Thursday, 28 September 2017

I served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

"And then our naked bodies twined together and everything seemed liquid, as though we were snails, our moist bodies oozing out of our shells and into each other's embrace, and Lise shuddered and trembled violently, and I knew that I was both in love and loved in return, and it was so different from anything before."

I must confess to having seen the movie before reading the novel in this instance, something I’m usually loathe to do. That being said, I absolutely loved the movie and was eager to dive into the novel. Fortunately for my list ticking habits, this one also features on the Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read (fittingly in the Comedy section). 
Our hero, little Ditie, gives men of shorter stature a good name. Surely I can name a recent ex who 's life would improve with a dose of this character's optimism and deep ceded appreciation of women and Ditie does quite a bit of appreciating, particularly when he discovers the delights of the Paradise, a rather popular brothel. This tale is reminiscent of Bocaccio as it is earthy and amusing and yet it also includes insightful social commentary. In particular it explores the self serving lengths people will go to in the name of survival and  self promotion - marrying a nazi no less and aiming to be approved as suitable Aryan breeding material for example.
Every time the character of Zdenek made an appearance, I was reminded of my own Czech friend of the same name and his penchant for wild, roaming stories, much like this one.

While I loved the movie, I equally enjoyed the book.Now to find a man who will worship me with well placed flowers- one can dream. 

5 out of 5 naked flower arrangements.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Beloved by Toni Morrison

"All the time, I'm afraid the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again."

The week when work dramas and social chaos are pushing you towards some pretty silly behaviour is really not the week to appreciate a novel about slavery and killing kids and rape and other unsavoury things. I say this, by way of explanation, as I felt a little overwhelmed this week and reading this novel did nothing to help. In fact its style was so creepy and frustrating that even when horrific events happened in the novel I had some kind of delayed onset reaction to them. I was drowning in words and every now and then my head would hit the surface and think, crumbs, why am I reading this?

The answer would be, perhaps, that it is included on almost every must read list there is. How could I resist the siren call of a novel that is on almost every must read list? I couldn't. I succumbed and yet I didn't really enjoy or appreciate the experience. Upon reflection, I can appreciate its brilliance and originality. The tone and phrasing are something new to me and  only really reveal themselves as being memorable when revisiting the novel, days and dramas later. There's something wafting and dream like about it, the kind of dream that swings continually into nightmare territory. When is the perfect time to read an unsettling piece of literature? I wonder?

4 out of 5, sometimes you just have to take the unpleasant path.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Pinball 1973 by Haruki Murakami

"The goal of pinball is self-transformation, not self-expression."

It has been one of those crazy weeks that fly by and yet fill you with a sense of exhaustion mixed with tedium and a little dash of frustration. To hide from the trials of the daily slog, I dove deep into Murakami territory and was not disappointed. Reading his novels is like waking from a seriously weird dream. The details are a mite hazy, your recollections lie on the tip of your tongue and yet simultaneously a million miles away.

Imagine around 160 pages of escape into another world with an obsession for a very rare pinball machine, random bed buddy twins and the tale of the rat and his strange, meaningless sexual entanglement that ranges from all powerful to forgettable in a very short time. This is apparently the 2nd of 3 Rat stories and unfortunately it seems I've gone and read them in reverse order, which is typical. I have a habit of doing things back to front.
Throw in musings about life, relationships, pinball and fleeting obsessions and this is a delightful dreamlike escape. Not my number one favourite Murakami and yet still a delightful excursion.

5 out of 5 ball flipping gets the big scores.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq

"The director of Perfumes Plus was holding my right breast in one hand, the job contract in the other"

Fancy a really strange read? Well this certainly will fit the bill. A rather comely young woman gets felt up by her new boss  and finds her extra curricular activities take over from selling perfumes. While her male clients appreciate her youthful fecundity, misuse and pregnancy physically alter her until she is transformed into a pig. Pink, fat, can be used to make bacon - that kind of pig.
It is reminiscent of the way in which women start off as innocent and appealing and then is transformed by age and experience into something far less appealing. Sometimes the life of a pig might just be more liberating as our sow discovers.
Definitely an intriguing read and quite a quick one - which is pretty much what the heroine gets up to a lot,

4 out of 5 trotters seem unflattering.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

"While it was technically accurate that both Liz and Jane were single, this fact did not for either woman convey the full story."

It is a truth not universally known that this Pride and Prejudice transplanted to modern days has been sitting within my to be read pile since Christmas. How did I let that happen? This is fantastic stuff! Funny, well written, it is a complete delight and the pages just seemed to fly by at a record pace.
This re-telling is part of a series of re-imaginings of the works of Jane Austen by modern writers, known as the Austen Project. One of literature's most famous dysfunctional families - has their ever been a mother more mortifying than Mrs Bennett? - is now transplanted to Cincinnati of all places.
Bingley's first name is Chip and he's been on the equivalent of reality show, The Batchelor.
Darcy is a brain surgeon, Elizabeth (Liz) writes for a women's magazine and Jane is getting artificially inseminated. This is Austen but certainly not as we know it. A great story transcends the details it would seem, as this incarnation is simply delightful.
I'm keen to seek out more works by its author now, as this one was so much fun and this world needs way more of that these days.

5 out of 5 daper doctors are always called for.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

"It seemed wrong for Goths to kiss so we bit gently at each other's necks like little vampires."

Childhood friendships are fraught. So much shared experience and yet so many opportunities to grow apart. Zadie Smith's latest novel certainly captures that aspect of the difficulties of a lasting friendship between childhood best friends, particularly where their social circumstances are particularly different. There are many aspects of growing up that Smith captures with insight, and that made for an engaging read.

It is difficult for our heroine to deal with the eminently talented and early blooming status of her friend Tracey and indeed their lives will play out rather differently. There are so many stories going on here that I occasionally got a little bewildered. I'm sure it wasn't the fact I was reading this poolside on holidays - surely not.

I wanted to love this a little more than I did.  The Madonna in Malawi like antics of Aimee, the protagonist's pop star boss, were vastly entertaining. Notwithstanding, the momentum seemed to hit a kind of lull three quarters through the novel and it felt slightly anti-climactic.

4 out of 5 dance moves will have you swinging like you're winning.