Mesa, AZ, United States
Brilliant. This is one of those rare novels that hits me on almost every level. The writing is crisp, deep and unsettling all at the same time. The narrative leads without pushing. Its prose sings but never strays into cliche. Every thread and sinew of this novel seems destined to weave into the body of this story's tapestry.
Mantel is able to invert the standard feelings and assumption about everybody. Moore, Cromwell, Henry VIII all become more than characters in this historical fiction. They become epic myths; giants of time and space.
Mantel is able to stretch and mold her characters into places where they seem to inhabit zones usually reserved for saints and devils. She gives us both saint AND devil with Moore, Cromwell and Henry VIII. Seriously, if you haven't read or listened to this novel, put down what you are doing NOW and pick it up.
Simon Slater does a brilliant read of this novel. He is able to give each character their own distinct life without overwhelming the narrative. Top shelf.
An early Nabokov with many funky allusions to Tolstoy, early anticipations and presages of Lolita, and Nabokovian black humor from beginning to end. As a independent work, I don't think it belongs in the top tier of Nabokov's lush ouvre, but it seems to me to be a piece where Nabokov establishes his literary sea legs. The genealogy of most of his great later work seem to all thread back to 'Laughter in the Dark'/aka 'Kamera obskura'.
In this novel, Nabokov is playing with themes of vision, blindness, truth, deception, art and morality. You see many of Nabokov's later motifs surrounding vision floating (like mouches volantes) through this early work: mirrors, window pains, mimicry, scintillations, semblances, glasses, movies, etc. It wouldn't be Nabokov if he played any of these themes straight. He bends the narrative and plays with Tolstoy's belief that it is "the essential nature of truth to be hidden from, then revealed to, the eyes." Nabokov gives you the goods and gives them to you good and hard right between the eyes.
If for whatever reason, during the last twenty years, you've missed John le Carré's anger, and if his last 10 books were too subtle for you, and if you didn't catch le Carré's moral outrage in 'the Constant Gardner' and 'a Most Wanted Man', then you might need to skip 'A Delicate Truth'. In his newest novel, John le Carré tackles the amoral world of private contract espionage, rendition, and ineptness. Le Carré attacks Western ethics, Western hypocrisy, the West's venal “war gone corporate.”
John le Carré war is a battle of young idealism vs amoral and often incompetent mercenaries. It is a war of principled, but flawed individuals vs what Olen Steinhauer summarized as the "shortsightedness, hypocrisy, lies and unfettered greed that plagues the “post-imperial, post-cold-war world".
This isn't the most artful of le Carré's novels, but it is probably one of his sharpest. He dares the reader to follow him in his role as a latter-day Jeremiah of espionage and statecraft. He condemns the hypocrisy and the false gods of the Post-Iraq War/WOT West in his aim to "root out, pull down, destroy and throw down" the inhuman idols of the West. His NeoCon critics might aim for le Carré's eyes, but they can't destroy his vision or overlook his balls
There are many parts of Dickens' writing that I love and few pieces of his that fall short of complete adoration. 'Great Expectations' is one more of Dickens' absolute masterpieces. I love how with 100 pages left you can almost feel the universe shift as Dickens grabs the crazy, once loose strings of his moral narrative and begins to pull it all together.
I think a significant part of the magic, for me, of 'Great Expectations' is found in the minor characters. Everyone from Uncle Pumblechook, Miss Havisham, & Mr Jaggers, to Mr. Wemmick and the Aged Parent (the Aged P.) could be the center of their own Dickens novel; each life is given a warmth (or where there lacks warmth, a round coldness) that keeps the novel propelled on.
You can't have a Dickens novel without a little bit of melodrama and a bit of Victorian moralizing. However, with 'Great Expectations', Dickens does this with a soft touch. He isn't as confrontational about social ills as he is in 'Hard Times' or 'Oliver Twist' and he isn't as melodramatic as he was in 'Tale of Two Cities', but even so, I completely enjoyed this gentle, more muted Dickens.
Reading Roth is almost a spooky, sexual experience. I say that knowing this will sound absurd, trite and probably hyperbolic. But with Roth, his words are imbued with an almost carnal power, a spectral courage, energy and life. IT is like watching an absurdly talented musician do things with an instrument/with sound that bends the edge of possible.
Reading Roth, I can understand how the audience in Paganini 's time wanted to burn the man for witchcraft, feared the man for his deal with the Devil. I'm not sure who Roth sold his soul to, but Roth's run of novels: Operation Shylock (1993) Sabbath's Theater (1995) >> American Pastoral (1997) >> I Married a Communist (1998) >> The Human Stain (2000) can only be thought of as the greatest series of novels produced by ANY writer at anytime. Maybe Shakespeare had a better run. Maybe Proust. Maybe. For me, these five novels, ending with 'The Human Stain' are the apex of 20th Century writing. Spooky.
While I enjoyed the book and my kids were entertained, like a lot of 19th century adventure stories I am more impressed by its staying power and influence than the story or writing itself.
The strength of 'Treasure Island' is its characters. Even minor players in this pirate/treasure/tropical adventure story are fascinating. The plot had enough ups and downs and twists to entertain, but like Jules Verne's and H.G. Wells' minor novels, Stevenson's writing just wasn't interesting enough to draw me back for a second draft.
Neil Hunt's narration was varied enough for the characters without being overly distracting from the story.
Haney's memoir of Delta Force is one of those influential military memoirs that sets the bar for future warrior authors. You can see its influence on the recent 'No Easy Day' (the memoir by one of the Navy Seals who hunted and killed OBL) and countless other minor trooper tales. That isn't to say this is a perfect memoir, nor a perfect history of Delta Force.
The very nature of Delta opererators, and the unit they served in, practically requires that memoirs of Delta Force (and the SF or Navy Seals) will always be viewed as partial truths, shaded stories, rumor, and myth. But like David Hackworth's 'About Face' before, this memoir is informative and entertaining. It is a single data point but shouldn't be taken as the gospel of anything, just a single (slightly biased) retelling of one man's memory of how things in a very elite military unit functioned.
One of my favorite memoirs of all time. IT was perfect in its pacing, its pitch. It was a beautiful, but unsentimental look at youth, poverty, family, and all the cracks and fissures that the world creates to swallow the dreams of youth. Wolff's language still rings with me. I find myself, going back and reading whole passages of 'This Boy's Life' just to drink the language and the rub against the energy and charge of Wolff's vitality. A good memoirist gets the reader to experience the artist's past life through his words, a great memoirist seduces the reader into a place where the reader suddenly recognizes the universal experiences in our shared lives.
There were parts of the book I felt like Tobias Wolff was not writing his history, but mine. The details of our lives might have been different, our stories might be adolescent antipoles, but I read Wolff and I think he has robbed me of my emotions, faked my youthful hope, slandered my stripling reputation, and squandered all of my schoolboy potential.
While I enjoyed this collection more than Sedaris' previous book 'Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk', it just didn't rise to the levels of his great collections ('Naked' or 'Me Talk Pretty Someday'), or even his very good collections ('When You Are Engulfed in Flames' or 'Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim'). I just feel like he is retreading the same ground, picking up the same litter, and is starting that phase in his career where he is like a band from the 80s that isn't creating as much as exploiting his better work.
I hope I am being overly pessimistic, and maybe I am just jaded from the horrible audio experience my wife and I had last night listening to him at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, AZ, but it seems that the reading typified my feelings about his book. Sedaris was reading to a comfortable group in comfortable shoes, reading comfortable stories. We all laughed at the appropriate parts, we all knew what we expected and David Sedaris delivered the goods -- mostly.
The audio quality wasn't great, but I walked away mostly amused that I somehow ended up parting with 1 credit at Audible, $15 bucks on Amazon, $45 for a live reading, and while mildly entertained ... I wasn't particularly blown away. It was like I was a beer-bellied, middle-aged man at a Journey concert. I figure I didn't pay for the new set, just for the couple hours of nostalgia at how great it was ten or twenty years ago. Now, I've just got to figure out now how much nostalgia will cost me tomorrow.
I keep reading Cormac McCarthy to find a single crack of light in his dark, grotesque lyricism. 'Outer Dark' as a novel is unconventional and amazing. The story was allegorical without being stiff, it was regional without being provincial. Like most all of McCarthy's work, it is Biblical in its power and intensity.
In 'Outer Dark', McCarthy is throwing chert boulders at the dark center of the Universe. He isn't interested in little themes. Even in his small books he is taking on ideas as large and slippery as fate, guilt, agency, and God. Structurally, Outer Dark was drum-tight. The prose and the vernacular/archaic dialogue were both crisp and amazing. 'Outer Dark' is prose art at a high-level and it scared the literary Hell out of me.
The thing I liked most about Saunders' quirky fable is how innocent and honest his writing can be without becoming saccharine. He manages with his simple narrative and his prose ticks to walk up to the line of absurdly sentimental and overdone, but then slinks backs down.
Obvious comparisons should probably be made to David Sedaris' modern bestiary: 'Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk' and Dahl's 'Fantastic Mr Fox'. Saunders's story 'Fox 8' seems to belong to that same family group descended from the Aesopica. Not my favorite genre, but Saunders could write a phone book and I'd go out and buy it and read/listen to it.
While Saunders might consider his narration style to Leo Kottke's singing voice ("geese farts on a muggy day"), I think his voice is a perfect compliment to his writing.
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