Total Items = 175
Mouchette — Georges Bernanos
I started reading this in French some time ago but I also ordered the novel in English and I had to wait until I returned from Holiday to read it. I’m still intending to finish the French. I most appreciated the compact and sparse development of the narrative. In the hands of a lesser novelist, this text could have been bloated far beyond the short length of the story. Like Ethan Frome, the discipline of what was essentially a long short story was very effective in developing the impact of the conclusion. However, Ethan Frome was about the arbitrariness of Fate whereas Mouchette is more about the oppressiveness of solitude, poverty, and being different. On one level this short novel is excellent in painting its picture with few strokes, but I felt the conclusion was telegraphed too soon and lost some of the impact at the end. However, another way of looking at it was that in the short format, the author didn’t have an opportunity to do more than suggest the logical development to the conclusion and perhaps left large gaps of understanding that future readers might not be able to fill in (another author, like Zola, would probably take several hundred pages to tell the same story but would cover every aspect and possibly lose the impact of the conclusion).
A Cock-Eyed Comedy — Juan Goytisolo (+)
Performing the duties of the Holy Roman, Apostolic, Catholic Church in the loos at the Gare du Norde with the saints and parishioners that are ready to be comforted by the rod and the staff, Father Trennes moves in a out of history and the Saint Mark’s Baths with a possé consisting of some of the more notorious free thinkers and liberal lovers of history and literature — Jean Genet, Roland Barthes, Svero Sardy. This Spanish meta-novel abandons any requirements of time and place in a dark comedy savaging the organized church.
About Catherine de’Medici — Honoré de Balzac
Episodic. Historically interesting.
W, or The Memory of Childhood — Georges Perec (+)
In this novel, Perec parallels two different narratives — the coming of age story and then fantasy narrative which eventually creates a fictional analogy of the cruelty and inhumanity that visited Europe during the Nazi era. A strong statement, but perhaps unnecessarily complex.
The Last Novel — David Markson (+)
In each of Markson’s Not-Novels, the narrative theme rises closer and closer to the surface.Although one never knows if this will in fact be the last such novel, here the theme of time and the body running out is barely obscured by the wealth of factoids the author has pieced together in his text. Here you can really see how Markson shares the theme between the snippets of fact and the authorial interventions. Because of the progression of these novels, I would recommend reading them in order — Writer’s Block, This Is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, The Last Novel.
The Age of Wire and String — Ben Marcus (+)
A small but complex novel that begs for a slow and careful re-read. Marcus gives us a world where the language seems familiar but it is not used to same as the reader is comfortable with — everything is at thirty degrees and reflected in a mirror. This novel, which is erroneously labeled a short story collection, is a must read for anyone interested in the development of the medium and not just reading another nice story.
The Bizarro Starter Kit (Orange) — Bizarro Press (+)
I believe the “orange” designation suggests that the publisher will bring out other editions with alternate sample writing. It doesn’t matter for me since I’m already hooked and have been filling my library with more and more Bizarro texts. Often sophomoric, usually gratuitous, tremendously obscene and gruesome, this it the most imaginative and fun writing I have run across in years. Oh, I can see how some of the more critically established authors are writing stuff that probably qualifies as Bizarro (the new genre) — Kathy Acker, Angela Carter, Chuck Palahniuk, etc. — but there is a flip freshness to the authors anthologized or advertised here and I love it! Definitely worth looking into; if you hate it, so what … I hate Stephen King and there are still lots of people out the reading him (why?).
Ficciones — Jorge Luis Borges (+)
Some of these are still familiar but each time you read them they become more clear. They speak of this author in terms f magic realism but I see a large collection of meta-fictions.
Truth in Ruins — John Edward Lawson
Bizarro but didn’t hold my interest. I did like the Humanzees vs. Poontangutans though.
Survivor’s Dream — Steve Beard
Bizarro for sure but also a very interesting experimental approach to the subject. It doesn’t take too long to realize who Dead Girl is but some of the images are pretty wild.
Don’t F(beep)k With the Coloureds — Andre Duza
Bizarro and owes a lot to Roger Rabbit. As I asked a friend … what are white coloured girls?
Time’s Arrow — Martin Amis
Well, I dismissed Night (Weisel) because it was the same-old-same-old … just another retelling of the holocaust so Amis’ narrative slight-of-hand should be welcome … but it wasn’t. I kept thinking to myself: Is this better that Palahniuk did it? Is this consistent? Would metaphors be reversed? I guess in film, especially silent film, this backwards trope is effective and at times Amis was right up there with the Flintstones when it came to imagination … but there were too many holes and it all got to be rather tiring. The best thing I got from this text was some notes on a writing experiment I want to try. Otherwise, I think the subject matter made this novel more important than it really is.
The Greatest Fucking Moment in Sports — Kevin L. Donihe
Oscar Legbo gave up torturing bugs and became a competitive bicycle rider. Bizarro.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Ragnarok — Vincent W. Sakowski
A “yuppie” couple with only surface beauty to recommend them run into Loki who is presumably starting Ragnarok and the couple is selected to restart humanity after all the others are wiped out. Bizarro.
Fatma: A Novel of Arabia — Raja Alem (+)
An elegant and eerie story of dreams and prophecies with a lot of wise observations about the country and its people hidden in the folds. Fascinating. Mesmerizing. Recommended.
Murphy — Samuel Beckett (+)
An early novel by the author (actually written in English). It’s approachable, funny, and a good lead-up to the trilogy.
Extinction Journals — Jeremy Johnson
If you had the time to make a survival suit that would withstand a nuclear holocaust, what would you use for materials? This author imaginatively has his character sew cockroaches to the outside of his suit. The President was given a suit of Twinkies designed by the Pentagon. And then things get weird. A lot of fun and more imagination that ten novels nowadays.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return — Marjane Satrapi (+)
The second volume of this graphic biography of the author. Highly recommended and now an award winning motion picture (in French). Not to be missed!
Gargoyles — Thomas Bernhard (+)
This excellent Austrian author should be receiving far more attention that he does. Maybe it’s because he only wrote novels that mattered and not fluff that would sell.
The Master of Petersburg — J. M. Coetzee
The fictional account of Dostoevsky when he came to St. Petersburg after the death of his adopted son. The author does a creditable job of maintaining the Dostoevsky style in his prose and there are subtle reminders of the other Dostoevsky works, albeit often in a Shakespeare In Love style.
Suicide Girls in the Afterlife — Gina Ranalli
You have to try this stuff. I’m not saying it’s great writing (although in some ways it’s not bad, depending on the author) but the level of imagination and the willingness to break rules is sure a lot better than most of what is landing on the front rounder at Barnes and Noble today.
The Infernal Desire Machine of Doctor Hoffman — Angela Carter (+)
The quintessential quest full of postmodern fantasies and literary allusions. This is a fun read and in between the outlandish stuff there are a few philosophical questions being raised that make the fantasy that much more relevant. I was thinking, though, how close Carter comes to the more recent Bizarro authors — Carlton Mellick III said in an interview that no one was writing the fiction he wanted to read so he started writing it himself … I guess he never read Angela Carter.
The Baby Jesus Butt Plug — Carlton Mellick III
This is Bizarro fiction and this author is one of the most prolific and well-known. I like it.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions — Edwin A. Abbott
Where does the rain come from? This is an interesting artifact and a great example of letting the imagination go. Unfortunately, boring.
The Chinese Parrot — Earl Derr Biggers
I’m getting into these Charlie Chan novels and to top things off, I just ordered The Ultimate Charlie Chan movie collection — 42 movies on 14 DVDs.
The Dubliners — James Joyce (+)
An excellent collection of short stories that develop and in some ways introduce the concept of the modern short story. Deceptively simple, Joyce’s skill is writing shows in this early work. These are to be read and re-read.
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity — Judith Butler
A somewhat difficult read with a lot more deep theory than I could gather in in only one reading. This goes back on the TBR for a later review.
Jackson’s Dilemma — Iris Murdoch
This novel was written after the author began to experience elements of the Alzheimer’s disease that would eventually take away her mind. Two comments: first, all the pairings, un-pairings, flashbacks, deaths, etc. seemed to just crash onto the novel and the sense was more like Coconuts than a well-controlled novel — too many divine accidents; and second, I could see how the character of Jackson could really be developed in a better way than the author wrote and was disappointed — was Jackson the Fisher King?
Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood — Marjane Satrapi (+)
This graphic novel is the first of two that the author wrote about growing up in the Middle East. I will have to get the second volume to follow up.
The Inheritors — William Golding
The perfect text to compare with London’s Before Adam. Two things I noticed in Golding: one of his techniques was to present the physical world as if it was sentient, which makes sense if you are at the intellectual level of these early men; the other was to represent the primitive thinking process in terms of pictures and connections between pictures. Although both authors strived to maintain the primitiveness of their subjects, London too often forced sudden discoveries to move his plot along, even though he usually downplayed them by suggesting that they were one-time occurrences and the simple minds of the proto-humans would not understand the significance of the discovery. This one was the better and once again showed that Golding casts his fictive imagination is a wide variety of ways. He’s not always great but he is always interesting.
La Niege était sale — Georges Simenon (+)
Variously translated this noir is well written and quite engaging. Simenon is able to include a great deal of terribly naughty stuff in the narrative without turning it into a boring sex novel. The characters are choice but the setting is what makes the novel. It’s a city under occupation by a foreign enemy, but it could be anywhere … in the end it’s a dark, forbidding world where murder, greed, prostitution, and corruption drive a black-market economy leaving even the white snow falling on the city stained and ugly.
Pillars of Salt — Fadia Faqir (+)
I have to admit that some of the events in this novel were totally unfamiliar to me and I again feel the need to work on my knowledge of the Arabs and Islam.
Bouvard et Pécuchet — Gustave Flaubert (+)
Fascinating, educational, funny … it reads like a romp through the culture of the mid-19th century but underneath the bumbling of the two heroes there is a lot of rather sharp comment going on. It’s a shame that the author died before completing this novel, especially with the fun that his notes suggested would be coming in the next part. Everyone reads Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education but this is another that should not be missed.
The Cement Garden — Ian McEwan
A quick interlude and not without some enjoyment but about as satisfying as a stick of gum. What bothered me most was the nagging feeling that the author was just re-writing Les Enfants terrible. Since it is an early work, I suppose we can forgive the author for copying and even give him credit for at least copying an excellent novel by an amazing writer.
Divisadero — Michael Ondaatje
Certainly an enjoyable and engrossing read.I enjoyed all the somewhat jumbled stories and was constantly interested in what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow how the different stories related thematically and am still thinking about it.
Les Chants de Maldoror — Le Comte de Lautréamont
Well, not exactly a novel. As it says … a collection of prose pieces the author calls chants. If you are looking for a complex plot of fully developed characters, you might have a problem here. However, if you are looking for an amazing book by what must have been a very interesting writer, then try this one (it helps if you are somewhat comfortable with surrealism).
Falling Man: A Novel — Don DeLillo
I suppose most American authors feel the need to write about the events called 9/11. Roth includes them as a small part of the back story in Exit Ghost but DeLillo uses them as the force behind this typically disappointing novel, In this case, though, I don’t want to fault DeLillo (even though I should) because it isvery difficult to go back to the intense emotion of 9/11 after the politicians have spent five years prostituting it’s memory
Exit Ghost — Philip Roth
Nathan Zuckerman is getting old and … well, you didn’t expect Roth to keep writing about this guy forever, did you? Fact is,the author isn’t getting any younger either. I can see him sitting on a bench by the lake in Weequahic Park wearing an old oatmeal colored sweater with raveled sleeves sipping coffee from a paper cup and mumbling at the pigeons while his Depends stands guard.
Before Adam — Jack London
I think if you read this as if it was a juvenile novel it works, but you do have to ignore a lot of science that the author didn’t know at the time. I liked London’s choice of a more ape-like ancestor to follow rather than the easier human-like progenitors. I intend to read Golding’s The Inheritors as soon as I can for comparison.
L’Elixir de longue vie — Honoré de Balzac
The Elixir of Life. An interesting little Don Juan story, with a twist.
Ham On Rye — Charles Bukowski (+)
Bukowski is not my favorite but I do appreciate some of his simple, direct prose. I like the way he is both realistic and not realistic at the same time. This is fiction, but it looks something like life … but different. I recommend this one because it is pretty central to the author’s work and everyone should give Bukowsi a try.
On Chesil Beach — Ian McEwan (-)
Well written in the sense that the prose is accomplished and the structure is well balanced and strong, but other than skill, this novel is a clear demonstration of a successful novelist wasting my time — The Bridges of Madison County meet Blue Denim. First, at this date the detailed internal struggle of two people in 1961 that weren’t ready for adult commitments like marriage and — dare we say — sex, is silly nostalgia at best. I think that McEwan found an old piece of writing or an old journal entry suggesting a treatment like this … maybe something he scribbled down around, say, 1961. I suppose if this had been written by Booth Tarkington in the early part of the century it would have been quaint but to write it now?
Père Goriot — Honoré de Balzac
If you only read one Balzac, this is a good one.
Labyrinths, Selected Stories and Other Writings — Jorge Luis Borges (+)
This collection is a subset of the pieces in the volume Collected Prose that have been selected, both for their quality and for their thematic use of the labyrinth.
Native Speaker — Chang-Rae Lee (+)
The narrative was interesting, the themes were good, the writing was crisp, the structure was complex yet balanced. This was a good novel, albeit rather standard in it’s execution. I have had this one on the shelf for some time and read it finally with the Asian Literature Readers when the topic was Korea.
The Diary of a Nobody — George & Weedon Grossmith
Pleasant entertainment easily matched by an episode of The Great Gildersleeve.
The People of the Abyss — Jack London (-)
This is non-fiction — an extended piece of investigative journalism. The author wants to better understand how life is in the East End so he gets old clothes and spends some time living in one of the worst slums around. Although the narrative was generally interesting, the writing was, understandably straight-forward and in the end, boring.
Lost Souls — Poppy Z. Brite
Not your traditional vampire novel and actually, a fairly well written novel. Given the level of experience, Ms. Brite puts more well know writers of horror to shame. There were a couple of small items that I wondered about (no, all of the vampire stuff seemed perfectly reasonable) — does everyone in the South smoke clove cigarettes and would a good-ol’ boy from a wide spot in the road outside Raleigh really play a five string guitar? Entertaining and not afraid to spill a little blood.
Spare Change — Robert B. Parker
Sunny is getting back together with Richie and working with her Dad who has come out of retirement to try to catch the serial killer he couldn’t find twenty years ago.
The House without a Key — Earl Derr Biggers
Charlie Chan. The first one. At times the Charlie Chan dialect is a little rough to take but if you just imagine Warner Oland or Sidney Toller, it all works. This is decidedly not Dashiell Hammett but still a lot of fun.
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife — Sam Savage (+)
Not so light entertainment from a novelist that looks the part. First, forget Ben and Me and read Firmin. If we could all be born in a nest made from the shredded pages of Finnegans Wake we might all find ourselves understanding the redemptive power of literature. Well written and unaccountably moving; this is the one novel to read if you are having a literary dry spell. Ginger Rogers naked … an image worthy of the Big Ones!
Passacaglia — Robert Pinget
See my notes for Cette Voix. Not much has changed.
The Cloud Dream of the Nine — Kim Man-Choong (+)
This text was written in the mid-seventeenth century in Korea, about the same time that the early novels were being written in England. For those that enjoyed The Tale of Genji, this one is actually better constructed (probably because it had one author) and considerably shorter. The translation made during the 1920 by Reverend James S. Gale is very good at depicting the Asian sensibility and despite being a religious-type, makes the celebration of polygamy that is present in the text beautiful and natural without editorial comment. You might recognize some of the situations in this novel from I Love Lucy.
Cette Voix — Robert Pinget
Okay. When I first read many of the Robbe-Grillet novels I didn’t have the slightest idea what had happened and had to re-read them several times before they made sense. Well, Pinget is also a writer of the Noveau Roman so it isn’t unexpected that I kept getting confused. I did, however, see how the author was structuring the text and had a rough idea of what was going on most of the time. But this one is going back on the TBR pile for further study.
The Houses of Children — Coleman Dowell
This is the kind of author I enjoy and his short stories had just enough edge to them to keep me interested. Not too shabby.
The White Castle — Orhan Pamuk
What about you … are you getting tired on someone finding a manuscript by a fictional author and publishing it for our reading pleasure? I’m not so sure if this was a profoundly symbolic postmodern story or a decent author grabbing at a few interesting, but not particularly uncommon, themes and creating a somewhat exotic novel around them. Once again, Pamuk is coming up short for me.
The Last World — Christoph Ransmayr (+)
I found myself at first a tad confused by the lack of temporal continuity or temporal integrity in this novel but in no time I was in awe of the superb and imaginative narrative as well as the sparking prose styling. The story involves the time of the emperor Augustus and the poet known as Ovid who is sought in exile by his admirer Cotto; but in the hands of a skilled postmodern author this text explores culture and politics in an imaginative quest leading to the ends of time. This is definitely an author to read and admire.
La Guerre des femmes — Alexander Dumas
This is a fun, breezy romp through a difficult period on French history. Thinking about it: the text flows so nicely and there are so many turns of the plot with certain characters flowing through them, I’m surprised that this isn’t a more widely read Dumas title. Of course, with the new translation, there might be a surge in interest. I only rate Dumas average, not because he’s not a great read, but because his novels are fun and adventurous and not too deep.
La Rabouilleuse — Honoré de Balzac
Although I enjoyed this one, I really shouldn’t rate these Balzac novels. They are all good and most are better than what is being written today, but despite the overall quality of the work, they are a part of a much greater vision — La Comedie Humaine. The Comedy gets high marks while the individual titles might vary.
Naked — David Sedaris (-)
This one gets knocked down because it promised but in the end didn’t come through. I definitely had the impression as I read along that the author was just stitching together a bunch of humorous adventures and calling it a memoir. This might have been acceptable if there was any continuity between the episodes. Unfortunately, other than the character of the mother and father, I didn’t see any — the character called David was a different person with every change in the plot.
Middlemarch — George Eliot (+)
I tend to enjoy novels like I enjoy food — well prepared with plenty of spice that bites back. I guess that’s my problem with novels like Middlemarch — excellent prose, superlative plotting, juicy characters, satisfying themes — but no red pepper. It’s a great novel without a doubt but I’m still hungry.
Janet’s Repentance — George Eliot
Liquidation — Imre Kertéz
Two things I enjoy about Kertész are his style, albeit in translation, and the shortness of his works. The central topic is almost always The Holocaust but Kertész doesn’t dwell on it, doesn’t spend a lot of time telling us what we already know, instead he uses the theme of The Holocaust to create a background for his characters. This text is interesting because at the end, one of the characters actually goes to Auschwitz and finds a commercial enterprise with tickets and tours and snack bars. So, if Auschwitz is has been redone by Walter Knott, where did the horror of the experience go?
La Femme de Trente Ans — Honoré de Balzac
Reading Like a Writer — Francine Prose
A Guide for People Who Love Books? I actually enjoyed the author’s insight into the effort that other authors put in their writing and her position that we will learn more about writing by experiencing good writing that by any course in creative writing. There’s lots of stuff in this book. But one quote calls it a “love letter to the pleasure of reading” and like most erotica, it eventually gets tedious and boring.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian — Marina Lewycka
Tractors and Boobs: Ultimately the most interesting thing about this entertaining but disappointing novel is the title. Although I usually mention movies in a pejorative way, here I am being positive and suggesting that this would make a good movie. I’ll pass the text on to a friend that is into fluff.
Aberration of Starlight — Gilbert Sorrentino (+)
What to say? Thirty-six hours in the vacation of four people at a lake in New Jersey. The author manipulates the four different, interrelated stories through an imaginative variety of literary methods designed to re-create the time and the place and the effect on the four lives. Sorrentino is a master at telling a rich and valuable story while still manipulating and expanding the idea of a “novel”.
Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story — George Eliot
I actually have two copies of this short novel, one in the Scenes of Clerical Life volume and the other on it’s own but in a really old French edition.
The Conversions — Harry Mathews (+)
This is the second novel in a string of three early texts by the author that are all related by the way they manipulate the fiction and the prose. This one really draws you into the search for answers to a rather unusual situation and involves some very unusual characters and events. Amazing! At times I found myself reading with my mouth open in anticipation of the next imaginative turn of events. Mathews is choice.
L’Abbe C — George Batailles (+)
I recommend reading Bataille but fully understand that he is not for everyone. If you are interested in an investigation into the more raw parts of life and in literature that is not very traditional, then try Bataille. This novel involves twin brothers, one a priest and the other a sexual libertine.
The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton — George Eliot
Definitely an early work but it helps to see the growth of the author from these early Scenes of Clerical Life, through the early novels like The Mill on the Floss, into the excellent triumphs of Middlemarch.
Victoria — Knut Hamsun
Hamsun is a very good writer and this is a pleasant interlude but more for those that loved The Bridges of Madison County than for those that loved Hunger.
La Fille aux yeux d’or — Honoré de Balzac
La Pharisienne — François Mauriac (+)
Excellent. The author has developed some of the best characters I have encountered in fiction, especially Brigette. This is one to read in English and in French.
The Red and the Green — Iris Murdoch
It’s Ireland just days before the doomed Easter Rising in 1919. Into this highly charged period the author introduces some wonderful characters and at the same time make some insightful comments on history, philosophy, art, and living in general. This novel by the author is not widely read, it should be.
Period — Dennis Cooper (+)
The final installment of the George Miller series of five novels.
Trees on a Slope — Hwang Sun-won (+)
A look at the Korean conflict from the view of an ROK soldier. Actually, as the best war stories tend to be, more of an investigation into the lives and relationships of the three main characters. It was interesting to see the shift between the very western narrative to the more traditional eastern customs and philosophies. Sometimes the translation might have been too reminiscent of Skippy Homeier and Aldo Ray but I’m sure it was accurate. I would like to read more by this author but his works seem to be out of print and very expensive if you can find them … maybe there will be a reissue.
La Recherche de l’Absolut — Honoré de Balzac
Everything written by Balzac is good, with some texts better than others. But reading the entire corpus of works gives you a much better understanding of just how prolific and variable Balzac was as a writer. Some of the less known or the short works are better than some on the more well known works.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter — Carson McCullers (+)
Well written with just the right hooks into our experiences with life to keep it interesting and relevant. Well worth reading.
Vurt — Jeff Noon
Very entertaining and uniquely imaginative (mutual dream states entered by tickling the throat with a feather) it is also reminiscent of several other futuristic novels. I’m not sure that the author can stand up to some of the more literary science fiction writers but he did seem to hold a rather complex fantasy together without any obvious inconsistencies. Good job.
After Dark — Murakami Haruki (+)
A smooth ride with some nice postmodern twists to the narration (reminded me of early television sitcoms that included a convenient voice-over to guide the viewer to the action). Some readers may find the interruption of the narrative with the Eri episodes which seem straight out of Twin Peaks. But I suggest that they are not narrative, but additional commentary … a different way to look at the themes of the novel, outside of the regular narrative. But I have a question: if I want to read a Japanese novel should I feel satisfied that the characters meet at a Denney’s for a chicken salad sandwich on toast?
Guide — Dennis Cooper (+)
Loaded with homosexual violence and certainly not for everyone, but the author is excellent.
Suite Française — Iréne Némirovsky
Well executed, well written, highly traditional narrative with no surprises. The author’s story is probably half of the novel’s value. The one thing that interested me while reading was the author’s political statements and implied positions relative to the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. Otherwise, entertaining … and probably a better novel than most but reminded me too much of authors like Irving Wallace.
Chimera — John Barth (+)
The author plays with classical stories and also with accepted ideas of story telling and writing. Makes you think and makes you laugh. This was possibly the most meta of any of the metafictions I have read.
Marxism and Literary Criticism — Terry Eagleton
A short introduction to Marxist criticism. Just makes you want to read more.
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground — Lewis Carroll
An early version of what would become the more well know stories
The Flea Palace — Elif Shafak
This reminded me a lot of A Fine Balance or possibly The Inheritance of Loss. Good story (no real plot); decent writing; too slick? I think we have to give this the YA rating … Yet Another Batch of Quirky Characters. When I stop and think about this novel, I see problems with the structure that strike me as bad writing. I don’t like novels that solve all the problems at the end in a way that doesn’t develop from the narrative that proceeds it, and that is what I feel Shafak did. He needs more practice.
Little Casino — Gilbert Sorrentino (+)
This was a good followup to Up — a little Brooklyn, and little Bronx … and even a little New Jersey thrown in. Sorrentino amazes me with his imaginative approaches to fiction. One small thing I also like is when an author slips in an allusion and neither waves a flag to warn you nor stops to provide an explanation just in case you missed it. Sorrentino shows respect for the reader, even though he does also put some demands on the reader at the same time.
Louis Lambert — Honoré de Balzac
Balzac at times seems rather wordy but it is just that excess of description that creates a world for the reader to fall into. This reminded me of both Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund and Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Unfortunately, my philosophy genes are a little weak. This is pretty heavy stuff that sometimes seems awfully silly. The second part of the work was most interesting to me where Lambert speculates on the relation of the real and spiritual worlds and the problems with accepting the traditional God. The third part, Lambert is overpowered by love and eventually goes mad, or at least appears to go mad. The implication is that Lambert is so deep into philosophical and spiritual thought that his soul and mind have separated from his body.
Up — Ronald Sukenick (+)
This is Sukenick’s first major work and it was very refreshing — fun, fun, fun. But at the same time, the author was manipulating his prose in very interesting and effective ways. I loved it! In several sections he drops the narrative and just starts throwing images and thoughts at the reader with concern for punctuation, syntax, etc. The technique is rough but effective in representing inner thoughts — stream of consciousness. Around two or three pages from the end of the novel is the key to the entire text — “It’s only a novel, don’t forget.” Don’t get too confused — it’s all fiction!
The Secret Agent — Joseph Conrad
The most interesting thing about this novel is the timeliness of it’s topic. And, it’s a pretty good book (although I am not totally comfortable with Conrad).
Pan — Knut Hamsun
I believe Hamsun is an author that becomes more understandable with each title you read. I’l still thinking about this one.
69 — Murakami Ryu
A bildungsroman and a roman å clef from a once promising Japanese author that has mellowed a bit. The title refers to the year in question — 1969.
Vanishing Point — David Markson (+)
Like This Is Not a Book and Writer’s Block, this novel is a typical collection of seemingly unrelated factoids with minimal authorial intervention. But like the earlier novels, you not only enjoy the entries (some are really fun) but you also begin to see the patterns and themes. Markson is a very “writerly” author and highly recommended.
Amulet — Roberto Bolaño (+)
A powerful South American author that died way too young.
Through the Looking Glass — Lewis Carroll
Still too familiar to be as exciting as one would imagine it to be, especially for a little kid. This follow-up to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland does have a great deal of contrariness, which is to be expected in the world on the other side of the mirror. Although not important, I did note that Through the Looking Glass recreates a chess game and another book I am reading is structured on the movements of the Knight (Springer) in the class chess problem, The Knight’s Tour (Life, A User’s Manual by Georges Perec). There have been a number of novels that use chess as the structural theme.
A Woman — Peter Härtling (+)
A very interesting and very satisfying generational treatment of the life of a woman with a Jewish mother that spans the period from WWI through WWII and deals with the empowering of a feminine position up to the 1960s.
Try — Dennis Cooper (+)
This is the third volume in the George Miles cycle and since the individual volumes are short, I hope that all five are collected in a single volume. Note as always that Cooper embraces some rather graphic alternate life and death styles.
The Terrors of Ice and Darkness — Christoph Ransmayr (+)
Fascinating. Two stories, one modern and strictly fictional, the other historical, well documented, realistic. Yet the author makes suggestions that a fictional account of a real event might be indistinguishable from normal reporting of that real event. Even though the true story is taken from journals and primary documents related to that event, “Each man reported from his own world of ice.” Ransmayr, or his unidentified narrator, says — “Reality is divisible.” This novel was great and the author deserves much more international attention that he apparently is getting.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — Lewis Carroll
Delightful but the story is too familiar. I found myself more interested in the illustrations.
Mildred Pierce — James M. Cain (+)
This is one that I do not really remember the movie that they made but I want to check it out soon to compare the stories. Cain, as usual, is a master of recreating the life of ordinary people during the stressful time of the Great Depression.
Claudine at School — Colette
Highly recommended for it’s humanity and realism. Colette has captured the life in a small rural school perfectly. Read Claudine instead of watching those John Hughes movies (although there are a lot of parallels).
The Exeter Text — Georges Perec
This may be thought of as the companion piece to A Void (La Disparition). Just as A Void is entirely written without using the most common of vowels, The Exeter Text is written using only those ‘E’s’. Perec sought and received some leeway from Oulipo – on both of these texts but Exeter is far more playful with the language in this “retern of the ‘e’.” I suspect that the original in French (Les Revenentes) was rather different but the translator should get a lot of credit for retaining the original restrictions.
Free Fall — William Golding
I don’t think this one worked but I might be missing something. An artist looks back on his life to try and discover exactly when it was that he lost his greedom. The early childhood stories are pleasant, if clichéd, but the whole prisoner of war section was bizarre and I began to wonder, especially since it was written with a voice like Pincher Martin, whether we were supposed to accept the situation as having really happened. If you want more Golding after The Lord of the Flies, read The Spire; this one isn’t recommended.
Double Indemnity — James M. Cain (+)
No, not exactly great literature but this author delivers some fine novels with excellent plots and good characters. You might imagine this since almost everything he wrote has been made into a movie, sometimes more than once. It is said that if you want to learn how to write, you should read Cain.
20 Lines a Day — Harry Mathews
The author writes — “Four years ago I was reminded of an injunction Stendahl gave himself early in life: Vingt lignes par jour, génie ou pas. Stendahl was thinking about getting a book done. I deliberately mistook his words as a method for overcoming the anxiety of the blank page.” Mathews collects a few months of these disconnected prose pieces into this interesting and informative work. To add to the personal impact, these pieces were written during the time that the author’s best friend, Georges Perec, was dying.
Memoirs of Hadrian — Marguerite Yourcenar (+)
Exquisite. Moving. Thought provoking. And damn well written. The author gives us a look into history and a look into a great man that was powerful, inventive, loving, and very vulnerable. I can’t recommend it enough.
Exercises in Style — Raymond Queneau (+)
Fascinating and imaginative … and educational. Queneau takes a simple story and tells it in 99 different styles.
The Garden of Departed Cats — Bilge Karasu (+)
Although certainly not unique, the author interlaces folk tales with his narrative involving a game of human chess. The complexity of the text as well as the average reader’s unfamiliarity with the history and culture of Turkey, makes this a novel to read, re-read, and think about … a lot. Any author that tries to break the linearity of the text is a favorite of mine and Karasu is both adventuresome in his prose and also very good in his writing.
May We Borrow Your Husband and Other Comedies of the Sexual Life — Graham Greene
Interesting and varied short stories by the author.
Snow — Orhan Pamuk
Definitely a cut above many other novels but I think a great deal of its effectiveness and importance is in the depiction of the situation in Turkey. I would have a more strenuous recommendation for this book but there were so things about it that seemed either derivative or just plan silly. My conclusion: The Duex Ex Poeticus descends on Brigadoon and it’s almost like being in love. How about this: I recommend that you read Snow to judge for yourself.
Paula Spencer — Roddy Doyle
As the author tends to do, Paula Spencer is again the subject of a novel. Here she is free of her abusive husband (no more running into doors) and recently sober. But it’s difficult coping with life and her relationships with her children. I haven’t been too excited about Doyle’s recent novels but I keep reading them. In this one there is a step back to the mimetic quality of the early novels and the fascinating lives of every day Irish people.
House of Meetings — Martin Amis
Very well written and quite engaging.
Between Fantione and Agapa — Robert Pinget
An early work by the author.
Chronicle in Stone — Ismail Kadare (+)
A fascinating view into a small village in Albania during WWII. The author plays with the relation of language to reality and even at one point equates the destruction of civilization with the demise of metaphor in the world. Lots of good stuff in here and also an interesting combination of character study and historical exposé. Worth reading.
Paris in the Twentieth Century — Jules Verne (-)
A rather weak novel that is only interesting for what Verne imagined to be the advancements that would be enjoyed in 1960. Although he is rather prescient about some things, in others he is foolishly blind (the “morning quill”?). The comparison with other novels is obvious, especially Fahrenheit 451, perhaps a little Kafka, and definitely something like Jude the Obscure. This was probably worth reading if only for it’s historical value but the three or four hours it took were perhaps better spent reading something good.
The General of the Dead Army — Ismail Kadare
The premise is excellent and the presentation of life in Albania was interesting, but I found this early novel by the author somewhat tedious to read … no sparkle.
Une Double Famille — Honoré de Balzac
An Experiment in Criticism — C. S. Lewis
Lewis attempts to view criticism by judging how a text is read rather than the more traditional approach of judging how a text in written. Although interesting, the argument does not really suggest a entirely new direction for criticism and, having been published in the early 1960s, is weakened by developments in criticism that have occurred in the last fifty years. However, it is always good to read great prose!
The Rings of Saturn — W. G. Sebald (+)
Written in the form of a travelogue or memoir of a walking tour that the author experienced, The Rings of Saturn explores the author’s major themes of memory, destruction, decay, etc. and provides evidence of Goethe’s “elected affinities” in the landscape of Suffolk, England and the many eccentricities that spark the novel’s fascinating digressions.
God Jr. — Dennis Cooper (+)
Cooper is an excellent writer using a sparse, direct prose that allows the reader to form a clear picture of the scene and to enter the thoughts of the characters. In this text, a father tries to understand the death of his son by following him into the maze of a role-playing video game. Well done.
La Paix du Menage — Honoré de Balzac
The author is very insightful but sometimes these stories sound like they would make great episodes on Love French Style.
Everything Is Illuminated — Jonathan Safran Foer
I think there was a lot in this novel to appreciate. I also think there was a lot that should be criticized. If you add it all together I’m not sure that the author was sufficiently in control of his writing to consider it worthy of the many accolades it has received. I was especially bothered by the often ludicrous and generally uneven patois of the third Alex … this sort of thing may have been humorous in Balki Bartokomous, but it got old really fast in this novel. An interesting question is whether the classic unities should be observed, even in a more modern work, or whether the juxtaposition of the evil and horror of the Nazi treatment of Jews with a scene out of The Reivers (or maybe Tobacco Road), colored by the inanity of Perfect Strangers, is a coup or a terrific blunder? Should we book The Flying Karamozov Brothers for the remake of King of Kings?
McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories — Michael Chabon, ed.
An entertaining collection of somewhat traditional short stories, each with an unusual, astonishing twist. I got to read a few authors I am not familiar with as well as several familiar authors in a different light.
Becoming Madame Mao — Anchee Min (-)
This book disappointed me. As a fictional account of the situation in China during the life of Mao Tse-tung it is adequate, if not inspiring. Since I was not well educated in this history, I found certain sections of the book interesting. However, I felt that the author ignored a great opportunity to make this novel more than just a historical retelling of events, even if colored by the presence of Madame Mao. The background of the stage and operas could have been worked into a much more literary metaphor than it was. I didn’t even get the feeling while I was reading this that it was important that it took place in China. No magic here — only two steps ahead of complete boredom.
La Libera — Robert Pinget (+)
D*U*C*K: A Tale of Men, Birds, and One’s Purpose in Life — Poppy Z. Brite
A short addition to the adventures of the best cooks in New Orleans and the first piece of fiction from the author since the levees broke. As with the other novels in the series, this one moves the story forward but at the same time fills in a bit more of the background history of Rickey and G-Man in the Crescent City.
A Gallery Portrait — Georges Perec
Fascinating both for the meticulously fabricated fiction and for the amazing Gallery Portrait. The quality of this piece is first rate.
Liquor — Poppy Z. Brite
The author is well known for her early cannibalistic vampire horror stories but she can really write, if mostly in a popular vein. This is the start of a very well done series concerning the travails of a young gay couple and their successes in the restaurant industry. Note that the gay sex is direct but minimal but the activities on the line are raw and in-your-face. Good stuff.
Which Moped with Chrome-Plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard — Georges Perec
A short piece that imaginatively undercuts the seriousness of the author’s previous works by affecting some rather sloppy writing skills. But underneath it all is a serious theme revolving around the French conflict in Algeria which we all remember from our youth.
Frisk — Dennis Cooper
This five novel series involves some rather imaginative approaches to gay debauchery.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real — Slavoj Zizek
This collection of four essays by the Slovenian sociologist, postmodern philosopher, and cultural critic, deals with the aftermath of 9/11 through the intelligent eyes of an outsider. It might be fair to say that the typical American will not relate well to some of the conclusions Zizek develops, but it is fascinating (and often requires careful re-reading to even begin to understand). This is recommended reading for anyone that finds Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh foolish (and even a little dangerous).
The Dead Man — Georges Bataille
The expected Bataille erotica with a little twist in the visual presentation.
Coup de Grâce — Marguerite Yourcenar
An excellent and frightening character study.
Travels in the Scriptorium — Paul Auster
Very interesting — like reading Kafka, but not as good, or Lish, but not as consistent, or Crumey, but not as extended. I enjoyed this one.
Madame Edwarda — Georges Bataille
Naked and bored to death … good, literate erotica or pushing the edge?
Une Tenebreuse Affaire — Honoré de Balzac
I am fascinated by the many facets of life Balzac investigates and am surprised to see how involved his writing is in legal dealings. We see the return of Michu here and get a taste of Napoleon himself.
Maigret and the Apparition — Georges Simenon
Good as usual but I didn’t like the stiff little re-bound paperback I had to read (it was tough on the treadmill).
Naomi — Tanizaki Junichiro (+)
This is one of my favorite authors and this early text is quite interesting because it was written in the period before the war and gives a good insight into the modernization of Japan and the relation of the Japanese people to the West. The eponymous character is a fascinating study, changing constantly and clearly representing the modernization of the Japanese woman with the related changing of the relations between men and women in Japan. Everything by Tanizaki is recommended.
La Maison du Chat-qui Pelote — Honoré de Balzac
Love and Commerce in Napoleonic France.
Home Land — Sam Lipsyte
I like the fun, breezy way that Lipsyte writes, always inches away from breaking the verisimilitude of the novel with an aside to the reader (I love asides). This one was easier for me to get into than The Subject Was Steve but both show a great, twisted imagination at work.
The Castle of Otranto — Horace Walpole
I was surprise that I had never read this classic. Purported to be the first Gothic Romance I felt that my education had prepared me to see a radical shift in the novel but it reminded me too much of the pre-novel Romances out of France and the like. Still, it was a fun, quick read and I recommend it to everyone, if anything for its historical value.
El Verdugo — Honoré de Balzac
A prominent French family name will be allowed to continue if the sons becomes the executioner.
Wittgenstein’s Nephew — Thomas Bernhard (+)
A small story, ostensibly of the author and his friend who are both in the hospital, one for terminal chest problems and the other for terminal mental illness. Very powerful and unforgetable.
Night — Elie Wiesel
The author writes a competent memoir of the horrible, inhuman experience of the German “Final Solution.” Unfortunately, it is the same basic story being told again and again by Wiesel and so many other authors. Nothing new: no new insights, no differing viewpoints, no variations on the theme, no lasting literary value.
My Mother — George Bataille
Father dies; mother becomes your lover … until.
Maigret and the Nahour Case — Georges Simenon
A later Maigret — still as good as ever.
High Profile — Robert B. Parker
I’m not sure that I like the direction Parker is going with the overlapping of the Jesse Stone and Sonny Randall fictions. This one really mixes things up and makes one wonder if Spenser is going to show up in the next novel.
Mademoiselle de Maupin — Théophile Gautier (+)
The pleasure is in reading the story and the value is in the author’s Preface (although the novel itself was fascinating).
Mythologies — Roland Barthes
A collection of very interesting essays by a very interesting French intellectual.
Maigret in Exile — Georges Simenon
Confusing. I know Maigret was out of his element when banished to the hinterland, but even his methods get a little stretched in the one.
Frost — Thomas Bernhard
This novel was a challenge and I’m still not sure about the author. There’s a lot of ideas, images, and presumed symbolism in there and it probably should be read more than once.
Closer — Dennis Cooper
The first novel in a series of five (only four written as of today) but don’t read them unless punk homosexual snuff scenes. Actually rather imaginative, despite the graphic sexual content.
Maigret at the Gai-Moulon — Georges Simenon
Who is that broad shouldered gentleman in the corner?
Maigret’s Boyhood Friend — Georges Simenon
He didn’t especially like him at school and now it’s murder.
Kokoro — Soseki Natsume (+)
Lucy — Jamaica Kincaid
A new author and a recommended title but I was surprised to see it catalogued as a Juvenile. I see this as being more for its subject than for its complexity. It’s like finding Pride and Prejudice in the Juvenile Section — yes, most people read books like Austen, Defoe, Brontë, Alcott, when they are young … but that isn’t quite the same thing … adults read those authors just as often.
Ask the Dust — John Fante (+)
It’s your favorite denizen of old Los Angeles, Arturo Bandini, and this one is choice. I can see how Fante might be considered the best American writer no one knows. This text is rich with characters, events, and of course that flavor of LA before they took the Red Cars away. I have at least two more texts by Fante hidden away in my library and I think I’ll get them out soon. Read this guy!
Semaines de Suzanne [S.] — Harry Mathews et all
An interesting collaborative novel where each author writes a chapter.
Hundred-Dollar Baby — Robert B. Parker
Spenser is back and so is a client he helped out years before and although Spenser and Hawk are on the job, no one seems to be telling them the truth. A few plot turns and lots of tough guy banter. The usual fun.
The Exiles — Honoré de Balzac
A short entry in the Commedie Humane dealing with Dante’s image of the Heaven and Hell.
The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 — Martin Amis
A very insightful and entertaining collection of essays and reviews. As a critic, I think Amis is on target most of the time (and his memory seems to be excellent) but I did disagree with a few of his pronouncements. On nice thing about reading a collection such as this is that you rapidly begin to understand the parameters of the author’s thought. Of course, this assumes that the author is consistent and Amis certainly is.
Christ in Flanders — Honoré de Balzac
The story of the last time Christ was seen on earth — here as the mysterious stranger that saves a group of shipwrecked people in Flanders.
The Inheritance of Loss — Kiran Desai
Kiran too often feels the need to drift into a highly figurative language which some will feel lends a poetic quality to her prose; I think it just interrupts a good narrative. Overall, though, this was a good read but not much of a novel unless you are content with a collection of engaging episodes and stories loosely tossed together with no central theme nor central conflict.
Restless — William Boyd
Hotel World — Ali Smith (-)
This read like a number of creative writing assignments cobbled together with the metaphoric World Hotel providing the pole around which affected prose and hackneyed themes could be wound until it all fell down at the end. The use of ampersands in the penultimate chapter was especially lame and annoying. One wonders how such a book could ever be considered for an award. Not recommended.
Pulp — Charles Bukowski
This is the author’s last novel and it was a lot of fun. Bukowski seems to be in easy control of his narrative and his prose, although sometimes a bit trite, is both effective and smooth. I wouldn’t call this novel great literature but it sure beats Kinky Friedman.
The Journalist — Harry Mathews
In this text, the “journalist” is a man who has been assigned the task of keeping a journal of his life as therapy after a mental breakdown. What we see, in the journalist’s own words, is a gradual but rapid decline into the same mental instability. Mathews is both an excellent and an imaginative author. I’m ready for more!
South of No North — Charles Bukowski (+)
Although I enjoy reading the author’s novels, I have never considered them more than entertaining. This is my first collection of his short stories, however, and I was very impressed. There are a lot of writers that do a good job in the shorter works (Hemingway, Yoshimoto, etc.) but can’t seem to write great novels. Maybe Bukowski is like this (although I think his personal life is half of his appeal).
The Orchard Keeper — Cormac McCarthy
Interestingly, I have read the author’s first novel and his most recent novel back to back. You can tell that McCarthy has developed as a stylist and I think the narrative was actually a little more clear in The Road (less jumping around) but for the most part both novels are identifiable to the author.
Black Girl / White Girl — Joyce Carol Oates
Basically a trite entertainment with lots of lessons in race relations that would probably go well in an After School Special. Otherwise, more pedestrian that most of the author’s work and not a strong novel.
The Road — Cormac McCarthy
Excellent prose; interesting story; emotionally devastating; but why? The best I can make of it, McCarthy sees the human animal reverting to abject barbarism given the demise of civilization. I suppose it is refreshing to have a post-apocalyptic narrative that doesn’t try to teach reform us before it’s too late. Is “the fire” the spark of humanity? Or are the bad guys the real humanity?
The Wild Geese — Ogai Mori (+)
Masterful. An excellent example of the early modern Japanese novel.
Blue of Noon — Georges Bataille
Neither as pornographic nor as surreal as some of his other titles, this more political treatment of the pre-war intelligentsia is dark and foreboding. This is a very important author that doesn’t get the attention of other similar authors (Henry Miller comes to mind as well as the Marquise de Sade).