Madness In Great Ones ( + Some Book Reviews)

The title’s so because I can’t think of anything else. It’s what I’m listening to right now, a track from Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder.

Right, publication updates: I can’t quite remember when I last did one of these or what I’d said, and I didn’t get much writing done toward the latter end of 2010 anyway, so I’ll just leave it with the latest one – “Hollowbody” for Philippine Speculative 6. Roar.

OK, how about recent books I’ve read then? I think I’m having an early onset of crabbiness and general just-can’t-be-pleased. I’ve been feeling uncharitable toward the last few books I’ve read; it’s getting really hard to find something I was really satisfied with at the end, let alone had me blown away. I think the last  one I was comprehensively happy with (i.e. fully engaged with from beginning to end) was Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End and that was quite a while back.


Beatrice and Virgil – Yann Martel

You know how using idol-worship as a basis for having the hots for someone is a bad thing because it’ll fizzle out quickly enough when he disappoints you? That someone is Yann Martel. Context: like many people, I had loved Life of Pi, which was absolute Shiver-Down-the-Spine material. Now I know about the curse of sophomore slumps so I set the bar lower for this one, but that didn’t help.  It started with huge, metafictional parallels between the protagonist and Martel himself about (well, whaddya know) sophomore slumps, which I really should have taken as a warning sign, except I was still too smitten with Martel and the fact that I had a crisp copy of his newest book. When the action started, I thought triumphantly, yup, Martel in full form and figure. Then it began to wane. The awesome factor, I mean. The initial clue-dropping regarding the key metaphor of the book started off as interesting because it felt like a quiz about how much you know of the Holocaust, but when it turned out that the Holocaust = animal extermination, I wasn’t quite buying it. But let’s say I did and wasn’t offended by the analogy, I still wouldn’t have been too happy about how it was executed.  Sledgehammering, cheap sentiments, and desperate melodrama so the story could end with a bang (quite literally) were involved, and I think a serious treatment of the Holocaust, which I do believe the book was aiming for anyway, could have used a lot more finesse.

Outside the Dog Museum – Jonathan Carroll

I  love this man’s blog and the book really wasn’t bad (or as grave as the cover is). It’s strange, inventive, surreal, and feels relevant. (Despite of or because of that?) I grew to care and sympathize with the main character, Harry Radcliffe, (something I’ve been doing less and less with protagonists of other books and movies lately) and the supporting characters were great fun. (Hassenhuttl entertained me a great deal, for some reason.)   My scruple is with the first third of the book, which was composed of a lot of cut-away scenes that didn’t feel like they had much direction and got me wondering if I wanted to stay along for the ride. I understood it as an introduction of Radcliffe, but I thought it ran too long before the action started happening and didn’t seem as necessary. Once it started, though, the story got a lot more enjoyable and had a climax that paid off. I think the first part was supposed to establish the douchebaggery of Harry Radcliffe to contrast with his later redemption, but incidentally I can’t say I was quite feeling it – probably because I got distracted with my impatience or I just have a pretty high tolerance of douchebaggery.

All miracles need an audience. One that’ll appreciate them. Frank Sinatra’s not such a hit in front of deaf people.

Remember Me – Melvyn Bragg

This was rather painful. Admittedly, this probably wasn’t the best book to start reading Melvyn Bragg with; it’s one of those types written when the author is so up there already that he can get away with unabashed autobiography or self-references (I was hit with the same thing with Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium, but that was mercifully short). Still though, look at all those adjectives on the front cover. I didn’t think that halfway through I’d be dying for the book to finish already. And it’s a massive one. Full of awfully good prose though, to Bragg’s credit, and almost Dostoevskian insight and perception into human behavior. But there can be too much of a good thing. The sheer length of the thing. You know when the temperature drops so low it doesn’t matter if it drops any lower because the pain’s all the same anyway? I’d say the same for the reader’s immersion into the thoughts and feelings of  Joe and Natasha, which are just on rinse and repeat for the greater half of the (have I said it’s massive?) book. I don’t think the length was justified at all, given how homogeneous the content was. Which could have been the point of the book, Life being protracted and repetitive and all, but I don’t think it had to be demonstrated so fully for us to get it.

…He did not have long to wait for the train. As he heard it come closer through the tunnel it was as if a massive magnetic force began to pull him towards the edge of the platform, drawing him towards the tracks, overwhelming his resistance, and as the noise grew louder the strength of the pull grew and he found himself swaying, helpless, about to be taken fatally forward by it and then the train broke out of the tunnel and charged towards him.

That’s it for today. Saving the others for later.


Posted on January 20, 2011, in Books, Music, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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