Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Murakami's rather oddball short story collections have a different tone from his novels. His novels can be a bit too much for the palate; but his short stories are minor masterpieces, no matter which field you're coming from. Each short story ends on a most unsatisfying note; admittedly, so do his novels, but the average reader has long quit attempting to understand the vagaries of the semblance of a story-line. His short stories, on the other hand, are short enough to warrant an extended span of attention, yet quirky enough to leave you hesistant to flip the page to the next one too soon.
This book will leave familiar shivers bristling down your spine; elements of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle proliferate. The first story is apparently the inspiration behind said novel; and that infernal Noburu Wataya character materialises in half the short stories.
Each story chills the soul in its own unique way. Fans of Raymond Carver will immediately recognise the parallels; but Murakami turns 20/21st century urban fiction into his own plaything. Even short story titles reek of postmodernism; the Kangaroo Communique and the 100% Perfect Girl entice the reader, drawing him in to find out more.
He spins little quirks into each character; they routinely have chance encounters on similarly chance streets, they routinely miss each other and have lapses in communication. Carver's style is, however, more depressing, more morose, while Murakami is ready to portray his wonder at the incomprehensibility of the world.
A very good effort, and a perfect introduction, not just to Murakami's short stories, but even to the entire genre of postmodern short stories as a whole.
This book gets a perfect score, for being vintage Murakami.
at 6:02 PM
To be frank, the only reason I picked up this tome was its Booker Prize credentials. (And let's just say I have a rather perverse interest towards the Indian community at large. It's all history.) And I was sorely disappointed at the stereotypes prevalent throught. However, I will not let them detract from the overall level of detail, exquisite even, accorded to each character in the novel that, in my culturally tinted eyes, redeems it a little.
The tale tracks the passage of two characters - 16-year-old Sai, newly orphaned and living with her grandfather in the most remote of mountain passes, and her fledgling romance with her Nepalese tutor Gyan; and the contrasting fortunes of Biju, her grandfather's cook's son, ekeing out a meagre existence in the squalour of Manhattan's decrepit restaurants.
Throughout, issues of culture are tackled, but on, sincerely speaking, a very superficial note. The Indian illegal immigrant point is weakly driven home; we see no development of character of Biju, just a constant struggle to survive each day till he takes home his pay. Sai and Gyan's relationship is as wooden as wooden can be; it meanders along the tried-and-tested girl-meets-boy course, exhibiting no new tricks, no fancy plot twists, no emotional insurgencies, just a rehashing of a very well-worn plot.
Still, Kiran Desai describes well; that has to be admitted. Her characters, though rather flat as carbon copies of traditional stereotypes, are full of life, vivacity, and above all, action. Each action is embellished with detail, detail of how they move, walk, talk, cleverly paralleling the (again steretypical) television montage of India as a riot of colours and action. The cold and calm Indian border region is enlivened by little flourishes of description, rendering a multifaceted imagery of the stark scenery.
Once again, not a wise choice if what you seek is originality of cast or screenplay; but for sheer descriptive value, each character, each location, each circumstance, is played out with the note range of an Indian sitar.
I give it a 7 out of 10.
at 5:30 PM
One of Louis de Bernieres's earlier works, before Captain Corelli's Mandolin catapulted him into instant notoriety - and the indignity of a subpar movie to boot - this novel reflects the writing characteristic of his salad days, where he was happier exploring the intricacies of relationships via a less conventional, more disjointed light.
A very porous narrative follows. The tale tracks an anti-coca warlord through a litany of dangerously tiring trials - from simple threats to the final disastrous deaths of his loved ones. All the way, the narrative eye flits from group to group, highlighting the diversity of issues afflicting those forced to live under the penumbra of the raging coca trade of Colombia.
The prose wittily skewers the multifarous problems of combating the coca trade - as the narrative develops, the continuity concurrently degenerates, skilfully exposing the extent of government corruption in the unravelling of any concerted effort to weed the coca lords out. The narrative style itself is an apt allegory of the futility of said efforts; the longer the government tries, the bolder the coca lords.
Throughout the book, the emphasis is not so much on plot as on character; it is almost as if the tale of the coca trade is best played out through the vignettes of each individual. Each character in the novel reflects a disparate group in Colombia, be it the petty government official frustrated because his hands are tied, the average citizen whose sole role throughout is to provide a social commentary, or the coca lords themselves, who hungrily play the system for what it is worth.
In typical de Bernieres fashion, especially in his earlier works, the humour is understated yet playful; each character is subject to a series of idiosyncracies that expose their fallacies in a slapstick fashion. You will enjoy this read, but let me warn you, if you are the Korean drama type, cherishing solid storyline over artistic license, you will be sorely let down.
I give it a 7.5 out of 10.
at 5:13 PM
One of Murakami's earlier works, and one heck of a definitive one. Murakami practically LAUNCHED his career in surrealist writing via this book (Norwegian Wood being more of a poppy introduction to the man himself), endearing himself to the masses who constantly seek quality fiction with more twists than the entire Harry Potter series.
The story involves 2 converging plotlines (though, to be fair, at the end they don't EVEN converge coherently), of the same people inhabiting 2 separate worlds. The blurb on the book jacket describes it as a "narrative particle accelerator"; there is a modicum of truth in that observation, the story flitting between a functionary in a physics laboratory and a man whose function in life is to read skulls for dreams.
Soon, the INKlings come into the picture, and it slowly assumes science fiction novel qualities; on the other hand, the many trysts, relationships, and breaking of human hearts endears the protagonists to the humanists out there. There is a crushing inevitability of progression throughout; you can see things inexorably accelerating to the conclusion, but for your life, you cannot see the plot twists as they come.
References to Western popular culture are arife; song titles jauntily come and go, and scenes occur in Denny's (a reference readily available in After Dark too); one is immediately struck by how Western this novel is, with its easy references to Western pulp fiction.
A beautiful book, indeed, combining elements from East and West, Oriental and Occidental, fantasy and reality. Indeed, the perfect introduction to Murakami's work, if you cannot stomach the 600-page monstrosity that the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will prove to be.
at 1:27 PM
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Finishing this book in a 3-day blitz prior to my arrival in KYUEM (to run their Induction Week) was possibly one of my most exhausting experiences so far. All things considered, given I had picked up the book on Friday night, and relentlessly punished my way through the book, you can see how this book MIGHT have changed my life.
Sophie receives a package through the post one day; despite her mother's ministrations to stay away from love letters, curiosity overcomes her, and she embarks on a mail-order philosophy course that will irrevocably change her fifteen-year-old world.
The book opens and ends with enigmas galore. Sophie seems to be part of a world created by a Major Albert for his daughter, Hilde; yet the boundaries are incongruous and, at times, arbitrarily shifted for story flow. Many a time, it gets progressively unclear who exists and who doesn't; but then, that is the self-evident doctrine of philosophy; that nothing is what it seems.
As Sophie and Hilde's worlds ineluctably collide, we see a concurrent drift in the philosophy exposed. Philosophy involves colliding and colluding theories; and they slowly melt into each other, as new philosophers expound further on existing theories.
In all, a wonderfully refreshing way to view philosophy. Worth a pick-me-up - and, in a shameless promo effort, only retailing in MPH for RM 23.
at 12:06 PM
Another subtle masterpiece from the Master of Surrealism himself, Murakami; but hot on the metaphorical heels of Kafka on the Shore, some of you will certainly be a tad disappointed.
This tome tracks the motion (or lack thereof) of a group of Japanese through the wee hours of the morning. A central concept is that of transience. Everything floats, is translucent, or shimmers; the female protagonist's sister alternately moves from the world behind the camera to the world before it, and the two main characters spend the night floating restlessly from one conversation to another, whiling away the hours till daybreak.
Again, this book is less Murakami than usual; nothing actually happens throughout. Unlike the relentless energy of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or the mental flitting-between-scenes that occurs throughout Hard-Boiled Wonderland, this book is a serious exposition of the nature of sleep, and its proponents. People in the novel behave as if they were in a deep sleep, merely with their eyes open in a perfunctory manner; even their movements and thoughts are more languid than one would expect of the coffee-fueled nightstalker.
The language largely mirrors said intended effect; words, sentences, even concepts, are lazily drawn out. Murakami never scopes in to a particular event; he gives it a wide berth, describing it from all possible angles, embellishing it with detail, no doubt, but at the same time, losing vision, one sometimes feels.
On whole, a rather interesting, but ultimately, un-Murakami work. I give it a 7/10.
at 11:32 AM