Tag: Novella

By Night In Chile by Roberto Bolaño

Posted October 7, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

By Night In Chile by Roberto BolañoTitle: By Night In Chile (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Chris Andrews
Published: Vintage, 2000
Pages: 130
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

In a feverish daze, Jesuit priest Father Urrutia, spends his last night on earth reflecting on his life. By Night in Chile, is a bedside confession, reflecting on not just his involvement with the Opus Dei and Augusto Pinochet. This novella by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, was written as a single paragraph, in which Father Urrutia recaps his entire life in one long monologue.

Roberto Bolaño is one of those authors that I have wanted to read for a very long time. In particular I was interested in reading his two tomes 2666 and The Savage Detectives. The novella opens with the line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say” and then goes into a rant about the protagonist’s life. A Jesuit priest, poet and literary critic; Father Urrutia is unapologetic about his life; from his involvement with Opus Dei, teaching Augusto Pinochet and even his sexuality.

While this can be viewed as an unremorseful reflection on his life, his memories go from bad to worse as the novella progresses. I spent most of the time reflecting on whether Urrutia’s fever was making him a reliable or unreliable narrator. As Roberto Bolaño is a post-modernist, I think the idea of By Night in Chile is to question the reliability of memories. On one hand if the fever is making the narrator more honest than he should, this novella gives you one idea of the importance of reflection on life. However if the fever was causing hallucinations and making the narrator unreliable, the themes change but still asks some similar questions.

I read this novella in one sitting; I found it a quick reading experience. Reflecting on the book is what was the most time consuming. Roberto Bolaño is an excellent writer and By Night in Chile was worth checking out. Chris Andrews translated the novella from Spanish, who also has a book of literary criticism called Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction. At 130 pages, By Night in Chile allowed me to experience Roberto Bolaño’s style before committing to 2666 or The Savage Detectives, which I think I will push up my own TBR.


The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Posted January 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo TolstoyTitle: The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Nicolas Pasternak Slater
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1884
Pages: 256
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.

There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted December 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 4 Comments

A Christmas Carol by Charles DickensTitle: A Christmas Carol (Goodreads)
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1843
Pages: 438
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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

When it comes to Christmas books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is probably the first book that comes to mind. Published in 1843, this novella was an instant success and has been a beloved classic since then. I am not going to go into a plot summary because I believe most people know the story but if you don’t, go watch A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Told in five staves (similar to stanzas or verses) this book has been adapted so many times that A Christmas Carol has just become a part of the Christmas period.

While compassion, forgiveness and getting into the Christmas spirit is the major theme of this novella, one thing that really stuck with me is Dickens’ ideas of isolation and loneliness. While it is true that Ebenezer Scrooge never indicates he is feeling alone, since the death of Jacob Marley seven years earlier there is a sense that he has falling in despair. Marley died on Christmas Eve and appeared to be Scrooge’s only companion, which leads to a disdain for the holiday period.

Charles Dickens wanted to emphasise the importance of being with friends and family, especially during Christmas. However I got the sense that he may have treated the idea of isolation poorly. Sure, Scrooge was a grumpy old man who was tight with his money but I got no real indication that he was unhappy to be alone. Scrooge could have been an introvert and enjoyed the quiet solitude; is that really such a bad thing?

Then all of a sudden Scrooge is cured from his rationality and becomes an extravert. This is a little strange, Scrooge’s emotional and psychological makeup might not be pleasant or agreeable to the popular worldview but they were his own thoughts. Scrooge was a financial supporter of The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and didn’t want to give money to a charity that worked against his political ideology.

I am not bagging out A Christmas Carol, I do enjoy it but as I was re-reading this novella I kept wondering what this story is saying if we take out the element of Christmas. Basically this is the story of curing someone of his or her personality. I had a lot of fun looking at this book from another point of view, it just gave me a lot more to think about. A Christmas Carol is a nice quick story about the importance of being with your friends and family during this holiday period. Next year I might try Truman Capote’s collection of stories about Christmas.


Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Posted October 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny OffillTitle: Dept. of Speculation (Goodreads)
Author: Jenny Offill
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2014
Pages: 182
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill tells the story of an unnamed narrator known only as The Wife. This novella charts the narrator through all her uncertainties, as she overanalyses everything in her head from the small things to big things like her marriage. The analysis can invoke anything from Kafka to doomed Russian cosmonauts. The title comes from the letters the wife exchanged with her husband which are postmarked as Dept. of Speculation; the letters were a way to voice her uncertainties. However as the two drifts further apart she starts to lose this outlet, which could be her inherit downfall.

This novella offers a very real look at a person’s life who overanalyses everything. Now I am not going to tell you whether or not this narrator is unreliable or anything like that. I think this is something the reader needs to determine for himself or herself. It doesn’t matter either way, this book takes something intensely real and, at times, this can be a little too real. The way Offill has captured this character’s thoughts and emotions is what makes this book both deep and meaningful.

There is however a huge flaw in this novel, something that was pointed out by a friend before I went into this book. In the edition I read there was a huge amount of italicised text and not all of it was referenced. There are times that the author states who said the quotes and then for the most part leaves quotes unreferenced. While normally I have no problem with no referencing within fiction, but when it takes up a large chunk of the writing, it starts to become a problem. Especially when you find text that speaks to you but it is italicised.  Was it a famous quote and was she trying to pass this off as her own words?

There is great beauty within this novella and there is a lot to love about it. This large flow I found with the novel really caused a problem which is a shame. I love books that explore complex human emotions and thoughts, Julian Barnes does this really well and Jenny Offill is just as good. I wanted to love this book and jump on the bandwagon but I couldn’t. I try to wonder if I would have the same problem if it wasn’t pointed out to me before I started this novel, I like to think I would but this friend always puts me to shame when it comes to critical analysis.


ArmchairBEA 2014: Wrap Up

Posted May 31, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 2 Comments

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 The Book Expo of America ends today, which means this is the end for Armchair BEA.I hope everyone had a fun time and have filled your twitter and RSS feed with new blogs to follow (I really miss Google Reader). As always, I went into Armchair BEA with an opportunity to find more male book bloggers and while I found some, I’m still a little sad at how many there are out there. I have neglected some of my book reviews this week and I’m hoping none of my readers are too upset with this fact; I’ve got plenty of good ones coming up next month. Please be sure to check out my other ArmchairBEA posts, thanks for great event.

Other ArmchairBEA 2014 posts

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots


ArmchairBEA 2014: Giveaways & Beyond the Borders

Posted May 29, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 43 Comments

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Day four and I hope everyone is having a lot of fun with Armchair BEA; today’s topics are Beyond the Borders and Giveaways. I’m excited to talk about going beyond the borders. I think we all need to step out of our comfort zone and experience books from different genres, countries and cultures. Literature opens new worlds from the comfort of our bed (or wherever you like to read). I’m a big believer of trying out translated fiction and books from different countries, but I will admit that sometimes I’m not doing this as often as I like. We can experience different lives and situations thanks to literature, we learn about other cultures and hopefully what mistakes not to make. The power of literature is amazing and I’m so glad I discovered reading.

However for the giveaway I thought I would do something slightly different. I’m going to give away a book that is not just powerful and moving but also one that will take people out of their comfort zones. This is not only a translated piece from another country (Germany), but it is also one that was written in the 18th century. This book influenced the Romantic Movement; it is a highly emotional love triangle that is also semi-autobiographical. If you hadn’t guessed it by now, I’m talking about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s classic novella The Sorrows of Young Werther. If you are interested, check out my review here.

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ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots


The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Posted September 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Testament of Mary by Colm TóibínTitle: The Testament of Mary (Goodreads)
Author: Colm Tóibín
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 104
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

In the town of Ephesus, Mary lived alone. She had no interest in collaborating with the authors of the gospels. For her, the crucifixion of her son years ago has left her indifferent to the rest of the world. Whether or not she believes that his death was worth it, he was still her son and witnessing the events that lead to him dying have been very emotional. This is The Testament of Mary.

I read this book on the Nativity of Mary (September 8th); while I’m not Catholic it felt like the perfect day to read this novella. The book is both bitter sweet and full of rage; not for or against Catholicism. While the author Colm Tóibín is born Irish Catholic but now identifies as an atheist. While this book isn’t theologically sound, it was an interesting look into what it might have been like to watch Jesus’s journey on earth.

I never really thought about what it might have been like to witness miracles, resurrections and the crucifixion of Jesus. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the mother of Jesus, let alone experiencing all these unexpected events involving her son. The rage, the compassion, the isolation and pride that Mary must of experience all comes into play in this novella.

The Testament of Mary is a tender and heart breaking book, not really religious or anti religious. The balance is just right. The only problem I have is the theology but I have to let this go and remind myself that this was a work a fiction. Being raised as a Pentecostal, I never really cared too much about the life of Mary apart from her giving birth to Jesus but then going onto marry a Catholic my views have changed a little. My views towards Mary may not be in line with my wife’s but that is beside the point.

A quick and interesting work of fiction into the life of Mary; I loved the way this book was written. It really had a way of sweeping me into a story and expressing the emotions she faced in an affectionate and sour way. We have no idea what Mary would have felt but I can only imagine the fixed emotions that went through her mind. While this novella is haunting and stubborn in it’s approach, it is a compassionate and provocative read; this doesn’t work to counteract each other but only highlights the beauty of the mixed emotions.


The Third Man by Graham Greene

Posted August 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Thriller / 0 Comments

The Third Man by Graham GreeneTitle: The Third Man (Goodreads)
Author: Graham Greene
Narrator: Martin Jarvis
Published: Penguin, 1943
Pages: 180
Genres: Classic, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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

American western writer Rollo Martins arrives in Post-World War II Vienna at the request of his childhood friend, Harry Lime. Lime has a job for him but when Martins arrives, he soon finds out that his friend has died. Convinced that Harry Lime’s death was no accident, Martins starts his own investigation, which leads him on a hunt to find the other witness, The Third Man.

If you are a loyal listener of The Readers or follow Simon Savidge’s blog or twitter you may know he recently lost his grandmother. To pay tribute to the memory of Dorothy Savidge he has asked people to read something by Graham Greene, as he was her favourite author. Greene for Gran (or on twitter #GreeneForGran) was born and I took this as an opportunity to try my first Graham Greene book, as well as join in this beautiful memorial to a fellow book lover.

Now The Third Man is an interesting book; it is actually written in preparation to writing the screenplay to what will become a film noir classic. Graham Greene wrote this novella and then converted it into the screenplay. I’m not sure how or why the original novella ended up being published but I suspect that the huge success of the movie may have had something to do with it. So when reading The Third Man you are basically reading the novelisation of the movie; everything is exactly the same.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, the movie was fantastic but then again I’m a fan of Orson Welles (Citizen Kane is the greatest movie of all time) so I might be biased. Who am I kidding, it’s not bias; The Third Man is a classic film noir movie and if you haven’t seen it then you are missing out. It’s hard to review a novella that is exactly the same as the movie, there may not be any point to reading the book if you can watch the movie but I wanted to see how Graham Greene wrote and I think I’m a fan.

What I found fascinating about the novella was the fact that the entire story is told from the perspective of Major Calloway and not the Rollo Martins. Just a quick side note here Rollo Martins name was changed to Holly Martins in the movie just in case you thought I made a mistake there. So I look back at the movie and try to imagine The Third Man from the perspective of Calloway and it just doesn’t seem right, but it works really well for the book. Just another example of what a novel can do that film can’t and gives the novella something unique that you wouldn’t get from the movie.

This only took me about an hour to read (I read slow) and while it is pretty much the exact same thing as the movie, I’m glad I read it. It gave me a sense of Graham Greene’s style and I know what to expect when I try another book (any suggestions). I loved the movie and I think the book is a great companion for fans of The Third Man. Now I want to rewatch the movie, sounds like a good idea right?


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Posted May 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic, Horror / 0 Comments

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonTitle: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Goodreads)
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Published: Signet, 1886
Pages: 92
Genres: Classic, Gothic, Horror
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic gothic horror novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is probably known to many people; it’s been adapted many times and is often a symbol of the horror genre in pop culture. We all know the story; mild-mannered Dr Jekyll by day but at night, thanks to a potion, Mr Hyde is unleashed. But do we really know this tale; the tale of good and evil, or maybe the unleashing his secret inner persona, or maybe this is a story about dissociative identity disorder?

This is a reread for me so like I did in The Great Gatsby; I’m going to quote my old review (which is relatively short) but expand with what I know now. First we need some context; Robert Louis Stevenson had already had some success as a Victorian adventure writer before he came up with the idea of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He had already written Treasure Island and his collection of short stories New Arabian Nights; in fact it is believe that he came up with the idea while working on his revisions for the short story Markheim (which, in my opinion, is his best piece). So already you get a sense that he knows what he is doing and if you’ve read Markheim you can see the similarities clearly. It was the late into the Nineteenth Century where there were extraordinary technological advances being made and people had a growing pessimism towards a possible decline in arts and religion.

The Promethean personality is something we’ve seen in books like Dracula by Bram Stoker, but this novella has more in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both involve scientists that defy the laws of nature and God with major consequences. Also, they play on the concept of good and evil and the dangers of advancing sciences but they also have been written in a way that to this day people debate the meaning of the novel.

Some say this is a novella that looks at that great Victorian idea of inner conflict with humanity; that good and evil exist in us all and it is an internal struggle between the two. While others suggest that maybe Stevenson was interested in exploring mental health, especially when it comes to split personalities or what should be correctly called a dissociative identity disorder? When I first read this book I got a sense of both, saying “[That] it’s a vivid portrayal of a split personality, split in the sense that within the same person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality each being quite distinct from the other.”  As an interesting side note Vladimir Nabokov has famously argued that the “good versus evil” view within this novella is misleading, as Dr Jekyll himself is not, by Victorian standards, a morally good person.

“The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.” While this is true, the tale has left a bigger impact on pop culture than just one phrase and classic horror movies. Within comic books both The Hulk and Batman’s rival Two-Face have clear influences from this novella; in fact you might argue that all superheroes are influenced as well, all living a double life.  Even the framework has been used in other fables, gothic, horror and speculative fiction.

“Robert Louis Stevenson is an amazing writer and this book is well worth the read, I’ve always enjoyed a story that tries to explore two sides of a situation.” Not only does this highlight how much I’ve improved in my reviewing but it serves as a reminder of my interest in plots that explore both points of view. Frankenstein still remains my ‘go to book’ for this even though rereading Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has rekindled an interest in Robert Louis Stevenson’s thoughts on the whole “good versus evil” view. I much prefer Markheim and think I might go read it again now.


Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Posted May 8, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradTitle: Heart of Darkness (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Conrad
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1899
Pages: 225
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Heart of Darkness tells the tale of Charlie Marlow’s journey on an ivory transporter down an unknown river in the Congo. What he sees horrifies and perplexes him, calling into question the very basis of civilisation and human nature. The story follows this commercial agent and the object of his obsession, the notorious ivory-procurement agent Mr Kurtz. This novella has become an important piece in the western canon for its range of themes and scholarly values.

I remember reading this book a few years back and while I thought it was an interesting book, I never really grasped it completely (and I’m not sure if I ever will) but for comparison to what I know now and then, check out my review here. To begin with we need to gain an understanding of Joseph Conrad’s life because there are a lot of life experiences in this book. Born Josef Teodor Konrad Walecz Korzeniowski in Russian-ruled Poland in 1857; this part of Poland is now part of Ukraine. Both parents were political activists and as a result of their participation in the Polish independence movement they were exiled to Northern Russia in 1863. At sixteen he dropped out of school to work on a French merchant ship, sailing the West Indies as an apprentice. Later he joined a British ship where he served as a merchant for ten years, during this time he gained the rank of captain and became a naturalized British citizen. During a trip in 1890 sailing through the Belgian Congo and Congo River he got really sick and had to retire from sailing and focused his energy on writing. This means Joseph Conrad must have grown up speaking Polish and Russian, learning French at some point and then English. Although he often struggled to write in his adopted language, he is now considered one of the greatest prose stylists in English literature.

There are many themes explored in this book, so much so that I think I would need to keep reading this book again and again to discover them. Though major themes include slavery (the effect the British had on Africa) as well the author’s problems with Colonialism and Imperialism. There are a few other themes I would much prefer exploring. First of all, the idea of alienation; both Conrad and Marlow are both outsiders. The entire novel questions what alienation and loneliness can do to a person over an extended period of time, especially since they are in hostile environments. Even the doctor warns Marlow prior to his departure of changes to his personality that may be produced by a long stay in another country.  Prolonged solitude seems to have damaging effects on the sailors, which leads me into another major theme; insanity. In the case of Kurtz, the loneliness lead to literal madness, while others like Marlow’s predecessor, Captain Fresleven was described as a gentle soul that transformed into a violent one.

There are other themes I really would love to talk about but for the sake of keeping this review a decent length I will just highlight them. Heart of Darkness also looks at the way Belgium is exploiting the Congo, order verse disorder, duty verse responsibility, doubt verse ambiguity, race verse racism and finally violence and cruelty. All these, plus many more, are reasons why this book has been studied. It is a very difficult book to explore, I found myself rereading passages trying to get more out of it. I know at one point near the start of reading this I thought I would never get enough meaning out of this book but eventually it opened up to me.

There are a lot of symbols within the book as well, beginning with the title and the setting; Heart of Darkness deep in the heart of the Congo, the centre of the deep dark Africa. Even the fact that the entire story is told in the late afternoon as the sun sets is a motif of Africa. There are a lot more in this novel but I want to quickly talk about the movie adaptation Apocalypse Now. Sure there are some similarities but not enough to really consider the movie to be based on this novella. There are more similarities with Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in the way the book starts out, also with Bram Stokers’ Dracula with the suspension between life and death. So how are they the similar, since one is set in the Congo and the other during the Vietnam War? The very basic answer would be that both look at the deterioration of humanity as a result of conflict, one via imperialism and one by war.

I would love to talk about the narrative and how there are two narrators, Marlow and someone anonymous. And how all the scenes on the Nellie are obviously an introductory and critique to the story that it doesn’t go away after the intro. Marlow’s narrative is often interrupted by this unnamed narrator as they listen to the story as a way for Conrad to tell the reader to notice different themes. There are also the proses in the book, poetic and while difficult, you can get swept away and not really notice just what Conrad is trying to do. So many things I want to talk about but I have to cut this review short.

Heart of Darkness is a really complex book but if you take the time to break it apart and explore the text critically, you’ll find there is so much to appreciate. It’s like a fine meal, it can be enjoyed without any thought, but if you take the time to see how each element complements each other you end up enjoying the novella a whole lot more. It all comes together with a sense of satisfaction that while you might not know everything Joseph Conrad was trying to say, you know enough for the book to have real value.