Sunday 20 February 2011

Enough with the Cleverness already!

I'll cut to the chase:

I finished The White Castle a few days ago and was frankly glad to get it over with. This book bored me almost to tears but, my god, the man wrote Snow AND My Name is Red - I kept thinking it would simply have to improve. It didn't; its 161 pages were simply unrelenting.

One of the reviewers quoted inside the dust jacket described Pamuk as "Kafka with a light touch"; they likely meant this as a compliment and I agree entirely in the case of The White Castle, but I mean it emphatically as an insult, and quite possibly will follow this blog post up with a demand for satisfaction.

A novel in which two flat characters exchange lives, which is in fact a book within a book, and Important Existential things happen  - it's sort of Clever but does not make for either enjoyable or intellectually stimulating reading. Orhan, I've already had a talk with Coetzee about this: simple cleverness by itself does not a fine novel make. And given how your work improved after The White Castle, maybe don't require the reminder. But dammit, I am now really quite nervous about reading The Museum of Innocence!

I have said in the past that I don't require things to actually happen in novels to derive a great deal of pleasure from them. Not much happens in Salinger's fiction, for example, but I don't care because the writing and characterization are just so very just so. But if nothing is going to happen, then that nothing must be cunningly wrought, beautifully told, passing strange, adorable, irresistible, original or some other non-cliche of awesomeness I can't currently come up with. And The White Castle doesn't succeed in this. Moving on.

Looking back, looking forward
I wish I were still reading Count Zero, or something like it. I thought I'd actually read George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones next, in anticipation of the HBO series due to begin in April, but I couldn't find a copy of it anywhere. I ended up picking up Anthony Trollope's The American Senator (yes, a logical alternative. Sigh.) and began reading it on the subway home today. And was promptly made a hapless victim of Gawd's cruel humour when a woman sat down next to me and cracked open her copy of A Game of Thrones. *Shakes fist at sky*

Monday 14 February 2011

My computer recently tried to commit suicide

Friends, the ol' desktop died the death last week - it ended up in something called a reboot loop - and we were without internets, or other computery functions, for what seemed like an eternity. Hubby got it sort of fixed last night - we lost everything on the damned thing, and I mean everything, for he had to download Firefox to it this morning.

In the meantime, I've been reading. I don't have time to post real reviews of the books I enjoyed while I was stuck in 1989 because today I have to ferry Gregory-bunny back and forth to the vet, multiple times. Short reviews for those short on time - GO!

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

This book really deserves much more attention than I can currently give it. Dazai takes the classic Japanese novel of ennui and social alienation to a whole new level, focusing on a character whose primary symptom of such is raging alcoholism. Truly hardcore. Dazai continues to blow my mind.
The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters

Fantastic! Heavy on the plot of the murder and allowing the civil war to fall into the background, Peters' thirteenth Cadfael chronicle is amongst my favourites.

Hubby and I watched the first Cafael movie, One Corpse Too Many, recently. It was really enjoyable although the pacing seemed rushed and they changed some key details from the book, and not to the story's advantage, in my opinion. The casting was great, however, especially with those chosen to play Cadfael, Hugh Beringer, and Prior Robert.

Count Zero by William Gibson

The second installment in the Sprawl trilogy. I wasn't certain at first, for it seemed a bit scattered, but when I figured out where Gibson was going - brilliant. And, of course, a great read like Neuromancer. Don't deprive yourself by not reading Gibson!

All this in the time it takes to eat a delicious bowl of oatmeal. Put almond butter in your oatmeal, friends; trust me.

PS-The poll results: a tie between Woolf's The Waves and Pamuk's The White Castle. I've decided to read Pamuk because I like him better than Woolf. That is all.

Monday 7 February 2011

It sneaks up on you

I can't say I've ever felt any urge to read anything by Truman Capote; I didn't have an aversion to him, it's just that I'd never heard anything that made me want his stuff on my TBR pile. Also, I haven't seen the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, and know absolutely nothing about it except that Audrey Hepbourn was in it and maybe had big hair for it. It may just be that I liked this Vintage edition of the book, and that seemed like a good enough reason to pick it up. Silly? Or pure genius? No one will ever know for sure but I think I know the answer. Not telling.

To my surprise, Breakfast at Tiffany's isn't only Breakfast at Tiffany's; it's Breakfast at Tiffany's plus three short stories, including "House of Flowers", "A Diamond Guitar", and "A Christmas Memory". And I have to say - I liked the stories much better than Breakfast at Tiffany's. (I wonder how many times I can repeat the novella's title before it loses all meaning and just reads like a jumble of random and unrelated letters?)

"A Christmas Memory" was especially good, fully embracing as it does what I think is Capote's best sub-genre, based on the 178 comprising this volume: Southern Gothic. "A Diamond Guitar" also fits the bill and Breakfast at Tiffany's has a few unexpected scenes of the SG which greatly improved my felings about it, but "A Christmas Memory" is the best. It's like a smoother, toned down, more optimistic Faulkner story - which makes the sad ending so much harder to bear. Yes, 15 minutes ago, I was weeping fit to die.

I wept fit to die at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's as well, which really surprised me because while I have concluded that Capote was generally a very good writer indeed, his most famous book had some embarrassingly bad lines. The example that has most stuck with me: while riding horseback with Miss Holiday Golightly through a park in NYC, the narrator of BaT's describes the wind "spanking" their faces. I laughed out loud, in horror; then I cringed; then I felt a deep wellspring of pity building within me; then I wished anyone, anyone at all, had been around, so I could read it aloud to them and laugh with them. I thought, "The lengths some people will go to create an anti-cliche (i.e., a phrase you can be sure no one will ever steal from you)!" Ah well. We're none of us perfect, except David Mitchell and maybe also William Faulkner.

Bottom line: I like Truman Capote. At first, I wasn't so into his writing but it grew on me, in spite of some shaky bits in BaT's. In fact, it snuck up on me, and left me discovering how deeply involved I was in each tale only at the end when I found that I'd been sitting much closer to the waterworks than I'd realized.

I also owe you a review of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human, which I'm hoping to do on Wednesday; tomorrow, I definitely can't do it as I'll be banished from my apartment as the water will be turned off all day - AGAIN - for repairs of some sort. Sigh.

(Book 7 for the Awesome Author Challenge!)

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Lost in the linguistic shuffle

I think Ismail Kadare's novel The Siege might very well be a very good, perhaps even a stellar, novel; I can't say whether or not it is either of these things, however. Reading a novel in translation is always an incomplete undertaking - no matter how well-written, smooth, subtle, and thoughtful a translation is, there's always something missing. Likely, there's probably a lot that just doesn't survive the transition from one language to another but in most cases, I hope, the reader won't know what's not there. When the reader does notice that maybe a translation isn't excellent...then I suspect scads, loads - hell, worlds - of important things are getting lost in the linguistic shuffle.

All of this isn't a preface to my asserting that David Bellos's English translation of this Albanian novel is awful; no, in fact, the book reads fine. But I'm not sure that what I read has enough to do with The Siege written in Albanian by Ismail Kadare to also be called The Siege in this English form. You see, David Bellos's translation is not a translation of the original - it is a translation of Jusuf Vrioni's French translation of the original. Frankly, had I realized this was the clone of a clone before I was 70+ pages in, I wouldn't have read the book at all; I would have happily waited for the English translation of the Albanian, or more likely, forgotten about it.

But I was already committed. Now, Bellos's rendition reads fine; it's not a stylistic disaster by any means and the plot points appear to come through clearly. But it's just so bland or flat or something...and the subject matter really doesn't suggest that Kadare wrote blandly or flatly. It's like a once colourful shirt that's gone through the wash too many times - there's evidence of what it once was, but it isn't that now. So, the novel was fine, it really was - but that's all. And I don't feel as though I've really read Ismail Kadare's The Siege.

But what's the book about you ask? It's the account of a fictionalized siege by the armies of the Ottoman Empire of a resistant Albanian castle. It's set in the the 1400s, when the Ottomans were bigger than God, the Beatles, Lady Gaga, or Microsoft. The structure is interesting - which again made me notice the limits of a second cousin translation like this - in that the majority of the tale is told third person omniscient with the focus on the invading Turks but every once in awhile switches briefly to a first person (usually) plural perspective of the besieged Albanians. I really like the subject and the structure of this book, so in spite of my issues with the double translation, I still enjoyed this novel. I just think that if it's a truly great novel, I'll probably never know - because if there were a qualified Albanian to English translator currently working, there wouldn't have been any need for a French to English translation in the first place. But perhaps one will come out of the woodwork some day; in which case, perhaps I'll give The Siege another try.

Non sequitur: I'm not sure where in the world you are, but I know because of Bellezza that if you're in Chicago, you're currently buried in snow. I'm in Toronto and we were also supposed to become buried in snow last night and today. We got a storm, yes, but it didn't result in the destruction of Upper Canadian civilization as various local media outlets, especially CP24, were hysterically insisting. What does this all have to do with books? The fact is, I love snow days and I haven't experienced one in a very long time. I love the coziness of being stuck inside in the quietness of a snow-covered world, being forced to read really good books and eat cookies. If the power goes out that's even better, for then there's reading by candlelight - and I've discovered during storms of the past that reading Dickens by candlelight is pretty much the best reading experience to be had. So, I was hoping for that but we got relatively little snow and nothing, sadly, prevented me from going out to my physio appointment and running other quotidian and extremely un-readerly errands.

If you're snowed in, tell us - what have you been reading to celebrate/pass the time?

(Book 6 for the Awesome Author Challenge. This seems sort of ironic.)