Posts Tagged ‘ book review ’

#16 Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami

ddd

Haruki Murakami… Pretty sure you guys know I’m a big fan of his writing already; idiosyncratic prose where no word is unnecessary, sentences and story lines that leave you disjointed at the end of the chapter. I have to admit, after reading Sputnik Sweetheart, I was a little disappointed, so I avoided picking up his books again. It’s probably my least favourite of his that I’ve read so far, and for some reason that prejudice prevented me from picking up old favourites like Kafka on the Shore because I just couldn’t get back into reading them.

Dance Dance Dance changed all that.

This. This is a book I can quite easily fall in love with. It is deceptively dark and sinister, something you only realise as the novel peaks and falls. The unnamed narrator is as rich and interesting a character as After Dark‘s Takahashi; there is something charismatic about their plainness. Murakami’s female characters are often striking – they have a strangely attractive physical feature or mental lure to them, whilst the men are usually without these particular characterisations.

I don’t want to go into too much depth about the plot because the whole ‘spoiler alert’ system sometimes grates on my nerves and I don’t know how you guys will perceive that. Basics of the basic, a commercial journalist sets out to find someone who he thinks is crying for him and ends up on a journey looking for an ex-girlfriend with beautiful ears, befriending an old high-school friend turned popular actor and a snappish psychic 13 year old.

Apparently this is the final in a trilogy (preceded by Pinabll, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase); I would have picked up copies if my local bookstore stocked more than the keystones of Murakami (it’s a tiny, tiny place. The local McDonalds and chip shop are actually bigger than the bookstore…). Maybe next time!

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#15 Elantris – Brandon Sanderson

Elantris UK

Recently (as in the last two months kind of recently), I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson novels. I picked up Warbreaker a couple of months ago when it was on offer in Waterstones, and actually really enjoyed it. Both Warbreaker and Elantris are stand-alone novels, though I actually wish there were, if not sequels, then at least other novels set in the same ‘verse. Post Warbreaker, my mother and I both bought the three Mistborn books between us and devoured them pretty quickly. There’s a fourth Mistborn book already published (though not related to the characters from the original trilogy) and a fifth apparently in the pipelines. However, the Mistborn series isn’t my main focus today.

Elantris is a beautifully written book. I actually have very few qualms with it for once. The lore of the universe Sanderson has created is, for the most part, in-depth and detailed. It’s easy to read parallels with cultures of our own world in some aspects too, which doesn’t alienate a reader entirely by thrusting them into a world so strange and different from their own. Perhaps more could have been written about the religious sects, particularly the Derethi, though this would have been detrimental to the pacing of the book. The pacing of the novel itself is actually one of my biggest faults with Elantris, and this stems from the fact that it feels almost too well-paced. It is a little slow throughout the main body of the text, but during the last few chapters it seems to speed up significantly – again, almost too much. Elantris draws to a rapid-fire ending, covering the basics but not really lingering on details or the poignant emotional culminations of the events of the novel.

The magic of the world of Elantris is probably one of the most beautiful things about this creation; it is logical, it is intricate but understandable, it has its limits… Though Elantrians are talented in their magical art, they are not invulnerable or unlimited. The mystical Aons are incorporated throughout the book, and one wonders of the significance of each chapter being titled with a specific Aon (given more time, I hope to go back through and compare the meaning of the Aons with the events in each chapter). Admittedly, there is no explanation behind the existence of Aonic power, or how it came to be, but such things aren’t of utmost importance within the book; the reader is more concerned with the livelihood of their unfortunate Prince and the Princess who should have been his wife.

It has to be noted that Sanderson writes his female protagonists particularly well; they don’t entirely depend on their male counterparts, their focus is not on finding love (though they always struggle to balance their relationships with their duties because they cannot seem to find a balance between the two). The women are strong and they act with the best interests of the many, rather than themselves or those within their immediate circle. It is refreshing to see female characters who don’t simply fall at the ‘hero’s’ feet, simpering and swooning.

Elantris (2005) was Sanderson’s first novel and, despite the few faults I have picked out above, his writing has improved greatly since then. Taking into consideration the Mistborn series, the pacing of the novels can hardly be faulted. He crafts his fantasy worlds with the utmost care and precision; what is left outside of the reader’s knowledge has no place there anyway. Mysteries in the books that the characters are attempting to solve can also be followed easily by the reader – there is no exclusion, and sometimes there is even the satisfaction of working out the truth before the protagonist realises it themselves.

Brandon Sanderson’s work is definitely worth a read if you enjoy fantasy/high-fantasy that’s a little easier to swallow than Tolkien, but less tongue-in-cheek than Pratchett.

#14 Vampire Hunter D – Hideyuki Kikuchi

blahVampire Hunter D (Volume 1)Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
English translation by Kevin Leahy

Where to start with Vampire Hunter D?

As mentioned in my last post, my curiosity was piqued by this novel, mostly because of the illustration artist, Yoshitaka Amano. That, and I’ve always been interested in vampires, and vampire lore, and for this novel to develop on that, and include dhampirs, I figured it would be right up my alley.

Well.

It’s not that it isn’t, not per se. However, this is a strange novel; it’s set in the future, and yet because of the almost post-apocalyptic nature of human history, the way in which humans live has both regressed and progressed. It’s contradictory but understandable once explained, I suppose.

The book is both difficult and easy to ‘get into’. There are plenty of hooks to grip the reader, but the writing style itself seems clunky. In some places it seems overly convoluted and complex, and yet there are grammatical and spelling errors running rife through the 2005 DH Press edition I bought. Sometimes the writing itself seems clunky, others it’s overwrought and difficult to navigate. Now, I’m not sure whether this is due to the translation perhaps being off, or just the original writings being that way, but it was this that made the book difficult to read.

One element of this text really surprised me, in that Doris (our heroine, or damsel in distress who is more than willing and able to fight back) readily relinquishes her virgin qualities to the first Hunter that comes along that can maybe save her. There are hints at romantic possibilities throughout the novel, but nothing is ever made of them, and she is never flatly turned down. Along with other aspects of the novel, the question of Doris and D’s relationship is never truly answered, and this can be frustrating.

The most interesting thing about D is his abilities and his history, not to mention the tumour companion that resides in his right hand. Perhaps the plot of the novel didn’t necessarily call for more explanation of these things, but I would have liked to see some expansion on them, and perhaps a little more use of D’s abilities as a dhampir, as they are what truly make the novel its most interesting.

I was a little disappointed by Vampire Hunter D, I’m not going to lie (I was also looking forward to more illustrations, some perhaps in colour but I didn’t really get them), however that’s not to say I wouldn’t read more from Kikuchi’s series. Perhaps the novels mature in depth and readability as one progresses through them.

#12 Shin Kyung Sook – Please Look After Mother


Please Look After Mother – Shin Kyung Sook

On Tuesday, on a hunt to pick up a birthday present for my Nana’s 60th, I ventured into Waterstones for a quick look at books before I had to head off for a diabetes check-up at the hospital (not fun, by the way. They treat me like a human pin-cushion). Just looking at books is half the fun these days, mostly because they seem to be so much more expensive than when I was younger. I like to add things to my mental Reading List; books that, were I several thousand pounds richer than I currently am, I would cart home with me after making the woman at the check-out a very happy seller indeed.

I usually stick to the science-fiction/fantasy section but a small display caught my eye. I forget the exact title but there were lots of them around the store; stands with around ten books on them, each for a different award or genre that Waterstones was promoting. I picked up ‘Please Look After Mother‘ from a display that contained (amongst others) novels by Haruki Murakami and Roberto Bolano. Of course, this was an international fiction stand. I felt a little proud that there were authors who – thanks to one of my classes at university – I recognised.

Shin, however, I did not recognise. But I’m a sucker for pretty things so the cover grabbed my attention (as did a small pink novella but I eventually put that one down, though somewhat reluctantly). I ended up grabbing a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Warbreaker’ and Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle‘ as well as ‘Please Look After Mother‘.

Please Look After Mother‘ is about losing a parent – and then, in searching for her, the mother’s entire family grows to discover more about the woman that cared for them. It’s a book that highlights how a parent truly looks after their child, encompassing empathy, compassion, love and aggravation. No family is perfect and everyone has their qualms with each other but, beneath all the anger and irritation, there is always love.

The novel has been translated into beautifully simple but evocative prose, with each chapter in a different narrative voice, depending on the specific character. With each chapter, Shin builds up the mother’s character, fleshing her out and giving her life, enabling us to see her from every angle and suggesting that it takes a great deal to truly know a person, no matter how close we think we are to them.

Shin’s novel isn’t about finding what you lost, it’s about urging us as readers to recognise what we can lose, before it’s too late. It encourages us to take a look at our relationships and keep hold of what matters most.

#11 Jenny Erpenbeck – Visitation


click here to view on amazon

The first few pages of Erpenbeck’s Visitation have a special hook to them. They act as bait, catching us with our mouths agape as the fairytale-esque narrative unfolds. The first chapters ‘The Gardener’ and ‘The Wealthy Farmer and his Four Daughters’ are promisingly full of Grimm and Andersen style and charm. It is after these chapters though that I lost my enthusiasm for the novella, the style shifting to something a lot more realistic and confusing.

Erpenbeck has a wonderfully simple way with words although some of the turns of phrase and expressions of dialogue left me confused and out of sorts.

The main theme of the book is a house by a lake, a dwelling that stands and survives the passage of time, new families and war. Visitation is the history of this house, the lived-in-ness of its walls, its land. The house is one of the only two constants in the story, the other being the Gardener. Few people ever stay in the house by the lake for too long a period of time – because of circumstances, as the country is ravaged by war or families move apart – but the Gardener is the only one to spend the majority of his life there.

The tale was a slow read for me as I found it difficult to remain engrossed in the lives of characters who didn’t seem to stay around. Perhaps re-reading it and truly accepting the house as the character would be more successful, but considering how so much detail is given on people rather than the house, it’s hard to stick with this idea.

I, personally, didn’t enjoy this book. Others might. One thing is certain: it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

#7 Quim Monzó – Guadalajara

(click to view on Amazon)

The blurb on the back of Monzó’s rather slim volume actually gives away a lot more than one would normally expect to find on the back of a book.

‘All the heroes of this story collection… are faced with a world… where time and space move in circles… Their stories are mazes from which they can’t escape.’

The latter half of the above quote rings true the most: in Helvetian Freedoms, William Tell is unable to evade the laurels of his father’s history; in A Hunger and Thirst for Justice, Robin Hood travels full circle in his mission to steal from the rich and give to the needy so that their roles are reversed and he hasn’t quite achieved his ideal intentions; Centripetal Force‘s protagonist becomes lost in his own home, unable to escape and drawing more and more people into the maddening claustrophobia of the maze outside of his door.

One of the most interesting things Monzó does is to take a tale familiar to us – for example, Outside the Gates of Troy deals with the Trojan Horse – but instead of simply retelling it, he takes it, moulds it with his own words but finishes with one of an infinite number of endings. History itself could have taken many different paths and we rarely pause to consider the ‘what if’s’ of historical events or concern ourselves with the emotions of the revolutionary characters that shaped our past.  Perhaps Monzó’s retellings aren’t historically accurate but they do contain a sense of personality and humanity, allowing the reader to laugh at the father and son in The Lives of the Prophets, to empathise with the man in the elevator from Life Is So Short – after all, who doesn’t regret not committing to something or seizing a missed opportunity?

This sense of humanity and the way it mirrors ourselves as people is one of the many tricks Monzó employs to gently nudge us into continuing to read through the pages of Guadalajara. The majority of the short stories themselves are simply yet eloquently written, fluid and unjarring and surprisingly easy to skim-read. It is in the last few pages, however, that Monzó truly hints at the tools of his craft. In Books, we are told

Things should always begin and never continue… when the potential is still almost infinite.’

Whilst Monzó is applying this to the protagonist, The Reader, and how he interacts with books, it can also be applied to writing itself. The short story as a form is often focused on developing character rather than plot and endings are often left open-ended. An open-ending isn’t necessarily the sign of a lazy or incompetent writer; sometimes the reader is given the freedom to imagine their own ending. Of course, this can be frustrating but Monzó’s open-ended fiction seems to lack most of the irritability a reader occasionally feels when the carpet is dragged out from beneath their feet and they’re left with nothing.

Guadalajara is an enjoyable read. There were only one or two pieces that I found it hard to engage with but for an overall score, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, I would probably give this a 7 or an 8. There is a lightness to this book (both literally and metaphorically speaking) that makes for an easy surface read. Read several times it develops more depth as you progress and is definitely a book worth checking out.