Books of Late III

Another one!  Amazing, isn’t it?
1. Underworld – Don Delillo

Don DeLillo is one of those authors I have loved since high school, that I always knew I could relate to, that made me feel understood, pensive, questioning and thoroughly post-modern.  And I’d never even read anything he’d written.  Underworld was the first, I am ashamed to say, though it confirmed in a concrete manner my love for Mr. DeLillo.  I really don’t know what I was expecting.  Something depressing.  Something modern.  Something shocking.  I got all this and more.  The storyline is non-linear, but I didn’t mind, because it made it more interesting, really, even if I was confused (though in awe) at the beginning as to who the characters were, but I never have a very good character memory.  It’s a large book, okay, 800 pages, but I made it through in probably record time (for me), in just over a week.  Reading on the bus, I’d look up from the page and stare into the world of pavement, government buildings, public servants and modern architecture outside of the window, thinking about the things Mr. DeLillo had just told me and aware that the other people on the bus thought I was strange.  There were so many different segments, a multitude of different tales told in different settings, through different characters that intersected beautifully with one another.  The descriptions were great, the philosophy was better, there were bits so completely thought provoking that I had to write the quotes down on my hand or in the back of borrowed textbooks.  It was depressing, yes, but it had a slightly happy ending.  A very post-modern ending.  I couldn’t believe it had finished when it did.  Also, the characters were very interesting, you couldn’t decide whether you liked them or not, which was nice.  Nobody entirely good or entirely bad, all of them surprising.  Basically, I borrowed the book from my boyfriend’s dad and I don’t want to give it back to him.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Suggestions: could you have a blurb on the back next time?  The entire time I was wondering whether I wanted to commit to something 800 pages long, if you’d had something on the back saying there would be nuclear explosions, orphans living in cars, highway shootings, accidental shootings, interview shootings, love affairs, airplanes as artworks and lovers driving through empty deserts, I wouldn’t have worried half as much.

2. Cosmopolis – Don Delillo

So, after the breathtaking rapture that was ‘Underworld’, I really expected this next one to live up to the same standard, especially after I watched this trailer for the movie:

Which I watched over and over and over again, wondering why I hadn’t gotten the idea of mass protests and people holding dead rats.  But really, the rat protest was only part of it.  It made more sense when I read up on wikipedia (gotta love it) that the whole thing was a modern rewrite (sort of) of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is a modern rewrite of the classical tale of Ulysses.  So there’s this guy travelling across town in his limousine for no particular reason other than he wants to get a haircut when slowly, in amongst rat protests, having sex (or thinking about it at least) with every woman he meets, killing people, risking his life and having numerous affairs in a marriage hardly a month long (seems to be a DeLillo theme), his world is falling apart.  I was sort of waiting for the rat protests and when they ended was sort of wondering what would come next.  It did surprise me, though it shouldn’t have because I am constantly in awe of Mr. DeLillo, that the ending was so magnificent.  I don’t know what I expected, I suppose I sort of expected him to return home, like Ulysses in our Homer does, but it doesn’t exactly go that way.  About the last twenty pages are the most interesting by far, though I wouldn’t recommend skipping straight to the end.  Everything that happens, a multitude of seemingly random events, comes together at this moment, with allusions you never expected.  It all makes sense.  And then there’s the beautiful end.  The sudden end.  I flipped the page over and there was nothing on the back and I was so scared (because finishing books really scares me) that I flipped it back over and read the last paragraph again, stared at the last sentence until I was ready to come to terms with the fact that that was it.  It did end in the right place, though.  DeLillo surprised me, but I’m glad it ended when it did, not because I didn’t like it, but because it left it open to the imagination, to whatever you wanted to imagine.  Great.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Points of improvement: I suppose a book full of rat protests wouldn’t have been that great (it just means I can take that idea now and make a bestseller out of it, wooo), but there was a lot of philosophy, and what could I expect, really?  There was a fair bit of talk about economics, which is a subject that makes me nervous, and other things I wasn’t particularly interested in, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a good book.  Another thing that annoyed me a little bit was the way the guy’s wife kept popping up everywhere.  She was just everywhere.  And finally I was praying that it wouldn’t be her.  But it was.  Also, he has sex with so many people!  It makes me angry because there’s that moral conscience inside of me that’s saying ‘you terrible, unfaithful person!’, but it happens anyway.  But these are just pedantic tendencies.  The ending it worth it all.

3. We – John Dickinson

So I picked up this book about three years ago as an idealistic teenager wandering through the Young Adult section and fell in love with the first few pages, well, the whole idea of it.  I have never liked science fiction much, but I thought this was one I might be able to get attached to.  Anyway, three years later my friend brought up the book again, having done exactly the same thing as I had three years ago.  So I finally read it.  Got to say that I’m always quite hesitant about reading books that I wanted to read a while ago, as I’m well aware that my tastes have changed completely.  I was right, I have to say.  It was one of those going-to-another-planet books, but the thing that always enthralled me was that the blurb specifically implied that they could watch humanity and how it had devolved from their lookout on this other planet.  I’m all for the devolution of humanity, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed.  But then I swear to God the author lied!  He told me that this guy who was going would be the only one there – and then as soon as he awoke, there were others around him!  And not only that, one of those bright and bubbly characters that always sort of annoy me.  There were another three people.  Damn.  People.  In addition, the main character seemed to do everything completely wrong – it was one of those scenarios where you’re reading and you’re ready to shout at the book “NO!  DON’T DO THAT YOU IDIOT!” but of course, they can’t hear you.  That was pretty physically painful.  But, as it goes, I never put a book down once I’ve started it, so I continued on.  The whole thing was a big mystery – who the hell is fucking up our systems?  Unfortunately, sorry to ruin the ending, but the mystery is never solved.  I repeat, never solved.  There is no sequel (at least, not one that I’m willing to read).  And the last page doesn’t seem like the last page and the last sentence confuses me.  What the hell went on?  I left confused and glad to continue on to the next read.  Sorry, Mr. Dickinson.  It could be that I don’t normally like science fiction, though I highly doubt it.

My rating: 1/5 stars

Points of improvement: the characters are ALL annoying (perhaps with the exception of one, who I am sorry to say isn’t the main character), the plot is okay though I wish it had gotten on with it from the start and perhaps finished it by the end to make it a slightly satisfying read.  Also, the blurb is awful.  Someone fix that up so that anyone who picks up this book will actually be mildly excited before diving into its disappointing interior.

4. The Talisman Ring – Georgette Heyer

After reading eons of Don DeLillo and strange science fictions, I thought I’d delve into something happy.  I love Georgette Heyer.  Her works make me ridiculously happy and usually make me laugh so hard I have to call my mother to read her out a sentence or two.  She writes eighteenth century comic romances.  They are bloody hilarious.  All the characters are stereotypical, the plots are predictable, but that’s why you read these books.  It’s like watching a highly dramatic soap opera for the fun of it.  This one was slightly more deep than the others, not so much a complete romance but a mystery novel at the same time.  Unfortunately, you could see the couples from the start, instead of in some of Ms. Heyer’s other books where they unexpectedly develop in a highly comical manner.  Also, it went on a little too long for my liking.  It took me over a week to read.  That’s too long for something that is only comic relief, in my opinion.  If you want to read a good Georgette Heyer that will have you in stitches, go for Arabella instead.  But I did enjoy it, I’d have to say.

My rating: 3/5 stars

Points of improvement: I don’t like the name Ludovic, it’s a bit ridiculous.  I wish they could have named the villain that instead of the main love interest.  Also, I liked the character of ‘The Beau’, because he was really funny, so I was a bit ticked off when he turned out to be the villain (sorry for spoilers), because I enjoyed him as the main figure of fun.

5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Sparks

I really enjoyed this one.  I’d recommend it.  It was exactly what I was looking for, and I didn’t even pick it myself.  My mother with her impeccable taste knew that I’d like something set in a school around the Second World War period that was a classic.  It was interesting to me from the start, which detailed the younger lives of the characters, to the end, where they were older and some were even dead.  It was the whole lifetimes of these characters, and yet the book was quite small – perhaps not even two hundred pages.  The characters were intriguing, especially the main character, and it was interesting to see how their minds worked and developed over the book.  You knew the end from the start, but that just helped to add to the intrigue – you wanted to see how the start would become the end.  It was written very well, incorporating the right amount of monologue, description, dialogue, etc.  It was quite interesting and remained in my mind long after I’d read it.

My rating: 5/5

Points of improvement: oh, I don’t know.  I suppose this is one of those books that I’d read not to critique, but learn from.  I’d love to be able to write something like that some day.

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Books of Late II

This post will come as a surprise to many.  Actually, only to me.  After long months of reading many books, I’ve finally decided to do another post on reviewing a few of them.  Here goes:
1. Most recent: Atonement – Ian McEwen

First and foremost, I wish I’d read this book before watching the movie.  I actually think that at the time of writing this piece, McEwen was a genius.  All the major plot twists and turns are mentioned in passing in a way that is shocking, but wildly captivating at the same time.  Damn, that it all should have been ruined by the movie starring Keira Knightley (I actually don’t think she’s that bad, could have been worse).  More than half of the book is spent setting the scene for the fateful day – therefore, more than half the book is spent detailing one day in the lives of the characters – but it’s beautiful, really, and sets the story in motion very well.  You receive a good amount of detail on each of the characters so that you know how they think, act and what their motivations are.  So nothing really comes as a shock to you.  It’s great.  I really enjoyed it, read it in less than a week (surprising, with uni) and was sad when it ended.

4/5 stars

Points of improvement: Perhaps the war scenes, that tend to go on and on and on, with trauma after trauma after trauma, so that the shock doesn’t quite register any more.  But, hey, it’s still great.

2. Before that: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Don’t know what I expected before diving into this book.  Something for teenagers solely perhaps (note the way I don’t even consider myself a teenager any more), another tragic cancer book, a black comedy?  But it surprised me, it really did.  And I think it shouldn’t have, because I feel I’ve read enough books to know when the plot twists are being set up.  I really should have expected, after a long stretch of happy, to come across complete disaster.  But, alas, it still surprised me.  Also, I never thought I’d come to really fall in love with a character called Augustus (it just reminds me of Augustus Gloop, you know, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but I did.  And also, I bawled in a way that hasn’t happened since Goodnight Mr. Tom and (I’m sorry to say) My Sister’s Keeper.  Looking back on this work (finished it in three days), I still find the scenes striking and memorable.  A fantastic book.  The jokes are funny, the characters lovely, the emotional scenes desperately emotional.  The sort of cancer book when even death, that you sort of expect, sets you off balance.  Anyway, literally, I could not put it down.

5/5 stars

Points of improvement: I wouldn’t even say the name Augustus, because even that grew on me.

3. Anne Frank’s Diary – Anne Frank

I wish I hadn’t read this with the ending in mind, but inevitably, I did.  I enjoyed Anne’s little commentaries about her classes at school and the various boys that chased after her (wish I was popular with the boys at like 13!) and then I watched sadly as the family went into their little cramped existence in the Secret Annexe.  It was interesting reading something, for once, that was  never meant to become a novel or even to be read by anyone, something without a plotline that’s been thought out by someone, characters that have been drafted and re-drafted, but then again, this was someone’s life, the source of all plotlines and the purest form of plotline in existence.  Existential pondering followed.  And, of course, it was sad.  Although the diary finishes before Anne even knows she will die, her constant musings about what she will do after the war is over is tragic.  Also tragic is the way she wants freedom more than anything, the way she falls for Peter van Dam and the way she matures so much in that tiny little hovel surrounded by the same people for years.  It’s quite incredible.  Sort of uplifting, the way the family tries to keep uplifted spirits, but disheartening in the same way.  It made me think about things.

You can’t rate a book like this out of 5 stars, because inevitably it will seem disrespectful to the author if you give a critique of it, you know.

Points of improvement: see above

4. The Getting of Wisdom – Henry Handel Richardson

Picked this one up because it was one of those books sitting in my bookcase with a bookmark eternally left halfway through, never to reach the end.  So I finally read it.  Yeah, not bad.  I wanted to read it mostly for a peek into boarding school life, which it gave me.  It was very whingy, however, going on and on about this girl’s trials.  Every time something good seemed to happy, the trials would come on the double.  It never seemed to get better!  Not even, really, at the end.  Interesting, though.  Characters were okay.  I didn’t fall completely in love with the main character.  She was a bit irritating.  Probably because of all the complaining, and a bit of a bratty attitude.  And the ability to get herself into a pickle very easily.  Probably a good book for kids to read, sort of like those morality ones that are supposed to teach you about life’s lessons without life experience per se.

3/5 stars

Points of improvement: less whinging, please, and more happiness.  I don’t usually say that.

5. Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong

Had to know this was a great book when I picked it up and it said it won the Man Asian Award.  Especially because it was about 700 pages long.  So I figured that if a judge of the Man Asian Award managed to get through all 700 pages and after that found themselves duty bound to give the author a significant monetary prize, it had to be good.  And it was!  I was sceptical at first because of all the description and seeming lack of a storyline, the difficult-to-pronounce names of the characters and the sheer amount of characters.  But, over the course of those 700 pages, I found myself hooked.  It suited me very much, as a bit of a nature lover, as it described the beautiful landscape of pre-development Mongolia.  Also, those 700 pages in itself, I found, was a literary device.  The story spanned for a long time, a couple of months to a year, and described just about everything that happened.  It plunged me into the world of inner Mongolia for about six weeks, I suppose, as I wandered through the hefty volume.  And by the end of it, I couldn’t believe I’d finished it, actually read the last page, put it down, been cut out of that world.  It was sad.  Also because the ending wasn’t exactly happy.  Not terribly tragic, just sort of long-term saddening.  Anyway, fantastic thing and the scenes remain in my mind today.  Read it.

5/5 stars

Points of improvement: oh, I don’t know.

Books of Late I

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley/The Scarlet Pimpernel – Barroness Orczy/The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier/The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

1. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (10/10)

A beautiful political commentary.  In particular, I laughed at the name Lenina and cried at the exploits of ‘The Savage’.  Wonderfully told.  I especially admire Huxley’s tendency to mix Shakespeare quotes in with descriptions of a world so inherently unappreciative of the arts.

2. Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (9/10)

I think that, particularly when you read something for the third or fourth time, whatever it is tends to wear on you a bit.  I raced through his book, partly because I knew everything that would happen.  But it receives a nine because, although it was a few years ago, it did manage to capture  my fourteen year old heart.

3. Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (10/10)

Don’t think that I’m just rating a lot of books ten because I’m a soft rater (but I am), because these books have been WONDERFUL!  I really enjoyed the Chocolate War most likely  because it was similar to my novel in the way that the students are partially controlled by the teachers.  But the suspense was fabulous, many of the ideas were wonderful and the characters intriguing.

4. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (9/10)

I enjoyed this one mostly for the descriptions of the quiet, beautiful English countryside.  This book and Never Let Me Go have almost solely responsible for my desire to go to England.  It was beautifully written and a wonderful piece reflecting on human nature.  Human nature in the English countryside.  One of those relax books, not for people who like drama and action.  But the sort of thing you want to read to put you in a nice frame of mind before you go to sleep.  It was nice to read.