Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Books: Biographie de la faim, A Novel by Amelie Nothomb, AKA The Life of Hunger, 2004

The Independent called the book a "memoir of a megalomaniac" and I can't agree more. Who would not stop talking about herself and her childhood as if it is something so exceptional that every detail deserves attention. Can't understand authors that consider their childhood memories worth sharing with the world. And, yet, I would read Knausgaard childhood memories...What makes Nothomb's childhood memories so annoying is that sugar-syrup-dripping cuteness and narcissism that lives in every single page. Even the self-deprecating statements ("I am ugly and have a big head") make a claim for exceptionalism. And why would I want to learn that she was finishing the glasses of champagne (such an exquisite taste at three!) of the guests of her "diplomat" father? This book is as annoying as the self-indulgent banter of a smart-ass child who has been told many times (by her parents) that she is so smart and so cute.
Unfortunately, there are still some guests lingering and watching the infantile woman play cute. The French reading audience amazes me. The woman with the big hat is their cult figure! No wonder Michel Houellebecq emigrated to Ireland.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Books: La Première Chose qu'on regarde. A Novel by Grégoire Delacourt

Have the French totally lost their taste for good literature? This is a best-selling author? Gregoire Delacourt sucks! This can't be possibly "literature" -- the writing is bland, transparently commercial, feels like reading the yellow press. The "idea" of the novel (if we can call it that) is so banal and tired... A looser imagines himself being visited by Scarlett Johansson but actually he's fallen in love with another regular looser and since both are so messed up by the entertainment industry and gossip media, Scarlett Johansson becomes a vehicle of their dreams and desires. The author actually cannot even pull off that "idea". The main female character is killed in a car crash because Delacourt does not know what to do with her and his story. The book lacks intelligence, the narrative revolves around the literal. The alleged sense of humor is pathetic. The novel falls apart before even having assembled. It probably intended to say something about the effect of the entertainment celebrity on the life of ordinary people but is so literal and unimaginative as literature that eventually it is just puzzling how it can hold any reader's attention to the end.

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Books: "Deep Water", A Novel by Patricia Highsmith, 1957

Returning to Patricia Highsmith is always such a pleasure. And this novel in particular is such a delightful, despite late, "discovery" (thanks to Gillian Flynn.) A suburban marital thriller plays out like a magnificent war of the sexes tragedy where no extreme is incredible. The wife is pushing all the buttons, the husband is taking all the imaginable abuse, and then punishing her by killing others. The killer is both sympathetic and sociopathic. The wife is not a victim, she playfully and spitefully explores the boundaries of someones submission. And despite some critical opinion, this is not a "loveless" marriage that both characters are trapped in. A fatal marriage never is. One of the characters, in this case the man, is pathologically in love. And he is quietly destroying both -- himself and Her -- one chilling murder after another. Immediately after the second murder, Vic Van Allen, goes to a school concert to hear their daughter sing. He hands in his ticket at the entrance and the ticket says "Admit two". Highsmith's sense of humor is superb - it never fails to bring chills in the appreciating reader.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

Books: Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple, 2013

A "delightful" reading and a "glittering" prose..The book invites such definitions and the irony of the quotation marks. It is really imaginative and fresh and very  often - quite funny. My problem with it is that its "charm" outweighs its author's talent. I value more the "menace to society" aspect of the mother character than all the cuteness of the child. The book becomes too cute, especially towards the end.

The TED talk episode is hilarious, outstanding...

I could not get rid of the impression that I am reading a Young Adult novel. Is it because the YA mentality is gradually taking over the entire American literature?

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Books: The Circle. A Novel by Dave Eggers, 2013

A nice dystopian novel which reads with pleasure. The style is crisp and light as in Zamyatin's We and the balance between sarcastic humor and dark insights is just right. We follow an inspired young lady, Mae, into her spiraling path: literally - spiraling up in the ranks of her corporation driven by ambition and willingness to be perfect at work and do good in the world  and metaphorically - spiraling down into a state of brainwashed enthusiasm for "transparency". The critique of the corporate culture of advanced high tech companies is scalding. The tensions between "secrets" and "morality" are examined bravely and honestly. Eggers describes a world permeated by a sense of creeping totalitarianism. 

Occasionally the book becomes repetitive but in a way this "circling" is necessary to build the ominous presence of "the Circle"...Gospodinov could be developed more as a character.

Otherwise, Very Good!

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Books: The Blazing World, 2014. A Novel by Siri Hustvedt

The great idea to dig into the essence of modern art and the nature of taste ("What is taste?") and what is left of art if it is dissociated from the celebrity, the persona of the artist -- squandered.

Beckett's Murphy was rejected by the publishers forty three times...Why not write exactly about that? "Without the aura of greatness, without the imprimatur of high culture, hipness or celebrity, what remained?" What is taste, again? This is the main point here but it was pushed aside by the author eager to make tired feminist arguments... The premise of the book is that a woman has to pass her artistic work as a man's and only then watch it being appreciated - as "muscular, rigorous, cerebral". How transparent, oversimplifying and pathetic in a way.

It is not enough to state that "it is not about sex"...A book built on intellectual argumentation has to take the debate further, no? The novel is inventorying endlessly the sins of man against woman through numerous literary references. "No one rejoices more in revenge than women, wrote Juvenal" -- how misogynist! But haven't we dealt with the past already? Everything is a symptom of misogyny. Ms. Hustvedt's response to Juvenal is "And I say, I wonder why, boys. I wonder why." And really - why.

The novel is built on several narratives commenting and undermining other narratives, a lot of silly role-playing, the use of "masks" upon "masks" upon "masks" and other similar postmodern crap. Most of the text involves pretentious commentary on classic authors from Kierkegaard to Zweig. The status of the book as "fiction" is quite shaky. Intellectually - it is a mess.

And a symptomatic self-revelation of Ms. Hustvedt's is waiting for the reader on the book jacket: she is defined here by her "PhD in English from Columbia" and the fact of not mentioning in her bio that she is the wife of Paul Auster. If she was not a celebrity would I be reading her book? Sorry, it is really not about sex...

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Books: Sycamore Row, 2013. A Novel by John Grisham

Wanted to check out what John Grisham has written recently. The short answer is - a very weak book. He is bored of himself and it shows. The book is repetitive, banal, and flat. The "racial card" is played without passion.The thrill is gone...

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Books: Gone Girl. A Novel by Gillian Flynn, 2012

It is a smart, well written novel in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith. It is very hard to follow in her footsteps but Ms Flynn manages to do that pretty well. The novel follows a very complex structure and especially in the second half when the "trick" with Amy's diary is revealed, walks on the razor's edge trying to balance logic and conflicting psychological motivations. Often it seems the author is almost about to trip switching between the narratives of He and She but eventually manages to pull it off neatly, collect all loose ends and turn it all into one huge metaphor of male-female love-hate stand-off and psychological warfare. “One situation – maybe one alone – could drive me to murder: family life, togetherness” Patricia Highsmith is quoted to have said...Ms Flynn's novel is an intricate illustration of that statement with a little bit of Porfiry Petrovich thrown in -- his role being played by a female local cop...The language is witty with that type of wittiness that misleadingly steers the reader into "chick-lit" territory only to make them realize later that this genre affiliation is severely ironically undermined.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Film: Nebraska. Director Alexander Payne, 2013

A little bit of a disappointment delivered by a favorite director... This is not "About Schmidt"...far from it. It lacks the drama, the surprise, the painful realization of a wasted life catching up shockingly with an unsuspecting Schmidt. In "Nebraska" the main character is too senile, too confused to be able to experience or sustain a drama. Actually, we don't know if he is capable of experiencing anything. Impossible to identify with him. All the characters are predictable cliches. The black and white vision seems like a whim - carries no meaning. It oddly reminds of a Bogdanovich film without a Bogdanovich message...Bob Nelson's script does not rise above the anecdotal. Overall - it seems like Payne took the path of least resistance and tried to do tell a story that he already knows how to tell.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Books: Paris: The Novel. Edward Rutherfurd, 2013

Could not finish this book by internationally best selling author of historical fiction Edward Rutherfurd.
It is a combination of a Paris tour guide and a soap opera intertwined with French history on high-school level. 
Think about the vast audience out there that actually reads Rutherfurd - readers endowed with intellectual naivete and literary innocence...

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