The Man Booker International Prize Longlist

Posted March 13, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Random / 0 Comments

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced last night and I was able to predict four of the thirteen books. Like most years I am tempted to try and read all the books longlisted but I doubt I would be able to achieve that. I have only read one of the books so far and own another. I checked with my local library and they have four of the longlist (one I own). So as it stands I will have to start with the books available and then take it from there. Sometimes I wish I was an ebook reader, life would be easier.

What did you think of the longlist? How many have you read? Which ones are you excited to read? Personally I am excited to explore the list, I am however surprised to see Virginie Despentes on the list.

The 2018 longlist:

  • Laurent Binet (France), Sam Taylor, The 7th Function of Language (Harvill Secker)
  • Javier Cercas (Spain), Frank Wynne, The Impostor (MacLehose Press)
  • Virginie Despentes (France), Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1 (MacLehose Press)
  • Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany), Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone (Portobello Books)
  • Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith, The White Book (Portobello Books)
  • Ariana Harwicz (Argentina), Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, Die, My Love (Charco Press)
  • László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes, The World Goes On (Tuskar Rock Press)
  • Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain), Camilo A. Ramirez, Like a Fading Shadow (Tuskar Rock Press)
  • Christoph Ransmayr (Austria), Simon Pare, The Flying Mountain (Seagull Books)
  • Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld)
  • Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Jennifer Croft, Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Wu Ming-Yi (Taiwan), Darryl Sterk, The Stolen Bicycle (Text Publishing)
  • Gabriela Ybarra (Spain), Natasha Wimmer, The Dinner Guest (Harvill Secker)

Man Booker International Prize Longlist Predictions

Posted March 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Random / 4 Comments

Normally I do not pay attention to the numerous literary awards but The Man Booker International Prize is the exception. I have been following this prize since its reincarnation, when it merged with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP). The main reason I pay attention is to get some reading ideas from the longlist. I never have any intention on reading the entire longlist but I hope to discover new books. As most people know, I have been reading more and more books in translation and it can be hard to discover new books; well, it is getting easier.

Since we are close to the longlist being announced, I thought I would try my hand at predicting some of the books. I know there are some other book bloggers that are better at picking the list, I am talking about the shadow jury, but I thought it would be fun to join the conversation. I love that the Man Booker has helped bring translations into the spotlight and I hope it continues to encourage more people to try new novels.

The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

A new Han Kang/Deborah Smith novel is an obvious choice, since they won the first Man Booker International Prize. So expect it to make the longlist, maybe even the shortlist but I would be very surprised if it won the prize. Having only read The Vegetarian, I need to make sure I pick this book up at some point; but Human Acts is on my shelves waiting as well.

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet (translated by Sam Taylor)

Most of my predictions are books I have yet to read (is that cheating?) but The 7th Function of Language is one of the few I have on my shelves. Laurent Binet had great success with his book HHhH, and his new book seems to be doing just as well. This is a political thriller/satire; sounds like the perfect book for me, so maybe I should push this up my TBR.

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba (translated by Lisa Dillman)

Either Such Small Hands has been doing really well amongst the readers of translated lit, or I am following too many of Portobello Books social media accounts. This dark Spanish novella seems to blend elements of horror and the gothic into the story. Right away, I am reminded of Mariana Enríquez.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

One of the only books in my predictions that I have read; Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 and only recently translated into English. This novel is a brutal look at life in post-invasion Iraq, yet it is still able to be darkly humorous. If you are a fan of Frankenstein, like I am, there are plenty of references to Mary Shelley’s classic novel.

The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo (translated by Janet Hong)

Having another South Korean author on the list might be a long shot, but I believe The Impossible Fairy Tale might have enough on offer to make the list. The novel explores two grade-school girls trying to navigate life and the society they live in. An eerie and unpredictable coming of age novel might be the perfect combination to gain this a spot on the longlist.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft)

The novel won the NIKE Literary Award (Nagroda Literacka NIKE) in 2008, which is Poland’s biggest literary prize. I have not read this book yet, but I have heard nothing but good things. I know it is a book about travel but honestly Flights made my list because I trust Fitzcarraldo Editions to deliver great books in translation, is that not enough?

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

Also known as The Perfect Nanny, this book has been appearing all over the place. Written by a French author of Moroccan descent, Lullaby offers social criticism on class, race and politics. While this might be too much of a thriller to make the list, I believe Leïla Slimani’s background in journalism and political science might make this more than your average mystery book; it did win the prestigious Prix Goncourt.

The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap)

What Man Booker International longlist would be complete without the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk? At this point, any of this Turkish author’s books that get translated into English are automatically added to the longlist. This book explores life in modern Turkey from the point of view of the middle class, in particular the way Westernisation is effecting traditional culture.

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Best Picture Nominations 2018 – Mini Reviews

Posted March 11, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Film & Television / 2 Comments

Every year my wife, sister-in-law and I try to watch all the Best Picture nominations before the Oscar awards. This is something that never happens, due to the availability of movies in our city but for the first time ever we managed to see all nine nominations this year. I know the Oscars are over and The Shape of Water has already won but I thought I should write a little about each movie. I want to get better at analysing movies and if I do not practise, I will never get any better.  

So why not have a mini review of all the nine movies? I have decided to do this in order of my least favourite to favourite, as a way to show which movies I think were more deserving to win. Do not get me wrong, I think The Shape of Water was a great movie and I am happy to see it win, it just was not my pick. 

Dunkirk (written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolen) 

This is a movie about the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers trying to retreat out of Dunkirk. The German soldiers have them backed into a corner and leave them as easy targets for some dive-bomber attacks. This film is often been noted for its historical accuracies, even acknowledged by Dunkirk survivors as realistic. For this reason alone, I can see why this film was nominated. However I felt that this was too much of a generic war movie, with very little time to develop characters. In fact most of the characters looked too much alike in their uniforms that I was only able to recognise some actors, namely Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.  

Action sequences and a deeper understanding of this battle are the two big draws for this movie, but everything else was lacking. Christopher Nolen added his signature style but I tend to disagree with the critics that called this one of the greatest war films of all time. For me that title goes to films like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Apocalypse Now (1979), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). I was tempted to include Downfall (2004) but I think that maybe that is more a biopic in vein of something like Darkest Hour 

Call Me by Your Name (directed by Luca Guadagnino) 

Based on the coming of age novel written by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is the story of the relationship between a seventeen year old boy named Elio and a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver. Timothée Chalamet did an excellent job in the role of Elio, learning Italian, piano and guitar for the role, plus some of the best acting I have seen from a new comer in a long time. While Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, just served as eye candy.  

There is a slow burn to this movie that seems to work well with the story they are trying to tell. However I feel like the story was too much like that often seen in young adult novels. Especially the love triangle with Esther Garrel doing an excellent job as Elio’s girlfriend Marzia. The cinematography and actor was amazing, I felt the story was its biggest letdown. Having said that, I do believe they did a respectful job at portraying a same sex couples’ relationship. The highlight of this movie was the final scene of Timothée Chalamet sitting in front of a fireplace with nothing but his facial expressions telling the story.  

The Post (directed by Steven Spielberg) 

This movie is Oscar-bait if I have ever seen it. Based on the events surrounding the leak of the Pentagon Papers, this film was written by Liz Hannah and one of the Spotlight writers, Josh Singer. There is not much I can say about this movie apart from the fact that I enjoyed learning more about the battle between the US president and the press. This was an obvious jab, with references and allusions to the current president, Donald Trump throughout the movie. I expected more from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Katharine Graham, I was not sure what direction they were taking. I understand this would have been Katharine Graham’s first major decision as The Washington Post’s head publisher but her acting was not convincing.  

The film ends with the break at the Watergate, which seems to connect the movie almost perfectly to All the President’s Men (1976). A classic film my wife and I watched after seeing The Post. A far better movie but I had to appreciate the way these two films connect together. Sadly All the President’s Men only mentions Katharine Graham once and that was a reference to her breasts.   

Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright) 

While Dunkirk was about the war raging on in Western Europe, Darkest Hour is about the politics happening back in the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill, appears to be trending in film and television at the moment but Gary Oldman probably did the best depiction. There was something about the way Oldman portrayed this Prime Minster that felt so genuine, it was easy to suspend disbelief and see him as Churchill. That was until there was some awkward dialogue to remind you that this is in fact a film.  

This is an interesting look at the politics that happen behind the scenes. Interesting how they dumped a Prime Minster because they were not happy with how he was handling the war. The scenes in the parliament are the standouts in this film. The use of lighting made these scenes far more dramatic and served to empathise the importance of this decision making process; into darkness or into light.  

Phantom Thread (written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) 

This period piece stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a couturier (a high-end dressmaker) who is so devoted to his art that finds little time for relationships. Living with his sister (Lesley Manville) he falls in love with a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Aesthetically this is a visually pleasing film and combining that with Daniel Day-Lewis’ masterful acting there is so much to like about this movie. The power struggle of the relationship between this renowned fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock and Alma quickly turns this into something far darker than expected.  

The sound editing in one breakfast scene alone, was enough to showcase just good this film is. With these sounds, the viewer was able to experience the same irritations as Daniel Day-Lewis. While this was a disturbing tale, the beauty of the film is what stuck out to me the most. The story was weird and never sat right with me but I think plot took a back seat to the visuals, sound and acting in this one.  

The Shape of Water (directed by Guillermo del Toro) 

We have come to expect an aesthetically pleasing film from Guillermo del Toro and he did not disappoint. The Shape of Water has a gritty Cold War vibe to it that reminded me very much of Rapture in the BioShock game. I appreciate the set design, it was so good that it is like the background is telling a story. This is a film about misfits finding each other more than a love story between a mute woman and a fish man.  

Sally Hawkins is an extraordinary actress and I do think I have even seen her in a role where her performance let down the movie. Her role in Maudie (2016), along with this one will serve as evidence of her great ability. People often talk about how great Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting is, but I think Sally Hawkins can give him a run for his money. It was nice to see Michael Shannon doing what he does best, and that is antagonising everyone. Finally, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer were outstanding in their supporting roles.  

Get Out (written and directed by Jordan Peele) 

I would have been very happy if this film won the Best Picture Oscar. This satirical horror film deals with many relevant race issues in such a unique way. Get Out is a power look at the racial problem in America, in particular taking shots at liberals who consider themselves ‘allies’ in the movement against racism. The people that go out of their way to demonstrate they are no racist to the point that is just uncomfortable. There is so much going on in this film it is hard to cover it all in a mini review.  

This is a must see film, filled with so many hard hitting truths that Jordan Peele decided to change the ending just to make it happier. For me this is the biggest let down, because the tone change at the end is so jarring. I think the original intended ending would have had a far bigger impact to the message Peele was trying to say. Get Out did win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars making Jordan Peele the first black person to win this award.  

Lady Bird (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) 

Lady Bird is the coming of age story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson living in Sacramento, who cannot wait to leave for college to a city with culture. This is probably the most indie ‘arthouse’ of the movies to make the list but I loved this movie because it was just full of teenage angst. There were so many interesting characters and both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf had standout performances.  

I loved this movie partly because I think Saoirse Ronan is amazing and partly because I identified with the angst of growing up in a town like that. It was a film of such rich characters, and I would love to see a movie about Lady Bird’s best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans, played by Beanie Feldstein. This is another movie to star Timothée Chalamet and his role was very different to that of Call Me by Your Name. Both Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet are destined for greatness.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (written, produced, and directed by Martin McDonagh) 

There is something very unique about Three Billboards, it was so fresh and original. We left the cinema with such joy (despite the dark themes) similarly because it is so rare to see something so different. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both had outstanding performances and they were rewarded at the Oscars for that. However it was hard to believe Woody Harrelson and Abbie Cornish as a married couple. Three Billboards is the story of a grieving mother trying to find closure for the brutal rape and murder of her teenage daughter. To put pressure on the police she rents three billboards to remind them that this case is still unsolved.  

This is a very polarising movie, that people either love or hate, and I can understand the criticism. Despite the themes of grief and hatred, this film seems to be more about people putting aside their differences in order to heal. The film has also inspired activist groups to adopt similar methods to get their message across, with over five different groups hiring billboards and bus advertisement to spread their message.  

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez

Posted March 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror, Short Stories / 2 Comments

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana EnríquezTitle: Things We Lost in the Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Mariana Enríquez
Translator: Megan McDowell
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 202
Genres: Horror, Short Stories
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It seems that 2017 was my year of reading books from Argentina. From the classic The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares to the beautiful reflection into libraries in Alberto Manguel’s essay collection The Library at Night. In more recent releases there was Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac and of course the much hyped Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. These four books would have been enough to satisfy any reader, but there was one that stood out far more than these, and that was Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez. Translated by Megan McDowell, this collection introduced the English world to a great example of Argentine Gothic; however, this could easily fall into the horror genre.

What made this collection stand out is the way Mariana Enríquez was able to explore issues within Argentina without addressing the history directly. The beauty of using literature instead of journalism was the ability to offer social criticism and personal opinions in a stylised and entertaining way. Here we can read about the gruesome realities that many people live in Buenos Aires. Starting from the opening story “The Dirty Kid” which explores the fear a woman faces living alone in the slums. Not to mention the poverty, drug abuse, gang-related killings and even satanic rituals that surround her every day.  In the translation notes by Megan McDowell she states that “Mariana Enríquez’s stories, Argentina’s particular history combines with an aesthetic many have tied to the gothic horror tradition of the English speaking world”. There are many of the tropes found in the horror genre including abandoned houses, supernatural elements, and body dismemberment or mutilation. However, it is not these, but the everyday situations that often terrify the reader.

For me, “The Inn” appears of one of the unsung heroes within the collection, it combines a real issue with a bizarre story. This story explores adolescent antics as the girls begin to explore their own sexuality. However, there is the lurking terror of the looming presence of the Alfredo Stroessner soldiers. Enríquez was able to explore the horror of unexpected terror in the time of the Paraguayan dictator. Hinting at the constant state of terror and the clandestine torture centres without mentioning them directly.

Mariana Enríquez has an amazing ability to explore so many issues without mentioning them. I am confident with a better understanding of Argentinian history, Things We Lost in the Fire is a completely different book. Exploring many themes from poverty to the corruption facing the country, but the biggest focus is the treatment of woman. You cannot really talk about this short story collection without spending time talking about the title story “Things We Lost in the Fire”, which explores the idea of women taking control of their own beauty in a rather unique way. The story leaves Silvina in the position to either betray her mother and the Burning Women movement or physically mutilating her own body.

This is the final story in the collection that not only sums up the underlying themes throughout the book but it also leaves you with this feeling that women must often be subjected to a choice where all choices are harmful, leaving her to pick the lesser of two evils. This story is the title story for a reason, if you only read one of the stories make sure it “Things We Lost in the Fire”. However, I do recommend the entire collection. It is a socio-political masterpiece, exploring the horrors and struggles of Argentina and women around the world. If you only read one short story collection in your life, make it Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez.

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati

Distracted by Other Books

Posted March 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 4 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in February 2018

My reading in February started off with the amazing The Unwomanly Face of War. It is a book I have not been able to get out of my mind. My wife often gets an intense hatred toward men and I think this is the first time I have come close to understanding how she fully feels. I understand how she would be angry, you just need to look at the news to see all the stupid or terrible actions been taken by men. However while reading The Unwomanly Face of War I got very angry toward men. Especially when one man told Svetlana Alexievich that war was ‘man business’ and she should write about men in war (because we do not have enough of those books). This was a fascinating collection of interviews of the woman and their involvement in war. It highlights the bravery of these women but what really shone through was just the way men reacted and their contradictory nature. The male ego is so fragile.

I have been a fan of Alexievich and but I will admit I am never impressed with these translators. I was reluctant to get The Unwomanly Face of War; luckily I did not let the translators stop me. Translating is such an art form and there are so many different thoughts on the topic; for me I prefer a translator to aim to retain the beauty of the text over complete accuracy. Other people have different opinions and I think it is important to find what works for you; especially if there are other options. One day I might have the opportunity to re-read The Unwomanly Face of War with a new translator, but until then, I take what I can get. With Svetlana Alexievich, I do not want to wait for a new translator. Speaking of which, I still need to get myself a copy of The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. The Odyssey has been translated heaps of times, but I believe this is the first time it was translated by a woman. I am curious to see how this epic reads without the male gaze and I hear nothing but great things about this translation.

I finally read my first Émile Zola novel; A Love Story which is the eighth book in the Les Rougon-Macquart series. This might not have been the best place to start but what can I say, I love Oxford World Classics, and could not pass up the opportunity to work with them and read some Zola. This was a joy to read and there will be so much more Zola in my future; Thérèse Raquin sits on my shelves waiting. While I do love to receive books in the mail, I do not often review ARCs, simply because I have enough to read. My instinct is to reject any offers to review a book, unless it is a book I know I want to read. In the past I found it difficult to get the balance right, so now it is a rare occurrence. I hope to work with Oxford University Press more in the future but do not expect to see many reviews for upcoming releases. If you look at the books I talk about, it is rare to see a new release.

There are some exceptions, for example, if an author like Julian Barnes releases a new novel, or it is a book club book. This is why The Only Story and Mythos by Stephen Fry was on my reading list for this month. I love what I have read from Barnes and still more to go. As for Mythos, it felt more like Greek mythology for dummies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just made me want to read those classics; especially Metamorphoses by Ovid (yes, I know he is a Roman and not Greek), or maybe I should read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. I really need to read both books at some point but reading Mythos only served to remind me how much I need to read from the Greeks and Romans.

This month was the first book club meeting of 2018. It was me and fifteen woman. Sadly I am the only male that turns up to book club; there have been others in the past but they never last long. It did feel very crowded for a book club meeting and I feel like it was too many. Luckily, I suspect that a lot of the new people came as part of their New Year’s resolution, so it is unlikely they will return in March. I am at book club to step out of my comfort zone and I think the books picked do just that. I would not have picked up Mythos on my own; I have enough books on my shelves to read without picking up a retelling of Greek mythology.

There are so many books I need to read, I always feel like I am playing catch up. Luckily I do not need to go through my shelves and do a major cull…yet. While I was starting to get use to the idea of a major move, at this point, it does not look like it is going to happen. I have startied culling my shelves but nothing major yet. There must be twenty or thirty books leaving my shelves this month, but only a few were unread books.

One of the biggest advantages of quitting BookTube, is the fact that I do not have to try and pronounce a name like László Krasznahorkai. It still annoys me that I mispronounced Michel Houellebecq in a video. For an Australian that only speaks English, there are so many authors I read that I am yet to learn how to pronounce. I normally look up how to pronounce the name before filming a video, but still have gotten it wrong. I got to read two novellas by László Krasznahorkai which was in the one collection. Sjón claimed this is the perfect starting place for Krasznahorkai in the blurb on the front but that was only part of the reason I started with The Last Wolf & Herman. In fact I do not know why I picked up this book first, I did have Satantango on my wishlist first. It must have been as a result of some of the bloggers I admire, either Tony at Messenger’s Booker or Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog.

It is hard to remember why I put a book on my wishlist, this is one of the main reasons I am writing these reading updates. The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White was added to my wishlist because of the high praises from Andy Miller on Backlisted (my favourite podcast). I still do not recall why I wanted to read A Girl in Exile, maybe because Ismail Kadare is Albanian. The novel reminded me of The Trial to begin with but it lost momentum quickly. The book left me with the feeling that male authors should not write about breasts. I will not go into my reasoning but let’s just say it feels too creepy.

On the other side, when Natsuo Kirino writes about rape in Out, it feels so brutal. At least when Kirio talks about breasts, it does not feel like she is breathing heavily in ecstasy. Out was such a compelling thriller, and she did not shy away from the brutal nature of the topic. I do enjoy a dark crime novel and the Japanese are able to deliver. I might need to seek out some recommendations but I think I will be reading more Natsuo Kirino in the future.

Seven books read in February, while three did come from the library. I also purchased three new books, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, Stalin by Oleg V. Khlevniuk and The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt. I have already started Frankenstein in Baghdad but not sure what else will be read in March, except The Seven Madmen and maybe that biography on Stalin. I hope everyone else had a great reading month.

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A Love Story by Émile Zola

Posted February 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

A Love Story by Émile ZolaTitle: A Love Story (Goodreads)
Author: Émile Zola
Translator: Helen Constantine
Series: Les Rougon-Macquart #8
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1877
Pages: 272
Genres: Classic
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Une page d’amour starts off with Hélène Grandjean’s daughter Jeanne falling violently ill. What follows is the story of Hélène, an attractive young widow trying to care for her daughter and hide her secret love affair with Dr Henri Deberle. This is the eighth book in Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire), which really sums up what you can expect from the twenty novels found in the series.

This novel kicked off in a manner that really set the tone and pace but still allows Zola to impress the reader with his elegant style. Normally I find with older classics that they adopt a leisurelier pace but A Love Story was not a slow burn. I was very impressed with the way Émile Zola was able to keep that pace, while I sat in awe of the writing style. Most people know this French writer for Thérèse Raquin and I must admit that I picked A Love Story before knowing it was the eighth book in the series.

The twenty books in Les Rougon-Macquart series covers all aspects of life through the Second French Empire. This is the Imperial regime of Napoleon Bonaparte which took place from 1852 to 1870 (between the second and third French republics but that is too much of a history lesson). Zola wanted to explore French life and these books are often a social critique of the time. The end results is what is considered the most notable books in the French naturalism literary movement.

I will admit that I expected A Love Story to be social criticism, I even went in as viewing through a Marxist lens because the novel was set among the petite bourgeoisie. However I quickly discovered that this novel focused on the psychology of Hélène Grandjean, in particular the differences between love and marriage, as well as motherhood and duty. This was an intense look at a woman who discovered that she was never truly been in love. Her intense relationship with Dr Henri Deberle almost served as a sexual awakening. However the circumstances surrounding their relationship and lives leads the novel to its inevitable conclusion.

A Love Story was such a joy to read, however I do regret not starting elsewhere. There will be plenty more Émile Zola novels in my future, especially since I know that he often focuses on social criticism. I have Thérèse Raquin on my shelves, so I am sure it will happen soon but I suspect La Fortune des Rougon will happen in the near future as well. My love for French literature grows with every book I read, though it will never replace my Russian lit obsession. This is the type of book I would like to leisurely read while sitting in a Paris café, maybe that is how I will re-read A Love Story.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Posted February 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Lincoln in the Bardo by George SaundersTitle: Lincoln in the Bardo (Goodreads)
Author: George Saunders
Published: Bloomsbury, 2017
Pages: 343
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

George Saunders’ long awaited debut novel has been surrounded by hype, and winning the Man Booker prize only helped to launch this book. Saunders is probably best known for his short stories that often share a vibe similar to the television show Black Mirror. I even called his last collection Tenth of December “contemporary witty, with an element of darkness”. Even comparing it to two other great collections that were released about the same time, Black Vodka by Deborah Levy and Revenge by Yōko Ogawa. Lincoln in the Bardo tells the story of Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The Civil War has been raging for almost a year while the President’s eleven year old son lies in bed gravely ill. Despite the predictions of a full recovery, Willie dies and his body is laid to read in a Georgetown cemetery.

Blending historical data collected while researching this novel, George Saunders blends in a narrative of the afterlife and grief. While the title suggest that Willie Lincoln is in the bardo, the narrative seems to fit more with purgatory. In some schools of Buddhism, bardo is known as the state of existence between death and rebirth, while purgatory is a state of purification before heading to heaven. This distinction is interesting as the characters in this limbo often are unwilling to let go of their physical remains and complete their journey into the afterlife. These characters are often faced with deformities representative of their mortal failures. Saunders does consider himself a student of Nyingma Buddhism but my understanding of theology is primarily Christian, so I tend to interpret the writing with that thought in mind.

The other part of this novel is set around the President and his family as they grieve the loss of Willie. It is here we see a lot of the historical documentation come into play. This includes excerpts from newspapers and biographies. This serves to drive the narrative of grief but also highlights the inconsistencies found in history. What made this book so appealing was the confliction in Abraham Lincoln. While grieving the loss of his own son, he was still responsible for the loss of so many others because of the Civil War. While the American Civil war may have led to many good things, the effects of war were truly felt throughout Lincoln in the Bardo.

The novel is told through different speeches; a narrative that closely resembles a play. This is what makes the audiobook such an alluring option. The publisher put a lot of effort in producing, with a cast of 166 voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Rainn Wilson, Susan Sarandon and George Saunders. I was worried that between the narrative style and the large cast, this would be too much of a gimmick but I think Saunders and the audiobook production managed to never go overboard. However I can understand why this would not work for some readers.

The end result of Lincoln in the Bardo was a dark comedy, ghost story and while I was a little worried (because of all the hype) I am glad my book club made me read this novel. At the moment I prefer George Saunders’ short stories but I can only compare Lincoln in the Bardo with Tenth of December. It does make me curious to try CivilWarLand in Bad Decline or Pastoralia. I know in the future Saunders will continue to be surrounded by hype but I am still interested to see what is next for this author.

Distracted by Other Books

Posted February 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in January 2018

When midnight came around to usher in 2018 my first instinct (after celebrating with my wife) was to start reading. I had decided to go into the New Year with no reading goals and no long term plans except to enjoy my reading journey. I love the feeling you get at the beginning of the year where you are ready to achieve but I often find that feeling fades far too quickly. I wanted to see what it would be like to just read and have no reading goals, but here I am celebrating with friends and I just want to be reading.

I went into the year with two books on the go, The Devotion of Suspect X and Suburra. I know many people that will abandon the books and start fresh at the beginning of the year, but I am terrible at abandoning, especially if I am enjoying the books. The whole idea seems nice, in theory. Being distracted by other books is a constant struggle, especially at the beginning of the year.

I was given two books to read for book club over the Christmas break. We were unable to decide which to read and since we do not return till February, we had the time. One of the picks was Lincoln in the Bardo. I was excited for George Saunders’ first novel but since the release I think my interest in reading it died significantly. All the hype around the novel put me off reading it for a long time, but I was still curious. I enjoyed Tenth of December, so I wanted to dip into his writing further.

I ended up getting the audio book and had a wonderful time. The cast of a hundred narrators really worked for Lincoln in the Bardo. I did worry that it would end up being too much of a gimmick, Saunders managed to work with the unique style without going overboard. In the end, the conflict Lincoln had between grieving his son and knowingly sending sons, brothers and fathers to die in a civil war was what stood out. I will be interested to see where Saunders goes from here but I personally prefer his short stories; if I am only judging him based on Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December.

The other book club book was Extinctions, which won the Miles Franklin award. So we ended up reading the Man Booker prize and the Miles Franklin, which is an Australian literary award. I started going to book club in 2012 as a way to push myself. For someone that is so introverted I am often surprised that the steps I take to interact with other people. In the five years attending book club I have been the only male to frequently attend and I tend to hate everything the club loves. If only I could learn to articulate my words better, we could have much better discussions. Then again, I go to practise. If it was not for the book club I may have never read books like The Dinner, Tigers in Red Weather, The Yellow Birds or Sweetland.

It is interesting to see how much the world around me influences my reading, my book club has pushed me to read many books I might not think to pick up but it is hard to say if I would discover them another way. I tend to spend a lot of time on social media with bookish people, from Twitter to GoodReads, from YouTube to blogs. Reading does not have to be a solitary act anymore and I love how easy it is to find people to discuss books with. We may all get distracted by literary prizes and the next over-hyped books but it is the people constantly discussing books that influence me the most.

These are the people that inspired me to try BookTube, another way to push myself and practise articulating my thoughts on what I have been reading. However, I prefer to consider myself a writer or blogger and my major goal for the year is to get back into the habit. I use to review every book I read and while this no longer seems practical, I want to write more. Between my blog and The Literati, my goal is more content; not necessarily reviews, rather I would like to focus on the personal essay. When I was a teenager I thought about writing fiction and all attempts to try my hand in this medium have been laughable. Although I have been with a story idea lately and while I have done my best to actively ignore it, I am yet to get it out of my head. I hold literature to a high standard and there is no way that I would be able to achieve that myself. I have written the idea down and if it continues to plague me then maybe I will not have a choice. I am not ready to try my hand at fiction, I still need to improve my craft.

The idea was sparked by reading Hecate and Her Dogs, but not related to the story. Paul Morand wrote such a beautiful and disturbing novella but I have a hard time separating the man from the book. It is the type of prose that you want to write down and admire. He was modernist writer along with his friend Proust and is considered a cult favourite among the artistic avant-garde. Sadly he was also a vocal anti-Semite and a Nazi collaborator. A question that has been asked a lot lately with people speaking out against sexual assault; how can we love the art, when the artist is such an asshole? It has become difficult to pick a movie nowadays. I do not want to forgive Paul Morand for his inhumane thoughts, nor call him a product of his time but I struggle to find where to draw the line. Ideally I never want to support people with problematic views but if I did this, I would quickly run out of classics to read; although I would quickly get my TBR under control.

My wife went for a new job that would require making a significant move. This has led me to spend a lot of time looking at my shelves, I mean, more so than usual. If we make this move there would be a serious need to cull my bookshelves. While I have toyed with this idea before, I never liked the idea of culling anything I have not read. I may not be interested in reading all the books at the moment but this could change. A major cull would force my hand. I want my shelves to be reflection of the books I am interested in reading and the ones that define my reading life. Eventually I hope to have a very small TBR pile but currently most of the books I own are unread.

I use to buy books frequently however my book buying habits have been through a considerable change. Currently my reading has been focused on the books I have received for my birthday or Christmas, like The Housekeeper and the Professor. However my time gazing at my shelves has reminded me of all the books I would love to revisit. I reread The Elegance of the Hedgehog as a result. It is hard to find the right balance between reading the unread and all the books I wish to dip back into; with a smaller TBR, this might be easier to manage. I am constantly being distracted by all the books I have and wish to read.

I keep checking the price on Matt McIntosh’s novel, theMystery.doc but it is still sitting at $45 Australian dollars. Part of me worries that this post-modern novel will never be published in paperback but do I have the patience to tackle a 1600 page book at the moment? Another book for my wishlist. I suspect that while reading Jacob’s Room is Full of Books I will find more books to add to my wishlist. It did inspire me to start writing monthly wrap ups again. I am actually trying to use her style of mixing my personal and reading life into one. However I plan to try and highlight my bookish thought process as well. I enjoyed the book but I preferred her other, Howard’s End is on the Landing. I am inspired to write this because of the book and I hope that it is just leading me back to writing more frequently. Also with a monthly post like this, the need to review everything I read will be eliminated. Let me know if you like this style.

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Best Books of 2017

Posted December 15, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in What are you Reading / 4 Comments

As 2017 finally comes to an end, all I can think is ‘Thank God’. While this has not been a bad reading read (over a hundred books), I did not achieve some of my goals. Most importantly I was stuck in a real creative slump for most of the year and I had trouble climbing out. I decided to take a step back from BookTube because I did not feel like it was the right medium for me. I was hoping to focus more on blogging and writing essays but that never happened either.

My goals for 20017 included writing an essay a month and I failed miserably, but now I havae co-founded a literary journal so I have to make sure in 2018 I write more. For my reading goals, I planned to read 50% books in translation which I was able to achieve and I hope to continue with this in future years. I also had a list of about ten books I wanted to read in 2017 and ended up reading only three of them. I guess planning my reading is not for me and with that in mind, I decided to have no reading goals for 2018. I just want to read what I want, when I want. I want to be carefree and enjoy my reading journey. I hope this will help me get back into my creative groove and blog or write more frequently.

Having said that, 2017 was a pretty decent reading year for me and I thought I should cover off some of my favourite books. I probably should make sure I review all these books at some point but here is my list. First, I want to give an honourable mentions to The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa (translated by Howard Curtis), The North Water by Ian McGuire, Belladonna by Daša Drndić (translated by Celia Hawkesworth) and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer).

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Made for Love by Alissa Nutting

Posted December 11, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Made for Love by Alissa NuttingTitle: Made for Love (Goodreads)
Author: Alissa Nutting
Published: Ecco, 2017
Pages: 310
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When you think of Alissa Nutting’s writing, what comes to mind? Dark? Disturbing? Psychological? Or transgressive? While this is what I have come to expect from Nutting, I tend to enjoy the social criticism found in her books. In her stunning debut novel Tampa, we follow Celeste Price, a young beautiful middle grade teacher who is a hebephile. Which allows for an interesting take on the nature of a sexual predator, often not associated with female sexuality. This does allow Nutting to explore the schoolboy fantasy of an older woman teaching them the ways of the flesh, whether it be a Mrs Robinson type character, a babysitter or in this case a teacher. The sexual desire of a boy with their budding sexuality; to be with an experienced, already developed older woman. Tampa looks at how developing boys are unable to separate their emotions from the sexual act and this ultimately leads to them getting hurt not, to mention the emotional and psychological damage it will do to them for years to come.

However, you could also look at it as a novel of a woman unhappy in her marriage. From the outside it looks like they are the perfect couple, he is rich, hardworking and determined but she is truly unhappy, despite what people see. Is that because of her singular sexual obsession for fourteen year old boys or is it far more? When Tampa was being published, Alissa Nutting was in the midst of getting a divorce. While Tampa explores someone unhappy in marriage, her new novel Made for Love is the next step, someone trying to escape a bad marriage.

This novel follows Hazel who has just moved back in with her father and his new girlfriend Diane (truth is, Diane is a lifelike sex doll). She has run out of her marriage with Byron Gogol, the tech mogul and founder of Gogol Industries. Hazel is willing to give up the high life to just be free, but is she ever truly free? She ran because Byron planned to make her the subject of the first-ever human “mind-meld”, he will be able to see everything she does or thinks. Hazel on the other hand will not have the same level of access, he is a CEO and needs to protect his company.

I often look for the autobiographical elements in a book, I find it gives me a deeper understanding to both the novel and the author. This is why I often like to read a biography on some of my favourite authors. While I do not know much about Alissa Nutting’s personal life, knowing she went through a separation while writing Tampa really added an extra layer to the novel. Following up with a book similar to Made for Love, reveals even more. It suggests that there was more than just an unhappy marriage.

While there are plenty of novels about women living in a controlling relationship, I think Made for Love was the first one that ever made me feel the anxiety of trying to escape. In an age of social media and technology, it has increasingly become easier to track and monitor someone. Social media allows us to read about their thoughts with the world, and with an app like ‘Find My Friends’ I can tell you where my wife is right now. Privacy is becoming a distant memory and for Hazel, even her thoughts are not safe.

Yet again, on the surface their marriage appears to be a happy one, not even Hazel’s father understands why she would leave and give up on a life of luxury. Made for Love reminds me of Black Mirror in the way it explores technology in relationships and the disturbing reality of what it would be like to try to escape and abusive one. The way people value wealth and status over the emotional wellbeing. This is a biting satire and is what I have come to expect from Alissa Nutting, I eagerly await her next book.

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati