Someone, I don't know who it was, said that the difference between a piece of genre fiction and a literary novel is that, in literary novels, the author gives you far more detail than you need as a reader. What you make of that excess of detail then determines whether you are a literary reader or not.
There are truly great things about this book. Although the meta-narrative voice stays true, its five parts each offer a very different narrative style. I'm not going to bother with a synopsis, because other reviewers have done this, but it moves from quirky, cosy satire to grim documentary realism to modern historical fiction.
For me, it was mostly a story about death and the humorous, tragic, poignant or obsessive strategies we use to put it off. We're all treading water. Whether one distracts oneself focused on the ludicrously esoteric (the part about the critics), or by living through one's child (The Part about Amalfitano), or by allowing oneself to be carried up on the chaos of events (The Part about Fate), or by hovering close to the edge of death itself and living within its shadow (The Part about the Crimes), or by ccupying oneself with the act of narration (The Part about Archimboldi), I think Bolaño wrote a book about the ways people put off death. Which makes sense, since he was dying while he wrote it. "Thanatos," says Bolaño in the last part of the book, "is the greatest tourist on earth."
There are a lot of sparkling moments of truth in this novel. The one I feel I will carry away with me most durably is that, in our relationship with our societies, there is a strange tipping point - a moment triggered by a collision of dire circumstances - at which, individually, alterity stops being a delight, an adventure, a richness of life's tapestry, and seems to become a mortal threat to the existence of the self. Whether it is the other as Foreigner, or as a member of another class, or race, or gender, the human psyche can flip from appreciation to blind terror in a very short space of time. And beyond that point, we are a murderous, inhuman bunch.
Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments in the novel comes about because, by the end of his life, it is clear that Bolaño acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom, and yet he leaves no real place for love. I think he had taken the measure of most things, but not that. Perhaps because, despite his honest and insightful grasp of many things, he chose, like so many modern literary writers, to let that subject embarrass him into silence. In this way, it has the same, familiar asymmetry, you see in a lot of contemporary literature. Bolaño went to his grave successfully innocent of sentimentality, which, in my view, makes the novel a little less courageous than it could have been.
I'm not a literary reader. And the single star I did not give this book probably reflects my insufficiency as reader more than it does Bolaño's ability as a writer. I found his meta narrative style of over-elaboration grating and unfruitful. And I found his rejection of sentimentality predictably post-modern.
That being said, I don't regret the time I spent reading this book at all. It is a rich, harrowing journey, well worth the effort.
Regarding the narration, it was very good overall. However, I found the choice of Scott Brick as narrator for "The part about the Crimes" was a poor one. This part focuses on the hundreds of murders of young women in Santa Teresa (a thinly veiled docu-drama narrative of the serial killings in Ciudad Juarez). He really loads emotion into his voice, and I felt this was particularly antithetical to the purpose of the almost list-like account of the murders. I'm pretty convinced the dryness of the style of this portion of the novel was meant to explore the phenomenon of the 'normalization' of violence. I found Brick's reading really betrayed the author's efforts to do this.
People often dismiss Grisham as lightweight airplane novel material, but after years of listening to some pretty dismal storytelling, my return to Grisham reminded me of what an incredibly skilled writer he is. Admittedly, Jake's wife is a bit of a prop to show he's a family man, but on the whole, his characters are meaty and challenging. The plot is solid and well-constructed and gripping and his pacing is absolutely immaculate.
At no point did I do what I usually do these days, which is groan and wish the writing had been better edited. There's no fat on this story. It's all lean, page-turning (pod-listening?) goodness.
In an era of a lot of self-published, unedited, badly finished fiction, John Grisham is a long, tall drink of cool water.
This is a really lighthearted little mystery/romance series. No depth to speak of, but humourous in places.
I did guess the solution of the 'who-done-it' very early in the book, which was a little disappointing. Also, the author could have done a slightly better job with research. The heroine calls 999 (the number for emergency in the UK - equivalent to the US 911) several years before it was instituted.
However, high praise for the narration. Katherine Kellgren is excellent.
I haven't reviewed any of the previous Joe Ledger novels, but I really enjoyed them all. Plot-wise, they're not incredibly deep, but they are fast-paced and very entertaining. Think of Vince Flynn meets Guillermo Del Toro. Sounds a little improbable, but it works. Best of all, Maberry's characters are surprisingly complex and compelling. Ledger is not your stereotypical gung-ho hero.
I'm really looking forward to the next Joe Ledger book.
Although I loved the premise of the story and am I big fan of historical mysteries, I found this book very hard to finish. I suspect it was the rather strange, stilted diction and pacing of the narrator, rather than the story, but I found it so off-putting, I really can't be sure.
I strongly recommend you listen to the audio sample provided. See if you can get past the narrator before you buy.
I enjoyed the very well-researched and written journey into 19th Century England offered by Goddard. The plotting offered some truly interesting twists. The main characters of the story are all flawed and unreliable narrators, which makes for an engaging mystery. The ending is quite a spectacular feat of storytelling.
Goddard's male characters are far better written than his female ones. Which, typical for a novel written in the period by a male author, is less forgivable today.
His langauge is a pleasing blend of period perfection and accessibly modern. Goddard strikes the perfect balance as a writer of historical mystery.
The narration by Michael Kitchen is flawless.
I really loved the premise of a haunted guesthouse and a duo of sleuths, one alive and one dead. Sadly, the author's execution was really below par for me.
The plotting was deeply unoriginal and predictable. The characterization is almost wholly absent with the exception of the narrator, whose uncharming neursoses grow into irritating details very fast and whose propensity for repeating herself are worse. All the other characters are so stock as to be almost satire, but not quite.
I bought the first and second books in this series and I struggled very hard to get through them. I succeeded with the first, but by the second, I gave up half way through.
If you enjoy New Jersey jokes and New Jersey culture, you may find this series pleasant. For me, both the humor and the narration began, after a while, to feel like a visit to a dentist's office.
Amanda Ronconi is a lively reader, but I found her accent, although probably very authentic, very grating on the ears. Her attempts at a Scottish accent were simply awful.
I gave both the story and the reading middling scores because, although I found the experience painful, I acknowledge that there are probably people for whom this culture and these accents are entertaining.
I've long admired Bacevich since I read his The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Politically speaking, we are almost at opposite poles, but perhaps they are opposite poles of an honest, ethical conversation. Bacevich is a West Point graduate, has been a serving officer and holds a PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. He lost his son in 2008 in Iraq.
Breach of Trust takes a very thorough and deeply critical look at the evolution of America's professional (as opposed to a conscripted) military. From its inception after the Vietnam war to the present, he examines who has benefited from its evolution, how it has shaped the rise of the industrial military complex, fed and grown a voracious bureaucracy and enabled disastrous foreign policies and defense strategies.
The book takes acidic aim at a population that pays only superficial lip-service to 'honoring' those who serve, while demanding the right to sacrifice nothing and continuing to consume with relish while lives are wasted on foreign adventurism that is not only unsuccessful, but does little if nothing to ensure the security of the US.
It is essential reading for any American who truly cares about their culture, their democracy and principles of fairness. Its implications stretch far beyond the constitution of a military and address questions of what it means to be a citizen - its benefits and its responsibilities.
By necessity it covers certain parts of history in depth in order to build the author's arguments. When he offers examples to illustrate his point, he doesn't settle at one - he lists many - and because of this, there is a certain tone of academic writing to the text. This does make for dense, but it is all the more rewarding and persuasive for it.
I first read this book long ago. When the audio version was released, I decided to revisit it. My initial reading made me feel this was an extraordinary collection of stories written with a kind of driven brilliance, an awful, playful bitter precision. Tim O'Brien is a master of descriptive writing. A reader would have to have serious cognitive deficits not to get pulled in and inundated in the stories. It wasn't until I listened to the audio version, narrated flawlessly by Bryan Cranston, that I noticed the voluptuous poetry of his language.
The book is an anthology of stories about the Vietnam War. Bound together by the theme of what is carried, it opens with the very literal list of what the men in his platoon carried and broadens out into the emotional scars, the guilt, the sense of loss, fear, unrequited love, of brotherhood and of the deadly numbness that is carried on the soul.
I was immensely grateful to encounter this book again.
The speculative fiction premise and world-building efforts that have gone into this book are undeniably rich. The author has done a fine job of situating her story in an alternative history which pulls in threads of Anglo-Irish history, the explosive popularity of spiritualism in the 19th Century and the very contemporary rhetoric of the far right. She has also done a wonderful job with settings - especially that of an abandoned and resurrected Oxford.
But this is most definitely a piece of Young Adult fiction. Like 'Twilight' and, its erotic spin-off, 'Fifty Shades of Grey', 'The Bone Season' relies for much of its plot tension on the irrational and mercurial emotional shifts of its young female protagonist. There is little learning process, or actions based on acquired understanding - as one expects from a novel populated with and read by adults. Instead, a repetitive cycle of mood changes power much of her decision making process.
This is a pity, because the author has created some intriguing adversaries and questionable characters who, had they been explored with more maturity, could have resulted in a far more compelling and less irritating story.
I think young adults will love this book. I think they will relate to the main character and her volatile shifts in both intellect and agency. But for me, it felt like waves of artificial emotional tension masquerading as plot structure.
It wasn't until I'd seen the film and read the reviews of how much it deviated from the original novel that I decided to take the plunge. If you're looking for a 'kicking zombie ass' post-apocalyptic action thriller, don't buy this.
If, on the other hand, you're interested in just how craftily speculative fiction can be employed to critique modern society, this is a masterpiece.
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