Saturday, 19 May 2018

THE PATRIOTS by Sana Krasikov

This book just shows you how hard it is to write a good book.  It has lots of good elements: sweeping family story, tragic Russian setting, etc.  And yet somehow it never quite rises about servicable, and I didn't care enough to finish it. 

The main and most interesting story is about a young American woman in the 1930s who has a holiday romance with a Russian man who is there on a business trip. Unfortunately she does not do what you are supposed to do with a holiday romance, that is, just do more Facebook stalking than you will admit to, and forget about it.  Instead she up and follows him to Russia.  Naturally, he is horrified.  She is horrified too, as Russia is nothing like the paradise he had written about in his letters.  This is because, as he points out in an awkward reunion, he has to write something for the censors.

To get a visa, she gives up her American passport at a Moscow government office.  BIG MISTAKE.  Apparently the Russian government at that time was laying hands on many American passports - telling people they were 'lost in the mail' and so forth.  The woman tries to go to the American embassy to get a new passport. but as she has no passport, they won't believe she is American; they weren't that excited to get back all these potential commies.  She ends up spending the rest of her life in Russia, and that life includes quite some prisons and labour camps.

Anyway, Gulag Archipelago it is not.  Also all of this could have been prevented by Facebook.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

LIKE SODIUM IN WATER by Hayden Eastwood

I never review books where I know the author

FROST IN MAY by Antonia White

This is a neatly written novel about a child's life in a convent school.  It is based on the author's own experiences in the early twentieth century, and it is as impressively weird as you hope such a place might be.  They bathe in cloaks, so as not to see their own bodies.  They try to sleep on their backs, with their hands crossed on their chests, so they will be neat if they die in their beds.  They are not allowed to have particular friends.  They are not supposed to enjoy things they are good at. 

Unsurprisingly, the author does not emerge from this unscathed.  In fact, she is pretty well scathed. A  novel she has half completed is confiscated by a nun, and she is expelled.  So terrible does she find this, that she doesn't write again for twenty years, and when she does it is simply to tell this story.  As strange website catholicwriters.com tells us, she never again felt enjoyment of artistic expression.

I admired the writing here.  It is careful and evocative.  I also enjoyed learning about a long dead world.  And yet somehow I can't say I really liked this book, for all it is so clearly deeply felt.  I guess it is just an example of the sad fact that your own painful experience is often just not all that interesting to others.  A good lesson for us all.

Friday, 4 May 2018

HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? by Sheila Heti

I'm staggered that this book not only got published, but has been highly praised.  It's basically stream of consciousness chat from some millenial.  What I have deduced is that New York publishing must be full of people who are too old to be millenials and are worried that they may appear irrelevant.  Thus, they don't want to come out and say, this millenial has no clothes.

 But I'll go ahead and say it, because I definitely think this young emperor is most certainly super naked.  I get the idea of trying to be super close to the real by actually just writing down what you really said, but damn, what if what you actually said was dull or embarrassingly self-indulgent?

Perhaps actually the self-indulgence is actually what bothered me most.  I'm not usually acutely aware of my status as a developing world immigrant, but this book made me feel it.  I genuinely can't imagine feeling that problems this minor deserve to be written up.  It's a scale of entitlement to happiness that I am both annoyed by and envious of.

Less you think I am exaggerating, let me tell you that one of the most important conflicts of this book is when one girl buys the same dress as another girl.

Let's end with possibly the only good paragraph in the book.  Well, I don't know about good.  At least horrifying:
We are all specks of dirt, all on this earth at the same time.  I look at all the people who are alive today and think, These are my contemporaries.  These are my fucking contemporaries!  We live in an age of some really great blow-job artists.  Every era has its art form.  The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel.  I just do what I an not to gag too much.  I know boyfriends get really excited when they can touch the soft flesh at the back of your throat.  At these times, I just try to breathe through my nose and not throw up on their cock.  I did vomit a little the other day, but I kept right on sucking.  

THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by Isabel Allende

Here is a book packed with all sorts of things.  It tells the story of three generations of a family in an unnamed South American countr...