Friday, 30 September 2011

The Double

The Double - Jose Saramago

"an algebraic equation with people's faces where there should have been letters."

This is a book soaked in Mathematics. Indeed it reminded me forcefully of an occasion in my schooldays when I was asked to come to the blackboard and write out the proof of a theorem we were supposed to have learnt. The theorem was nice and concise but I hadn't learnt it. I may not even have looked at it and I had far more entertaining things to listen to in the classroom than the teacher. So I had to start from scratch and I filled the blackboard twice, following a number of hunches that brought me nowhere, before finally arriving at the proof. This was, of course, very amusing to the teacher.

Staying with half digested maths, it is my understanding that one of the many ideas in quantum mechanics is that anything that can happen, will happen. In this case the plot of The Double is not that farfetched. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, a history teacher who is suffering from mild depression is advised to watch a certain film by "his colleague, the Mathematics teacher." He watches the video and finds it unremarkable and as cliched as its title "The Race is to the Swift."

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Centauri Device

The Centauri Device - M John Harrison

This is a strange and interesting novel. Written in a style which seems to try to meld Chandler and Burroughs it has a dreamlike ambiance while telling a straightforward enough Pirate tale full of ships, bo'suns and ports; albeit in space, and on the 400th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

John Truck is the son of the last pureblooded Centaurian, and as such he is the only one who can operate the Centauri device of the title. This device has been discovered by Grishkin, the leader of the major religion of the time, the Openers, who have windows in their bodies to reveal their innards. The device is also wanted by the Israeli's (IWG) and the Arabs (UASR), the conflict between whom has led to what's left of Earth being split between them, their conflict continuing amoung the stars.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Siege of Krishnapur

The Siege of Krishnapur - J.G.Farrell

I haven't laughed out loud at a book so much for quite a while. What began as a series of low civilised chuckles to myself ended up with quite a few loud guffaws and extended periods where laughter bubbled up from my stomach like carbon dioxide through soda water. I then had to sheepishly mumble to my partner that I was laughing at some particularly gory scenes of dismemberment.

The novel tells the story of an uprising in an isolated province in India which leads to an extended siege of the residence of the Collector, the chief bureaucrat in the province.

I feel obliged at this point to say that this review contains some spoilers although I feel that they will not in any way spoil the enjoyment to be derived from the book.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I have been contributing the odd poem to one of my online reading groups this year and thought I'd gather some together here to give everyone who reads this a chance to point and laugh.

I unwound the bandages
and flinched
You were unwinding
Like a spring
gone loose
The years wind around me
Like a torn cloth

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Eye

The Eye - Vladimir Nabokov

"A thing I had long suspected - the world's absurdity - became obvious to me."

The Eye is an early (1930) novel from Nabokov which he translated from the original Russian in the mid sixties. In his foreword he talks of the difficulties faced in translating the title.
"The Russian title of this book is SOGLYADATAY (in traditional transliteration), pronounced 'Sugly-dart-eye', with the accent on the penultimate. It is an ancient military term meaning 'spy' or 'watcher', neither of which extends as flexibly as the Russian word. After toying with 'emissary' or 'gladiator', I gave up trying to blend sound and sense, and contented myself with matching the 'eye' on the end of the long stalk."

The book is set in Berlin in 1924-25 amoung the Russian emigre community but Nabokov doesn't try to make any political point - saying - "they might just as well have been Norwegians in Naples or Ambracians in Ambridge." The nature of emigrant communities, where disparate people are thrown together by the simple fact of their nationality is evident in the book, however. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Palace Walk

Palace Walk - Naguib Mahfouz

Palace Walk is considered by many to be Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz's masterpiece. It is the first part of a trilogy of novels which tell the saga of one family in Cairo, and through their stories the wider story of Egypt in the 20th Century.  It explores power and it uses and abuses in the domestic, social and political arenas.

At the heart of the book is the charming but despotic father Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. His family consists of his wife Amina, three sons ( Yasin, Fahmy and Kamal) and two daughters (Khadija and Aisha). His eldest son, Yashin, is from a previous marriage which is the first sign of a crack in his self image. The narrative voice is interesting, flexible enough to reflect the self image of the characters within an ostensibly omniscient voice. This allows for the deployment of weapons grade irony, especially in the descriptions of Al-Sayyid and Yashin.