The Birdcage Archives

Saturday 31 December 2011

The Last Blog of 2011

Hello Gentle Reader

There is a sad melancholic dearly departed whisper to the end of two-thousand and eleven. It has been an interesting year of literature and personal struggles and gains – though every year is a year of good literature, interesting awards, and personal triumphs and struggles.

Let’s look at some of the great books of two-thousand and eleven.

A personal favourite of mine was “The Strangers Child,” by Alan Hollinghurst – it will most likely be the only novel on this list that I had actually read, may I add. The reason for me choosing this novel, is because it was just a honing and showing of his skill, and flexibility, as an author. It was a wonderful novel to watch the passage of time, to see the characters age, and mature. At times horribly sad, to watch how much they had aged, and to see how the passage of time, and to just notice a character had died – be it suicide, heart attack, cancer, or whatever else, may have killed them. It’s a novel of a love triangle, but also a novel about the decline of the British Empire.

“There But For The,” by Ali Smith, is also one of the many novels, that has been named one of the best books of two thousand and eleven. Ali Smith’s novel caused a bit of stir, when this year The Booker Prize, did not even mention it on the long list. It was a bad year for the Booker Prize, for its controversy, over readability over quality. Whether she wanted to or not, Ali Smith and her novel, became one of the novels focused, on the outrage that was not included on the Booker Prize Long List. But with an intriguing plot and some sly and witting humour, Ali Smith’s satirical novel, has been named one of the best books of the year.

Whether anyone enjoys it or not Julian Barnes “The Sense of an Ending,” the winner of this year’s Booker Prize, had guaranteed a spot on the Best Books of 2011. Unfortunately this not much I can say on this book, because there was no real controversy surrounding this book, and I haven’t read it either.

“In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts,” or “In Times of Fading Light,” by Eugen Ruge, is a debut and a award winner (winning the German Book Prize for two-thousand and eleven). It is a family chronicle, which watches the separation of Germany and its unification. A novel that certainly maybe of interest to western readers, and might soon be in translation for Western Countries.

“1Q84,” by Haruki Murkami had caused quite hype in its publication in Japan, and its hype seen in the west had also been seen. However here in Canada the cover itself, was a sad site. With a tissue paper, cover it could only cause one to shake their head, and that silliness. I would love to buy the book, but I won’t because of the horrible, cover, of tissue paper, cover, which will easily rip and become a mess. However it still remained on the bestseller list for weeks.

An American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides new novel “The Marriage Plot,” his third novel since his first novel “The Virgin Suicides,” published back in nineteen-ninety three, has been called a best book of two-thousand and eleven, did not meet up to its predecessor “Middlesex,” however it still has been called a good novel, though not his best.

The last book that I will name personally from two thousand and eleven, that I had enjoyed, will be from the Canongate Myth Series, from Dame A.S. Byatt’s novel “Ragnarok: The End of the Gods,” is a new novel of the Canongate Myth Series, and a new novel from Dame A.S. Byatt. Dealing with the end of the Norse God’s and World War II, and the relation the two had to each other, in the child’s eye. Full of beautiful imagery and carefully painted landscapes and scenes, this novel was a delight.

The list could go on, to include many novels. But these ones will have to do.

A Happy New Year to All.

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 29 December 2011

Summertime

Hello Gentle Reader

John Maxwell Coetzee. A native South African writer (who speaks Afrikaans) and now is an Australian citizen. Noted for being reclusive – though others have described him more elusive. Emotionally he is best described as a cold fish. His discipline rivals that of a monk. He does not drink, smoke, or eat meat. He cycles for long distances to keep fit. With his assistance Oak Tree Press, was established to help raise money for the African HIV/AID’s crisis – specifically to assist the children displaced because of the disease. He is not noted for being a public speaker. He is noted as a writer, and academic. He is the first author ever to win the Booker Prize two times – along with Australian novelist Peter Carey. J.M. Coetzee, is the second South African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature after Nadine Gordimer. Though as most who win the Nobel Prize for Literature, J.M. Coetzee’s awardance was met with some disdain, and criticism. The most evident was his lack of political activism, or not being political enough as a writer. Others simply stated that he was too much of an easy Nobel win. For one he won the Booker Prize twice, and is internationally renowned author. It was more of a shrug by some, that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl had stated that J.M. Coetzee, was an easy choice for Swedish Academy. Recently in two thousand and ten, Martin Amis – the son of Kingsley Amis (another Booker Prize winner) and son of a wealthy mother, whose lineage was in the shoe business. Martin Amis had recently, written a novel titled “The Pregnant Widow,” which spoke of the sexual revolution and the sixties, and discusses his sister, was met with poor reviews from my research. He has yet to win the Booker Prize. The reason why Martin Amis is mentioned is because he had recently attacked J.M. Coetzee the Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and three, as not having any talent – and because of his gloomy writings and lack of pleasure in his books, is somehow seen as seem great writer. The Swedish Academy disagree though. He was awarded because his novels are never the same. They each have their own formula. Each one of them does their own, literary value, and never truly tries to measure up to any previous success. Each one is just on their own and is to be read on its own. None of the novels or any of the works are to be seen as anything more, and certainly each one has its own unique gift and perspective to the world.

Also in recent news, the Nobel Laureate of two-thousand and three, had given away all his records and personal files – business, and correspondence; as well as photo albums, have all been acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, in Austin Texas. Nobel Laureate in Literature, Doris Lessing has also given some of her own archives to the Harry Ransom Center as well.

“Summertime,” by J.M. Coetzee is an interesting novel. I came into knowing about it, back in two thousand and nine, when it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize of that year. Yet it lost out to “Wolf Hall,” by Hilary Mantel. I remember though quite frankly the trailer on youtube, for this novel. That yellowish haze that summer has – even here in Canada; the world teaming with life. Of course I didn’t have the slightest clue what this book was about. Nor did I know that this was in what some consider a trilogy of work, about the Nobel Laureates life, often called a “fictionalised autobiography,” which includes “Boyhood,” and “Youth.”

With this part of his fictionalized autobiography, John Maxwell Coetzee, distances himself from himself even more, then his first two accounts of his life had did. While his first two books of his “fictionalized memoir,” were detached, even though quite frankly about himself, they were written in the third person. Yet now with “Summertime,” Nobel Laureate in Literature has decided to detach himself even further, then before. In this memoir, J.M. Coetzee is dead, and a biographer is conducting various interviews with people close to the deceased fictional puppet, of the author. These people each have different concepts and idea’s of whom the deceased grand author was. Though one calls him a “small man,” in fact, if the portrait (though it is hinted at, as unreliable) is true, J.M. Coetzee is the most (un)human human being there ever could have been. He’s a cold fish, unemotional to the extreme, dethatched, always defensive and cautious of the world. A man always testing the waters before even contemplating sliding in. It is certainly a strange novel, but also very self-mocking and humorous.

In a way, the author himself is mocking himself. Throwing mud on his face, and yet smiling about it. Though the irony or the paradox, of this entire concept is the people interviewed by the biographer Mister Vincent, show a completely different person. He is unable to experience humour; his sexual presence is not even in existent, his social appetite is very small, and his relationship with his father, on the surface looks very strained. Even those that love him don’t quite understand him, those that don’t even like him and claim to have him figured out, as nothing more than a small pathetic man. But as the raw form of these fictional transcripts presents, there is no real understanding between who J.M. Coetzee is and who his fictional puppet counterpart was. He himself is simply a large enigma.

“I really was the main character. John really was a minor character.”

One character states quite firmly. It speaks loud and clear as well. The fictional puppet John really is only a minor character throughout this novel, even though this novel surely does focus upon him. Each character however, reveals their own fictional memoir, which just happens to deal with John. Julia discusses her love affair with John, and her own cheating husband’s love affair with another woman. Throughout it all, Julia explains the complicated relationship between herself and John, how they too could never really love each other, and the subsequent break down of her marriage. She offers insight into the complicated relationship and distant relationship between father and son. The horrible state of the house, somewhat of a filthy place to be honest. The fictional puppets, father is a cold and distant man – much like his son. In fact because of this as his nature, he is given no real meaning or deep characterization, based upon the fact that the entire novel is based on the interviews of five different people. In fact even John the factious counterpart, is more of a shape shifter if anything. A fish out of water, to say the least when it comes to sexual relationships – relationships at all for that matter; and can clearly be seen in many aspects. It’s hard to see John as anything more than just what is depicted by the less than rose coloured lens of the characters that have surrounded his life. In fact, if anything at all, it’s hard to see John as a child – though he and his cousin Margot often spoke of how they would marry, it would have been difficult to see it happen – not because they were cousins, but because of Johns nature, resembling that more of a hermetic celibate monk then that of anything else. It is hard to see, him as a child at all. But Julia’s depiction of John show nothing more than just a weird reclusive and eccentric man. A man who wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with a woman, if he tried – for that matter a man unable to have any real decent human relationship at all. For the most part Julia herself only recounts the parts of that part of her life, which John was merely a shadow in. She is far more interested in stating the fact that because of their “relationship,” her marriage failed – but then again one can perhaps even see that it was doomed to failure from the beginning.

Next for the interviewing is cousin Margot. She is not so detached from John, as Julia was. In fact she has more pity for him. Defending him against her sister, who often speaks low of him. How she suspects he is homosexual, and writes poetry. Perhaps Margot see’s a rather pathetic man. A man bashful and shy to the point of reclusiveness, and a man whose enjoyment of manual labour – something that the family believes is native work – or black work. In fact if anything, Margot has the best understanding of the outsider of John, an outsider to his family, an outcast in his home country, and an outcast in relationships and society at large. For whatever reason. She discusses their drive in the Karoo, and how the truck breaks down. They spend the night in the truck, at this point Margot shows her frustration with John, but his anger is more of a cold retreat, then that of a typical person. In the end however, she shows more pity and the kindness that comes from that pity, for her cousin, and does not really understand him, but understands him far more than the rest of the family does. Though she does take quite the concern, when John expresses interest in buying a cottage, and having his father shake up there. Even John realizes it is not all that much of a grand idea. Though perhaps they both have different reasons why the luxury of the thought is less the luxurious. Rather than that cold detached tone Julia had, who looks at John more as a patient in one of her therapy sessions, Margot looks at him in a much more intimate and loving way. She sees him as still that little boy that she had said she was going to marry.

Adriana the immigrant or refugee, dancer, is less then kind in her depiction of John. She seems as a nuisance, as a fly. A disgusting fly in certain need of being swatted down. She has a grand hatred for John. In fact she states, that he cannot be a great writer, because he is not a great man. In fact Adriana’s entire depiction of John is harsh, cruel, and full of a salsa like arrogance, which the author himself (J.M. Coetzee) grasps right away. Though the fictional John was in love with her, she herself saw him as nothing more than a pest. A stalker. A man unqualified to teach her daughter. It is hard to find any pity for the experiences that Adriana herself had experienced, because of her own ability to see anything other than her own view.

There are others as well, but the main three – Julia, Margot, and Adriana provide the most captivating accounts of the fictional John, and how the perception of one differs from the opinions of others.

J.M. Coetzee the outsider and Nobel Laureate in Literature of two-thousand and three, still remains an enigma, and a shifting shadow. His autobiography leaves on with an uneasy feeling of what the lines the two dance, between being a documentary and being a fictional account of a real man.

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 22 December 2011

The Strangers Child

Hello Gentle Reader

Have you ever thought about that kind of sickening though about someone writing about your own life? The thought itself, makes my skin prickle with goose flesh – resembling a naked turkey on Christmas day being prepared to be tossed into the oven. The mere thought of someone conducting interviews about me, with close friends, family and others who have worked either with me or have come to know something about me through the years. Just picturing someone who feels it is their god given right interview those people, who knew me, and find out all they can about me, is a sickening thought. No one has the right to know anything about anyone. Though we often feel that we are entitled to know something’s about everyone – and often at times we do know things, it does not mean that we are entitled to know everything about an individual. Sure we all know certain things about friends, and coworkers, and family members – though family members are the worst to know about. We know that a co-worker has x amount of children, varying from the ages y to z – the co-worker has been married x amount of years, to their husband or wife. It may also be known that they have so many siblings. Their parents may or may not be dead, and one may even know their age, and even when they were born, when their anniversary is. These though are only just shallow details. Nothing more. Certainly nothing more. All anyone knows about each other, except for those rare occasions, where one knows a bit more. One knows more shallow details before they discover some more interesting parts of the entire person. They learn of past traumatic experiences, love moments, old habit’s, something that is both embarrassing or something vulnerable. A piece of information that could shatter their entire character – or at least the very foundations of it.

Surely teachers in the elementary level will surely be able to discuss their own thoughts and observations, as they had witnessed the development of the character. As can parents and other relatives who had witnessed the developing character. They can discuss such matters like: “[such and such] was such a sensitive child. They were also a little bit on the shy side. Quiet, with a melancholic expression, as if always slightly preoccupied with the time, and when he would be able to see his mother again. It really is perplexing to think how he came to be what he turned out to be.” Or something along those lines. Everyone can reveal just the smallest of information about oneself. However that information is not, something that needs to be expressed out loud. Or for the most part something that does not inherit the concept or being something that needs to be the general knowledge of the public.

Allan Hollinghurt’s new novel “The Strangers Child,” one that has been grappled onto the stage, demanded to be recognized as more than just a foot note of a great book of the year two thousand and eleven. Alan Hollinghurst himself had won the Galaxy Notational Book Awards, winning the Author of the Year Award. “The Strangers Child,” was long listed for the Booker Prize of two thousand and eleven and was controversially omitted from the shortlist. An outcry came from the literary establishment, and the public – or at least the public that cared. Sir Michael Holroyd, an English biographer, had even mentioned “The Strangers Child,” as one of his favourite – and one of the best books; of two thousand and eleven. Despite the book prize snub of “The Strangers Child,” Alan Hollinghurst with his perfectly honed poetic sentences, and the subtle, and stealthy show what real beautiful prose looks like. No “weak blond prose,” as Nabokov would have put it, can be seen throughout this book by Alan Hollinghurst. Everything works in unison, and like a symphony there is a general sense of harmony, to the way everything moves together, in a perfect waltz.

The novel opens up like most novels. But right away one can see certain hints. Just those slight wisps of gestures. The slip ups, and tiny twists, that one can see in the time frame are not by any means considered normal. The novel opens up, in the Golden Afternoon of the Edwardian Era of the United Kingdom. Reading this first part was something felt just like Saki’s stories. There was the grasping and gesture of the entire era. The garden parties, the dinner parties, the eccentric guests, the late Victorian manners still being observed. So on and so forth. Yet what I enjoyed most about this part of the novel was Alan Hollinghursts ability to capture the leisurely feeling of the world. A sense, of great peace, and nothing will take that away. The Great British Empire, was at the top of its game. Nothing was going to topple such a mighty empire. It was a feeling of peace, and leisure – at least for those who could afford it or where born in such a class of luxuries.

Yet even in this class boundaries themselves, there is something strikingly same throughout all of the characters. That same characteristic is that of what it means to be human. Disappointment, infatuation, mortality, envy – it is all that makes these characters human, and keeps them so close together, even past the class boundaries of the English society and this English novel.

The novel opens up with the introduction of the two major important characters of this novel – but also the infatuation and the love story that would follow along after this part of the book is done. The secrets in this first part of this story – the sense of betrayal in some moments and the absolute decadence of the very subject of this novel.

Then time takes its toll after the first part of this novel. The Great War happened, and the nymphomaniac subject – Cecil Valance, has died in the Great War. His famous poem that he wrote for one of the main characters becomes something of an English classic. Quoted by Churchill, and his mother, made a cult about this mediocre poet. Even though Cecil Valance is dead, he is the one who continues to be the main focus of this novel. But what comes from hereafter this point is something both extremely amazing to read, but also sad to watch the passage of time makes its point.

I myself consider the first part of this book foreshadowing, what will come of the rest of the book in certain ways. The clandestine affair of Daphne and Cecil – bit also the inappropriate (based on time period) love and admiration that Cecil and George Sawle – Daphne’s older brother, studying at Cambridge, where he met Cecil, and who acquaints both Cecil and Daphne together. This begins a long affair of time, and disappointment, and how two families had begun to merge in and out of each other like two streams, or rivers overlapping each other, later down the line; only to fall out once again, and go their own directions. However they remain close to each other, whether or not they care for the company or not.

With Cecil’s death, both Daphne and George Sawle had moved on. George married a woman – though it would be appropriate to see the marriage as dull, listless, and more of a business partnership in their academic careers; while Daphne married Dudley Cecil’s brother, who was also in the war, and afterwards is noted for his eccentric parties, redecorating and refurnishing Corley Court, to his own mothers dismay, but he also noted for his fits of rage and uncontrollable anger.

From this marriage Daphne had two children and only two children, Corinna and Wilfred, both suffer their father’s uncontrollable rage, and his odd and sudden mood swings – just like their mother. It is in this time frame, that a admirer (and a man who had a secret loving eye for Cecil) decides to write a biography about the mediocre narcissistic poet, whose selfishness, and decadence has all been pushed aside, as the young poet is now placed up as an English War Poet, and a classic of that dark and troublesome time. All over his poem “Two Acres,” written for Daphne has become engrained in the English society. Cecil and Dudley’s mother can only use this to her dead son’s advantage, by getting a biographer in, she can then further push her son’s fame further. Immortalize him. However, she will of course censor anything that may damage her martyr of a son. Including any notion of his overtly sexual affairs – male or female.

Moving along then, one comes to meet the shady, somewhat of a cretin really in his later literary pursuits, among other things. But as we first meet, the young man, Paul, who works in a bank. He has a huge infatuation on a fellow co-worker. He works under Corinna (now an adult, also a strict and unsympathetic pianist) is married to Paul’s boss. This is the first time, which Paul comes into contact with Daphne as well as his one time lover Peter. So begins the latter half of the book, and what would slowly and surely be the disappointment and demise of all the characters in one way or another. Family secrets – old and new; come into light. It all ends miserably.

The passage of time however shows itself with each new part of the novel. Each new scene, each new act – the passage becomes clearer, in the deaths and the ageing of the character. What becomes clearer than anything else, throughout the novel, is it is more than just about the decline of the characters; it shows the decline of The Great British Empire.

However, at times, the novel would feel more, genuine at times, if it wasn’t for all the gay characters, from Cecil Valance (who though seems more interested in having sex more or less all the time with either gender) to Hubert Sawle, a minor character – and by minor very minor; to everyone in between. It is a realization that Alan Hollinghurst, is a homosexual, and often classified, as a “gay writer,” however with “The Strangers Child,” Alan Hollinghurst has proven himself to be something of a bit more than just a “gay writer,” – he has shown his real talents, at being a novelist tracing the multi-generational tale of two families, and their complicated histories. However part of Alan Hollinghurst cannot break that tie, or break that entire identity of being just a “gay writer,” be he has shown himself to be something greater, with this novel, and hopefully in a few more years – he is not known for his productivity; that he will once again give another book, that will further show his talents as a writer.

Another peculiar moment of this book is just the ending, when Hubert’s letters to his friend and lover Harry, are discovered, and are read, and then are just ended there, as if nonchalantly then it becomes somewhat, of an odd note to leave off on.

Yet to leave with just that end would also be an odd place to just leave a blog. In retrospect Alan Hollinghurst may have started off, as just a “gay writer,” and in fact, homosexuality as a whole is a large part of his book. However, with this novel Alan Hollinghurst has moved past that, and is continuing to show his maturation, as a writer.

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

Thursday 15 December 2011

In Literary News

Hello Gentle Reader

Part I

It shall (and should not) come to anyone’s surprise that literature now days is no longer what it used to be. There are those that do take up the mantel and hold up the flame, and do not wish to let what good literature die, but even their attempts at maintaining the pristine mantel at times appears worthless, and they themselves should let the mantel drop. However as long as there are people that read their work, and people to appreciate the work, then those people themselves can maintain the fact of keeping a strong hold on that mantel, and keeping literature firmly in this world. Maintain the fact that good literature can and always will succeed even in the harshest of conditions of the publishing world. Authors like Roberto Bolaño, David Mitchell, and Haruki Murakami have kept the torch alive; yet even before them Dame A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco, Paul Auster, Allain Robbe-Grillet, Jack Kerouac and others had taken the mantle from their predecessors of the earlier modernist period; authors such as Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, Knut Hamsun, and the last modernist and first postmodernist Samuel Beckett. Yet in today’s day and age, with a rising amount of people flocking to “young adult,” literature – including middle-aged adults, it’s becoming apparent that people do not want literary merit, and literature. They want fluff. Something that’ll make them feel good. Watching it on a day to day basis causes great ill in my stomach. The fact of the matter is I work at a bookstore and must help this people. I must show them where their beloved “young adult,” fiction is – which is more or less, soft-core porn in their sexual explorations, mildly violent in any action at all, and horribly written. No sense of literary merit could be sifted through that junk. My opinion is, if you are going to put down a sexual scene, or you are going to put down that eroticism guessing game, you have to do a better job than stating – “When his (or her) skin touched mine, it was like a grass fire dancing all over my body.” Surely there is something a bit more poetic, and sensual then that? Surely something could be changed, reworded, even added, to have changed something of childish giddiness in the sense of sexual discussion, to being something better. If one is not going to do it at least half ass right, then they should not even attempt to or bother to do it at all. Now days the lament of literature falling down the drain in favour of novels more plot driven, and more action paced, and plot oriented has left literature to be something of a secret treasure to be more or less held in the hands of those that go out seeking it.

The Guardian a United Kingdom news paper had brought this problem to the attention many of the reading public’s attention with their article: “Has plot driven out other kinds of story?” Which brings the question to many people’s attention. Yet could this be also another reaction against the Booker Prize this year with its exclamation that readability is more important then experimentation – or whatever it was; has got many people in the literary world, feathers ruffled. When the world today is more interested in books, to books to film, and long winded book stories – usually in the young adult fiction; literature has become well almost obsolete. Yet there is hope, as it had already been stated. Though it is still somewhat of a small sliver of hope. The golden age of authors, who had shown the human condition to its extreme, have since died away, or become disillusioned in their attempts to awaken the masses, and try to help them see the truth in their works. Their complete understanding of the human condition. Yet the general reading public looks down upon such things, as difficult, or not entertaining and too hard. They do not see the true nature though in it all. The true nature of it all is this fact, which throughout its complications and difficult reading, just shows how dumb downed people have become through the ages, and years that have passed by. No longer up for a challenge, but rather feeling entitled to have everything shown to them, and given to them as they please. People have become so self-absorbed and lazy in such their nature that any concept of a challenge is just ridiculous. So that’s what they wish for. Fluff, books that have no more weight than balls of dust, or the lint from the dryer. Not even two dimensional characters – just cliché cardboard cut outs, trendy plot lines (zombie apocalypse, vampire love story, or near future barbaric landscape, where people show their underbelly and secret desires for carnage). It is all just hideous. Quite frankly a change in style of writing, being a being difficult, it never hurts anyone; and some people just need to learn to accept a challenge now and then. Look into the human condition; see the different perspectives of the human mind, look past the ham and tomatoes, and be courageous and open up for a new experience. But of course people just want to read fluff.

Speaking highly of Virginia Woolf, has its definite positives and negatives. For one, Virginia Woolf had excellent use of the English language – her diction was impeccable. Her style and bold new ventures into the consciousness of the characters was an incredible and bold journey. However it appears that for the life of her, Virginia Woolf never was a good story teller. Her scholarly and literary talent, of experimental venturing had driven out any aspect of telling a story. Yet she still remains a great author, and though she pushed fiction to its breaking point, and for that as a reader I am truly grateful for it. Though part of me cannot help but wonder if Virginia Woolf’s talent could have been put to better use with non-fiction before her death. But it is there, that we will never know.

Though the world today is far more interested in plot driven novels, there are still novels out there, which focus on the human mind, and the human condition itself. Those novels, become treasures in their own right, which can entertain and yet still provide insight. The world may be heading into the direction of plot driven over serious fiction, but as long as those few treasures remain, then the literary world is yet to be doomed to fall into its own self-indulgence, and to become a mediocre parody of its once former glory.

Part II

Stieg Larsson is a man known for his set of novels called the “Millennium Series.” Who could forget now with an English adaption of the film coming out “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” with Daniel Craig. However it shall be curious to see how much of it will have been changed, of the film in all, and to see if the original version will match with the original novels, rather than some twisted western perspective of what it should be, rather then what the author had it become. Yet the author’s life itself is what interests me here today. Stieg Larsson was known as a revolutionary socialist – specifically the Communist Worker League (Kommunistiska Arbetareförbundet.) In the year nineteen-seventy seven (or at least part of it) Stieg Larsson interestingly enough, spent some time in Eritrea, training a group of female Eritrean People's Liberation Front guerrillas in the use of how to use grenade launchers. After his return to Sweden, he worked for one of the largest news organizers in Sweden as a graphic designer. Stieg Larsson’s political convictions in this time however did not die in this time period or cease not become something of a main part of his life. His journalistic experience and political stand point led him to create the Swedish Expo Foundation, which is similar as the British Searchlight Foundation, a organization that had been established to: “counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people.” In that same time period he became editor of the magazine that went had in hand with the Swedish Expo Foundation titled “Expo.” Yet even though Stieg Larsson had a day job, at night he became much like his main character in the Millennium Series “Lisbeth Salander,” and would head out at night doing investigations on far right extremism, and fascist activities. This lead too many death threats.

Stieg Larsson’s novels “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” were all published posthumously. However before the three novels that made him famous Stieg Larsson published a book of his research in to the far right titled “Extreme Right,” which led to many death threats. The Sweden Democrats was the party of most interest to Stieg Larsson, with their nationalism, social conservatism, and right wing populism. However Stieg Larsson died in two thousand and four from a heart attack, which many stated as suspicious. However those suspicious have been seen as ungrounded.

Stieg Larsson was a journalist. An investigative journalist, a man of action and an individual who danced to the beat of his own drum. He trained guerillas and investigated into fascist underworld, of the modern world. He turned his experience into a set of novels – though only three had been published so far – and may only remain as such. Yet Stieg Larson died, before seeing his novels published, and yet in his death had become somewhat of a literary icon in the crime world, selling millions of copies of books worldwide. Yet hopefully the author will be reminded of the acts and deeds he done, not just for his crime novels.

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

The links for the articles are as follows:

For the article on Plot Driven novels over more Literary or Serious fiction see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/14/plot-driven-out-other-kinds-story

For the article of Stieg Larsson’s time in Africa see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/15/stieg-girls-with-grenade-launchers

Saturday 10 December 2011

Its Unforunate But True

Hello Gentle Reader

It is unfortunate but true – due to unforeseen circumstances, and a nasty busy schedule with work, for the Christmas season, there will be no “Short Story Review,” this go around. Hopefully though in the New Year, we can have the month of Decembers “Short Story Review,” and continue from there. With unforeseen circumstances, and a busy schedule, and Christmas shopping demanding to be done – while fitting into work, it has become rather difficult to fit the “Short Story Review,” in such a small and limited amount of time, with so much on the go there is just no time though for “The Short Story Review,” this time of year. It is unfortunate but true. Though January should see it back and from there on out, and hopefully from there on out, it will precede as normal. I do apologize my Dear Gentle Reader, if this causes any inconvenience to you at all – it is most certainly not my intention I assure you that. Please with the Christmas season coming, enjoy a hot cup of coco or eggnog, watch some Christmas specials, and relax by the fire, and think of the enjoyment you will get on Christmas day when everyone opens up gifts and is happy to see it. Feel that warmth grow in your heart. Or if you are like me, and find the Christmas season to be rather divisive, then hold on to your chair and get ready for a bumpy ride. It’ll be over soon enough. But when Christmas does come, the chaos that is surrounding us now will pass, and there one can enjoy the company of family and friends alike.

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

Thursday 8 December 2011

My Name Is Red

Hello Gentle Reader

One moment a philosophical puzzle, and a debate about art. In another it is a murder mystery and love story. Another time it is smaller stories orbiting larger stories. Much like the Nobel Laureates in Literature earlier novel “The Black Book,” – “My Name Is Red,” is written in a varied style. Layered upon narration and narration, different perspectives and in a sense become style – which is ironic at times (but that’ll be explained later). Many consider “My Name Is Red,” to be the Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and six his best book. It is by all accounts a great and wonderful book. Its character, flexibilities and extreme faults, not to mention emotional responses, and their fitting fears and subtle uncertainty in the time period all give way to a splendid story.

“My Name Is Read,” won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in two thousand and three – three years before Orhan Pamuk was to be bestowed with the honour of being a Nobel Laureate in Literature; in which case his work would then become on par with authors like Naguib Mahfouz, Yasunari Kawabata, J.M. Coetzee, Camilo Jose Cela, Albert Camus, and so many others.

Here are some interesting tid bits of information, that one should know about this book, and the author who wrote this book. One Orhan and Shevket – are the names of Orhan Pamuk and his brother Shevket. Orhan Pamuk from the ages of seven to twenty two, wanted to be a painter – this desire was never filled; however his shift from wanting to be an artist to a writer, has be met with some very positive reinforcement, and his talent is wonderful and has been praised. His experimentation in his plot and narration is both a breath of fresh air, but also quite frankly comprehendible and traversable. With “My Name Is Red,” Orhan Pamuk in many ways has been able to combined his to passions of the literary and art world together here, with his story of murder and the power of art, and the philosophical puzzle of the Islamic religion; but Orhan Pamuk has also been able to use the folk tales and countless stories of the Islamic world, to his advantage in this book. Each story becomes more of a parable. Each story bleeds into each other. Which then creates repetitious metaphors for the book – where Shirin falls in love with Husrev upon looking at his picture – I cannot say how many times I read that same passage throughout this book. Each of those folktales or stories, add something more to the text of the book. Just like the history and stories of Istanbul in “The Black Book.”

These stories, within stories. Fables, and parables, which become mirror like metaphors to the current situation befalling the characters. The complexities of the prose. The dexterity characters, shifting to the events, made this a wonderful book. However secretly I confess that I enjoyed “The Black Book,” a bit more.

“My Name Is Red,” is the postmodern influence on Orhan Pamuk showing at its most extreme. Narrations from different characters – a corpse, a ghost – a dog, a gold coin, a tree, death and even Satan comes to make an appearance (though it becomes apparent after a while that these are not what they first appear). Though for a person just looking at the book, at a bookstore, this would all be slightly unpleasing even a bit worrisome.
However with patience and time, the novel unfolds to reveal itself, like an origami paper sculptor to reveal that even though it at one point was a crane, is not nothing more than a piece of a paper. Which is the same with Orhan Pamuk’s novel “My Name Is Red,” though a complex novel, of love, religion, art, history, and writing – not to mention countless tales told and retold, the political atmosphere – the constant superstitions racing throughout the crowded streets, Jinn’s surely smiling in the flames of oil lamps. Demons crouched in snow banks, willing to tempt the weak hearted and those of no faith. Tortures, who delicately take great care of their instruments, and yet do not yield to the suffering of their victims – in the end, every scene, every puzzle, every bit of narration, it all unfolds like the paper statue to reveal itself to be nothing more than a book – and most important a story.

With so many narrators – and therefore characters; Esther would most likely be my favourite. The cunning little Jewess, with her battles with the little blind beggar and her desire for happiness for all her little marriageable maidens; made for an interesting character. She never took sides – though there was always more than just two sides, in this novel, and therefore, Esther could have very well had her own side, that she herself chose, and even have been the only one to have sided on that side. Which can adequately be seen, how she plays both Hasan and Black with the feelings of Shekure – though Shekure herself; though a little bit emotionally unstable if one asks me, her emotional well being is never truly figured out. When she loves Black she desires Hasan. When she fears Hasan she seeks protection warmth and safety from Black. Truly a complex character, but emotionally as stable as a volcano going through menopause.

Then there is Black. A clerk, who’s traveled throughout Persia, who at the age of twenty four fell in love with the twelve year old Shekure. Quite frankly the story relayed throughout the novel about the story of Shirin, who sets eyes on the picture of Hursev and fell in love with it, often can be said to be the kind of love struck story that both Shekure and Black find themselves in. But Shekure is married to a soldier who is lost at war, and is bound never to return. The younger brother of her husband, loves Shekure – but his love can only be showed by admitting his dominance over her, in everywhere shape or form. By his standard and ideals, it could easily be stated, that Hasan can only love something that fears him, and desire something that willingly obeys him by that fear not because it loves him.

Enishte Effendi and the four miniaturists – Stork (Mustafa), Olive (Velijan), Butterfly (Hasan Chelebi), and Elegant Effendi, are also part of this tale. Elegant Effendi is in fact the first character that anyone who picks up this book will be introduced to. He is the murdered. The pathetic, and cowardly little miniaturist, who first had the feeling that he was doing was going to damn him for all eternity. Stork is the most talented of the miniaturists, but also for the most part, but also the most arrogant. Olive is the one most heavily influenced by the old masters. Butterfly is the one who uses colour expectedly. Enishte Effendi is the one who first has decided to use the infidel (the words of the characters) Frank style of ‘perception,’ over how the paintings were originally done as if to look at the world as the way “Allah,” or God does; however Enishte Effendi wishes to show case the individual characteristics of the world; and is in charge of the secret book which is tearing apart the foundations of the literary and art world of sixteenth century Istanbul. Master Osman is Enishte Effendi complete opposite. Rather than fall into the desire to paint like the Franks, Master Osman believes in sticking strictly with the old ways of the Chinese, and the other great masters – especially the masters like Bihzad. There is also Nusret Hoja the Islamic puritan, and extreme preacher, who is against coffee, painting, coffeehouses, stories and anything that one could maybe find pleasurable.

There are however still some parts of the novel, that I have failed to connect the dots on. Who is Alaf, Ba, Djim – or what are they. The other part is how many does or years do the course of these events take place? At first, it appeared logical thought it must have taken place through one year. But it becomes more apparent that it happened solely in the winter months. Not to mention that it took three days for Master Osman and Black to discover the murder. Among other moments. Though they all add up to a degree, there is still a sense that there is no set time period, beyond the fact that it is taken place during the reign of Sultan Murad III, of the Ottoman Empire, in the sixteenth century. That being said the rule of Murad III was from fifteen-seventy four until fifteen-ninety five, so the action takes place somewhere in the regaining period of the Sultan’s life, probably near the end of his life and reign. It is also noted that Mehmed III the successor of Murad III, was less generous in his patronage of the arts, and therefore the time of the miniaturists that was witnessed in the novel “My Name Is Red,” comes to somewhat of an end, under the conservative rule of Mehmed III – it can be theorized that depicting or painting living things, was an immoral rivalry towards God – which is often a fierce debate by the miniaturists themselves.

The judges of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award had said the following about the two thousand and three book winner:
“Intelligent, witty and stylish this novel transports the reader to a world both rich and strange. Like the miniature paintings which are at the heart of the book, “My Name Is Red,” is intricate and complex.
A murder mystery in which nature and art mirror one another, it is clear once the reader reaches the last page that red is the colour of ambiguity. Timeless and timely, this byzantine mystery explores an earlier world that remains deeply influential even today. Pamuk's writing is as elegant and multi-faceted as the story he narrates.”
The Swedish Academy had also praised Orhan Pamuk in their reason for him to get the Nobel Prize for Literature. They praised his work for “[who] in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” This can be seen in this novel with the traditions of miniaturists and their work, being jeopardized by the new forms of painting of the Franks.

Modern day Turkey, is the center between the great divide of the West and the East. It is difficult to find a common ground, which this book surely discusses, at various moments. While some embrace the news, others shun it as blasphemy. Some worry about the creation, competing with the great creator of God, which is by all means a great sin. It is a strange novel. A complex, philosophical piece of speculation, but also it is a romping good time, of entertainment and complexities.

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

Friday 2 December 2011

The New Look

Hello Gentle Reader,

Not sure what to say about this new look. Its more of an aesthetic change, more the anything else. It appears to work on many leaves to be honest with you, and at other times the aesthetic choice of the entire concept, does not always pull through entirely. In fact it almost at times feels more complicated then the last, template, which was being used for the past few years. However, in all it'll stay for now. It allows for some interesting aesthetic choice, and looks more updated and less simplistic. The header however doesn't really have the same effect as it did. The title and underlying blurb stay to one side rather than being centered, as it is most preferred by me. There is also a drawing/sketch of a bird skull as well on the blog, it doesn't fit entirely into the box as it was most often or not, hoped for. However though for now, it’s aesthetically pleasing -- though at times, ridiculously complicated to manoeuvre about, not to mention finicky in its editing. However in all, it'll stay. I also hope though Gentle Reader that you as well, enjoy the new look.

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 1 December 2011

The War of the End of the World

Hello Gentle Reader

Eschatology is a new word for me. Never before have I read it, or heard of it. Then again, to discuss to the entire philosophical and theological debates about the entire concept of “Eschatology,” in a rather casual situation is not the most realistic idea – that is figuratively. In today’s world the entire concept of eschatology – though that word is not once used; is spoken of and used like other simple parts of a conversation: “how was your day?” “what happened at work today?” “how are the kids?” – Now it is socially acceptable and common to simply mention the world is going to end. Just the other day someone had mentioned to me, that the world was going to end on November Eleventh of two thousand and eleven. When it also commonly believed or accepted – dare I say, hoped upon; that December twenty first of two thousand and eleven the world is going to end. Does that mean I have to do my Christmas shopping still or should I just forget all about it? Then of course May twenty first of two thousand and eleven was also publicly stated to be the end of all times! It was the rapture! Judgement would befall all those deserving of it! The world was going to be engulfed in shadows; lava would engulf the ocean’s and sea’s in a storm of steam; fire and brimstone would rain down upon the world; angels would fly over the heavens with swords of fire; the sky and the clouds would turn blood run; and the souls of the righteous and pure would be engulfed and accepted into heaven. Well the rest of us rift raft would be sent to hell. This is the human races final destiny – or so it is commonly believed. The fatalists of the world – once again dare I say it; eagerly await the end of the world. The terrible times of the apocalypse. Yet each time they eagerly fall into a trap of trying to fulfill their own prophecies they fail. Jones town for one. The years of: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994 (you get the picture) have been predicted to be the end of the world by the Jehovah Witnesses. Hailey’s comment of nineteen ten anyone? How about the year nineteen-nineteen, when a meteorologist, predicted the end of the world by planetary conjunction and magnetic force of the planets, would upset the sun, and the flames from the gas of the sun would engulf the earth. Then there was the Jupiter Effect, that came out in nineteen-seventy four, and predicted that some major problems may happen in nineteen eighty two. Who could forget the Heavens Gate Cult? Then of course there was the Y2K scare. There one has it. The end of the world, predictions, and there will be more coming. The earthquakes of Hati, Japan (followed by the tsunami) the 7.2 earthquake that hit Turkey on October twenty third followed by the 6.0 aftershock; on September ninth a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the Campbell river; in July of two thousand and eleven a 7.6 earthquake hit New Zealand.

Do those natural occurrences help shape the belief that the final destination of the human race, is upon us all? For some they do. But earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, snowstorms, and hurricanes – these are natural occurring matters. No one can say that there are divine powers above any one person, or all of the human race, making these horrible occurrences happen. But for the devote; and those that believe that it is just a fundamental and absolute belief that it must be obeyed, and adorned that the entire concept of the event of the end of the world, must be worshipped and separate of the holiness of god him or herself or itself.

“The War of the End of the World,” is the novelization of a historical event called the War of Canudos. This is probably the first time, that on a personal note, that I have ever read a historical chronicle. Especially one pertaining to Brazil. This makes for a unique and interesting but also difficult experience for me to both as person with no real concept of the landscape of Brazil, or even the history of nineteenth century Brazil, not to mention any historical figure that could have been named, or dropped so commonly would have to be dealt with in a fictitious manner. It should also be noted that the trade paperback in which I bought this book by the two thousand and ten Nobel Laureate in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, was poor and quite frankly I do not think it closely measured up to the content that the book was written for and with. Quite frankly even though Helen Lane was (apparently) a renowned translator of: Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian, the translation of this book by the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, was less than adequate and below mediocre. It was a horrible translation, compared to other translated works that I have read. Compared to Edward G. Seidensticker who translated “Snow Country,” by fellow Nobel Laureate in Literature Yasunari Kawabata Helen Lane, Helen Lane just is unable to really grasp how translate the work in my opinion for readers. When Edward G. Seidensticker translated “Snow Country,” any odd word or cultural difference between the original text Edward would then place a asterisk (which is a: *) by the word and then leave a footnote explaining what it is. For example:

“The geisha began to remove her *Kimono. First though she would remove her elegantly decorated and patterned *Obi.” – At the bottom of the page where those two asterisk words had taken place, the translator (in this case Edward G. Seidensticker) would explain that a Kimono is a unisex piece of clothing – resembling a robe; and are part of the traditional Japanese dress. The Obi is the sash, which is worn around the Kimono. Such grace and kindness is not offered in this novel. Words such as “capanagas,” and “jagunços,” among other words that I grew fed up with decided not to even bother to write down. More or less jagunços are a form of armed and hired body guard, which were hired in the backlands of North East Brazil. Capanagas which is the plural word of capanaga which is basically translated to this purpose as a bodyguard. Why did Helen Lane, not simply do that? Why did she not use either the English counterpart in this translation or at least enlighten and share her knowledge of what the words mean, and make for a better understanding of the text. However she herself, did not do so, which lead to great frustrations and anger with me reading this text, which lead for me to feel that the full potential of this novel, is never really shown, based in part of the laziness, or ineptitude of the translation done by this translator. Frankly when translating works into English, it is always good to remind oneself, which the translation is just as important as the text one is reading.

When Peter Englund was interviewed, on why Mario Vargas Llosa was chosen for receiving and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, he mentioned that Mario Vargas Llosa, was a man who did not just write novels, he was in search of the “total novel.” This – also a first for me personally; was an interesting tid-bit to my ears. I am still not sure exactly what the “total novel,” means but in this case it could be easy to say that: Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and ten, Mario Vargas Llosa, uses literary techniques to write about a mirror image of the world around and history. At times the citation by the Swedish Academy to give the Nobel Prize for Literature, to Mario Vargas Llosa, ran through my head a couple of times while reading this novel:

“For his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat”.
At times, its look pretty clear, that this book easily summed up why he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, based on his cartography of the individual’s revolt, but also its consequent defeat.

There were a lot of characters in this book as well. But sometimes their names, bled together in my memory. Such as the case with characters like João Grande (Big João) and João Abade (Abbot João) and just to make myself sound really dumb and ignorant – but in my defense maybe it was the translation – I thought Big João was Satan João who later turned into Abbot João. Not to mention that the Counselor (or as was another reader had called him Conselheiro which basically means advisor in English) was actually Father Joaquim. Then Antônio el Fogueteiro, and Antônio Vilanova confused me as well.

This all made for a sometimes confusing and frustrating read. To the point where I got so angry and fed up with it, that I contemplated taking it back to the bookstore. It just felt like one of those books that I had read, and had failed miserably at – much like an attempt at “Summersault,” by Kenzaburō Ōe Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-ninety four; and still remain bitter and jaded over, still unsure and wary of reading a book by Kenzaburō Ōe whose books seemed more self-centered and personal, rather than a constant changing overview of his work.

Even though the characters, most of the time, bled into each other, when I recognized them there was a sense truly, that the characters in this book were varied and complex – representing the varying complex souls of the individual. Though I could only grasp this at times. When I couldn’t my eyes clouded over with a bitter anger.

Another fair point would have been a timeline – some chronology, map of the area and an index and a referral text for readers who do not have command over the language in order to better understand what has been written and wrote.

In my opinion, Mario Vargas Llosa, is a writer not of small details, but a writer of large ideas. He wrote a momentous piece of work; a historical chronicle that I am sure would pay off with some tweaking, and some better translation and in the end, would make for a much more substantial read in order for the reader to actually ‘grasp,’ what is/was happening. However it was an interesting book. Full of politics, full of war, and a description of what the back lands of Brazil was about, and the survival of human beings, the complexity of human nature, the devotion and desire for something better, repentance, and so on and so forth, all leaves a lasting impression. Truly a great novel by a Nobel Prize winning Novelists, however I would say as of right now, that take the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy’s recommendation and become initiated and involved with Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa through his work “The Feast of the Goat.” – Or find a better translation.

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