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  4. Just wanted to add this: Most of his works involve characters descending into deep, dark places underground - almost always dry wells - and in the darkness all boundaries between body, mind, air, self vanish; this sets up Murakami to effectively and beautifully deal with questions of enchantment and metaphysics. Kafka on the Shore is slightly different in that there is no well; instead, Kafka (the character in the book) spends plenty of time alone in the woods, and then finds out about the entrance stone (I won't discuss this to avoid spoilers). The woods here possess the sort of "depth" Murakami's fictional wells possess, and the ruminations that follow are quite beautiful. Just interesting to note that the woods become the thematic equivalent of wells here.
  5. I'm currently reading two books. 1. Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard - Perhaps only Pico Iyer and Matthiessen write about traveling and undertaking expeditions as pilgrimages, but they do so without seeming corny; they don't patronize or exoticize. The Snow Leopard in particular features terrific accounts of the material wonders and horrors of the Himalayas (geological; flora and fauna; as well as the living conditions of the many peoples there). There's also a good deal of erudition regarding Buddhism. So far so very good. 2. Trevor Noah's Born A Crime - I had no idea he's written a book; I knew him only as a TV personality, and when my friend suggested I read this, I offended her by asking if Noah really wrote this, or if it was written by a team of ghost writers - as is often the case with celebrities who release memoirs these days. I'm still far from an answer for that question. Nonetheless, the book is quite good here and there.
  6. Struggled with this. It's a rather breezy stream-of-consciousness inner monologue that clashes with description and dialogue. It was easy to read but often vague and confusing in terms of what was actually happening. I find this to be a common feature of many women writers. When they want to let you hear their thoughts, they seem to feel compelled to wrap it up in flowery language that keeps you at arm's length which slightly irritates me. A little too much navel gazing for my tastes. I liked her but she was just too self-indulgent. Is this really how women think or is it simply what they believe to be the most socially acceptable version? There are times when she almost crosses the line and tells us something real, something sincere, but then pulls back at the last minute and returns to gazing at the haunting shadows. I just find that stuff frustrating. The plot is essentially a drunk middle-aged woman swanning about Paris and reminiscing about her youth when she was first in Paris with her ex husband. We then discover that she lost a baby and that he left her. She's now a lonely and lost alcoholic being pursued by various men and one gigolo in particular. She lives in a series of dingy hotel rooms and fights the insomnia while wandering from one café/bar to the next. The inner monologue was fine when it was interrupting dialogue but felt a little jarring when it was interrupting description and narrative. That resulted in the general narrative being all over the place and I often wasn't sure if she was describing events currently taking place or events of the past. Nice and short though so it was a pleasing read. If you like this kind of writing then you'll love this. For the most part, I'd probably recommend it. 6/10
  7. Sorry, I've been away - with no wifi. Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes, And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves Trail with daisies and barley Down the rivers of the windfall light. And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means, And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams. All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass. And nightly under the simple stars As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away, All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars Flying with the ricks, and the horses Flashing into the dark. And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all Shining, it was Adam and maiden, The sky gathered again And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise. And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways, My wishes raced through the house high hay And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs Before the children green and golden Follow him out of grace, Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand, In the moon that is always rising, Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea. Dylan Thomas - 'Fern Hill'
  8. It's gone very quiet here... So here's an old favourite: "Whenever I plunge my arm, like this, In a basin of water, I never miss The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day Fetched back from the thickening shroud of grey.     Hence the only prime     And real love-rhyme     That I know by heart     And that leaves no smart, Is the purl of a little valley fall About three spans wide and two spans tall Over a table of solid rock And into a scoop of the self-same block; The purl of a runlet that never ceases In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces; With a hollow, boiling voice it speaks And has spoken since hills were turfless peaks." "And why gives this the only prime Idea to you of a real love-rhyme? And why does plunging your arm in a bowl Full of spring water, bring throbs to your soul?" "Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone, Though where precisely none ever has known, Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized, And by now with its smoothness opalised,     Is a drinking-glass:     For, down that pass,     My love and I     Walked under a sky Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green, In the burn of August, to paint the scene, And we placed our basket of fruit and wine By the runlet's rim, where we sat to dine; And when we had drunk from the glass together, Arched by the oak-copse from the weather, I held the vessel to rinse in the fall, Where it slipped, and sank, and was past recall, Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss With long bared arms. There the glass still is. And, as said, if I thrust my arm below Cold water in basin or bowl, a throe From the past awakens a sense of that time, And the glass we used, and the cascade's rhyme. The basin seems the pool, and its edge The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge, And the leafy pattern of china-ware The hanging plants that were bathing there. "By night, by day, when it shines or lours, There lies intact that chalice of ours, And its presence adds to the rhyme of love Persistently sung by the fall above. No lip has touched it since his and mine In turn therefrom sipped lovers' wine." Thomas Hardy, "Under the Waterfall"
  9. Broadwater is a depiction of the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham through 14 inter-linked short stories. Each story is a vignette, focusing on one resident of the estate, but these characters sometimes pop up in one another's stories. Some are bleak, some are inspiring. As a body of work, they do a successful job in showing the diversity of people who live in the estate - nuances that the newspapers sometimes miss. But none of the stories is quite long enough to build a real sense of engagement. So although the stories are interesting enough in the moment, they don't particularly leave an impression. It would be great to see a full length novel to really bring one or two of the characters to life. ***00
  10. I came to The Coward as fiction - it was only half way through that I twigged that the lead character, Jarred McGinnis, had the same name as the author. That led to a chilling penny-dropping moment. We meet Jarred as he is being discharged from hospital after a life-changing accident. Jarred can no longer walk and uses a wheelchair for mobility. He has no job, no friends, no home. He lands back with Dad - who he resents as a drunkard and a neglectful parent. Jarred is rude, resentful, ungrateful and gives a clear impression that he was this way before the accident. Disability has not turned him into a saint. We see Jarred take small (metaphorical) steps to building a life, building a relationship with his father, and building social connections - often despite his own efforts to thwart the process. And there were flashbacks to a previous life which Jarred blamed himself for wrecking. This focus on Jarred, rather than on the disability, made for a really compelling and quite startling read. It broke so many conventions of how disabled characters are portrayed. And it became clear that Jarred was not going to compete in the Paralympics, was not going to become a disability ambassador or counsel small children to steer clear of drugs. Jarred was going to adapt, but he wasn't going to change. That is why the realisation that this was autobiographical was all the more spine-tingling. The honesty and bare emotion in the way he portrayed himself was so visceral. This can be a difficult read - especially when the reader sees Jarred making consistently poor choices. But there is also a dark humour and a human warmth underneath it all. By the end, and as the back story emerges, you almost feel for Jarred... *****
  11. The Yield is a complicated novel wth multiple strands. 'There is the story of August Goondiwindi, returning from Europe to her Indigenous community for her Pop's funeral. The community has been sold out from under them to a mining community and this is a source of tension between the community and the white landowners. Then there is a dictionary of Wiradjuri language that Poppy was composing when he died. The definitions give examples of usage which tell their own story of the community and its history both before and after European settlement. And then there is correspondence from the German Minister who founded the community in the late 19th Century, initially as a place of refuge for the Indigenous people from the massacres that were taking place all around. In between these stories, we know the sorry history of Australia and we can join the dots. There are no easy answers. The story of August is strong and immediate. There are family skeletons; there is the conflict between life in modern Australia and remaining faithful to Tradition. There are also questions about the role of white Australians as the narrative is taken forward - do they have a place in the Indigenous story, and on whose terms? Certainly not on the terms of the curators of museums who want to value Indigenous culture from behind velvet ropes. Parts of The Yield are compelling. But, for this reader, the dictionary was an interesting concept but an interruption from the story. Yes, it all came together in the end, but the journey felt like hard work at times. The dictionary approach has been done before (e.g. The Dictionary of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano) and I have yet to see it flow - there is a necessary jerkiness to the story and a difficulty with pacing. But as a technical mechanism to link the past to the present, it does succeed. The Yield won the 2020 Miles Franklin Award and is well worth the time (and sometimes effort) to read. It will be interesting to see where Tara June Winch goes next, and whether she can carry a less tricksy narrative. ****0
  12. Well written, well researched and Victorian and Gothic - although set in 1906 is a touch after the Victorian era but conditions would have remained the same. No twists in this novel but it was easy to read and entertaining, which I what I wanted. Maud is confined to the Asylum and is treated in what was becoming even then an old-fashioned and somewhat brutal way. A new doctor arrives and hypnotises her and that's when things start to change. Maud then remembers what's been done to her and is deemed cured, even by the doctor who confined her, and is let out. She then decides to check her memory and goes back to the house where she worked before she was confined.
  13. There's something about writers writing about writers that fails to spark. Slightly more successful than writers writing about composers, but it's a close call. The Magician is a novelisation of the life of Thomas Mann. I suspect that Thomas was a Mann of his times - famous in Weimar Germany, awarded by the Nobel Committee, feted in America during the war, and his works were apparently purchased in such quantity to make him hugely rich. He rubs shoulders with the great and the good; on the Rooseveldts' guest list, feuding with composers, and touted as a future President of a post-war Germany. And for all that, he seems to live on in name only. I'm not sure that anyone (at least in the anglophone world) still reads his works. So we have a story of the writer set against a backdrop of world politics. The plight of the family - a large family with Jewish connections and more than the standard 10% quota of homosexuality - trying to maintain their ruling class entitlement as the order crumbles around them. The writing flows well, but the events are more interesting than its witnesses. Mann himself is portrayed as a fence-sitter, unwilling to condemn Naziism for fear of personal reprisals while seeking sanctuary overseas. But this is perhaps an unfair portrayal. Mann was actually quite vocal in his condemnation of fascism and (I understand) quite overt in his themes of homosexuality in his writing. This, with the consequence of making him a target of the McCarthyites. But this really feels glossed over in favour of a conveyor belt of little dramas brought by his many children, siblings and acquaintances. The pacing of The Magician is odd. The pacing is led by family events, leaving matters like the war to slip by almost unnoticed while other world events that coincided with family drama are unfolded very slowly over many pages. That might have felt more natural if Thomas Mann had been portrayed as a more swash-buckling character but as it was, it felt as though we were focusing somewhat on the side-show. Colm Toibin has a gentle narrative style, and nothing jars. At a sentence level this makes for a pleasant read. I just can't help feeling that the style lends itself more to ordinary folk (and judges) on the east coast of Ireland, exploring their feelings, rather than following major historical figures and world events. I preferred this to The Master, but how I'd like to go back to the The Blackwater Lightship. ****0
  14. True Crime Story purports to investigate the historic disappearance of Zoe Nolan, a first year university student. It takes the form of an investigation led by budding crime writer, Evelyn Mitchell, and comprises interviews with her family and associates, found documents, and a correspondence between Evelyn and Joseph Knox, her mentor on the project. It feels like one of those talking heads TV documentaries but with this sinister stream of metafiction running through it. The technique allows the story to kick off at full pelt; there's no lengthy lead-in or scene setting. The story itself is creepy as anything, and the drip feeding of information as Evelyn uncovers it adds a timeline that seems quite independent from the actual events surrounding Zoe's disappearance. This is so well done; I could find no seams or cracks in the plot. The real proof of the pudding was my urge to read right up to the last word, then go back to the beginning to see it all over again. This reportage style is not new, but I cannot remember having seen it done better. *****
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  16. I will. ETA From the research that I did this book hangs on the translation. Apparently the D.P. Costello translation is good but doesn't really give the nuances needed for the book (so they say!)
  17. The Sundays of Jean Dezert - jean da La Ville
  18. I almost bought the Blind Owl but a YouTube Reviewer (whom I generally respect) wasn't very impressed so I was put off. I'd appreciate a second opinion. Let me know what you think.
  19. Just bought The Blind Owl (Authorized by The Sadegh Hedayat Foundation - First Translation into English Based on the Bombay Edition) Paperback – 1 Nov. 2011by Sadegh Hedayat (Author), Naveed Noori (Translator). I will really need to keep away from Goodreads recommendations, 🙂 the TBR was out of control a long time ago!
  20. On the face of it, the book is a kind of travel book/memoir hybrid about an unknown author's time walking the county of Suffolk. But to me, it qualifies as fiction and quite frankly is exactly what great fictions should actually be. The author tells us about his journey along the coast and the various sights and places in which he stays, but then quickly allows himself to go wandering in his mind on all manner of topics. Just as he's describing the scenery, the flow of nature, the history of a place, he will then take a detour and begin crawling through a variety of subject matter, everything from anatomy, colonialism, the Irish civil war, the doomed love affair of the writer de Chateaubriand, the works of Joseph Conrad, to the practice of sericulture. Each chapter begins in one place but swirls and dances through a myriad of thoughts, histories, and people until you're practically intoxicated. You'll be amazed at how one paragraph can begin on one subject but then finish in an entirely different place. This is such a wonderful novel and encompasses everything I want from literature, namely a narrator who very evidently breathes and lives and loves. You can sense his fascination with the world, grasp his opinions and concerns, tangibly feel the tremble in his voice as he contemplates the very nature of being alive and part of a race which is so ludicrous yet equally so beautiful and mysterious. To describe the book as a travel book would be absurd. It is an insight into humanity, a thoughtful exploration of thinking itself, a love letter to the idiotic animal known as the human being. I wish I could find more books like this, specifically in the fiction genre which, again, I adamantly claim this to be. It's quite exquisite. In an era of ubiquitous robot narrators who tell us nothing, it was a pleasure to be in this author's company (whoever he might be). 8/10
  21. What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply, And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  22. The radiance of the star that leans on me Was shining years ago. The light that now Glitters up there my eyes may never see, And so the time lag teases me with how Love that loves now may not reach me until Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful And love arrived may find us somewhere else. Delay - Elizabeth Jennings
  23. Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea, But sad mortality o'er-sways their power, How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower? O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out Against the wreckful siege of battering days, When rocks impregnable are not so stout, Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays? O fearful meditation! where, alack, Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid? Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid? O, none, unless this miracle have might, That in black ink my love may still shine bright. Shakespeare, Sonnet 65 (Not sure why this has appeared the way it has...)
  24. Busy old fool, unruly sun, Why dost thou thus, Through windows, and through curtains call on us? Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run? Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide Late school boys and sour prentices, Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride, Call country ants to harvest offices, Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime, Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. Thy beams, so reverend and strong Why shouldst thou think? I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink, But that I would not lose her sight so long; If her eyes have not blinded thine, Look, and tomorrow late, tell me, Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me. Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday, And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay. She's all states, and all princes, I, Nothing else is. Princes do but play us; compared to this, All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy. Thou, sun, art half as happy as we, In that the world's contracted thus. Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be To warm the world, that's done in warming us. Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere. John Donne - 'the Sun Rising'
  25. I recall seeing the film when it was first released. Luscious photography, and fine perfomances by Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth.
  26. IAGO How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? Thou know'st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft; And wit depends on dilatory time. Does't not go well? Cassio hath beaten thee. And thou, by that small hurt, hast cashier'd Cassio: Though other things grow fair against the sun, Yet fruits that blossom first will first be ripe: Content thyself awhile. By the mass, 'tis morning; Pleasure and action make the hours seem short. Retire thee; go where thou art billeted: Away, I say; thou shalt know more hereafter: Nay, get thee gone. Shakespeare, Othello II/iii
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