0579 | Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow | Peter Høeg post image

Context: Read this on a sublime camping trip in Oman where we camped in canyons like this one.

I don’t very often tread the streets of Copenhagen having only spent 48 hours there before. I’ve spent about 48 hours less than that in Greenland. So, Peter Høeg’s social rant against the treatment of Greenlanders by Denmark (heavily disguised as a thriller) was very interesting.

This was a good thing because the thriller that he buried it all up in didn’t really do it for me. I found that contrived, nonsensical and full of the obvious kinds of coincidences a writer who can’t really do thrillers has to rely on (c.f. Dan Brown). Oh, and he can’t write an ending either.

What you need to do with this novel is peel back the layers of Arctic insulation, chuck aside the crampons and ice picks, forget you’re on an ice-breaker somewhere in the North Atlantic and realise that you are being offered a tantalising glimpse into the underbelly of Danish history. You won’t see trailers for this history on TV like you do Danish bacon or Lurpak. Denmark is not advertising its colonial [click to continue…]

0578 | The Recognitions | William Gaddis post image

Context: Another one I was glad to listen to rather than read on my way to work in Saudi.

The literary critic jack green is probably best known for insisting that his pseudonym be written, like adidas, without capital letters. He’s arguably less well known for lambasting those critics who dismissed The Recognitions on its publication, saying that they had failed to recognise “the greatness of the book” and failed “to convey to the reader what the book is like, what its essential qualities are.” Well, despite me not recognising “the greatness of the book” let me at least attempt to convey to the reader what the book is like and what its essential qualities are.

This book is like attempting a full day’s work which, after about ten minutes, you kind of get in the rhythm of. You know you’ve got some way to go before you complete everything you have to do but, you feel pretty optimistic. An hour in, you take a break, putting your fatigue down to the fact that you didn’t quite have enough caffeine that morning. In the struggle through to lunch, you begin to dread the afternoon’s grind. Lunch is like a lying on a sun-drenched beach watching a storm approach from the horizon. The afternoon is best [click to continue…]

0577 | North and South | Elizabeth Gaskell post image

Context: Finished this off while on a wonderful camping trip in Oman.

Such was the impression this book left on me that I completely forgot I’d read it. I made no note of it in the list of completed books I keep, ready for review, and only recalled it when someone mentioned it recently.

Gaskell is not one of my favourite authors although she does have the right to some credit. I’m glad to have closed my attempt at her output with this novel as I shall not be going back.

What does Gaskell contribute that future generations should be grateful for? Well, she does give us a good profile of the social issues facing her generation. The rise of industrialisation had created misery for millions. Gaskell portrays this honestly, if not skilfully. Although that’s about it as far as I’m concerned, I’d say that’s enough. Her work was as important for her own need to remain true to her beliefs as it was for her generation to hear. And the relentless [click to continue…]

0576 | The Golden Notebook | Dorris Lessing

Listened to this while I was on a road trip around Oman. This particular scenery felt very apt.

A tough read this one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s long and you are going to wish you were nearer the end than the beginning on many occasions. This is because it’s often tedious. There’s no real story that cohesively holds the whole thing together that is really of much interest.

It’s the life of Anna Wulf, a novelist. She spent some time in South Africa during WW2, was for many years a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and has published a novel which hasn’t done too badly. Although each of these in itself has the potential to be an engaging read, Lessing is too much of a realist for that. Instead you are bound and gagged and placed on the fringe of endless conversations Lessing uses to portray communism, attitudes towards women, sexuality, male-female relationships and so on which culminate (although that’s far too strong a word) in something that may be a nervous breakdown (again, too strong a phrase).

On top of this, having watered down potentially engaging topics [click to continue…]

0575 | The Feast of the Goat | Mario Vargas Llosa post image

Context: Bought the wife a car from a friend who was leaving Bahrain while reading this.

Powerful and at times gripping, this is not what I’ve come to expect from novels from Latin/South American authors. In fact, this is the very first of the many I’ve read that I enjoyed and would recommend.

Based on the actual life of the Dominican dictator Trujillo, the novel centres around his assassination. One one side you have the build up, the background, the character formation, the development of the plot and, after the epicentre, the hiding, the clampdown, the reassessment of a nation’s identity, a twist and a resolution of sorts.

I’ve not read Vargas Llosa before, and I’m glad to find that there are others of his on the 1001 list. His writing is powerful and ingenious; the style he adopts for Goat cleverly blurs the lines between a character’s [click to continue…]