton personers erfarenheter, känslor och tankar. Här finns berättelsen om en ung kvinna som genom åren lär sig mer och mer om svartsjukan effekter. Och här finns några verktyg för relationen när svartsjukan knackar på.

Jag säger: Jag förväntade mig mycket mer av den här boken än vad jag fick, vilket var hopskrivna intervjuer av tolv personer om svartsjuka och en historia om Judit och hennes liv med svartsjuka män.

Till en början var jag väldigt intresserad av Judits berättelse, som dyker upp i vartannat kapitel, men efter ett tag tröttnade jag och läste mest för att läsa. Det största problemet var att jag inte tyckte om prosan; det var korta, uppstaplade meningar med onödigt sentimental – och ofta självömkande – ton. Visst var det synd om Judit, men jag hade aldrig läst en bok som enbart handlat om hennes liv.

Diskussionerna kring svartsjuka var både intressanta och tråkiga. Somliga hade väldigt insiktsfulla saker att säga, medan andra pratade om... jag vet inte vad. Utan att vara för elak så tycker jag att boken var väldigt dåligt skriven; språket var ofta klumpigt och fullt av upprepningar.

Nej, i teorin låter boken mer intressant än den var.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (3.5/5)

First published: 2011
Page count: 366

The back says: In the early 1950s, eleven-year-old Michael boards a huge liner in Colombo bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the lowly ‘cat’s table’ – as far from the Captain’s Table as can be – with a ragtag group of adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean the boys tumble from one adventure to another, and at night they spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a mystery that will haunt them forever.
I say: I can’t recall where I heard about this novel or why I decided to borrow it from the library because it sounds nothing like what I normally enjoy reading. However, I was rather pleased with the story and pleasantly surprised at how literary it was.

The narrative weaves between the three weeks Michael spent on the ship, tales of what happened when they all arrived to England and his present whereabouts, and for the most part it worked. We get to know a bit more about some of the passengers than the others, and I think my disappointment lies in the focus being on the people I had the least interest in. The three boys spend their days getting up to random mischief and their nights spying on a prisoner that is allowed to walk the deck when the other passengers have gone to bed.
More than anything, this is a coming-of-age story that shows how a short period of time, or a few select people, can come to change a person’s life; and how differently things seem when you look back at them years later. Michael says several times that he isn’t quite sure if her remembers certain episodes or if they are dreams he’s had, and it’s in this uncertainty that we realise how deeply that voyage touched him, and how urgently he must have been avoiding it. As the story progresses we realise why things, and people, turned out the way they did (well, some of them) and his avoidance becomes more understandable.

There’s a sort of mystery about the prisoner and the main passengers that I didn’t particularly care for. Even though Ondaatje has managed to create diverse and rather original characters that were, for the most part, interesting and entertaining, I couldn’t help but feel that they were all pointing towards something. Everything that was said felt like a clue, and though I did manage to figure out some things before they happened, I don’t like mysteries, so that ruined the story for me.
I must mention that there are some passages of beautiful writing – mostly the ones where Michael is realising something about himself and his past – that I wish would have made up more of the novel. As it is, 3.5/5 is what I will give it.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Manila Rope / Manillarepet av Veijo Meri (3.5/5)

First published: 1957
Original title:
Original language: Finish
Translation to Swedish by: Bertil Kihlman
Page count: 130

The back says: In The Manilla Rope we meet a man who, during the war, just before he is to return home, finds a manila rope. He decides to take it home as "the only useful thing he had found during the war." In order not to have military police on the train discover the rope and take it away from him, he winds it next to his body. But every move he makes tightens the rope until he gets harder and harder to breathe.
I say: I read this in Swedish because it was available at the library, but the review will be in English since it had been translated (although appears to be rather hard to find).

Anyhoo, as the synopsis above tells, Joose finds a rope and decides to have his fellow soldiers tie it tightly around his torso. Once he gets on the train we are told different stories of war by the soldiers – each one more absurd and both humorous and tragic than the other. We hear about a man who wound a rope around his torso and died (how ominous); a soldier that had a knack for sawing off dead enemy soldiers’ legs in order to steal their boots (this takes place in Finland, so the bodies are frozen and he has to take the legs inside and let them thaw); the first air bomb to be dropped in Finland, and much more.
The novel is made up of these short stories where Joose’s trip home acts as a framework, which was both annoying and entertaining. Annoying because during the train ride home I wanted to know what was going on with Joose, but entertaining because most of the stories were pleasantly peculiar with a little morality thrown in for good measure.

All in all, it worked.
This was translation is from 1962, which means that it was full of archaic Swedish (which I love). Now, I can never be sure how exact the translation is, but the prose was straightforward and the conversations between the soldiers felt genuine, with a lot of distinctly different voices. I especially liked the grumpiness of Joose’s father and his friend when the latter was telling his stories.

3.5/5 because of the humour and absurd short stories.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Det Var Jag Som Kom Hem Till Dig av Nina Hemmingsson (4/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2012
Antal sidor: 77

Baksidan säger:
Det vad jag som kom hem till dig är en ordvandring från barndomens skogar och skolor till vuxenhetens förorter och fördomar. Bland fräna dofter, absurda handlingar och ludna kroppsytor finns en värld att både känna igen sig i och förvånas över.

Jag säger: Nina Hemingsson är känd som serietecknare och detta är hennes debut som poet, vilket hon gör väldigt bra. Jag hade lite olika tankar om hennes tidigare utgivna serier, men jag föredrar ord framför bilder och dikterna gav mig chansen att uppleva Hemingsson utan att bli distraherad av hennes teckningar.

Vissa dikter är otroligt gripande, medan andra använder sig av humor och lätthet. Det är en kombination som jag känner igen från serierna, och även om vissa är, i min mening, vulgära, så är det ju så hon skriver.
Och det funkar mestadels.

Även om du lägger dig
som ett hinder mitt i älven
så kan vattnet inte stoppas
Däremot blir det ett annat ljud
när det hittar nya vägar
runt din kropp
Och därför byter vi namn
på platsen till något som gör
att man förstår
även när man sitter
på centralstationens
mest hjärtlösa kafé
med någon som berättar
samma historia från sin barndom
om och om igen:
Det var en källarkulle
och de vuxna rullade en sten
för ingången
just när det började bli lite roligt

Många av dikterna slutar lite smått absurt som den ovan, och jag älskar sådant. Jag har redan läst igenom dem ett antal gånger och kommer köpa samlingen i framtiden (jag lånade denna från biblioteket).

Monday, 5 August 2013

Rosine av Stig Claesson (3.5/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 1991
Antal sidor: 189

Baksidan säger:
"Han heter Torvald och han är skandinav. Möjligt är att han är en bonnjävel men just nu utlänning i Paris. Han äger det värdefullaste man kan äga. Sin ungdom och sitt självförtroende
(...) Vägen till världsberömmelse ligger öppen, möjligen kunde han vara lite säkrare på åt vilket håll han ska gå. Det är naturligtvis hans dilemma eftersom han inte vet var i Paris han befinner sig. Han är bakfull (...) Igår förlorade han den han älskade. Han reste, med nån naturligtvis, det finns alltid nån annan."

Så presenterar Stig Claesson huvudpersonen i sin nya roman. Torvald har av en slump blivit ägare till en skrivmaskin, och nu uppmanas han av Rosine att skriva Den stora amerikanska novellen. Men hinder ställer sig i vägen. Det är under det kalla krigets femtiotal och bland Torvalds bemärkta konstnärsvänner döljer sig element han måste gå undan för. Också kärleken för på irrvägar. Men Musan leder Torvald i sitt starka, osynliga band.

Jag säger: En väninna har tjatat ganska länge på att jag ska läsa hennes favoritbok Rosine, och nu när jag äntligen gjort det så undrar jag, som ganska ofta, varför det tog mig så lång tid.
Romanen börjar med att Torvald vaknar upp i ett rum han inte känner igen. När han klätt på sig och tagit sig ut träffar han på en man som påstår att han blev ditkörd av ett gäng amerikaner kvällen innan, och att Rosine betalt för rummet för en månad eftersom Torvald ska skriva. Problemet är att Torvald inte minns någonting från kvällen innan, och allra minst Rosine. Vi följer sedan hans vandring, och drickande, genom Paris på jakt efter Rosine.

Jag har läst en bok av Claesson innan (Sov du så diskar jag) och jag kände igen den sparsmakade prosan som jag tyckte fungerade perfekt i Sov du... men som kändes lite tunn i Rosine. Istället för att göra Paris till en slags biroll i berättelsen fungerade staden enbart som en bakgrund karaktärerna rörde sig i; den sprakade aldrig till liv och förblev enbart namn på gator och barer. Tyvärr fick jag även samma känsla av de flesta av karaktärerna; schabloner som rörde sig runt, runt och trots att de säkert älskade det liv de levde så fick jag aldrig känslan av att de utvecklades. Jobba några månader och återkom till Paris för att dricka och ligga.
Inte för att det är något fel med den, men jag ville ha mer – veta mer.

Det jag verkligen gillade var humorn och förolämpningarna som riktades mot kvinnan som ägde rummet Rosine hyrde åt Torvald. Visst var de gamla gubbarnautformade efter stereotyper, men det var inte mindre roligt för det. Allt drickande och pratande och förolämpande påminde mycket om rysk litteratur.
3.5/5 då jag gillade mer de känslor som romanen framkallade än romanen i sig.