July 27, 2014
Despite apparently being Australia’s most popular book, I put off reading Pride and Prejudice for a long time. I imagined it to be about dreary, terribly proper English people gossiping about how some lady exposed her ankle at a ball, and engaging in chaste, bloodless courtships while having their boots polished by peasants. Since I’d seen The Bridget Jones Diary, I also thought I pretty much knew the whole plot.
Now that I finally picked it off the shelf, I know that I wasn’t really wrong on either of these counts. The only thing is that it’s all so well written that I couldn’t help enjoying Pride and Prejudice from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »
January 25, 2014
Set in Cuba and Key West, against the background of prohibition, the Great Depression and the spread of communism, To Have and Have Not, as the title suggests, is about the difference between the rich and the poor. The first half of the novel focuses in Harry Morgan, a tough, often cruel rum runner who works the Gulf Stream. He’s in the classic Hemingway mold, but is neither as noble nor as colourful as some of the author’s more beloved protagonists.
After a rich passenger stiffs him for a season’s work, Harry is forced to take a job smuggling ‘ Chinamen’, typical of the dangerous assignments he feels he has to take on to feed his family. At this point, the theme is subsumed by the exotic setting of Cuba and the adventure of the smuggling trade. Read the rest of this entry »
December 22, 2013
If I have a daughter, I’ll get her to read The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is a great heroine – smart, resourceful, and pretty handy to have around if there’s no meat in the freezer. Sure she’s a little grim, but she provides a nice counterbalance to the passive princesses and attention-seeking twerkers that young girls have to look up to.
She’s also a product of her world. There’s a bit of backstory to The Hunger Games, but it’s all pretty familiar. Dystopian future America. Totalitarian government. Teen death match. In many ways, it’s like a concentrated, exaggerated version of our world, and I was surprised at how political it is. It’s savage in its depiction of wealth disparity, the media, and corruption. Although the central conceit of gladiatorial bouts to keep the populace subdued is a bit ridiculous, it did strike me as echoing our individualistic, cruelly competitive culture. Read the rest of this entry »
November 5, 2013
Haruki Murakami wrote After the Quake in response to the 1995 Kobe earthquake. In his characteristically unconventional memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, he states that the short story collection was a turning point in his fiction, when his writing become less introspective and more outward-looking. His new perspective is evident in the greater range and depth of his characters, the third person narratives, and the more mature themes which he explores.
It deals with the earthquake very indirectly. Rather than exploiting the tragedy for drama, he explores it as a psychological phenomenon. In most of the stories, it is ancillary to the main story, but pivotal.
Still present are all the things I love about the writer – the championing of mundane courage, the conversational prose, the off-beat sensibility. My personal favourites in the collection are the last two stories, Super-Frog Saves Tokyo and Honey Pie. In the latter, the main character, also an author, ends on a note that I suspect is autobiographical:
‘I want to write stories that are different from the ones I’ve written so far, Junpei thought: I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.’
From now on, I’ll be reading Mr Murakami’s later works with this in mind.
October 14, 2013
The Kite Runner is a strong debut novel that distinguishes itself from from other books on the shelf with its insight into a culture that attracted Western interest following 9/11; and with the extremity of violence it depicts.
The narrator, Amir, reflects on his childhood in 1970s Afghanistan, an idealised world of relative peace and tolerance, of colourful markets and Hollywood movies and kite contests. The son of a wealthy philanthropist, he enjoys a privileged upbringing despite his absent mother and disapproving father. His best friend is Hassan, a sweet natured, hair-lipped boy who happily accepts his lot as servant dictated by his Hazara ethnicity. Their happy childhood comes to an end one afternoon by a violent, harrowing event, and all chance of recovery is obliterated by Amir’s treacherous actions in its aftermath.
Read the rest of this entry »
September 9, 2013
Do you like lists? I like lists. They’re fun.
1. Backstory. Reading Les Miserables is like watching the reading the appendices of the musical – it gives you more backstory on the characters and era than you ever wanted to know.
2. Jean Valjean goes back to prison after he reveals himself in court to save the wrongly accused man. He escapes by faking his own death.
3. Gavroche is the Thernadiers’ abandoned son. They also have another daughter besides Eponine, and two more sons that they sell to be raised as nobles.
4. Jean Valjean and Corsette live in a monastery for most of her childhood. Valjean first enters the monastery by using his mad-convict skillz to scale the outer wall. He then smuggles himself out in a coffin, and re-enters by the front door to apply for the job of gardener. Read the rest of this entry »
August 18, 2013
Went to the Turner exhibition in Canberra yesterday. His panoramic landscapes are full of themes of awe and redemption, a world filled with deep shadows and ethereal hope. He is forever the master of light and atmosphere. You can almost feel the spray off the breaking waves in a dramatic seascape, or the soft, chilled morning sun over the mountains.
He was carried away by sunrises and moonrises, storms and clouds, like a man tossed about by the strength of his emotions. A Romantic. In many of his paintings, he cannot resolve the material world of people, buildings and ships with the landscape. They often look stolid and out of place. Only in his luminous visions of Venice and his almost abstract, Impressionistic later work are objects and atmosphere in harmony, as if he could only gain peace by concentrating on the elements of art, and white-washing the mundane.