Book review: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

silver_linings_playbook_cover_book2

Quick’s debut novel is a brilliant inceptive; a gifted work. It is told in the voice of the main character, thirty-something former teacher Pat, a mental patient who has just been released from a psychiatric facility into his parents care. The use of Pat’s voice for narration is inspired. His childlike utterances are both frank and funny. The author brings the reader inside the jumbled mind of a Continue reading

Book review: Ulysses is an epic fail

1922 edition published by Sylvia Beach, Paris

1922 edition published by Sylvia Beach, Paris

I expected James Joyce’s Ulysses to be dense. I looked forward to it. Was I not equipped for the experience? I had been reading books for a long time; I enjoyed ‘Dubliners’ for its superlative renderings of human beings; I knew the route and streetscape of Ulysses and could picture the settings of the day; I was familiar with the Dublin vernacular and a good mimic of the accent to boot; I had schoolboy Latin hanging on by a thread to my vocabulary (both Joyce and I suffered Jesuit colleges); my Greek mythology was weak but could be bolstered by Wiki-places so yes, all in all I felt well equipped. I was wrong.

In Ulysses Joyce invented a literary voice and for this experimentation and courage he has become justifiably celebrated. This famed ‘Stream of Consciousness’ or ‘interior monologue’  has been emulated ever since, becoming a mainstay of modern literature and giving impressive voice to authors like Jack Kerouac, Salman Rushdie, Joseph Campbell, Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien, uncountable others and those yet writing.

To the professional reviewers who have phrased some of the most beautiful language and metaphors ever used to describe a piece of literature I say, ‘bullshit’.

Ulysses is not a good book. Joyce failed the most basic test of any author – Continue reading

Skios by Michael Frayn

Skios

Man Booker Prize

This Michael Frayn comedy of errors caught my eye on the Man Booker Prize 2012 longlist when I spotted it’s ‘humour’ tag. As man’s humour and Man Booker are strange bedfellows my cocked eyebrow signalled that I have a peek. The book is a comedic gem.

It is a fabrication about mistaken identity between a crotchety academic and an impulsive playboy set on a Greek island. There’s a girl caught in the middle Continue reading

A Movable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

A moveable feast

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast will usher you into the romance (and it was romantic) of 1920s Paris just like Woody Allen transported Owen Wilson there in his 2011 Academy Award-winning screenplay, Midnight in Paris. As in the movie and this celebrated book, you will meet such luminaries as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce and of course, Hemingway himself amongst many other notables from all schools of the arts. I personally was moved to pound the pavements of Paris tracing the journey of these pages and would do so again before ever traipsing through the Dublin of Ulysses like so many Joyce aficionados do on Bloomsday each year. And I’m Irish!

But before any inspirational people populate the pages, the book is principally un hommage to the city itself. Continue reading

Big Sur

by Jack Kerouac

cover

Big Sur – wild and organic with a unique ecosystem and microclimate caused by its asperous profile. That description could just as easily characterise Jack Kerouac himself.

Located a couple of hours south of San Francisco, this land area of spectacular forest and coastal beauty was termed ‘El Sur Grande’ by the Spanish (The Big South). Kerouac installed himself there in Bixby Canyon for six weeks in 1960 to escape the attention and fame his book On The Road brought to his life. Continue reading

Mogworld

By Yahtzee Croshaw

MogworldAs a young father I quickly learned that when offered a toy telephone handset by a 3 year old I was in fact being invited into a world more enjoyable by far than my allotted one. Then, twenty years later, when the former 3 year old hands me a book of his to read, my instinctive reaction is once again to view it as an invitation into a world that I will probably find as enjoyable as the telephone chatting of those Ogygian days. Despite the cover. The puce green cover. Of a Zombie running amok.

English born but Australian based Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw is a 30 year old writer known principally for his contributions and editorial roles in video game magazines and websites. He enjoys cult status for the caustic, comical presentation of his Zero Punctuation video game reviews published by The Escapist. Mogword is his debut novel.

The hero (“I’m not a hero, I’m a protagonist”) protagonist is Jim, a recently disentombed Zombie who’s quite miffed about his unexpected resurrection and longs to return to his safe and peaceful grave. His world is now inhabited by a continually resurrecting populace who are unable to die permanently. The story plays out as a farcical, dark comedy on Jim’s avidity to achieve his desired everlasting extinction. Continue reading

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

by Jack Weatherford

The Mongol Invasion was a mere apostrophe of history during my schooling and I dimly recall mention of a particularly savage slew of terrifying tribesmen from the esoteric east who touched a handful of easternmost European cities over a relatively short period before disappearing back into the vague lands that spawned them. Jack Weatherford’s book was recently recommended to me and immediately dispelled that notion. It exposed the panic propagated throughout Europe by ignorant, superstitious and hysterical Kings or (drama-) Queens.

Weatherford is an American anthropologist and ethnographer who got side-tracked into a fascination with Mongol affairs while on a research expedition studying the role of tribal people in the development of trade along the Silk Road between China and Europe. He diverted his attention to compiling a history of a Mongol boy named Temujin, born in 1162, who grew to annex the diverse central Asian tribes into one Mongol nation.  As Genghis Khan, Temujin went on to conquer the land from China to Hungary via the Middle East and Russia. As Weatherford points out, this is a greater land mass than any other conqueror in history – including Alexander the Great. Continue reading

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

This book is a refreshing departure from more regular coming-of-age stories both in style and approach. Stephen Chobsky takes a literary risk in requiring his readers to follow the narrative in epistolary mode – the central protagonist communicating entirely through his letters to an unnamed confidante. The risk pays off once the reader gets the cadence and language of the first-person writer and from there the voice becomes very natural for both the character and the story.

Clues like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and the popular practice of boys making music ‘mix-tapes’ for girlfriends, put the action in the early nineties. The wallflower is Charlie, a mid-teen schoolboy without friends until he ventures to approach fellow students Samantha and her gay stepbrother Patrick. Continue reading

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Rand’s mind was conditioned in pre-revolutionary Russia and honed in the USA. Having been witness to the bloody birth of Communism, then migrating to the most capitalistic country on Earth, it is no great leap to understand how her mind works; in a nutshell – Socialist bad, Capitalist good. She built an empirical philosophy based on this (which even enjoyed some popular support for a time) but the obvious flaw to her idealistic cause was its undemocratic core (it favours Meritocracy). Even in plutocratic America such radical thought finds little long-lasting purchase. With the dilution of Communism that has taken place worldwide since the book was published in 1957 her dogma could be considered simplistic, idealistic and impractical. That said, Rand does successfully draw attention to some of the flaws that persist in liberal and socialistic thinking and her arguments towards the acceptance of personal responsibility, self-sufficiency and a high work ethic, are commonly accepted and adopted today.

The setting is a dystopian USA where an undefined event has caused changes that result in a communist-style government. Orwellian pigs govern from Washington and citizens are brainwashed to become almost drone-like. Continue reading

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

dostoyevsky-brothers-karamazov-bookcover

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Finishing the last page of Dostoyevsky’s last book can be regarded as a personal milestone. You are entitled to congratulate yourself for having had the courage to tackle it in the first place (no such kudos for finishing though – that’s a given). In attempting to write a review however, the milestone becomes a millstone. Many have shared their opinions before you – Kafka liked it and Hemingway did not; atheists and Popes have applauded it antithetically; historians and ethicists have polarised and galvanised opinions while many persons of universally accepted wisdom have referred to it has the greatest book ever written.

Descriptions of the story abound so I will not retell it – it is merely the pinhead on which Dostoyevsky’s angels dance. The plot is only the portent of the themes and these are exposed by the players. To convey what he seeks to deliver, Dostoyevsky uses his exceptional gift for characterisation to portray the contradictions of the human condition. Continue reading