Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: "The Untouchable" by John Banville

I have always had a mixed reaction to the books of John Banville. I think he is a great writer, one of the best around easily, but sometimes, even in the books of his I have liked, I have found him, dry, overly literate and just plain boring at times. All of his books are narrated by a single person, usually male, who is not always reliable and obsessed with the past and their memory. This technique works well when the conflict that goes along with it is at least interesting, like his best book, The Sea, and The Book of Evidence, which is a book that I have changed my views on since reading it. But if it isn’t, the books falls to pieces and becomes needlessly difficult, such as Shroud, and the one I recently just read, The Untouchable, what I can easily say is the worst book I have read by Banville. The story concerning the ousting of Victor Maskell, and art critic and intelligence agent, as a spy for the Russians, is completely forgettable, and it is hard for me to conjure any scenes that I liked in it even though I just finished it yesterday. The writing is good as always, and I like how he makes the connection between Victor’s outing as a spy, to his outing as homosexual, making both his true professional and personal self two aspects of life that he can never reveal and indulge in. but as a whole through its 368 long pages, this book was a chore I couldn’t wait to get finished. I will allow an author I enjoy reading a few slip-ups, and this is Banville’s first. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, I highly suggest you do, but I cannot recommend this one.
Rating: 2/5

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: "Wonderful, Wonderful, Times" by Elfriede Jelinek

While it does have its opponents, I think I can safely say that Wonderful, Wonderful Times by Elfriede Jelinek might be the most unpleasant book I have read. As far as the themes that it presents, the people it characterizes and the places that it goes, it leaves behind a repugnant residue that sticks to you, and not in the good kind of way books like Mysterious Skin or The Dinner do. While I surmise that it was Jelinek’s intention to do so, in order to comment on the post-war sense of violence and unease in Austria, I don’t think that is a valid excuse for writing a book like this. And while the themes it presents are wholly unpleasant no matter how well you can talk around them, that feeling is surpassed by how uncool everything this book presents comes off. The story begins with three youths in the late 1950’s mercilessly beating a middle-aged man. It is violent scene that sets the stage for a book that is relatively plotless. The four youths are twins Rainer, named after the poet and Anna, who is the most oddly violent of the group. They are joined by the older Hans, and Sophie, Rainer’s girlfriend, and the only aspect of his life that isn’t dominated by his misinterpreted sense of nihilism that affects everyone else in his group. These are very shallow people, who judge people by their levels of intelligence, and think nothing of drowning a cat to demonstrate a theory in a Sartre book. It all culminates in a casually violent act just as they realize how wring they are. I can’t fault Jelinek for showing these kinds of people getting their comeuppance, but it is this same kind of phony cool approach to violence and its consequences that make American Psycho such an outdated and archaic book. I’d say skip this one, unless you can handle something that looks so closely at awful things.
Rating: 2/5

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: "Doctor Sleep" by Stephen King

While I don’t think it is as good as a book like 11/22/63/, Doctor Sleep, the long awaited sequel to Stephen King’s most famous novel, The Shining, is proof positive that the master has matured quite a bit after his 60th birthday. There seems be a great eloquence and vast knowledge that exist in novels like the aforementioned 11/22/63 and Under the Dome that you don’t see in his books from the 90’s. There is more at stake, lives seem to be worth more, and the idea of losing them is heartbreaking and earth shattering. And there is also a strong sense of regret in these later books, like the sadness over lost love and opportunity in 11/22/63 that really strikes a nerve. In Doctor Sleep, those things do exist, but I do not feel that when things get going, that there was a lot at stake. Danny Torrance, the young boy with the shining, is all grown up, and the demons from that fateful time at the Overlook have driven him to drink and despair. But he finds solace in a small New Hampshire town as a hospice worker, and his musings with Abra, a person who shines even more than he did. When a group calling themselves the True Knot, who feed on the torture they cause to kids who shine, set there sights on Abra, Danny finds a reason to fight. As far as villains go, the True Knot never feel like a real threat, even Rose, the leader, comes off as a joke. The real horror and intrigue of this piece come from the stories of the past, from Dick Halloran’s story about his evil grandpa, to the development of Abra’s abilities. These small moments make up for a story that really doesn’t pack much of a punch.
Rating: 4/5

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" by Yukio Mishima

My old friend from my community college days loved Yukio Mishima. I was curious about him, mainly because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his death. Normally tales like that one usually confound a writer’s legacy, for the worst most of the time. But after reading Mishima’s novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, I can safely say that he was one big bag of crazy, in equal parts creative and normal life. I have to say first, that the book is a good one: it is well written and has a certain poetical, philosophical feeling in the prose that I really gravitated toward and caused me to think deeply on the complexities of life. But I’d argue that that really isn’t a good feeling to have, especially with what Mishima is trying to convey through his writing. He presents a rather harsh and brutal view of life that doesn’t apply to modern times, and he does so with absolutely, positively no sense of humor. The story is simple: a young boy with a stutter finds solace and also a kind of living, breathing deity in a golden palace that he studies at in order to become a monk. He obsesses over it until the point where he loses sight of reality and dreams of being the one to destroy it. Reading the book, you get a strong sense that everything here is a joke that Mishima is the only one not in on it. The main character is not as bad as Holden Caulfield, but he is cut from the same cloth of solipsism and delusions of grandeur. But what the book says about being true to yourself, even when it is clearly going against what others think is right, is a good, yet risky ideology, but one that needs to be updated from the kinds of ancient and unhealthy thoughts that Mishima used to live his short life.
Rating: 4/5

Review: "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth

I find it a bit hard to criticize a book by Philip Roth, a writer whose influence, success and staying power is second to none as far as American writers go. And even if I didn’t like The Human Stain, there are books out there that I like and will like (such as Everyman, which I read a few years ago, and Sabbath’s Theater, which seems to be a big one with him, which I plan on reading next year). Despite the press this books got because of the movie and the awards it got, mainly the PEN/Faulkner Award, I see why this book is not one many critics look back on fondly, following Roth’s rather gracious and humble exit from the world of writing a little bit ago. The book is more than a bot long-winded and over-written, and although the ideas it presents are still in question today, the framework Roth uses is horribly outdated. The story is a bit too simple to cover its almost 400 page length. Coleman Silk, a former dean of a liberal arts college, after being forced to retire after rather bogus charges of racism that lead, indirectly to his wife’s death, starts having an affair with Faunia Farley, an illiterate janitor at his former college, carrying around a lot of baggage and a psychotic ex-husband, who is intent on making her suffer for a past tragedy. The story, narrated by Roth’s fictitious author Nathan Zuckerman, is a bit too thin to cover the book’s length. It would have been better if it was 200 pages at the most, and the story wouldn’t have faced unnecessary roadblocks in the form of Coleman’s past. The book is set in 1998, and the time spent on the Clinton scandal to showcase the ideas about what people sacrifice on the alter of political correctness does work, but it makes the story feel really dated. But the book is funny though; a scene where Faunia’s ex is thought to have stolen her vibrartor is quite hysterical. There is probably a better place to start with Roth than this.
Rating: 4/5