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About hux

  • Birthday 04/07/1977


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    Yorkshire sarcasm champion 97,98,99
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    books, music, films, stuff
  • How did you hear about this site?
    magical pixie told me

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    The Man Without Qualities

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  1. Like most contemporary novels this was immensely easy to read. I probably could have read the whole thing in one sitting. It's a simply told, easy to digest, magical story which has short chapters and an uncomplicated narrative. But as fun as it was to read, there isn't much more to it. One of my big complaints of contemporary literature is that people often mistake 'easy to read' for 'literature of significance.' But this isn't the latter. Add to that the fact that it contains an (seemingly) other worldly quality which, to some, might seem unique and profound by virtue of its strangeness, you inevitably end up with a series of rave reviews from critics and public alike. It is wonderfully easy to read. But that does not make it a great book. Similarly, I have read books which I did not enjoy reading but which resonated with me. This is why I generally avoid contemporary fiction. The story is a straight-forward mystery of a man living in a strange mansion with never-ending vestibules and rooms and corridors. There are statues everywhere, clouds in the upstairs rooms, waves running through some of the downstairs rooms. Piranesi is living here with little memory of anything but this existence, his only other friend being a man he calls 'The Other,' someone he meets on Tuesdays and Fridays. It's an interesting idea and one that keeps you engaged. But again, as much as I enjoyed reading the book, I never felt there was anything more significant going on. I suspect I will forget most of it within a few days. 7/10
  2. The Silence "The court sat, the charges were read, the witnesses heard, the evidence presented; humanity was found guilty." Part Three of the trilogy focuses on colonialism and the global exportation of evil. The narrator is now in an unknown north African country and spends his days throwing bread at hungry children and refusing the advances of child prostitutes. His alcoholism has intensified, and he has occasional discussions with Columbus, with God, with Robespierre. He is accumulating all the evidence required to confirm that humanity is a slew of excrement. And yet, there is a lingering sense of hope, one to be found in the spiritual element. Bjørneboe clearly feels that, whether capitalist or communist, the move away from a spiritual understanding of ourselves is a terrible mistake. Before we can know where we're going, we must know who we are. And that is only achieved through spiritual salvation. His attacks on colonialism are unoriginal and somewhat simplified (as much of the world now approves of) but he's using this merely as a platform from which to reach his ultimate conclusion so it's forgivable. Like the other two books, especially Powderhouse, there are sprawling narratives about history which are presented as stories. The chapters about Cortes and Pizarro for example are coloured with a sweeping canvas which must be taken as part of the whole story of human history. These stories are sporadically told between conversations with his friend Ali, the hungry children begging for food, the American oil man who wants to atone for his countries sickness. And they slot neatly into the narrative as reminders of our crimes but also as occasional reminders of our capacity for beauty too. The story about Satan living as a human only to conclude that the earth is too awful and that he'd rather go back to hell being one I particularly enjoyed. These three books were bleak, dark, significant works, and unrelenting in their pessimistic view of the human species. Yet a glimmer of hope remains as Bjørneboe concludes that despite the guilty verdict there is one voice we have yet to hear from: that of the defense. 9/10
  3. The Master of Go - Yasunari Kawabata Miss Lonelyhearts - Nathanael West
  4. Powderhouse Part 2 of Jens Bjørneboe's History of Bestiality trilogy is possibly even better than part 1 (Moment of Freedom). It deals with the same bleak worldview but while Moment of Freedom felt like a collection memories and opinions with no real narrative framework, Powderhouse was far more coherent and self-contained. The narrator is now working in an asylum for the criminally insane in France as an odd-job man and, as a result, the book has a more conventional narrative which allows for other characters and themes to be brought together in a way that was lacking in Moment of Freedom. This book felt like a book, but still provided Bjørneboe an opportunity to explore his ideas regarding the evil inherent to humanity. One of the plot points is that the chief physician encourages lectures as a kind of therapy. This allows for the narrator to give a lecture about the history of witchcraft and the various inhuman methods with which society dispatched of the accused. This is then followed by a lecture from one of the doctors about the history of executions and the executioners themselves, a portion of the book that was thoroughly gripping in its macabre detail. The fact that execution was often a family business, the various methods used, and the countless downsides to each individual technique. How long it takes to die, what is considered humane, and the incident where a doctor twice shouted the name of a guillotined man at his severed head and the eyes looked at him. The book had a strange, almost post-apocalyptic feel to it, as it all takes place of the grounds of the asylum and the narrator often sits outside his home on those grounds drinking wine, giving milk to a hedgehog, or having sex with the young nurse Christine. I would be more inclined to recommend this book to people than Moment of Freedom as it has a more digestible narrative but still affords Bjørneboe an opportunity to examine how deeply unpleasant the world is. 10/10
  5. Moment of Freedom The bleakest, most depressing indictment of humanity I have ever read. And possibly one of the most powerful and brilliant books. Where to begin with this? Well, it's part of a trilogy called 'The History of Bestiality' which includes Moment of Freedom, Powderhouse, and The Silence.' The books opens with a narrator who does not apparently know his name but works as a servant of justice. One day, he notices the judge is distracted, looking at something on his desk, and the narrator acquires the photographs in question and discovers they are of the town's most prominent members (including the judge) engaging in sexual acts with children and animals. Thus begins a journey through the depravity of the human race which takes in several cities and stories which detail (quite convincingly) the abhorrent nature of man. The narrator ponders on the children killed by the 2nd World war, the many prostitutes and pimps of the European cities, the devices of torture we invented and used without concern in the passing centuries, his ex Nazi friend whose only lament is that their great leader did not succeed, a destitute kitten, starving and ill-treated, roaming the streets, the small boy whose mysterious stomach illness is solved only when it is discovered that the barber he works for has been buggering him. It truly is a vile and disgusting civilisation we have concocted. And the narrator (or Bjoernboe) points out that as much as we might like to believe this is a thing of the past, we are kidding ourselves. It manifests in new ways, takes root without fuss or notice, and spreads too quickly to be adequately dealt with. He too, is complicit and, with total apathy, tells us of a time in Italy when he had sex with a young prostitute while her five-year-old daughter (or sister) sits and watches. Then the book concludes with Bjoerboe telling us about a new aspect of humanity which troubles him, something he clearly brings up because he believes this may be more than a mere passing fad. In fact, it may be a new means by which the rancid diseased human can express his bilious soul. He tells us of a series of young men who, apparently mild and quiet individuals, one day acquire a gun and begin indiscriminately killing people in the street. As though he knows (even in 1966) that this is the next logical step for humanity to most effectively demonstrate its evil nature. Seriously, this book blew my mind. Sadly, the only copies I can get are by Norvik Press which aren't the worst but aren't the best either. This trilogy deserves something better. It is an absolute masterpiece of horrific nihilism. 10/10 I will now begin Powderhouse.
  6. January Review posted January 2 - Moment of Freedom (Jens Bjørneboe) 10/10 Review posted January 13 - Powderhouse (Jens Bjørneboe) 10/10 Review posted January 22 - The Silence (Jens Bjørneboe) 9/10 Review posted on January 24 - Piranesi (Susanna Clarke) 7/10 2021 2020
  7. 27 books which is more than enough for my reading pace (plus The Man Without Qualities was YUGE! and ate up some time). I tend to only read in the bath and just one or two chapters to fully savour the book. I also tend to only speed up if I'm NOT enjoying it. My stand-outs of the year in bold. The Map and the Territory (Michel Houellebecq) 7/10 The Book of Disquiet (Pessoa) 9\10 A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Tool) 6/10 If on a Winters Night a Traveller (Italo Calvino) 7/10 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers) 8/10 Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami) 8/10 Black Beauty (Anna Sewell) 7/10 The Land of Green Plums (Herta Müller) 8/10 No Longer Human (Osamu Dazai) 9/10 The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares) 8/10 Hunger (Knut Hamsun) 9/10 Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami) 7/10 Submission (Michel Houellebecq) 8/10 Man's Fate (André Malraux) 5/10 Nightwood (Djuna Barnes) 5/10 Ask The Dust (John Fante) 8/10 The Drinker (Hans Fallada) 8/10 Riddley Walker (Russell Hoban) 6/10 A Month in the Country (J.L Carr) 7/10 Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse) 9/10 The Rings of Saturn (W.G Sebald) 8/10 Good Morning, Midnight (Jean Ryhs) 6/10 One, No-One, And One Hundred Thousand (Luigi Pirandello) 8/10 The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil) 8/10 The Sundays of Jean Dezert (Jean de La Ville de Mirmont) 10/10 Zeno's Conscience (Italo Svevo) 7/10 Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Toshikazu Kawaguchi) 5/10
  8. Perfectly readable but ultimately light-weight. I keep trying with contemporary novels but they keep disappointing me. There's nothing wrong with this book, it's easy to read, plods along, keeps your attention, but it simply isn't saying anything at all. There is something very trivial about it all. The plot is a nice fluffy thing about a café where a seat can take you to the past. There are several rules you must follow (can't leave the seat, nothing you do will affect the present, you must finish your coffee before it gets cold, etc). Though why being unable to affect the present is considered a rule when it's simply a statement of fact is anyone's guess? There's some sentimental stories to follow and none of them especially resonate. Like I said, it's all very predictable and by-the-numbers. Apparently this was a play before it was a book. That actually sounds like a fun idea for a play but as a book, it's mostly forgettable. Hate to be a cynic, but I'm gonna have to file this under... 'books that people who don't enjoy reading books will like.' 5/10
  9. Zeno Cosini is addicted to cigarettes. His doctor suggests writing his memoirs as a means of psychoanalysis. And that's the book. There are five chapters that -- out of chronological order --detail a specific area of his life. As a result, his memoirs are unreliable to say the least (even his doctor wants to distance himself from the book which he describes at the beginning as 'unflattering'). The first chapter is about his smoking habit, the second about his father's death, the third (and by far the best) is about his marriage, the fourth his affair, and finally a chapter about his business partnership. The book then ends with a diary section. I enjoyed it for the most part but wasn't necessarily blown away. It was only the chapter about meeting and courting his wife that truly grabbed me and, in my opinion, that was the most important information in his entire story (informing pretty much everything that came after). Without wanting to spoil it, that chapter was the one that made me feel sympathy for Zeno. Otherwise, his character is actually quite unlikable and reminded me of the main character from Hans Fallada's 'The Drinker.' Specifically, how mercurial and craven he is, his desperate need to be liked and approved of leading to many moments where he comes across as clingy and pathetic. In many ways he is a fantasists and a weasel, prone to viewing himself as a victim despite his many transgressions. Thus we return to the fact that he is an entirely unreliable narrator. That being said, I did ultimately relate to him and his experiences. I especially endorse his conclusion regarding the burgeoning snake oil profession of psychoanalysis. As he rather wonderfully puts it: "Sorrow and love -- life, in other words -- cannot be considered a sickness because they hurt." 7/10
  10. Possibly the most perfect novella I have ever read. Subtle in the charming gaze it lends to the beautiful prosaic existence we emptily experience every single day of our lives. Most books I read are about men searching for something, but this is about a man who is content to watch and to know, in the watching, that he has accomplished as much as anyone can. Jean Dezert loves his Sundays. He goes for walks, notices the simplicity of the world, allows it to wash over him as a veil of immutable certainty. He chats with his friend Léon. He is bored of life because he already knows what it is. He enjoys the banal days of work, the little things. Then he meets a girl. They have a whirlwind romance. He meets her father who warns him that she is capricious and changes her mind on a whim. Sure enough, she tells him one day that she doesn't like his face and the marriage is off. Jean Dezert then contemplates how to deal with this apparent heartache. He embraces drink. After this, he concludes that suicide is the best option. He considers hanging, poison, a revolver, but then settles on drowning himself in the Seine. But as he stands by the bank, watching the people in the cafes, noticing the little boats... "suicide struck him as useless when balanced against his awareness of being an interchangeable part of the crowd and truly unable to completely die." Effortlessly brilliant. 10/10
  11. really liked it A glorious epic of political satire. The year is 1913. A celebration is planned for the 70th jubilee of emperor Franz Joseph's reign in the upcoming year of 1918; a committee is brought together to come up with a theme for this celebration and noted thinkers, politicians, and artists are invited to the meetings held at the house of Ermelinda Tuzzi, better known as Diotima. Her cousin is Ulrich, a 32-year-old mathematician who is also invited. Ulrich is the man without qualities. Where to begin with this book? Firstly, it's huge, at over a 1000 pages long in three volumes, and is quite daunting as a result of that; but the writing is Proustian in its exquisiteness. Every single chapter is like a work of art in its own right with magnificent prose, lyrical fluidity, and beautiful metaphors. That being said there are chapters that probably don't need to exist, where details are provided in sumptuous language for something that quite frankly doesn't add anything to the story. And that brings me to my second point: there is no story here. Hence why I loved it so much. Despite its 19th century style of flowing language, this book is very much considered a modern novel, this most prominently seen in its utter lack of a plot. The details I gave above essentially cover everything, several characters discussing a theme for the celebration and thus, discussing art, politics, morality, progress, philosophy, meaning, you name it. The book is a satire on western European civilisation and its inability to capture purpose without endless contradiction. The book revels in the big ideas of existence, society, and progress. It delves into philosophical discussion on virtually every page and has characters embodying these debates and questions. Yet the most opinionated character of all is the third person narrator, his thoughts and ideas being the most thoroughly explored and expressed (not sure I've encountered such an opinionated omniscient third person narrator in a book before). There's a host of characters that orbit Ulrich such as Count Leindsdorf, his childhood friend Walter and his wife Clarisse (who is in love with Ulrich). His mistress Bonadea, the Prussian business man Arnheim, his black servant Soliman, and the maid Rachel. Then there's the murderer Moosbrugger who serves as a kid of floating question throughout the book on human nature and morality . They all spiral around Ulrich and add to his search for meaning and understanding. Then, towards the very end of the book, Ulrich (and Musil) abandons all of them entirely and spends several chapters focusing exclusively on Ulrich's sister Agathe, a woman with whom he has a quasi incestuous relationship (Musil is very deliberately vague on this yet equally quite clear). She is a stand-out character but only emerges at the very end of the book as a kind of other half for Ulrich, a Siamese twin as they describe it. This book contains some of the most astonishingly wonderful writing I've come across but I wouldn't recommend it lightly. It's far too long (despite being unfinished) and many chapters, while being beautifully written, offer little in terms of the themes being explored. For that reason, it's a 9 rather than a 10. I've already purchased the much shorter 'The Confusions of Young Törless' which will hopefully being heavier than a brick.
  12. Never heard of him. But that's true of a lot of Nobel Prize winners that I've read purely because they won the award (Hamsun, Pirandello, Pamuk, Müller) So far, mostly impressed so I guess I'll have to put him on the list. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-58828947 I'm clearly not alone though.
  13. With Italo Calvino https://salmanrushdie.substack.com/p/my-favorite-literary-encounters-italo Calvino was kind to me. When my novel Midnight’s Children was published in Italy he wrote a long, favorable review of it in La Repubblica, and that was the way in which Italian readers first became acquainted with my work. Calvino’s seal of approval was important to me then, and it still is.
  14. The Man Without Qualities - Robert Musil It's big. I may be some time.
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