Townhouse Books

Saturday, June 30, 2007

After Dark: Haruki Murakami

"After Dark" concerns the late night musings, minglings, and wanderings of a handful of people, radiating out from a starting point of a Denny's in Tokyo. The story of Mari and a boy who knows her sister, the women she meets who work in a "love ho" (love hotel) and hints of their lives, the overlay of every scene with music, especially jazz, the delightful cadence that is distinctly Murakami (or at least Murakami translated, since that is only how we know him) -- these are all wonderful and successful building blocks of a fantastic and fantastical tale.

The additional story of Mari's sister who is trapped in a deep sleep and occasionally transported, still sleeping, into her television by a man with no face, is frustratingly incomplete. The slim novel should have been only short vignettes of Mari and her night adventurers, leaving her sister out entirely, or it should be have been three times the length to actually tell the sister's story.

It's Murakami -- I don't expect a neat, pat ending. But I do expect to get more than an excerpt of a better, more developed, yet nonexistent Murakami novel.

(I suspect I will continue to mull over this book; I already found myself dreaming about it during a nap today. I just finished it about 10 minutes ago though and wanted more -- hence the frustration you're reading in this review now. If you like Murakami, consider reading this. If you've been feeling over Murakami lately however, this isn't the book that will bring you back.)


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And Then We Came to the End / Joshua Ferris

Fantastic. I got it from the library and now want to own my own copy. On the surface it's a story of an ad agency in the last throes of the 1990s Internet boom. But it perfectly captures the pettiness, drama, and greatness of office life (if you can believe that.) The author takes for granted that in our late-capitalist society, most of our personal time is actually spent at work, in a office, and probably in a cubicle. So while parts of the story play up the absurd in office interactions, other parts point out that our human drives for companionship, adventure, and love are still with us, just... in our crushing office jobs.

Stylistically the book is interesting, too. Almost all of it is in the present tense, and typically using "we" as the subject, rather than an individual person. Which sounds potentially annoying, but actually works beautifully.




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Monday, June 18, 2007

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Great Book. A future I can see. Wearable computing. Cooperative Assignments. World Powers working together. Cured Alzheimer patients struggling to reinvent themselves.
etc..

Did I mention Vernor prominently features library digitization projects, and deals with real world issues faced by such issues. You can see Google themes in the background.


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Lucky Jim: by Kingsley Amis

My favorite line:

"I just wondered," Beesley said, bringing out the curved nickel-banded pipe round which he was trying to train his personality, like a creeper up a trellis.


round which he was trying to train his personality... So good.

Another good one:

He felt for his cigarettes, but before he could use the offer of one of these as a means of breaking her pose, she switched back to him with a little smile which he recognized, with self-dislike, as consciously brave.


I picked this up after reading two reviews of the new Kingsley Amis biography. I've read a few of his son's books, Martin Amis, but had never read Kingsley.

In Lucky Jim, our protagonist, James Dixon, is a pathetic academic sinking in a field barely of his own choosing. He has a secret face he makes for numerous events, cruelly judges everyone (including himself) and observes life with a brilliant and wry turn of phrase.

Pros: Incredibly keen descriptions, satire that makes you laugh out loud, excellent prose, properly exposes the worst in people

Cons: Irritating main character, unpleasant people abound, and foreignness -- university life in England in the 1950s. Though a slim novel, I took an accidental break of it for about two weeks, actually forgetting if I'd finished it or not.

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Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure: by Sarah Macdonald

I thoroughly enjoyed this travel memoir, by a white Australian woman who moves with her reporter boyfriend to India for two years. Vividly she describes how overwhelmed she is at the beginning, and exactly what it feels like to be surrounded by so many people. Later she adjusts more often than not, becomes cruelly ill with pneumonia, loses all her hair, goes on spiritual journeys, etc. Many parts, especially interactions with her friends, are rather hilarious. I have never been to India but would be very interested in going if someone I knew lived there. The book made me even more interested in going, but also a little fearful. It seems just so exquisite and brutal in so many ways at the same time. Have any of you been? Anybody about to get an expat assignment there?

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Raw Shark Texts: Steven Hall

If you commissioned Alain de Botton to turn the movie Memento into a novel, but make it more science-fictiony, you might come up with something along the lines of The Raw Shark Texts. The protagonist wakes up with no idea who he is, and is guided by a series of letters from his former self. It's good, it's weird, and it features the crypto-zoology of purely conceptual sharks.


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Monday, June 04, 2007

Luncheon of the Boating Party: Susan Vreeland

This book is like a brain spa -- edifying but relaxing. It's a fictionalized account of Auguste Renoir painting his famous group portrait/landscape/still life, "Luncheon of the Boating Party", in 1881. Plenty of historical detail, art history theory, and interesting development of characters. This author also wrote The Passion of Artemesia, which was made into a film a decade or so ago.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Poison Study and Magic Study: Maria V. Snyder

In the first chapter of Poison Study, the narrator is dragged from a prison cell and offered a choice: be hanged for her crimes immediately, or agree to become the Commander's food taster -- a lifetime position. She takes the job, and her first assignment is not to die -- her employer gives her a near-lethal dose of poison to test her. When she survives the ordeal, she begins to study every known poison while also learning her way around the castle and figuring out who are her friends and enemies.

I didn't realize until I reached the end of the book (and that would be a few hours after I started the book, much later than I intended to stay awake that night) that it was the first of a series. It's too much of a spoiler to discuss the plot of the second book, but although it didn't benefit from that "shock of the new" excitement I felt about the first book it had a solid plot and continued to develop characters and relationships.

Apparently, there is a third volume forthcoming: Fire Study.


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