Saturday, July 12, 2008
One of those glorious, wordy, coming-of-age books that is certainly in the same league as The Secret History and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as one of those ephemeral, seminal books that you will never forget.
This tome weighs in at approximately 700 pages; a veritable Lord of the Rings without the eccentric Oxford languages don at the helm. Each page, however, is an intellectual leap of fancy; the only apt term to describe this book would be "scatter-brained." It merrily vacuums up factoid after factoid, deposits it in the reader's arms, and leaves absolutely nothing to chance.
It is a novel of glowing erudition; tracing the sequence of events that lead Blue van Meer and her father, Gareth, to one of the nastiest book endings ever possible. On the way, deaths abound, not least that of one of Blue's muses; each death is surrounded by mysterious goings-on that could only be explained by the counterculture that is prevalent through the book.
As Blue follows her itinerant wanderer father round the known universe, gradually picking up the pieces of her life anew every time she moves to a new school, she inches, slowly, out of her shell; however, this time, she strays a little too far from her bubble.
Funny all the way, and with bits of needless, yet utterly intriguing, factoids constantly in your face, this book is one amazing tome that you will compulsively read, reread and reread; sometimes for the action, sometimes for the mystery, but on a whiplash day, the verbal diarrhea and acrobatics is enough for a fine distraction.
Another of those rare books I have to give an 11/10.
at 12:00 PM
Monday, March 10, 2008
Yes, I know I have been neglecting my duties so much that it's almost become a one-man show for Nicholas now. But in my defense 1) my course is heavy and 2) I read comics more these days. Sue me. But hey, I still read. Not as little as you think, though. I shall have nice reviews for Fell, Hard Boiled Wonderland, Outcast (from Chronicles of Ancient Darkness), Zoe Heller's Everything You Know and a good deal of others up during Easter.
But in the meantime, for those of you who read Fantasy, you guys just HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. It's recommended by George R.R. Martin? Y'know? That cool guy who did a Game of Thrones? Agh. Anyway, this novels falls under the 'Fantasy but we don't get caught up with dragons and one rings too much' category. Yeah, Fantasy can be pretty much summed up into three categories for me:
1)Magical hoo-hah all the way (LOTR, Terry Brooks, Eddings, all fall here)
2)Less magical hoo-hah, more political intrigue/plot events and drama (Game of Thrones, Robin Hobb's Farseers and Lamorra fall here)
3)Attempt (mostly, though sometimes successful) at a more deep, underlying meaning. HDM is pretty much the only thing I can put here.
So yeah, Lamorra falls under the 2nd category. It's about conmen, living in a Venice-like city called Camorr, which is divided by upper class nobles and commoners as most fantasy (And non-fantasy) places are. But the bandits here are their own people. Ruled by a Capa, the gangs own territories, all united under a common 'Secret Peace' which dictates that as long as the thieves don't touch what belongs to the nobles, the yellowjackets (city guards) don't go after them unless they get careless and caught in broad daylight.
Locke Lamorra is the 'garrista' (head) of his own gang of thieves. And while he holds fealty to the Capa and pretends to be another one of those common pickpocket gangs, in truth he is, as his mentor Chains puts it 'a fucking ballista bolt through the heart of the Secret Peace'. He goes purely after the nobles, constructing elaborate cons to take money from them. The nobles are usually too proud to admit themselves having being cheated, and even if they tried, they normally don't get a glimpse of his real face anyway.
And so they create a mythical figure, the 'Thorn of Camorr', who is supposedly a master thief who can walk through walls, is a master swordsman and is large and powerful. So everytime the nobles get hit, they blame 'The Thorn', to not make it seem so humiliating.
Of course, in real life, Locke is barely competent with a sword, and really, really can't walk through walls. All he has are wits, and a good band of people on his side. All specializing on different tasks.
The city of Camorr is richly described. Yet done in proper amounts bit by bit so as not to give you a geographic lecture. The city and the people who inhabit come alive, so do their cultures, traditions and Gods in the words of the book. The author's method of interweaving interludes to give us brief glimpses into Locke's past make the story richer, the main characters more endearing.
The first part of the book mostly shows us just how damn good Locke is. Then the second part turns it around almost immediately and you find out where the bulk of the story is. A man calling himself 'The Grey King' has been killing off garristas close to the Capa. Whoever the person is, he is definitely making for the throne of the Capa, and Locke gets involved in it when the Grey King hires him to act as him for one night, when the first open confrontation takes place. Well 'hires' is a strong word. He happens to have evidence of Locke's dealings, and so if Locke doesn't comply, the Capa would find out that someone hasn't been a nice little garrista and obeying the Secret Peace, and well, things would get complicated.
To me, one of the reasons why the book is so good is because of the wealthy amount of backstory. The forming of Locke's 'Gentleman Bastards' makes us close not to just Locke, but everyone else. The Sanza twins, who are for all intents and purposes, older versions of Fred and George. Jean Tannen, the brawler in the group who used to be the fat orphan of business running parents. And then there's the elusive Sabetha who never appears and speaks in the book. Not even in the flashbacks. She is mentioned a lot, however. Apparently something happened between her and Locke, and she's now thousands of miles away from Camorr. We never find out what happened to her exactly by the end of the book, but it's definitely something I'll be looking forward to in the sequel.
I give this book a healthy 8 out of 10.
at 7:51 AM
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Just in case you were wondering if anyone could be more Murakami than the man, here comes David Mitchell - a dyed-in-the-wool Englishman at that - to up the ante a little.
His debut work "Ghostwritten" made him a cause celebre amongst the, undoubtedly graying, postmodern literati; people were expecting a magnum opus as a followup.
Number9Dream, I reckon, will be a hard act to follow.
It is about the search of 19-year-old Eiji Miyake for his father, whom he has never met. Told in first person, it begins as a simple coming of age story; but soon, it traverses uncharted literary territory, juxtaposing Eiji Miyake’s actual journey toward identity and understanding with his imaginative journey.
Interleaving narrations are everywhere; a surrealistic tale featuring three anthropomorphic animals, a series of letters from people irrevocably tied to his past, a journal from his grandfather impersonating a friend, all seem to send the tale careering on tangents unbeknownst to anyone but the author, but finally, in the last few chapters, as it regains a semblance of regular narrative, we see each deux ex machina has served its purpose, albeit retrospectively.
Eiji, in his search for his father, does not just find himself the cliched way; he stumbles upon secrets about his family that, again, reinforce his perceptions that his early separation from his family was a godsend, as far as his sanity would have been concerned.
With a Yakuza gang subject to a coup d'etat by the femme fatale, a few impersonations of identity leading to permanent separations, and a good dollop of surreal language, Mitchell has beaten the master himself.
I give it an 11/10 and for good cause.
at 6:20 PM
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 2004, to be exact) DOES make your work stand out a little on bookshelves. Thus it was with great trepidation that I yanked this novel out of its snug little spot in the university library, and promptly made good work of it.
Kenzaburo Ue, for those of you who are Murakami addicts, alludes less to Western culture; unfortunately, this means you are staring at a rather oblique series of references all the way. He writes with a hint of Dostoyevsky; mystical people drift in and out of incongruous events, reminding you that the fixity of life is not as it seems.
The plot involves two brothers, and one's lecherous wife; the wife openly has consensual relations with the brother, but in the end, her legitimate husband takes her back without a whimper. Interspersed between are a series of Nobukoro protests and other events that keep the personal calamities that occur firmly within context.
The novel still has American references galore; frequent allusions to American pop culture abound, and the eagle-eyed will spot the song lyrics and English puns that are spouted regularly.
I give this a 9 out of 10.
at 8:37 PM
Sunday, October 28, 2007
If anything, one of the most complex books you'll ever read, and something any Murakami fan should read, for, in the words of a respected Murakami fanclub elder, "more Murakami than the man himself."
Paul Auster enjoys transcending the theme of metafiction, frequently slipping himself into his work; that gives this trilogy (each novella numbering a good hundred pages) a rather personal, mystical feel.
The first novella, City of Glass is a detective story turned psychoromp, where the hunted shifts from without the author to within. Gradually, as Stillman himself discovers that he is searching for a person who actually does not exist except in his imagination. Slowly, as he descends into madness, layers of identity and reality are examined, as Paul Auster the writer of the novel; "the author" who reports the events as reality; "Paul Auster the writer", a character in the story; and "Paul Auster the detective", who may or may not exist in the novel.
The second novella, Ghosts, is about a private eye called Blue who is investigating a man named Black for a client named White. Black and White turn out to be the same person, a writer who is writing a story about Blue watching him.
Finally, The Locked Room is the story of a writer who lacks the creativity to produce fiction. Fanshawe, his childhood friend has produced creative work, and when he disappears the writer publishes his work and replaces him in his family. While trying to deal with their relationship, he discovers his creative gift, and it emerges that he is the author of the three stories of the trilogy.
Eventually, in "The Locked Room", the three tales are tied together in a hauntingly perfect manner; in the first two tales, Paul Auster as author explores the transcending of Paul Auster as character, both in eponymous fashion, and while adopting generic colour names; in the third, the main question of the three novels finally comes to a head - Who ACTUALLY narrates these three novels?
And with that thought gently brushing the tip of the reader's consciousness, Auster leaves the reader grappling with issues of his own identity.
This is deemed worthy to be termed a classic of postmodernism; I give it a 9 out of 10.
at 6:04 PM
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Writing a review in the middle of reading a book is just about as unorthodox as one can get. Unfortunately, that's precisely the case, and this can only be no ordinary book.
Welcome to "Will and Me", with the telling subheader that says "How Shakespeare Took Over My Life." Life, indeed. Here, Dominic Dromgoole relates his love relationship with the Chief Poet in a dreamy, passionate, yet sometimes self-deprecating way. His series of short, condensed essay-like chapters chronicle a journey of reminiscence, but also one of acute self-awareness. One gets the feeling that Dromgoole is trying to tell himself how he learned from Shakespeare on a whole new personal level - and not a morally-right this-is-how-you-should-be way, and just happens to tell it to us, as well.
A literature enthusiast would be thrilled at the leisurely quality of this book, but also its profoundly intellectual side (more notably, the second part of the book titled 'The Walk', a pilgrimage from Stratford to London's Globe). Quotes from the most famous to the more obscure Shakespeare plays feature extensively here, one of my favourites being:
"Where are my tears? Rain, to lay this wind, or my heart will be blown up by the root." -- Pandarus, in Troilus and Cressida
It is a wondrous piece of autobiographical tribute to Shakespeare, especially for a budding King Lear student (i.e. yours truly) to listen to his glowing words of praise for a Lawrence Olivier production and suddenly seized with the desire to see it for myself. The headers of each 'short essay' are also catchy and outline this book's uniqueness even more - they all begin with curiously small letters, and consist of an amalgamation of curious key words: 'Glastonbury Cabaret, apeshit sessions and the Falstaff pattern.'
Hmm. Curiouser and curiouser. But all is soon explained once the chapter is read.
Dromgoole succeeds in channeling his passion to his readers (who, presumably, are also avid fans of Shakespeare) and manages to endear this connection to us as we sympathise with accounts of his failed attempts at reenacting Shakespeare plays with his peers from Cambridge in a rather shaky theatre company.
Freshly published in 2007, it is contemporary enough to make us admire his attempts to stage art to the modern masses, and historical enough to make the older generation connect with the periods of war gone through by Dromgoole's thespian parents.
"Will and Me" was compelling enough in the first half of reading to move this reader into reviewing it on page 137. It might well be the same for you.
- Michelle Tan
at 8:33 PM