Friday, October 22, 2010

Thank You!

Hi Guys, I went to an amazing swanky book launch this week!   The book in question was the 'Thank You Book' brought out  by the Irish Hospice Foundation.   Essentially, it is a rather beautifully jacketed and elaborate notebook done with various coloured pages, all formatted differently.   Every fourth or fifth page there is a brief, original comment from a huge range of authors - from Heaney and Friel to Mac Anna and Aesop - all on the theme of gratitude.   I think my favourite is Aifric Campbell's 'thank you for quiet company on dark roads'.   A most delightful addition to the Christmas gift market.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Booker Winner

Hey guys, in case any of you missed the news tonight, Howard Jacobson won the Booker Prize with The Finkler Question.  Here for you is a quicky review of his book.

The Finkler Question is a captivating and very funny account of one man, Treslove’s, desire to understand what it is to be a Jew while rather wishing he were one himself.   One of the three main characters in the novel is Sam Finkler, a popular philosopher and TV personality, who seems to so embody all the necessary characteristics that Treslove starts to refer to all Jews as Finklers and any oddities as Finklerisms.  

Libor, the third man and the oldest, has just lost the love of his life, his beloved wife, Malkie and his two old school friends, Treslove and Finkler join him for dinner to comfort him and to reminisce.   Following this dinner, Treslove – already in our eyes rather a sad figure, unlucky in love and work – is mugged and his life changes.   His quest for the core of Judaism while being at times highly amusing provides him with no real answers and some might take issue with his characterisation of the typical jew. 

Libor is a Zionist and Finkler is an anti-Zionist, a deliberate ploy by Jacobson giving him the opportunity to explore the current Israeli situation.  It is possible, however, that Jacobson is only using Treslove’s quest as a front for a search for explanation of all relationships in the world especially that of victimhood.   The humour is delightful and brilliantly sustained even bringing a smile on the last page.

While Jacobson’s writing is described as being both mobile and inventive, it lacks the precision and exactness of Kalooki Nights.   At times his verb-less sentences and awkward constructions look as if they need a good editor.   Nevertheless, it is a compelling novel and definite page-turner and an interesting study of male friendships.

I leave you all to judge if you consider it a worthy winner!

Never forget Banville!

After the exhilaration of McCarthy and before broaching the ‘Great American Novel’ [aka Franzen’s Freedom], I thought I would do a quick Banville, so to speak!   Personally I think Banville is not only our greatest living novelist but way out of the league of anyone writing in the UK today.   So long as Banville is writing, Beckett will never be dead.

I picked up Athena which I first read seventeen years ago and am now even more excited by it.   Athena is the third in a loose trilogy [Book of Evidence and Ghosts precede it] in which the narrator, Freddie Montgomery using the pseudonym Morrow, an ex felon, now an art critic, is involved in a shady plot to authenticate a collection of fakes.   One can see why Banville using an alter ego has turned his hand to crime writing as the plot in Athena cleverly hides all its clues in plain sight culminating in a delicious finale.

Morrow certainly has existential issues which make the reader query the substance of any of his narration but Banville handles themes of memory, identity and reality with masterly prose.  The entire novel has an oneiric quality.  The young girl, ‘A’, with whom he has a passionate affair, actually says at one point, ‘we’re just the same aren’t we, the two of us?   Hardly here at all’.   Banville juxtaposes this affair with Morrow's  relationship with an elderly aunt, Corky, thereby deepening the existential ambiguities.

Banville is a profound wordsmith and there are sentences, indeed pages, that one wants to read and reread for their sheer beauty.   [A dictionary in one hand and a Greek mythology in the other would not go astray!]   But, please, if you haven’t read Banville or not this one, do please!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Booker 2010

Hey Guys!   Your enthusiastic response to my opening sally prompts me to rush ahead with an opening review!   Next Tuesday 12th will see the annual Booker Prize knees-up with the announcement of the winner - and what a mixed bag of goodies is out there for the judges.   Professor Josipovici recently attacked those 'English pseudo-Modernists' - and I think he had the likes of Amis, McEwan et al in mind - but he can surely now rest easy that Tom McCarthy has erupted on the literary scene.   I say erupted because his previous novel, Remainder, got nothing like the exposure it deserved but now with 'C' he must surely triumph and claim the Booker. 

'C' has been described by one critic as steeped in high modernism and continental philosophy.   Certainly it is full of philosophic allusions and learned references that sit comfortably in what is at times a highly amusing novel and most readable.   It is imaginative, innovative and anti-realist.   McCarthy is a precise writer and master of language.   The book itself although described as a historical novel is not concerned with history but with ideas and minds.   One might think the period of the setting is particularly deliberate coinciding as it does with the emergence of modernism at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.   The book is structured in four sections andd the date of the final section set in Alexandria is 1922, the year of publication of Ulysses.   If it was his intention to link himself with the gret modernists, then he has succeeded.

If you still have doubts about reading this undoubted masterpiece, let me tell you a little of the story and no spoiler alert needed.   The first section of thebook holds all the clues to the protagonist, Serge's, development in life and all subsequent events no matter how cataclysmic are drawn from then.   The Carrefax household to which we are introduced is so composed as to allow great freedom to McCarthy in his frenetic intellectual gallop and, at times, wicked sense of humour. The sprawling country house with its several gardens - the Crypt Park, the Mulberry Orchard, the Maze, and so on whose names are carefully chosen - forms the backdrop for its curious inhabitants.   From the splenetic brilliant inventor father obsessed with telegraphy, to his deaf, silk-weaving wife - shades of Ariadne - to Serge's godfather, Widsun, a shadowy figure both benign and malign, and finally, to the elusive Sophie, his older sister who is consumed by and very accomplished in natural science.   She is the most significant person in Serge's life and his relationship with  her is of paramount importance.   The calamitous events involving her lead directly to his later bowel illness and accompanying blurred vision.   Serge spends long hours at night dabbling in telegraphy himself, listening to voices coming over the wires while contemplating the night skies and seeing or imagining shadowy figures in the gardens.   Serge is at once both in and not in the world, not so much suffering any existential angst but, rather, wwith a phenomenological grasp of life around him.   Studying art with his tutor, he experiences great difficulty with perspective viewing the world as flat, an image that is reinforced as an observer flying with the RFC in the war.

It would  be a great disservice to McCarthy to read this other than with great thought and deliberation and it is guaranteed to remain with one long after other Booker titles have faded.

Hey, check out McCarthy's Necronautical Society!   This man is a genius.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My first blog

Welcome to my book review blog where I hope you will share my interest in and love of books.