Tag: Moby Dick

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Posted May 17, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 3 Comments

Flights by Olga TokarczukTitle: Flights (Goodreads)
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator: Jennifer Croft
Published: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017
Pages: 410
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2018
Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018
Longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2018
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk was the final novel I have to read for the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, and what a book to go out on. Tokarczuk is a Polish writer that has not gotten much attention in the English-speaking world until recently. She has won the Nike Award (which is a Polish literary award) twice for her novel Bieguni in 2008 and Księgi jakubowe (The Books of Jacob) in 2015. Curiously, Flights is the English title for Bieguni which I believe roughly translates to Runners.

Sitting here, I find it very difficult to write a review of Flights, it feels more like a novel that should be experienced rather than written about. It is an experimental novel that focuses more on travel writing rather than an actual plot. The narrative is musing on what it means to travel the world rather than her story. However, this works really well, and I wonder if this is the type of book that should be in the seat pocket of every plane for the travellers to read and reflect on their own experiences.

I am a fan of the postmodern novel so I am never disappointed if there is a lack of plot or character development, provided that the author is doing something interesting enough to keep my attention. If I was to compare this to any other book on the Man Booker International Prize longlist, I would compare it to The White Book. Simply because this is the fragmented musings of a writer on a particular topic, in this case travel. Exploring the oddness of modern travel, the airports, hotels, public transport and even guide books. There is so much to meditate one, I am actually surprised she was able to spend so much time with this one topic and cover so many different aspects.

The narrator describes herself as a pilgrim and I found myself to be her companion. I had an intimate knowledge of every thought and feeling she had. I have heard that this book shares so many similarities to Moby Dick and I have never wanted to read this Herman Melville classic more. Although I might simply read Moby Dick just so I can reread Flights.

To say I was enchanted by Flights might be an understatement, at times I was transfixed, and I never wanted to leave this book. I know Jennifer Croft probably has a busy life but I really hope she translates some of Olga Tokarczuk’s other novels. I recently found out that she was a founding editor of The Buenos Aires Review (which has not released new content since December 2017) along with Pola Oloixarac (who wrote the amazing Savage Theories) and Heather Cleary (who has translated a few Sergio Chejfec novels for Open Letter). My love of Argentinian literature is pleased to find that this is bilingual magazine. Croft has also translated August by Argentinian author Romina Paula, which I have recently ordered from Feminist Press. Now that I have finished being distracted by the translator, I cannot recommend Flights enough, especially if you are interested in travel writing.


What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Posted November 8, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 3 Comments

What We See When We Read by Peter MendelsundTitle: What We See When We Read (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Mendelsund
Published: Vintage, 2014
Pages: 419
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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When reading Moby Dick, does Ishmael look like Richard Basehart? How about Anna Karenina? Please don’t tell me she looked like Keira Knightley. What We See When We Read takes a look at the activity of reading with such depth and insight. Looking at not only the way our brain fills in the images but also what the author is trying to say. Take for example Karenin in Anna Karenina; his ears are described a few times within the novel but they get bigger. The size of his ears is an artistic simulacrum that changes as Anna Karenina’s feelings toward him change.

Peter Mendelsund is Knopf’s Associate Art Director and has been responsible for some of their most iconic book covers. Just looking at his book cover designs I get the sense that he loves reading and the artistic side of literature. His book covers really capture a feeling; they stand out and often work well with the written word inside. He is major is in Philosophy and Literature and the two work well together in looking at the idea of reading and how our minds interpret the written word.

This is very much like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, it explores the idea of reading in different ways and explores different concepts. We all read slightly different and Mendelsund is able to go into different methods. A stand out for me is the way Vladimir Nabokov read Kafka’s Metamorphosis; there is an image of his copy of the book and it looks like he edits and rewrites the book to make it his own. It is an interesting way to get involve with the written word.

What We See When We Read is a combination of written words and images, which allows Mendelsund to illustrate his point and give the reader a better understanding of the feelings. A big bonus is the fact that he references other books, which gives me a huge TBR pile of books that explore this idea further in different ways. I love books about books so I am pleased to have a reading list.

I have to say What We See When We Read is a must for all book lovers. This book will be a joy to read and will look good on the shelf. I own the new Vintage edition, which is a paperback but it also has French flaps so it looks nice. I like how he went for a simple cover design; it stands out and works well with this book. I know this book is rising in popularity and I hope more people get a chance to read this one as soon as possible.


The Hunter by Julia Leigh

Posted May 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Hunter by Julia LeighTitle: The Hunter (Goodreads)
Author: Julia Leigh
Published: Penguin, 1999
Pages: 188
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Under an assumed identity of Martin David, Naturalist, M arrives to hunt down the last Tasmanian tiger rumoured to exist within Tasmania. On the edge of the wilderness, he will soon slip into an untouched world of silence and stillness. Hunting the last thylacine, an animal extinct since the 1930’s, but a sighting has been reported.

Julia Leigh, born in 1970 in Sydney, Australia, has received critical acclaim even though she has had a very small writing career so far. The Hunter in 1999; a novella in 2008, Disquiet; and then she wrote and directed the 2011 movie Sleeping Beauty (not to be confused with the fairy tale). I tend to think that most of her acclaim came from people expecting great things from her after she was selected to be the protégé of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison in 2002 as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts international philanthropic programme.

The Hunter is an interesting novel because it follows a post colonial narrative which is unheard of for an Australian novel. When it comes to Australian adventure novels, most of the time characters just get lost in the wilderness not go hunting dangerous animals.  This leads to an interesting portrayal of the thylacine, which I will look at later. The Hunter may be a stripped back quest narrative but it feels very American and masculine for an Australian female author. American in a sense that the hunt narrative could be compared to Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea and even The Bear, comparisons which she has acknowledged. Masculine in the way she gives approaches this novel with detachment, contempt and control over the death hunt subject matter. You could compare the paired back minimalist prose to something found in hard-boiled fiction, but not quite.

M is the archetype of a hunter, a figure that inhabits the story rather than one the lives in its world. There are not too many details of this character, but he seems to have similar characteristics as the hero in a spaghetti western. Ruthless, cold, calculating and inhuman but never unethical; though the lack of character development is an important part of this book. It forces the reader to keep him at arm’s length so we can study him. It’s almost like Julia Leigh has been taking active steps so that we never warm to him.

He is never a role model or anti-hero; he is just a faceless man in pursuit of the last remaining thylacine. What does the thylacine represent in this book? Imagination, hope for the future, guilt of the past, living in harmony with nature or a biotech ghost in a Tasmanian gothic novel? It’s up to the reader to decide, but while we are on the subject of the thylacine, does this animal both represents the Australian wildlife, an animal going extinct to raise global awareness as a form of Ecocriticism or is it supposed to be an animal that could harm or kill the hunter? These are the questions that I believe Julia Leigh wants us to ask as readers.

Julia Leigh setups a situation where the reader has to reason with their imagination and emotions in order to get the reader to think about what the author might be saying. I really like how you can read The Hunter as an adventure, a Tasmanian gothic or as ecocriticism. No matter which way you read this you are not wrong. I thought of this more as a western; just with the way the protagonist was portrayed and the people drinking in the bar reminded me of those rednecks drinking in a saloon in those spaghetti western films. I’m interested to see how people read this book and just see what they got out of it.


Railsea by China Miéville

Posted June 16, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

Railsea by China MiévilleTitle: Railsea (Goodreads)
Author: China Miéville
Published: Random House, 2012
Pages: 448
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

I’ve only really enjoyed one China Miéville novel (The City & The City) but I am a fan of what he does for literature and speculative fiction. His latest novel Railsea is his second attempt at a YA novel and while I’ve not read his other YA novel Un Lun Dun I must say I wasn’t really impressed with this one. I really loved the complexity of The City & the City so I was looking forward to see Miéville’s take on Moby Dick. Granted I should have read Moby Dick before this book but I found this book was too simplified and weird; writing without some intelligent plotting just ends up making the book weird.

Set in a dying dystrophic world that is now desert, Railsea is an adventure novel that tells the tale of three young orphans joining the train to hunt for Mocker-Jack; the giant Mole. The book mixes adventure elements that remind me of Treasure Island with Miéville’s own genre; which he calls ‘weird’ and is a mix of fantasy and steampunk. The main protagonist, Sham, was pretty average in this book but the train captain Abacat Naphi peaked my interest. I think she was the Ishmael in this book; even considering Mocker-Jack as her nemesis.

I thought this book might be more of a children’s book rather than a YA novel; io9 said it best when they said this book was for “kids who cut their teeth on Thomas the Tank Engine, then Lemony Snicket”. It just felt odd and too simplified but a twelve or thirteen year old would probably enjoy it as a gateway into the YA fantasy/steampunk genre. The main issue I had with this book was the overuse of the ampersand. There is way too many in the book; even a large amount of sentences starting with ‘&’. It just never looked or felt write when reading it and I found I got really annoyed with it.

This book is for young teenagers and China Miéville fans, anyone else interested in trying this author might want to look elsewhere. I’m a little disappointed with this book but would be interested to see how my other friends find it, if they read it. There are some interesting elements in this book but for me I felt more frustrated by it. I hope others love and enjoy this book more than I did. Miéville has a lot to offer the literary world but I personally think skip this one and go read The City & The City.