Sunday, May 25, 2008
The novel is based on an alternative history premise. During WWII the Alaskan town of Sitka attracted Jewish refugees and settlers, and after the war the US government gave the Jews autonomous control of the place for 60 years. In other words Sitka is an alternative to the state of Israel, which in this novel lost that first Arab-Jewish war in -48, and all the New Hebrews were driven out. Instead Sitka grows to a Yiddish city of over 3 million inhabitants. Our hero is Meyer Landsman, a noir-esque policeman with plenty of demons, who hides in his work and in alcohol, waiting for Reversion, when Sitka once again becomes American and all the Jews (almost) have to leave. He lives at a grotty hotel, and one night the manager wakes him and asks him to come look at a dead body in another room. This becomes a case that he gets told to drop, but can't. Instead he and his half-Indian partner-cum-cousin slog at it, to find some sort of truth.
The idea of the Yiddish culture living on is, in itself, fascinating. The shards that survived the Holocaust were all but swallowed up in life post-war, and perhaps especially in Israel's desperate desire to leave the shtetl behind once and for all. Here they all speak Yiddish, except to now and they say "fuck you" in "American". People play chess and klezmer, they eat kugel and pickles, no-one has neo-Hebrew names. Chabon's future yiddische Sitka is quite depressing though. Crime seems to be rife, but maybe this is just because it's a cop novel after all, and that's what they see. In an unusual twist one of the most powerful Orthodox rebbes is also a major crime lord - the ultimate break with shtetl subservience perhaps. Is it this bleak because Sitka is only on loan? Because the shtetl came with the Jews to Sitka (not my opinion necessarily, I think our hero Meyer Landsman voices it at some point)? Because all hope really has died after the Holocaust and death of the fledgling Jewish state? I haven't quite decided what the angle is - if there is any. I read (on Wikipedia) that it was being filmed by the Coen brothers. I wonder if they'll be able to pull off the many layers the novel has, or if it will end up one-dimensional - good cop with booze problem and hot ex-wife. The Coens don't have a one-dimensional track record by any means, but the novel is full of pitfalls. And language - are they going to film it in Yiddish? How are they going to manage that? If they don't they'll miss out on a lot.
I had a lot of things I wanted to write about The Yiddish Policemen's union, but I'm having trouble expressing my thoughts... Let me finish by stating that I definitely will be reading more of Michael Chabon. He's very good.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
None of this has anything to do with Phoenix Park, but Irish thinking is famously digressive.I like that a lot.
My fave bit I can't find at the moment, so I'll just have to lend you the book if you're interested. Worth it!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Bits of this book are very funny indeed, bits would be funnier if I knew who she was going on about, bits are just okay, bits are actually moving. I got it from my editor friend E, who got it via work and made the probably wise decision not to get it translated. It's not translatable, because we don't know who Antonia Quirke is, and there isn't much else of tremendous interest in the book. Although after having read it I can say she sounds rather nice, if a bit scatterbrained.
If anybody wants to borrow it let me know. There was more I was going to say about it, it's not crap so merits more than this scant post, but by now it's been a while and I've forgotten the goodest parts so to speak. I can say that if she could write about something more universal, it could turn out great.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Can’t remember how this book turned up in our house, but we own it. It must be the mister again. I like Ursula K, although I think she can be a little uneven as a writer. Her Earthsea books are of course classic. It took me ages to read them, I didn’t get around to it until I was an adult, and then I read them all in one sweep. The differences between the first ones and the last in the series became very apparent then. The first ones are, really, better as fantasy novels, since the latter ones are more argumentative. I’d hate to use the word preachy, but I had only four hours of sleep so I will, since my brain can’t find me another word. However, I haven’t actually read a lot of her books. That becomes clear now that I’m looking at her website, and seeing the very impressive bibliography. The library probably has it all, amassed during the decades of authorship, so I’ll just have to dedicate myself. (Speaking of library, I managed to run in today after work, and wasn’t allowed to borrow a book since I had a 55 kr debt on my card for late books. Embarrassing. They’d all been returned though (my lovely husband comes through once again!), so it was just a matter of giving them what coins I had to get the debt under 50 kr, which is the magic limit. Take heed, and learn from my absentmindedness!)
Anyway, according to said bibliography The Left Hand of Darkness is also part of a series (although I’m guessing more loosely held together) – the Ekumen novels. The Ekumen is a sort of space UN of the future, that with tremendous patience sends emissaries to non-member planets, to establish some form of peaceful relationship, simply for knowledge really. They only send one, because one alien will not be seen as an invasion. Enter Genly Ai, a (probably black) human who has come to the planet Winter, or Gethen, as an emissary of the Ekumen, a planet curious in that the inhabitants have no gender, and that it should really be too cold to sustain life. It is almost always winter. Only when Gethenians are “in heat”, in kemmer, which occurs on a cyclical basis, do they develop full-grown genitalia. But this kemmer-induced gender is not static. One person can both father children and give birth to them during a lifetime. The planet has two main large countries, one a traditional monarchy ruled by despotic and insane royals, who nevertheless give their subjects a lot of personal freedom compared to the other, a Soviet-type modern state that appears open and forward-thinking – until you’re sent to a prison camp, naked. Genly Ai unwittingly becomes a political pawn, and ends up depending on the only person he was sure he couldn’t trust.
Ms Le Guin wrote the novel expressly to explore the subject of gender and duality. Is gender necessary? What happens if there is no gender, if we’re not ruled by our gender roles? If they become meaningless? Gethenians cry freely, but can be tough too. In my opinion the novel has become rather dated in its handling of the subject. Genly Ai thinks too much like a human of the 1960s, which jars a little when we’re supposed to imagine him in a completely different time. He talks about his masculine pride being wounded, whereas I can already see that men are coming away from such notions. So those weren’t my favourite bits. But that aside, it’s quite a marvellous, different secondary universe Le Guin has created here. I really must read the book again some time, I think I missed lots. It’s surprisingly dense, and doesn’t explain much – preferring to throw you right into the story. My favourite type of fantasy/sci fi!
And here’s the baby, so the end for now….
Friday, May 09, 2008
I got a tad tired of this one, to be honest. There are too many puns and Bookworld jokes, and just not enough story. The Nursery Crime series looks like the better one at the moment – shame, because I love Thursday Next as a heroine. Love.Jasper Fforde at his best manages to combine nonsensical wit with real pathos and feeling, so his stories don't become ludicrous and merely flippant. But this one... hm. Doesn't cut it 100% at all.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
So, enough of the Livejournal-esque rants – Touchstone. *rubs hands with glee* This is a stand-alone novel, and I previously very much enjoyed Laurie’s stand-alones, I think especially Folly. Also, it’s very good for me, as a reader, to be forced to break free of the tyranny of a series and the characters therein. One does become a little too obsessed and stale I think. What can become true of the writer certainly can become true of the reader.
The story centres on Harry Stuyvesant, an American FBI agent – except not FBI, the other agency that preceded the FBI, the name of which escapes me at the moment, and I’m writing on the train (yes, the train now, because I had to keep going next trip) without the book at hand and no interwebz – who arrives in England to hunt for a bomber, a terrorist. His agenda is personal, so while he claims to be in
The idea of a person whose war experiences have left him supersensitive did, at first, strike me as more than a little naff, to be honest, and I blame that horrible tv series about the Vietnam veteran. You know, he’s developed superhearing and supersight in the jungle, and now he fights crime in that other jungle, the big city. And whenever he hears something four blocks away the camera sort of does this zoom-pan out-zoom-pan out thing that is really silly. As naff as Bionic Woman (or Man), the original. However, Laurie is a good enough writer to carry it off. Bennet is not naff. Actually. Nevertheless, I am not 100% happy with that theme, because I never really get into it as a main theme. The whole book is named after Bennet after all (the Touchstone), but somehow he never seems to really be the centre of things. Hm. But I am very tired and sleep-deprived, so I may be talking out of my arse.
The research is thorough, the writing is fluid, and I’m kept guessing about the culprit until the end (well done!). Nevertheless I found myself not completely riveted, and I’ve tried to think about why that might be. Possibly I expected something different, pure and simple, and was distracted from enjoying the book by those expectations.
Also, the book strikes me as a comment on current affairs in a sense (I think it sort of is, if I remember Laurie’s blog entries correctly, but again, I may well be mistaken), as it focuses on terrorism, bombings, what makes a terrorist and so on. Here, the terrorist is fuelled by the ideas of Anarchism. And since it is (a current-affairs-comment), I sometimes feel it slips into being just a tad too contemporary. There was a turn of phrase here or there that niggled at me.
However, I haven’t yet read a Laurie King I hated, and this certainly is no exception. Plus it’s SIGNED, which would make it a fave no matter what... I should take a photo. Maybe when I become a responsible adult.