Sunday, 29 May 2011

Shutter Island

Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane

"But it's all a bit Grand Guignol, don't you think?"

U.S. Marshal's visit a secure psychiatric institution on an island when a patient escapes from a seemingly locked room. There are strange rumours surrounding the institute as well as water.

Gradually we find that one of the marshals has ulterior motives and that one of the patients is intimated involved in a tragedy from his personal life. It becomes clear that more is going on than first meets the eye.

The Master

The  Master - Colm Tóibín
(Winner of the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)

As a sheet of blotting paper is dipped in lysergic acid so the pages of this book are dipped in regret. Regret begat of the fear of failure, the fear of touch, a life lived, perhaps, too carefully.
This is a picture of a man who, in Tóibín's reading of him, chose mastery above company, above love. The book deals with Henry James in his late fifties as the nineteenth century comes to a close. It is a window into those times and allows Tóibín to explore moral hazard, homosexuality at the time and the relationship between the English and the Irish.
The novel opens with the build up to the opening of James' play Guy Domville and it's success/ failure is compared with that of the success du jour Oscar Wilde who has many plays playing simultaneously and is in many ways the antithesis of James.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

No Longer at Ease

No Longer at Ease - Chinua Achebe

One of the things I am trying to do this year is to fill in some of the more obvious gaps in my reading and Achebe was certainly one of those. In fact my reading of African literature is pretty shallow. I was looking out for Things Fall Apart but having picked up the second book in his trilogy (Arrow of God is the third) I thought I would read this anyway as it was suggested that they were a very loose trilogy and worked well separately.
The (anti)hero of the tale Obi Okonkwo is a graduate returning to Nigeria from England. His degree is seen as his entry ticket for the good life and he talks of how his country can be changed and the endemic corruption excised.
I was reminded of Joyce at times during this book. We get Obi's takes on two of the most influential European books about Africa, Greene's The Heart of the Matter and Conrad's Heart of Darkness. This reminds me of Stephen's reading of Hamlet in Ulysses, and indeed The Heart of the Matter and No Longer at Ease would be interesting companion reads.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Master Georgie

Master Georgie - Beryl Bainbridge
Forward, the Light Brigade!' 
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew 
Some one had blunder'd: 
Theirs not to make reply, 
Theirs not to reason why, 
Theirs but to do & die, 
Into the valley of Death 
Rode the six hundred.
(from Charge of the Light Brigade - Tennyson) 
"I am at least better off as far as transport is concerned; three days ago over two hundred cavalry horses of the Light Brigade stampeded into the camp, their riders having perished in a charge along the north valley."
(from Master Georgie - Beryl Bainbridge)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Twin

The Twin - Gerbrand Bakker

The narrator of this novel, Helmer, is the remaining half of a set of identical twins and much of him died with his twin Henk. Henk would have worked on the farm with their father and taken it over in time. Helmer had been studying literature in Amsterdam, but when Henk dies his father decides that that is over ("you're done there in Amsterdam")and Helmer spends the next three and a half decades drowning.

His mind seems to be lost between what was and what might have been while his body carries out all the actions required to keep the small farm going.      

"'We don't have TV here', I say.
'What? What do you do at night?'
'Read the newspaper, do the paperwork, check the animals.'
'Uh-huh. Nitrate records, health records for the vet, quality control records for the dairy ---'"

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Polysyllabic Spree

The (Complete) Polysyllabic Spree - Nick Hornby

This is a collection of a series of articles on his reading matter that Nick Hornby wrote for The  Believer Magazine between September 2003  and June 2006. It seemed like appropriate reading matter given my current reading spree.

The titular Spree is  Nick's take on the editors of the magazine whom he represents as a sort of religious cult whose number fluctuate wildly and wear white robes similar to The Polyphonic Spree (see below) when not wearing nothing at all.