Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More mini-reviews

Here are four more mini-reviews of some books that I've read this year. For one reason or another, I've found it hard to find the words for these books. Enjoyed them all immensely, so I'm not sure why I found it hard to write about them?

Invisible by Paul Auster - Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Invisible opens in New York City in the spring of 1967 when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and studen at Columbia University meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born, and his silent and seductive girlfriend Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life. Three different narrators tell the story, as it travels in time from 1967 to 2007 and moves from New York to Paris and to a remote Caribbean island in a story of unbridled sexual hunger and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us to the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, authorship and identity to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as one of America's most spectacularly inventive writers.

Have I told you yet how much I adore Paul Auster? Someone I used to work with used to rave about Paul Auster and he slowly wore me down. I've now read 6-8 of his books and I'm almost saving the rest. I don't want to rush in and read them too quickly. He's just that sort of writer for me. But I find it very difficult to review his books. This one in particular. I've started writing it several times, get frustrated and delete everything. I really enjoyed it, though it was a bit weird. The first part is my favourite, maybe because it seems rather straightforward: Columbia student, Adam meets wealthy Born and together they make plans to start a literary magazine before an affair with Born's girlfriend and a random violent act gets in the way of things. Next, there's a bit about a sexual relationship between a brother and sister. The story heads off in an entirely different direction to Paris... and again to a Caribbean island.

I think sometimes Paul Auster likes to play with the structure of his novels and I think a lot more importance is placed on the way in which things are changed and the different perspectives, which I can see some readers not enjoying as much as I did. He brings up quite interesting themes, reoccurring themes in his novels, it seems - including memory and identity. I'm not the greatest at explaining it, please don't be put off by this sad attempt at a review! But I loved Invisible, it reminded me how much pleasure I get out of reading Paul Auster's work!

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris - He was going to lose the house and everything in it.

The rare pleasure of a bath, the copper pots hanging above the kitchen island, his family-again he would lose his family. He stood inside the house and took stock. Everything in it had been taken for granted. How had that happened again? He had promised himself not to take anything for granted and now he couldn't recall the moment that promise had given way to the everyday.
Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol. His wife Jane still loves him, and for all its quiet trials, their marriage is still stronger than most. Despite long hours at the office, he remains passionate about his work, and his partnership at a prestigious Manhattan law firm means that the work he does is important. And, even as his daughter Becka retreats behind her guitar, her dreadlocks and her puppy fat, he offers her every one of a father's honest lies about her being the most beautiful girl in the world. He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home. He loves his kitchen. And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking. THE UNNAMED is a dazzling novel about a marriage and a family and the unseen forces of nature and desire that seem to threaten them both. It is the heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away.

I've seen some mixed reviews of The Unnamed, some RAVE about it and others just didn't get it. For me, it was somewhere in the middle. It made me feel, I could tell there was a lot of emotion in the book, but I didn't really understand the message behind it all. Is it about taking people and things for granted? Is it about the things that we can and can't do for another person during marriage? Is it a struggle between the physical and the mental? It's probably all of those things, and I really enjoyed reading this despite not really knowing what the author was trying to tell me. I was on a train when I finished it and when I was done, I had to just sit and stare out the window and let it all kind of sink into my brain.

It was pretty painful reading the experiences of Tim and his family while this unnamed compulsion happens. To just get up and start walking. And Tim knows that if he can't control it, he'll lose everything. Again. His wife, his family, the job that he works so hard at. He just keeps walking until he doesn't, sometimes in the freezing cold, sometimes without shoes, with no specific destination in mind. It's pretty heart-breaking stuff.

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung - Four-year-old Romochka is alone, the apartment dark and empty. His mother vanished some time ago, and now his uncle too has not returned. The whole building is empty and cold. Snow begins to fall outside, but after a few days, hunger drives Romochka out into the Moscow cold, his mother's voice ringing in his ears. Don't talk to strangers. Overlooked by passers-by, he stands, shivering and indecisive, on the threshold. Suddenly he sees a large, yellow dog loping past and, on impulse, he follows her to her lair in an abandoned church outside the city. During the long, icy winter and the seasons that follow, Romochka changes from a boy into something far wilder. Under the watchful gaze of his dog-mother, he becomes part of the clan. He learns to see in the dark, eat anything the dogs find, attack enemies with tooth and claw, and understand the strict pack code. When he begins to hunt with his dog siblings in the city, he is drawn inexorably back into the world of human beings. It is only a matter of time before the authorities take an interest Eva Hornung's extraordinary tale of a latter-day Romulus in post-perestroika Russia is a devastating story of childhood, survival, family and life on the harsh edges of society.

Sometimes, I'll ask N to bring home books from the library near to where he works. It's in another county and so it sometimes has books that my local library doesn't carry. And sometimes, N will just pick up a book that he thinks that I might like. And Dog Boy was one of those books he just brought home. I wasn't sure of it at first, I'd never heard of it or the author before. But it came at the perfect time, as I was between books and wasn't crazy in love with any other books on my TBR pile. So I gave Dog Boy a chance .. and really enjoyed myself.

I liked the first half better than the second, as Romochka first goes to live with the dogs. Romochka has been abandoned by his uncle in Russia as the country is going through a lot of political and structural changes. It's easy for him to get lost. And this pack of dogs take him in and slowly Romochka beings thinking and acting more like a dog in order to survive and be useful within his pack. It's only when a younger pack-brother gets in trouble that he's forced back into interacting with humans beyong scavenging for food. A very interesting book and I'm glad I gave it a chance!

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle - 'My name is Paula Spencer. I am thirty-nine years old. It was my birthday last week. I was married for eighteen years. My husband died last year. He was shot by the Guards. He left me a year before that. I threw him out. His name was Charles Spencer; everyone called him Charlo.' "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" is one of Roddy Doyle's finest achievement to date, the heart-rending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after a violent, abusive marriage and a worsening drink problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable. Lean, sexy, funny and poignant, "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" shows, yet again, that Roddy Doyle has an unparalleled gift for transforming ordinary life into great literature.

I initially picked this book up because it was listed on the Social Justice Reading Challenge website, under Domestic Violence. I really wanted to take part in some way with this specific reading challenge, but my book arrived a bit late and I didn't get around to finishing it until after the month had finished. It isn't an easy book to read, this one. It's very sad and painful and honest. Paula Spencer's been through some rough times, from her own troubling childhood to her marriage to abusive Charlo to the time after she kicks him out and she's attempting to build her life again but struggling with her addiction to alcohol and her children's broken trust for her.

I think Roddy Doyle touches on some interesting things in the book, especially the way in which Paula and other girls and women learn about sex and sexuality in a really negative way and come to think of it as truth. The same probably goes for Paula's acceptance of domestic violence for so long as well. So much of this book is difficult to read, and I didn't find myself liking Paula very much, but I did sympathise with her and the things that she experienced. It was my first time reading Doyle. I don't know where to go from here!

And there we have it. I hope you enjoyed this little reading journey.


  1. I have always been put off by Roddy Doyle. I don't quite know why, I think his books scare me a little. I still need to read Paul Auster - I am thinking if you love him, I will probably like him too.

  2. That last Roddy Doyle book was dramatised by the BBC called Family. It was quite powerful.


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