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…]

0574 | Against the Day | Thomas Pynchon post image

Context: listened to this on my daily commute to Saudi.

Absolutely pointless and not worth anyone’s time, this is a novel by a man entirely self-absorbed. It says nothing about any particular era, has no characters more three dimensional than a sheet of paper and has no plot to speak of. It wanders aimlessly across the planet sometime around the beginning of the 20th century and contains nothing memorable short of some rather gruesome and vacuous sex scenes.

He doesn’t even include a single chapter to give his poor readers a break as they struggle against the interminable tide of prose for over 1,000 pages.

Avoid.

[click to continue…]

0573 | The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England | Ian Mortimer post image

Context: read this over a year and a half in bed with the wife in Bahrain

I kind of like history and so, when I started to dip into this in a bookshop, I thought it would be right up my street. In the end, I was glad to get to the end of it. Mortimer can write, but there’s a little too much detail in this to actually keep my attention right the way through.

This basically starts off like a Rough Guide to Medieval England. This in itself is a great idea. I think if Mortimer had stuck to this, he might have written a better book. Instead, it starts very quickly to morph into a pretty standard description of various aspects of Medieval English life.

This has its own interest of course. There’s a ton about Medieval England which is fascinating. There’s also a lot which is, obviously, going to be mundane and Mortimer doesn’t really know what to leave in and what to leave out. As comprehensive as it is, there are [click to continue…]

0572 | Antic Hay | Aldous Huxley

0572 | Antic Hay | Aldous Huxley post image

Context: got myself a nice table lamp from IKEA while reading this.

Not the most memorable novel I’ll ever read. Apart from pneumatic trousers (a chindogu candidate if ever there was one), little remains a couple of months on as I write this review.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so, so many other novels that attempt to spoof the era after WW1 that it just kind of got lost in the haze. Why is it that so very many writers have to describe that era using witty, ascerbic satire rather than writing about it in any way seriously? Was that stance itself actually a tribute to the age?

Gumbril, who the book opens with and mostly focusses on, is probably the most memorable of the caricatures, and his pursuit of the “Complete Man” fantasy was at times amusing and wry.

But, although it was a good novel, it was only mildly amusing and not a patch on Decline and Fall, for example. Despite being written after his opening Crome Yellow, I prefer the earlier work although I can’t really put my finger on why. [click to continue…]