I loved Ishiguro's biggest novel, Remains of the Day, considering it one of my all time favorites. Since then I haven't found Ishiguro has been able to recapture the nuances of Brittish emotion that he did so masterfully in Remains.
This novel comes very close, though.
I wasn't sold at first, thinking it was uncomfortably close to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. But it comes around, and the farther you get the more fascinating it becomes once you learn "the big twist", always with an unflinching first person look at an unknowable life ripped from a Aldus Huxley-style sci fi plotline.
One BIG strength: it is beautifully read.
I enjoy this guy. He is charming is an acerbic kind of way. He keeps me engaged and often entertained, like a literary Howard Stern or a drunken David Sedaris. The fact that he read this himself makes this work (and also contributes to his own self-obsession). The ending story, though, really takes an odd turn, and not because of the one in a billion event that fictionally happens to him. Usually he reports on a fringe lifestyle or waxes on the virtues of some brainless celebrity, but here he shows us this life that I took to be basically his own-- and it is ugly and dispiriting. It was much like being forced to watch the sex tape of Dustin Diamond, better known as "Screech" from Saved by the Bell (a favorite of his).
Still, he is fun. Just perhaps start with "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" to fully understand his charrm first before you try to injest some of the discussion here.
Perhaps it is because I am the type of person who prefers to see a movie without having seen its trailer, but because this book points out at the beginning that it is based on a verse from Dante which pretty much spells out the plot, I felt like I knew too much. I wish I could have heard this book without knowing the general direction of the plot.
Perhaps it is because I never grew to sympathize with the main character that I failed to be moved. She began as a spoiled and snooty product of a very unlikeable mother. She remained this way through most of the book until a rather cliched form of awakening. This is where the plot deviates from Dante's poem, unfortunately, since in Dante she gets tossed out a window.
Yes, it was written and read well. This was my first attempt at Maugham-- it was good enough that I may try him again, but I am not rushing to it.
With this book, you take the good with the annoying. What is good? The general plot, which whirls you across the globe while making you think about how this world really operates. It keep you engaged with is exotic places and fast pace.
What is annoying? The narrator, who often uses voices that are more fit for a muppet. Anything else? Yes. There is good flippancy, like Jon Stewart, and there is bad, like that kid in school that mocks everything you do, even if you are just standing still and breathing. The author is closer to being like that kid.
And one more bit of annoyance that is out fo the author's hands: the fact that people are calling this satire. Sparing you the lecture, it is not. Not everything that is humorous and political is satire.
I listened to the all three books in this trilogy in from Audible. This one is easiest the worst simply because the audio is so terrible. Beware-- this one you may want to read instead. It is not Silver's fault (although his characters are quite similar in sound to those in American Pastoral). This is like listening to a cassette tape you made 25 years ago.
I can't imagine Phillip Roth would approve.
Even so, I didn't empathize with the characters the way I did in Human Stain or American Pastoral. It lacked the memorable, raw scenes where vulnerability, rage, eroticism and fear all come to a head. Don't stray too far from wanting this book-- Roth when he is not at his best is still better than almost everyone else.
Sometimes that is all I want from a reading, and I got it here. I was also entertained. She is not as clever as Bill Bryson or Sarah Vowell, two who make a living on enlightening while entertaining, but she can at least be mentioned in the same sentance as them.
One disappointment, perhaps because of a deadline, is that little is said about plastination-- the process of turning body tissue into plastic. I saw the controversial show in Denver of posed plastinated bodies and it was amazing. She mentions an earlier show in Europe but obviously didn't see it. It is too bad, because this is the biggest thing to happen to the corpse in decades.
I will begin by admitting that I am a fan of Roth. I am also willing to admit that only those who appreciate the author will enjoy this book. It lacks the power of American Pastoral and Human Stain(where I would recommend you start) but then again, so do almost all books. It is also brief, which seemed to prevent me from getting too invested in the characters.
I make it a point to read Pulitzer Prize winners, finding them to be consistantly well chosen and aligned well with my tastes. I also tend to enjoy first person narratives which seem to bond me tightly to the main character. For me, neither came true with this novel.
In fairness, I have recently visited the worlds of Roth, Hemmingway and Dostyevski, all of whom create characer who affect your own being. This novel, however, is best described as a folksy sermon in the same vein as the many preachers who like to teach life lessons based on their own life stories. Throughout we get to hear about a quaint small town tale or a Biblical quandary or "ah, shucks, I am such a fool" self-deprications that never seem forthright. It adds up to be cute, charming, and safe.
In short, it seems to be well suited for Oprah's audiences, not for literary awards.
Hemingway has a way with turning a typically feminine way of introspective storytelling into a novel brimming with testosterone. Unlike modern adventure writers like Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy, Hemingway creates a real world both physically and emotionally. Similar events occur-- guns, murder, sex, bombs, heroism, treachery-- but here I feel like I lived it, whereas with others I feel like I watched a movie. And, as I have found is so critical with audio, the interpretive reading is very good.
I love classic literature, and based on customer reviews I chose this version because of the praise for the narrator. However, I simply cannot get myself to complete this novel, not because of the length but because it cannot hold my attention. Far be it from me to criticize the story which has stood the test of time triumphantly; no, I lay blame on the narrator. He has different voices for all the different characters (although these Spaniards all have British accents), but the repetitiveness of his interpretation is a failure, especially with Quixote and Panza. They speak during battle the same way they do preparing for sleep. A few hours of this, not bad. Over 30 hours-- I just can't do it.
Ah, does Irving have the power to move me... If you are a militant pro-lifer, you should probably stay away-- although I would love for you to read this to help you understand why there needs to be a separation of church and state. Never predictable, narrated well, characters both flawed and thought-provoking, and a plot that moves right along, this book itself is a "prince of Maine", a "king of New England."
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