Friday, 31 May 2013

An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

“We are creating the lineaments of some final man, for whose delight we have prepared a landscape, and who can only be god.” 

Sometimes it is  possible to have a deep appreciation for a work of art, without any sense of attachment or engagement with it. Reading this short work of fiction was akin to looking at a painting in an art gallery. The genius of the artist is clear and yet the image leaves you cold.

In some ways , the subject matter, the poet Ovid’s encounter with the wild boy, perfectly describes my sense of attraction yet distance from the text. I was draw in by the beautiful cacophony of words, expertly weaved together in a harmonious tapestry, and yet I longed for more of a story.

It recalled a dreamlike state, where images floated by without a solid anchor to  a more plot centric device. I wanted to dislike the book, frustrated as I was with the sense of displacement, and yet I still hold it in high regard for it encompassed a real sense of beauty and perfectly encapsulated the notion of exile. Such economy of words, reminiscent of poetry, which is so apt given the character of Ovid. I am perplexed by this odd interaction with the text, yet entertained.  4 out of 5, thanks again to Nicki for the lend of this one.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac


" He could smell her perfume. A complicated smell, which had affinities with rich earth and dead flowers."

Yet another in my attempts to visit the source material of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, completing Vertigo, originally published as The Living and the Dead,  was a pleasure. There are some considerable differences between the movie and the novel, not the least of which is the finale.
I'm not about to give the whole game away, but differences emerge right from the get go. There's no adorable Midge for starters. Having said that, one could expect some differences, the original novel was French, and the timing differs, naturally so do the locales.
No jumping into San Francisco bay, no Mission San Juan Bautista - this time the tower resides in the Chateau St-Germain and the backdrop is the war. Otherwise, it is fairly familiar territory up until the finale, which one can't imagine playing particularly well with Jimmy Stewart at the helm. Oh did I mention there are no blondes in this book? A very speedy read that makes for  captivating translation - it would be interesting to read the original novel in French.
5 out of 5 suicidal re-incarnations can't be wrong.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Indecent Exposure by David McClintock


"The allocation of credit for a movie's success, therefore, is inherently imprecise, elusive,  and subject to elaborate manipulation, particularly among people in the positions of David Begelman and Alan Hirschfield'.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and nowhere is that more evident than in this particular work. Yes, I know, I've diverted into the realms of non fiction again, but trust me this was the perfect antidote to the last book I read. In this case  I tore through more than 500 pages in one night.
I was particularly amazed that a non fiction story  from the eighties about embezzlement and board room antics could grab my attention so unrelentingly. Big egos clash. rules get broken and lives get destroyed - this tale is epic. Throw in the odd legendary name and you'll be hooked too.
The action takes place around the time when Columbia was coming out with one of my favourite sci-fi films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Weirdly, because I really hadn't anticipated being so enthralled, I'm giving this one a big score.  5 out of 5 moguls get manic.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown

"As they neared the end of the alley, Langdon stumbled again."

It was on special, yes that is my excuse for revisiting the world of Robert Langdon. That, combined with a weekend at my parent's farm and the thought that my father might fancy another Dan Brown tome. Both of us read the novel in a day. Was this because it was an amazing work of fiction? Not really.

In truth the pace of this novel derives, as it seems from all Brown's work, from the never-ending running - down alleyways, through secret passageways, oh and through more hidden paths. It seems whenever he runs out of potential mazes in one famous building, he moves the action to another and when the city yields no further landmarks for exploitation, it is time to move city.

I, perhaps stupidly, kept reading, waiting for something new and elucidating to occur. The denouement was so anticlimactic that I nearly threw the book on the floor in disgust. Had I really traversed more than 400 pages for that? Thank god for the large print!

There are some aspects of Brown's success that I admire a) at least people are reading... something and b) they are buying books - even if they are predictable and staunchly formulaic. I can't be too critical, I bought the darn thing.

After completing a horrendous university take home exam, I somewhat appreciated a mindless escape, but it felt like every move was so telegraphed that the whole novel could have been condensed considerably. Was it thrilling? Not so much. Also, does Langdon, who continually laments that he's not as young as he used to be, ever get tired of running?

So much prose is given over to the description of Langdon's sartorial splendour, yet his chief accessory is a Mickey Mouse watch - come on!

If you're seeking a novel that is reminiscent of a B/C grade thriller then this is definitely your thing.  2 out of 5 sinister shadowy organisations might agree.

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

"The town cannot be said to have fallen asleep in 1760, when most of it was built, because, even then, it was not fully awake."

My enjoyment of  Cold Comfort Farm was such that I was eager to revisit its locale by way of what I thought might be a sequel. That was not the case. This is a collection of short stories which treated separately are both charming and delightful. 

Reading the sixteen short stories, they appeared to me to operate on varying levels of success, I loved some and was a little ambivalent on others. The least interesting, strangely enough, for me was the titular story. For a review with more of a historical context I would recommend  Nicholas Lezard's review in the Guardian.

Ultimately, there is something about this collection akin to putting on a warm woolly jumper in the cold of winter, which given the weather at the moment seems the perfect antidote. 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

"He had given his read­ers many stones; so many, in fact, that he had only one left—the stone that had formed in his gut."

It seems the life of an advice columnist is an unpleasant one - plagued by the constant barrage of misery ridden stories our Miss Lonelyhearts looks for escape in booze, sex and violence to no avail. Set in the depression, this speedy read smacks of the dark comedy seen in "The Day of the Locust",  yet I found it less enticing.

Having said that, there are some interesting themes developed within its brief expanse and while not the recipe for a pick me up, it certainly bears an appreciative read. 

Wall to wall tales of woe, yet definitely an interesting work. 4 out of 5 sob stories are hard to put up with.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Augus­tus Wa­ters drove hor­rif­i­cally. Whether stop­ping or start­ing, every­thing hap­pened with a tremen­dous JOLT. I flew against the seat belt of his Toy­ota SUV each time he braked, and my neck snapped back­ward each time he hit the gas.

When I commenced reading this novel I knew only that it was an extremely popular work of YA fiction. Had I known the subject matter it is unlikely I would have read it. I find books about the big C very difficult to take, having watched too many people go through its torments over the years. That aside, this is a beautiful, heartbreaking work and the characters are a delight.

While they perhaps speak in a far more verbose and mature fashion than most young teens, this appears consistent with the maturity they have had to draw upon given their circumstances. In fashioning a tale that is so full of beauty, humour and love, the author has developed young characters that possess a richness of life that is fascinating. If I was 14 I would be completely and utterly in love with Augustus, despite his poor driving skills.

If you feel like a good cry and have some kleenex on hand, check this out. If you want to be cheered up  - look elsewhere.  5 out of 5.

Artemis Fowl and the Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

"Master Artemis did not like delays. But today he was too focused on his latest acquisition, The Fairy Thief, still sealed in its perspex tube."

When we last left Master Artemis Fowl, his life had been turned upside down. A reunion with his father was followed by some hard core memory wiping by the LEP. It seemed that his adventures with the fairy world might be well and truly over - we except for the fact that there were more volumes to get through.

Another dashing adventure with Holly, Butler and the gang is always fun. I'm not sure I like the personality change Artemis is undergoing - I prefer him cocky and evil, but good will prevail it would seem.

In any case he's still a genius and never shy of asking for extortionate amounts of cash to involve himself in anything. He would be great in a performance appraisal!
This particular adventure seemed a little flat at times, yet set the scene for a new change of pace via Holly's career change.  4 out of 5 fairy goggles on.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

“Most men need to be overwhelmed in order to appreciate the divine.”

I confess - my interest in the Borgia family stems from watching the current eponymous television series. Upon seeing this rather tasty cover in a bookstore on a quick trip to Bowral I was unable to resist the lure of its pages.

A historical novel is a strange beast. Married so tightly to known events in some instances, and yet taking strange flights of fancy to remain entertaining. Much of what is covered within the book is reminiscent of the television series and I would like to do a little more study to find out how much of both are products of the authors’ imaginations.

A little racy at times although, given the subject matter and the Borgia family reputation, the novel is practically puritanical in the most part. Lucrezia takes on a hopeless victim role, utilized as a pawn in the political machinations of her brother and father.

The novel was particularly easy to read, due no doubt in this instance, to a combination of large print and non-stop action. Given the title, I felt perhaps there was a little too much of the latter and not enough of the former within the story, if the infamous reputation of the family is to be believed. Having completed the weighty tome in four days of intermittent reading, I’d say it makes for a great airline companion. 4 out of 5 Machiavellian machinations make marvelous morsels.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris


"I was still Eric Northman's wife under vampire custom, though he wasn't talking to me right now."

After so many years following Sookie Stackhouse through her romantic adventures between and betwixt the supernatural inhabitants of Bon Temps and beyond, the final chapter has arrived. I will suppress the intense desire to give the ending away - it might leave you happy, sad, mad, a combination of both (me), or something in between.
 The first thing that any reader or bookstore shopper can't fail to notice is the lurid fluoro cover - that orange practically glows in the dark. Having said that, if you're buying the final, 13th novel, you are pretty much committed to finding out what happens and might ignore the crazy brights. I prefer the old cartoonish covers, but back to the story....
The last couple of books had me a little ambivalent about how the story might unfurl. Perhaps this is due to my Eric Northman obsession and the on again, off again, nature of their interactions. I think perhaps my appreciation of Eric is due more to Alexander Skarsgard than the actual character in the book, but I'm not one to complain. In the spirit of reference, see below.... now where was I?
Without detailing the events of the book in detail, there are witches, the devil ( or a devil), vampires, shifters and werewolves aplenty, along with a murder (because the bodies always mount up in Bon Temps). I'm giving this a good mark on the basis that I'm relieved to come to the end of the saga and not have to patiently wait a year between visits. It's no Dickens, but for giving the world Eric, Sookie , Bill and Alcide I can't help but be greatful to Charlaine Harris.  5 out of 5 for all the shirtless supernatural boyfriends of Sookie.