0569 | On the Eve | Ivan Turgenev

0569 | On the Eve | Ivan Turgenev post image

Context: was reading this when we barely broke even at a sale at a nursery. Never again!

So, this is one of those novels for which an understanding of the historical context is essential for a full appreciation of its significance. The era is the early 1850s and Russia stands on the brink of the Crimean War as it manoeuvres to take advantage of weakening Ottoman Empire. Also standing to gain are those who dream of independence from Ottoman oppression.

One such is the hero of On the Eve, Insarov, a Bulgarian who, though in Russia, makes forays back to his homeland and is part of a network of nationalists chomping at the bit to be let loose on the retreating Turks. But while Insarov is the hero, he’s not the main focus of the story.

Meet Elena, fending off less than suitable suitors while her life slips slowly by. Her world is transfixed after her introduction to Insarov and thus begins a love story which is ignorant of the boundaries of class, politics, familial or national allegiance.

[click to continue…]

0568 | The Accidental | Ali Smith

0568 | The Accidental | Ali Smith post image

Context: Visited The Nest art exhibit in Adliya while reading this.

This is a quirky story told from the perspective of each member of a family who rent a holiday home in the English countryside for the summer. When a mysterious stranger arrives, you get a facet of her from each description but never enough to complete the whole picture of who she might be. There’s a twist in the tale once the mother throws her out though.

It’s so often true that, within a family, walls exist which prevent us seeing others and others seeing us as we truly are. We will, however, often let strangers see parts of us that we keep hidden from our relatives. The Accidental shows what can happen when that occurs.

This is not an excellent novel, but it is good enough because it asks questions about how we view ourselves, the views of ourselves we present to others and about our own views of others. Throughout the book, you are often presented with two or more views of a character [click to continue…]

0567 | Falling Man | Don DeLillo

0567 | Falling Man | Don DeLillo post image

Context: The wife finished off a stack of squares for a baby blanket while I was reading this.

Many years ago, Underworld scarred me for life. Then I read White Noise. Had it not been recommended by a great friend, I would never have returned to DeLillo. I was very surprised to find an excellent novel. Falling Man settles between the two somewhere towards the Underworld end of the spectrum.

Thankfully, it’s about the same length as White Noise. Had it been as long as Underworld, it would have been very, very tedious. DeLillo loves to play around with structure. Whereas in Underworld he did that to the detriment of the entire novel, here it kind of works because he’s chosen a subject which lends itself to fragmented structure: the life of a Keith, a 9/11 survivor.

The novel starts on the apocalyptic streets of New York while he attempts to make sense of his new world. Gradually you piece together his life as you see things from the perspective of his relatives and acquaintances but there’s no point where it all really [click to continue…]

0566 | Journey to the End of the Night | Louis-Ferdinand Céline post image

Context: listened to this while it rained for the first time in 8 months on my drive to work.

Here’s a novel powerful enough to suck the life out of Amazon’s entire self-help catalogue in seconds. In terms of sheer pessimistic cynicism of humanity, Céline’s Night is unparalleled with its tale of Ferdinand Bardamu’s adventures as he leaves his native Paris for WW1, Africa, the US and returns full circle to pursue work as a doctor in a profession he barely believes in. If Henry Miller didn’t get his inspiration from this novel for his riotous Tropics of Cancer & Capricorn, I’ll be very surprised.

All along the way, everything and everyone he encounters is subject to satire and critical examination. There are no survivors, not even Bardamu himself. Being British, I was born cynical, and although I appreciated what Miller had to say (to a certain extent), I found Night a lot easier to follow.

For a start, there’s a storyline and the writing maintains its structure, which is, in places, sublime. Miller would no doubt cite [click to continue…]

0565 | Fugitive Pieces | Anne Michaels post image

Context: Visited the bank as usual to send money home from Saudi while reading this.

This was a strange book, the tale of a WW2 Jewish refugee who is initially harboured on a Greek island before emigrating to Canada. Michaels writes her own prose, and the style forms a major part of the work. This is deep writing which would benefit not only from a second reading, but probably many more.

The entire first person narrative is overshadowed by the opening scene. Nazi troops break into a family home and Jakob flees. His initial flight is a whirlwind of imagery as this small boy attempts to come to terms with what has happened while at the same time adapt to life on the run in rural Poland.

Once he is given refuge and smuggled to Greece, the story shifts, and we find ourselves in a world illuminated by Greece and all the philosophy and learning it has to offer through Athos, Jakob’s new guardian. Despite the Mediterranean light, the darkness of the book’s beginning constantly haunts the writing and Michaels’ use of [click to continue…]