muckefuck: (zhongkui)
With all my idle time, I should be able to get much more reading done than I have. I know I was reading them concurrently, but somehow I feel it shouldn't have taken me five weeks to finish a brief Laxness novel and a month for Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. Both were enjoyable enough, and I think some particularly fun bits might stick with me for a while, but neither bowled me over.

Last thing before I fell asleep last night, I tried reading Sontag's preface to Under the glacier (Kristnihald undir Jökli) to see if I'd missed something. She describes an unclassifiable radical work of fiction which doesn't bear much resemblance to the droll tale stuffed with comic semi-philosophical dialogue I just read, a solid entry in the genre of Naïve Youth Lost Among Crazy Yokels. She also goes too far in trying to normalise Laxness' sexism (three female characters, two in minor roles and one blatantly embodying das ewige Weibliche) with some claptrap about how all SF novels have male protagonists (written thirty years after Butler started publishing FFS). This is why I usual skip or skim forewords. (Also the fact that she spoilers the whole damn novel for good measure.)

The Chabon was a solid read, but I thought on balance it got too many kudos for "litfic writer does genre book!!!". I like his setting a lot and I was glad that it was intrinsic to the whodunnit and not just a colourful backdrop for an otherwise unremarkable noir pastiche. He did some clever things with language, too, using just enough Yinglish (including literal translations of Yiddish idiom) to give the feel that these conversations weren't originally in English without getting distracting. But his detective never overcomes his origins as a mildly Hebraified old school gumshoe (paging Rabbi Small!), and I don't have tonnes of patience for that stock character.

Oh, and the other reason I didn't read more in that time was that I started Anna Karenina on the second day of the new year. Diego had a chat with the Old Man on his last day of life, but I didn't learn the content until Hogmanay. They talked about favourite novels, and that one came as a surprise. I happened to have a copy of the new(ish) Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I'd picked up in the past year or two and shelved for winter reading, so I pulled it out the next day but didn't really make any progress until the following weekend.

My first discovery was that there was much more humour than I'd anticipated. I thought I was cracking a romance, but Tolstoy seems more interested in satirising the aimless elites of his age. I also got two excellent tips from my coworker the Russian lit PhD: one is that Anna is a Bovary. That is, the author intends for our sympathy for her plight to be mitigated by seeing how her own foolishness brought it about. The second is that her story is only about 40% of the novel with another 40% being devoted to Levin and Kitty and the remainder concerned with Dolly and others. Armed with that, I'm able to take the abrupt changes of storyline in stride, only occasionally paging ahead to defang a cliffhanger.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
For over a week now, I've been looking for a day where I have a least one solid hour to devote to reading so that I can finally finish off The Maias. I haven't found it yet, which should give you an idea of how things have been going. [livejournal.com profile] monshu's doing much better--he was stepped down to a regular floor yesterday and may be discharged to Kindred tomorrow--but he still keeps conning me into reading to him, which means very long days at the hospital. At least he killed that wretched Sarah Brown novel on his own and we've moved on to di Giovanni's infinitely better-written Commissario Ricciardi mysteries.

Princess Bari, unfortunately, didn't live up to the promise of its early chapters. I accepted that the accounts of being smuggled abroad were extreme but probably accurate for a minority of transportees, but the vignettes of immigrant life in London were pedestrian and the descriptions of a traditional Pakistani wedding were downright tedious. When he finally gets back to his supernatural aspects, he falls into the kind of didacticism I've come to dread from modern Korean authors (and which Han Kang refreshingly lacks altogether). So a quick read, but ultimately not a very satisfying one.

Haarteppichknüpfer has its dull bits, too, but overall it's been pretty solid. I like his structure; each chapter focusses on a particular character to the point where they could almost be read as self-contained short stories. His worldbuilding leaves something to be desired (almost everything about his exploratory expedition I have an issue with, for instance), but I probably wouldn't notice if I were reading at the clip of the average German reader. There isn't much in the way of unfamiliar vocabulary, but the syntax trips me up in ways that I feel I should've outgrown ages ago.

I thought I was done with bookbuying for a bit, but I stopped into a favourite bookstore yesterday and found La peste $2 along with other treasures. And then there's my mountainous Kurdish novel arriving sometime this week. I'd need to find a way to read in my sleep to have any chance of getting through it before year's end.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Credit to [livejournal.com profile] nihilistic_kid for introducing me to a new author. My interest in Lovecraft and the Mythos is strictly dilettantish; it probably wouldn't exist at all if not for my longstanding association with [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo (though once those spores were planted, Nuphy did what he could to stimulate their germination). I've read maybe two dozen tales from Lovecraft, one volume of Machen, plus a smattering of related stories (the one I remember best being Long's The Hounds of Tindalos). There's something vaguely familiar to the Severn Valley, but I don't recall having any idea who Ramsey Campbell was before Nick namechecked him in a recent post promoting his new novel.

It seems the only one of Campbell's works we have on site is his first collection of tales, The inhabitant of the lake and other unwelcome tenants. It seemed promising and this is just the weather--chilly, grey, and wet--for English horror in a traditional vein. So I checked out the volume and polished it off in about two days. (Admittedly, spending the better part of one of those days in tiny quiet room at the hospital with [livejournal.com profile] monshu helped quite a bit.) It could fairly be called top-quality pastiche. However, it did remind me that the real strength of weird fiction is not the immediate payoff. It's later, when minor events and phenomena in your surroundings which would have passed unnoticed before give you a lingering sense of unease.

This morning, for instance, I decided to entre through the historical portion of the complex where I work. (I joke that it gives me a few moments to enjoy the fantasy that I work in a far more beautiful building than I do.) My coworker at the reception desk was wearing a jacket, and I remarked on this. "It's chilly here. There's a breeze that you can only feel if you're sitting right here." "Don't tell me about such things when I've just been reading Lovecraftian fiction!" I responded. Only minutes earlier, the shuttle had passed a row of older buildings on the south end of town, one of which (and old warehouse) that's been semi-derelict for ages, and I found myself repressing an urge to speculate about what sorts of questionable goings-on might pass unnoticed behind those respectable aged storefronts.

It was also a pleasure, after inexplicably spending a whole month on a fairly simply novel, to polish off a book of fiction so quickly. I'm down to my last 60 pages or so of The Maias, which I picked up again about a month ago, and slightly more than that of Heart is a lonely hunter. I'm finally getting some payoff from the McCullers, but I'm not really in any hurry to finish it. I thought having the Dreadful Twist in Eça de Queiroz' big fat novel spoilered (Thanks for that, anonymous Wikipedia nitwit!) would kill my enthusiasm, but oddly it didn't. Instead it allowed me to appreciate how deftly he foreshadows it. It also left me completely unprepared for the Somewhat Less Dreadful Twist which precedes it, setting the stage.

As for what I'll read after that, I went on something of a book-buying binge recently so I've got lots of new options. If Haarteppichknupfer arrives tomorrow (as it's scheduled to), I'll probably start that. Or perhaps I should repay a debt and see how quickly I am Providence could get her.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
As much as it came close to being a slog at times, as I neared the end of Search sweet country, I began to feel a bit farklemt at the thought of having to say farewell to the various characters. I was in a Thai restaurant at the time and wondered if I should wait for someplace a bit more quiet and private, like home, but I had only a few pages at that point and waiting for me at home was a hurried dinner and a condo meeting.

About halfway through, I figured out that the complicated relationship between Kofi Loww and Adwoa Adde was the narrative thread on which the novel hung and, when that resolved, I knew we'd entred the denouement and the rest of the chapters would simply be tying up the stories of the rest of the cast of characters. The conclusions to their stories are satisfying without being too too neat and Laing ends on a hopeful if melancholy note. The heavies retreat into the background, the ordinary people get on with their lives, and Accra abides.

At times the writing veers close to cliché (particularly the way he treats abstract qualities as concrete objects and in the recurrence of metaphors rooted in Ghanaian cuisine), but at its best it's still vibrant and fresh. Despite being published forty years ago, the work doesn't feel especially dated, but I wonder how much that's due to my basic ignorance of Ghanaian popular culture (so that a reference to a popular song or a style of dress would be equally foreign to me even if it were current). I'm going to be curious to look back in a year or so and see how much of it sticks with me.

So what next? I'm reading Woodrell's harrowing Outlaw album while I decide. I'm leaning toward Yaşar Kemal's sequel to İnce Memed, which should be a quick read and appropriate to my state of mind. There are some other things in the hopper--Atwood, Hulme, Maraire, the balance of Os Maias--but I feel like they may be better suited to cooler weather.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
From the B. Kojo Laing novel I'm reading:
There seemed to be an edge to everything he said, and beyond this edge was a precipice which, of its own volition, was deepening over the years. His energy was the basis for most of his friendships, the speed of his mouth drew people to him, but eventually he built walls around himself with his gesticulating hands: those who wanted to persevere with him had to climb high over these walls, with patience.
This may be the turning point for me. It's a work of chained vignettes and I still haven't been able to tease out an arc, which has prevented me from getting too involved with any of the characters. But this chapter--about the marital tensions between a professor and his wife--finally had some emotional resonance for me.

Since it's the steamy heart of summer, I'm finally back to reading the Snopes Trilogy again. The first book is going quickly, not just because I've read it before but because it's not as dense as I remember. Of course, most of the density is associated with the bovine romance in the second half which I haven't gotten to yet, so we'll see how smoothly things go then. It's in a big fat hardback omnibus that I don't like carrying around, but making it my bedtime reading is problematic, too, because it's too good to set down easily.
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Jun. 21st, 2016 03:07 pm

Resetting

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
So my sleep may not have recovered, but my health has: bowels are working normally once more and my weight has bounced back up to 12½ stone, which basically puts me and the Old Man at about par. Incidentally, I worry about the muscle mass he's losing, but there's not a whole lot I think we can do about that until we can get him into acute rehab somewhere (an idea I'll push again at next week's meeting with the surgeon).

I've also gotten back to reading again. Not as much as I used to, but a regular commute makes a tonne of difference. I've got less than a hundred pages left in Er ist wieder da and no real idea what to follow it with. Maybe just some more challenging English prose? But Search sweet country seems challenging enough, to be honest. It's not so much the language as it is the structure; if there's a unifying narrative, it hasn't emerged as of yet (a mere 40 pages in) so everything is feeling very vignetty. As I've mentioned before, that's fine and dandy, but it doesn't really make me feel compelled to read another chapter.

And I'm really taking the advice about self-care and caretaker burnout to heart and trying to fit in as much socialisation as I can without shortchanging [livejournal.com profile] monshu. It's helping, I can tell, but the household is paying the price. Of course, entertaining is really the only thing that ever prompts me to do a proper cleaning, so this could be a problem that solves itself eventually. If not, Mom is returning for a visit soon and maybe she'll feel so inclined.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Our Easter dinner was a very modest affair. I didn't even get around to decorating the eggs (unless you count scribbling faces on them in felt-tip pen so they wouldn't get confused with the raw eggs in the same carton). [livejournal.com profile] monshu had a gratin all ready to go until he decided at the last minute it smelled a bit off and pitched it, so the brussel sprouts we had were simply steamed instead. In a nod to the nominal reason for the season, there was Jerusalem artichoke in the mash, but the centerpiece was obviously the perfectly cooked rack of lamb. It was such a treat I had TWO WHOLE CHOPS and damned the consequences.

We were both somewhat worn out by the good weather, which coaxed us outside to do a little yardwork. The Old Man attacked the porch, whipping it into fit shape for me to eat my egg salad sandwich on before the afternoon showers began. At that point, I'd been hacking out in the hellstrip for a couple hours, digging another hole large enough to bury a body in so that I could fill it with fallen branches and dead leaves. Probably one more of these and I'm done for the season. Then it's time to start thinking about what to do with the shambolic retaining wall Scooter left behind.

I was unsuccessful getting ahold of anyone later in the day, so I spent most of my time reading. Roddy Doyle's A star called Henry isn't great, but it reads quickly and seems a decent introduction to the major episodes in the fight for Irish independence. It does feel a little overly determined at times and I'm not sure what's with all the gratuitous fucking except for some middle-aged wish fulfilment, but I'm already two-thirds of the way through it and thinking about what my next novel should be.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
At some point in my reading of Borstal Boy, I attempted to compare it to my memories of the 2002 film adaptation and come to the realisation that I had none. I mean, I dredged up a few vague images and I remember something about a stage play, but I couldn't recall the plot. Or the character arc. Or the characters. Or the actors who played them. So I was pleased to find out from rereading my original entry that I apparently rather enjoyed it. That was over five years ago now, which is about twice as long ago as what it had become compressed to in my mind, so maybe I shouldn't fault myself for forgetting so much.

In retrospect, the movie was spot on in having the central character move away from radicalism rather than toward it. Ebert faulted this in his review, but unfairly so, since that's very much the impression Behan leaves you with. Yes, his young self is defiant until the end, but there's absolutely no indication in the closing chapter that this is the same man who would attempt to assassinate two gardaithe within a year of being released. I also faulted the compression in the film, but Behan sums up his last two years in six pages after having spent 230 on his first year in borstal and 130 on a few months imprisonment before that.

Dramatically, the biggest change is to have the film build up to a violent climax when it's the opposite with the book: the most vicious violence occurs in the first hundred pages whereas the last hundred have none at all. In my review of the film, I mentioned "short shrift" being given to the straight romantic subplot, but that's quite understandable considering that the object is a character that barely merits a walk-on in the book. The homosexuality is, as expected, dealt with rather more cagily in print, and it's hard to tell how much this reflects Behan's own youthful naïveté and how much a grown man's prudence.

It's a smashing read. Behan has a fantastic ear for dialogue and true way with words--poetical and very Oirish without getting too aye-and-begorra. For once an Irish novel with a fair bit of the Irish language in it and all of it correct (ignoring the lack of accents, for which doubtless blame the printer). I am now a treasure trove of mid-20th-century English prison slang, such as "judy", "snout", and "graft china". Wonder when that might come in handy.
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Mar. 18th, 2016 11:21 am

Mealltach

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
For another year, I failed to get myself to the IAHC for March shenanigans. It wasn't just that I can't face it sober and I'm less eager to drink than ever. Usually I start listening to Irish tunes a couple weeks before, but I hardly did that this year. So my celebration of my Celtic heritage was reduced to playing "Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile" for the Seanduine at dinner (which didn't even feature potatoes!) and watching Neil Jordan's Michael Collins afterwards.

It's a somewhat uneven film. Neeson is terrifically cast in the lead (even if he was a bit long in the tooth to play the youthful Collins once Jordan finally secured funding) and Rickman does a good job with a fairly negative portrayal of de Valera. But Aidan Quinn and (lord help us all) Julia Roberts make the love-triangle subplot almost unwatchable. It doesn't dominate the film, as with some biopics, but I would've rather seen more of the cat-and-mouse game between the IRA and British intelligence. Because of the foreshortening required to keep the film to two hours, there's barely time to introduce the Cairo Gang before leaping to their liquidation six months later.

I'm not making great progress on my reading either. I only just today reached the midpoint of Borstal Boy. Not because it's not fun and easy reading, I'm just not pushing myself on it. I spend as much time on the shuttle mooning at the cloud formations or chatting with my neighbours as reading these days and I can't say I'm worse off for it.
Mar. 10th, 2016 09:39 pm

Hart breac

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I finished the Hamilton and it was not the breezy read I think I was expecting. As someone of German and Irish heritage, I have fantasised about having been brought up to speak German and Irish instead having to expend so much effort to try to acquire them as an adult. It's like someone saw into those fantasies and responded by writing a cautionary tale.

You start out thinking that Hamilton's Irish-speaking father is something of a fanatic. About a third of the way through, when a "man named Gearóid" visits and you do a bit of research and determine this is Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, founder of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, you realise he is a full-on fascist and his home is his castle. By contrast, his mother is a gentle and loving sort. But as more of her tragic past begins to permeate the narrative, you also realise she's as isolated and trapped as the rest of the family, and without peers to confide in she ends up sharing too much knowledge with her children for them to fully process at such a young age.

At times, the book becomes so harrowing, I simply had to set it down for a while. In fact, for a palate-cleanser I turned to Daniel Woodrell. (Let that sink in for a few minutes.) The tone is brilliantly consistent. Instead of writing with the quasi-omniscient voice of a man of the world looking back, he adopts that of a precocious adolescent and sticks with it. It's chillingly effective at making you face the effect of the violence and cruelty of his surroundings on such a vulnerable child. He relates his acting-out matter-of-factly, without any attempt at explanation or psychologisation, and the account is more powerful for it.

Apparently he's written a couple of sequels, but I don't think I'm ready to read them yet. Borstal Boy might end up being more of the same, at least to some degree, but I think I've put off reading it long enough. I might have to find something with a little more humour to balance it out, though, perhaps some Roddy Doyle or Brendan O'Carroll's The Mammy.
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Feb. 23rd, 2016 10:12 am

元宵

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I didn't expect [livejournal.com profile] monshu to remember that yesterday was the Lantern Festival and I certainly didn't expect him to put together a festive meal given that he's been feeling poorly the last several days. But I know he tracks full moon days for fasting purposes, so I should've reckoned with the possibility. He nixed the pomelo salad (which comes as a relief to my esophagus) and served up two kinds of dumplings plus inarizushi. So a very simple meal, really, but very satisfying.

I wish I knew what to blame for the problems I've having. The "sweet-and-sour fish" I ate before the opera turned out to have chilis in it, so I resigned myself to a possible bad night. Instead I've had three in a row, all involving propping myself up to keep the reflux at bay. Lately my suspicion has begun to fall on the banana bread I made as a treat for the Old Man on Sunday that he turned out not being able to eat, since it's the only common element in my diet recently and everything else has been so bland.

At least the loss of sleep isn't keeping me from reading, as it sometimes does. I'm officially at the halfway point in Life and death are wearing me out, which I still expect to finish even if the whole time I'm reading it I'm nagged by the suspicion that there is a much better book out there I could be reading instead. And I've decided to put off Er ist wieder da until the Führer's birthday month so in the meantime I've returned to Der Nachsommer. Still as boring as ever, but that's not a bad thing when you're trying to fall asleep at night.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Halfway through Kristin Lavransdatter and the problem is no longer that it's boring, now it's that I'm starting to dislike the protagonist. I suppose I shouldn't blame her too much, since I think she's all of about 15 or 16 at this point so she's bound to make some boneheaded decisions. It's really Undset's fault for making the new love interest so unappealing. (I could also do without her reflexive hostility to fat people, but that's another conversation.) I want him to die in the war with Sweden before their romance progresses any further, but after bumping off her childhood sweetheart, that would seem gratuitous so she's not going to do it, dammit.

Also reading some Icelandic sagas and tales and loving them like always. Particularly Gísla saga Súrssonar, which I could easily have finished last night but I wanted to draw out a bit further. (I'll also need something to unwind with after finishing Bron/Broen, as is my plan.) It's got that tragicomic mix I love so much, though not as much entertaining taunting as in Vatnsdæla saga. Gísli himself is right up there with Egill Skallagrímsson for badassery. (I mean, nowhere near his equal, but close enough to put up a good fight if they ever tangled.)
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
One way or another, I'm done with Bron/Broen after this season. The departure of Kim Bodnia already made Season 3 a tougher sell, and the decline in the writing is helping not at all. Or maybe this was the standard in the first seasons as well and I didn't notice because of the novelty of the setting and the storytelling. Either way, the seams are showing and the payoffs are declining. This time around, the crimes seem more arbitrary, the villains more dumb, and the police response more implausible (not least of all because they're no longer newbies at dealing with a threat on this scale). At least the interplay between Helin and Bodnia is still there and they didn't have to jump through too many hoops to justify them being paired up again. Bodnia is on record as being dissatisfied with the direction they took his character in, which has me piqued to see whether I'll agree with him or not.

So, yeah, we're into full-scale winter Scandimania again. I didn't wait until the end of the Lagerlöf to begin the Laxness, which despite being set in the 18th century is strongly redolent of the old sagas. (Much more so than Gösta Berlings saga, ironically, which despite the title is full absolutely to bursting with pure 19th-century Romanticism.) The Old Man suggested I read it in tandem with Njáls saga (which it's already referenced two or three times in the first twenty pages) for a proper intertextual reading experience, but I may just return to The Kreutzer Sonata for the nonce. Or pick up something else entirely. (I did dip into Torgny Lindgren's Klingsor the other day but I'm not sure I have the stamina for even a short novel entirely in Swedish.)
Jan. 7th, 2016 02:12 pm

Bereft

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
[livejournal.com profile] monshu also came down with something this week so I wasn't expecting any kind of fuss for Epiphany. I was totally prepared to be warming up a potato pie from Sunday and instead came home not only to baked halibut and sweet potato risotto but a tremendous nut-brown roscón de Reyes. Naturally, I found the coin, though my one official act as King was to take down the tree--ceremonially, that is, which is to say I removed the finial and extinguished the lights. Later I returned and put away the most important ornaments but lost steam before it came to wrapping all the glass baubles in tissue.

I also got to play Rex Magus at work, since the nameplates I'd ordered before New Year's came in and I made a point of delivering them personally in order to bask in everyone's delight. (Honestly, it really is the small things.) I also had something more personal to give away, my 2013 edition of Best European Fiction. I'd been talking it up to a Bosniak coworker and finally just decided to gift him with it. First, though, I had to make a push to finish the last dozen stories or so. I tackled most of them over break, but still had two unread as of Tuesday night, so I read one on the ride in (Eloy Tizón's "El mercurio de los termómetros") and the last (Ray French's "Migration") at work only moments before handing it over.

He and I both agreed what we'd really like to see is a bilingual edition, because neither of us can read all the languages represented but we could each make a serious dent. That's too specialised a market for a paperback, however, but would be easy enough to do electronically if not for the fragmented way in which foreign language rights are parcelled out. In any case, with that off my plate, I'm poised to make a final assault on the last quarter of Gösta Berling and select my next victim.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
A flurry of lake-effect snow as I rode in this morning promised an easy return to work but then I got here and found out there they're doing some noisy construction work in the next room. It's actually in the machine room below me, but because of the odd way sound travels, I can hear not only the grinding of powered saws but voices as well and feel some of the vibrations. On top of that, I'm still getting over my cold and have been voiceless since yesterday morning. So happy there are no meetings today.

I made it my goal yesterday evening to reach the halfway point in Gösta Berling and I did. It's not the most engrossing thing I've ever read but interesting enough that I do find myself saying, "Okay, one more chapter" much of the time. I'd like to finish it in a week but I know it's more likely to take two. After that I might try Halldór Laxness again. Or maybe Er ist wieder da, my Christmas gift from [livejournal.com profile] bunj? We shall see.

I may also try to regain some of my lost Swedish. The conversation Saturday evening turned to television--as it so often does when an Baoigheallach is involved--and prompted me to discover that season 2 of Bron/Broen is available on NetFlix. Watching that will help, and might even get me to pick up a Swedish-language work again (though I kind of doubt that).
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Late in the summer, when I was still reading The Maias and took it to the beach one afternoon to read, I saw someone sprawled out with his own book and asked him about it. It happened to be a book of short stories by Luis Alberto Urrea. I have a novel by Urrea, which I'd bought about a year earlier and set aside to read later, so I asked him what he thought of the author's style. He praised it and I made a mental note. Visiting Pilsen for Día de Muertos naturally stirred my interest in things Mexican again and, as a result of that encountre, it was the first title that came to mind.

Sad to say, it was only a somewhat satisfying read. From a slow start I ended up engrossed and moved at times. Urrea has some moments of inspiration but also stretches where my suspension of disbelief began to falter. Historical fiction is hard. You don't want the idiom to be too stilted, but make it too contemporary and it comes off as anachronistic. It's especially difficult, I think, to avoid putting in metaphors which--realistically speaking--would be outside the characters' frame of reference. (This is even more of a problem with fantasy.) One chunk in particular struck me as a clichéd revealing-late-night-conversation-in-the-kitchen scene only slightly modified for late-19th century circumstances, though it ultimately succeeded due to the gentle humour and warm rapport between the two protagonists.

Blurbs for the book really pointed up to me the incompetence of most reviewers. At least three made comparisons to One hundred years of solitude. There's no reason to, and not just because Urrea is no Gabo. Just because a Latin American is writing about fantastic events, that doesn't make the result magical realism. The defining feature of this as a genre is not the supernatural character of the events but the prosaic response of the characters to them. My favourite example is that scene in García Márquez' classic where, after many years of being shut up in her bedroom, Remedios the Beauty ascends bodily into the heavens amid a cloud of bedsheets. Members of the household chase after her begging her to cast these valuable linens back to earth so they can reuse them.

Compare this to a central scene in The hummingbird's daughter where young "Saint" Teresa of Cabora comes back to life after lying in state for three days. The women keeping vigil run screaming out of the house, eventually causing such an uproar that one of the ranch hands rushes in pistol drawn and nearly shoots the girl. Afterwards her father, an outspoken freethinker, is depicted as searching for some sort of rational explanation for the experience. Can you think of one García Márquez character who has ever done that?

The one parallel I do see is that this is more fuel to my complaint that all Latin American writers need to do is put their crazy family stories to paper to be hailed as original and imaginative: Teresa of Cabora is a cousin of Urrea's and her life a family legend (to the extent that he was shocked to discover that she was actually a real person). He also managed to include a lot of interesting detail on indigenous medical practices gleaned from various curanderos and brujas. But everyone comes through such an Americanising filter (whenever he attempts to put Teresa's life into some sort of historical context, his touchstones are always USAmerican) that much of the mystery is lost.

Last night, waiting for the Old Man to get back from something of a fool's errand, I began El beso de la mujer araña. The movie was a big deal when I was in high school, but I'd never really considered reading the novel until a friend of a friend gave it a rave review several years ago. Let's hope this one lives up a bit more to its reputation.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I just counted up the chapter subsections in Dialann deoraí and found that I've read nine out of eighty-eight. So keeping with my original plan of reading one on each leg of my daily commute, it will take me until the end of October to read them all. Hopefully I'll be able to knock off some bigger chunks on weekends and I'll be reading at a faster rate as I near the end. What gives me hope is that, like most authors, Mac Amhlaigh has a lot of consecrated phrases he falls back on frequently. Some of these were baffling to me at first (I don't think I've ever seen a dhath [lit. "its colour"] used to mean "nothing" before), but now I only need to pause and recall them. Hopefully I'll soon be passing over them without a second thought.

Another thing which helps is that the setting could not be more straightforward: Ordinary Irish bloke goes to England to find work in the 50s. This avoids one of the issues I've been having with Ó Flaitheartaigh's short stories, which is that each one concerns a different set of actors (sometimes none of them human) in a different context. Combine that with his somewhat laconic descriptions and it can be a struggle sometimes to determine just what the hell is going on. The downside, of course, is that unless your man has some hella interesting stories to tell from his various building sites and what-not, I might be getting bored sooner rather than later.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I thought Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt would take me a week to read; it took me two. The subject matter (watching your lover sicken and die and then living with the consequences) turned out to be heavier than I expected and closer to home. Also, there's a major shift of setting halfway through and it took me a while to get into the new milieu and characters. There isn't much slang and most of the neologisms are borrowings from the American, but even so I stumbled a bit more on the language than I'd expected to. I need to read more from this century.

Next I plan to tackle Dialann deoraí. The chapters are mercifully short and I've actually been reading them sporadically for a while, but I want to make this the book I take with me to and from work so I won't be so tempted to keep stopping to look words up. That probably means rereading a lot of paragraphs, but so be it. I also saw that a more recent Irish novel on my wishlist was only $2 and change (plus the $4 shipping), so I went ahead and ordered it. Maybe by the time it arrives next month I'll be ready to start reading it.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I'm still trying to work out why I enjoyed Detectives salvajes so much. On the surface level, it's one of those novels where "nothing happens". What there is of a plot concerns two poets in search of another in what ends up as a wild goose chase in the Sonoran Desert. Obviously, that's not the draw--and, curiously, neither are the two lead characters, who remains someone inscrutable throughout. No, it's all the other voices, from the somewhat precious teenager who narrates the opening and closing sections to the Uruguayan exile who witnesses the Tlatelolco massacre and was the narrator of Amuleto, the only work I'd read from Bolaño previously. (Six years ago now? Jesús lloró.)

I know I missed a lot of the intertextuality that has got the critics so wet because I'm frankly ignorant of the Latin American literary tradition, but I'm glad I got over myself and read the book anyway. I'll never be as prepared as I want to be to read the great novels I want to read, and if I keep holding off on them until I am, I'll never read them, nor will I be any more prepared to read any other works I want to read. I know some people don't believe in rereading, but it's always an option if you feel you didn't get what you wanted the first time. (And since, at this point, I've read so many works in translation, some of them I'd be reading again for the first time, so to speak.)

At its heart, Detectives salvajes is a novel about loss and naturally that speaks loudly to me right now. It's also a novel about the importance of literature (aren't they all these days?), which is something else close to my heart--though, again, articulating why I think literature is important is a tall order. For many of the characters in the novel, it is literally a matter of life and death. For me I doubt it will ever be more than a favourite hobby, albeit one I find it difficult to imagine a life without.

So what now? Well, I did start into Jull Costa's new translation of Eça de Queiroz' Os Maias and it seems worth sticking with, though it may be something I only really get into once the weather gets cooler. For my non-English reading, I'm picking up Grjasnowa's Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt, which I bought new a few months ago as an antidote to all the older German literature I've been reading. (Last time I was at Nuphy's, I pocketed his copy of Der Tod des Vergils and I've given it a go or two since then. Yeah, not happening.) Of course--for reasons I don't want to talk too much about just yet--what I really need to be doing right now is reading more Irish. Where did I lay my copy of Dialann deoraí, ní fheadar.
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Jul. 7th, 2015 12:55 pm

Elemental

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Of course, one of the things I told myself I would do over the long weekend is read. Predictably, I didn't do much. You could say I finished two books, but I had less then ten pages to go in each, so that's hardly saying anything. One was a collection of short stories by Manly Wade Wellman, which I was deliberately taking my time with. (Wish I'd dispensed with it on a stronger note than "And the Hairy Ones Shall Dance".) The other was Plaça del Diamant, which I think sets a personal record for most time elapsed between beginning and finishing a novel. (I can't remember when I first started it, but I know it was twenty years ago when I last made a serious push.)

It pains me to acknowledge that my Spanish-reading skills have at long last eclipsed my skill at reading Catalan. This shouldn't surprise, given that I've only ever read three Catalan novels in my life (and that's including Rodoreda) but it's the degree of the disparity that's dismaying. When I was contrasting reading Catalan authors to reading, say, Gabriel "Crazy Jungle Spanish" García Márquez, this wasn't quite so noticeable. But the Bolaño reads so easy in comparison to Rodoreda, despite the fact that the latter is deliberately narrated in the voice of a working-class woman with limited education.

On the other hand, there could be the same odd sort of reversal at play that [livejournal.com profile] zompist alluded to in our recent convo. He mentioned that his native Spanish-speaking wife was impressed he could read Borges, but he pointed out that what makes his prose difficult tends to be the diction, namely that he uses a lot of upper-register vocabulary the average speaker isn't familiar with. But in Spanish as in English, these words tends to be Latinate and so the overlap is considerable. The bigger your vocabulary in English, the more of that transfers over into Western Romance languages.

By contrast, it's the colloquial level of vocabulary that you're likely to struggle with, and all bets are off when it comes to slang. That was my biggest worry with the Bolaño, since the milieu is college students in Mexico City in the 70s. But it helps that the narrator is somewhat of a pseudointellectual, so the style is more formal than it might otherwise be. So far there's only been one dialogue that was incomprehensible without reference to a lexicon of Mexican slang. There's not much actual slang in the Rodoreda, but some of the words do seem very specific to early-20th-century Barcelona (to the extent that even larger monolingual Catalan dictionaries omit them).

The upshot is that, even though I mostly neglected it over the weekend, I polished off the first part of Detectives salvajes on the shuttle this morning. However, Diego did warn me that this is also the easiest part, with the going getting steadily harder through the big fat middle section. I plan to keep that in mind and not get discouraged. Normally, I take along an English-language work for when I need a respite from reading a foreign novel, but I haven't felt the need of one yet. If I'm too tired for Ulises and Arturo, I'm pretty much too tired to read anything at all, and that's refreshing.

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