0604 | Arrow of God | Chinua Achebe post image

Context: read this while having dinner at the British Club. It seemed an appropriately colonial thing to do!

Not as easy to follow, Achebe’s third novel in his African Trilogy is a less straightforward narrative than his famed Things Fall Apart. Although both novels focus feature Nigerian male protagonists battling with the influence of colonialism, Things was more us versus them. With Arrow, priest Ezeulu also faces a fatal battle with his own people.

As with Things, Achebe sets up the local scene before introducing the white man. Again, this gives the (intended Western) reader time to come around to the local way of thinking and doing things, to gain some level of empathy with tradition. But by the time the white man shows his influence in Arrow, it’ll be the rare reader who feels that what might potentially be destroyed by the Imperial influence is worth hanging on to.

Achebe paints a vivid picture of tribal infighting, familial jealousies and as much disharmony as you can expect in any culture anywhere. [click to continue…]

0603 | The Savage Detectives | Roberto Bolaño post image

Context: had many rehearsals for three parts in two plays as part of a pint-sized comedy night while listening to this.

The Guardian describes this as a “a shaggy dog story.” Merriam-Webster defines that as “of, relating to, or being a long-drawn-out circumstantial story concerning an inconsequential happening that impresses the teller as humorous or interesting but the hearer as boring and pointless” That’s spot on. Bolaño did this for his own enjoyment, not mine.

Publishers [sic] Weekly said that “It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one.” and in that they are right. I can’t think another novel this year will be as powerful as this one when it comes to the desire to simply make it stop. Mind you, I’m not sure I trust what I read from any publishing company that can’t even accomplish the basic punctuation needed for its own name.

It starts out OK with this student guy joining a group of poets at university. Their philosophies rub off on him, and he tunes in and drops out as you’d expect. Then the book takes the inevitable [click to continue…]

0602 | Hallucinating Foucault | Patricia Duncker post image

Context: finished this off while sitting outside enjoying the warm spring weather at a local coffee shop.

Not really sure why this is on the 1001 books list. Didn’t grab me. Seemed a bit too much like navel-gazing for the Cambridge set (e.g. “we went to Browns for lunch” – oh did we now? It’s not what it was, though) and littered with characters who are a just far enough removed from everyday reality to actually relate to insanity.

So, there’s this guy whose written some novels and he’s a bit like a cross between Jack Kerouac and Holden Caulfield, an anarchist homosexual who has to be French (I mean, could he be anything else?) And this undergrad at Cambridge falls in love with his writing which is really a metaphor for falling in love with the novelist and so he hears that no one has a clue where he is now and it turns out he’s been sectioned and is in some asylum outside Paris. With the thinly veiled excuse of research trip, off trots our star-struck student on a quest that is as much a search for self as it is a search for other.

And they strike up this relationship and it’s all a bit coming-of-age, [click to continue…]

0601 | The Man who Loved Children | Christina Stead post image

Context: attended a driving course at our security training centre so that I can drive company cars while listening to this.

Once you’ve got over the fact that this isn’t a sinister title in terms of today’s worries about child abuse, you discover that this is, in fact, more of a study in spousal neglect and the emotional-relational issues that arise when a husband and father lives with his head in the clouds. For all that, this is a pretty down to earth novel which, for me, started a bit too slowly.

There’s really nothing I can add to a review of this book that hasn’t already been written in Jonathan Franzen’s wonderful review… except, that is, what I thought of it and how it related to me, so that’s where I’ll focus. I should say at the outset that I do have a father who loves children. There were times in the novel when I was also reminded of my father’s idealism and how it affected our family for both good and bad. It made me realise that, in comparison, we got off lightly.

Stead has created a character primarily for her own catharsis but also for the very beneficial catharsis of anyone who has grown up a [click to continue…]

0600 | Burmese Days | George Orwell post image

Context: built myself a very, very fast computer to speed up my photo editing while reading this.

George’s southeast Asian tale translates his scorn for capitalist Britain into the wilds of Burma where the sultry humidity and lazy pace of tropical life do little to dampen his ire.

Flory is an experienced colonial at a backwater station where the British empire is doing its level best to make its rule felt. When the young Elizabeth turns up, Flory senses his chance not only to secure his emotional future, but to provide an cultural induction to the young impressionable. Elizabeth however, lacks the ability to see beyond her prejudice and, somewhat inevitably, it all ends in tears.

Orwell uses this to set up a tension between those who see things from Orwell’s point of view and those who, well, don’t. George is clear: the empire is a vehicle for making the rich richer. The Brits come off none too well in this novel, and he drew some criticism for this at the time of its publication.

[click to continue…]