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.
You need to have some patience to listen to this novella. The language is exquisite, the sense of place and time and mood are engrossing. If you listen to audiobooks for plot and excitement, this is not the book for you.
But as a novel that explores character, relationships, the extreme subjectivity of human perception and how time acts upon those things, then this may be one of the most eloquent examinations of those things ever written.
Although I did not give Kidman's narration a full five stars, there is nothing wrong with it. However, two things bothered me. Her pace of reading is quite fast, and this is a problem when the point of view changes from one character to another within a scene. I'm assuming there are scene breaks in the original text version which make clear whose point of view is being used, but in audio form, a slightly slower read, with more pauses between scenes would have been helpful. Secondly, I found her Aussie accent slightly jarring for this particular novel. I think it might have suited a more neutral English or American accent better - just because I have a better capacity for overlooking those accents. It's an entirely culturally subjective view, but then narrators affect us at that level.
I enjoyed the story. It's got a very twisty plot with a bit of an homage to one of literature's greatest horror novels (I won't say which, because that will give away the story). The setting is well described, eerie and tension-filled. It's a tale narrated through a number of different character's POVs and documents, which makes the pacing slightly odd, but helps to keep you on the edge of your seat and guessing.
The one part of the story I thought was a big of a let-down was the rather superficial, convenient characterizations. There are some really intriguing characters in the story and I thought they could have been better fleshed out. I got the feeling they were left tenuous in order to allow the plot more flexibility. When I can see that in a story, it bothers me a little.
Nonetheless, as a thriller/murder mystery, it makes for good listening.
This is a very interior novel. It has some lovely literary elements to it and I did enjoy it. The atmosphere is seductive and gripping, and the character is nicely developed.
However, I found the narration hard to cope with. The Scottish brogue is thick and unremitting and, to my ears, somewhat artificial. Reynolds does Irish and Northern English accents very well, but his Scottish burr leaves something to be desired.
I suggest you listen to the audio sample provided to see if it works for you.
I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling and restructuring of Hamlet. I began listening with moderate expectations, knowing the play well and expecting it would just be a fleshing out of the original, but it was so much more than that.
The authors have done a wonderfully creative job of approaching the tale from a fresh, very lateral perspective. Lesser events and characters in the play are brought to the fore, and a wonderful layer of Machiavellian political intrigue suffuses the story. The same is true of the play's original paranormal elements. The authors have developed it into a lush political and psychological thriller.
I didn't give the story five stars only because I found the villain of the piece (I won't tell you who it is because that would be a huge spoiler) a little underdeveloped and cardboardish. That being said, this was more than a retelling of the play. If you like historical mysteries or alternate histories, you'll love this. It's rich and atmospheric and wonderful.
The narration was outstanding.
I do owe Foster a thanks for introducing me to the world of 'preppers', and giving me something to chew over when it comes to why there are so many people looking forward to the apocalypse. However, as a novel, this is poorly constructed.
As with many fetishists, Foster makes the common mistake of believing his readers will share his obsession with preparing for the looming apocalypse. Consequently, he offers no insight for the mainstream reader into the hows or whys of people who have caught the 'prepping' bug. There's no context to the characters. In fact, there is very little effort to examine any of the characters' motivations. The plot flits around, clumsily interrupted with recipes, hints on prepping, and long digressions on different types of ammunition. The whole novel is dripping with a curious sort of schadenfreude towards the non-prepping majority, and there is no sense that the author was even aware of this.
Consequently, I was relieved when it was over.
It is a deep shame that the Financial Times' critique of Piketty's data is going to put some people off from buying and listening to this book, because a few quibbles about a very small amount of the data (on the UK only) doesn't detract from the validity of this detailed piece of analysis. It won't matter that many other well-respected economists defend Piketty's use of the data, or the robustness of his argument. For the readers of the FT, for those who represent the top 10% of weathholders, or those who aspire to be one of them, this book is a fundamental threat to their plans.
It's a long book, and it takes some concentration to listen to. Looking at the linked PDFs help to bring the stats and numbers to life. But I found it incredibly worthwhile. The central argument - that R>G (capital always trumps growth) is successfully and persuasively argued six ways from Sunday. And that is something not even Piketty's most vehement detractors can argue against.
Nor did I find Piketty's conclusions and suggestions even close to being the 'radical marxist' ones that he's been accused of holding by the press. He's conscious of the fundamental value of entrepreneurship, of a vibrant market.
When all is said and done, this book will polarize its readers along ideological lines. Because ultimately he's asking the question: what do we want our society to look like? He argues very persuasively that many of the ways we have sought to establish fairness and meritocracy in society have been ineffective in the long run.
This book threatens those who continue to perpetuate the myth that there are even playing fields: that financial success is based on merit, that opportunity is available to everyone, that trickle-down economics works, that education is the great leveler. There are good reasons why certain groups find this book threatening. It erodes the very thin veneer that the free market is truly free.
But it is also a very optimistic book. Piketty offers some very 'unradical' solutions for how to mitigate the problem of rapidly accelerating wealth concentration. It's not a 'downer' at all.
The narration is good for such a long and complex book. Well chosen to be easy on the ears but still engage the concentration. I found it well worth the credit and the time I spent on it.
I loved the premise of this novel: serial killers, psychic investigators, forensics. As a fan of detective fiction, murder mysteries and a bit of the paranormal, I was so looking forward to reading this, especially since it was the first in a series. I really wanted to like it.
I found Walker's writing very hard to stomach. He head-hops in mid-scene (switches from the POV of one character to another), which is disorienting enough in text form and almost vertiginous in audiobook form.
There are incredibly long passages of diegetic (telling) narrative in which we are told rather than shown the story. I'm not opposed to 'telling' and enjoy stories with a certain amount of interior dialogue and reflection to add an emotional dimension to the story, but this goes on and on, making the story feel sluggish, claustrophobic and boring.
I was also not terribly crazy about Ted Brooks' narration. He's fine when he's not trying to do women's voices. But when he does, they sound so much like a man trying to sound like a women, it becomes comedic and distracting.
Perhaps I've read one too many of these zombie apocalypse books and have just hit the wall on them, but overall, I found this book frustrating and annoying.
I found the main character very hard to engage with from the beginning. I can see that Wright was trying to write a very 'everyman,' unremarkable character for his main protagonist in the first part of the book, but Nick Adams is SO unremarkable, I sort of kept hoping he'd get bitten and die off fast.
Also, both he and the main character in the second part of the book keep seeming extraordinarily stupid and doing extraordinarily stupid things just to build artificial tension. All of this seems a bit of a shame since the one good thing about post-apocalyptic zombie novels is that the tension is really built in. You can write really smart, capable characters and still have tension galore.
I found the story, on the whole, unoriginal and dreadfully formulaic. The sub-characters were stock and 2 dimensional.
Patterson's narration is fine, but not outstanding. Sometimes a really good narrator can rescue a mediocre story and Patterson didn't succeed in doing it.
Hartmann's book is a very good, plain language look at the history of economics and the pendulum swings from liberal to conservative economic policies. It's a far easier read, but makes similar points to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. So, if you peeked at that but found it daunting, this is a more accessible book that focuses specifically on the US.
Like Piketty's book, it argues that, far from hindering economic growth and stability, high levels of taxation of the super rich were directly responsible for the enormous growth of the middle class and dominated during the US's most prosperous decades. And that we now find ourselves in a second 'gilded age' where a small percentage holds the overwhelming bulk of the wealth. Both books use incontestable, factual data to show that trickle-down economics never worked, that high taxation of the rich never stifled economic prosperity for the vast majority of Americans, and that any policies that enable and perpetuate the vast accumulation of wealth in the hands of a very few spells economic misery for the many and, in the case of Hartmann's book, threatens the fabric of democracy as we know it.
The let down in this book is Hartmann's repeated use of the word 'royalists' to represent supporters of the unregulated, anti-taxation, free market forces. I found it distracting and annoying dogmatic. To call them 'royalists' is misleading. There is no monarchy being ideologically defended here. Royalists, at least, hold an ideological belief in the responsibility of a monarch to rule in the best interests of his/her nation. These people are oligarchs (or aspire to be oligarchs) in a lawless, ethic-less anarchy where the only thing that is good is greed.
I decided to revisit this book in memory of Gabriel Garcia Marquez who just passed away. It brought back all the reasons I've loved his writing. Complex characters who evolve with the story, incredible descriptions that pull you into the settings; they become characters in their own right.
Marquez reminds us that love is not benevolent. It is a wasting disease. But we wouldn't be human without it.
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