Monday 28 March 2011

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

If you like your pots boiling over this is a good read.  Every time you think you've reached a plateau another log is thrown on the fire. The Kite Runner is a melodramatic tearjerker of a novel that attempts to portray some of the pain of a country that has been ripped apart again and again. It doesn't suggest any answers but tries to highlight the humanity behind the headlines.

The tale takes us from pre CIA/Russia Afghanistan through regime changes and across the globe to San Francisco. It raises questions about how people can find redemption from crimes of commission or omission. It is not a radical book, either politically or in terms of its literary form.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

Holly Golightly is one of the most famous characters in fiction, due in no small part to the film starring Audrey Hepburn. I've seen pictures and clips, but, to the best of my memory I've never seen the film so I came to the book with less preconceptions than I might.

Breakfast in Tiffany's is a frothy confection bubbling like champagne but remember there is emptiness inside each bubble.

Holly Golightly glitters brightly because all her energy is invested in her surface. What lies underneath is too painful and is in chaos like the inside of her apartment.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

The Gathering

This is book no 18 in my attempt to read 100 books this year and respond to them all in this blog. I'm just about keeping the target in sight although I'm lagging a little. However, I'm finding it a rewarding experience and have yet to have to wrestle with a book that I'm not enjoying.

The Gathering - Anne Enright

What a wonderfully rich and evocative title this is. The Gathering. With slightly ominous tones. The gathering of the clans, the gathering darkness, the gathering of material, an abscess, the gathering of yarn to spin a tale.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Saints in the Grass

"Today is the day when the Irish everywhere celebrate their slaveowning past. In an ironic turn a returned slave brought a sytem of mental slavery to Ireland which taught the Irish that they deserved whatever they get.

I thought one man suffered to expiate the sins of many but it appears that many suffer for the sins of a few.

In the future will we have St Brians Day?  In honour of a public servant who made the public servants?

Green is the colour of nausea, the post twenty pints of Guinness colour, the colour of our hangover.

Wear it with pride.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Confessions of a Window Cleaner

The Unbearable Lightness of Being was one of the key books of my adolescence and was much discussed as 'everyone' had read it. I picked it up in the local charity shop thinking I'd read it again someday. Ended up starting to reread it that very day as I finished the book I was reading while out and had no other book to hand. It's interesting to read books that you have almost forgotten and turning pages is like an act of memory as much as discovery. Anyway, to the book iteslf...

"There was a bed in the middle of the room. It was like a platform in the theatre. Tomas ordered her to stand in the corner while he made love to Sabina. The sight of it caused Teresa intolerable suffering."

Saturday 12 March 2011

My Name is Red

"I am the only historical novelist in the world who can point out his subjects with his finger." Orhan Pamuk

This is the first book I have read by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. It won't be the last. This is a wonderful feast of ideas, on one level a historical murder mystery set in the sixteenth / seventeenth century but on another an exploration of art and artistry, of the interplay between images and psychology, the sweep of history and the way Istanbul is at the nexus of  Christian and Moslem worldviews.

A central theme of the novel is perspective. The miniatures are painted from the specultive perspective of Allah. There is a growing awareness of Venetian painting and the increasing realism of Western painting and their use of different perspectives. A preacher rails against this 'blasphemy' and this stirs up trouble amongst the miniaturists who are working on a book of illustrations using elements of the western 'style'.

Monday 7 March 2011

Camus' Plague - A Cruel Mirror

Unlike Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, (one of my favourite books -showing , perhaps, an unhealthy interest in the darker side of human experience) Camus is not trying to build a socio-realist vision of a visitation of the Bubonic Plague. That is not to say that there is not much that is compellingly realistic in this book.

Rather he is using the plague both as an allegory for the Nazi reign in France and as a cruel mirror in which we may see how philosophies for living hold up in the most testing of circumstances. Like pressing mercury on tin to make a mirror, Camus presses the plague bacillus onto thin veneers of meaning and looks at our reflections there.

We have scientific, religious, romantic and variations therof, embodied in diferent characters who all find their beliefs sorely tested. We even have a Harry Lime type who revels in The Plague as it gives him respite from the law and many opportunities to make a killing.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Never Let Me Go

Right from the start of this book we know that we are only getting part of the picture. We know there's something happening but we don't know what it is. Carers, donors, privileged estates, Hailsham....

When we go back into our narrator's past, we find Hailsham to be a boarding school, or something very like one. The casual cruelty of children, being 'in' with the right people, the cult of particular teachers, the importance of particular belongings, rules...

"... how we each had our own collection chests under our beds, the football, the rounders, the little path that took you all round the outside of the main house, round all its nooks and crannies, the duck pond, the food, the view from the Art Room over the fields on a foggy morning."

Thursday 3 March 2011

All the King's Men

This is a book full of  the putrid vitality of politics and much else besides. The book is narrated by Jack Burden, a journalist who becomes the right hand man to rising political force Willie Stark (The Boss). He wrestles with the meaning of his life and the ethics of wielding power. We jump backwards and forwards in time as he tries to understand what the past has meant to him and how to divest himself of its burden.

The effort to understand is often blunt and so are many of the voices and personalities that fill the book. Some of the politics had a resonance with the General Election raging around me here in Ireland as I read. I could imagine some candidates having very similar conversations to this one between Stark and Burden.

"They didn't seem to be paying attention much tonight. Not while I was trying to explain about my tax program."
"Maybe you try to tell 'em too much. It breaks down their brain cells."
"Looks like they'd want to hear about taxes, though," he said.
"You tell 'em too much. Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys, and forget the rest of the tax stuff."