Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Girlfriend in a Coma

Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland

"Because if it's not Love
Then it's the bomb, the bomb, the bomb,
the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb
That will bring us together
Nature is a language - can't you read ?
Nature is a language - can't you read ?
So, ask me, ask me, ask me,
Ask me, ask me, ask me"
The Smiths - Ask

This is an odd book. Firstly, it's got the oddly distancing use of Smiths' lyrics in sentences to no obvious effect. Coupland has said that this was "a little salute to those points in my life when I was melting down to soundtracks provided by British gloom rockers." It seems little more than a gimmick, although it does act as a metafictional brake on the potential gaucherie of some episodes. (and it's fun, in a trainspottery kind of way).

Saturday, 23 July 2011


Dubliners - James Joyce

In an newly persuasive argument against optical character recognition software here is a twenty five year old college essay on Joyce's Dubliners, a book so good it will even survive reading this. 

Dubliners is a book with a moral purpose. Joyce described it as 'a chapter in the moral history of my country'.  He saw himself as 'Stephen Hero', subversively fighting the paralysis endemic in his mother city.
However, he presents his moral guidance differently in Dubliners than in Stephen Hero or Portrait of the Artist . . . Rather than having a central character fight an epic battle with the paralysis surrounding
him, he shows pictures of the paralysed, and the aura which envelopes them. Of the three weapons of Daedalus, 'silence, exile and cunning', it is silence that is most telling in Dubliners. The characters are silent in the face of epiphany, silent in their failure to change. Joyce's own apparent silence also permeates the book, he doesn't appear to guide you, but in such a closely structured and controlled atmosphere, didactic comment is completely unnecessary.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides is a mosaic of seventies cultural references, from movies to music to the spread of Dutch Elm disease, the World Wildlife Fund and sexual experimentation in suburbia... in this detritus one thing remains standing, either the legs of a giant statue or the last two Elm trees, stripped of their bark. A plaque beneath them reads "I am Donny Osmonde, King of Kings, look on my works, ye mighty, and my hair."
(with abject apologies to Percy Shelley)
On the surface this is the story of five sisters who kill themselves. We know this right from the start. But under the surface this is many things; an elegy for lost youth, an exploration of sexual fantasies, a gloss on seventies culture, a lament for meaning, a conjuration...
It is also the story of the narrators, a bunch of neighbourhood boys who have watched, fascinated, as the Lisbon girls grew up across the road from their tree house, from which they would watch them. They are now middle aged men and are still fascinated by the girls and their untimely deaths. The voice has been compared to that of a Greek chorus but it seems to me to be more that of a single person hiding behind the plural, and one who is not entirely reliable.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Waiting (for the Great Leap Forwards?)

Waiting - Ha Jin
(Winner: National Book Award, 1999)
This is a story of army doctor Lin Kong who, having married the woman his parents chose, Shuyu, leaves her to care for his parents while he works in the city. Even when his parents die he feels too embarrassed to bring her to the city because she is uneducated, older and her feet are bound.
In the hospital he works at he falls for Manna Wu, a younger nurse. He cannot get a divorce and so they must wait, and wait, for eighteen years.
There is a startling blankness at the heart of this book. The tone is similar to a folk tale where the most outrageous events are treated as if they were totally normal. And so they were, as far as I can tell.
The insight into China at the height of the cultural revolution is one reason to read this book. It is a vision of a bureaucracy of Kafkaesque proportions.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

"Is there no balm in Gilead?"

Three books in and Marilynne Robinson' is clearly creating a  body of work which can be compared with any other. I read this and Home back to front (Home is a sequel to Gilead, written from a different perspective) but found that one still deepened the other to an extraordinary degree.  I could quite happily spend a lifetime  looking at the town of Gilead if each perspective were as beautifully realised as it is in these two extraordinary books. The variations of the story between perspectives have set me to imagining other perspectives and narratives hidden within what we have been given. It seems as blind and fathomless as life itself.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fight Club

Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

For some reason I am finding it very hard to settle down to writing my response top Fight Club. Maybe because I am totally uncertain as to my response. Maybe because I didn't have my trusty pen to hand to jot down the quotes that struck me as I read. Looking through these often clarifies my thinking.
Anyway, rather than let it fester undone any longer I am going to tackle it TODAY. (4/7/11)
The first thing that struck me about Fight Club was that the narrator (or author) was pretty unreliable.