Month: April 2013

Monthly Review – April 2013

Posted April 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

As we draw April to a close I have to admit that while I’ve almost caught up on all my book reviews for this blog, I’m feeling like I’m in a reading slump. It’s a new feeling for me that is causing frustration; I recently started a new job which has been mentally draining me so I hope that is the only reason behind this slump. But rather than focus on my frustration, let’s talk about the positives. You might have noticed I’ve been posting a book review up practically every day, this was because I got so far behind in reviews I would read a book and want to talk about it but waited two months for it to go live. While a book review every second day was a great idea I managed to get too far behind and now that I’m almost fully up to date I can go back to what I wanted to do with this blog. While reviews are important part of this blog and my reading journey I want to leave some room for some bookish related posts that aren’t reviews. Maybe some guest posts, my lovely wife has done some great ones in the past and a huge thanks to Mish and Toby for their posts as well. I want to generate some interesting posts that aren’t just reviews; so with any luck this will happen soon (I have an interesting one about satire planned).

As for this month; the book club focused on Japanese literature and read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami which I really enjoyed and you can read my review here. I know many people are Murakami fans but to be honest, the only other novel I’ve read of his was 1Q84 and I didn’t enjoy it. I’m looking forward to what the book club does next month when we read The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for our supernatural theme. If you haven’t gotten involved with this book club and are interested in exploring literature with us, then you can do so over on Goodreads.

My reading this month was rather unproductive, I did manage to read ten novels but most of them were in the first half of the month and I think many of them were under 200 pages. My highlights included Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, The Son by Philipp Meyer, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and of course this month book pick for book club. But the book that stood out the most was The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, which I remember enjoying the movie but only remembered what happened as I read through this novel. I think I got sucked into this world that I didn’t want to leave, sadly that only lasted for a day then the book was over;the ups and downs of reading. What was your month of reading like? What were the highlights?

My Monthly Reading

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Posted April 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Published: Vintage, 1985
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

In the future, Tokyo remains the technology powerhouse it is today. With the major advances in technology, data security has become more valuable; problem is all codes can be broken if you know how. The Calcutec is a human data processor/encryption system who has been trained to use his bio-algorithms implant and subconscious for encryption. A new comer to a strange, isolated walled town known as “The End of the World” is assigned a job as a dream reader. As he finds acceptance within the town, his mind begins to fade; or has it only been suppressed?

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tells the story of a split between two parallel narratives from different worlds. The consciousness and the unconscious mind; “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” refers to The Calcutec’s life as an encryption machine while “The End of the World” is his subconscious world. The two stories are told in alternating chapters as the reader slowly discovers the mysteries connecting these two worlds together. Hard-Boiled Wonderland is a homage to Raymond Chandler and hard-boiled fiction, as well as to science fiction and cyberpunk and “The End of the World” has similarities to Franz Kafka’s The Castle.

The major theme within this book is the nature of consciousness; both narratives are constructed around this general idea. While the odd numbered chapters refer to the conscious mind and the even-numbered chapters the subconscious, it is interesting to note they link together with similar themes; for example the song Danny Boy appeared in consecutive chapters. Even characters are shared between consciousnesses; the object of the narrator’s desire, the librarian is a perfect example of this.

Beyond that, the concept of subconscious being able to be controlled or shaped plays out in the entire book. This brings me to another major theme within this novel; the morality of science. The scientific experiments been done on the narrators mind in the attempt to separate the conscious and the subconscious in an attempt create more secure encryptions is an interesting topic. It reminds me a little of Frankenstein when it looks at the dangers of science and its moral implications. The Professor’s experiment killed about twenty people and while he feels remorse for the tragedy he also feels like it was the right choice in the name of progress.

While there are many more themes that would be interesting to explore I wanted to look at character. In both narratives there are no names for any of the characters, each is referred to by their occupation or a general description; from the Narrator, known as The Calcutec, the Librarian, the Old Man, the Professor, the Big Guy and the Chubby Girl. I never really payed too much attention to this while reading the book but referring to a girl as “the Chubby Girl” did bother me; it wasn’t till the very end that I was bothered by the lot. I couldn’t understand why this book was so frustratingly vague and incomplete with character and setting descriptions, I don’t know what the reason behind it would be, except for maybe removing any obstructions that might hinder the understanding of the novel.

Even the narrative is offering a very limited view of what is actually happening but slowly most of the mysteries do become clearer but the entire focus was on the subtext of this book. This wasn’t meant to be about great characters or scenes; this was all about exploring the themes as a way to get Haruki Murakami’s thoughts on the subject across. In a sense, this is what Murakami excels at; if it wasn’t for these well thought out ideas his books would just be odd and weird. This is my second Murakami novel and the first one I’ve actually enjoyed.

I’ve finally discovered what makes Haruki Murakami an author to take notice of; I didn’t find the same thing with 1Q84, I thought it was long winded and repetitive but Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World really worked for me. I have some issues with the novel, obviously the vagueness was one of the major ones, but overall this was a really interesting journey for me.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Posted April 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldTitle: The Thirteenth Tale (Goodreads)
Author: Diane Setterfield
Published: Atria Books, 2006
Pages: 406
Genres: Crime, Gothic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Amateur biographer Margaret Lea finds a mysterious handwritten letter waiting for her one night. The letter is a request from what could be considered Britain’s most prolific novelist Vida Winter. Winter’s wishes to recount her life’s story but has been notorious for her abilities to evade journalists’ questions in the past, making up a different story for every journalist. This project will force both women to confront the mysterious paths that have been haunting them and if we are lucky we might find out the mystery of The Thirteenth Tale.

The Thirteenth Tale is a tapestry of two threads weaved together, Margaret’s story both past and present as well as Winter’s past. A gothic mystery that deals with death, identity, isolation and for me it felt like it was a novel about how evil twins are. I’m not sure if it was the current mood I was in when reading this book but I felt like this book was trying too hard to be something it couldn’t live up to. Two alternating narratives can be a difficult literary technique to get right but I never really felt it worked. Sure, many people loved this book but I wonder if they were too caught up in the narrative to notice the problems.

It is true, the writing in the novel is spectacular and I did find myself being swept away in this gothic narrative but then when I reflect back, I notice all the flaws. The novel sets out to piece together the puzzle of both Margret and Ms Winter but some of the pieces were lost and we are left with all these holes. I’m not satisfied with the amount of questions that were left unanswered, I was just left feeling disappointed and have no desire to try and reread this in the hopes to find what I might have missed.

For a gothic novel, I felt like it moved into the realm of clichés; from the mysterious manor to the mysteries of their pasts, everything felt rather predictable in that aspect. I felt like this book was borrowing rather heavily on some gothic classics, there were elements of Rebecca here and even the Brontës. Now I haven’t read Jane Eyre but with the amount of references made to this book in The Thirteenth Tale, I suspect that this was a major source for Diane Setterfield gothic attempts. I never felt like there was anything new or interesting with the plot of this book.

I wish I knew what make people give this book such a high rating, sure the writing was beautiful but I felt like Diane Setterfield tried to do too much in her first novel and it didn’t quite work. Maybe if you are new to the Gothic genre this might be a decent contemporary novel to give you a taste of what to expect but I feel like this book left me high and dry. I would recommend Sarah Waters over Diane Setterfield but ultimately I would rather some of the gothic classics.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Posted April 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 18 Comments

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonTitle: Life After Life (Goodreads)
Author: Kate Atkinson
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2013
Pages: 480
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.

I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thought this book was overhyped and over rated. Sure Kate Atkinson has this trippy ability to create this bleak world while still managing to add some wit and compassion but it wasn’t the writing that was at fault. The premise of the book makes it sound really good but let’s face it; it is just Groundhog Day in disguise.  The book is clever, but it tries too hard to be clever and it didn’t really turn out the way it should have; for me anyway. This book is getting so many rave reviews, I feel like I am a black sheep just telling people it did not work.

As I said before, there is nothing wrong with the writing; Kate Atkinson has created this lyrical narrative and I did find myself being swept away in the words. I even felt like at times I was reading this book without thinking about what was happening; a few times I had to stop and process before continuing. I almost found myself not noticing a death and Ursula’s life starting again and that could have got me completely lost. I did feel like Kate Atkinson did however overdo the twists and it turned out to be a roundabout way to retell the same story over and over again with different outcomes. This could have worked; and it sounds like it worked for many people but I sadly wasn’t one of them.

I wonder if Kate Atkinson was trying something different and experimental where she could play with the character’s death and life, explore the concept of life’s choices and their consequences but because there were no real penalty to Ursula’s life I wonder if it really worked? Do you ever have déjà vu? (I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen) Life after Life just seems to repeat the same scenes, some readers might gain a sense of familiarity and for me it just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Life after Life is the kind of book you should probably read in a real cold climate; the snowy, dark and sometimes bleakness of the novel seems to call for it. Maybe read snuggled up on a dark winters night and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today (It’s coooold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?).  It is just the book that would work better in the cold; though it is never cold here in Townsville, maybe that’s why it didn’t work for me.

I really wanted to enjoy this book; I will try another Kate Atkinson novel because I really think she has a great style. Just so happened Life after Life was not for me and I know people loved this book and will probably complain about this review but at least it was just an excuse to put some Groundhog Day quotes into something. This book has had so many positive reviews so maybe it is just me, if the book sounds like something you’d like then don’t let this review stop you, is it too early for flapjacks?

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Posted April 25, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Chick Lit / 0 Comments

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen FieldingTitle: Bridget Jones's Diary (Goodreads)
Author: Helen Fielding
Series: Bridget Jones #1
Published: Pan Macmillan, 1996
Pages: 310
Genres: Chick Lit
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Bridget Jones’s Diary is the year in the life of a thirty-something single working woman living in London. While she writes about her career, problems, family, friends, and a quest for a romantic relationship she is also on a quest for self improvement. To quit smoking, cut down on drinking, lose weight and develop Inner poise, this novel is a comical look at the modern woman.

First of all, I think of this book as a pseudo feminist novel; while there are plenty of elements in the novel that could be considered a critique of feminism; this is more satire than anything else. Bridget wants to be that kind of woman but she never gets there, she tries to come across as a strong independent working woman who does what she wants when she wants, but when it all comes down to it, what she wants is a man. Interesting enough the strongest feminist is the mother who has legitimate feminist ideals, but not portrayed in a very positive light.

There is this idea that Bridget Jones’s Diary is based on Pride and Prejudice but I have some issues with this and I will try to explore some of my basic thoughts on this. Firstly Bridget is not Elizabeth Bennett; she would like to be, but in the book her personality would be more like Lydia. Her goal is to become more like Lizzie but her relationship with Daniel Cleaver (possible the Wickham of the story) shows us that she is living a life of self gratification. If we are going to compare characters to those in Pride and Prejudice, then Bridget’s mother might start off as a Mrs Bennett but in the end turns into a Lydia as well. Mark Darcy is obviously Mr Darcy and probably the only character that closely resembles the original character. There is also the desire to find a husband (or mate) due to the pressures put on them by their mothers as well as the perception of running out of time. In Lizzie’s case, she was at the age where she needs to seriously consider getting married as it was expected of her and in Bridget’s case it was more to do with her biological clock.

Here is how I think the comparison was made; in the novel Bridget was obsessed with the BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, she considered Lizzie and Darcy the idea of the a great romance and wanted to find her own Mr Darcy. She loves the lake scene with Colin Firth in the wet white shirt (not in the book), so when it come to moment where Bridget realises who’s the right man for her, the book tries to replicate the scene with the description of Mark Darcy coming in dirty and sweaty and her attraction to him at that moment. Obviously since the movie had Colin Firth playing Mark Darcy, they were able to replicate this scene a lot better and this is why the ending was changed.

I don’t know much about Chick Lit so it is hard to talk about the writing and how it compares to other books in this genre but I have some thoughts I want to explore. First of all, this novel is almost like a soliloquy; obviously being a diary she is expecting no one else to read her thoughts, so she can express feelings that she would never consider sharing with others. The diary takes the reader through the year with her, as it happens, not with the wisdom of hindsight or any wisdom at all. The only problem is that it blurs the line between a first person narrative and third; there are parts of the book where it would be obscure to think Bridget was writing down everything happening, minute by minute as it was happening. This is to help add to the comedy of the book but to me it added to the absurdity.

Lastly I want to talk about Bridget Jones; the modern woman, obsessed with romance but still wanting to appear as a strong independent woman. She starts the diary in an effort try to improve herself but it also suggests that she is self-absorbed. What really got me was her negative body image; each day she weighed herself and throughout the course of the entire book the most she ever weighed was 9.6 stone (just over 60kg or 132 pounds) and she considers herself overweight by that? I know she compares herself to people on TV but it’s just ridiculous. Also with the amount of calories, cigarettes and alcohol she drinks, I’m surprised she is so under weight and that is where the satire started to frustrate me.

Overall, I was entertained by this book; as a novel it did have its issues and is riddled with chick lit clichés. As a satirical novel, it worked on some levels but most of the time it had to rely on the chick lit elements to help push it through. I didn’t remember much about the movie, except for the fountain scene and Renée Zellweger putting on weight for the role. Which when comparing it to the book doesn’t make sense but on a personal level, I think it was an improvement; she looked fantastic. Overall the book was quirky but the real surprise for me was the wit and irony used throughout the novel; enough to entertain me.

A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

Posted April 24, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Historical Fiction / 5 Comments

A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn ShepherdTitle: A Treacherous Likeness (Goodreads)
Author: Lynn Shepherd
Published: Corsair, 2013
Pages: 336
Genres: Crime, Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

In 1850, a young detective takes on a new case unlike anything seen before; Charles Maddox’s client is the surviving son of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. Maddox has to track down some papers concerning the Shelleys that could be used for blackmail and ruin their literary legacy. This will take him into investigating the dark lives of not just Percy Bysshe Shelley but all the young Romantics and question the cause of death for Shelley’s first wife, Harriet.

This was a really difficult book to review but I will try hard to be fair and explore the two contradicting opinions I have about this book. First of all, I read this book with not much knowledge of the Romantics; I knew basics but I hadn’t explored them as much as I would have liked. I’ve been a fan of this literary movement even since the start of my reading life and most of you know that Frankenstein remains my favourite novel of all time. So when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Reading the book, I found it interesting; the writing style really reminded me of the time. Yet at times I felt like the writing was trying to reflect the time and sometimes it just did not feel right. I found myself rereading paragraphs trying to pick up what bothered me about them. I never really found the problem, I do not even think it was the writing that was my problem but more of the tone, but more on that later. When it comes to the mystery, everything felt pretty straightforward, piece by piece slowly revealed until the reader finally knows what was going on.

While I did have some problems with the book, all in all I was enjoying the book and would give it a rating of three stars, maybe three and a half. I didn’t find out much about the protagonist Charles Maddox as I would have liked but this could be because this detective appears in Lynn Shepherd’s other novel Tom-All-Alone. If I had read this book first I might have a different opinion towards Maddox. Which brings me to my problems; A Treacherous Likeness would have been a decent novel if it wasn’t using literary legends. This book made me want to explore more about the Romantic Movement, to its credit, but this was also its downfall.

After finishing this novel, I’ve been dipping in and out of three different books; The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler; Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay; and Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes. All these Non-Fiction books are vastly different but I picked them to get more of an insight on the lives of the Shelleys. Now the Romantics are wonderfully complex people with equally complex relationships and I don’t understand what their lives were like but the creative licence this author took in A Treacherous Likeness to weave this story through only leads me to think one thing. With all I’ve learnt about Percy Bysshe Shelley and the others I’ve come to the conclusion that Lynn Shepherd mustn’t like them at all.

I’ve got more to learn about the lives of the great poets but after reading some of the non-fiction of the time and reflecting back on A Treacherous Likeness I can’t help thinking, while the author has excellent knowledge on these people there has to be hatred towards them as well. In A Treacherous Likeness there are the controversial statements of Mary Shelley not writing Frankenstein, killing her baby and with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s help pushing Harriett to suicide. While they have merit and we can’t be sure if these are true or not they still point towards a dislike of these people, Mary Shelley in particular. This could be the author’s attempt to weave her story through the facts and create this complex mystery; for me, after all the research it just comes across in a negative way.

I have a lot to learn about the Romantic Movement and I have to give A Treacherous Likeness credit for the re-spark in my interest in these people. I am not trying to be negative towards Lynn Shepherd; I think she has a great writing style and hope that she continues writing historical mysteries. I would prefer if it wasn’t based on real people because when it comes to the Romantics and Mary Shelley, I still adore them and don’t like to read anything that paints them in a horrible light. Sure they were not the nicest people, they made many mistakes but we can’t deny what they did for literature. I think I will have to try Tom-All-Alone one day just so I’m not judging this author on just one experience; her writing is worth reading, I just had some issues with this novel.

Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Posted April 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick ThorpTitle: Nothing Lasts Forever (Goodreads)
Author: Roderick Thorp
Series: Die Hard #1
Published: Graymalkin Media, 1979
Pages: 246
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Retired NYPD Detective Joe Leland visits his daughter in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday period with her. He meets her at her place of work, the 40-story office that houses the headquarters of the Klaxon Oil Corporation. Only to find the building been taken by a group of Cold War-era German terrorists. Lead by Anton “Little Tony” Gruber, their plans are to steal documents that will publicly expose the Klaxon Corporation. With the help of LAPD Sergeant Al Powell, Leland must fight the terrorist one by one to save the hostages, and more importantly his daughter and grandchildren.

Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp was re-released in December 2012 after being out of print for 20 years and if you haven’t guessed it by now, this is the novel Die Hard is based on. My biggest issue with the book was it was very similar to the classic movie (which I’ve seen so many times), yet it was missing all the one liners and humour. Most of the most iconic scenes do come from the book, including crawling around the elevator shafts, C4 down the elevator shaft, jumping off the roof with a fire hose and the gun tapped to his back. I’m surprised just how faithful to the book the movie does seem but then when you expect him to say “Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho” or something similar Leland says something similar but different and it just doesn’t feel right.

The similarities seem to be so numerous that it is almost pointless to read the book, especially if you know the movie back to front. The major differences between the book and the movie (not including names and slight character changes) include that Terrorist were really out to expose the company rather than  robbing them and the ending was less Hollywood in the end. I feel this is one of the rare cases where the movie outshines the book, even if it is similar overall the movie was amazing and the book was fading away into obscurity (up till the rerelease). McClane is a far better character than Leland but interesting enough the book seems to focus a lot more on the complexity of the protagonist’s mind in regards to family, guilt and his alcoholism but I felt it didn’t work too well.

The book does feel like it’s aged too much, the political views on terrorism seem so dated, but if you read this book as just an action novel you probably can overlook this and even forgive it. I never was able to do this, I just felt like their responses to the hostile takeover felt wrong and somewhat amateurish. This is obviously to make sure Leland had to remain the single man that can save the 72 hostages but part of me was a little annoyed by that. One man taking on the world makes for a great story but I’m always bothered by that and while it’s entertaining in a book I feel like I question it more than I would with a movie.

Nothing Lasts Forever is a little darker than Die Hard but there is no real competition when comparing the two. Die Hard is a classic action film and spawned some great (and terrible) sequels. The book was interesting to explore but really there are more books out there that deserve the time; stick to the film. Interestingly enough, Nothing Lasts Forever was intended as a sequel to the 1966 film The Detective starring Frank Sinatra, then as a follow up to Commando (1985) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both actors declined the role; after being rewritten, the script turned into a standalone film which has become one of the greatest Action movies of all time.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Posted April 21, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTitle: Pride and Prejudice (Goodreads)
Author: Jane Austen
Published: Pulp! The Classics, 1813
Pages: 320
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is often considered one of the greatest novels of all time; the story of proud William Darcy and the prejudices of Elizabeth Bennet. From Lizzie’s perspective their spirited courtship plays out on the page; in this witty comedy of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in early 19th century society.

Most of you would already know this story; you’ve probably seen an adaptation or two in your time. For me, I was never interested in reading this book, I knew what it was about but I never knew what to expect. Eventually I had to read this book, in part for university and because it’s a classic that will always remain on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List. This is the novel that just will not die; 200 years later since this was published the book still sits very often in the top ten in a lot of bookstores and other literary lists. It’s been adapted multiple times as well as been retold many times (highlights include Lost in Austen & The Lizzie Bennet Diaries). The novel has also inspired a range of other books including books by Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie and Helen Fielding.

First of all I want to look at Jane Austen’s attempt to play with the traditional quest format to offer us this rather clever novel. Let’s look at the novel from a traditional storytelling point of view. The potential princes in this novel; Darcy was considered clever and cold, Mr Wickham was too hot, then there was Mr Collins, the one that could save the ‘castle’ who should be just right, but he was not warm but tepid and boring. The pattern is reshaped and slowly the princess’ heart has been won, even if she doesn’t know it straight away. Then Austen needs to make the suitor eligible to win over the heroine; so she sends him on a quest to win Lizzie’s heart. Then like all quest stories, the story ends abruptly, with a marriage and a happy ending. This ancient pattern only provided the basic story structure for Jane Austen to weave her story into.

The interesting thing about this novel is the fact that this book has no physical action in the entire book; the novel rather concerns itself with the complexity of courtship and marriage in the landowning classes in provincial England. Austen writes about the people she knows, doing the activities we would expect them to do. Yet she manages to write it with such wit and skill that the novel refreshing and remained so popular.

Elizabeth Bennet is clearly Austen’s favourite in the book; the character is stronger and smarter than even the men in the book. Yet she goes to great lengths to make sure that this is believable. While she is clever, Lizzie still has romance/the sublime on her mind; her references to the Lake Distracts could be considered evidence of this. I feel like Jane Austen is trying to show that a woman like Lizzie should be deserving of the family home more than someone like Mr Collins. The Bennet’s are not middle class in this novel; Mr Bennet doesn’t work, he is a man of leisure, landowners but without a son their property will be inherited by Mr Collins. So we have this impending doom (according to Mrs Bennet) with only one hope of saving the family, marriage. When Lizzie Bennet rejects Mr Collins and eventually marries Darcy, Austen tries to tell us that character matters more than rank when it comes to romance, but then there is still a whole lot to do with rank and class that remains within the novel.

At the start of the novel Lizzie and Darcy hate each other but by the end they are the perfect couple. So what is Austen trying to tell us with this change in momentum? To do this let’s look at the other relationships; First off there is some evidence that Mr and Mrs Bennet got married at a very young age, lust had brought the two together and there might have been a pregnancy. Now that the lust has cooled they find they have nothing in common. Mr Collins and Charlotte are almost the opposite; there is no passion in their marriage, it was more of a business arrangement, no kids and unhappy in their marriage. Mr Bingley and Jane are just smitten with each other; there is no real evidence that there is anything more than just an infatuation. So when it comes to Lizzie and Darcy, they are written as the opposite, they are not smitten, they have to make their way there. They develop a healthy respect and admiration as well as love. All the details are focused on Lizzie and Darcy; all the other characters are rather underdeveloped, they feel more like caricatures, yet we still need to look at the other couples to see what Austen was trying to achieve.

Now I want to look more at the writing and style rather than character and plot. Pride and Prejudice started off as an epistolary novel, it has been said that this was originally written as a series of letters; this is why there is a huge lack of character description. This is also a novel of wit so let’s focus more on how Jane Austen achieves that.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Looking at the very first line we get a sense of Austen’s ironical attacks; Bingley and Darcy both have women lined up but both don’t seem too keen to marry. Single men with large fortunes have the luxury of doing what they want. It is only Mrs Bennet that is trying to convince the reader that the opening line is indeed true. Just in the first few lines we can see the subtlety of Austen’s language. This book is full of other slight digs at society and it took me a second read through to really see them, but they are there and I suspect that is why this book continues to remain popular; no matter how many times you read this book there is still something to discover.

Jane Austen likes to dig at the concepts at Class and Courtship, but more so towards love and marriage. It is interesting to see that many people read this book at face value and just gloss over any attempt at irony in this book. This book is riddled with discursive and dramatic irony but to Jane Austen’s credit she was able to do it in such a subtle way that it can be easily overlooked or missed. For a cynical person like me, it was this irony that I respect the most. I love that you can read this book as a great romance or as an ironic look at love and marriage. While the irony plays out in the book, Jane Austen’s fundamental optimism makes sure no damage was done and the outcome is a happy one.

I expected Pride and Prejudice to be a romance, exploring the courtship of Lizzie and Darcy, which it is, but I was so pleased that there was so much more in this novel to explore. I read this novel and then went back and reread this novel right away; this was mainly because I needed to for Uni but I found this deliciously cynical voice come through the second time that changed my opinion of this book. I’m not sure if Jane Austen’s novels are always so ironic but if they are, she has found herself a new fan.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Posted April 20, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Ghostman by Roger HobbsTitle: Ghostman (Goodreads)
Series: Ghostman #1
, 2012
Pages: 336
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When a casino heist goes bad, there are a lot of loose ends to tidy up. Loose ends like a million dollars and only 48 hours to find it. The Ghostman is sent into find the money and make sure the crime isn’t connected back to his employer. Only problem is he is in the Wolf’s territory now and he wants the Ghostman’s head in a bag; if they can find him.

First of all, this is a pretty stereotypical heist novel, with all the normal thriller elements that you expect, the double crosses, the cops, the clearly laid out plan, it is all there in this book. So why did I enjoy this book more than I should have? The Ghostman, let’s just call him Jack Delton as that is the name he uses the most in the novel, is nothing really special. There isn’t much character development; he continues to remain an enigma the entire time. Yet there is something about him that I liked; he has the ability to hide in plain sight, to blend in and he is pretty much a grifter sent in to clean up the mess. He is also a pretentious book worm; he admits to reading a lot in the book and has a soft spot for Homer and epic Greek poetry. These elements of his character, and the fact he knows how to handle himself when things get rough, really come together to make a character I enjoyed reading about.

All other characters in the book were completely underdeveloped and just felt like backdrops that got in the way of Jack Delton’s tasks. But then again, you do need conflict and twists and turns to drive a story like this; there was nothing too shocking about the plot, I would have loved a good twist or maybe a darker narrative but all in all, Ghostman was a lot of fun to read.

This is Roger Hobbs’s debut novel and he is only 24 years old which makes you wonder; where did he learn all the skills to pull off a casino heist and cover it up? The detail put into the different ways of doing things was incredibly detailed, so much so that you can’t help but think this is the voice of experience. My main problem was that I felt like sometimes the author was dumbing down the information too much; I think he wanted to make sure every reader knew what was happening but the information felt over done.

Delton spends all this time tying up all the loose ends from the heist, that at times I thought things were going to end up incredibly neat and, to an extent, it did, but I was glad to see not everything goes to plan. I thought maybe Delton had a complex plan to get himself out of mess but instead he decided to live by the motto “Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo” If I cannot move Heaven, I will raise Hell. Simple but effective, but then again that’s the book in a nutshell.

I still don’t have no idea what really made this book so enjoyable; there really isn’t much in the novel that was special, it all felt like it was done before. In the end I was just sucked into the story and enjoyed the ride; it is a good heist novel and I think it will give most thriller writers a run for their money. Sure it was predictable and nonsensical but sometimes you just need some light entertaining junk to read. It is still worth checking out, even if it is just to see what Roger Hobb can do and then spend some time trying to work out how he researched this book.

A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter

Posted April 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Erotica / 0 Comments

A Sport and A Pastime by James SalterTitle: A Sport and a Pastime (Goodreads)
Author: James Salter
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967
Pages: 200
Genres: Erotica
My Copy: Library Book

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

1950’s France, an American middle-class college drop-out Philip Dean begins a love with a young French girl. But this sad, tender story of their erotic affair has been captured by a witness, a self-consciously unreliable narrator. This narrator freely admits that some of the observations are his own fantasy of the couple making A Sport and A Pastime an intensely carnal account of this affair and in part a feverish dream.

James Salter’s writing in this book is really interesting; he creates this wonderful imagery with the scenery, the colours, the smells and when it comes to the erotic side of this story this continues in a way that never felt crude or overdone. Sure the descriptions might feel really tame for our generation but there is a real lyrical way about the whole book that really worked for me. I will admit that I’ve not heard of James Salter before but I’m very impressed with his style that I would be curious to read more.

The relationship with Philip Dean and the French girl, Anne-Marie, is just wonderfully portrayed; there is no sense of love between the two, only raw passion. Anne-Marie has a healthy sexual appetite and she wasn’t afraid to tell him what she wanted which I find a little rare, especially considering the year this was written. While she feels like she is dominating at time, there are other times she feel really submissive and I think Salter did a wonderful job in getting that balance right.

The unreliable narrator was tricky to get used to; a friend of Philip’s from Yale, he was on holidays enjoying regional France but he seemed rather obsessed with this affair.  You never quite know what is real and what is made up in his head, sometimes he will tell you but most of the time you are left wondering. It would be weird having a narrator standing beside the bed while you have sex so you have to assume that most of the sex is either his own fantasy or word of mouth.

I do like the way James Salter used this narrator to create this almost dreamlike story and I expect there is a lot more in the novel worth exploring. With a reread or two, I’m sure you will discover some interesting elements. I think Salter was trying to explore the emotions behind sex but sometimes that feels a little ambiguous; the tenderness, thrill, passion all come out rather clear but at times I thought there was an element of boredom and selfishness that was also coming out, just not as well.

A Sport and A Pastime is a wonderfully lyrical novel worth sinking your teeth into, the short sentences really give it a poetic feel throughout the whole book. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I am glad I gave it a try. I have to wonder why James Salter never had commercial success, was it because he was a misogynist? His style reminds me a bit Steinbeck and Hemingway and yet he isn’t as popular as the two. I’m not sure if I would read much more in the erotic genre but I will have to check out some Henry Miller or Anaïs Nin in the future.