Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (3.5/5)

First published: 1985
Page count: 324

The back says: The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs...

I say: This is another one of those novels that I’ve heard people gush about for years, but never been intrigued enough to search out. So, when I saw it in a second hand bookstore, I decided to finally read it.

And then it took about six months before I got to it...
I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, and the main problem was that I found the prose very tiresome. There were too many short sentences, repetitions of words and just a general lack of fluidity that made me read more slowly and laboriously than I usually do. I found myself focusing too much on how it was written, ultimately rendering the reading experience a bit meh, which is sad because it is a great story.

I did find Offred somewhat annoying and naïve, which was interesting through a literary science perspective, but not so much for my literary enjoyment. The best part of it all were the historical notes at the end of Offred’s tale; they really put everything into perspective and made me appreciate Atwood’s skill a whole lot more. I’m obsessed with metafiction, and even though the reader is in constant doubt as to whether what is being told really happened, the end pretty much voiced most of my suspicions.
More than anything I find this to be a great vehicle for conversation about the new society they’ve created, which isn’t so farfetched from a lot of places in the world. There was a sense of foreboding throughout that vexed me to no end (because I hate forebodings), but I was pleased with the ending.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Aspern Papers by Henry James (3/5)

First published: 1888
Page count: 82

The back says: With a decaying Venetian villa as a backdrop, an anonymous narrator relates his obsessive quest for the personal documents of a deceased Romantic poet, one Jeffrey Aspern. Led by his mission into increasingly unscrupulous behavior, he is ultimately faced with relinquishing his heart's desire or...

I say: The synopsis is ended with an ellipsis because it was too spoilery.

I violently hated The Turn of the Screw when I read it a couple of years ago, and have been vehemently ignoring James since then (even though I appear to have a couple of his works on my shelf). As always with things I don’t want to read, I was forced to because of my damn insistence on continuing my studies at university.
However, this wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

Make no mistake, I still find James’ writing to be pretentiously overwrought with hyperbole that made me want to cry, and his endless descriptions of Venice were not at all to my liking, but all in all it was an interesting enough story made better by its ending. I have to point out that the narrator got on my nerves and I kept cringing at the things he said and did.
What an ass.

Perhaps I should say something else about it, but I honestly don’t really care now that I’ve had the seminar. Our discussion about gender and homosexuality was really interesting – actually, it was more interesting reading essays about The Aspern Papers than reading the novel itself.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (4.5/5)

First published: 2006
Page count: 502

The back says: When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of The End of Mr. Y is a second-hand bookshop, she can't believe her eyes. She knows enough about its author, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, to know that copies are exceedingly rare. And, some say, cursed. With Mr. Y under her arm, Ariel finds herself thrust into a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death and time-travel.

I say: With the risk of sounding terribly silly, this was a real tour de force that I didn’t want to put down. I love books about books – especially if the book within the book is interesting, which The End of Mr. Y was – so it was a ridiculously perfect read for me.
I want to start all over again.

So, we have Ariel who is doing a PhD on mind experiments and has an obsession with Thomas Lumas, the author of The End of Mr. Y, but has never read the rare book which is said to kill everyone who reads it. Then her professor Saul Burlem disappears and she finds the book in a second-hand store – along with books that could only have belonged to Burlem – so she decides to read it, despite the fear of the curse.
Of course.

And then things start getting complicated with the travel into people’s (and animals’) minds and other such things that I cannot divulge as it would be spoiling the fun.
Well, some of it.

The one thing that I thought was trying with this novel is that Thomas goes into great detail about deconstruction, structuralism, science and language. I have just read about (and made a presentation of) the annoying J-named Frenchies; Rousseau, Derrida, Lyotard, and Baudrillard, and the Germans Heidegger, Husserl and Hegel, so this made the novel a lot easier because I understood the constant references to them and their work. Mind me, I am incredibly interested in philosophy, physics and language, but the hypothetical detail within the novel was a tad too much, even for me. They were discussing time travel and – of course – Einstein and Newton which made my head hurt.
So yeah, unless one is interested in gaining more in depth knowledge of the above persons’ work, this won’t be a fun read at 500 pages.

Having said all that, it was fluid and consistent in its execution; and brilliantly done. The last two sentences left me extremely disappointed, but when I flicked over to the first page it all made sense – I just didn’t like the paradox of it all - that’s why it gets a 4.5/5. I would love to deconstruct this novel for uni, but that would take me a ridiculously long time and I would have to revisit the idea of thought being matter yet doesn’t exist until we think it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (4/5)

First published: 2005
Page count: 271

The back says: Magic for Beginners is many things. Sweetly strange. Liberally scattered with brilliance. A magical lens on the stuff of life that moves and makes us. These are stories of the real world made beautifully unreal: of transformation, love, zombies and brothers fired from cannons. They are the stories you have been waiting to read.
I say: I don’t magical realism, but after this collection of short stories kept appearing everywhere I turned, I decided to give it a go.

And I kind of loved it.
Well, some of the stories.

The best part of all of the stories was that they all had at least one unexpected twist that made me scratch my head and mentally applaud Link’s imagination. The prose is straight-forward and not really that remarkable, but the plots suck you in and manage to hold your attention and anticipation to the very end.
I look forward to reading more of Link’s work.

Favourite stories: Stone Animals, Catskin, Magic for Beginners.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Reading Slump

I’ve been in a serious reading slump for the past couple of weeks; only reading what is required for uni. But last night I broke the curse, and should be back to normal posting next week.

Until then, here’s something that actually happened to me earlier this week.