Archive for the ‘Cool contemporary’ Category
It’s very difficult to form an opinion of this book because it is already weighed down with so many.
I have heard it called the Great American Novel. Americans are always looking for the Great American Novel and I think they are a little bit lenient sometimes when they find something that appears to want to carry that label.
This novel appears to aspire towards something literary because the plot is really dull. Also, the characters are dysfunctional and lack an inner life. These three factors makes the writer’s job really hard. Just to get a reader to finish this book should merit some sort of award.
I suppose if your view of America is a very cynical one then you could call this the Great American Novel.
I think of it more as the Mediocre American Novel. It’s more or less what I’ve come to expect from literate American male novelists turning a spotlight on their society and it wouldn’t have held my interest for more than 60 pages if Franzen’s reputation hadn’t been so huge.
I was surprised at how unstylish the prose was, how dreary the story was and how unenviable the characters were.
It was literate. I’ll give it that. But I’m looking for something more than literate. I’m looking for something with soul.
This book takes a very worthy story as its subject and the novelist is a serious and assiduous one, with the ability to capture the essences of things. He can write beautifully and he can write heart-breakingly. He thinks deeply about character and consequences.
However, the book was marred by pretentiousness. The novelist also spent far too long on details of no importance. If I were his editor (LOL!) I would have cut the book by at least half. In a day! (Because the decisions are so easy.)
It makes me feel very shallow to write this. Never mind. I must press on because I have some really good erotic novels to review.
Neil Gaiman is a stunningly original writer at times and at times he’s quite pedestrian. For me his best work is still in his comics.
He gathers his ideas from many sources and half the pleasure of reading his works comes from appreciating his allusions. I can’t claim I get them all. In this one, the hoodlums Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar reminded me of the two thugs, Slugsy and Horror, who come calling on Vivienne Michel in The Spy Who Loved Me, one of the least-read James Bond novels. Does Neil really expect everyone to pick up on this? Hardly. But I suppose thugs like these crop up everywhere in fiction and films.
The playful treatment of London’s place names probably works best for those of us lucky enough to live in London. The grimy reality is so different from the fantastical images conjured up by the author’s imagination that we can’t help but be impressed.
Still, the novel was a bit of a slog in the middle section and the ideas seemed somewhat forced.
This is one book I’m ashamed to have by my bed. It is really trashy. Luckily the pink and taupe cover blends in with my bedding and can lie camouflaged on my duvet when my flatmate bursts in on me unexpectedly.
I mention it here only because there is one story that lifts it above the average. It is tucked away at the back so you might miss it. It’s called Zoe White and the Seven Whores.
I told you it was trashy.
This story is by Thomas S. Roche and, to be honest, it is not his best story. It is light and frothy. It reads like he dashed it off before his morning cappuccino. But he is one of my favourite authors because every sentence he writes either thrills me or makes me laugh.
Zoe White and the Seven Whores had me in stitches. I don’t usually laugh out loud when I’m reading but with this one I did and, what is worse, I was on my own.
Yes, I know.
I’m reluctant to recommend it. Humour is a very personal thing.
I think Xiaolu Guo has a problem with narrative. That’s why she likes writing in fragments. I wonder what her films are like. It’s possible to make films without having to explain anything. In a novel, if this is a novel, you can’t really get away with that for long. Which is probably why this nearly-novel is very short.
One of the things I didn’t like is that it jumps around in time without being clear about the chronology. Just when did this little 17 year old from a sweet potato farm get her laptop and mobile phone? The references to such things as email, VCDs and DVDs are extremely confusing, especially if you have spent any time in China during the last 20 years and know what was available when.
Because of the chronological confusion, I think it does very little to illuminate life in China in recent years, although some passages, taken in isolation, are an accurate depiction of how life was at certain points in time. These isolated vignettes just don’t hang together as either a consistent narrative or as an accurate historical record.
This English version is the work of two translators, an editor, and Xiaolu Guo herself, who rewrote it after it had been translated. The result is 20 vignettes in very short sentences that are highly polished, brittle and self-conscious. Some of it is quite poetic but much of it irritated me.
It’s best not to get all heavy about this book. It’s light, outspoken and racy, like a long rambling monologue from your best friend when she’s very hyper and just needs to talk. Sometimes you have to just sit there and take it and let it wash over you and sometimes you nod with recognition, sometimes it’s sexy in a “I remember that feeling” sort of way and sometimes you say “Really?” in an intense sort of way and are desperate to know more. Sometimes it makes you laugh out loud (LOL). As a Chinese I was very curious to know how western women think about sex but I discovered even before I read this book that a lot of western women have much dirtier minds than this, LOL. Erica Jong. Uptight. LOL! People sometimes call me uptight. And I say, what about Erica Jong? Anyway it gets the conversation off me for a while.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
By the end of the third story in this collection, which deals with the long term emotional impact of being sexually molested by an uncle, I was exhausted.
I skipped the fourth story because I didn’t understand the first three paragraphs and came to the fifth story, Quiet Men by Leslie Jamison.
“HE was a poet who worked with intricate forms—villanelles and pantoums—but during our month together he spoke quite simply.”
My bookmark got stuck there for a few months, which is a shame, as Quiet Men is a fascinating story.
A lot of the stories from these American creative writing courses seem like they’ve had all the life pressed out of them. The sentences are so smooth and dry that their meaning eludes you. They don’t express any emotion. The emotion is there but it’s buried very deep. Which makes it somehow more literary, I suppose.
Quiet Men, as that first sentence shows, is interested in this tension between what is said and what is felt. It’s written in a very understated way but it’s full of dynamic contradictions. The narrator tells a man she’s just had sex with that she’s not interested in talking about emotions…
“but secretly I wanted him to ask some questions. I wanted to discuss why we wouldn’t talk about our emotions, and what it would mean, and how it would feel.”
The man doesn’t find her attractive and she finds that arousing.
“I liked the thought of him aroused by a woman he found unattractive.”
It’s a very polished story. They’re all very polished stories. I long for something a little bit more raw. When the man rips her bra off and fucks her from behind, I don’t want it to be told to me in a neutral tone through ten layers of polished glass.
But still, Quiet Men is so deeply interesting that it remains interesting in spite of all the polish. The girl, who has had sex with a cruel man as a sort of experiment, turns on him with her own cruel intention:
“After a few nights, I decided to start telling Treat everything he didn’t want to hear. It would be like pressing a bruise to produce a certain, predictable feeling.”
There is a lot of dry humour in this story. She meets a simple minded guy who takes her for a ride in his tow truck and talks in clichés. She tells him it’s nice when people like you. “I was trying to practice saying things that were simple and true,” she writes. Probably because after years of polishing your prose at an American university, it’s a really hard thing to do.
Leslie Jamison has written a novel called The Gin Closet that is probably worth investigating.
I haven’t read the other stories in the collection yet, though. I’m a very slow reader.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I am not sure what to make of this story. I like the fact that it’s a short story and has been published on its own. This allows me to review it separately, which is a good thing. It’s hard reviewing a whole collection of stories, especially when you’ve only read one or two of them.
But I’m not sure I approve of the main character, Adele. She is infatuated with her boss, who does nothing to deserve it, and that’s immature.
Then she throws herself at him when he’s emotionally vulnerable and I strongly disapprove of this kind of behaviour. This is not likely to lead to Adele’s long term happiness.
The story ends with two or three explicitly sexual acts. I suppose these are integral to the story. I suppose we need to know the full extent of Adele’s utter self-abasement. But the acts could be described less graphically. This is bordering on the pornographic.
The ending is trying to be upbeat but I’m not convinced. If I were Adele I would not be able to live with myself after doing what she did.
Oh yes, by the way, I should mention this is one of mine.
The picture on the front cover is the best thing about this edition of Granta. It was a cynical attempt to woo new subscribers. They still use this edition in adverts, even though it’s quite old now. Oh, and there was a recent twist on this idea called The F Word. Disappointingly, the F stands for feminisim.
There is a nice story by Marie Darrieusecq in this sex edition. Perhaps calling it a story is too kind, although she calls it a story. It’s more of an anecdote. There are some drawings of animals by Dave Eggers. The tenuous connection with the sex theme is that they are ‘contemplating sex.’
That’s indicative of the way this sex theme has been implemented. It’s all a trick to get your interest. It’s a cheap tease. It doesn’t deliver.
I have bought many Grantas. But I don’t subscribe.
That’s my way of teasing them back.
Do you find yourself checking your email ten times a day and all you get is junk mail? What are you hoping for? A love letter? News from a friend? Confirmation that someone has bought your ebook?
When I find myself checking my mail too often and nothing arrives, I pick up this book and randomly make a selection. I don’t know what they are. Stories? Episodes? Anecdotes?
To me they are like entertaining letters from an old Russian friend in Berlin. If you get letters anywhere near as good as these in your inbox you are very lucky. Wladimir is a minor celebrity in Berlin. But I suspect if you’ve never been there, this book will be largely without interest.