Original Book Reviews, Recommendations and Discussions

A questionable method of child-rearing – Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson

Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson, Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (January 24, 2017); hardcover: 352 pages.

I imagine a woman must’ve sat Kevin Wilson down and explained to him in excruciating detail what pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding and the mothering instinct feel like – the pain, the physical sensations, the associations, memories and convoluted reasoning. These descriptions in his latest novel, Perfect Little World, are not the descriptions you’d read in a medical handbook. They seem to be intensely personal and individualistic, even a bit voyeuristic. Reading how “Isabel (Izzy) Poole”, the main character, feels during those moments is like feeling it yourself, and it is really not pleasant. However, Perfect Little World is a near-perfect depiction of what happens to people when they have children, the good and the bad. Continue reading

A masterful depiction of boredom – The Evenings by Gerard Reve

The Evenings, by Gerard Reve, translated from the Dutch, De Avonden, by Sam Garrett, published by Pushkin Press, London, Jan. 31 2017, 352 pages, hard cover.

The book published under Reve’s original pen-name, Simon van het Reve. It was first released on 1 November 1947.

This is the first English translation, published in January 2017, of the famous Dutch novel. It is a novel about boredom – tedium – monotony – ennui. You’d think that with such a subject the book would be, well, boring. It isn’t. Remember the TV series Seinfeld? Pretty much nothing happened in each episode, yet, it was entertaining. Seinfeld is often described as being “a show about nothing”, since many of the episodes written by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld are about the minutiae, the small humdrum matters, of daily life. It’s same in this book. As author Tom McCarthy explains in an article about his favourite books in which nothing happens, the lack of an exciting plot, “creates the perfect blind spot in which a hundred events can take place, and everything can be said.” Continue reading

Depicting another slave colony – The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin

ViceroyOfQuidahWhile I was reading The High Mountains of Portugalwhich I reviewed in my previous post, I was also re-reading The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin, which, like The High Mountains of Portugal, paints a harrowing picture of slavery in the Portuguese and Brazilian colonies in Africa. The Viceroy of Ouidah is probably the most unforgettable depiction of white men losing their minds when trying to deal with “Darkest Africa”, centuries ago, that has ever been written. Let’s just say, Africa wins out. Think Apocalyse Now’s jungles, despair and death, Africa-style. The Viceroy of Ouidah, published in 1980, tells the story of a Brazilian who tries to run an outpost for slave trading in 1812 in Dahomey, what is now Benin, on the west coast of Africa. It is more contentious than many others in the same genre, including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, for its negative depiction of African culture. But then, Chatwin, who died in 1989, aged 48, also depicted Brazil, the slave traders, the European colonizers in Dahomey and the Viceroy of Ouidah himself as pretty horrible.    Continue reading

The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka – Review: How does artistic consciousness connect with the world?

The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka (McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd., 2015)

The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka (McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd., 2015)

The Piano Maker could have been so much less, and in that way, been so much more. I thought that the author, who has written five novels before this one, would have been experienced enough to have realized the benefits of a simple structure focused on a primary theme. But in stead, there are too many themes that do not seem properly integrated, resulting in a melodramatic tone. The title, The Piano Maker, seems to be an afterthought rather than a sustained theme, while in actual fact, the history of pianos and their makers is fascinating – as I found out when I researched the provenance of my own piano. There are parallel themes of art theft and smuggling, war, workplace safety, even palaeontology, French Indochina, France at the end of the 19th century, the French in Africa, and quite a lot of religion (religious music, liturgy, priesthood, etc.) The main idea is probably “survival” or “closure” or the redeeming value of confession, and the fact that I cannot pinpoint exactly what the point is, is the problem. Continue reading

The Buried Giant – It remains in the mind long afterwards

the buried giant_kazuo ishiguro

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Vintage Books, division of Penguin Random House, New York, Jan 5, 2016, paperback edition, 336 pages. Jacket design by Peter Mendelsund, end paper art by Neil Gover.

I have found that truly memorable books have something in common: they make you think. As Science Fiction author Neil Gaiman says of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2015 novel The Buried Giant, it does “what important books do: it remains in the mind long after it has been read, refusing to leave”. The Buried Giant is not only memorable, it is also about memory – a quite stunning depiction of memory, love and loss, very precisely observed, and I recommend it highly. It really makes you think; If you cannot remember anything other than the current moment in your relationship, is your love real? If peace is based on collective amnesia, can it last? Is it right for governments to wipe out history, to remove memories of the past, or to repress unpleasant parts of history in order to preserve peace and stability? The important questions that Ishiguro raises in this novel makes it worth analysing and considering at length.  Continue reading

The Big Business of Erotic Romances

Miramax Books, 1994

Published by Miramax Books, 1994

For the last in my series of festive season books, the theme is romance and erotica, and I have some modern hits and old favourites.  I’ve reviewed novels with themes of politics and religion. Now it’s the turn of the big money-spinner, the erotic romance, focusing on Fifty Shades of Grey, by EL James; contrasted with The Piano, by Jane Campion and Kate Pullinger, and the screenplay of Secretary, by Erin Cressida Wilson. Prepare for a lot of heavin’ & pantin’ in quotes from these books. Continue reading

A Harsh Beauty – Island of Wings, by Karin Altenberg

Quercus Books, London, UK, 2011

Quercus Books, London, UK, 2011

In part 2 of good reads for the festive season, my choice is Island of Wings, by Karin Altenberg, which has faith, love and alienation as its themes. What a pleasure this dry-looking novel turned out to be; very gripping and thought-provoking in plot, characterization and setting, yet restrained and subtle in writing style. This book looks unglamorous, with a plain printed hard cover illustrated with an engraving of a sailing ship on rough seas. But on the front is a recommendation by Anne Enright, who wrote the lush and, frankly, eye-brow-raising The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002). And another by the also wonderful Andrew O’Hagan, who wrote the topsy-turvy and insightful The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (2010). So, with this high praise from noteworthy authors, and never having read Altenberg, I was intrigued. Continue reading