0554 | Gabriel’s Gift | Hanif Kureishi post image

Context: Visited the brand new Mercado mall down the road from us while reading this. Nothing was open!

Oh my… but this was so profoundly awful on every level that I can hardly believe I read it, let alone that for some unfathomable and criminal reason, it was once placed on the 1001 list.

Badly written with flat characters who say and do entirely predictable things, this has a plot that, if Kureishi could actually write, might not be half bad. But he can’t write and the novel thus turns out wholly bad.

Gabriel’s parents separate and his father, a failed musician, attempts to salvage something for his future by reconnecting with Lester Jones, a famous rock musician he once played with in the 1970s. This results in Gabriel receiving a gift of a drawing from Lester. To protect his possession from his money-grubbing relatives, Gabriel duplicates the drawing and passes his own copies off as originals to more than one member of the cast. This ploy soon lands him in a dilemma, and this is where a good writer would have tied [click to continue…]

0553 | An Artist of the Floating World | Kazuo Ishiguro post image

Context: Was reading this when I happened upon a magazine with an article about my photography in Bahrain.

This is a beautifully written novel filled with pathos and written with immaculate prose that describes accurately not only Japan and not only the Japanese character but also the post-WW2 Japanese character. Having lived there for 6 years until 2004 and just come back from a two week trip down memory lane there this summer, it was a perfect time to read it.

While living in Japan, I read voraciously anything I could get hold of regarding not just the Japanese involvement in WW2 but how society dealt with the aftermath. In many cases, it was typically Japanese for most people to deal with it by, well, not dealing with it in any way at all.

Artist places you firmly in the mindset of Masuji Ono an artist who, by the 1950s of the novel, is in his dotage having lost his wife and son in the closing stages of the war. He lives in a house still damaged by the bombing with his memories for company. What he doesn’t [click to continue…]

0552 | The Bell Jar | Sylvia Plath

0552 | The Bell Jar | Sylvia Plath post image

Context: We finally found a decent Indian restaurant in Bahrain while I was reading this: cheap, delicious and totally veggie!

From the very first classic opening line through to the end, this is a page-turner. Plath wrote this very quickly and it shows in the effervescence of the prose. However, there’s no denying that behind the prose is someone who was entirely familiar with words and how they can be handled. Some of the imagery in this is definitely that of the poet rather than the out and out novelist.

Based so heavily on her own life and contemporaries that it caused a scandal for them, Plath writes with honesty about Esther Greenwood’s young experiences as a debutante in New York and, on returning to her provincial home, her subsequent nervous breakdown and hospitalisation.

Throughout the novel, Plath uses Esther as a vehicle to explore her own issues with her role as a woman. This is, in part, why the novel has such a legacy. It clearly reveals issues surrounding society’s treatment of women as accessories for the male-dominated world [click to continue…]

0551 | Billiards at Half Past Nine | Heinrich Böll post image

Context: Read this as the first novel in a novel-per-day series of six as we celebrated what we called R-Eid in Bahrain.

This was an interesting novel to pick up a few days after finishing Cat and Mouse by Günter Grass. There are a lot of parallels in the prose of Grass and Böll. Both feature narrators who are less than reliable, there is a complex chronology in both, and both cover the period of WW2 and/or its aftermath from a Germanic perspective.

But Böll’s work is definitely the more complex in terms of its storytelling if not its imagery. Set over three generations of architects and told from the perspective of over 10 narrators, it’s the kind of novel that you have to just relax into and go with the ebb and flow backwards and forwards between the First World War and 1958.

It wasn’t the kind of book that you come away with having learned something desperately new. I found it quite complex, and, like Cat and Mouse, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d got the point of what Böll was trying to say. There are some obvious bits about regret and skeletons in the family closet, but those are pretty obviously going to be part [click to continue…]

0550 | July’s People | Nadine Gordimer post image

Context: read this as the first of 6 novels over 6 days off for Eid Al-Adha.

I’ve read a fair few books from South Africa that deal (unsurprisingly) with the issue of relationships between the black and white communities. Nadine Gordimer’s novel is, sadly, not the best I’ve read and that’s a shame because I thought, for a moment at the start, that it would really be spectacular.

Unlike Roth’s Human Stain, Gordimer here deals with race using the clarity we are used to. The whites are white and the blacks are black. Her particular twist though is that the blacks have just overthrown the white South African apartheid government and have driven the Smales family, one particular white couple with their three children, deep into the bush.

They take refuge in the village of their “house boy” July who guides their yellow pickup (known locally as a bakkie) many hundreds of kilometres to safety. The scene is thus set for all that you’d expect [click to continue…]