Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Unable to concentrate

I borrowed Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, a brick of a book of 800 pages or so. I figured I'd have something to read at leasure during my maternity leave, while waiting for babba to arrive.

But I CANNOT concentrate enough to get into a Victorian novel about prostitutes and sex and whatnot. And babies being fed booze to shut them up? - not the best thing for me right now. So I'll be taking this back. I need something more light-hearted. Those chic lit detective stories I bought are being saved, and anyway my eldest daughter took them to read. I'm trying not to think about how age-inappropriate they probably are... this is how desperate I am for her to read something, anything!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ooops, forgot one

Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick: A novel we've had lying around for aaages. The undertitle (ehrm, or whatever it's called...) always put me off: "The devil has all the best tricks..." I mean, really. But when desperate... it seems much better than the title when you read the cover blurb after all.

Faust lives in Nuremberg at the turn of the 15th century or thereabouts. He is disillusioned with the so-called science of the time, because he has come to the conclusion that it is all based on lies. While burning his books in anger he opens his mind and begs for any higher power to help him find the truth, and he is contacted by Mephistopheles. This is an artificial creature from an alien world, a different dimension maybe?, whose creators hate humans because their life span is longer then theirs (or something to this effect). Anyway, Mephistopheles will give Faust all the knowledge he desires if he will promise to always listen to him, because he knows that this will end with the destruction of mankind. He shows Faust this, but Faust chooses to enter into agreement with him nonetheless. Now Faust is given knowledge galore, and the world rapidly makes jumps into the 20th century and is industrialized, while keeping mediaeval laws.

Sounds pretty good, right? Sci-fi-promising? Well, it wasn't really. It's not badly written, I just couldn't give much of a toss about any of the characters, and it was too much about (base) sex, all cocks and cunts and blah blah blah. I totally skimmed the last bits. I think it kind of ends with Faust becoming a sort of Hitler with nuclear weapons (implied), and thus mankind will be ruined. Hm.

Aaaahhhhhh maternity leave...

No baby yet, but I'm off work now. Excellent. Let's just hope my baby turns out as cute as Frida's, eh? I've had naps. I've cleaned the microwave, and sliced up my finger on the sharp edge underneath it - be warned! Then I didn't clean anymore. At church today I found two chic lit crime novels by Elaine Viets in the second-hand book box, so I got them to read at the hospital. Let's keep it simple, that's my motto!

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: Well, since I've read the others I might as well read the début I thought, so I lugged this brick of a book around a few days in my bag. It's a trifle more epic in character than her later work, i.e. it spans a greater amount of time, but essentially the style is the same, and the underlying themes also. I did like it, but I haven't found it as memorable as I thought. I haven't really carried any of the characters with me after reading it. It's a great début though, I can see why it was a hit. She does command her language.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: I was recommended Sarah Waters, and have waited a while for it to be available at the library. The book is set in the late 19th century, and tells of two girls, one wealthy and living with an excentric and unpleasant uncle, and the other an orphan who grows up with fingersmiths, i.e. petty thieves. "Their fates are entwined", as the cover puts it. They are tricked into attempting to trick each other, despite the attraction they feel for each other. The story has a good few twists and turns, and I was surprised by it. However, essentially I found it quite dull, to be honest. I found myself skimming the last few chapters towards the end, I didn't really care. Tremendously disappointing, I had such high hopes! I might try another one, otherwise Waters is just not for me I'm afraid. :(

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ellis Peters: The Heretics Apprentice

I hadn't read this one, so nice surprise to find it! A classic Cadfael story. The "twist" this time is that we have a small inquisition to deal with, and thus get some theological arguments - nothing I'd call particularly deep though.

A Shrewsbury native, who years ago went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, returns in a coffin with his faithful servant who has travelled with him the entire time. There is some hesitation as to whether he should be allowed burial in the abbey, as was his wish, since he might have held heretical views, but this is soon resolved. However, the servant appears to hold similar opinions, and must stand to answer for them. He also brought a dowry for the dead man's adopted daughter, which makes members of the household see their and her future in a new light...

Pretty story, and I liked the angle.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zadie Smith: The Autograph Man

In the ardour of my new-found love of Zadie Smith I read The Autograph Man, a story about four Jewish men who have been friends since boyhood and have different views on their religion and life. The main character is Alex-Li, a half-Chinese Jew who makes his living selling autographs and other memorabilia. The book starts out from the perspective of his father, Li-Jin, who takes his son and two friends to a wrestling match (where they meet the fourth member of the group of friends) on the day when he dies (from a brain tumour he's kept secret from everyone. Then it moves on to Alex-Li, twenty-something years later. Alex is obsessed with the actress Kitty Alexander, who is a recluse and hasn't signed an autograph for, like, ever. After an acid trip in an attempt to reach Kabbalistic understanding he has an autograph, and while his friends (Adam the black Jew, his sister Esther (also Alex' girlfriend), Rubinfine the rabbi and Joseph the insurance salesman) all think he forged it while tripping, Alex thinks it's real. And then he gets another one in the post, thus proving him right. So on a business trip to NY he looks Kitty up, to thank her.

The book is at times hilariously funny, and also very moving. The bit where Li-Jin, wearing nothing but a t-shirt, breaks down in tears at his own mortality in front of the BBC test screen, using a turkey sandwich as a hanky, is both ridiculous and so tragic it tore my heart out. In my opinion it petered out a bit towards the end, since it felt almost too slapstick in mood - there's only so much of Alex-Li getting drunk that can be funny after all. I'd still recommend it as a good read though. Smith has a lovely turn with metaphore, I like that.