Publisher: Faber & Faber

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Posted August 17, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Lullaby by Leïla SlimaniTitle: Lullaby (Goodreads)
Author: Leïla Slimani
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Faber & Faber, 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

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

At the beginning of the year Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (The Perfect Nanny in North America) was getting a lot of attention. It tells the story of Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer who is anxious to get back to work after giving birth to her second child. Before doing so, they must find the perfect nanny to take care of their children. Louise is a polite and quiet woman who goes above and beyond looking after the two children but is she really the perfect nanny?

Leïla Slimani is a French-Moroccan journalist who lives in Paris with her two young children. My interpretation of this novel is that Leïla Slimani let all her insecurities about leaving her children with a nanny play out on the page. There is a constant feeling of fear and jealousy that it explored inside Myriam’s mind. It is this realism that makes Lullaby a novel worth reading.

Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 which is one of France’s most prestigious literary awards. Winners of this prize include Marcel Proust for In Search of Lost Time, Simone de Beauvoir (The Mandarins), and Marguerite Duras with her amazing novel The Lover. With this type of prestige behind the prize, it is not surprising that Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce was translated so quickly.

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

This is a dark glimpse into the mind of motherhood, something I would pair with Die, My Love. It must have been very therapeutic for Leïla Slimani to write out this novel and explore the feeling of returning to the work force. I do not know if this is autobiographical in any way, I just base my assumption on the similarities of Myriam and Leïla. I understand why North America called this novel The Perfect Nanny but honestly the French title Chanson douce translates to soft song. Sam Taylor is the translator for both, I am just a little wary about the accuracy of the text when the title is vastly different from the original. Lullaby is a quick and thrilling read that will make you feel uncomfortable. This is not for everyone but for fans of dark fiction, it is worth checking out.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Posted December 5, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

Ariel by Sylvia PlathTitle: Ariel (Goodreads)
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published: Faber & Faber, 1965
Pages: 81
Genres: Poetry
My Copy: Library Book

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

It feels like Sylvia Plath’s life overshadowed her literary value; her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar was like a confessional and people tend to read it for all the juicy bits. Ariel is a collection of poems published posthumously, just a few years after her suicide. It is true that we have Plath to think for advancing the confessional poetry form and exploring topics previously taboo like suicide, mental illness and domestic abuse.

I would like to thank Meg Wolitzer’s book Belzhar for pushing me into reading more of Sylvia Plath. The book explores a struggling student that was sent to a private school that put her in a special English class. This class spent the semester journaling and reading Plath, most importantly The Bell Jar but also Ariel. That book made me want to re-read The Bell Jar which I loved but instead decided it was time to give her poetry a go.

However I am very aware that I don’t know how to review poetry let alone a whole collection, so this is more about my experience with this book. I feel like I am becoming a better reader but if you ask me to read out loud I am going to struggle. So I decided this is an issue I needed to work on and I read Ariel to my wife (she read some of it to me as well). This may seem like a romantic and intimate thing to do with your partner but Plath has a way of killing any sexy moods.

I loved the experience but I am struck with a sense that Sylvia Plath might have been a poor choice to begin with. She has a very strong sense of imagery and plays a lot with metaphors; some of which I picked up on but there was some stuff that went over my head. Poetry is meant to be read out aloud and I thought this would help with my understanding as well as develop my skills. However I found it extremely difficult to work out punctuation in these poems. Some sentences span over a few stanzas but my natural impulse was to pause after ever line.

Having said that, this was a wonderful experience and while the poems are often dark and depressing I am glad I shared this moment with my wife. Ariel kind of reminds me of those people on the internet that overshare about their lives and you can’t help but be glued to what they write even if it annoys you. Sometimes I think, that is too much information but Sylvia Plath seems to get to the heart of that raw emotion.

Sylvia Plath was an incredibly intelligent and complex woman; I can’t help being fascinated by her. I want to learn more about her life, and understand the emotion behind her writing. Take for example her poem “Daddy”; there is this anger toward her father as well as some holocaust imagery that I just want to understand. I am going to have to find a biography on Plath’s life because I think this places a big part in her writing. Can anyone recommend me a good biography?

Difficult Men by Brett Martin

Posted October 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Difficult Men by Brett MartinTitle: Difficult Men (Goodreads)
Author: Brett Martin
Published: Faber & Faber, 2013
Pages: 320
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

In the Third Golden Age of television (as Brett Martin calls it) things have changed drastically. With the rise of cable television, channels like HBO, Showtime and so on, are able to push the boundaries not afforded to network TV. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men allowed the writers to offer something more complex or unpredictable. This saw the rise of the difficult men, characters like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Don Draper (Mad Men) offered a character study never seen before by viewers.

Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men looks at the stories behind some of the greatest shows of our time, mainly focusing on The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire and Mad Men. This is a deeper look into the evolution of modern story telling. The male protagonist within the Third Golden Age tends to be an enigma; complex, impulsive and so much more real. The type of characters that frustrates you with their mistakes but you can’t help but continuously watching.

The problem with this book is that it makes me want to watch all these shows. I have only gotten through half of The Sopranos and I haven’t found the time to try The Wire or Treme. All these shows look really great but finding time to binge watch them has become a real problem. I love reading about pop-culture and how it changes over the years and Difficult Men gave me everything I wanted. I enjoyed the insider information and the stories behind the stories. I can only hope that this evolution will start to extend toward better female leads. I would like to see the same treatment the Third Golden Age of television has give  to men offered to woman as well.

What I enjoy about these types of shows is not that the men are difficult but the way they tackle real issues and treat the protagonist as a real and flawed human being. They can explore ideas of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race and violence and the protagonist often struggles or makes mistakes. They often evolve as characters but it doesn’t mean they grow, there are times when I think Don Draper (Mad Men) or Hank Moody (Californication) have finally grown as a person but there is often slip ups or a spanner thrown into the mix, this makes for compelling television but also feels more real.

A huge section of Difficult Men is devoted to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini which is worth checking out. Gandolfini, in his own right, wasn’t a stereotypical leading man and there was a big exploration into his mental state. Playing the role of Tony Soprano was a very taxing role and what made James Gandolfini great at the job is how he didn’t act the role, he became the character. This ended taking a huge toll on his psychological wellbeing and this raises some interesting thoughts about the effect a role has on the actor.

Fans of television, pop culture or these shows in general will enjoy this book but I think a look into the psychological effect on the people involved will make this something to sit up and take notice. Hollywood is a complex industry and the effects can be damaging; all you have to do is walk down Hollywood Boulevard to see how it effects people. I am a big fan of the ground breaking changes these shows made towards the television industry but I didn’t realise the side effects. Brett Martin did a good job going behind the scenes and getting the back story.

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

Posted May 4, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian BarryTitle: The Temporary Gentleman (Goodreads)
Author: Sebastian Barry
Published: Faber & Faber, 2014
Pages: 270
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Sebastian Barry is often credited for the way he captures the quintessential Irish life, especially with the McNulty family. The Temporary Gentleman tells the story of Jack McNulty, an Irish engineer that gets commissioned into the British Army in the Second World War. I will admit that this is my first Sebastian Barry novel but I had a fair idea on what I was getting myself into. The title alone gave me an idea of the type of man this is following, only temporarily a refined gentleman. It was also the idea that Jack wanted to be a gentleman but thought his social-economical background prohibited that.

The Temporary Gentleman serves are a retrospective of Jack’s life as he reflects on the choices he made along the way. But unlike similar stories like this, Jack wasn’t a nice person; in fact he was a real bastard. A drunk and a degenerate gambler, he not only ruined he own life but that of his wife, Mai. He joined the army to escape, not a honourable thing to do but I get a sense that Jack may of felt like this was the only time he was a gentleman.  Leaving Africa would mean he would have to return to his past, but is this what makes he such a bastard?

I will admit that I went into The Temporary Gentleman with the idea that this was a post-colonial novel; I expected it to explore the effects of empiricism of Kenya as they were working toward their independence. I only guess that from the synopsis and I guess you can say there was some glimpses of this, the way the Kenyans treated Jack as an ex Major. In hindsight, if I was to look at this novel as post-colonial, I should have been focusing on the imperial effects England had over Ireland. Considering this took place after the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).

However I decided to look at this novel through the lens of psychoanalytical theory. I’m no expert at literary theories but I do try and this was a very in-depth and psychological look at Jack McNulty and the way he sees himself. A look at his mistakes and narcissism and how damaging his choose are for him and the people close to him. The Temporary Gentleman almost serves as a psychological profile and if I knew more about psychology I would try to analyse it.

I have to except that my literary criticism skills are still very lacking, I might have been able to handle this novel through the lens of post-colonialism but it was too focused on Jake McNulty to get much out of it. Psychoanalytical theory is something I’m very interested in and possibly my next focus in the world of literary criticism. All I can really say is that Barry makes it impossible to sympathise with Jack at all.

Sebastian Barry appears to know his craft; his approach to the novel was expertly executed. The prose in The Temporary Gentleman makes the whole experience bearable; you can help but enjoy the writing while grinding your teeth at Jack McNulty. I don’t feel like I can truly recommend this novel, there are plenty of unlikeable characters that are more thrilling to read about but I will be returning Sebastian Barry in the future.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Posted March 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroTitle: The Remains of the Day (Goodreads)
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Published: Faber & Faber, 1986
Pages: 272
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

England 1956, Stevens is a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall who decides to take a motoring trip through the country. Partly for work and partly for personal reasons, but this six day outing becomes a trip into the past as he remembers not only two world wars but an unrealised love between himself and his housekeeper. The Remains of the Day is an incredible novel of meditation, a changing England and missed love.

Stevens is an old fashion butler, always keeping to the rules and holding himself to a higher standard particularly when it comes to dignity. Throughout the novel he reflects on what it takes to be a truly accomplished butler; often referring to the Hayes Society, an elite society of butlers in the 1920s and 1930. The notion of “a dignity in keeping with his position” being the main ingredient to making a truly great butler. As he reflects on the idea of dignity, he also reflects on how he upholds himself as well as the changed world. Lord Darlington has passed away and an American, Mr Farraday is the new owner of Darlington Hall. This means a whole new way of doing things and as Stevens masterfully adjusts to the new way, he notices that he is doing too much as well as lacking in the ability to communicate the way his new employee wishes. Stevens takes his job too seriously so he struggles to be able to banter with his employee in the way Farraday wishes. He agonizes over his need to offer some witty banter and all attempts fail. He fails to realise that it is his delivery that is lacking and yet he keeps on reflecting on this.

The reason I wanted to talk about dignity and banter, is while Stevens’ is such a great character, he spends all his time reflecting on how he can be the best butler to his that he completely misses the opportunity of love. As this novel progresses and Stevens reflects on his time at Darlington Hall you can see a relationship blossom between the housemaid Miss Kenton and himself. The further you read, the more her feelings develop, while he is blissfully ignorant. Stevens does eventually realise but it is far too late.

The Remains of the Day is such a beautiful novel; while it does remind me a little of Downton Abbey (which I adore) this novel has other elements in it which make it worth exploring. It’s a book of loyalty and politics, love and relationships as well as memories and perspective. I don’t think I’ve seen the movie adaptation of this book but I’m struggling to see how it would work in that format. Does anyone know if the movie is worth watching?

I do recommend this book to fans of Downton Abbey, but I also want to recommend it to people looking for a stunningly elegant to read. Kazuo Ishiguro masterfully crafted this book and it paid off, winning the Man Booker Prize as well as Guardian’s “Books You Can’t Live Without” and the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list as well as a whole lot more. I’m so glad I picked up this book, it was short but it did so much. I would have to add it to a list of essential readings.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Posted February 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan KunderaTitle: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Goodreads)
Author: Milan Kundera
Translator: Michael Henry Heim
Published: Faber & Faber, 1984
Pages: 314
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an existential novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives. The book takes place in Prague in the 1960s and 1970s and explores the artistic/intellectual life of Czechoslovakian society during this Communist period. Tomáš is a womanising surgeon and intellectual, his wife Tereza is a photographer struggling with all her husband’s infidelities. Sabina a free spirited artist and Tomáš’s mistress and Franz is a professor and also a lover or Sabina. Then there is Karenin, the dog with an extreme disliking to change.

I know the synopsis doesn’t really do much to make this novel interesting but that’s just the basics of it. Really, this is a novel challenging Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence. A concept which hypothesizes that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur. This book explores the idea that people only have one life to live and what occurs will only occur once and never again. The book also explores love and sex and whether the two are connected; for Tomáš they are not but for Tereza they are.

There is a lot more philosophical aspects to understand but as I don’t have much knowledge in those areas lets focus on the novel. This was surprisingly easy to read and lyrical and almost dreamlike feel to it but then there is a lot of emotional devastation as well. Not just with Tomáš’s actions but with the communist control over everyone.

From the very start you while see the gorgeous poetic prose within Milan Kundera’s writing and the unique plot concept will initially drive this book for the reader. Then you will continue reading it for the devastating beauty of love, sex, jealously, politics and existence. Once you finish, you might reflect on the philosophical and existential nature of this book. In the end it’s just one of those books that sounds a little weird and unappealing but is really worth reading.