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review 2016-12-14 20:24
The Siege of Krishnapur
The Siege of Krishnapur - J.G. Farrell,Pankaj Mishra

Later, while he was drinking tea at the table in his bedroom with three young subalterns from Captainganj a succession of musket balls came through the winder, attracted by the oil-lamp . . . one, two, three and then a fourth, one after another. The officers dived smartly under the table, leaving the Collector to drink his tea alone. After a while they
re-emerged smiling sheepishly, deeply impressed by the Collector’s sang-froid. Realizing that he had forgotten to sweeten his tea, the Collector dipped a teaspoon into the sugar-bowl. But then he found that he was unable to keep the sugar on the spoon: as quickly as he scooped it up, it danced off again. It was clear that he would never get it from the sugar-bowl to the cup without scattering it over the table, so in the end he was obliged to push the sugar away and drink his tea unsweetened.

The Siege of Krishnapur sounded fascinating - a depiction of the fall of the British Empire illustrated  in a small town in Northern India. 

I don't know whether this book fell victim to my reading slump, or whether it just missed the mark with me, but I could not get interested in any of the characters or the story, and on finishing, I don't even know whether I would have finished it at all if it had not won the Booker in 1973. 


It seems to me that The Siege of Krishnapur is one of those books that may have made more of an impression at the time it was written, but that has lost some of its appeal over time. Maybe the expectation of the book is to defy any nostalgia towards imperialism in its reader. But what if there is nothing to left to defy?


I don't know. This book maybe just wasn't for me. 

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review 2016-09-03 12:34
Hot Milk
Hot Milk - Deborah Levy

"Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach. It was tucked under my arm and slid out of its black rubber sheath (designed like an envelope), landing screen side down. The digital page is now shattered but at least it still works. My laptop has all my life in it and knows more about me than anyone else.


So what I am saying is that if it is broken, so am I."


Got to 21%, then skim read to the end.


Hot Milk is another selection from this year's Booker long list. As I tried to get into the story, it struck me that Hot Milk reminded me of John Fowles' The Magus. Too much.


Hot Milk seems to equal The Magus in pretentiousness - the sort of writing that is littered with profound statements and mentions of classical characters that seem impressive but don't really carry much meaning.


"As he talked I could see his soft, pink lips pulsing like a medusa in the middle of his beard. He handed me a pencil stub and asked me to please fill in the form:


Name: Sofia Papastergiadis

Age: 25

Country of origin: UK



The jellyfish don't care about my occupation, so what is the point? It is a sore point, more painful than my sting and more of a problem than my surname which no one can say or spell."


The overall story - a daughter trying to care for her mother while she undergoes treatment for a mysterious illness in Spain - is intriguing but the mystery doesn't hold up.


In a way, it is interesting that Hot Milk and Eileen were both on the Booker long list this year because they strike some very similar chords in that the "mysterious" element of the book is created by the characters and their situation.

Both seem to be self-deprecating young women who are being manipulated by the people around them, most of all their parents.  

(spoiler show)

So, it did make me wonder whether there was a particular trend this year or whether it just is that my current reading tastes are geared toward this kind of story (which is probably more likely).

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review 2016-09-02 22:19
Eileen: A Novel - Ottessa Moshfegh

I picked Eileen as one of the books that looked intriguing on this year's Booker long list. Mostly, I was drawn to the cover and to the premise of a dark mystery set in 1960s Boston.


Sadly, the book didn't deliver. Instead of the mystery, I got a story of misery and self-loathing. To be fair, this could have been intriguing as the book tried to focus on a character study of the main character, Eileen, who's life is made miserable by her having to care for her alcoholic father. There is mental abuse and despair. The situation is not helped by her working in a private prison for adolescent boys.

So, in a way Eileen spends her time in three prisons - the one she works in, the one she lives in physically, and the one she lives in mentally. 

I thought this was such a promising setup. However, as the story dragged on - even a character study needs some plot - I just wanted the book to end because it really wasn't going anywhere.


By the time I was ready to give up, we finally, FINALLY, had a plot twist. Unfortunately, it was a little too late and too outrageous to fit in with the preceding story. 

Seriously, it was such a rushed turn of events that I was not just underwhelmed but it made me wonder whether this afterthought had been suggested by an editor after the first draft had been delivered....Not impressed, and I have no idea how this ended up on the long list.


I have since picking this up read some reviews which try to compare Eileen to a Patricia Highsmith novel. I can see how someone would want to draw the comparison. It is flattering, but a Highsmith novel this is not. Maybe Mossfegh's next novel - if she decides to write another one of the same ilk -  will be, but Eileen lacked the atmosphere and the suspense to come anywhere close to justifying that comparison with one of the great writers of dark and twisted mystery thrillers.  

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review 2016-03-16 21:43
The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

"They ache like history: things long done with, that still reverberate as pain. When the ache is bad enough it keeps me from sleeping. Every night I yearn for sleep, I strive for it; yet it flutters on ahead of me like a sooty curtain."


The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize in 2000, but please don't hold it against the book, because, apparently, in 2000 the judges got it right.


I had long been intrigued by this book because of the cover - it looks very stylish - but I had no idea what the book would be about and almost expected this would be another one of Atwood's dystopian speculative fictions.


I was completely wrong. All my preconceptions were totally unwarranted. (Tho, there is a story within the story that is set on a different planet. And there is an alien. Well, in a manner of speaking.)


The Blind Assassin is a family saga set in Ontario and focuses on the lives of Iris and her sister Laura, beginning with one of the most hard-hitting paragraphs I have read recently:


"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens."


From there on we get the story of the sisters told in flashbacks through Iris' memory. However, from each memory, we also get this sense that there is much more to the story, that Iris is teasing our patience. 


"No: I shouldn’t have married anyone. That would have saved a lot of trouble."

Surprisingly, this slow reveal never gets boring. Atwood weaves in so many layers that each part remains interesting as its own story, but the big picture is only revealed at the end.

In the book, we have the story of a family dynasty, that is being threatened by new money. Then we have class struggle in the early 20th century. We have have a depiction of society and history of the 20th century. We have love. We have cruelty. We have fantasy and stark reality. We have style and ugliness, powerlessness and emancipation. We have submission and we have revenge.


What we don't really have in the book is hate. Having said that, I can't remember the last time I as a reader wanted to punch a character so much as I wanted to punch one in The Blind Assassin. So, even though there is not much hate in the book, there was at least one hateful character, and even though this character's fate is somewhat ambiguous, I am satisfied with my interpretation of it.

This is not the only element of mystery in this book but the one that made it hard for me to put the book down.


I'm sorry it is difficult to describe the plot, and I don't want to give anything away, but it really is not that often that a book fascinates me on so many levels.


And of course, there is Atwood's gorgeous writing.


"The school orchestra struck up with squeaks and flats, and we sang “O Canada!,” the words to which I can never remember because they keep changing them. Nowadays they do some of it in French, which once would have been unheard of. We sat down, having affirmed our collective pride in something we can’t pronounce."


I loved the way Atwood made the characters come to life. Each of them had their own quirks, their own edges - even the supporting characters - which made them feel very real.

On top of that, the main character, Iris, a sassy and cynical old lady, just did not put up with any nonsense. As funny as this sounds, Iris' comments also made me think about some of the issues she raises - even where she claims to dismiss them with snide remarks.


"I knew enough to know that the only thing expected of me was that I not disgrace myself. I could have been back again beside the podium, or at some interminable dinner, sitting next to Richard, keeping my mouth shut. If asked, which was seldom, I used to say that my hobby was gardening. A half-truth at best, though tedious enough to pass muster."

As you can see from the star rating, I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I would now count it as one of my favourites. Atwood has this brilliant ability to tell a gripping story and relate hard issues without being sanctimonious or crass. The book will keep me thinking for some time to come still.


"Some alert functionary caught my arm and slotted me back into my chair. Back into obscurity. Back into the long shadow cast by Laura. Out of harm’s way. But the old wound has split open, the invisible blood pours forth. Soon I’ll be emptied."

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text 2016-02-20 18:51
Reading progress update: I've read 61%.
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

"A paradox, the doughnut hole. Empty space, once, but now they’ve learned to market even that. A minus quantity; nothing, rendered edible. I wondered if they might be used - metaphorically, of course - to demonstrate the existence of God. Does naming a sphere of nothingness transmute it into being?"

Tim Bits rock!


I'm loving this book. It has so many levels of awesome.

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