Books I Love
Heroes of the Frontier October 06 2016, 0 Comments
"The novel is a slapdash, picaresque adventure and spiritual coming-of-age tale — “On the Road” crossed with “Henderson the Rain King” with some nods to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” along the way. It’s not as moving as “Hologram” and hardly as bravura a performance as the author’s stunning debut, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but Mr. Eggers has so mastered the art of old-fashioned, straight-ahead storytelling here that the reader quickly becomes immersed in Josie’s funny-sad tale. (...)
Mr. Eggers’s cleareyed portraits of these children remind us of the indelible portrait he created in “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” of his 8-year-old brother, Toph, whom he brought up after their parents died within weeks of each other. Of Toph, he wrote: “He is my 24-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile” — “to not have Toph would be to not have a life.”
That bone-deep knowledge of a child’s relationship with a parent informs Mr. Eggers’s portraits of Paul and Ana, and their love for and dependence upon Josie — by far the strongest and most deeply affecting parts of this absorbing if haphazard novel."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Absorbing, yet haphazard novel. That is exactly it. It took me a while (more than 200 pages) to really get into this one. The meandering plot and daydreaming prose didn't seem to go anywhere but Eggers' characters dug deep into my heart and I finished the novel with a profound and very satisfying feeling of cumulative emotional power that still resonates within me to this day.
The more I reflect on this book, the more there is to think about. Underneath its seemingly simple plot (a mother of two goes off on a road trip to Alaska to escape from her life), runs a powerful undercurrent of American existentialism, very similar to the one you can feel in films like "About Schmidt" or "American Beauty".
The themes of restlessness, independence, social and geographical mobility, consumerism, freedom, family, domesticity, self-actualization, choices and children are all addressed sideways, all evoked with subtlety and a quiet, muted persistence. Eggers is a very eloquent and elegant writer.
I really love books that are tough nuts to crack. I actually love having to stop and ask myself "What is going on here? What is the author actually trying to say?" Richard Ford does this. Jim Harrison does this. Mark Slouka does this. Zadie Smith does this. Their themes run deep beneath the surface and yet they are right there for the eye to see if you are willing to do the work.
Haphazard: characterized by lack of order or planning, by irregularity, or by randomness; determined by or dependent on chance; aimless. Much of life is haphazard and this novel explores the meeting of this existentialist truth with the dizzying immensity of the American continent. There is beauty and terror in the possibilities offered by the vastness of the land, in this "frontier" that can still be pursued for one's personal sake. Dissatisfaction meets the open road, hunger for meaning meets the great Alaskan wilderness.
And finally, this novel is at heart a gripping portrait of what it means to raise children. How we really end up being taught by them and how, if we are willing to let them run free, they will reveal their true colors and innate character to us without our help or intrusion.
They are the true heroes of the frontier.
Good Morning, Midnight October 06 2016, 0 Comments
“Good Morning, Midnight is a remarkable and gifted debut novel. Lily Brooks-Dalton is an uncanny chronicler of desolate spaces, whether it's the cold expanse of the universe or the deepest recesses of the human heart."
If you loved The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.
If you loved Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
If you loved Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.
If you loved All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
You will probably find much to love in this slow burn of a book.
I thought this novel was a literary avatar of Night Shyamalan's cinematic universe.
The book shares Shyamalan's hypnotizing slowness, stylistic spareness and psychological depth. The writing was broody in both senses of the word: meditative and oppressive. Its ultimate elegance lay in that dichotomy.
It took me a while to fully appreciate the story but once I was able to put the pieces together and take a step back, a beautiful and lonely tableau took shape in the vastness of space. The descriptions of the universe and our place in it are truly heartbreaking.
The title "A Heart of Darkness" would also seem fitting to describe the separate voyages of two individuals into the poetry and blackness of the universe. Two journeys as physically grueling as they are psychologically transformative.
A novel that is unhurried, deliberate and incredibly graceful.
Fates and Furies May 16 2016, 0 Comments
"Even from her impossibly high starting point, Lauren Groff just keeps getting better and better. Her debut novel, “The Monsters of Templeton” (2008); her stirring story collection, “Delicate Edible Birds” (2010); and my favorite book of 2012, “Arcadia ” — all demonstrated her exquisite style and tough, heartbreaking compassion. But her new novel, “Fates and Furies,” is a clear-the-ground triumph. Spanning decades, oceans and the whole economic scale from indigence to opulence, this novel holds within its grasp the story of one extraordinary marriage. Not yet 40, Groff nonetheless captures the complicated ways love blesses, transforms and, yes, deceives us over many years. (...) Swelling with a contrapuntal symphony of passions, “Fates and Furies” is that daring novel that seems to reach too high — and then somehow, miraculously, exceeds its own ambitions."
Ron Charles in the Washington Post
It's hard to pin down exactly what Lauren Groff managed to do here but one can only sit back and think hard on what just happened to you once you finish reading this truly stunning novel. Similarly to my experiences with "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay", "American Pastoral", "The Corrections", "The Interestings", "Station Eleven" and "The Woman Upstairs", I had goose bumps after reading the first pages of "Fates and Furies" and wanted to live in that creation forever.
The depth and levels of understanding at work in our lives, the subterranean currents running beneath our feet, the invisible lines of randomness and chance crisscrossing in our midst, the past informing the present, the inner life feeding the one we present to others, the ocean that sometimes lies between the two, the elemental, character-defining events of our youth perpetually tinting our actions. This book contains multitudes.
The themes are big and bold, yet rooted in the finite and delicate details of the everyday. The intimate is brought to life with such precision and uniqueness. With cruelty and tenderness. With cunning and smartness. The construction is daring and ambitious and wild. It will leave you breathless and grateful. Be ready for Part 2 and its astonishing "Furies"...
Mathilde, oh Mathilde, I will never forget you.
And what can one say about the writing? Prose that sings and soars and melts like butter on your tongue. Visceral and poetic and visually evocative. An absolute dream.
What a f***ing trip. (Please excuse my language)
Dancing in the Dark (My Struggle Book 4) March 22 2016, 0 Comments
"Book 4 is also the airiest book in the series. The pages are rarely dense with text. The essayistic passages that elevate the earlier volumes, bold in their old-fashioned European profundity and full of keen, original, brilliantly associative thinking, are nowhere to be found. Everything here is dramatized, scene after scene, compellingly so but without the gravitas of the earlier books and suggestive of a lighter, more carefree period in Knausgaard’s life.
The reason these books feel so much like life is that there’s only one main character. For all of his gifts, Knausgaard never leaves an indelible impression of other people. I have only a limited sense of his father and mother despite having read hundreds of pages about them, and the figures Knausgaard meets in Hafjord, his teaching colleagues, the girls he falls for and his students, tend to merge. You never get inside these people. It’s impossible to be inside them without altering the focus of Knausgaard’s solipsism. This wouldn’t work with most writers. They wouldn’t be interesting enough, tormented enough, smart, noble, pitiless or self-critical enough. With Knausgaard the trade-off is more than worth it. His is such an interesting brain to inhabit that you never wish to relinquish the perspective any more than, in your own life, you wish to stop being yourself. One of the paradoxes of Knausgaard’s work is that in dwelling so intensely on his own memories he restores — and I would almost say blesses — the reader’s own."
Jeffrey Eugenides, The New York Times
Eugenides hits the nail right on the head here. As much as I will give 10 stars to the entire My Struggle series (and I have yet to read installments 5 and 6), this one felt much, much lighter than the previous three. There were a lot less flights of the mind between the past relived and the present moment of writing the book. There were a lot less of the existential digressions and philosophical asides that I loved so much in the first two books. There was a lot less free play and improvisation in the writing.
There was a lot of sexual yearning. A lot of booze. A lot of (very) young girls with perfect bums and breasts outlined underneath their shirts. A lot of self-awareness. A lot of hunger for life, for transcendence, for excitement, for heat in all its manifestations, for independence. The adolescent male in its primeval glory.
And yet. There is absolutely nothing like living inside Karl Ove Knausgaard's mind. If this volume is more airy than the previous ones, it is precisely because it portrays a shifty, self-conscious, arrogant and confused period of life. There is no room for much complexity here because the entire self is pointed and taut like an arrow, aimed at one thing and one thing only: sex. So it must be.
And this is where Knausgaard's genius lies. If you trust him, if you are willing to tread through the mundane as well as the sublime, you will be rewarded in ways that you will never suspect. You will experience what it's like to be in someone else's head, literally. Lives are messy, boring, mucky and repetitive. Lives are also unique, unpredictable, elegant and heartbreaking. As Oscar Wilde said, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
A Little Life November 12 2015, 0 Comments
When I saw the Powells package in the mail this morning, my heart rejoiced and sank at the same time. Never before have I been so excited and terrified to receive a book. I watched the quiet buzz build around this one like a fever from afar and still could not decide whether I felt ready for it. Then I heard Ann Kingman talk about it on the "Books On The Nightstand" podcast. She devoted an entire episode to one single book. She tried not to break down in tears and called reading this novel one of the most extraordinary and harrowing experiences of her reading life.
Then I came upon John Powers' review for NPR: "This new book is long, page-turny, deeply moving, sometimes excessive, but always packed with the weight of a genuine experience. As I was reading, I literally dreamed about it every night. (...) With her sensitivity to everything from the emotional nuance to the play of light inside a subway car, Yanagihara is superb at capturing the radiant moments of beauty, warmth and kindness that help redeem the bad stuff. In A Little Life, it's life's evanescent blessings that maybe, but only maybe, can save you."
That did it for me. I knew I had to get a copy of "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara.
Under The Volcano November 12 2015, 0 Comments
Inspired by @jillmray and @myowngalaxy on Instagram to post the ten #mostinfluentialbooks of my life... The first one is Malcolm Lowry's "Under The Volcano". One of the most haunted and heartbreaking journeys you'll ever take, a booze-fueled day in a man's life, his slow disintegration as he tries to salvage his marriage and recover his dreams on the infamous Day of the Dead in Mexico. At once poetic, philosophical, exalted, existential, ironic, broken-hearted and lyrical. Some of the most beautiful and feverish language I have ever read. A twentieth century masterpiece.
"The puzzle the book presents has been unlocked many times over the years, but, as is the case with all great works of art, Volcano inspires and absorbs legion interpretations. It can be read as an overtly political, religious, mystical or philosophical novel. It is about damnation, or fascism, or love. It is a tragedy and, at times, a comedy (its flashes of humour are too often ignored). Its metaphors and symbols can be studied and catalogued, but their meanings seem to shift as they recur, or when they are returned to on re-reading. The book refuses to take definitive shape. It is so elaborate that, in a sense, it lives. If you haven't already, you really must meet it."
Chris Power in the Guardian
The Story of a New Name March 28 2015, 0 Comments
"Partly because her work describes domestic experiences – such as vivid sexual jealousy and other forms of shame – that are underexplored in fiction, Ferrante’s reputation is soaring, especially among women (Zadie Smith, Mona Simpson and Jhumpa Lahiri are fans). Her writing has a powerful intimacy – as if her characters, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, are the lenses through which we read our own minds. The novelist Claire Messud emailed, “When you write to me and say you love her work, I have a moment where I think, ‘But … Elena is my friend! My private relationship with her, so intense and so true, is one that nobody else can fully know!’ It’s strange – and rare – to feel proprietary of a book, or a writer, in that way.”"
"In a 2003 written interview, Ferrante said, “The true reader, I think, searches not for the brittle face of the author in flesh and blood” but instead for “the naked physiognomy that remains in every effective word”. Whoever Ferrante is, in the novel she is free to invent, to fabricate, to play, to revisit old wounds, to be less than beautiful. This is what writing can do: create a space for the savage within, for the contradictory and the wild, and make it real. There may be no consolation except the art itself, but what a pleasure for those of us who get to read it. I would not want to forget what Ferrante herself so eloquently stated in one of her letters: the mystery of literature is in some ways its difference from the person who wrote it, the unfathomable effacement of self that leads to its creation."
Meghan O'Rourke in The Guardian
To create a space for the savage within, for the contradictory and the wild, and make it real.
I could not express what these Neapolitan novels do any better than Meghan O'Rourke does in her fiercely intelligent and perceptive review of Elena Ferrante's novels for the Guardian.
You will simply never experience women characters in this way anywhere else. You get to read and feel the female psyche with more vibrancy and complexity and beauty than you can ever hope to find in a literary work. And the novels never feel literary. The characters feel as if they are coming into being right in front of your eyes, sentence by sentence, page by page, in a electrifying mess of living matter.
One of the most thrilling reading experiences I've had in recent years.
Meghan O'Rourke's review can be read in full here:
My Brilliant Friend January 18 2015, 0 Comments
"The women in my stories are all echoes of real women who, because of their suffering or their combativeness, have very much influenced my imagination: my mother, a childhood girlfriend, acquaintances whose stories I know. In general I combine their experiences with my own and Delia, Amalia, Olga, Leda, Nina, Elena, Lenù are born out of that mix. But the echo that you noticed maybe derives from an oscillation inside the characters that I’ve always worked on. My women are strong, educated, self-aware and aware of their rights, just, but at the same time subject to unexpected breakdowns, to subservience of every kind, to mean feelings. I’ve also experienced this oscillation. I know it well, and that also affects the way I write."
Elena Ferrante - The New York Times
"Ferrante’s Naples books are essentially about knowledge—its possibilities and its limits. Intellectual knowledge, sexual knowledge, political knowledge. What kind of knowledge does it take to get by in this world? How do we attain that knowledge? How does our knowledge change us and wound us and empower us, often at the same time? What things do we want to know and what would we prefer to leave unknown? What can we control? Who has power over our lives?"
Rachel Donadio - The New York Review of Books
"Life has actions in it. In reading a novel, it’s profound to experience the self-in-other in memory or contemplation, but it’s sometimes just as profound to experience the self-in-other during moments of decision. In Ferrante, we have both — they’re told in the first person, but they’re the story of more than a single person, of many equally weighted people. The plotting of their stories is so skillful, indeed so unplotted, in the sense that life is unplotted, in the sense that we don’t know the future, that as readers we suddenly exist both in other actions and in their actors’ consciousness of them. Not the latter alone."
Charles Finch - The Millions
There are so many layers at work in this astonishing novel that I don't even know where to begin... As soon as you start reading Elena Ferrante, you know you are in the hands of an extraordinary writer whose mind, heart and natural abilities have inextricably fused in the greatest of fires. The writing takes over your days and nights, seeps into your veins like crack. Straight into your bloodstream.
Very much like Karl Ove Knausgaard, she is able to play with the clearest, most fluid language to evoke simultaneously the multitude of details of everyday life and the ever shifting patterns of the mind. The words sizzle with grace, candor, terror and light.
The birth of a friendship between two little Neapolitan girls born in 1944 becomes the conduit for a ruthless and intoxicating exploration of what it means to become yourself. What is innate and what is acquired? What part of life is random luck and predestination? What part of character is emulation and what part is natural gift? How does the will to power play out if you are born poor in an uneducated and violent environment? How much does the past affect our present lives and can you escape it?
I read this breathtaking book over the course of three days, almost in a trance, and it seems that I have no choice to echo what Charles Finch wrote at the end of his piece on his year of reading in 2014 for The Millions:
"What I do know is that before 2014, I thought Philip Roth was the greatest novelist alive. Now, for me, he’s second."
That says it all.
The Woman Upstairs October 30 2014, 0 Comments
Annasue McCleave Wilson from Publishers Weekly:
"I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."
"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” Nora’s outlook isn’t “unbearably grim” at all. Nora is telling her story in the immediate wake of an enormous betrayal by a friend she has loved dearly. She is deeply upset and angry. But most of the novel is describing a time in which she felt hope, beauty, elation, joy, wonder, anticipation—these are things these friends gave to her, and this is why they mattered so much. Her rage corresponds to the immensity of what she has lost. It doesn’t matter, in a way, whether all those emotions were the result of real interactions or of fantasy, she experienced them fully. And in losing them, has lost happiness."
What is this strange obsession with the "likeability" or "unlikeability" of Nora's character in this stupendous novel?! It seems so stale and entirely besides the point to me that I don't even know where to begin. Thank goodness for my Goodreads friends Gloria, Marianna and Ami who were quick to jump to this woman's defense, underlining how much they actually identified and empathized with her as opposed to feeling appalled by her inner demons.
When have you last heard a female's voice so sharply defined, so feverish, so inhabited, so perceptive, so damn heartbreaking as Nora's? Here is a shimmering, complex and broken character whom Virginia Woolf would have revered. Who has never felt envy towards others? Obsessive friendships? Unrealized and stubborn aspirations that eat at you like a plague? There is no "likeability" or "unlikeability" here, only the furious will to live and hunger for feeling.
I could go on and on but I will leave the last words to Margaret Atwood, taking part in the debate in The New Yorker:
"Also, what is “likeable”? We love to watch bad people do awful things in fictions, though we would not like it if they did those things to us in real life. The energy that drives any fictional plot comes from the darker forces, whether they be external (opponents of the heroine or hero) or internal (components of their selves)."
Think Walter White in "Breaking Bad". Isn't he one of the most riveting, complicated, morally torn and furiously alive character you've ever encountered? Nora Eldridge is cut from the same cloth.
An astounding novel.
The Bone Clocks October 01 2014, 0 Comments
Dear James Wood,
We read and love writers for very different reasons. I read Albert Camus and I read Jorge Luis Borges. I read Milan Kundera and I read Malcolm Lowry. I read Richard Ford and I read Doris Lessing. I read Lawrence Durrell and I read Saul Bellow. I read Samuel Beckett and I read Jim Harrison. I read Emily Bronte and I read Michel Tournier.
David Mitchell's dazzling gifts are not those of Karl Ove Knausgaard, yet I need them equally in the fabric of my life. They bring different qualities to the literary landscape, they light up different areas of the brain. You cannot posit that one is superior to the other without falling into the trap of a certain form of elitism that we can surely do without today.
"The Bone Clocks" is not only superb and entrancing storytelling but it does have plenty to say about the human condition. Suspension of disbelief does not annihilate meaning. I found this novel to be quite profound in parts, a love letter to family, an ode to imagination, a dire warning to humanity about the next fifty years.
I was transported, engrossed and moved. Since when were these emotions second-rate?
Rainey Royal October 01 2014, 0 Comments
"Dylan Landis’s captivating and unnerving novel “Rainey Royal,” set in Manhattan of the 1970s and early ’80s, is not a thriller, but it smolders with these loaded questions: How far will an adolescent girl go to gain a sense of belonging; and how can her unaimed sexual power put others, and herself, at risk? Reading this book, following its characters along a shaky tightrope that stretches between vulnerability and cruelty, confidence and catastrophe, you may thank heaven, or St. Catherine of Bologna — Rainey’s chosen protectress, the patron saint of artists — that you are not a teenage girl. That is, of course, unless you are one; in which case you can take heart in the author’s intimation that this perilous transit can be achieved with something that ends up feeling, in a small way, like grace."
Liesl Schillinger, New York Times
I like to quote reviews that put their fingers on the very delicate pulse that beats within a book and Liesl Schillinger gets to the heart of things when she speaks of a "captivating and unnerving novel", "a shaky tightrope that stretches between vulnerability and cruelty, confidence and catastrophe".
This book was everything that I wanted Salinger to be: reckless, direct, brave, unapologetic, unadorned, psychologically naked, elegant without being affected, smart without being pretentious, fiery without being theatrical.
A penetrating and heartrending portrait of an adolescent girl, caught between her need for innocence and her hunger for self-affirmation. Greenwich Village in the 70's, a personal romanticized obsession of mine, is depicted with a quiet and subdued fierceness very much akin to Rachel Kushner's in "The Flamethrowers".
A struggle, an ascent, a shedding of skin and a rebirth that will stay with you for a very long time.
My Top 20 Favorite Novels of all Time July 18 2014, 1 Comment
Here goes, in no particular order... :)
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
4. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
5. The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
6. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
7. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
8. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
9. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
10. Independence Day by Richard Ford
11. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
12. Dalva by Jim Harrison
13. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
14. What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
15. White Noise by Don DeLillo
16. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
17. Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann
18. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
19. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
20. My September pick for "My Book Hunter"
All the Light we Cannot See July 17 2014, 0 Comments
I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.
Anthony Doerr's astonishing new novel "All The Light We Cannot See" follows the complex arcs of two such invisible lines through the lives of Werner Pfennig, an orphan boy in pre-World War II Germany and Marie-Laure Leblanc, a blind girl living in Paris with her father. Through riveting flash forwards and flash backs, the novel charters the course of their lives as they struggle to find out wether it is possible to really own your life when it is swallowed by the black holes of history. One is driven by a deep love of science while the other is inhabited by the power of books. In the midst of the rise of German fascism and the birth of the French Resistance, how does youth manage to stay true to its essence?
A war story, a coming-of-age story, a philosophical fable, this is a novel that constantly oscillates between the moral uncertainties of life and the chiselled precision of the natural world that surrounds us. Between the political morass of war and the stupendous beauty of organisms, the ocean, the human brain.
The language is so fantastically precise - Anthony Doerr does things with verbs that make entire paragraphs sing - that the visual component of this book is quite astounding.
In the end, what this novel illuminates is the miraculous impact that seminal events have on the rest of our lives, whether it be the magic of radio broadcasts on the mysteries of science or the extraordinary adventures of Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea".
A deeply moving and enthralling work that echoes the power of early impressions on the building of a self, such as the philosopher Simon Critchley recently evoked so beautifully in a stunning essay published in The New York Times entitled "The Dangers of Certainty":
The Goldfinch July 17 2014, 0 Comments
"We have art in order not to die from the truth."
There are books inside which I have wanted to live. "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay". "The Alexandria Quartet". "The Great Gatsby". "Under The Volcano". "Dalva". "The Adventures of Augie March". "Belle du Seigneur".
There are characters who are more real to me than many real-life people. Josef Kavalier. Jay Gatsby. Isabel Archer. Frank Bascombe. Tereza. Geoffrey Firmin. Jane Eyre.
They live and speak and go on existing in my mind, as tangible as the ripples and circles agitating the waters of the river which I can see from my window. Little fires burning in the winter light.
I wanted to live inside "The Goldfinch". After a few pages, I knew I wanted to follow Theo Decker for the rest of my life and sit quietly in the corner of his mind as he experienced the world. Donna Tartt brought to life a mesmerizing and elusive New York, both bohemian and aristocratic, and cracked open its doors to let you in, awe-struck and exhilarated.
Theo. Welty. Hobie. Pippa. Mrs. Barbour. Boris. A handful of unforgettable characters brought together by coincidence and chance in an astounding Phoenix of a book, continually rising from its ashes into different forms: thriller, Bildungsroman, philosophical treaty, coming of age tale, epic, travelogue, memoir.
A novel that will etch itself into your mind with a pocket knife like an "I love you" into a tree.
A pure act of love. Sublime.
The Interestings July 17 2014, 0 Comments
So. Fucking. Great.
I'm going to gush. It's going to come out all wrong. But that's ok.
There was so much soul and perceptiveness in this genius novel that I don't really know what to say other than "go read it now".
What happens to talent over time? What happens to teenage friendships over time? What happens to passion and ideals and dreams over time?
This novel will fill your heart to the brim and break it like a twig all at the same time.
I will echo another Goodreads friend and say that it is simply perfect. I will echo another Goodreads friend who said that it felt like a mix between "Freedom" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" but even better. It is.
The Flamethrowers July 17 2014, 0 Comments
The critic James Wood in his review for the New Yorker pin-points it perfectly:
"Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner), is scintillatingly alive, and also alive to artifice. It ripples with stories, anecdotes, set-piece monologues, crafty egotistical tall tales, and hapless adventures: Kushner is never not telling a story. It is nominally a historical novel (it’s set in the mid-seventies), and, I suppose, also a realist one (it works within the traditional grammar of verisimilitude). But it manifests itself as a pure explosion of now: it catches us in its mobile, flashing present, which is the living reality it conjures on the page at the moment we are reading."
Alive. Rippling with stories. Historical. Realistic. A pure explosion of now.
What a vibrant, electric ride this was. A novel as wild as it is elegant, zooming in and out of scenes so perfectly brought to life that they will shimmer in your memory for a long time. A doe-eyed, inhabited, wonderful female character who hungers for experience at every turn of the page and steals your heart in one swift move with her innocence and willingness to take it all in.
Because this is what this gorgeous novel does, it takes it all in. It brings to life (visceral, complicated, ever-shifting life) every single theme and locale it touches upon: the New York art scene in the 70's, the grittiness and primal energy of the Bowery of those years, the coming of age tale that never resolves itself, the radical left-wing groups that terrorized Italy at the same period, the beauty of motorcycles and the intoxication of speed throughout history, from World War I to salt flats races in Nevada.
This is writing at its best. It will swallow you up in one big gulp and spit you back out on the curb, leaving you breathless and wondering what just happened to you.
So Long, See You Tomorrow July 17 2014, 0 Comments
Speechless... That was extraordinary.
(24 hours later)
I knew I was in for something special when I heard Richard Ford saying that this was one of his all-time favourite books but I didn't expect this level of amazement and mastery as I zipped through these 150 pages on a rainy October Sunday. How did someone manage to pack so much humanity in such a tiny work of art? The last time I felt such mind blowing concision was when I read "The Great Gatsby" for the first time. Every single sentence contains an entire world of thought and imagery and sensory detail that burns into your mind like a red-hot iron. The entire story is eerily seamless, moving like water from point of view to point of view, gathering speed like a storm about to burst. Rarely have I felt such emotional rawness and truths expressed in so few words. This is a true feat of the heart and mind.
I was also lucky enough to read this masterpiece with a most luminous and intelligent introduction by Ann Patchett. Obviously enamoured with this piece of work, she writes the following:
""So Long, See You Tomorrow" is structured not like a novel, but like the inner workings of the human brain. There are no surprises, only a constant circling of facts, the question of how things might have gone differently, the familiar retreat into personal experience. The narrator puts himself into characters he has no connection to, imagines their days, imagines the dog, without apology or explanation. Why has he stepped into someone else's life? Because this is how we try to make sense of the things we cannot possibly understand. It is an exercise in compassion."
Ann Patchett chose this novel as one to pass on to future generations. So would I.
Middlemarch July 17 2014, 1 Comment
Oh, the slow burn of genius.
I always tread lightly when it comes to using the word "genius" but there is no way around it here.
It took me a good 200 pages to fully get into the novel and its ornate 19th-century turn of phrase but very quickly, I was so completely spellbound by its intelligence and wisdom that I couldn't put it down.
George Eliot's astonishing authorial voice is something to behold. It takes the (mis)adventures of a handful of characters and peels their layers one by one with so much subtlety that you often have to reread a sentence several times to fully grasp the keenness of its observations.
The entire novel feels like a giant lens zooming in and out of human follies with such gusto and empathy that you cannot help but feel privileged to witness the inner workings of people's thoughts and (re)actions.
Not only does "Middlemarch" make you ponder many aspects of our motivations, desires, aspirations, limitations, ideals, dreams, behavior and inclinations but it keeps you on the edge of your seat like a ferocious psychological thriller.
The end will leave you teetering on the brink, revisiting all of your personal, deep-seated assumptions about people, what is a successful life, what is a good marriage, how you measure goodness and your impact on others' lives.
A work of vertiginous beauty.
Canada July 17 2014, 0 Comments
Asked about character development in an interview with the Paris Review, Richard Ford says: "Today I think of characters—actual and literary characters— as being rather unfixed. I think of them as changeable, provisional, unpredictable, decidedly unwhole. Partly this owes to the act of writing characters and of succeeding somewhat in making them seem believable and morally provoking. As I write them they are provisional, changeable, and so forth, right on through and beyond the process of being made. I can change them at will, and do."
That is exactly how this novel - which I took too long to finally get to, being a fierce and slightly obsessive fan of Richard Ford - feels. While it doesn't seem like much is happening plot-wise (he gives most of it away in the first sentence), this novel is an extraordinary slow burn, where lives unravel, changeable, provisional and unpredictable as hell. Its emotional impact doesn't hit you in the gut until the very last chapter, which feels like the most profound gathering of an existential hunting spree.
It took me a while to feel the immense undercurrents at work in this book. The cumulative power of this novel's astonishingly beautiful prose (no other writer in my book writes sentences like Ford, you can almost feel them sizzle on your tongue and tremble in your ear) is something to behold. What does it mean to "build" a life? How does landscape and environment shape who we are? How much do other people's actions have an effect on our own lives? Can you become your own person in the midst of circumstances completely outside of your control?
A haunting novel by one of the greatest American writers writing today.
Stoner July 17 2014, 0 Comments
I knew I had to come to this book some day, after reading somewhere that the French novelist Anna Gavalda had decided to take it upon herself to translate it into French. She had loved it that much. It was that good.
And good it certainly was. It feels like a classic in the best sense of the word. The writing is superb, strong and evocative. The main character is heartbroken and heartbreaking.
Yet, it was a harrowing reading experience. I cannot say that I looked forward to getting back to it. Perhaps I felt its melancholy a little too vividly, its inherent bleakness was literally crawling up my skin.
I almost shouted with joy in the middle of the book when a ray of light finally pierced through the cracks. It was like rising to the surface after a long underwater swim. Until it was gone again.
Definitely a book that everyone should experience.
Every Man Dies Alone July 17 2014, 0 Comments
Some books make you work for it. They're not easy, they're difficult, they're sprawling and slow and undecided. Until they're not. Until you feel the gigantic heart beating at its nervous center, its unabashed humanity and intelligence.
It took me 250 pages to fully get into this one, and suddenly it took a turn and I was hooked like never before by its vital urgency. The characters were full-fleshed, fully realized, flawed and magnificent at the same time. The novel rushed towards its inevitable conclusion with grace, the characters rushed towards their inescapable fate with a lucidity that leaves us in awe and teaches us a thing or two about the meaning of courage.
The author wrote this novel in 24 days and never lived to see its publication. According to the amazing bonus documents at the end of the paperback edition, Hans Fallada based his novel on a true story and was wondering whether the real acts of resistance of Otto and Elise Hampel had had any meaning. Their lives, the ordinariness, the smallness, the awkwardness of their resistance have more meaning than they will ever know.
Because it is absolutely essential for us, for all the generations that come after World War Two, to know that there was decency and good in some Germans in the face of evil.
An unforgettable book.
A Death in the Family (My Struggle Book 1) July 16 2014, 0 Comments
My first impression of Karl Ove Knausgaard came from a black and white photograph published with a review of his book "A Time For Everything" in The New York Review of Books.
He is seen smoking against the rugged Norwegian landscape, hair disheveled, wearing an old, battered tee-shirt, lost in thought. Completely and unabashedly himself, yet ill at ease. Entirely present, feet deeply rooted in the present moment, yet his mind is clearly in flight, flickering at the surface of his gaze.
The striking portrait somehow encompasses all of the qualities of his writing: intense, raw, physical, elusive, inquisitive and elemental.
What Knausgaard achieves in "My Struggle", his mad yet mesmerizing 6-volume autobiographical enterprise, is simply the most "real" depiction of the movements of the mind that I have ever read. A life told in its most boring minutiae and its most elemental highs and lows, as it moves from the most mundane to the most transcendent.
Knausgaard plays alongside Proust or Virginia Woolf in his desire to encapsulate all of his experience as a human being, a teenager, a son, a friend, a lover, a father but most of all: a writer. But he does it with even more urgency, more radicality, more anger and more modernity. An Everyman of the 21st century with a 17th century temperament.
The second volume of this autobiography, which tackles the fire and vagaries of love as well as the deep ambivalences that lie at the heart of domestic life and parenthood, is utterly engrossing.
Read him, and listen to him below speak about Book 1, which deals with his youth and the death of his father, and he might very well change the way you look at the world around you and your own reaction to events.
Americanah July 16 2014, 0 Comments
"But beyond race, the book is about the immigrant’s quest: self-invention, which is the American subject. “Americanah” is unique among the booming canon of immigrant literature of the last generation (including writers Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gary Shteyngart, Chang-rae Lee, Dinaw Mengestu and Susan Choi). Its ultimate concern isn’t the challenge of becoming American or the hyphenation that requires, but the challenge of going back home."
Emily Raboteau in the Washington Post
I could not say it better than that.
The unflinching and refreshing honesty of an outsider's take on American politics, racial tensions, relations between men and women, between women themselves, education, immigration. The all-encompassing empathy of an artist for all human plights, for our idiosyncrasies and failures of the imagination, for our grit and stubbornness in the face of injustice. The sublime sense of humor of a writer in the face of incomprehensible behavior, deep-seated prejudice and warped logic.
There was so much to feel and learn and think about in this dazzling novel that I'm having a hard time gathering my thoughts into one cohesive whole. And maybe that's exactly the point. There is nothing cohesive about life depicted here. The characters are all fleeting constructions of their own imaginations, their own desire for survival, their own need for validation. They are constantly evolving, changing, reassessing, adapting, morphing into the people that they become, always a little short of the people they aspire to be. The world, in all its cruelty and randomness, is constantly forcing them to bend and bend and bend until some break in two and others rebound even more forcefully.
Zadie Smith said that she wanted to write the first Black existential novel with "NW" but I think Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie may have written a much more devastating and illuminating one with "Americanah". If "NW" was existential in its stylistic experimentations, "Americanah" is existential in its very essence.
In the end, it could very well be that love, true passionate love between two people, is the only constant force flowing through the chaos.