Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Arthur and George. Julian Barnes, 2006

I have to admit the book was a bit disappointing. The introductory chapters were extraordinary -especially the part on George growing up in the vicarage. Barne's potential for mimicing a nineteenth century writer's style is amazing. The rest though was somewhat boring and banal, the intended suspense did not work, the intricacies of the supernatural and Arthur's fascination with the above are more ridiculous than anything else.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kafka on the Shore. Haruki Murakami, 2002 (English Translation 2005)

Haruki Murakami sucks. The book is a prefect example of a senseless, though artful, concoction of literary references and popular postmodern devices. It sounds like a 101 course in Comparative Literature. It could be written by anyone who has taken a literature course on that level and has read a Marques novel, (or Tolkien in the worst case....) with a pinch of Pynchon - and I mean here the leeches falling from the sky, the door to a different reality, the quest for a magical stone, the divine idiot talking to cats, the Hegel quoting prostitutes, the American pop-culture icons (a Johnny Walker as a cat-murderer....??! - did I really read that?...), the elementary reductionist references to Aristotle, Plato, and Chekhov, the mystifications of some spiritual "depth", the Oedipal plot, the transsexual character, the menstruating teacher episode, and the entire existentialist scam that Murakami perpetrates on the unsuspecting reader....And the writer's "Japan-ness" hanging on by sentences like "His penis was hard as porcelain."!?...

Murakami's success as a writer is one more indication of the snobbery of the reading public who can't think for themselves and indulge their provincial pseudointellectualism by letting the literary scam artist flatter their vanity misleading them to believe that they belong to an "educated" reading club (which unfortunately they are not...Far from it...).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oracle Night. Paul Auster, 2003

"Oracle Night" sounds like an exercise for "Brooklyn Follies". While the former contains mostly summaries of stories, plot outlines, skeletons of possible narratives, in the latter the stories have flesh, mood, and the sense of joie de vivre (as well as joie d'ecrire).

And of course, in both works, everything starts with someone buying a notebook. Auster makes writing look so easy and so exciting...

In the 2003 work, the story that lacks closure -- the story of Nick Bowen, is the most fascinating one--full-scale dramatism taken to a dead-end. The framework story - that of the protagonist Sidney Orr, has a beginning, middle and end, but refuses to explore the drama that is contained in it - the drama of betrayal. Auster seems to avoid that and turns it into a sentimental illustration of friendship, generosity, forgiveness or (I am not really sure what... may be - true love?!)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Absurdistan, A Novel by Gary Shteyngart, 2006

A satire of the new Russian oligarchy and the American dream as it flourishes in a post-Soviet, post-communist Russia and the oil-rich fictional ex-Soviet republic of Absurdistan. If you read the "Russian Debutante's Handbook" by the same author , be prepared for more of the same. It is funny but you if take out half of the 350 pages of the book, it would definitely benefit from it. The best about the book is the language of the first person narrative of main character -the son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia, Misha Vainberg. American educated (Accidental College), he has adopted the insider lingo of a multiculturalist politically correct American academia. Using this language to describe a totally absurd Eastern block reality, which combines totalitarian mentality, maphiotic culture and senseless fascination with capitalism, makes the book great fun (up to a point - and that point could be page 185.)

The Dream Life of Sukhanov, A Novel by Olga Grushin, 2006

My first problem with this book is the way the author was introduced on the dust-jacket of the book - she turned out to be the first Russian to ever get a degree from an American University, an interpreter for President Carter during his visit in Soviet Russia, a descendent of a dissident social sciences professor who taught in the 60s in Prague, and finally - a Research Analyst at a law firm (after getting a BA from Emory). Well, anybody who is slightly familiar with reality (especially the East European one of the 60s-90s) can't help noticing that there is something wrong with this glorious picture.

That set aside, Grushin is not entirely devoid of literary talent. Her style is good, although comparing her to Nabokov and Chekhov, as some of the (marketing) reviewers do is quite a stretch. Grushin has tried to write a novel about a Russian totalitarian typage, an artist who has sold his beliefs and his talent for material comfort and a secure position in the totalitarian hierarchical scheme of Soviet life. She is tracing his downfall at the time of the perestroika. An ambitious and complex task! The author is very deft describing the culture and mores of the totalitarian intelligentsia - a fact that suggests her first-hand knowledge of that culture. The attempt to seek a redemption for her character in religion - Sukhanov's seeking refuge in a deserted Khram - is unconvincing and too much of a (Russian) cliche to provide closure for the drama of the hero...
There were some nice images here and there (although the general sense was of a dragging narrative) - for example, the well written scene of the hero observing the reflections of the totalitarian city in the Moscow river - and the shimmering reflections suggesting a city trapped down, under the water -- the mystical alternative for a better world...

Lipstick Jungle, A Novel by Candace Bushnell

Very weak as literary skill - even "The Devil Wears Prada" is better...

Otherwise - it is just a therapeutic fantasy about a world where women rule, use men (for sex and career advancement) and dispose of them at will, oh...and female solidarity is stronger than ever...Add to this a glorification of the corporate back-stabbing mentality and the ruthlessness of the corporate-ladder climber and you will have a full bullet point list of the unisex corporate winner would be. There is nothing feminist or feminine about this.