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review 2017-12-18 22:13
The Green Man / Kingsley Amis
The Green Man - Kingsley Amis

A ghost story for adults. Like all good coaching inns, the Green Man is said to boast a resident ghost: Dr Thomas Underhill, a notorious seventeenth-century practitioner of black arts and sexual deviancy, rumoured to have killed his wife. However, the landlord, Maurice Allington, is the solewitness to the renaissance of the malevolent Underhill. Led by an anxious desire to vindicate his sanity, Allington strives to uncover the key to Underhill's satanic powers. All the while, the skeletons in the cupboard of Allington's own domestic affairs rattle to get out too.

 

Maurice Allington is not the kind of guy you want to get mixed up with—he may be the well-known proprietor of the inn The Green Man, but he drinks far too much, ignores his wife and daughter, and spends his free time propositioning his friend’s wife. When he starts seeing things around the inn, we have to wonder if his drinking has finally addled his wits, for Maurice certainly doesn’t believe in the ghosts that he advertises to lure guests.

I remember a TV show based on this book, which I skipped based on how much the ads for it disturbed my peace of mind. Maybe I should have watched, because the book didn’t bother me a bit! I found Maurice to be completely unreliable as a narrator of his own experience—too alcohol impaired to be trusted—and since no one else shares in his visions/delusions, I was able to control my imaginative faculties and remain calm. As Maurice reflects a one point, “I thought to myself how much more welcome a faculty the imagination would be if we could tell when it was at work and when not.” But mine doesn’t work that way—it is often overactive when I would like it to mind its own business.

A good ghost story for people who normally don’t care for them.

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review 2017-12-11 22:30
The Drowned and the Saved / Primo Levi
The Drowned and the Saved - Primo Levi

The author tries to understand the rationale behind Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen. Dismissing stereotyped images of brutal Nazi torturers and helpless victims, Levi draws extensively on his own experiences to delve into the minds and motives of oppressors and oppressed alike. Describing the difficulty and shame of remembering, the limited forms of collaboration between inmates and SS goalers, the exploitation of useless violence and the plight of the intellectual, Levi writes about the issue of power, mercy and guilt, and their effects on the lives of the ordinary people who suffered so incomprehendingly.

 

How in the world do I rate a book like this? I guess its four stars, because I didn’t find it to be quite as engaging as Night or Man's Search for Meaning, but it was still an un-put-down-able book. I’ll be reading more of Levi’s work, without a doubt. The voices of these Holocaust survivors become ever more important as attrition takes them from us and their story becomes doubted by some.

The Drowned and the Saved is a powerful metaphor for the concentration camp experience. Those who emerged became the Saved, those who perished became the Drowned. As in the two books that I referenced above, Levi tells us that those who appear to be the Saved had to do some brutal things to get that status. He goes so far as to say that all the good people were among the Drowned. So how was he to feel about himself, supposedly one of the elect? His death in 1987 was ambiguous—officially ruled as a suicide, but it may have been an accident.

He says that the Saved were the prisoners who didn’t actually touch bottom while in the camps. It seems that he may have hit bottom well after the fact.

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review 2017-11-28 17:42
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 6 - Bodhi Day: Entrepeneurship
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

I have a suspicion bordering on phobia of pretty much every book being marketed as the greatest thing since sliced bread; and after this book won the Booker Prize, that suspicion / phobia certainly came into play big time here.  So it was that it took me almost 10 years, and the discovery that there is an audio version read by Kerry Shale, for me to go near it after all.

 

The White Tiger is, ostensibly, a letter by one Ashok Sharma (aka Balram Halwai) to the Chinese Prime Minister who, All India Radio has just announced, intends to visit Bangalore in order to learn about entrepreneurship -- and that magic word has caught Mr. Halwai's attention:

"Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don't have entrepreneurs.  And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs.  Thousands and thousands of them.  Especially in the field of technology.  And these entrepreneurs -- we entrepreneurs -- have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run America now.

 

You hope to learn how to make a few Chinese entrepreneurs, that's why you're visiting.  That made me feel good.  But then it hit me that in keeping with international protocol, the prime minister and foreign minister of my country will meet you at the airport with garlands, small take-home sandalwood statues of Gandhi, and a booklet full of information about India's past, present, and future.

 

That's when I had to say that thing in English, sir.  Out loud.

 

That was at 11:37 p.m.  Five minutes ago.

 

I don't just swear and curse.  I am a man of action and change.  I decided right there and then to start dictating a letter to you.

 

[...]

 

Don't waste your money on those American books.  They're so yesterday.

 

I am tomorrow."

And so, over the course of seven nights, Mr. Halwai proceeds to tell the story of his life, from a poor childhood in "the darkness" on the shores of the Ganga (Ganges), to an existence as a rich man's driver and servant in Delhi -- until fate puts the means into his hands to "better" himself and at last become the "entrepreneur" as who he presents himself to his reader: having watched and learned from his observations in his Delhi master's service until he himself had mastered the Indian game of business, politics, and public life; and firmly believing all the time that he really is, as a school inspector once made him believe, "that rarest of animals, the creature that comes along only once in a generation -- the white tiger." 

 

It's a tale set against a vast, colorful, chaotic and utterly depraved canvas: though I hate describing books by way of a reference to another author's writings, The White Tiger really does remind me of the early works of Salman Rushdie; there is the same sort of exuberant narrative voice, enjoyment of word play, humor, tumult of persons, events and sensous experience, and the same sense of urgency underlying the story being told -- albeit, however, with one crucial difference: Salman Rushdie's protagonists, particularly in his early novels, may be deeply flawed; they may even set themselves outside of formal law, but deep down, they are not amoral.  Yet, there is no question that this story's narrator is; as are, indeed, the majority of the characters populating this book.  That didn't take away one iota of my enjoyment; in fact, anything but a profoundly amoral narrator wouldn't have worked in this particular context, and the last thing Balram Halwai himself wants is the reader's compassion or sympathy -- he wants his applause. 

 

But to the extent that the "white tiger" himself is a product of Indian society, this book also operates as lacerating an indictment of modern Indian society as is possibly conceivable -- even if the indictment of a writer who seeks to cure ills by mercilessly exposing them -- and that, too, is a distinguishing mark from Rushdie's writing: Rushdie, even during and in the aftermath of the fatwa (which had made him persona non grata in India just as in the Muslim world and even in certain places in the West) never lost his abiding sympathy for India.  He was (and is) certainly not blind to its manifold flaws, but the Indian subcontinent he describes, and its representatives in his books, always have some sort of redeeming quality that counterbalances an undeniable ill; and they're frequently a heck of a lot more sympathetic than the same novel's Westerners.  When it comes to India, Rushdie would, I think, always argue that people are flawed, society is made up of people, and hence society is necessarily flawed -- but people, and hence society, are / is way too multifaceted to be reduced to their flaws only.  Mr. Adiga might even agree on this; The White Tiger doesn't read like a book written by someone who has given up on his country and is just airing his grievances.  But he clearly believes that shock therapy, albeit sweetened by humor, is what is urgently called for.

 

The one thing that probably contributed most to my enjoyment of the wild ride on which Mr. Adiga invites his readers -- other than this book's narrative voice -- was its audio narration by Kerry Shale.  To stick with the Rushdie comparisons for a moment longer, in the Satanic Verses there is a character nicknamed "the man of a thousand voices": that, in a nutshell, to me is Kerry Shale.  There are many audiobook narrators that I greatly admire; yet, while they all manage to switch characters, and hence voices, and go from a rumbling bass to a high pitch and from the Queen's English to Texan drawl or any other sort of accent seamlessly and in the blink of an eye, and thus give each character their own, unique voice and personality, I have yet to come across any narrator who has perfected this ability to as high an art form as Mr. Shale -- and it's on marvelous display here as well.

 

I listened to this book for square 6 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bodhi Day: "Read a book set in Nepal, India or Tibet."  Given that the book's narrator works as a servant for the better part of the story, it would however also work for square 15 (Boxing Day).

 

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review 2017-11-26 16:20
Black Dogs - Ian McEwan

Vivre bien, ça sert à quoi si l'on est seul?

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review 2017-11-26 16:19
Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto

Quand on chemine sur un sentier de montagne sombre et désolé, la seule chose qu'on puisse faire c'est de trouver sa lumière soi-même.

Tout le monde est appelé un jour à se disperser dans le ténèbres du temps et à disparaître.

Je voulais toujours garder présente en moi l'idée que j'allais mourir un jour. Sinon, comment avoir la sensation d'être vivante?

Tous les gens qu'on aime meurent les uns après les autres. Et pourtant, il faut bien continuer à vivre.

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