Publisher: Hachette

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano

Posted January 16, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick ModianoTitle: In the Café of Lost Youth (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: Euan Cameron
Published: MacLehose Press, 2007
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Recently I read my first Patrick Modiano novel, Missing Person which I enjoyed immensely. So much so, that I picked up In the Café of Lost Youth soon after. This book follows three different narrators talking about their memories of a woman named Louki. The four different perspectives (one being Louki herself) paints a detailed portrait of this one woman, Jacqueline ‘Louki’ Delanque. A woman that grew up in poverty, the daughter of a single mother working in the Moulin Rouge, and someone that comes across as well liked and popular.

In the Café of Lost Youth is a wonderful character portrayal, exploring someone that has had a hard life but appears to have it together. However, this novel explores the idea of loneliness while also looking at that perception we put to others. I think Patrick Modiano has this unique ability to capture the feeling of loneliness, especially while surrounded by people. The aggrieved husband, a private investigator hired by said husband and a student in a café all show different sides of this woman and piecing it all together allows you to see the complete picture (or is it?).

I said this in my review of Missing Person as well, Patrick Madiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. The committee awarded him this prestigious prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable of human destinies”. This is also used as a blurb (or a stripped-down version of this quote) for this novel, and with good reason. The way that In the Café of Lost Youth explores the idea of memory is what drew me to Missing Person as well and one of the reasons Modiano is worth exploring.

One major concern I have about reading In the Café of Lost Youth so close to Missing Person is the fact that they do draw on similar themes. While the plot is very different it still felt the same. I am not saying I did not enjoy In the Café of Lost Youth, rather that I will need to allow some time to elapse before dipping into Modiano again. I still think he is an excellent writer and one worth exploring. The way he explores loneliness and memory are worth checking out.

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.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Posted December 6, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline SusannTitle: Valley of the Dolls (Goodreads)
Author: Jacqueline Susann
Published: Time Warner Books, 1966
Pages: 467
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Pills! Pills will fix everything. Known as dolls, these red, yellow or green pills all serve a purpose. Although the more frequently you take them the more tolerance you build up, requiring more pills in a vicious cycle. Valley of the Dolls is a 1966 cult classic written by Jacqueline Susann, exploring the world of pop culture and Hollywood. This is a roman à clef that explores the life of three friends; Anne, Jennifer and Neely and their aspirations in life.

Jacqueline Susann is very blunt in the Valley of the Dolls and it is painfully obvious what she wants to say. This did not stop me from absolutely enjoying this novel and I found myself slowing down to stay in the world of these three woman. Susann wants to explore ideas of fame, money and even love; showing that just because you have what seems like the perfect life, does not mean it is perfect, particularly when it comes to fame. Each character seems to succeed in their perspective careers and once at the top, there is nowhere left to go but down.

Each of the three characters are different and the shifting perspectives help explore their lives. I really liked Jennifer, she was sassy and head strong. She was considered a great beauty, with big breasts and it was interesting to follow her life. She frequently becomes nothing but a pair of breasts and people often cared about nothing else about her. Anne was the more grounded character and gave a nice balance between Jennifer and Neely. I did not like Neely as a character; a big shot actress and often a difficult diva. I liked how different each character was but I did find myself wanting the sections about Neely to hurry up and end so I could move on to one of the others.

The novel deals with plenty of social issues, and we have to remember that the 1960s was a time of great political and social change. This allowed Jacqueline Susann a chance to express her opinions on sex, sexism, addiction, abortion and mental illness. At times it can be very descriptive and hard to read, especially when it comes to the sexism and slurs. I think this is an important element of the book and really allowed you to feel the negativity that these women had to struggle through.

Valley of the Dolls was such an enjoyable novel, not without its flaws but I found myself sucked into this world. I am glad to follow these three woman, through their ups and downs in life. I find myself become more of a fan of the roman à clef; which is a book about real life disguised as a piece of fiction. I know this novel gets a lot of criticism, mainly about Jacqueline Susann’s bluntness towards the social issues but I found this wonderful and so happy to finally read it.

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Posted November 25, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Dexter is Dead by Jeff LindsayTitle: Dexter Is Dead (Goodreads)
Author: Jeff Lindsay
Series: Dexter #8
Published: Orion, 2015
Pages: 286
My Copy: Library Book

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When I first started reading back in 2009, one of the series I became obsessed with was the Dexter Morgan series. I loved the concept of an anti-hero as the protagonist and Jeff Lindsay had come up with a good concept of a forensic analyst/sociopath. I liked exploring the mind of a killer but not just any sociopath; Dexter had a code, he could not control his urge to kill but he made it his mission to only hunt the people that deserved to die. We can talk about the moral complexities at great length but now I want to review Dexter is Dead.

This is the eighth and final book in the Dexter Morgan series; the books were a bit hit or miss but Dexter was a great character. Most people know of Dexter Morgan from the hit TV show Dexter, the character is the same but after the first book and season the two mediums took different directions. There are plenty of times where it felt like both the show and the books stole good ideas from each other but for the most part the storylines were different.

I cannot go into the plot of this one because it would contain too many spoilers; especially for book seven (Dexter’s Final Cut) as this takes place directly after those events. I liked that this novel took up after the last novel, bringing together a much larger plot; I want more crime novels to have an overarching plot line. I do not read many series, and I think the Dexter series is the only one I have spent so much time in, but I really enjoyed returning to such a great character.

Jeff Lindsay’s writing is not that strong and I felt there were many times where this book and series just got clunky or too clichéd. However because the protagonist was so well developed, this helped carry the bad writing. I am pleased to say Dexter is Dead is one of the stronger novels in the series and helped end everything on a high note. Also the ending of the book series is so much better than the ending of the TV show. I am going to miss the Dexter books and might have to find another crime series to replace the void it has left. Suggestions welcome.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Posted November 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia DayTitle: You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Goodreads)
Author: Felicia Day
Narrator: Felicia Day
Published: Sphere, 2015
Pages: 262
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day from when I first saw The Guild. I think she is a talented and quirky actress/writer/content creator. She knew how to use the Internet to her advantage and I have been watching her grow in popularity and in content creation. But let’s face it; her best work is from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, with Dr. Holly Marten from Eureka a close second. Obviously this is subjective and she has been involved with many great projects but those two really stand out for me.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is the first memoir from Felicia Day; it covers broad strokes of life so far. If you follow Felicia on the Internet, a lot of the information within the book is familiar. However it was nice to have everything in the one memoir. While I knew a fair chunk of what is covered in the book, I still enjoyed reading this.

The memoir goes into great depth with the concept of failure. Failure, should never mean the end, or taken so negatively. Felicia Day goes to great lengths to explain the amount of times she failed and the importance to keep going. This is a lesson Felicia had to learn time and time again and she hopes that she can pass on the advice to the readers. However I think this is one of those lessons we all have to learn for ourselves.

I listened to You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) as an audiobook, read by Felicia Day. I think the audio experience enhanced my experience. I really enjoy listening to non-fiction as audiobook, and when the author reads their memoir, that just makes the experience better. Felicia Day is an interesting person but I do not think this book is for everyone. Fans of Felicia Day or people with an interest in content creation might enjoy You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), but for everyone else, there is not much left here to offer.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Posted October 29, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Windup Girl by Paolo BacigalupiTitle: The Windup Girl (Goodreads)
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: Orbit, 2009
Pages: 508
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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The Windup Girl is a debut novel for Paolo Bacigalupi, an author that seems to take present day issues and explore them in a science fiction setting. The Windup Girl is set in 23rd-century Thailand, and explores ideas around genetically modified ‘genehacked’ foods. Anderson Lake works for AgriGen’s Calorie, one of the three mega-corporations that control the biotechnology field, and controlling food production. Emiko is a Windup Girl, a beautiful creature, not human but rather a genetically engineered being.

The Windup Girl is a very difficult novel to summarise, but I do not really care about the plot; I picked this up for the themes. I knew this was going to be a biopunk novel that explores ideas of genetically modified food and bioterrorism but I was surprised with everything this book covers. With a food shortage, ‘calories become currency’, giving corporations with bio-engineering backgrounds the tools for larger profits and control. However, what happens when corporations have too much control?

I am sure people will dislike this book for being overly complex or dense, but I really think you need to ignore the plot at times and focus on the actual message. Paolo Bacigalupi has a lot of interesting ideas, genetically modified product is a slippery slope but food shortages will also become a problem. How do we find a balance? This bleak world really captures corporations in an interesting light, exploring the shocking tactics used for better profits, and the lack of compassion they have towards the people (or windups).

This debut novel, really catapulted Paolo Bacigalupi career; winning the Nebula Award for Best Novel, Locus Award for Best First Novel and sharing the Hugo Award for Best Novel with China Miéville’s brilliant novel The City & the City. Recently Bacigalupi released his sixth novel, The Water Knife that explores water shortages; a book I need to read as well. I like when science fiction novels explore interesting issues, this is why I prefer Soviet sci-fi or novels from the 1960s, but I think Bacigalupi is an author I will need to pay more attention to in the future.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Posted October 2, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Gothic / 2 Comments

Interview with the Vampire by Anne RiceTitle: Interview with the Vampire (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Rice
Series: The Vampire Chronicles #1
Published: Sphere, 1976
Pages: 308
Genres: Gothic
My Copy: Paperback

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When people talk about Anne Rice, you can be sure that the first novel in the Vampire Chronicles, Interview with the Vampire, will be mentioned. Easily her most recognisable novel, this 1976 debut tells the story of three very different vampires. Focusing on the two hundred year old, Louis, the book tells how Lestat turned him as well as five-year-old Claudia, and his life as a vampire as he conveys it to a reporter. This breakout novel even spawned the hit 1994 adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst.

I first read Interview with the Vampire when I first got into reading and really enjoyed it. In that review I gave it high praises, saying, “The whole story is almost philosophical in the way it tells the struggle of Louis and his moral conscience…[A] battle of good and evil is played out in a more evil orientated world… It doesn’t feel forced or predictable it just leaves you thinking how wonderfully complex these characters are.” Looking back on that review with a fresh re-read and five more years of reading experience, I have a very different opinion.

First of all, the vampire mythology is an interesting literary device to explore morality. Looking back on the mythology, all the way to classics like Dracula; novels continue to explore the morality of a powerful vampire sucking the life away from the innocent. What gives them the right to life over everyone else? There is a conflict between morality and the idea of survival. Within Interview with the Vampire it does this in two distinct ways; first you have Lestat who takes life without a care in the world, following the instincts of survival. While Louis is often questioning his survival and the moral implications, often hating what he has become.

The novel spans the life of Louis for the past two hundred years, though Interview with the Vampire is just over 300 pages. For me this becomes the biggest downfall of the book, and the character development, especially the psychological, suffers. There are a lot of interesting topics that this novel could have explored but we never get the opportunity to do so in great detail. Take for example, Claudia; she has many years to live and learn about life, and this could have made for a far greater story. The struggles Claudia went through would have been fascinating, especially the sexual development of a girl stuck in a five-year-olds body.

It is interesting to see how much a few years has changed my view on literature; I feel like I am developing some useful skills to analyse the books. I also feel like I am getting to the point where I am starting to feel like I am ‘well read’ (although there is a long way to go). Having experienced more with the vampire mythology and literature in general, I am enjoying going back to some of the books I read more than five years ago. Sometimes I do not enjoy the novel as much, like I did this time, but other times I find a new found respect for what an author was trying to do (see a future review of The Handmaid’s Tale). Interview with the Vampire could have been so much more, and now I just wish it was.

Nest by Inga Simpson

Posted September 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Nest by Inga SimpsonTitle: Nest (Goodreads)
Author: Inga Simpson
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 296
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Jen was once an artist and a teacher, but now she spends her times watching birds and working in her gardens. Her house is surrounded by her lush sub-tropical gardens which help keep her from being disturbed by other people in the small town that she grew up in. The only person she sees regularly is Henry who comes after school for drawing lessons. However a girl in his class has gone missing, which pulls Jen back into her past where she lost both her father and best friend in the same week. Now forty years later, the town is talking about those disappearances in connection to the newly missing girl.

If I went into Nest as a book on nature writing, I may have a completely different reaction to the book. For me I went in thinking this was going to be a novel revolving around the disappearances and possibly solving the mysteries of her past and what happened to this young girl. Nest focuses mainly on a life of seclusion and the birds Jen finds within her garden. It is a quiet and even gentle novel that I did not connect with at all.

The mysteries only served as a sub-plot and no real depth went into developing it. I found Jen was very evasive and did not want to explore her past or talk about the situation. This was meant to be a way to show the damage caused by the loss of her father and best friend but it was just over done. It was a useful technique for exploring Jen’s hurt and pain but because it was used so much the mystery plot really suffered.

I know I went into the book with the wrong expectations, and I eventually did enjoy the nature writing, and the quiet and peaceful sentences. I put too much focus on the sub-plot and this really highlighted the problems I had with the novel. Inga Simpson can really write and there are some great sentence structures to be found in this novel. Nest is beautifully written and if you love nature and bird watching, this will be worth reading; just do not read this for the mystery.

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Posted September 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Girl at War by Sara NovićTitle: Girl At War (Goodreads)
Author: Sara Nović
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Ana Jurić is a carefree young girl, running and playing through the streets of Croatia’s capital city Zagreb. This was the summer of 1991, and this is the summer that will change everything, not just for Ana, but also for all of Croatia. The country has declared its independence from Yugoslavia, which has sparked civil unrest and quickly became the Croatian War of Independence. Girl at War tells the story of Ana as a ten-year-old in 1991 and then ten years later while living in New York City.

The Croatian War of Independence lasted from 1991 to 1995, between the Croat forces local to the government and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). This war started when the Croatian government declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). The majority of Croatians wanted to become a sovereign state, but Serbs remained loyal to Serbia’s wish to remain apart of Yugoslavia. This cost Croatia between 6,000 – 8,000 soldiers and almost as many citizens were killed (or missing) during the conflict as well. However they estimate about 220,000 people were displaced during this period.

Girl at War is a coming of age story of a girl living through the crumbling soviet state and trying to move on. She founds herself in New York City when 9/11 happens, which forces her to confront her past and deal with the part of her life she has tried to bury. Sara Nović’s debut novel is a perfect novel, reminding me of books like A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra and All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon. This is an unflinching look at a crumbling Yugoslavia and a country unsure of their future.

This is a heart-breaking debut, that was flawlessly executed, many people might be familiar with my love for novels set in a crumbling soviet state and this was my chance to explore the history of Yugoslavia. I hope there will be many more novels like this released in the future, and I am eagerly anticipating the next Girl at War as well as a new novel by Sara Nović. There is not much about Nović to be found online, but I suspect some autobiographical elements within this novel because the emotions just felt too real. Do you know any other books similar to this that I might enjoy?

The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

Posted August 14, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 0 Comments

The Two Faces of January by Patricia HighsmithTitle: The Two Faces of January (Goodreads)
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Published: Sphere, 1964
Pages: 306
Genres: Crime, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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Con artist Chester MacFarland is wanted by the police back in America, but here in Greece, he feels free to roam with his young Colette. That was until he accidently kills a police officer in his hotel room. The young American law graduate, Rydal Keener is there to help them escape the city. This accident has brought the three together but is this for the best or is there something else at play?

Patricia Highsmith is often referred to as the queen of suspense and The Two Faces of January does not do anything to contradict this. The title alone gives the reader a pretty clear idea of what to expect; the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus has two faces, one looking to the future while the other looks at the past. The term Janus-faced means “having two sharply contrasting aspects or characteristics”. In the biography Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith by Andrew Wilson, Highsmith stated that the title was a reference to the flux-like nature of the characters that she likes to create.

When it comes to character development, Patricia Highsmith really shines like no other. She has a great ability to create complex characters that feel authentic, and that is an ability that I find lacking in a lot of suspense novels. In The Two Faces of January, Highsmith creates a love triangle that is actually interesting to read about. There is the homoerotic relationship between Chester and Rydal and Colette is also quite taken by this young law graduate. This turns the book into more of a psychological look at the shifting nature of relationships rather than a thriller. It does depends on how the reader decides to read The Two Faces of January but for me the depth is what stood out for me.

I probably should mention that The Two Faces of January was adapted into a movie back in 2014 starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac. This was the directorial debut for Hossein Amini, who is best known writing the screenplay for the novels Drive and Our Kind of Traitor; he even wrote the script for The Two Faces of January. I know I need to have more Highsmith within my reading life and I am thinking about re-reading The Talented Mr Ripley, before continuing on with the series. I have noticed there are new editions of the Highsmith’s novels lately and I think I should take advantage of the availability while they are easily accessible.