I spend a lot of time arguing that you can get as much from an audiobook as from a paper book, but Bellow tests that claim. This is a powerful book about a man who has a hard time pulling himself out of the texts of his life and into his real life. It's slow -- slow in the sense that not that many things happen -- but it's also raging in the way we're in and out of Herzog's mind. His imaginary letters (some real) show him trying to get traction in the real world as he flees to the world of writing.
As a result, it's sometimes hard to listen to a novel that's so much about the business of writing. I often wanted to stop and re-read a sentence -- Bellow is a master of the sentence -- and I missed a sense of the textual nature of Herzog's various letters. Hillgartner can signal that we're into a new letter, but I don't think he can get across the effect of seeing the heading and recognizing the deterioration or recovery of Herzog's mind. And that's a crucial distinction because I think there are ways in which Herzog's mind (as caught in the text) is a different character from Herzog himself (as caught in his own story).
I can't say I would "change" anything, but this is an odd book. I haven't read any Eco before -- though I've intended to read The Name of the Rose for several years -- and I suspect it's the wrong one to start with.
In some ways you have to start with the end of it: what would motivate someone to write the hateful Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery that would provide the twisted spark for the impulse that would culminate in Hitler's "Final Solution." Given that, we know what will become of our central character(s), and we know to look for the seeds of his hatred in his earliest experiences. That is, it's a story without any particular tension.
I might have given up on it early except for the way the project itself made me curious. I almost never felt caught up in the story, but I did often feel as if I were looking over the shoulder of Umberto Eco, author, as he tried to solve the writerly problem of how to turn this story into a compelling novel.
To sum it up, it felt like a failed novel, but it interested me as a "meta-reader," as a reader thinking about the nature of story-telling. (And I suspect that's a part of what Eco wants to do with this book.)
Guidall is arguably the gold standard of readers, of course, but I've enjoyed him elsewhere more. This book is a deeply challenging one to read, however, since it carries so many different narratorial voices; since one character often performs another -- and since a self-identified narrator goes into and out of other characters' voice -- it's a philosophical problem in deciding when to read in which way. Guidall helped hold my interest, but not even he could give the performance full coherence.
From all I understand, Eco is a good guy, someone calling us to think about the human condition through philosophy and story and generally standing on the side of the powerless and the decent. And I think his motives in writing this are good ones, that part of what he is doing is to inquire into the nature of a hatred he does not share.
That said, there are stretches here of anti-Semitic diatribe that are so lush, so emotional, that they become disturbing. One of the characters explains that such a strain of Antisemitism is necessary to create the ultimate work of its sort, but it can get uncomfortable. That is, the line between parody and imitation gets murky, and -- as a Jew myself -- it got under my skin. Sometimes you see the same thing with people parodying pornography; you think their hearts are in the right place, but you can't tell the result from the source material as easily as you'd like.
You know from the first several sentences that you're in good hands with Doig. He's got all the writing chops you could ask for, and at times seems like a contemporary Willa Cather.
The characters emerge impressively and thoughtfully, and the narrator grows in subtle and moving ways through his coming-of-age experiences.
That said -- and it is a lot to say -- it's a very slow story. Some of the blurbs I've seen suggest we're in for a big reveal, but that wasn't my experience. It was, instead, a quieter series of revelations, most of them effectively rooted in character rather than plot twist.
There's also a potentially intriguing frame device in which the narrator -- reflecting on the events of his adolescence -- contemplates applying the lessons of that time to a crisis in his later life. If I have a technical criticism of a writing performance I generally admire a lot, it's that the frame vanishes for long stretches and then returns as a bit of a surprise.
All in all, it's good stuff with a narrator who's folksy and easy to listen to.
This is a rare audiobook I might indeed listen to again. It's so much about time loops that going back to the beginning of it makes sense.
It does drag around its central moment, but that's the point. How do avoid what you know is inevitable?
This is strong sci-fi; it's inventive in its technology, and it raises genuine logical conundra. I'm not sure it resolves all of them in entirely satisfying ways, but it does have a payoff.
He had just the right trace of an accent to make this work. He reads well, and I thought it added to the nature of what the book is doing.
Individual episodes stand out here, but the whole of the movement serves to keep Powell's project moving forward. It gets frustrating to find that characters you're curious about simply drift away, and it gets a bit confusing as new ones -- especially artists whom I got the feeling were based on historical figure I might or might know -- emerge all at once as central.
If you start this one, you've already gotten intrigued by that first movement. If you finish this one, you're probably hooked to the finish. At least that's how it went for me.
I made it through all four movements of A Dance to the Music of Time -- that's 12 separate novels -- and I think this sits with the third movement as the most appealing. The early parts of this may be the strongest of the entire cycle, but they are also the most conventional. Powell writes with real grace and patience, and he introduces the first of his more than several dozen characters. Still, the star of all the novels is the voice, and it's at its most pure here at the start.
Bottom line, you can read this movement without going on to the others, but you really can't do the reverse.
Muller is simply superb. He always sounds like himself, but he has a great range of inflections so you recognize different characters. Plus, he always sounds good.
This is Elmore Leonard, so you know it's well done. Still, hardboiled as it often is, the setting is very much dated, and that starts to distract from the whole. It's worth remembering, too, that this is still fairly early Leonard, before the lighter-hearted work of Get Shorty. It's certainly worth reading this one, but temper your expectations. It's about a couple of pros setting out to commit crimes as pros, and that feels more or less like the challenge Leonard set out for himself as he wrote it: understated professional writing.
She reads with a flat, understated tone that's pleasant but that seems to move slowly. I did start to remember every so often that this was "Molly Ringwald, the 1980s actress" -- and that got distracting -- but she was generally competent. (Although she could have used a coach to help her pronounce the occasional Yiddish word.)
I liked this one but didn't quite love it. Attenberg has a strong prose style, and it's got a distinct and pervasive feminine perspective; its unspoken understandings seem mostly to come from the way a woman (both the central characters and the author) see the world. It seems to me almost radical in the way it doesn't feel the need to translate for a man's sensibility.All that's really good, I think, but the plotting seemed to me a bit forced in places. That is, the story seemed to stall every once in a while, and it took something to move it forward or, once or twice worse, I lost interest in a section that seemed to me to have stalled.
He's one of the greats.
You should go into this knowing that it's a period piece. Millhouser is pushing against the Naturalistic strain of the literature of a century ago, and he infuses it with a sense of the fantastic. Martin's ambitions as a builder -- and his successes -- give this a haunting beauty, and there are absolutely parts of it to savor.
Just as Martin loses interest in his own creations, however, Millhouser seems to sour on his own novel. I recognize that's part of the beauty in the conception -- this America invites us to dream things larger than the world can accommodate, and it's high art to gauge the course of our best such dreamers -- but it's nevertheless disappointing to find as little retrospective insight as we do.
Noir in Neon
This is my first Robichaux, and I plan to get to others. You know right from the start that you're in the hands of someone who knows what he's doing. This falls short of James Ellroy (but who doesn't), and it smacks of formula in a few places, but it's everything you can ask from the genre and at times it's even a little more than that.
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