Publisher: Harvill Secker

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

Posted August 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 5 Comments

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent BinetTitle: The 7th Function of Language (Goodreads)
Author: Laurent Binet
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Harvill Secker, 2015
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

Every now and then you find a premise that sounds perfect. For me, The 7th Function of Language was just that novel. For a long time I have been struggling to review this book, it felt tailor-made for me but I wanted to do something more than gush. Centred around the death of literary critic Roland Barthes who was struck down by a laundry van. But was it an accident? The 7th Function of Language dives into the world of the French intelligentsia, as police detective Jacques Bayard tries to navigate the world of linguistics and literary theory in order to understand what really happened.

The way this novel works famous literary theorists like Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva into the plot is entertainingly comical without detracting from the importance of these people. The novel essentially needs to give a brief introduction to everyone and their theories and does so by deploying a detective unfamiliar with their world that requires explanations. Which allowed me to grasp a little more about people like Derrida and Foucault. It also made me want to pull out my copy of A Lover’s Discourse.

“As Umberto Eco might say: for communicating, language is perfect; there could be nothing better. And yet, language doesn’t say everything. The body speaks, objects speak, history speaks, individual or collective destinies speak, life and death speak to us constantly in a thousand different ways. Man is an interpreting machine and, with a little imagination, he sees signs everywhere”

When this was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, I saw a few people calling this novel pretentious, while others were comparing it to Dan Brown. A contradiction that never seemed to sit right with me. I never found it to be either, I would prefer to compare the novel with something like Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which is a novel about three members of the press that decided to make up their own conspiracy theories. This allowed Eco to teach the reader about secret societies and conspiracies all within the plot. Laurent Binet takes a similar approach in exploring literary theories within the confines of the plot without it feeling like non-fiction or making the novel clunky.

This is a perfect blend of a satirical novel and a thriller. These are the types of books I love, I learn something while reading a fast paced crime novel. I normally pick up a crime novel as palette cleanser but if it is able to teach me something, I love them more. This is why I enjoy the writing of Umberto Eco and now I think Laurent Binet will make this list, once I read HHhH. I wish this was available as an audiobook because I think it would work really well in that medium. This never felt like a hard read, there was plenty of comedic moments and the literary references scattered throughout were a pure delight to discover.

“Eco listens with interest to the story of a lost manuscript for which people are being killed. He sees a man walk past holding a bouquet of roses. His mind wanders for a second, and a vision of a poisoned monk flashes through it.”

If you are a fan of literary theory or philosophy, then this is the book for you. This is a new favourite and next time I read this, I will have to read A Lover’s Discourse simultaneously. I am the kind of person that is slowly trying to read through The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, so this quickly became a new favourite. It is hard to be critical about a novel that I enjoyed so much, I loved this book, but I understand it is not for everyone.

The Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra

Posted March 29, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

The Dinner Guest by Gabriela YbarraTitle: The Dinner Guest (Goodreads)
Author: Gabriela Ybarra
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Harvill Secker, 2018
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

In 1977, three terrorists broke into the home of Gabriela Ybarra’s grandfather, taking him by force. The first half of The Dinner Guest follows her research into what actually happened. This book blurs the lines between true crime and fiction to create a unique narrative. However, The Dinner Guest doesn’t stop there; the book is also centred around Gabriela Ybarra’s mother dying of cancer.

The story goes that in my family there’s an extra dinner guest at every meal. He’s invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table, and erases one of those present.

The first to vanish was my grandfather.

I have a feeling that the judges of the Man Booker International Prize are focusing on unique narrative styles, particularly when it comes to exploring grief. Of the four books I have read so far from the long list, these have been the similarities. Whether or not we call this a memoir of grief with fictional elements or an autobiographical novel is not something that I choose to debate. However this book evokes too many similarities to War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, with the latter being a much stronger book.

It is almost impossible to talk about this book without looking it as a piece of non-fiction. The fact her grandfather was taken at gun point is wrapped throughout the narrative. The rest of The Dinner Guest is around witnessing her mother’s heath deterioration and her eventual passing. The two tragic events shapes the majority of the book. Evoking many powerful images but ultimately I never felt it really came together.

There is an idea that seemed to stick with me that never played out to my satisfaction. That was the idea of a person viewed differently, not just after their passing. For Gabriela Ybarra, her mother stopped being her mother long before her death. Her identity was stripped away and all that was left was cancer. There is a line in the book that says, “The last time I saw her, she had already stopped existing.” Even after her death, the press suddenly became interested in her.

At first I couldn’t understand why my mother’s death was of interest to the press. Then I was frustrated, because some of the reflections shared had nothing to do with the way I remembered her.

If it was not for the Man Booker International Prize longlist, I may have never have picked up The Dinner Guest. There is some interesting and notable parts within this book but the more I think about it the less I am satisfied. I love trying to read through the longlist to join in on all the conversations but you cannot expect me to like all the picks. I doubt this will make the shortlist, so instead of reading this one, may I recommend War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans which was translated by David McKay.

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

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

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.

Mini Review – Books About Books

Posted September 17, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

As most people are aware, I am a big fan about books about books. I am fascinated about people’s journeys and relationships with books. As a big fan of books, I like to learn about how people view and write about books; I use this as a way to inspire me to improve as well as give me some new ideas on how to approach this topic. Sadly I am so far behind in my book reviewing so I need to resort to some mini reviews. However it is a good chance to talk about four very different books about books in one hit.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: How To Be a Heroine (Goodreads)
Author: Samantha Ellis
Published: Chatto & Windus, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist who decided to write about the woman in fiction that have influenced her life. The subtitle to How to be a Heroine is “…What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much” and this really encapsulates what Ellis is doing within the book. This is less of a bookish memoir or literary criticism and more of a revisit to some of her favourite books throughout her life and talking about it through the lens of feminism. This book includes references to The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, The Bell Jar and Wuthering Heights.

While this is a very important topic to discuss, I felt a bit of a disconnect to the book in general. There was times where I felt that Samantha Ellis was being dismissive and cynical towards literary criticism. Because I am fascinated and passionate about learning literary theory, I felt that her feelings towards the topic really took me away from truly enjoying the book. I did however enjoy the way Ellis analysed the good and bad qualities about each story and told the story about her relationship with the books mentioned. I think if it was not for that one thing that bugged me about How to be a Heroine I might have had a completely different experience while reading this book.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Parks
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 244
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Tim Parks is a translator, critic and even a professor of literature, so when I discovered his book Where I’m Reading From, I was excited to see what he had to say on the topic. I went into this book thinking it was a bookish memoir but found out this was a collection of essays he had written for The New York Review of Books. Some of the topics discussed in this book include, Why we read, Should you finish every book you start?, How is the Nobel Prize like the World Cup?, Why do you hate the book your friend likes? and so many more topics. I was very interested in what he had to say about translations, and the concept of how we are reading a second-hand story.

There is so much within Where I’m Reading From that I did not agree with, but I still found it interesting to read someone else’s perspective on the topics. It really got more thinking about the state of literature and the bureaucracy behind the industry and awards in far greater detail. In a lot of ways this book reminded me of What Is Literature? by Jean-Paul Sartre, although Tim Parks’ book was a lot more accessible and did not make me feel stupid. I also did a video review for this book on my YouTube channel.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction (Goodreads)
Author: Christopher Butler
Series: A Very Short Introduction #74
Published: Oxford University Press, 2003
Pages: 144
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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

I like to think I am a fan of post-modern literature, but ask me to explain it, I will have a hard time. Post-modernism is often referred to when talking about art, films, architecture, music and literature but what does it actually mean? I picked up Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction in the hopes of understand it a little more but I still do not think I can explain it. For me, I view post-modernism, as a reaction to modernism which seemed to reject past thinking in favour of innovations like stream-of-consciousness. Post-modernism still found value in the past techniques and theories and found interesting ways to use them in new and exciting ways. Post-modernism wanted to invoke thought and criticism; within its literature you might find something bizarre or weird that you just need to talk about.

I know my view on the topic is very broad and it is far more complex but that is what I love about post-modern literature. I want books that force me to think critically about what I am reading and post-modernism forces you to do just that. In Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Butler tries to equip us with the basic ideas behind post-modernism to allow us to recognise and understand the theories more easily. This is still a very complex movement but I am starting to understand why I love it. This is a good starting point, if you are actually interested in the critical thinking side of this movement.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: My Reading Life (Goodreads)
Author: Bob Carr
Published: Penguin, 2008
Pages: 432
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Bob Carr is a former Australian politician and member of the Labour Party; during his career he was a Senator, Premier of New South Wales and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. My Reading Life is a literary memoir about the books he has read and have influenced him; this was written during a period where he was not in politics. Carr divides the book into topics, focusing mainly on the political, which is obviously a reflection of his interests.

One of the things I did not like about this book was the way Bob Carr kept his political face on throughout the entire thing. I would have liked him to drop his public persona and just have a more real conversation about books. I understand that he was still political and he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs after publishing this but I would have preferred a more honest look at literature. I do hope that no Russian’s read this book after he become the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because to me it felt like Carr liked Russian lit but hated everything else about this country. There was some interesting insights made within the book and overall a decent memoir, just a little too guarded.

Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgård

Posted July 21, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Boyhood Island by Karl Ove KnausgårdTitle: Boyhood Island (Goodreads)
Author: Karl Ove Knausgård
Translator: Don Bartlett
Series: Min Kamp #3
Published: Harvill Secker, 2009
Pages: 496
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Boyhood Island is the third book in the Karl Ove Knausgård’s six volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle (Min Kamp). While Knausgård talked in great length about his father in A Death in the Family (My Struggle #1) this is a more in depth look at his relationship with his parents. With the focus being on his childhood, Boyhood Island allows Karl Ove to reflect on his adolescence in a “coming of age” style novel.

I will admit that I have been enjoying the Min Kamp, but there is something about A Death in the Family that really worked for me. The way he talked about his father with lines like “Dad had got what was coming to him, it was good that he was dead,” in the midst of what felt a lot like a midlife crisis really worked for me. A Man in Love was a more tender novel, allowing Karl Ove to explore his relationship with his wife. I think the swing from a dark and bitter first novel to the tenderness of the second really allowed me to discover the range in Knausgård’s writing and I was very captivated by this.

When it came to Boyhood Island, I was disappointed that we were going back to his relationship with his father. I felt like A Death in the Family dealt with that issue; although in not great detail but enough to have the highlights. This book felt like we were going over the same material again but in far greater detail. The coming of age style worked when talking about Karl Ove’s life but I never felt like there was anything new to cover when it came to talking about his father.

There are some interesting insights in Boyhood Island that are well worth exploring, I just did not think it lived up to the other books in the series. I am keen to check out Dancing in the Dark, which covers Knausgård’s college years, I have a feeling there will be a return to form for this author. I am half way through Min Kamp so I feel like I might as well complete it. Karl Ove Knausgård is a very impressive writer and the range on display between each novel is what draws me to his novels. Although I have never read anything other than these autobiographical novels, I am interested in seeing how he writes in his other books.

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgård

Posted December 18, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

A Man in Love by Karl Ove KnausgårdTitle: A Man in Love (Goodreads)
Author: Karl Ove Knausgård
Translator: Don Bartlett
Series: Min Kamp #2
Published: Harvill Secker, 2009
Pages: 528
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Karl Ove Knausgård’s six volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle (Min Kamp) has been dubbed a literary sensation more often than I can count. Despite what the critics think, I often look to the book blogging community to help measure the success and popularity of a book and sadly this series hasn’t really become the sensation it should be. It has been compared to Proust but I think that is mainly because of the large autobiographical nature, My Struggle tells the story of Karl Ove Knausgård’s life in a non-linear way; A Death in the Family (My Struggle #1) focuses on the theme of death, while A Man in Love (book 2) looks at love.

When Karl Ove Knausgård leaves Oslo and starts his life afresh in Stockholm, it is because of a messy breakup with his wife. His move to Stockholm is aided by Geir, in which he develops a deep friendship with. He also meets a beautiful Swedish poet, Linda Boström, who captivated him and becomes the object of his affection. A Man in Love is the story of Karl Ove and Linda’s blossoming romance, eventual marriage and children.

As stated in my review of A Death in the Family, this series of books have been met with massive controversy and his friends and family have been none too pleased. His ex-wife has stated in an interview that he has made a “Faustian bargain”, sacrificing relationships for this series of books. Karl Ove Knausgård is brutally honest and doesn’t paint the best light on himself or others, despite the fact this is considered an autobiographical novel.

Compared to A Death in the Family, A Man in Love is a linear story that focuses on the relationship between Karl Ove and Linda. Knausgård writes with such affection and love towards Linda and there is such a tender and sweet tone to the book. However because he wants to remain viciously truthful there are moments where she isn’t portrayed as the sweet woman he feel in love with. Knausgård airs all their domestic disputes and Linda sometimes comes across as aggressive, angry and stubborn. In contrast, the reader will also notice that Karl Ove Knausgård is flippant, arrogant and narcissistic.

I loved the dark themes and what Knausgård had to say on bewilderment and grief, so I kind of felt like this was a little light and flowery for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some dark moments here and Linda Boström Knausgård’s outbursts make their relationship rough but there was just something that bugged me about this novel. Karl Ove kept threating to leave Linda every time she had an outburst and that bothered me but I realised that was his style of arguing and at least he was honest about his flaws as well. After a little bit of research I found out that Linda suffers from bipolar disorder, which I don’t remember being revealed in the book but helps put things into perspective.

A Man in Love is a novel about love and Karl Ove’s relationship with Linda, which is an important part of his life but doesn’t always make for a compelling read. I did enjoy this novel and I am looking forward to picking up book three in the Min Kamp series, Boyhood Island. It sounds like the majority of the story has been covered in A Death in the Family but I will find out soon. The fourth book in the series is set to be released in March next year, but then I will be stuck waiting for the last two books. Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle is well worth checking out and I am disappointed that not many other people are reading it, but maybe they are just waiting till the entire series is released.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Posted November 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 13 Comments

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 298
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Hardcover

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

Tsukuru Tazaki was lucky enough to have four close friends in high school. They were a tight knit group and they all shared their hopes and dreams with each other. When it came to college Tsukuru went off to Tokyo to pursue his dream career while the others remained in Nagoya at various schools. They vowed to remain close and Tsukuru made an effort to visit as much as possible. That was until one day Tsukuru was told that the other four wanted nothing to do with him anymore.

I am not going to go too much into the plot; I think this is something that needs to be discovered within the book. However I do need to talk a little about it. Tsukuru Tazaki had always felt like an outsider, even though he was accepted into the group for a while. He was always colourless in a group of colours; Akamatsu (which means red pine), Oumi (blue sea), Shirane (white root), and Kurono (black field), while his name means ‘to build’. Essentially this is a novel about friendship, rejection, isolation and the psychological scars that can be caused by others who never took that into account. There is a whole other side that can be explored but that would involve spoilers.

I had a rocky start with Haruki Murakami; the first book I read was 1Q84 and lets face it, this is the worst place to begin. I was exposed to the world of Murakami with the awkward fetishes and magical realism but 1Q84 was ultimately a little clunky and way too big. Luckily I am a bit of a hipster and picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and while I’m not a runner, I found it to be an interesting read. It wasn’t till I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that I truly understood his brilliance. I still have a lot more to read but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a perfect next choice.

I have often heard people recommending beginning with Norwegian Wood because it is rooted in realism and I would like to think Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage would work as well. I obviously haven’t read Norwegian Wood yet but the idea of beginning with some of his realistic novels before getting into the magical realism and exploring the weirdness of Murakami’s brain is probably a good idea. His style is a little unusual but once you get an understanding of how his mind works you should be readying do dive into something fantastical.

What I have found reading Haruki Murakami is that he has a strong interest in both the conscious and the subconscious. His books explore the complexities of the mind and how different situations have a psychological impact on a person. This is a really interesting theme and one that I am particularly interested in; if I knew that a long time ago, I am sure I would have been more willing to explore his works.  Even What I Talk About When I Talk About Running explored this theme and it was a memoir.

I do wish I didn’t begin with 1Q84 but after a few other books, I finally can say that Haruki Murakami has another fan. I am keen to read all his other books; both fiction and non-fiction. There is something enthralling about the way a mind works and I really like the way that Murakami explores that. While Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was far from perfect, there are some weird and awkward moments in the writing that I believe is synonymous with his writing style but I found this a captivating read. I have reserved Norwegian Wood at the library and I am hoping to read that one very soon.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Posted November 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror / 0 Comments

Zone One by Colson WhiteheadTitle: Zone One (Goodreads)
Author: Colson Whitehead
Published: Harvill Secker, 2010
Pages: 259
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

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

Colson Whitehead was known as a novelist of literary fiction with books like The Intuitionist and John Henry Days. However in 2010 all that faded into the background with his new novel Zone One. Whitehead attempts to join the list of literary novelists who take on genre fiction; what Glen Duncan did for werewolves and Justin Cronin did for vampire, when he tries to write a literary zombie novel.

Pandemic has devastated the planet and most of the population is infected by a plague that has turned them into zombies. The uninfected Americans are trying to rebuild civilisation, create order and establish a provisional government. In a settlement of Manhattan, armed forces have successfully regained most of the island. There is a small section known as Zone One that still needs to be reclaimed, and they are working hard to clear it from the dangerous infected.

I picked up this book thinking a literary genre novel would be nice. Zone One is supposed to be about zombies but what I got was a long drawn out stream of conscious about the life of a man named Mark Spitz. This would have been alright if it was executed a little better; tacking the word ‘literary’ on to this novel isn’t an excuse to forgo a plot.

By all accounts this novel could have worked really well, even without a plot. Whitehead had created a decent world with its own idiom and logic; there are even moments of mayhem. The problem was it started as a slow burn and failed to pick up the pace. When it comes to the zombie genre it should be about survival, horror and suspense but all this felt absent from the novel. It tried to go for the slow pace that is found in The Walking Dead, which can allow for self-reflection and character development but forgot to build tension.

The narrator spends so much time on the chronology of Mark Spitz, I often felt like it forgot about the present day situations he was facing. The novel was too heavy on the memories and trying to develop this character, when it should have been adding in a plot. I think the biggest downfall for this novel is the fact it was marketed as a literary zombie novel. If I picked this book up as a retrospective of Mark Spitz’s life; a man who happens to be in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I might have been more forgiving.

I am reluctant to just point out all the flaws in this novel because in all honesty, the last 50 pages were pretty decent. I went in expecting a zombie novel and that isn’t what I was given. I think in the hands of someone else, a literary zombie novel can be pulled off but this is not a good example. I found myself wanting to skim through the pages just so I could get to the end and move onto something better.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

Posted November 2, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Flamethrowers by Rachel KushnerTitle: The Flamethrowers (Goodreads)
Author: Rachel Kushner
Published: Harvill Secker, 2013
Pages: 383
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Reno is a young artist from Nevada who moves to New York with the ambitious dream of making it in the art world. In a new city she finds herself as an outsider; lonely and spending her weekends watching the people of the city. She intends to turn her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art, ironically moving to the east to create art about her life in the west. Eventually she finally makes it into the New York art scene only to find that it is full of more posers than artists.

Rachel Kushner’s second novel The Flamethrowers seemed to get a lot of book buzz when it first came out but I don’t know anyone that has read it. I was walking through my library looking at all the random books they have when I came across this one and decided I will try it. This may have been a mistake, it was a tough start; I failed to find something to keep me interested to begin with and that struggle continued throughout the entire novel. In hindsight I probably should have put the book aside and tried again later but it was a library book so I forced myself through it.

I am struggling to work out if the book was the problem or if it was just the wrong time to read it. This is a particular problem, I can see glimpses of morbid beauty throughout this novel and for all intents and purposes this should have been the type of book I would enjoy. However I feel no desire to try and reread this book to find out who was at fault.

I spendta lot of time feeling disconnected from the plot, but I have to wonder if this was intentional. The Flamethrowers is a novel about the unspoken rules of modern society; how we should act in order to fit into the social circles. The need to belong runs high through this book but this is more than just social status. There are insights into art, reputation, sanity, love and life that play a big part in that ultimate class/social struggle.

I felt like this book was constructed along the lines of Midnight Cowboy but set in the world of Andy Warhol. Replace the word prostitute with the word artist and you pretty much get the idea of what to expect from The Flamethrowers. However, this felt more like a social satire on the art world, poking fun at all the poseurs and the art scene. The idea that Reno felt the need to move to New York to pursue her art career places a big part in The Flamethrowers and is what led me to suspect this was a parody.

Weirdly enough, trying to gather my thoughts and understand what happened in the novel in order to write this review gave me more insight than reading the book. The book felt like a constant state of confusion which my brain had to sort out later. There was something there in this novel but sadly I never connected. I would love to find someone who loved this book to understand what I missed.

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgård

Posted October 9, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove KnausgårdTitle: A Death in the Family (Goodreads)
Author: Karl Ove Knausgård
Translator: Don Bartlett
Series: Min Kamp #1
Published: Harvill Secker, 2009
Pages: 400
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

A Death in the Family is the first book in the controversial six volume series by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård. The controversy started with the title of the book Min Kamp, which is the same title as Hitler’s Mein Kampf as both translate to My Struggle. Secondly, while these are marketed as autobiographical novels, Knausgård has come under fire from friends and families for exposing their private lives. Karl Ove Knausgård has been often been called a Proustian and Min Kamp often compared to In Search of Lost Time. That is just enough pretention to make me want to pick up these novels and read them.

A Death in the Family (or My Struggle Book 1 in America) tells the story of Karl Ove Knausgård, a family man living in Sweden, trying to find the balance between his writing and his family. He reflects on his childhood and teenage years, as well as the loss of his father in what feels like a brutally honest portrayal of his life. What is interesting is the idea of this being an autobiographical novel rather than a memoir; as a reader I had to continuously remind myself of this fact. I had to question what is real and were liberties were taken. Honestly, I don’t think I could write about my childhood with such clarity and I suspect that the fiction was used to fill in the gaps and tell a better story.

Karl Ove Knausgård is approaching middle age, and with a young family I suspect that this six volume series is just a way for him to make sense of his life. Allowing him to work through issues and mistakes and explore different ideas he might have towards life. This is both an effective and fascinating insight of the life of a writer and I suspect it would have been very therapeutic for Knausgård, even if it caused friends or family members to hate him. As a novel, it is a roller coaster of emotions; sometimes it might come across as slow or even dull but that is life.

This first volume is even divided into two parts, one exploring the childhood/teenage years of Karl Ove and the other the death of his father. To understand the death of his father, obviously his childhood played a big part; his mother was almost invisible, always at work or somewhere and his father was distant and unpredictable. We often have a rose-coloured memory of our childhood but as Knausgård reflects on his past, you can recognise a similar distorted view in your own life. Karl Ove has a dark view on the world and death; it is interesting read this book in the context as he tries to understand his father and his death at such a young age.

While I can’t compare Karl Ove Knausgård to Marcel Proust (I really need to read him) or Min Kamp with In Search of Lost Time, I’m glad to have read this novel. I have reserved A Man in Love (Book 2) and I plan to read all six books. I like Knausgård’s view on the world and find it fascinating to read his books as he works through his own issues. His writing style obviously helps, I found great beauty in the dark and macabre views and credit has to go to Don Bartlett for the translation.

My only problem is going to be the fact that only the first three books of My Struggle have been translated and published. I suspect I will be caught up on this series very soon and I will have begin the year long waits between volumes. Book Four is expected in April 2015 and I am never going to learn Norwegian to avoid the wait. I have always shyed away from a series that is incomplete because of the wait but this sounded right up my alley and thought I had to try at least the first book; that was a mistake.

This was a pleasant balance between literary fiction and self-reflection. Karl Ove Knausgård even threw in some of his philosophical views; I remember some references to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the text. This was so much more than an autobiographical novel of bewilderment, grief, relationship, love, loss and rock music; hard to explain but I recommend you experience it. Even if you just wish to increase your book snobbery levels, Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle series is going to be something to watch. I suspect this will become a literary sensation, if it has not become one yet.