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hux

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  1. The book is set in France in the year 2022 where, with the help of the socialists, a Muslim political party is elected into government. This is the premise of Houellebecq's controversial novel. The book follows an academic called Francois who teaches literature at a university and specializes in the work of Huysmans. Before long, only Muslims can teach at the University and he loses his job. Meanwhile, education is altered and women are taken out of the workforce.

    Francois struggles with his place in the world and seeks answers. Like in most of Houellebecqs books, he finds none, and only acknowledges the futility of western civilisation. And that's what the book is about: the west's slow march into irrelevance. Some have accused Houellebecq of stoking the fires (the book was published the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre) but that's too simplistic. As I said, this is far less a criticism of Islam and far more a criticism of the West and its atomised and directionless culture. Not to mention its apparent willingness to sleepwalk into obscurity.

    I must say I didn't find the transformation of French society from secular to Muslim very convincing and Houellebecq doesn't spend much time justifying that. Most speculative novels of this nature would have involved a slow build up of some kind but since it was published in 2015, Houellebecq clearly isn't very interested in doing that. For him, this is clearly a satire where the sci-fi nature of the plot is somewhat irrelevant. He wants to play around with themes rather than give you a convincing dystopian narrative.

    Truth be told, this was one of the most readable books I've ever come across. I fizzed through it. The story isn't that compelling and never really goes anywhere in terms of plot but the writing is wonderful and fluid, with short chapters that fly by as Francois explores art and religion and love and the death of Europe.

     

    The bottom line is: if you kill your own culture, don't start moaning when something fills the void.


    So many books lack the beauty and the balls of Houellebecq.

     

    8/10

     

  2. After enjoying Norwegian Wood I thought I'd give this a go. And while I enjoyed the reading experience once more, I wasn't exactly convinced by the writing. There were things that only mildly bothered me in Norwegian Wood but which I dismissed because I saw them as one-off issues for that particular book. Kafka on the Shore, however, demonstrated that they're part of Murakami's entire style. The endless descriptions of what every character is eating or drinking at all times (I know how food works, thanks), and the fact that everyone seems to express even the most basic degree of fondness for one another through some kind of sexual contact ('hi, you seem nice, would you like a hand-job?'). In Norwegian Wood this stuff seemed (tangentially) to make a certain amount of sense given the context but here, it becomes clear that this is just Murakami's thing. It doesn't spoil the book in any way, it's simply a little tedious.

    Then we have the actual story. It's all rather vague and metaphorical, a story about alternate dimensions, parts of your soul being lost, and so on. That's fine but I tend to view that kind of thing as more of a gimmick than anything else; one which is masking the fact that the book doesn't actually have anything meaningful to say about the human condition. Dazai's 'No Longer Human' has a great deal to say about the complexities of human existence but at no point does he rely on KFC's Colonel Sanders turning up as a character to get you a good blow job from a sex worker (that actually happens). I can imagine that if you're someone who doesn't read much then this might seem so whacky and weird that it's an example of mind-bending literary genius. When, in truth, it's simply a story about a magic stone and a man who can communicate with cats.

    That all being said, I really did enjoy reading it. Murakami writes in a thoroughly fluid and page turning manner that is hard to knock. But that's the least I'd expect from genre fiction. And that's what this is: genre fiction. Something to read on the beach when you're on holiday.

    I'd definitely recommend it as a piece of entertainment but generally speaking it's not my cup of tea. I will probably delve into more of Murakami's work at a later date but I'm in no rush. I think I've got the gist of what he's about. Fun to read but of little literary significance.

     

    7/10

     

  3. This book took me by surprise. It's stunningly original, especially given that it was published in 1890. I kept having to check that particular date because it felt so contemporary and modern. I'm genuinely curious to know if this book might qualify as the first truly 'modernist' novel. There might be other candidates out there but this is certainly a contender. There is no plot (a marker for many modernist novels), and the book is a first person narration filled with inner dialogue and occasional stream of consciousness writing. Hamsun also has a curious habit of switching tenses (which I don't ever recall seeing before). He starts a sentence in past tense then concludes it in present tense and so on and it all works rather beautifully. There's also a rather blunt expression of sexual thoughts and images which most 19th century literature wouldn't touch and which, again, seems very modern. In fact, the two earlier translations both removed them (the translation by Sverre Lyngstad is the one you want).

    The basic plot is a young writer struggling to find work, food, and somewhere to sleep in Oslo. On one occasion, he sleeps in the woods, on another he volunteers to spend the night in the local prison as his only option. He's so hungry that he picks up a handful of wood chippings and eats them across the course of the day. And when he finally has some food, his body has become so accustomed to not having any that he vomits. All this is occurring as he is desperately tries to come up with articles which he might sell to the newspaper and his mind is slowly crumbling.

    There are times when he speaks to himself, when the internal monologue is vocalised, and there are moments when he seems unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. As the book goes along, he appears to be falling apart and gradually losing his mind. And there is a woman named Ylajali whom he fixates on and eventually has a rendezvous with which quickly escalates into something sexually aggressive and confused. Again, this is not something I'd expect to see in a 19th century novel. This is a book about poverty and hunger at a time when it wasn't uncommon for most people to experience those things.

    This was such a superb read. Magnificent.

     

    9/10

  4. This was a fun read. I won't go into too many details regarding the plot because the book is very much dependent upon its plot as it moves along. Suffice it to say a man (a fugitive) on the run from the Venezuelan authorities hears of an isolated island in the Pacific that has a reputation for being a place that is uninhabitable for people and he chooses to hide there. On the abandoned island there is a large dilapidated building (referred to as a museum), a Chapel, a swimming pool and a small mill, and the man lives in the museum alone. That is until, one day, a group of strangers suddenly arrive on the island.

    The fugitive runs away from the museum and hides from the newcomers in the marshlands but becomes obsessed with a woman among their group named Faustine who sits in the same spot each day to read and watch the sunsets. He then notices that there are two suns and two moons. He listens to the conversations these people have and they seem odd and disconnected. Then, finally, he reveals himself to Faustine but she doesn't appear to acknowledge him.

    Anyway, that's where the plot thickens.

    This book is an old school mystery adventure yarn, the likes of which you see rarely these days. In fact, it was pretty rare even when it was published (1940). It's short and perfectly plotted, and all the clues laid out for the reader as they go along. Jorge Luis Borges said that the book's plot was perfection and I'd have to agree. But the book's shortness is the very thing which allows for such concise and neat storytelling.

    Anyway, I'm gonna go watch 'Lost.'

     

    8/10

     

     

  5. This book is sublime. That much is clear but how much of it is fiction and how much is simply Dazai's final thoughts on the world (he committed suicide after this book was completed) is hard to tell. Actually, that's not true. At no point did I ever feel I was reading about the fictional Yozo. I always felt that I was reading Dazai's thoughts. And yet fact and fiction are sometimes the same thing.

    The book is presented to us as an epistolary novel. A series of notebooks that have been found and explore the mind of a character called Yozo. As a boy he quickly fails to grasp human beings and learns that he must pretend to be one of them to fit in. He smiles when he knows your supposed to. He claims to be hungry when he isn't because he doesn't know what hunger feels like. He acts the clown because he knows it will make people laugh. Even when he is sexually abused by the servants he does not speak out because what would it accomplish?

    As an adult he begins a series of affairs but never once truly connects or feels any meaningful emotion towards these women. And yet he pretends (even to himself) that he does feel something. Soon, he and his latest companion make a suicide pact but where she succeeds, Yozo fails. He now has to live with those circumstances and yet, as before, thinks only of himself. Her death is no more important to him that his next drink.

    His final relationship is with a woman named Yoshiko and includes a curious (and very confusing) moment. She is essentially raped (a thing Yozo witnesses) but Yozo describes this in such a vague manner that it's hard to know if she was simply having consensual sex or being raped. It is written as though it is the latter and yet when Yozo witnesses it, he walks away as though he is the victim. It's quite an unnerving moment in the book and I'm not sure if it's a deliberate blurring of issues or simply a cultural aspect to Japanese morality. Then again, perhaps it was a call back to his own experience of sexual assault. It certainly left me with a strange feeling in my bones. Like a lot of the book in fact. Soon after, another suicide is attempted and his alcoholism is replaced by a methadone addiction. It's only a matter of time before his family commit him to an asylum. It is here that he discovers that his father has died.

    Three years later, he is living alone in an old house with an elderly female servant. He requests some sleeping pills and takes ten of them only to discover that the servant actually gave him laxatives. And thus, he finishes the book pathetic... failed... alone... and shitting himself.

    The book ends with someone finding his notebook and querying what happened to the protagonist. But to this we never have an answer.

    The book is a staggering work of genius. And I would recommend it to everyone. It is painfully sad and yet (for me, at least) has so many excruciatingly relevant moments that I could relate to. Things which are hard to put into words but which Dazai very brilliantly succeeds in achieving. It strongly triggered memories of reading Camus' The Stranger in the sense that the main character does not... cannot... function as a proper human being. I would say that this book was actually a better exploration of that same theme:

    How does one know if they're human?

     

    9/10

     

  6. How are we defining difficult? Some literary fiction is immensely readable, some is appalling. I suspect that's true of most genres.

     

    I sometimes wonder if the notion of 'difficult literature' isn't actually something the literary establishment deliberately promote themselves. They want certain books to have touch of snobbery to them.

     

    The very notion that books can be difficult might be what puts some people off. 

     

    Then again some people just like some escapist detective nonsense. 

  7. After reading the first 15 pages, I wanted to put this book down and quit. The narration was all over the place and had a style reminiscent of stream of consciousness without ever quite being stream of consciousness. I hated it. But I continued regardless and gradually the narrative style started to pull me in. The writing is lyrical and disjointed but flows in a way that mesmerises. I've never really liked stream of consciousness writing but this was wonderful to read with a strong sense of the characters and the world they inhabit without ever describing anything in the traditional sense. It was like hearing someone's thoughts but without the gibberish you so often get with the stream of consciousness style (in my opinion, a lot of mediocre writing is hidden behind that particular genre).

    This was elevated by more poetic and fluid writing. Some of it was broken up by images and thoughts that left you uncertain about what was happening. Other times, it flowed beautifully and wouldn't let you go. Some of the images and ideas expressed were really wonderful. Two that stood out for me were when she described her grandmother's dementia without ever using the word; she simply referenced her grandmother 'outliving her own reason by six years.' Then there was also the wonderful (and worrying) idea that whenever someone dies, we all move up in the pecking order. That made me laugh because it's literally true. Next time you hear about a celebrity dying, take a moment to contemplate the fact that you just moved up one slot.

    Anyway, the plot is a biographical story about the narrator growing up in communist Romania and dealing with a state that daily interferes in their lives. She and her college friends have to write secret letters to each other and will often sing banned songs, all while dealing with a state officer (and his dog) who regularly interrogates them. Suffice it to say, they all dream of escaping the socialist utopia and regularly take comfort from the many rumours regarding the dictators poor health.

    I absolutely loved this book. It was rich and human and beautiful. There was even a touch of magical realism and poetry to it. I wouldn't recommend it lightly because the style might not be to everyone's tastes but for me, it was a wonderful piece of literature. You can see why Müller won the Nobel prize.

     

    8/10

     

  8. I decided to read this because it was free on Kindle.

    My only real knowledge of Black Beauty came from snippets of the Thames TV show of the mid-70s which made it seem like Black Beauty had various weekly adventures (essentially a horse version of the Littlest Hobo). But actually, the book is a life story, one narrated by none other than the horse (very original for 1877) and has short pithy chapters which presumably explains why it became so popular with children. It's essentially the tale of all the people that own Black Beauty through his life and the various jobs he has as a working horse.

    Most of the book is rather tame and there's some obvious moralising about the ill-treatment of horses during the Victorian era. Apparently, the descriptions of cruelty caused by 'bearing rein' (keeping the horses head up) enraged readers so much that it was quickly made illegal as a result of the book.

    I enjoyed the chapters where Black Beauty becomes a London cab horse and dashes around the various streets from station to station or picks up drunken revelers at 1am. And obviously the cruelty is not nice to read but it's generally kept to a minimum without ever getting too dark. But more than once Sewell has a bad human character get his comeuppance for such behavior. Oh, and there seems to be a great deal of criticism regarding the over consumption of alcohol. And one thing I didn't like was how each new owner gave Black Beauty a new name; perfectly understandable why they would but it occasionally meant hearing a name (Jack for example) and thinking... who the hell is Jack? before realising it was Black Beauty's newest name. But the book has a happy ending. And Black Beauty even ends the book with his original name.

    The book wasn't anything spectacular but it was perfectly fine. And suffice it to say, it's difficult to read without hearing that damn 70s theme tune constantly playing in your head.

     

    7/10

     

     

  9. That reminds me.

     

    I'm currently reading Black Beauty on Kindle and every now and then there'll be a name of a person or a street but it will be blank (or a solid black line) such as 'I went to meet him on B------- Street and etc.'

     

    I've noticed this before with other classics I've read on Kindle but never known why.

  10. A book will always have a sensory tactile pleasure to it which an electronic device can't ever replicate.

     

    I've read a few books on Kindle and the experience was fine (though when I want to quickly read a chapter, it becomes a pain to click on the icon, wait a thousand years for it to load, then click on the book I want, then wait another thousand years before the thing comes up).

     

    And I agree with the article about having a better sense of mapping where you are with a real book. There's a sense of knowing where, both in terms of the chapters and the book as a whole, certain paragraphs and sentenced are, and how deep into the book you are. Kindle tells me I'm 61% into a book but it still doesn't mean very much to me. Whereas a physical book gives you a constant sense of knowing where you are. 

  11. 1 hour ago, Tay said:

    Obscure doesn't sell Hux, surely you know that.

     

    I'm not asking for a prime time show. Stick it on channel 4 at midnight on a Wednesday and make sure the guests all have five pints before they go on.

     

  12. 50 minutes ago, Tay said:

    Of course there are comedians as guests they help draw people in but there have been newsreaders and writers. And why dismissive of comedians? Lots of comedians are university educated, Bill Bailley has an English degree, Ade Edmondson studied drama, Sara Pascoe studied Philosophy at Cambridge.  It's not aimed at Booker Prize novels, I doubt there would be much of an audience for that. I disagree that the guests were people who didn't read much, they all talk about their reading tastes etc. I except it's a lightweight programme but it is only on for 30 minutes so not much time to expand on that. Perhaps if it is successful it may lead to more programmes on books on TV. 

     

    LOL, I don't doubt that they're university educated. That's part of the problem. I'd much rather see members of the public (certainly non-BBC carousal types) or actual writers speaking about books that are more obscure. Plus, most of the books they'll be promoting on the show are the very same books that probably need the least promotion. Shows like this don't lead to more (or better) shows, they usually just lead to more of the same (the great British book-off can't be that far away). There's a handful of exceptions to this and I noticed Rick Stein chose 'The Leopard' which is a book I love. But they discussed it for about 30 seconds them moved on (and he kinda spoiled it by suggesting you watch the film first??).

     

    I'll keep an eye on it but it feels like an extended version of Mock the Week or something. But each to their own. My main gripe is the type of books they generally discuss. Do you follow any YouTube book reviewers? There's a couple I like including 'Better Than Food' which is what I'd much rather see on TV.

     

    Meanwhile, this is what we used to get. A mainstream chat show where Gore Vidal and Normal Mailer express their hatred for each other. Today, a programme like this would be tucked away at 2am on Sky Arts. 

     

     

  13. I posted this on the other forum...

     

    "I wasn't very impressed with the first series as it's the same carousal of panel show comedians (who clearly don't read much) discussing their favourite books. I'd much rather they had guests with a bit more weight to them. Plus, the contemporary books they choose are standard detective novels and mainstream fluff. 

     

    The only one from series one that caught my eye was 'Hangover Square.'

     

    Anyway, there's a series two coming... 

     

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1zRxrpdZTYNlKPdVpzZyyMs/twelve-brilliant-books-to-set-you-up-for-a-summer-of-reading"

  14. One day, Dr Rieux begins to notice some dying rats and worries that something bad is coming. Sure enough, the small Algerian coastal town of Oran is soon struggling under the weight of the plague. The narrator (unknown until the final chapter) explains how the town endured this period by exploring the stories of a handful of characters in the town, predominantly focusing on Dr Rieux. Then there's Tarrou, a visiting businessman, Rambert, the journalist, Grand, the government clerk, and Cottard, a man with mental health issues. Then, of course, we have the priest, Paneloux, who has a unique perspective and role given the circumstances.

    The book is brilliantly written and the language flows nicely. There are moments that generalise the events of the plague then there are moments that zero in on specific events. For example, there is a dark and unforgiving chapter which focuses on the fate of a young boy with the disease and we watch as Rieux and Paneloux cope with what they are forced to witness. Understandably, this affords Camus an opportunity to inject some of his absurdist philosophy into the book. When told by Tarrou that his victories will never be lasting, Rieux responds: 'Yes, I know that. But it's no reason for giving up the struggle.'

    From a covid perspective, there's a lot that's familiar. People wearing masks, people washing hands, people dealing with separation from their loved ones. There are lockdowns (literally the town is locked down) and quarantines. There are moments where they (mistakenly) think it might be over, moments where they speculate on the efficacy of the serum/vaccine. It really was quite fascinating to read all this under our current Covid circumstances. Even the people who refuse to accept the Draconian rules are present here (Rambert himself, at one point, plans to escape the town). And then, of course, there's the conversations they have about what life will be like once the plague is finally over. To which one of the characters replies: 'there will be new films.'

    Some things never change.

    Of course, it's not possible to read this book without seeing the Nazi analogy. Is Camus writing about a plague or is he writing about fascism? Clearly both. With that interpretation in mind, some of the things he says become more pointed and disturbing. Especially the final line of the book where he describes the 'plague' as dormant....

    "... it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers, and perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city."

    A wonderful piece of literature. 7/10

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