The Birdcage Archives

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Talented Miss Highsmith: A Biography Review

Hello Gentle Reader

It has been raining here all week. The pond behind the house is actually almost to the point of overflowing. It will be interesting to see if the house is or will flood. I am sure once the weather turns nice and warm, that the pond will turn into a slew. A nice breeding ground for mosquitoes. It is so disgusting, thinking about it. Part of me hopes that it doesn’t stop raining so the mosquitoes do not have time to breed, but if that happens then the house is certainly going to flood. I suppose one has to take a lesser of the two evils. A lesser of two evils, is certainly a way to describe “The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith.”

The biographer Joan Schenkar certainly picked an interesting person to write about. After reading this Patricia Highsmith is more human than certainly I am sure then Patricia Highsmith would prefer to admit. Patricia Highsmith is an interesting writer for sure. Not a great writer in my opinion, but she is a good writer at what she writes. She is first and foremost a writer of mystery and suspense fiction – a book she had actually written about titled: “Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction.” Murder was never far from Patricia Highsmith’s mind as Joan Schenkar points out.
‘“Pat couldn't look at a flight of stairs, without imagining someone falling down them.”’
Needles to say after reading this book, and about Patricia Highsmith I can never look at myself the same way again, not to mention look at simple household items the same way again. It is pretty scary when you read a book about someone so human and yet so misanthropic, and hated people and the world so much, and when you relate to that, you find yourself almost horrified at such a thought of being able to relate to such an ugly human being. A human being that was so horrible, vicious, angry and full of such piss and bile; you find yourself almost unable to look at yourself in the mirror every morning when you are brushing your teeth.
Even though Patricia Highsmith was a hateful creature. A person who was a walking, talking paradox, her entire life was a contradiction. A life so turbulent, and she herself lost and a drift in this turbulent world and life. Obviously a person who was quite misanthropic she was also a person who loved.
‘“God knows love, in this room with us now, is not kissed or embraces or touches. Not even a glance or a feeling. Love is a monster between us, each of us caught in a fist.”’

It should be noted that Patricia Highsmith was a lesbian. I think from reading this biography Patricia Highsmith was terribly ashamed of her lesbianism. In fact at the age of twelve as pointed out in the biography; Patricia Highsmith had pointed out to herself that she was a boy in a girl’s body. What an odd person Patricia Highsmith is and was. She could fall in love in a matter of minutes, and yet she despised people. Human contact, and human relationships – in fact anything human at all was alien to Patricia Highsmith.

Humoursly speaking about Patricia Highsmith’s gender is a following quote from the book.

“In Paris restaurants, where French waiters are uncomfortably good at reading gender code, Pat is sometimes directed to the men’s lavatory,”

It should be noted that Patricia Highsmith lived abroad in Europe for probably most of her life. Her home country had since abandoned her, and refused to acknowledge her as a good and talented writer. Perhaps it is because she refused to play by the rule of suspense fiction. She certainly was not going to write like Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler. And yet Joan Schenkar does see it fitting to add in the next bit about Patricia Highsmith’s little lavatory experience at French restaurants:
‘“Pat thought that waiters stopped her ‘because I have big feet and skinny thighs.’ She had to think something.”’
Something that would forever destroy Patricia Highsmith’s world would be her mother. Her stylish but very critical and very destructive mother. If Patricia Highsmith ever did anything of great admiration or was awarded for her hard work, her mother would simply criticize it. Nothing was good enough for Mary Highsmith. Nothing at all. Everything her mistake of a child did would only be met with criticism by Mary Highsmith. Yet both women could not leave the other alone. No matter what, these two women did to escape or run away from each other; they could not help but go back for another fight.

However though a good biography – though unusual in the way that is written in; there are certain faults with Joan Schenkar’s biography. A deeply detailed book. It is marinated and saturated with detail. Every person that ever appeared to have walked behind Patricia Highsmith’s life is explored. Her charming family – who she hated all of them; are always explored. The style in which the book is detailed in, sometimes does not feel much like a biography but rather a psychological study and encyclopedia hybrid.

Joan Schenkar is a writer whose eye is detailed. No interview ends at just one. No piece of paper or mundane task is not examined at face value. Everything is examined in an extreme detail. Mundane tasks like ironing and gardening are almost examined with psychoanalyst interpretation. It is hard to say if Patricia Highsmith enjoyed ironing to the point that she thought of murder while ironing and gardening. Perhaps she just enjoyed the physical enjoyment of the meditating experience that these two activities gave to Patricia Highsmith. But instead the biographer Joan Schenkar makes it her duty to examine these mundane tasks as a way that Patricia Highsmith helped cope with her turbulent and difficult life. Personally I find ironing quite enjoyable at times. When a bookmark gets crinkled I try to iron it to its pristine order that it once had. Then again I am a bit cheap or frugal. Depends on the way one looks at it.

Despite the detail as a fault, it is also a great strength. It is a richly detailed book. It is richly filled with details. Part of this is due to the fact that Patricia Highsmith was a richly detailed woman. She kept diaries and cahiers; she wrote numerous lists, drew maps, doodled, and made furniture.

Which is quite ironic to me at times. Because Patricia Highsmith’s novels and stories are sometimes written in a very sparse forum of minimalism. The mundane details are often portrayed, time appears to have no meaning, events just happen as they happen, and the novel just putters out. Quite the contrary to Patricia Highsmith’s own life. Nothing ever appeared to putter out; especially not her relationship with her mother Mary Highsmith. Her life is richly detailed in every dark aspect that had incorporated it, was detailed. Her love life was richly detailed with obsession. Her hatred was written down to the perfection. Every I was doted and every T was crossed. Joan Schenkar’s serious, detailed, experimental and unorthodox (I think) biography of Patricia Highsmith is probably the best biography that will ever be produced about Patricia Highsmith for sure.

In this biography the reader, will begin to understand just how frightening Patricia Highsmith was; but also how fundamentally lonesome and turbulent her life was. I wonder if Patricia Highsmith ever thought of suicide, then again I suppose Patricia Highsmith was a bit more interested in not removing herself from the problem or the situation, but rather remove the other person or people from the situation. One can certainly say that Patricia Highsmith was more homicidal then suicidal. Yet she was a particularly sad creature. Lonesome, and unhappy. She enjoyed her solitude and her time by herself. Though even if she was not by herself, in the physical sense, she was still emotionally cut off from others. No matter what Patricia Highsmith could do or did, she was forever doomed to a life of being cut off from others. Which suited her fine. I suppose her solitude and exile in Switzerland suited her fine. She appeared to enjoy her own company, but there was no choice in that.

In all Patricia Highsmith was a beautiful and horrifying woman. A person that we as readers will never know. She has long since been dead. The only remnants of her existence are her novels and stories. She certainly was a one of a kind woman. Not a person that I personally would ever want to meet. But what is most horrifying is what if I am that kind of person? A question that I appear to be asking myself on a constant basis lately. After seeing points that I could resonate with, and reflect and also empathize with, it certainly makes me wonder if my life will be much like Patricia Highsmith’s. I can certainly hope it will not be. Partly because Patricia Highsmith was a fragile and above all else a horrifying person. Certainly cut off from the world around her, by her own hatred, and inability to understand and comprehend those that were around her.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
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Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Short Story Review (No. II)

“Hyacinth,” by Saki – From “The Complete Saki,” by Saki – Section: “The Toys of Peace.”

Oh Saki, Saki, Saki. Where does one begin with an author who is by anything else, a man of comedic genius in the way that is, just funny? Not funny to the point that you are rolling on the floor laughing, or pissing yourself with hysterics. No, quite the opposite really. Saki allows for you to smirk, and smile at certain moments. Literature I find or rather the written word, can never really provide the reader to the point that they are rolling around laughing, and giggling with enjoyment. No the written word cannot offer such physical reactions to its own take of humour. The written word in its own way is not something that I think can provide comedy. However some authors like Saki (H.H. Munro) can provide little light bits of dry wry humour to their stories, and even make the reader smile.

“Hyacinth,” is one of those stories. A story of politics, and never learning from the past. And the barbaric nature not to mention (but I am mentioning it anyway) their honesty. Hyacinth is a young boy. Age never made clear, but young enough and deviously clever enough though to play the political game of adults. However instead of using the tactics of mudslinging and words Hyacinth uses a much more interesting tactic to win the elections – the elections in which his father is running in.

Hyacinths mother had been warned, by his aunt not to take Hyacinth to the election polls. However his mother refuses to believe in the naughty nature in her own seed, of a child. She gives reason that the sailor suit (oh how I pity poor Hyacinth!) dress matches both his eyes, and the colours of the party in which her husband is running for.

During the election opening moments, Hyacinth even offered butterscotch sweets (or some form of candy) to the children of the other hopeful person running for whatever political position, as a form of good spirit. This appeared to delight the camera’s and (almost) everyone in attendance at the polls.

‘“Never was Clytemnestra’s kiss than on the night she slew me.”’ Mrs. Pannstreppon – Wise words that foreshadow the following events.

Pretty soon it is soon realized that the kids Hyacinth and the other children of the following political fractions, had gone missing. After a while, Hyacinth (I assume) telephones the polls, and explains the situation, of the children being trapped in a pig pen, with ten little piglets, and one angry sow (the mother of the piglets) snorting with motherly rage ready to attack the children in the following pig pen. Soon the adults – or rather the select people, the parents of course as well as Mrs. Pannstreppon and a few others went down to the place, where the seen that Hyacinth had described was in action. The children of the following party were for sure kept captive in the other pig pen with ten little piglets, and Hyacinth sitting in between the two pens, with an angry sow on the other side, ready to tear the children to mincemeat.

Hyacinth’s demands were simple and his threat a reality. If his father did not win the election, he would unlock the pig pen, and the mother sow would tear the children apart. If his father did win, the children would be let go. The adults not to be outsmarted by a simple child would try and drug the sow. Hyacinth devilishly clever, made cries of a piglet angry the sow, to the point of trampling the drugged bread. Then Hyacinth explains that he will find out shortly if his father won the election or not. For he had a child or someone to fire two shots if his father had one, and one shot if he had lost. Soon, the other candidate was forced to lose for the sake of his children’s safety.

To be honest I have no idea why I just wrote a complete summary for you my gentle reader. I should have said go out and by “The Complete Saki,” turn to page five hundred and eighteen, and read the story. Oh well, what is done is done. What’s the moral of the story? Children who are bad stay bad for the sake of being bad? Bad children make clever campaign managers? Never take a child to elections? Perhaps it’s better to say never make a child wear a sailor outfit. I mean let’s admit it not even sailors like to wear sailor outfits. They are just horrible, and embarrassing. Parents – well more specifically mothers never make your child (daughter or son or son or daughter) ever wear a sailor outfit. Quite frankly it’s not cute, it’s just disturbing.


“Makeup,” by Yasunari Kawabata – From “The Palm-Of-The-Hand Stories,” by Yasunari Kawabata.

There will always be something about Yasunari Kawabata’s “Palm-Of-The-Hand Stories,” that will continue to enthral me. Even if they are written in some way or another about Japan, Yasunari Kawabata writes about something else also. There is something with his beautiful soft dream like prose, that one can find that just touches the emotional being of who I am. There is something about these prose, a feeling of nostalgia, a moment that is captured and painted so elegantly but no matter how much you touch the canvas of the scene that has been painted on, the world can only be looked at it. It can never be obtained.

“Makeup,” by Yasunari Kawabata is one of those stories, which touches a person. Even though if I were to summarize the story it would come off as if the story is sentimental. Maybe it is a bit sentimental, and that because I love Yasunari Kawabata so much that I fail to see this. Either way this story is just an amazing feat of writing.

The story tells of an unnamed narrator who lives next to a funeral home. His bathroom, window faces that of the funeral homes window, and the narrow space in-between the two spaces, usually smells of the flowers and wreaths that have been disposed of by the funeral home. The narrator remarks at how beautiful it is, but also remarks that over time the flowers and wreathes rot.

The most disturbing part of this story is how the narrator remarks at how the woman attending the funeral, go in to the bathroom to hide themselves and place on their makeup. Hence the story title “Makeup.”

This act of the woman hiding away in the bathroom and applying their makeup with a calm and collected manner makes the narrator shudder with disgust, at the human indignity at how they hide their feelings and themselves with their perfectly placed make up, makes them hide behind their coloured faces, and not be able to face the fact of the death.

‘”I also have to look at human beings in the window of the funeral hall restroom. There are a lot of young women. Few men seem to into the rest room, and the longer the old women stay there the less they look like. Most of the young women stand there for a moment, then do their makeup. When I see these in mourning clothes doing their faces in the in the restroom, putting on dark lipstick, I shudder and flinch as if I’ve seen the bloody lips of one who has licked a corpse. All of them are calm and collected. Their bodies exhibit a sense o sin, as though they were committing an evil deed while they hid themselves.”’

As one can see Yasunari Kawabata Nobel Laureate of Literature of 1968, with his subtle prose and keen sublime psychological insight into not only people, but the nature of human beings constrained by culture and by duty to society and family. These woman described by the above passage, disgust the narrator. The way they go and hide in the bathroom so coolly and without the hint of emotion, for the dead, or a sense of mourning, they simply hide themselves under more and more darkly colours of makeup. This repulses the narrator. The sheer fact that these woman, hide themselves in the bathroom but not because they are (or so it appears) that they are sad, but because they have some other motive. They hide themselves as if only to recollect themselves from the funeral and then vainly paint themselves with their makeup. They hide away from the rest of the mourners only to apply lip stick to their lips, and powder their noses. No sense of emotion can be seen in their faces. How disturbing it would appear.

The coldness and callousness can truly be seen for the lack of respect or the lack of emotion, that these women appear to show for the deceased. I can’t help but wonder if Yasunari Kawabata writes this as a way of saying that society and the culture of the people, often stifles the emotional development or the emotional release at such difficult times. Part of me in some way or another wishes that these women, go into the bathroom, only to recollect themselves apply their makeup, and their masks only to listen to people, say how sorry they are for their losses. One cannot help but wonder if they are just told by the culture and by society that showing such a public display of an emotion even if it is a appropriate time to show such tears or sadness, would be both dishonourable or disrespectful to the deceased. When it appears to both the narrator and myself as the narrator that it is perfectly humane, and quite the opposite of the teachings.

Truly just another amazing story of Yasunari Kawabata. The perfect drifting feeling of the prose and the way that it all just floats, like cotton balls down a river, is just amazing. Yasunari Kawabata is certainly an author that I admire, and enjoy to read. He is an amazing author and certainly one of the most amazing authors I have had the pleasure to read, and one of my personal favourites.


“Fiction,” by Alice Munro – From “Too Much Happiness,” by Alice Munro.

The way that Alice Munro appears to be writing with these stories of the collection “Too Much Happiness,” has a bit of a detached voice to it. There appears to be a lack of emotion in the way that the third person narration comes across. Like some detached observer just watching what happens slowly and surely. Never once a shred of emotion can be seen. Now at times this can work in my opinion. Sometimes when a rather sentimental scene or sensationalistic event happens, to read it without any authoritarian emotion to cloud the readers own emotional reaction, to the scene can work and is usually preferred – at least I prefer it. However when there is no real sensational scene or sentimental scene happening, sometimes without the authoritarian emotion to give a hint of how the scene should feel or what is the premises of the scene at hand. This is the fault in “Fiction,” by Alice Munro. However that does not mean that Alice Munro’s story “Fiction,” is not a good story.

Numerous things have caught my interest with this story. One of them being both the intelligence of the characters and their stupidity all at the same time. How could two people with such high IQ’s (Intelligence quotient) who are going to college, and then just drop out to take up the life of vagrants and temporary jobs, and just wandering. Part of me is interested in that kind of life style all that admitted. Then again at the same time such a lifestyle could grow old rather quickly that is true, also – a life of temporary jobs, of wandering, of not having enough money to do certain parts of life; like getting a plane back to Ontario when the character Jon’s mother was suspected of dying – they collected mushrooms (presumably magic ones) to sell in order to get enough money to buy tickets back to the Ontario to see Jon’s mother.

Yet there is just something about these two characters. Both appear unreliable to me. How can two people both intelligent just drop everything they had hoped for, and could have had, and then just go wandering like “hippies,” as their parents called them but they were too late in the movement to be classified as hippies, and yet neither one did drugs and Jon made a point of shaving and having Joyce cut his hair and as the third person points out, they both dressed in a rather conservative manner. But part of me still just cannot believe that two people would just drop their futures to wander around – and for what could they be wandering for? Joyce was expected to be a high class violinist performer, and Jon was to become some scientist presumably discovering the secrets of the world. Then the two just dropped out and let their restless feet take them where ever they wandered too. How can two people give up so much for presumably and from the looks of it nothing?

“Also the services advertised beside the road, and more particular to this part of the world – tarot readings, herbal massage, conflict resolution.”

Just reading that alone on the first page for me, makes me think of British Columbia for sure. I’ve never been around the Rough River area – that is if it exists; but when I read such aspects of British Columbia I cannot help but smile to myself. Because that is British Columbia to me. The politically left and most certainly far left of Canada. It’s port city of Vancouver overrun with crime, drugs, gangs and immigrants and I am sure a fair deal of new age magical voodoo stuff also. But I know from my travels to Nelson British Columbia – I swear that is the hippie capital of British Columbia; on route there were signs of places saying cherries for sale, or other kinds of fruit for sale – the closer one gets to Nelson the stranger the signs can become. Such as herbal tea readings, or tarot card readings, and other odds and ends as one gets closer to ones destination. Then of course there comes to the oddities of how people dress in the region. Those funny hair braids that men wear, dreadlocks I think they are called. The woman dress in odd bohemian fashion. And hemp clothing and hemp accessories are all the rage. Not to mention the look of being filthy and dirty is pretty hip also. Oh and the air – oh that fresh marijuana air is considerably known.

The characters of this story can be seen as a bit weak at times. Joyce is obviously the main character, and is perhaps the strongest character of this story – Jon is a typical genius man, who is egotistical but has dropped all his genius smarts for carpentry. There is Eddie the apprentice with tattoo’s and recovering alcoholic who attends “Alcoholics Anonymous,” and not to mention is opinionated, and if I do say so myself a bit selfish, and if one were to ask me us young and has a tendency to blow her supposed alcoholism problem out of proportion. Then there are all sorts of other characters, who blow in and out of the story much like Joyce and Jon had drifted in their early lives.

As the reader, we get to watch Joyce slowly transform from who she was into something else. We watch her slowly steady transformation into another woman – though not incredible, it still can be seen. The muted landscape of “Fiction,” and how the past slowly crawls into the present life in some odd ways. I haven’t read enough Alice Munro personally, but I will say that personally “Fiction,” isn’t my favourite by her.

Admittedly I have walked into this book with some high expectations, and though I have since given those expectations the boot out the door, I can certainly say that my expectations are not terribly high, but certainly I do expect a bit better then what “Fiction,” had provided.


“Broken Glass,” By Patricia Highsmith – From “The Selected Stories for Patricia Highsmith,” – Section “Slowly, Slowly In The Wind.”

I do not think I could ever say that Patricia Highsmith is by any means a great writer. Part of the allure of Patricia Highsmith, is the fact that for so long she was neglected, and with all fairness still is neglected in her own country. Another part of her allure is the fine way she tosses away any sense of justice or fair game in both her novels and stories. She probes her characters psychological mind. She remarks at how the world her characters inhabit is both cold, relentless and uncaring. A world view I am sure that one could say that Patricia Highsmith shared. No white knight of chivalry or a person of altruistic attitude would ever be caught seen. However people may do altruistic motives – or what appears to be altruistic motives on the surface; but in Patricia Highsmith’s reality there is an ulterior. Patricia Highsmith’s world is bathed and looked at with a deep dark pessimistic eye to it. No one does a deed for another without a certain desire for some reward. Everyone looks out for themselves, no one else. Unless of course that serves their own purpose. Ever walk up towards a building and ran into the door because the jerk, in front of you didn’t hold it open in front of you? Well you obviously didn’t have anything that he wanted. Ever held the door open for a lady only to have her bitch at you and saying: “[she’s] an independent woman, and get her own door. She doesn’t need any man, to do it!” Truth be told he was only holding the door open to hopefully get a smile, or something else. She on the other hand wanted him to hold the door open for her to show just how much of a feminist she really is. These are the kinds of people that inhabit Patricia Highsmith’s world.

“Broken Glass,” is a story by Patricia Highsmith that I quite enjoyed. There of course, certain Highsmith elements in it. The ending one of them. The subtle bit of violence that happens in a normal surrounding, in this case it is a bit of poetic justice – at one time at least one point.

The story is something that hits home on a certain level. A feeling of good people, living in a area that had its glory day, but has since fallen down into the shambles. Over run by pestilence, disease, and a slow infection that appears to happen in all communities that were once good then go bad.

As Patricia Highsmith’s characters and the third person persons view point, do point out that through the years, welfare people, and their rotten welfare children, began to move into the homes. The first residents who had seen the neighbourhood in its glory days had since grown older. Older and older they got, their kids moved out, and some moved away. But then there are people like Kate and Andrew, and the Schroeder’s all could not move away – as the price of living or housing went up, their situations, began to become more and more apparent. They had become stuck in their neighbourhood. They had become stuck in a area full of crime, and where the rotten welfare children, and had since grown up large, and are becoming far more dangerous.

The Schroeder’s where one of the people that had recognized that fact. Kate and Andrew also recognized the fact that those children, and their disgusting parents, were not taught or had any manners or morals born into them. However this story also shows Patricia Highsmith’s keen observation. Though it can be seen though that if people read this particular story that Patricia Highsmith is showing her more racist view points.

Though these small racial remarks – which are not blatant displays of racial remarks; it is not that Patricia Highsmith is running around calling stating the word “Nigger,” or calling a Hispanic a “Pepper,” or anything else like that. Patricia Highsmith just simply applies the fact that the antagonist or the reason for the collapse of such a nice neighbourhood into the slums or the “ghetto,” or becoming a poor neighbourhood was/is simply racial mixtures, and immigration. People, who can only afford low end paying jobs, so therefore have little money. They can’t keep their kids under control because they are working absurd long hours. Eventually their children grow up, they join gangs, they do simply stupid things, like mugging, and simply causing damage and inconvenience to other people’s lives. Good people like Kate and Andrew, and the Schroeder’s. All good people. Every one of them good people. Each one senior citizens, each one forced to manage their lives around the delinquents that like rats, have scurried into their neighbourhood.

It is a story that I have personally seen. There is a place my aunt used to live, where when I was young was a perfectly safe neighbourhood. Then again as a child, does one really think any place is not safe? Then I hear on the news the other day there was a knife stabbing there the other day. A few years back I learn that a cop pulled over a person, on a simple traffic violation, the person pulled over, shot the cop. Point black.

Then of course, there was the poetic justice of the narrative, which Andrew did. And then the immoral bastards take their revenge. Then again what kind of disgusting punk – black or white, or Asian, or aboriginal, or Hispanic, or Islamic, or Jewish or whatever; robs an eighty-one year old man? It’s disgusting and wrong.

This story from the collection: “Slowly, Slowly, In The Wind,” was one of the better stories from Patricia Highsmith for sure. I quite enjoyed this story. Now I can understand at times why Patricia Highsmith is given such praise that she has.


“San Francisco,” by Amy Hempel – From “The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel,” by Amy Hempel – Sections “Reason To Live.”

Amy Hempel constructs very interesting and precise sentences. This is her greatest strength. However this can also be her greatest fault. It’s hard for me to say what the short short story “San Francisco,” was about.

However the lovely constructed sentences, were well done and constructed quite well. But in this case, without much of a plot, or really information, about any plot, or character (sure name[s] are given but no real characterization is given) so it’s hard where to start with this story, or what to talk about.

In that case, one should look at the well-crafted sentences.

“The way the floored rolled like bongo boards under our feats?”

Okay poor choice, but there is something about that sentence that shows just how well Amy Hempel can construct a sentence. She certainly does not waste her time with other things. She’s not describing a scene. She’s not describing a character. She is not describing much action. More or less the sentence is constructed as a way of speaking. In fact the entire story can be seen as someone trying to tell a story, and as the reader, we get introduced to the story half way through the person telling the story.

Amy Hempel also places in this story some wry and dry humour. Just read the following bit from the story:

‘”Maidy didn’t tell you, but you know what her doctor said ? When she sprang from the couch and said, “My God, was that an earthquake?”
‘”The doctor said this: “Did it feel like an earthquake to you?”’

So I’ll fill you in on the small details that I know. This character or fictional person therefore a character; is seeing I presume a psychiatrist (because he is called a doctor) for whatever reason. This humorous story that is being relayed to another person from the unnamed narrator, is best to be seen as a story about Maidy and her psychiatrist and the humorous and yet dangerous occasion of an earthquake and circumstances permitting that moor Maidy just happened to be in the psychiatrist office when it hit.

I do confess that I had picked this story out of Amy Hempel’s collection because it was short, and I am tired, and it is late, and I am selfish. All of the above make the reason why this review for this very short story is also quite short. Yet the humour was funny, the sentences well-crafted and I quite enjoyed what I have read.


“The Indian Mutiny,” by Will Self – From “Grey Area,” by Will Self.

When walking into a Will Self story be ready to see a world not quite like the one the one that you know and love and hate. Will Self is a satirical writer or novelist or both; he obviously takes a single idea and exploits it and exploded it. There is no doubt that Will Self is a clever man, but sometimes his satire is a bit lost on me. Then again maybe people will read him in years from now, and find him absolutely hilarious; just like when I read Saki and I find myself smiling at his use of dry satirical humour. By that time though people may read Saki and find his humour lost on them much like Shakespeare’s humour is lost on people now.

“The Indian Mutiny,” is a novel of the cruelty of children at their worst. Just as the narrator of this story (Fein is his name) explains he killed someone. Now of course the narrator does make it quite clear over and over again that he is not proud of this deed. Quite the opposite really. Of course the more someone denies the pride in such an event one cannot help but find that even though they deny their pride in such a task or event, or action. One cannot help but see that the more they deny the fact the more it becomes apparent that they are quite proud of what they had done.

As the Booker Prize long listed novel “Skippy Dies,” shows children are not as innocent as people would have us all believe. Christ even when a person is a child they can remember some of the naughty and bad things they had done. Children are not innocent. And to add to the long list of fiction, movies, and memories to prove such a point; “The Indian Mutiny,” by Will Self can also be used as a reference.

The story “The Indian Mutiny,” is a story concerning a child revolution of children in a classroom titled “4b,” and how a new teacher different from the others takes over their class. I presume he is a history teacher, based on the fact that they discuss history quite a lot in his class like the Crimean War, and the fact that the teacher discusses or hints at the past imperial rule of colonies like India – one of the reasons for the title of the story. The entire story itself is nothing special really. Though it certainly shows just how bad students can be.

I know with this new generation, of kids. Kids pumped up with such a belief that everyone should hear their opinions, and that their self-confidence is important, and how experienced there in the ways of technology and other odds and ends. That they think that they’re old fuddy duddy teachers are too old to really teach them anything at all. I know personally (not that I have or ever will be!) that a teacher’s job is a very difficult job, especially since the days of being able to beat the kids are gone. I still remember back in my day’s naughty classmates, getting yard sticks broken over their heads. I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but she was a nasty old braud, with her red hair long nose, and wrinkles galore! And not to mention that when you were caught chewing gum, some teachers made you put on your nose. Of course this was way back in the days of good old discipline being used. Kids these days do not know how good they have it. This entire New Age thinking and all that, about how you tell the kids how you feel about their behaviour is affecting you, is not going to work. In fact it is going to further the children in their actions. So a teacher’s job is a difficult job. Especially in today’s world, of political correctness, and rules and the thought of how we need to raise children self-esteems and their self-confidence and all that ridiculous crap. Maybe if we told them to go worship some stones, and wear a bunch of stones around their necks, and kiss chickens and worship pig’s, and eat cow shit, maybe they’re confidence will grow.

Will Self’s story though shows the difficulties of a teacher whose time of greatness had passed. Who obviously had something to do with colonized India, and is now dealing with brat’s who would rather make fun of his lesson plans. He discusses the guilt of killing this teacher – by pushing the teacher to suicide and a mental breakdown; Will Self discusses all these things. He discusses the uncontrollable spirit of youth. An interesting short story for sure.


Well Gentle Reader I do hope you enjoyed the second Shot Story Review, as much as I enjoyed reading the stories and reviewing them for you.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Short Story Review (No. II) Introduction

Hello Gentle Reader

Well last week I had reported to you – reported, aren’t I just hilarious sometimes. If you’re not laughing well I do not recall caring because, I am making myself laugh. Oh yeah! Anyhow last week on this blog I had informed you – I am certainly stretching the line here; that Philip Roth had won the biannual Man Booker International Prize of 2011. Last weekend I had learned of the fact that a judge of this year’s Man Booker International Prize had actually resigned over him winning. Carmen Callil – a feminist; as all the newspapers are pointing out with a fierce use of trying to use the world as insulting – though it partly is quite insulting; had resigned in protest of Philip Roth winning the prize.

Carmen Callil stated quite frankly about Philip Roth:

‘“He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe”’.

I cannot say if this is true or not, for the fact that I have not read his work. However, it certainly does come clear, that as a woman and a feminist that Carmen Callil was not impressed with the way that Philip Roth had presented woman in his fiction. In fact Philip Roth had/has/is criticized (by feminists) for his portrayal of woman in his work. Then again Philip Roth had stated that he is writing primarily for men. Just like woman write primarily for woman from the sounds of it. Which is why I sometimes had issues relating to woman writers, because the problems or their poorly sketched male characters cease to enthral me and bore me half to death, and their complex woman characters I find are somewhat in a way sexist in their complexities over the “less complex,” nature of men.

So is Carmen Callil the feminist – in my own way a way of stating: angry woman; right when she says that Philip Roth does not deserve the prize? Could her own feelings towards Philip Roth primarily writing for men, leave her with a feeling that her own sex/gender is left as a less complex shallow piece of meat? Or is Philip Roth right with his portrayal of woman in his fiction, just as Elfriede Jelinek the Nobel Laureate of Literature of 2004 (a author I do not plan on reading!) is a feminist who writes shall we say primarily for woman. She obviously see’s the woman as a patriarchal society, and seems to despise men to a degree – I think she’s married. Anyhow, it appears that the resignation over the prize of the judge over Philip Roth winning was more of a resignation on the part of gender inequality in his work, and her feminist ideologies then necessarily about his work.

Don’t take my word for it though Gentle Reader I am as biased as any newspaper! The only difference is I am free and can swear, and I am a pompous asshole!

Anyhow it’s that time of month again when we do the “Short Story Review,” this time its Number II (2) and I hope you all enjoy it! It will be posted tomorrow Thursday May 26 2011 – unless something happens to my computer in which I can’t post it.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mondays With Mr. K (No. V)

Hello Gentle Reader

Well we are now up to 100 blog posts. That for me, is a congratulations for sure – but it would never happen if I did not hope for some readers! So the congratulations are of course shared with many thank-you’s! I would also like to welcome the third follower, which is a great pleasure to have. So a welcome, and a "Hi how are you," is in order for sure. I know this "Monday With Mr. K," is a bit early but I also know quite frankly that if I do not do this today/tonight I will certainly forget for sure. That is of course not my intention, so "Mondays With Mr. K," number five is a bit early I do admit that, but its better early then never I suppose.


Mr. K was an avid walker. Of course weather was something that had to permit such occasions of going on a glorious walk. Of course Mr. K could be seen taking a wintery evening stroll, in the winter; or a early spring walk in the spring; sometimes a dusk walk in autumn, remarking on the flowers. But the most anyone ever saw Mr. K walk the most would be in summer, in the late afternoon. His enjoyment of flowers, and taking in their radiance, rather than the monochromic feel of winter -- though if caught asked about the dreary state of winter on a walk; he would remark: "There is something about winter at night, that gives it the feel, that even though life has been caught, and certainly the world has a feeling of mourning in it, one cannot help but feel a resistance, and revolution is being formed within the depths of the snow. There still is the call and cackle of life, hissing its revolutionary march against the tyranny of winters oppressive dictatorship."

However one of the most interesting summer trips of Mr. K was one day his cane smacking the pavement he enjoyed the time of year. The buzzing sounds of insects could be heard. However Mr. K's enjoyment of the earths cycles, of birth, life, old age, and death were soon all wrapped up in the four seasons, his eye was caught by some children playing a game with a ball they kicked around. Interested not only in the game but also in watching the delights of youth being portrayed so openly, in the public. Perhaps Mr. K was hoping to reminisce on the matters of his own youth. Reaching his destination, however his sudden appearance of observation started one of the players of the game, and in a wrong stop kicked the ball to the side -- only hitin a nearby window of a resident’s home. The youth were already circle ready to run when Mr. K intervened. "It is best, to always be honest with people. I find it shows maturity and of course, its part of growing up." The youth were of course a bit hesitant at the old man who stood before him, but his relaxed nature, and position as a way of facilitating such a meeting between the resident and the youth put their minds at rest. However when the youth and Mr. K both saw the man storm to the window and his size and way of dress not to mention the way of his speech, Mr. K's attitude quickly changed. For the man who appeared in the window was dressed like a slob, arms, and a gut hude, and a face flushed not only with alcohol, but with a uncontrollable rage.

"Sometimes it is best also to run. Especially if your legs can carry you fast." He gave a slight wink and all the youth ran. When the man stumbled out of the window, he saw the old Mr. K waving his cane in the opposite direction that where the youth had run, shouting out "come back here!" The man only took one look at Mr. K shrugged his shoulders, and stumbled in a attempt to run down the opposite way after the kids.

It is said by some of the youth that when they all had gone back to one of their places, a new ball was waiting for them. Yes Mr. K needed no reminders of youth, and its problems, but certainly he did enjoy helping out the youth, even if it was deceiving another person. But of course Mr. K never helped people with ears full of wax, or bellies full of alcohol.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Man Booker International Prize

Hello Gentle Reader

It certainly does look like spring is finally here. The tree's have finally budded their leaf's, and a few have already opened their leaves up. The sound of lawn mowers in the evenings, and weekends can fill the air. Children no longer run outside with their coats on. Most of the time they are in shorts and tee shirts, riding their bikes, or rolling bladeing. A few times, a skateboarder can be seen. People are taking their dogs for a walk more frequently, and it can certainly tell that life of spring and soon summer, has become more and more apparent in the last few weeks and certainly in the coming days. After a cold long winter it is nice to see people, shed their winter coats, and welcome the sun, and all that comes with it. Though that is not all that is coming out of this new season, and the warm weather that the sun has bestowed upon, the world. Mosquitoes, the blood sucking parasites have already shown themselves. I am sure that the infestation of the summer pest will become more and more intense, as summer becomes more and more closer. Yet I look forward to seeing the flowers blooming. The rainbows of life, that has waited through the long winter months to show themselves. After the long winter monochromic months, of white, greys and dark black nights; and then the transition period of winter to spring, with all the melting white snow, and the barren brown landscape that is left over after winter, has finally receded, the spring and the summer is able to shine through. It certainly does feel like when spring and summer come, that the time of winter never lasts as long as it feels like, then when summer’s heat finally gets tiring one can only wish for winter to come faster and faster, because the heat has grown old -- and so has the sounds of children with nothing to do over their summer break. Yet for this glorious time when it’s nice to see some sun, and it is nice to see some green in the world, winter can wait until its appropriate time.

But this blog is not about spring and summer. No, this blog is about the Man Booker International Prize! A prize that is awarded biannually to: "a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language."

Past winners of this prize include:

2005 - Ismail Kadare

2007 - Chinua Achebe

2009 - Alice Munro

The nominee's of this international prize, have included some interesting authors such as: Naguib Mahfouz (1988 Nobel Prize Laureate of Literature), Milan Kundera, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Kenzaburo Oe (1996 Nobel Prize Laureate of Literature), Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Carey (winner of the booker prize twice), Dubravka Ugrešić, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, V. S. Naipaul (2001 Nobel Prize Laureate of Literature), and even Phillip Pullman.

As one can see from list of nominee's that the prize is awarded to some big name authors, some of which have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and others who have also been whispered about being contenders for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This year's winner of the Man Booker International Prize, is one of America's most prominent, well read, and enjoyed author; but also controversial author. Philip Roth is the one who won this prize. Congratulations to Philip Roth of course. Congratulations are of course always do when an author of course deserves them.

Now it is time for me rain on dear Philip Roth’s parade in my lovely way -- that sounds rather pompous and assholish does it not? Oh well can't say that I am much of a person that truly cares. I have not read a book by Philip Roth. However reading an article titled "Philip Roth Blows Up," by Jennifer Senior that, that might change. However something certainly did catch my eye with this lovely quote in the article:

""Whether I will ever persuade the Nobel Prize people -- and I have tried -- I don't know," sighs Harold Bloom. "He's not terribly politically correct, you know. And they are.""

Harold Bloom is a literary critic that I do not have much respect for. He certainly does appear to be a person that does not to know when to stop the sentence where it should be stopped. He continues on and on and on, until he says something just absolutely uncalled for. Truly if Mr. Bloom wanted Philip Roth to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, he should be using more tact in persuasion then just walking around and saying such remarks, and insults towards the Swedish Academy. No matter what anyone says, the Swedish Academy is run by human beings, and human beings feel insults. Such an insult that Harold Bloom felt was necessary to use, could anger the Swedish Academy, and in retribution award the Prize to another deserving author. However Harold Blooms comments, always do seem like something that American's usually say -- at least their critic's anyway; they have that sense of "Well we are just wasting our time with this, might as well make an ass of one's self, and find enjoyment of everyone else cheering me on, because I am speaking the 'truth.'" Perhaps I feel somewhat bitter over Harold Blooms comment about Doris Lessing the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature of 2007, as bemoaning of once again the political correctness of the award and how it was awarded to a writer "fourth-rate science fiction." Truly such comments make me laugh. It does certainly appear that, when an author (other then American) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Bloom, along with his companions and friends, scoff at the award because it was awarded to other authors like Herta Muller or Mario Vargas Llosa among others.

Yet many authors and people should recognize the beauty of the award being awarded to authors, who are not as popular as Philip Roth but other lesser known authors like Herta Muller. The Nobel Prize for Literature I consider myself to be an award that recognizes authors known and unknown in the international community, and living in North America often that leaves me to discover these authors by pure chance, or by the Nobel Prize being Awarded to one of them. I still cannot thank the Swedish Academy for Awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Herta Muller.

Perhaps Mr. Philip Roth should not feel bad for not being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Its not something that he should be aiming to achieve like his friends, appear to be aiming for him to achieve. Personally I think Philip Roth should be doing what he is doing, and keep writing. To keep working, and producing new works. If an American writer deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature I would certainly say that it is Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oats respectively. Though I have not read works by either one of these authors I do confess. Yet I do certainly see these authors as more deserving then Thomas Pynchon -- who once again I do confess I have not read. I guess I am a poor Canadian for not reading more works from my neighbours, down to the south.

Either way though hopefully The Man Booker International Prize of 2011 will hopefully fill that void of not winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for a while. It should be noticed that Philip Roth beat out these author finalists:

Wang Anyi
Juan Goytisolo
James Kelman
John le Carré
Amin Maalouf
David Malouf
Dacia Maraini
Rohinton Mistry
Philip Pullman
Marilynne Robinson
Su Tong
Anne Tyler

I mean personally when I read the list of the finalists I wanted:

James Kelman
John le Carré
Dacia Maraini
Philip Pullman

To win. So Philip Roth beat out my favourites -- not that, that counts for much, but he should be happy that he won the award. Hopefully he can produce more works for his avid readers, and growing international readership.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Possibility of An Island

Hello Gentle Reader

Michel Houellebecq is a name that most French people, are both intrigued about and shudder at the sound of. He is a controversial and vicious French author. Not afraid to say what is on his mind – though one certainly does not doubt that he says what is on many people’s minds, but are too polite to admit it. Often times Michel Houellebecq is referred to as a: racist, sexist, misogynist, anti-islamic, among other less than flattering titles. But in all if Michel Houellebecq is anything he is misanthropic. This is a lot farther than just some mere racist or skinhead, or some chauvinistic man. Houellebecq is a man who looks at people around him, and sees nothing more than saggy sacks of meat, and he makes no apologies for saying the observations that he has observed.

The author (Michel Houellebecq) does not beautify what his observations and his ideas either. There is no real sense of poetic lyricism or aphorism in his work – though there are memorable lines. Houellebecq’s distinct characters speak in the plainest of forms, and in the bluntest of ways. They make no qualms about their sexual frustrations, or their intellectual thoughts. Their philosophical musings are written not with distinct flower like language or holier than though and wiser than one could possibly be pretentious language that is common in some works that deal with the same philosophical thoughts. Michel Houellebecq’s characters speak in the plainest of terms, in this most vicious of ways, and make no apologies for saying anything.

With such fictional shows titled: “Munch on my Gaza Strip,” and, “We Prefer the Palestinian Orgy Sluts,” someone is bound to be offended. And someone certainly was offended. In 2002 (I think) Michel Houellebecq was taken to court by civil rights groups on the basis of trying to spread racial hatred after calling “Islam the stupidest of all religions.” However Houellebecq was acquitted on the grounds of freedom of expression. Which further leads to some people seeing him as a champion of freedom of expression, and freedom of voice, and opinion – and others (usually civil rights groups who are more interested in picking a fight on the grounds of political correctness then to do anything about ‘civil rights,’) see him as a celebrity of vulgarity and pornography. Yet in a twist of irony perhaps it should be the accused author of inciting racism, who should be suing the muslims for a proposed death threat. According to the news a Moroccan news paper titled Liberation – or something like that; had published an article about the French author and had apparently stated that he was looking for a “fatwa,” – or in a civilized worlds terms a “Death Threat,” – a threat that was issued against the British author Salman Rushdie for his novel “The Satanic Verses.”

Knowing all this about the author – reading and watching interviews, and online biographies; it is hard to distinguish the author (Michel Houellebecq) from his character in this particular novel (The Possibility of An Island) “Daniel1,” – “I had found myself cast in the role of a hero of free speech,” – it all sounds quite familiar to Michel Houellebecq. With of course the exception that part of the novel is set in the distant future – a future that on further reconsideration and recollection could not be too far away. Yet this does not damper the thoughts of where is the lines between the author and the characters; or where is the line between the fictional characters biography and the main characters autobiography, which can sometimes make the work appear selfish and even self-indulgent.

Yet, writing – like most aspects in life; are all done in the self-interest of the person. In this case the novel “The Possibility of An Island,” by Michel Houellebecq is just as self-indulgent and follows his own self-interest just like everyone else in the world does. The only difference really is that it would appear that the author does not make any qualm or attempt at trying to discourage any thought, or notion that he is only interested in his own work, and that the characters themselves may be he himself, and are in fact puppets, speaking his idea’s and his thoughts and opinions on such matters, as sex and youth.

With that being said, it is hard to really review such a book. A book written in the first person, which shows the observations, of human nature in a consumerism world. A world obsessed with perfection, and a desire for immortality or youth. It is a world full of mass produced soulless and meaningless items. Where advertisements are borderline soft pornography and erotic. It is a world that the author and his characters see and look about, and are disgusted with. Yet there is very little that the author or the characters can do about it.

They realize the world they live in is beyond imperfection, and beyond help for perfection. They realize that no matter of terrorism or violent acts of destruction, or transgressive acts or attempts to cleanse the world, will do any good. They see the world. They are disgusted by the world. They do nothing about their disgust. They do nothing about the world around them. However they do not accept the world for it is, they just accept the fact that trying to do anything about it, whether or not violent in action or just legal groaning of civil rights demands, is all but useless and a waste of time. In fact the entire world is nothing more than a mass produced meaningless heartless place, full of meat sacks, and erotic advertisements that demand that only beauty is youth – even if that means pre-pubescent. Soon youth turns to erotic desires. Erotic desires turn to a need of erotic fetishes. As if having sex with the youth would somehow, in some way or another slow down the process, of aging. As if the world just stops spinning ever so slightly just so for a few moments, the beholder can have a few moments of youthful rejuvenation. That is before the world all of a sudden picks up speed once again, and the reality sinks in, that age is like cancer, it never goes away. It is just part of existence. It’s part of life. And yet if it is part of life, then why is life worth living?

Isn’t that one of the most fundamental questions of history? A question indeed: “what is the point of living if one has the knowledge of death?” – it is with such paradoxical questions that one asks themselves, that the novel of Michel Houellebecq is trying not to answer the answerless questions, but to merely point out that such thoughts or such idea’s are just as they are: answerless and confusing. The author the character makes no attempt at trying to be a guru of some sorts or some self-help author or new age thinker, they just state that the word is a piece of shit, and that the only option of it is to deal with it. The end. That’s it. Finished.

It is hard book to talk about. Michel Houellebecq is an offensive writer plain and simple. He offends because he can. But his shock and vulgarity goes beyond just simple filth or trash. Hidden under all the grime, is a real sense or a purpose. As if something in some way or another, is actually really lying just underneath the surface with some meaning – then the real contradiction comes up. The fact is that Michel Houellebecq’s almost meaningful answer or philosophical quote is nothing more than an unpopular truth. That one should just give up because their life is meaningless. Their youthful arrogance will one day start to fade. Their skin will wrinkle, their tits will sag, their dicks will become impotent, and the glory day of their sexual and physical prime will be nothing more than just a memory. A faint recollection. A desire and a dream that will never be obtained again. Which then fuels the quest for eternal youth or the quest for immortality. This leads to “Daniel1,” to become “Daniel24,” and “Daniel25,” by cloning. But immorality is all what it appears to be. Or at least cloning is not what it is all set up to be. The clones become less and less human. Just merely shells who can only sit back and watch the world in front of them, change and be slowly destroyed. The loose the ability to laugh. The ability to love. The ability to cry. All that makes them human makes them nothing more than just simple shells of meat, and organs. They become what they themselves look down upon. Yet in some way or another they cease to really realize that they are just mindless meat puppets. Nothing of individual value at all. Yet their lack of emotions make them emotionless to these problems, and they just drift away in a social isolated hermetic existence that they live in.

The novel is a difficult novel. There is no real concrete way of saying: this is the plot. These are the characters. This is what the story is about. This is the writing style. Blah blah blah, the authorial voice in the novel makes it difficult to distinguish the author from the characters, as I had stated above. The fact that the entire novel is written in first person further makes this difficult. However, it is a frank and funny novel. It states what should not be said – which then becomes said anyway (!) which becomes a paradox or just really confusing and then just a pain in the ass; and makes fun of what should not be said. It shows no compassion in its unrelentless humour and wit – which is above all else inappropriate; but its observations are what make it such a great read. He sees a world around him. Full of meaningless dribble dripping from every corner. Every leaf that falls. Every bird chirp. Every speck of dust. Every droplet of rain. It is all painfully meaningless, and yet the author or the character of this book state that it is all meaningless and that one can only live their life in an hedonistic fashion. Which then after a while also becomes meaningless. Everything is destined become meaningless because it is meaningless. It certainly is no wonder to me that Michel Houellebecq is considered one of the greatest treats of French Literature since Albert Camus Nobel Prize in Literature Laureate of 1957. However the two I would say are greatly different but share some very key interests of importance.

An author who can offend and make one laugh is a rare treat – depending on one’s definition of the word “humour,” with its mixture of “offensive content.” Then again the film industry has been making quite a pretty penny off of such basic and even vulgar comedic ideas. It is no wonder that Michel Houellebecq would realize the potential of transgressive humour, and then satirize the idea of transgressive humour with a fictional transgressive humorous movie star.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Palace of Desire

Hello Gentle Reader

It certainly has been a big couple of days. There has been a Royal Wedding between Prince William and the now Princess Kate, both are now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I know personally that watching it live like all the other people, at 3:00 in the morning (time may differ for some) was quite a site. Then Pope John Paul the Second is on the verge of saint hood. He is now beatified. The last major event of the last couple of day is the death of the terrorist Osama Bin Laden had been killed by the United States of America. On a personal note the second novel in Nobel Laureate of Literature in 1988 Naguib Mahfouz trilogy titled “The Cairo Trilogy,” has been finished. This blog is concerning the review of that novel “Palace of Desire.”

With “Palace of Desire,” the events take place five years after the events of the first novels ending. This can be seen in the changes of the characters. Age is a major factor. Kamal my favourite character from the first book, with his delightful childish humour has become much older and a grown man, and is now wrestling with large concepts of love, science, and politics after the revolution that he had witnessed, as a child. Amina and Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad has also greatly changed. Amina is much more of a phantom of her former self. The death of the promising and the bright young son Fahmy has changed much in the family. It is best to say that Amina herself has felt the grief and loss of her son the most, as any mother would, I am sure.

Even the private and quiet life of al-Sayyid Ahmad has changed considerably. Through the unwritten five years of his family, he had undergone mourning and grief. Taking up great reflection. However he does eventually enjoy the earthly pleasures that he once did before his family and himself had been hit hard by the tragedy of his sons Fahmy’s death of the previous novel. Time has not been kind to the once feared and tyrannical father al-Sayyid Ahmad. He is out of his once glorified shape, but he has proven to be somewhat slightly wiser. However his once profligate behaviour however minor as it was, is no absent. Though as stated before, he does continue in his secret life after a period of prolonged absence from it. Once again enjoying his friends company. The satisfactions of alcohol. Not to mention the self indulgent pleasures of other women. All of which were neglected in the heartbreaking news of his oldest and probably most promising sons death.

One that can truly be said (before continuing with the above train of thought) – is that Naguib Mahfouz has gotten much more bolder with his style. It is not so linear or shall we say so smooth going as was the previous novel “Palace Walk.” At times it can be quite more experimental with how some chapters begin. With dialogue taking place from numerous characters, without any character specifically named.

As it had been stated Amina’s personality had greatly changed. But it has changed quite considerably when Yasin mentions marriage Amina is happily overjoyed with such the prospect. However when Yasin mentions that he plans on marrying Maryam Fahmy’s love interest in “Palace Walk,” – Amina shows just how much she has changed:

“—(...) They’re riddled with defects and vices. Is there one good point to justify this outrageous selection? You said that you have obtained your fathers consent. The man doesn’t know anything these matters, so you should you duped him.”

One can see that such an outburst of outright anger – even if it against the nature of marrying Maryam; is outright out of character; or it would have been in the first novel of “Palace Walk.” Now that age and grief has shaped a new form of Amina. She no longer can be seen as a sparrow, she has grown claws, and a strong beak. Though it has all been formed by the son that had been taken from her. Yet her anger is far from over, with Yasin, when her true feelings can be seen and felt:

“Don’t call me ‘mother,’ I’ve been a mother to you, but you never were a son to me or a brother to my son.”

Those of who recall from “Palace Walk,” that Yasin is the son of his father al-Sayyid Ahmad and his first marriage. The children Fahmy, Khadiga, Aisha, and Kamal are all the children of Amina and al-Sayyid Ahmad.

However Yasin hedonistic desires are not quenched with his second scandalous marriage with the former love interest of Fahmy. He of course desires more. Marriage proves to be much more of a boredom then a blessing to this man, and once again his marriage to Maryam ends bitterly for him.

Kamal on the other hand is now a grown man or the verge of adulthood. It’s hard to say. He is old enough though to grapple with the thoughts of the meaning of religion in his life. Whether or not there is or is not a “god,” and other traditional accepted thoughts of society. Perhaps something that truly touches Kamal’s heart is the malaise and sickness of love. Both a delightful feeling of such joy. Then of course is the viciousness of love when it is never returned, and never seen of again. How it drives a young man crazy.

Kamal’s friend Husayn Shaddad represents the changing tides of Egypt at the time. His family is quite wealthy, and the family itself is European influenced for sure. A fact that Husayn Shaddad is not ashamed of.

“In Paris you’re allowed to attend lectures, in all different areas of learning without being tied down to a schedule or an examination. That way you can have a beautiful spiritual life.”

Now of course, I have never been to Paris or France or anywhere in Europe for that matter. However, that does not mean that I am not interested into going to such places; I say all of this of course to state that I am uncertain if the above statement is true. Personally I think Husayn Shaddad, represent’s a certain aspect of the author who wished he could have traveled the greater world, but in the end, remained in his home country. Perhaps Husayn Shaddad represents the greater idea of paradise and more open and liberal society of Europe.

Going off tract quickly once more. Even though the tone of the book is five years after the first book, and are defiantly have a much more unsettling tone to it. Very sad and very grief stricken family, Naguib Mahfouz still manages to wiggle in some of that earthly humour.

“Yesterday Papa heard her ask me, ‘is Uncle Kamal coming with us to the pyramids?’ So he wanted to know who Kamal was. When I told him, he asked her ‘Do you want to marry Uncle Kamal?’ she told him quiet plainly ‘Yes.’” (-- this was spoken by Husayn Shaddad about his younger sister Budur or Budor I confess my hand writing gets sloppy; who is just a child. Quite frankly reading such a pleasant passage makes one laugh or smile.)

The last bit that I wish to say about the representation of Old Egypt (Kamal) and the New Egypt (Husayn Shaddad) is at the picnic that Kamal, Husayn Shaddad and his two sisters Aida and Budur or Budor – is when the three siblings (Husayn Shaddad, Aida, and Budur or Budor) consume both ham (pork) and also drink beer. This is quite a spectacle to behold for Kamal, because such an ordeal is quite a shock to his upbringing. This to me shows the changing tides of Egypt.

However Yasin and Kamal show profound change throughout the book much like al-Sayyid Ahmad and Amina also. Kamal begins to wean away from the traditional past of Egypt. He had written an article about Darwin in a newspaper that has befallen into his father’s hands – needless to say his father was outraged but there is little his father can truly do about it. Yasin moves out of the house into his mother’s old house in Palace of Desire Alley. There his second marriage falls apart. The entire novel is a family split up, and torn. Torn between grief, between their own paths chosen, and the changing political climate in Egypt and also age.

Aisha and Khadiga don’t appear so much in this novel. However they have given birth to their own families. Though the presence of these families is background mostly. However sensing that it may be of importance in the next novel I’ve decided to give a list of Aisha’s and Khadiga’s children.


- Na’ima
- Uthma
- Muhammed


- Abd al-Muni’m
- Ahamad

Also not to mention that Yasin has a son from his first marriage, Ridwan who is al-Sayyid Ahmad favorite.

Other than that, and the dark night of the soul that Kamal experiences, with the marriage of his love interest that causes him great pains, and his friend Husayn Shaddad’s departure from Egypt he has decided to experience the liberating taste of alcohol, and also women. Secretly indulging in the secret life that his father and his brother also indulge themselves in. However Kamal also remains quite philosophical and soul searching throughout the book. However it is sad, to see the once glowing humorous child grow into such a man.

The last of what can be said about Kamal is the following:

“He would say goodbye to the past with its deceitful dreams, false hopes, and profound pains.”
Finally my favourite quote of the book comes from Kamal himself.

“Be care not to mock youthful dreams, for that’s a symptom of senility. People affected by this disease term there sarcasm wisedom.”

Well Gentle Reader so ends, the review of “Palace of Desire,” by Naguib Mahfouz. It certainly does feel like it has taken me a long time read. It will be a while before I delve into the last book of the trilogy. I also do find personally that once I have found an author that enjoy so much I over read them, and get a bit tired of them. It will be a while before Naguib Mahfouz’s trilogy is finished up, but it will be for sure. Maybe in it, Kamal will answer his own question proposed:

“When will man grow up and depend on himself?”

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary