Category: Literary Fiction

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Posted July 27, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

The Savage Detectives by Roberto BolañoTitle: The Savage Detectives (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Picador, 2007
Pages: 577
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Chilean author Roberto Bolaño may have only gained traction in the English-speaking world shortly after his death in 2003 but he quickly cemented his legacy as a great South American author. In fact, Chris Andrews’ translation of By Night in Chile was the first English translation of Bolaño and it was released in December 2003. Between Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer, all but two of his novels were translated into English, not to mention his short story collections, poetry and essays. That is twelve novels translated in which two Roberto Bolaño novels get the most attention, The Savage Detectives and 2666.

The first Roberto Bolaño novel I read was By Night in Chile, a novella that managed to make a big impression on me. The book saw Jesuit priest Father Urrutia reflect on his life while in a feverish daze and open with the brilliant line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say”. The fever seems to allow Bolaño to explore an idea of the reliability of memory because you could help wondering if it was an unreliable narrator or he just lived an unorthodox life. By Night in Chile is a novel that I still think about and even though I feel like I read it recently, I am keen to return to it.

Because of this novella, I was keen to pick up more Roberto Bolaño and I recently joined in with a group of people to read The Savage Detectives. My experience was different than what I initially expected. First, it is difficult to compare The Savage Detectives with By Night in Chile, they are very different in style and themes. Also, out of the eight-people reading this, five of them never finished, while I think I was the only one that really enjoyed it. At times it was struggle to read, but I think getting to the end gave me a real sense of accomplishment and the novel will stick in my head for a very long time.

To get an idea of what Roberto Bolaño is trying to achieve in this novel you really need to understand a little about his life. He was born in Chile but his family moved to Mexico while he was a teenager. He never finished school because he dropped out to work as a journalist. He left Mexico to return to Chile to help the socialist regime of Salvador Allende but was thrown in prison after Augusto Pinochet’s coup. On his return to Mexico, he started living as a bohemian poet and saw himself as an enfant terrible of literature, his own editor Jorge Herralde recalls him saying that he was “a professional provocateur feared at all the publishing houses even though he was a nobody”. He was a young ambitious poet, what was he to do? Naturally he tried to start a literary movement which was called Infrarrealismo.

What makes The Savage Detectives so interesting is that it is a parody of Roberto Bolaño’s own life. His alter ego is one of the principal characters, and every other character is based off someone in his life. While By Night in Chile reflects on life from the deathbed, The Savage Detectives takes a similar but drastically different approach. It was like Bolaño wanted to reflect on his ambitious ideals and just how cocky he was. It felt like he was never afraid to poke fun of himself and I think if I knew more about his life, I would have gotten a lot more out of this novel.

I do not know enough of Mexican literature (especially the poetry) but I found The Savage Detectives to be a very approachable novel. You get a sense right away that the Visceral Realist are a parody, the name itself conjures up an image of trying hard and failing. I was so glad I finally got to this novel and I know that I will have to pick up more Roberto Bolaño in the future. In fact, I think he is an author that deserves to be read completely (well everything translated into English at least). I will admit that my knowledge in South American authors is lacking but the more I read, the more I appreciate their style. Next up… Jorge Luis Borges.


The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

Posted May 22, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick HamiltonTitle: The Slaves of Solitude (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Hamilton
Published: Constable & Robinson, 1947
Pages: 327
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Patrick Hamilton is one of those authors I kept hearing about but no one had actually read him. An author that is often compared to Graham Greene (and sometimes Charles Dickens) and yet I could not tell you anything about his books. Well, until recently when I picked up his 1947 novel The Slaves of Solitude. Doris Lessing (who wrote the introduction to my edition called Patrick Hamilton “a marvellous novelist who’s grossly neglected”1. What a delight it was to find a novelist like Hamilton, there was something quite thrilling about reading a novel that is underappreciated, like I was in on a literary secret but I just cannot keep quiet.

Patrick Hamilton was born to writer parents but due to his father’s alcoholism the family lived in boarding houses. He became a novelist and published his first novel Monday Morning (1925) in his twenties. His first major success was the play Rope (1929) which was later turned into a movie of the same name directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. Another of his plays, Gas Light (1938) gave rise to the psychological term ‘gaslighting’ which is commonly used today. His writing is often associated with an acerbic humour but later in his life he started to write in a more misanthropic voice. His own alcoholism and disillusions towards capitalism are often the driving force in his novels believing that violence and fascism would mark the end of capitalism. The Slaves of Solitude is the only one of his works to deal with the Second World War directly.

The Slaves of Solitude explores the lives of the residents living in a boarding house of the small fictional town Thames Lockden during the Second World War. While largely focusing on the experiences of Miss Roach, who moved to the suburban town to escape the overwhelming terrors and rigor of a city. Hoping for a dull and uncomplicated life, Miss Roach soon finds that living in close proximity to others, the added pressure brought on by war, and then the appearance of Vicki Kugelmann makes things anything by simple.

This is a quiet novel exploring the life of Mary Roach, a spinster type character who is just looking for some solitude. The cast of characters living in the Rosamund Tea Rooms do not make life easy. There is Mr Thwaites, who is often described as the ‘President in Hell’; Miss Steele and Miss Barrett, two aging gossiping spinsters; a retired comedian and also her so-called friend Vicki Kugelman. The novel follows Miss Roach and Vicki as tensions between them rise, as they become rivals in love. The Slaves of Solitude turns into an exploration into the emotional struggle between the two and their love triangle in exquisite detail.

I often hate the term love triangle and far too often feels so fake and unrealistic. However in The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton is able to explore this trope the right way. This is a highly emotional novel, as a reader you get to experience all the anger and jealousy that Miss Roach is feeling. Hamilton is able to construct this complex web of emotions, not just because of the love triangle but also drawing on the emotions caused by war and living together. What impressed me most was just how much raw emotion was being explored with all its nuances.

Even when exploring different stages of sobriety, Patrick Hamilton has this unique ability to capture the changes in emotions, manners and personality. I do not think I have ever read a book that can capture this as well as The Slaves of Solitude. There is something so satisfying about being taken on an emotional journey and know that the author has the skills to master every unique feeling that might come up along the way.

This is not a plot heavy book, but the character development is well worth reading. Make yourself a Gin and French (Miss Roach’s drink of choice) and give The Slaves of Solitude a go. I know I will be heading back into the writing of Patrick Hamilton very soon. This novel was hilarious and witty but was still able to capture the raw emotions of the characters. A balance that seems impossible to pull off but Patrick Hamilton seems to do it with ease. I cannot recommend The Slaves of Solitude more, and I hope that more people will be reading it in the future.


Missing Person by Patrick Modiano

Posted November 29, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Missing Person by Patrick ModianoTitle: Missing Person (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: Daniel Weissbort
Published: Verba Mundi, 1978
Pages: 192
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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I have been wanting to read Patrick Modiano; not only has he won a handful of awards, he is the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel was “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable of human destinies” but the committee also called him the “Marcel Proust of our time”. Unfortunately, not many of his novels have been translated from the French into English, despite the fact that he is so prolific (I counted six English translations prior to winning the Nobel Prize in Literature and a further eight since winning).

Missing Person appeared to be the perfect starting point for me, as it covered two elements that I am drawn to in literature, noir and philosophy. The novel follows Guy Roland, who was been working for Constantin van Hutte in his detective agency for the past eight years. As Hutte has decided to retire, Roland embarks on one last case, to find out who he really is. Guy Roland (a name given to him by Hutte) lost his memories during the war and is essentially a blank slate.

What drew me into this story was the cinematic style; it feels like a French film noir. The French title of the novel is Rue des Boutiques Obscures, which translates to the Street of Dark Shops. This is not a hard-boiled story, as Roland is not hard-boiled in anyway; this is what I would probably call existentialist noir. A perfect blend of the mysterious setting; dark cafes and plenty of wine and cigarettes. With the enhanced feeling of being completely lost, as Roland tries to find out who he really is.

“The sand holds the traces of our footsteps but a few moments.”

Essentially this is a novel exploring the ideas of identity and memories. I like the way Modiano played with the idea of a blank slate. What defines this person? What makes up this man’s character, and will what defined him in the past return to him? An exploration into the way people remember you and how that shapes your character and personality. Roland tries on different personas; in his investigation he may not discover who he really is but he adopts this ideas of people to see if it feels right or sparks a memory. The way memory plays out in the novel is particularly interesting; in one scene he recalls a love affair with a woman, but fifteen years after the breakup she denies that it ever happened. So you are left wondering if it did happen, or is this a distortion of the truth or maybe even a suppression of her past.

This is the type of novel you do not read for the plot. Missing Person is meant to explore an idea, invoke an emotion and get you thinking about identity and memories. The pulp-ish style to this novel really worked for m., I love the idea of investigating yourself; playing with the idea of self-discovery and identity. I will be exploring more from Patrick Modiano; in particular I want to try his novel Honeymoon. I am glad I read Missing Person and I have not been able to stop thinking about the ideas explored in this novel.


The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Posted September 12, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel DaoudTitle: The Meursault Investigation (Goodreads)
Author: Kamel Daoud
Translator: John Cullen
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2013
Pages: 143
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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One of the key components to philosophy is the ability to argue your point, this is done in many different ways and Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger does exactly that. Kamel Daoud took the same approach for his counterargument, with his novel The Meursault Investigation. This novel seemed to have taken the world by storm, winning the Goncourt du Premier Roman, the Prix des Cinq Continents, the Prix François Mauriac and shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt. It follows Harum seventy years after his brother Musa (the Arab) was killed by Meursault. Harum is reflecting back on his life and the impact Meursault’s story has had on himself, his family and Algeria.

Kamel Daoud’s response to The Stranger is basically saying that life is not absurd, it has meaning. Taking a life has consequences and execution is not simply a life for a life. Meursault killing the Arab had a big impact, and never referring to him by name allowed Camus to focus his story but at the risk of missing the bigger picture. So seventy years later, well after Algeria has declared their independence from France, the story of Meursault is still a topic of discussion.

First of all, the death of Musa has an impact on the life of Harum and his family. The Meursault Investigation starts off exploring the life of Harum and his mother and how the death of Musa effected them. The novel spirals out, first looking at the effect it had on Harum, then his mother and family and then finally Algeria. This may come across as repetitive but I think it was important to understand the impact.

I watched a lecture by Daoud that talks about The Stranger and comparing it to Robinson Crusoe. This is an exploration into post-colonialism; Meursault meets someone who was different to him and kills him. Robinson Crusoe did the same thing to Friday, just not physically; he forced him to convert to his idea of civilisation. That meant changing the way his acted, dressed and most of all his religious beliefs. The fact that Meursault killed an Arab on the beach could be symbolic of the island. If you follow this train of thought, The Meursault Investigation turns into a very complex philosophical argument, not only against The Stranger but the opinions of Western society (especially France) towards the raise of Islam.

The Meursault Investigation is an angry novel with some very deep philosophical ideas embedded into the pages. Published originally in French (translated by John Cullen) this novel evoked similar reactions for me as Submission by Michel Houellebecq in the way it explores France’s reaction to Islam. I understand people’s criticism about repetitive in The Meursault Investigation but I feel like it was necessary as Daoud needs to keep circling back to the death of the Arab and exploring how it affected everyone. This is the butterfly effect and I enjoyed every moment of this novel.


The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

Posted September 8, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Dead Lake by Hamid IsmailovTitle: The Dead Lake (Goodreads)
Author: Hamid Ismailov
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Published: Peirene Press, 2014
Pages: 128
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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While I actively avoid a novel that is described as a modern fairy-tale, it is a good term to use while talking about The Dead Lake. The novella tells the story of Yerzhan growing up in the remote parts of Kazakhstan, in an area that the Soviets used for atomic weapons testing. As a young boy he tried to impress the neighbour’s daughter by diving into a forbidden lake. The lake was radioactive and diving into the water changed Yerzhan forever.

Diving into the dead lake means that Yerzhan will now never grow into a man, he is doomed to watch his love grow into a beautiful woman while he will forever be a prepubescent boy. The plot is very fairy-tale like and the reader has a front row seat into a struggle in masculinity. While never growing old may seem like a dream for some people, never reaching puberty would not be desirable. While re-reading Interview with the Vampire, I wanted this exact issue explored with Claudia. The idea that while Yerzhan may never physically age, time and experience means he grows and matures. His inner self is not reflected physically and he is doomed to be always treated like a child.

While the plot tells a fairy-tale like story, underneath all this there is something different happening. The Dead Lake is an exploration into the environmental impact of the cold war. Not just exploring the effects the Soviets had on Karakhstan but rather the impact both American and the USSR had on the world to demonstrate their power. I believe this novella was based on Lake Chagan, which the Soviets conducted nuclear tests on in 1965 and is still radioactive today. Around about 100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water.

This grim book deals with some hard hitting topics but credit to Hamid Ismailov for producing a beautiful novella. The writing in The Dead Lake is so lyrical and poetic it just flows off the page. I found myself captivated by the writing and completely sucked into the story. While it is no secret that I am a fan of Soviet and post-Soviet literature, there is something special about this novella. I love the idea of a bildungsroman where the protagonist is physically unable to truly come of age, I would like to read more novels like this.


Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Posted December 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Numero Zero by Umberto EcoTitle: Numero Zero (Goodreads)
Author: Umberto Eco
Translator: Richard Dixon
Published: Harvill Secker, 2015
Pages: 208
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Colonna is a down and out hack-journalist that has just stumbled on an opportunity of a lifetime. Assistant editor for an emerging newspaper, as well as ghost writing a memoir for Simei, the editor and creator of the paper Domani. As he interacts with the team of journalists he learns about a conspiracy theory about Mussolini’s corpse. Umberto Eco returns for another fast paced thriller involving an elaborate conspiracy theory in this short novel, Numero Zero.

Every time I read an Umberto Eco novel, I have been really impressed. He is often referred to as the intellectual Dan Brown, meaning they both share a similar style but Eco packs in a lot more information. The first Eco novel I read (and still my favourite) was Foucault’s Pendulum and it explored ideas of religious and secret organisations and making a conspiracy theory out of it. Conspiracy theories play a big role in his other novels which I have read (The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery). However I feel that Numero Zero seems to be more similar to Foucault’s Pendulum.

While Umberto has the ability to create a fast paced thriller that is both witty and wry, I am always impressed with the amount of information he can pack into his novels. While Numero Zero is a very short novel, sitting under two hundred pages, there are times that it feels like an information dump. Most information or theories are told in dialogue and my biggest problem with this book was the amount of information being provided seem to detract from the historical thriller style.

The narrator of Numero Zero is fifty something year-old Colonna who provides a unique view through the events of the novel. A college drop-out, Colonna is a bitter and cynical protagonist who flitted from job to job. From tutoring, proofreading, being a copy editor and slush-pile reader, he has had his fair share of experience in journalism. The newspaper Domani (Yesterday) intends to deliver the news earlier than all the other papers, creating some backdated issues to experiment with format and methods of reaching the papers ultimate goal. Although Simei is planning to use these back issues as blackmail material to push himself into a high social position.

This allows Umberto Eco to do something different in Numero Zero. I do not remember any of Eco’s previous novels being as satirical as this book. Eco is satirising the media throughout the entire novel. Exploring the ways journalists manipulate the news being distributed to the general public. I did not expect the novel to be satirical but I really enjoyed the way Umberto Eco managed to blend his style and still explore a current social issue.

If you have never read an Umberto Eco novel, I do think Numero Zero makes for a good starting point. Most of Eco’s novels are a lot bigger and this novel allows you to dip into his style without a huge time investment. While this book did have a problem with information dumping, it still makes for a decent starter novel. Not his best book, but if you enjoy Numero Zero then all Umberto Eco’s other novels are for you.


Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches

Posted December 12, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Me and the Devil by Nick ToschesTitle: Me and the Devil (Goodreads)
Author: Nick Tosches
Narrator: Rick Zieff
Published: Back Bay Books, 2012
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Aging writer Nick is witnessing the decline of civilisation. One night he meets a provocative young woman in a bar that surprisingly offers to go home with him. This one night unleashed an unholy desire within him. Unable to control his primitive desires, Nick finds his thirst getting strong. His desire for blood quickly becomes the driving force in his life. However, has he just found the key to mortality or has he just unknowingly made a deal with the devil?

Reading Me and the Devil, I notice right away that Nick Tosches is playing with the vampire genre; the idea of old men drinking the blood of young women to gain extended morality. Turning it into a sexual perversion, blood play works really well as a device to explore the vampire mythology. The story basically follows a young nineteen year old in an unhealthy relationship with an older man. It is basically Twilight, exposing many of the problems with the relationship of Edward and Belle.

Although Nick Tosches does a much better job with the relationship, exploring a darker and more brutal nature of an unhealthy relationship. His writing is beautiful and is often compared to William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. I love that gritty nature of the novel and surprising beauty in the language. When it comes to talking about food, Tosches is very detailed and I found myself getting hungry at the food imagery.

Besides the vampire angle, Me and the Devil is a story of a grumpy old man that is angry with the changing world. Interestingly enough that the main character is named Nick Tosches, making this anger autobiographical. If you look at Nick’s website, the ‘about the author’ section simply says “Nick Tosches lives in what used to be New York.” This is a representation of how the character viewed New York, always talking about the old days. When you had little deli’s and mum and pop stores. The quality of the food was so much better back in the old days.

I feel like there is a lot to say about this novel but it would require spoiling the plot and I really think this is a book that deserves to be experience blind. Since Nick is a writer in the novel there are heaps of literary references to obscure and cult classics, which I appreciated. I loved Nick Tosches writing style and need to read more of his books. He is mostly known for his dark and gritty music biographies Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story and Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (Dean Martin) and I am interested in reading those books. Tosches also explores a lot of religious themes so I am excited to experience more of his novels.  This is the type of author that you will either love or hate, luckily for me, I have found a new favourite.


Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Posted November 26, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Satin Island by Tom McCarthyTitle: Satin Island (Goodreads)
Author: Tom McCarthy
Published: Jonathan Cape, 2015
Pages: 173
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Tom McCarthy has a unique approach to fiction; Satin Island is an avant-garde novel that explores the philosophical implications of corporate anthropology. A career path that I never thought existed but makes a lot of sense if corporations were using anthropologist for an extra edge. Rather than researching people for science, a corporate anthropologist would try to predict best possible scenarios to leak bad news, or which marketing strategies would have the biggest impact on the public.

Satin Island was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it sounded very different to the other novels. I knew I had to check it out and see what it was all about; the back of the book gave nothing away. This is a post-modern novel and I am actually surprised to see it also making the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker. Normally the novels that are vastly different and experimental never make it past the longlist. Making the shortlist might mean that more people will pick up Satin Island and that can only be a good thing.

The protagonist for this novel is U. and it is pretty obvious that Tom McCarthy expects you to see yourself from this point of view. The book has no real plot or character development, leaving the reader to focus on the moral and social implications of corporate manipulation. The concept of a corporate anthropologist can be both fascinating and terrifying and McCarthy wants people to be aware of this fact.

For a book that is 173 pages long, this is in no way a short novel. The depth and complexity found in Satin Island would keep you thinking about the book for a while. I really appreciated what Tom McCarthy did in this book, it really opened my eyes to so many issues. Now that I am aware of the concept of corporate anthropology, I cannot help but see the way it could be used in marketing. Satin Island is experimental and if you are willing to try an avant-garde novel, it is well worth your time and effort.


Richard Brautigan

Posted November 14, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Poetry / 0 Comments

Richard BrautiganTitle: Trout Fishing in America / The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster / In Watermelon Sugar (Goodreads)
Author: Richard Brautigan
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1964-1968
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction, Poetry
My Copy: Paperback

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Richard Brautigan is an iconic counter-cultural poet and author who is probably best known for his 1967 novel Trout Fishing in America. His novels deploy a unique blend of magical realism, satire and black comedy. I recently read an omnibus that included two novels Trout Fishing in America and In Watermelon Sugar and a collection of poetry The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster.

I think it is important to understand the life of an author when critically reading their novels. Normally Wikipedia is my starting place and often I find myself going down a rabbit hole of the internet. Richard Brautigan had an interesting life, with interesting ideals. Later in life he was diagnosed with both paranoid schizophrenia and clinical depression, even receiving electroconvulsive therapy as many as twelve times in an effort to treat his condition. Later in his life, he lived life as a recluse and eventually died to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It is unsure when he died, because his body was found much later.

The reason I think author context is important is evident in Brautigan’s book In Watermelon Sugar. The novel tells the story of iDEATH, a futuristic utopian commune that has found a way to live off the land; specifically watermelon sugar. This is told in a first person perspective and Brautigan could be considered the protagonist. However knowing the context of his life, I think Richard Brautigan saw himself more as the antagonist that is ruining this perfect society. Either way, it makes for an interesting read and In Watermelon Sugar was the highlight of this omnibus.

Trout Fishing in America was just a weird book, I had gotten use to the style of Richard Brautigan and I knew what to expect. However, Trout Fishing still leaves me perplexed. I know this is a social critique, but I never was able to fully grasp what Brautigan was trying to say. The term Trout Fishing in America became a character’s name, a hotel, a place, and becomes a modifier for just about anything. It was a weird novel and I probably need to do a lot more research to fully understand it.

The poetry of Richard Brautigan is just as unique as his novel writing. Most of his poems are short but pack a huge punch. There is so much depth within the poems and sometimes they have the ability to shock. For example, the title poem from this collection The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, compares birth control to a mining disaster that killed 75 people. He believes that the pill and the disaster both leave life buried forever. Not all his poems pack a punch like this but I thought this poem was a good example of what to expect.

I do not think I would have read Richard Brautigan, without the encouragement of Jake from the YouTube channel Tales from iDEATH. This may not be entirely true, since Brautigan is on the 1001 Books list, and still need to read Willard and His Bowling Trophies. I appreciate the push to read Richard Brautigan, he is a weird author, but I enjoyed the experience. His style might irritate many people but I liked the surrealist nature of the three books I read in this omnibus.


October 2015 Mini Reviews

Posted October 27, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Crime, Literary Fiction, Thriller / 2 Comments

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: World Gone By (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #3
Published: William Morrow, 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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Ten years after the events from Living by Night by Dennis Lehane, World Gone By, tells the story of Joe Coughlin in a changing world. Prohibition is now dead, the world is at war again and Joe’s enemies have destroyed his empire and killed his wife. The novel is set in both in Cuba and Ybor City, Florida and World Gone By explores the implications of Joe Coughlin’s past. A novel of crime, revenge and the moral complexity of a criminal past while being a good example for his son.

I am somewhat discontent with the state of popular crime fiction and find myself longing to be surprised. Normally I am a fan of crime novels and like to explore the psychological or gritty nature of the plot. World Gone By seems to offer something different, I did not connect with Living By Night, but the synopsis of its sequel was enough to raise my interest. Sadly, this was unable to deliver, and I felt disconnected to the plot due to the fact that it was overly cliché. I wanted to enjoy this book; the time era and the premise are two elements I love in fiction and I had heard such good things. I need to stop listening to hype, or maybe I should give up on crime fiction all together.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Mislaid (Goodreads)
Author: Nell Zink
Published: Fourth Estate, 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Set in 1966, at the campus of Stillwater College, Mislaid tells the story of Peggy. A freshman with literary aspirations, Peggy finds herself falling for Lee, a poet and one of her professors. Peggy falls pregnant and the two end up married. The only problem is, Peggy identifies herself as a lesbian and Lee as gay. This turns into some wry joke; they are an odd couple that has been mislaid.

Nell Zink takes it upon herself to explore the complex issue of sexuality with a mismatched pair stuck in a marriage that neither are interested in. The problem with Mislaid, is that this is such a complex issue and Zink was unable to handle the novel in a way it deserves. From the first chapter when the term ‘Mecca for lesbians’ was used, I felt uneasy about the way the GSM (Gender and/or Sexual Minorities) community was being treated. Then the wit found in Mislaid did not work for the majority of the novel. I was less than impressed with this book; it could have been a great story but nothing seemed to come together the way I expected.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: New Directions, 1996
Pages: 57
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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I do not know how I found this little gem, I would like to know who recommended it so I could personally thank them. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico is a short novella that tells the story of Ruibérriz de Torres who is brought in to translate for Elvis Presley who is in Mexico to film Fun in Acapulco. While in town, Elvis and his entourage, find themselves in a seedy bar where they get into a little trouble with a local kingpin.

Javier Marías has managed to create a punchy story that explores a complex life of a translator, on one hand he has a big famous singer/actor that the world idolises and adores but his entourage has got him into trouble with a crime lord that is feared in Acapulco. Ruibérriz de Torres is stuck in the middle unsure if he should be translating the words that could get everyone into a fight. Should he censor the words for either Elvis or the kingpin just to keep the peace? This novella explores the idea of translations and the second hand nature of words, in a very meta way since this novella was translated from the Spanish into English by Esther Allen. This is only fifty pages long, but manages to explore a complex issue in a very interesting way; I have not been able to stop thinking about the ideas found in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Leaving Berlin (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kanon
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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Almost four years after World War II, Berlin is a mess, divided in two. The east is occupied but the political ideas from the Soviet Union and the Allies are trying to control the west. This power struggle will later divide Germany into two with the erecting of the Berlin wall in 1961. Alex Meier is a young Jewish writer who managed to flee Nazi Germany to find a home in America. Only he found himself in the crosshairs of Joseph McCarthy during his “Red Scare” witch hunts. Alex and his family are now facing deportation; that was until he was given an alternative by the CIA but is this a solution at all?

The setting for Leaving Berlin is fascinating, the rebuilding and restoration of Germany is interesting enough as it is, but then you have the political struggle and influences of America and the Soviet Union as well. The American propaganda towards communism plays a big part in this espionage novel, and reading a book about a country being torn apart by the Cold War was really interesting. I am very interested in the history behind the Cold War, especially when it comes to the way the media was used to manipulate and of course I am interesting in the Soviet Union. As far as this novel goes, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, however the setting and political history interested me more than the plot. I would have enjoyed a non-fiction novel of post-war Berlin more than Leaving Berlin, but that does not mean I regretted reading it.