Oe, Kenzaburo (translated by Paul St John-Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama)
Marion Boyars Publishers, London
ISBN: 07145 29974
Is there something about the Nobel Prize judges that make them favour harrowing shit? Maybe – I can’t confess to even a working knowledge of Nobel literature, but I know one thing, and that is that this book isn’t for the faint of heart, or even anyone who is tenderly inclined towards an idealistic notion of the adult-child relationship. Damn, the adults in this book make the Trunchbull look positively friendly.
For all that it is a bit on the intense side of things, it’s certainly an excellent read, and doesn’t come across as preachy at all. Given its subject matter, that would be a pretty easy thing; set during the mid- to late-Second World War period, in Japan, it deals with a group of reformatory boys who are forcibly evacuated to the countryside. To my mind, Oe has captured with amazing alacrity the capacity for children (the eldest is perhaps 12 or 13 years old) to feel responsibility, and to feel a desire to sacrifice their own comfort for the comfort of another. He’s also captured really nicely the tensions which exist between adults and children even during peacetime. These boys are continually being shunted about by adults, being always told that they’re terrible human beings and worthless when really, most of the adults aren’t any better – and mostly a lot worse. Read the rest of this entry
Bodley Head, London
Jeez Louise, there’s impenetrable Russian literature, and then there’s this book.
What was I thinking? My brain is fried enough as it is these days without trying to wade through this kind of thing. It seems to be the problem that I constantly have with literary fiction, right? That I just can’t seem to do it, to enjoy it, to not wallow in the fact that what I’m reading is supposed to be hard, to feel martyred (and secretly pleased with myself) because of this wodgey fortress of a book. To give you an idea, the edition that I got out of the library was the first time that Cancer Ward had been published as a single volume. A single volume, that’s right cublings – it used to be two books! It weighs nearly two kilograms! Okay, so I made that up, but it gave me wrist cramp just getting through the first chapter, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This was meant to count towards the Full-Frontal Challenge, because Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel laureate, but damnit, I didn’t read enough of it to even fake having read it. I did learn some interesting stuff about Solhenitsyn (though, not how to say his name quickly) in the course of researching my next read for the Booksluts Award-Winning Challenge. But really, I’d just be padding out the post, and it’s nothing that you couldn’t find out for yourselves on Wikipedia. And I love you cublings too much to fry your brains, so I’ll just content myself to steering dinner party conversations onto gulag’d Russian authors of the 2oth Century to show off my retention skills.
I might start off a bit slower next time and read The Gulag Archipelago instead.
University of Hawai’i Press
This is another of the Bookslut’s Full Frontal challenge reads, and a kind of personal challenge to myself. I have been guilty for a long time of a bit of a hating of New Zealand fiction – we have this thing called the cultural cringe, where New Zealanders (generally, anyway) used to be horribly embarrassed of anything that came out of here. Things have improved in a major way since I was little (in a far off, distant time known as “the Eighties”) but I guess as a nation, we’re still a little screwed up about it. I liken it to middle child syndrome – not that I know what I’m talking about in the slightest, of course, being an eldest child.
Anyway, enough pop psychology. Grace is a New Zealander, and is so local, that if I drive up the coast about an hour, I could probably go visit her if that wouldn’t be weird or creepy. Which it would. So I won’t be doing that any time soon. The story isn’t really regionally grounded, but is definitely a story based in New Zealand. It’s incredibly good; human, interesting, seemingly personal but not too horribly (i.e, obviously) autobiographical. However, I do wonder how much someone who isn’t very familiar with the politics of race in New Zealand would get from it. I mean, obviously, it’s not that hard to fathom out – I mean, this book did win the Neustadt International prize in 2008. Read the rest of this entry
Century Hutchinson, 1986
ISBN 009 163790 2
Ahh, summer reading. That’s right, northern hemisphere-ers, it’s summer down here now. Don’t worry, I’ll drink a beer in the sun for you. Although, any New Zealander will tell you that summer never really comes to the city that I live in – all we get is slightly less wind, and this summer in particular has been pretty pants so far. I have kind of an intense programme set up for the break that I have over summer, as far as reading goes. Lots of cheerful titles – Catch-22, The Cancer Ward, Speaker for the Dead. Oh, and this one, The Old Devils, which doesn’t sound very cheerful, but even before I’d gotten to five pages in had me laughing. Out loud. In the staffroom. With other people present. Lucky for me I’d already finished my avocado on toast, otherwise I could have had a bit of cleaning up to do. And on that disgusting, unladylike note…
This is the third book that I’ve read that will go towards the Full-Frontal challenge that those darling Booksluts have set up. The Old Devils won the Man-Booker prize in 1986. If you read that little description that I’ve linked to just there, you’ll probably note, as I did, that there seems to be a lot of ‘bursting’ going on in Kingsley Amis’ career. What up with that, literary descriptors? What about… erupting? exploding? Ach, well… it seems a little redundant to me to have bursting twice, but… whatever. I have read Lucky Jim before, Kingsley Amis’ first book, but it was so long ago, back when I was doing speech and drama lessons that I couldn’t honestly tell you what it was even about. Which is ridiculous really, but that was a long time ago now (sob), so I might have to re-read it one of these days. But who has time to re-read a book I honestly can’t remember a damn thing about?
Actually, on a side note, I often find that with funny books. I read them, enjoy them, then forget about them. The books which stick in my mind as ‘good books’ are the hopeless ones, the terrifying ones. I don’t know if that’s just a propensity of mine to enjoy observing other people’s (even fake people’s) suffering… which is a disturbing trait, but glossing over that for the time being… I remember quite a few books which have made me laugh so much I’ve nearly cried (44 Scotland Street, Fever Pitch, Breaking Dawn, although… I guess that last one isn’t strictly meant to), but I’ve never gone back to read any of them, and I don’t think that I’ve ever recommended any of them to anyone. No, that’s not true, I actually bought Fever Pitch for the Lad, since he’s almost as rabid a supporter of our local team as Nick Hornby is of Arsenal, and I wanted to show him the path that he was heading down. Yup, I do my nagging in literary form. Mind you, he bought High Fidelity for me first.
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So here we are again with one of these Booksluts ‘Full Frontal’ Challenge books. My word, when I signed up for this challenge and was blithely going through the lists of award winners for the different prizes, I had really forgotten how freakin’ harrowing literary fiction can be. This is a prime example of that – War Trash is super-intense. This book won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction in 2005, but was also a finalist for the Pulitzer prize. Pretty hot shit.
And it’s no surprise really. This book kind of epitomises, to me, everything that fiction is capable of being – characters that really make you care about what happens to them, a broadening of your senses, creation of an empathy with characters who might be outside your realm of experience. The trick seems to be in Ha Jin’s writing – amazingly clear, emotive but not over the top, human as all get out. To be honest, I thought that I had picked up a memoir rather than a fictional book when I first started reading it, the details were so intricate and realistic (at least to my eyes – I’ve never been to that region of the world, and apart from one university paper and some reading, don’t know much about China at all, really. And I’ve certainly never been a prisoner of war, thank goodness). Read the rest of this entry
Okay, off to a hiss and a roar with the Insatiable Booksluts ‘Award-Winning’ Challenge! As mentioned in my last post, I’m doing this ‘Full Frontal’ Challenge, which is where you read three books from Nobel Literature Laureates, three from Man/Booker winners, and then one each from winners of the PEN/Faulkner award, National Book Award for Fiction and… one other award winner. Oh yeah, the Neustadt International Prize for Fiction. Which is great, because that means that I can read Baby No Eyes by Patricia Grace as part of this challenge, which I’m feeling quite patriotic about. I’m just gonna record for posterity my apologies to New Zealand Novelists; I’m sorry for hating on you guys for so long, but I’m trying to mend my ways.
So, without further ado, here are my impressions of André Gide’s book, The Immoralist.
Gide won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947, four years before his death. But man, according to Wikipedia, he had a pretty amazing life – buddies with Oscar Wilde, critic of the French colonisation of Africa (in particular the Congo and Algiers). He actually has a centre for Gidean studies now, which I took a quick glimpse at; crazy. He was, from reading around about his life, a highly moral individual who was unfortunate enough to be living in a time when his sexuality was enough to condemn him to living outside of the ‘normal’ model of moral behaviour. Okay, actually, given his penchant for young men, outside the morals of this current time as well, but… yeah. His work was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Forbidden Works) by the Catholic Church in 1952 too, just for good measure. They abolished that list in 1966, so that’s alright. Read the rest of this entry