Tag: Post-Modernism

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

Posted September 6, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Erotica / 4 Comments

Story of the Eye by Georges BatailleTitle: Story of the Eye (Goodreads)
Author: Georges Bataille
Translator: Dovid Bergelson, Joachim Neugroschal
Published: Penguin, 1928
Pages: 127
Genres: Erotica
My Copy: eBook

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Georges Bataille’s 1928 novella Story of the Eye has often been read for the graphic details of an increasingly inexplicable adventures of a pair of teenagers and their sexual perversions. Narrated by an unnamed male in his late teens, the book tells the story of his passionate affair with Simone, his primary partner. Throughout the book their relationship involves other people including a mentally ill sixteen year-old girl and a voyeuristic English émigré aristocrat. To say this book is risqué might actually be an understatement, but is the book really about fornication?

With a little help from French literary theorist Roland Barthes and his accompanying essay “The Metaphor of the Eye”, I quickly discovered that Story of the Eye is far more complex than I originally thought. However if you do read Georges Bataille’s introduction before the book like I did you will discover a few titbits that help decipher the surrealist nature of the novella. In this introduction Bataille talks about his love/hate relationship with his father, a man who went blind on account of neurosyphilis. He shares a memory he remembers clearly in his head of his father urinating and the vacant look in his milky eyes.

The reason this story is important to Story of the Eye is because the novella often references urination and eyes in the midst of the sexual acts. As Barthes explains in his essay, “Although Story of the Eye features a number of named characters with an account of their sex play, Bataille was by no means writing the story of Simone, Marcelle, or the narrator”. The act of sex is often accompanied with some form of violence. The eyes, milk, urine can all be seen as a reference to his memory of his father and any reference to testicles and eggs could be interpreted as metaphors to the creation of life.

While Roland Bathes goes into a far deeper analysis of the metaphors found in Story of the Eye, a slight understanding of the content changes this books topic from sexual perversions to an angry rant directed towards Bataille’s father. There are other reference found in the novella that connect to his life; for example the priest. Georges Bataille went into the seminary in the hopes of becoming a priest, however he had to drop out to find a job to support his mother, killing his dream. A topic I believe is discussed in more detail in his non-fiction book Eroticism.

I found myself being absorbed in Story of the Eye (which was translated by Joachim Neugroschel, Dovid Bergelson); although difficult to read, the symbolism really intrigued me. So much so that I had to order my own copy of the book in the hopes to re-read it soon. I read this as an ebook and I now own a physical copy which features the essays “The Pornographic Imagination” Susan Sontag and of course “The Metaphor of the Eye”. I am fascinated by the surreal erotic style of Bataille; I think he is an author I need to explore in greater details.


Movie Review: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Posted August 25, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Movie-Drama / 0 Comments

Cinema ParadisoTitle: Cinema Paradiso
Released: 1988
Director: 
Giuseppe Tornatore
StarsJacques Perrin, Philippe Noiret, Leopoldo Trieste, Marco Leonardi
Genre: Drama

Italian masterpiece Cinema Paradiso tells the story of the life of fictional film director Salvatore Di Vita. This is often seen as an example of nostalgic post-modernism, exploring the evolution of cinema in the form of a coming of age story. Writer and Director Giuseppe Tornatore has spoken out as saying that Cinema Paradiso was his eulogy to the death of cinema, however after the success of the movie he never mentioned this again.

The 1988 movie is set in the small Sicilian town of Giancaldo where Salvatore (Toto) Di Vita grows up. He befriends the local film projectionist Alfredo and the movie follows this development through the ages of cinema. The theme of censorship plays a big part of the movie, often depicting scenes where the local priest would watch the movies prior to release in order to remove all kissing scenes or anything else that is considered inappropriate. This is in a time where the whole town came together to watch a movie and get the latest news. So there was not much choice in what to see and with the whole family there it needed to be appropriate for all ages. However this does spark many debates on the necessity of censorship and one day I hope to do a blog post on the Hays Code that nearly destroyed America cinema as well as the Legion of Decency, an organisation that would boycott any movie they deemed inappropriate.

While Cinema Paradiso likes to take a hard look at the censorship, it does not take itself too seriously. Stand out scene for this was when a kissing scene finally makes the screen and the priest in an outrage says he would not watch this pornographic movie. Despite the fact that he has spent many hours watching all these movies in the past. As well as looking at censorship I could not over look the nostalgic value of this movie. Depicting scenes from many great movies including; The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Carmela (1942), The Outlaw (1943), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and so much more. I am no expert in classic cinema but I really enjoyed the nostalgic approach found within the movie.

I have never seen this movie before and I feel a little shame to admit this. In the future I plan to watch more of the movies found on the 1001 Movies to Watch Before You Die list and blog about them all. Who knows, I might actually get a chance to watch them all. I know I am just a beginner when it comes to critically analysing movies but I am looking forward to seeing the progress I make in the future. I have not talked about the acting or the dramatic use of lighting in the review, I may revisit this film in the future. If you have never seen Cinema Paradiso and are a fan of cinema I highly recommend getting a copy as soon as possible.


The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen

Posted April 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The New York Trilogy by Paul AustenTitle: The New York Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Auster
Published: Penguin, 1987
Pages: 308
Genres: Crime, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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If you want to try a metafictional detective novel, then look no further than The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room, these three interconnecting stories have been since collected into a single volume. Heavily influenced by the post-modernist movement, this novel blends elements of neo-realism, soft-boiled fiction and of course, metafiction. Even the pulp style cover (illustrated by Art Spiegelman) has a metafictional style to it.

I really wish I had a better grasp on post-modernism; there is a lot of literary theory that must go into fully understanding a novel like The New York Trilogy. My level of understanding of post-modernism might hinder this review but I will do my best to add something valuable here. Starting with a look at any example of one of the narrators; such as the one known as Peter Stillman, or is he? Maybe his name is something entirely different; maybe it is Paul Auster. This gives you an idea of just how you have to read this book; continuously questioning everything and assuming things are not as they have been told. This does make the novel difficult to read, I had to take my time with it and reread almost everything.

The first story City of Glass follows a detective fiction writer that becomes a private investigator. This unnamed narrator explores layers of identity and reality; often to Paul Auster (the author), Paul Auster (the writer), Peter Stillman (the mark), the other Peter Stillman (the son) and finally Daniel Quinn (the protagonist). The story follows this narrator as he descends into madness as the reader follows close behind. This is story that explores the relationship between the author, characters and the reader in a twisted kind of way. Essentially asking us to consider who has the real power in this relationship?

Ghosts follows the story of a private eye called Blue who is hired to follow Black; he has been hired by White to write down everything Black does. Only problem is that Black doesn’t do too much apart from sit and write all day, which means Blue spends all day sitting and writing. This is a story that explores the issue of who has the real power, the author or their characters. Paul Auster is showing us his views towards writing (sitting and watching what the character does).

Finally in The Locked Room, the title suggests that the story is referencing the locked room mystery archetype. It tells the story of a writer that doesn’t have the creativity to produce any fiction. When a childhood friend disappears, he has been hired to write his works and determine if they should be published. While one this job he finds himself taking the place of his friend and becoming husband and father to his family. This final story looks at the relationship between character and reader and asks us to consider if we are under the control of the author or do we interpret what is happening for ourselves.

It is interesting that a novel like The New York Trilogy can leave you perplexed and confused but when you try to articulate what happened and slowly dissect the novel into its three parts it all makes sense. I’m often surprised with how much I get out of a post-modern novel, especially since I often freak out and feel like I have not understood it. Then it all makes sense and I often wonder how I did not pick up on this while reading or after reading the novel. I hope I’ve made enough sense out of The New York Trilogy, a bizarre novel that requires very close attention but I’ve conquered it and I feel proud.


Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by José Manuel Prieto

Posted February 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by José Manuel PrietoTitle: Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia (Goodreads)
Author: José Manuel Prieto
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: Grove Press, 2013
Pages: 224
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia tells the story of Cuban immigrant Thelonious Monk (not his real name) living in post-Soviet Russia. Monk loves women, many of them, particularly beautiful women. In St Petersburg he meets a young woman named Linda Evangelista (also not her real name) and after brief affair and some correspondence the two strangers become an inseparable pair. He takes her to Yalta where he starts work on a new novel about her, his notes for this novel comprise of this Encyclopaedia.

This is a really tricky novel to talk about, let alone try to understand but I will try to do my best. The novel explores these two misfits as they try to explore through a world that is changing. They are caught between old traditions and modern consumerism. I suspect that Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia is semi-autobiographical as José Manuel Prieto spent twenty years in Russian. Not knowing much of José’s life only leaves me to speculate, but I have to wonder if he is Thelonious, then who is Linda (real name Anastasia Stárseva according to an entry in the ‘L’). She comes across as a really interesting and mysterious character, a modernist who in a past like was an unorthodox poet and bourgeois muse.

The novel is a fusion of history, philosophy, social-critique and in my opinion autobiographical fiction. Though, like many other postmodern novels, there is a degree of difficulty in reading it; the rewards are great but I can’t help wondering just what I’m actually reading here. It’s a satirical, philosophical, meta-fictional encyclopaedia which is evocative of the era in which it was compiled in. This makes it incredibly complex and that would require more knowledge to understand it better. There are references that range from Bach to Dostoyevsky but also consumerism. I found a lot of nods to Russian literature and a better knowledge of this (especially Checkov) would be a huge asset to this novel.

The characters think of themselves as avatars of consumer culture, navigating the border between art and commerce during the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. This means we get this interesting perpective of a changing Russia. Mixed in are conversations about advertisement copy and art criticism. This is invoking a blending (and changing) from the old traditional high art to a more commercial culture.

I love the way that the novel is broken into mock Encyclopaedia entries; it was an interesting narrative type but surprisingly informative. The book did force me to flip between entries, I often found myself going back and forth but this ended up creating an ever-deepening picture of the world they are living in. Reading Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia runs the risk of looking like an idiot while trying to understand this overly complex novel but the reward is far greater and in the end well worth the effort.

I did take me a while to get through this book and even longer to put together my thoughts from the notes I made (yes, I’m trying to write notes now, does it reflect in my reviews?) but I’m so glad I read this novel. The novel is packed with wit, irony, philosophical thought and the written in a poetic voice. This is a translated book from Spanish and I can’t help but be angry that something can sound so beautiful after being translated out of its original language. If you are not afraid of post modernist novels and are willing to put the time and effort into this book, then reading Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia will be highly rewarding experience.


My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

Posted February 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

My Life as a Fake by Peter CareyTitle: My Life as a Fake (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Carey
Published: Random House, 2003
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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In 1943 two conservative classicists set out to expose the absurdity of modernist poetry. Both James McAuley and Harold Stewart were classical trained poets, who didn’t think much about modernism; it didn’t rhyme, didn’t make sense and it just didn’t look right, it was fake poetry. If an everyman can abandon technique and rhythm and create poetry, what was the point of high art? They created this everyman, Ern Malley and submitted poetry under this name to the literary magazine Angry Penguins. The Ern Malley hoax has become one of the biggest literary scandals in Australian history. While the hoax crippled modernist poetry within Australia, ultimately this parody backfired on McAuley and Stewart. The poetry, which was written in a day and full of word plays and puns became a sensation in the 1970’s. Their attempt to parody modern poetry and create something fake turned into something real, beyond their control and is now celebrated as fine examples of surrealist poetry.

Peter Carey’s My Life is a Fake explores the idea of fakery while paying homage to the Ern Malley hoax. Knowledge of this hoax is the backbone of this post-modernist novel, so much so that he covers his thoughts on it in the back of the book. Thinking about this novel I get the idea that this is a book that demands the reader to think about the purpose of reading. While this is considered contemporary fiction, it really demands a lot from the read and it wants to address a number of literary issues. Editor for Monthly Review Sarah Wode-Douglass, while traveling to Kuala Lumpur, encounters the perpetrator of the hoax after many years. The novel goes on to explore the literate mystery of forgeries but I won’t go into too much detail, it is quite a ride.

“I still believe in Ern Malley. (…) For me Ern Malley embodies the true sorrow and pathos of our time. One had felt that somewhere in the streets of every city was an Ern Malley (…) a living person, alone, outside literary cliques, outside print, dying, outside humanity but of it. (…) As I imagined him Ern Malley had something of the soft staring brilliance of Franz Kafka; something of Rilke’s anguished solitude; something of Wilfred Owen’s angry fatalism. And I believe he really walked down Princess Street somewhere in Melbourne. (…) I can still close my eyes and conjure up such a person in our streets. A young person. A person without the protection of the world that comes from living in it. A man outside.” Max Harris, editor of Angry Penguins.

While this book is told in a first person narrative, from the perspective of Sarah, as a reader I wrestled with the perspective. The novel explored the life of Sarah, her traveling partner John Slater who she describes as an unapologetically narcissist. Also we learn about Christopher Chubb and his monster, the non-existent Bob McCorkle. My mind wrested with questions like, whose life was I reading about? Whose words am I reading? Whose mythology do I accept? Personally I think these are the questions Carey wants us to ask, also I have to wonder what type of fakery are we talking about in the title?

Now I called the fictional poet Bob McCorkle a monster because this novel is influenced by a lot of literature but the most obvious is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like McAuley and Stewart’s hoax, Bob McCorkle was a monster in the eyes of its creator and takes on a life of its own. There are also references to Paradise Lost (which can be connected to Frankenstein) and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. An understanding of Greek mythology is helpful as well, especially Orpheus. This is a tricky book to read, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, I think understanding and progress was a lot easier, though I do think a better understanding of literature would be helpful.

My Life as a Fake explores the power of creation, sometimes it just takes a life on its own with no way of stopping it. We must wrestle with the question of whether the man claiming to be Bob McCorkle is a fanatic; someone with an identity delusion, a hoaxer’s hoaxer, an accident, or an illusion called into being by its creator. As My Life as a Fake is an Australian novel, I can’t help but wonder if this is exploring the idea that Australia doesn’t produce Art, rather parodies and fakeries. The misconception that Australian artist must trade in masquerades to get noticed, a slightly old point of view but one that might have been still relevant in the time of the hoax.

I had to read this book for a university course so I also had to think about post-colonialism (a common theme in the subject). I’m not sure how this works as a post-colonial novel but I have to ask, as a colonized nation is this book viewing Australia as Frankenstein’s monster. Whose country are we in? Why does it matter? Are we the bastard spawn of a powerful creator (England)? Are we just fakes in the eyes of Europeans? Did we start off as fakes that took on a life of its own? Not really important questions for the book but interesting enough to share in this review.

Given that Frankenstein heavily influences My Life as a Fake, does this make this a modern gothic novel? They do invoke similar themes, interesting that this novel is meant to be popular fiction and yet it still explores high art in a complex, post modern way. Makes me wonder just how successful this novel was for Peter Carey. For me, while it was a difficult read, I found pleasure in studying this book, makes me want to read all of Carey’s books, maybe I’ll try The True History of the Ned Kelly Gang next.


NW by Zadie Smith

Posted December 6, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 8 Comments

NW by Zadie SmithTitle: NW (Goodreads)
Author: Zadie Smith
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2013
Pages: 296
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Living in the Caldwell housing estate found in North West London, the only plan was to get out and go somewhere else. Thirty years later, Caldwell kids have all moved on with their varying degrees of success. Living streets apart, their worlds collide, showing them that the people they once were and are now, can suddenly unravel.

NW has been labelled as a tragicomedy, which means the author will try to cut overly dramatic and tragic lives will a bit of humour and possibly a happy ending. I felt like this revealed too much about the novel; I always expected everything to turn out well for these four Londoners.  The term recherché postmodernism (or hysterical realism) was coined by literary critic James Wood to describe this type of contemporary fiction, in particular the works of Zadie Smith. Has states, this is “a literary genre typified by a strong contrast between elaborately absurd prose, plotting, or characterisation and careful, detailed investigations of real specific social phenomena.”

This gives us a sense of what to expect in a Zadie Smith novel “[and] turn fiction into social theory” (James Wood, 2000). I have to admit that this is the first of Smith’s novels that I read and picked this as my first simply because it was the first time I heard of her and it was available at my local library. In hindsight, maybe starting with White Teeth might have been a better choice but at least I know I’ve experienced Smith’s style without going to her most celebrated novel.

This felt like an experimental novel that had a lot to offer and has some interesting insights into a low social economical part of London. It tried to analyse the social progress of the four main protagonists as they try to be successful in life. Not the easiest book to read while I was struggling to remain focused and climb out of a slump. There are a lot of ideas jammed into a novel full of ever changing styles; yet NW remained lyrical and poetic through it all.

I wish I had better focus through this book, I feel like there was a lot I missed out, what I did get from the book was enjoyable. It is a weird experience enjoying a book but not feeling like reading at the same time. I think it does affect my opinion of NW but I’m trying hard to avoid letting personal opinions cloud my judgment on great writing. Sure, reviewing and enjoyment of a book are based on person opinions but I feel that I need to remove emotions and read more critically. NW was interesting and I hope to read more Zadie Smith in the future.


If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

Posted October 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoTitle: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Goodreads)
Author: Italo Calvino
Translator: William Weaver
Published: Everyman's Library, 1979
Pages: 254
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Library Book

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If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is an experimental classic that follows two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader. The Reader buys a fashionable new book that opens with those famous lines “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought.” Thirty pages or so into the book he realises his copy is corrupt and consists of the same thing over and over again. Returning to the book store he discovers that what he thought was Calvino was a book by a Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two he goes for the Polish book, as does the Other Reader, but his book turns out to be yet another novel by a different writer, as does the next, and the next.

Trying to write a synopsis for this book is tricky, there is no way I can do the novel justice in a paragraph.  This Italian surrealist novel (1979) was translated in 1981 to critical acclaim. The novel is best known for its structure. The odd number chapters are written in second person, but you have to ask yourself is it possible to have a novel in second person. As you read along eventually the narrator “you” does something that will take the reader out of the equation and turning them into a character called You. For instance, in this novel You is male, this will rule out about 50% of the readers in one hit.  This doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of this novel but is something I was deeply aware of throughout this book. There were times where I felt like the novel was in first and third person as well, so you end up with characters called You, I and He/She.

This whole book is subjective, I’m sure some people get different things out of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler than I did but that is just what makes for a great novel. I want to talk a little about post-structuralism as I believe this novel is a great example of this literary theory. Firstly you need to understand structuralism, which is a theory that states that in order to understand a piece of literature you need to understand its relationship with the bigger picture, the overarching system or structure. You need to look into its influences, the genre, narrative and any other elements that might be relevant. The problem with this is you going further and further back eventually you might lose sight of the original text. Basically this is a set of specific rules that govern literature. Post-structuralism is basically taking those rules (they often study and analyse the rules) then setting out to critique the premises. It isn’t really throwing out the rules, more demonstrating how the rules don’t always apply.

Italo Calvino doesn’t stop at narrative modes and post-structuralism, the novel explores many more literary themes; the most obvious is the use of metafiction; a book within a book. You won’t find Outside the Town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal on Goodreads, I’ve checked. Then you have intertextuality, pastiche, post-modernism and so on. If you are interested in exploring literary theories this novel might be a good way to experience a whole range of different concepts in one hit. I don’t know much about literary theory so I hope my understanding on these concepts have come across as accurate and I haven’t missed it completely. I would love to attend a series of lectures where this book is deconstructed and looked at in real detail; I think that would be incredibly interesting.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a dense or hard-to-read book and I’m aware that talking about literary theory might turn people off this novel but please reconsider. This book is not only devilishly clever but it is beautifully executed. I took my time with this novel because I wanted to re-read sections, write done quotes and just talk about the book to anyone that would listen. If I didn’t borrow this from the library I would have highlighted the entire books (seriously, every line is just that great). I have brought my own copy now (yes, I broke my book buying ban) and I hope to be able to re-read this again. I’m not sure if reading this with others will help but the whole experience of reading this novel is worth sharing.

I’ve heard Italo Calvino is heavily influenced by Vladimir Nabokov which makes a lot of sense to me, the writing style does feel similar, even the humour and wit. A literary labyrinth that is so masterfully executed that the novel needs to be read again and again. I won’t go into any more details as there are a few things you just need to experience. I’m jealous of anyone that gets to read this novel for the first time as that is an experience I will never have again.

 I have to wonder why the Vintage classics cover of the word “Traveller” written correctly but throughout the book it is written in the American (wrong) spelling. I have to wonder if there is anything in that. I wonder if there is a reading companion to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that you can read alongside this book (similar to Infinite Jest) to discover the brilliance of this novel. I really enjoy Post-Modern literature but there is so much that I’m probably missing.

All book lovers should experience If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, there is nothing like that feeling of pure joy when you read a beautifully clever novel. You never want it to end, that ecstasy is like a drug and you immediately want to read it again only to find that feeling is just not the same. This is a masterpiece, I know I didn’t talk much about the plot but this was so I don’t give anything away. Go read it.


Player One by Douglas Coupland

Posted October 6, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Speculative Fiction / 0 Comments

Player One by Douglas CouplandTitle: Player One (Goodreads)
Author: Douglas Coupland
Published: Windmill Books, 2011
Pages: 246
Genres: Speculative Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Player One tells the story of five people trapped in an international airport during a global disaster. Over the next five hours, these lives are changed forever;  a single mother waiting for an online date, an airport cocktail lounge bartender, a pastor on the run, a cool blonde bombshell incapable of love and a mysterious person known as Player One. The novel follows the interactions of these five people as they react to the chaos as we slowly find out just what happened.

Douglas Coupland masterfully explores human interactions in the midst of a disaster as well as looking at things like human identity, religion and sociology in this sharp and to-the-point novel. Coupland is a bestselling author that writes some very easy to read post modernism and is often dealing with topics such as religion, Web 2.0 technology, human sexuality, and pop culture. This is my first Douglas Coupland novel but it isn’t the last of them. He reminds me a little of a modern Kurt Vonnegut with his philosophical approach to science fiction. Think a modern Cat’s Cradle where the disaster dealing with modern issues rather than those of the atomic age.

I’m finding this novel really hard to review because honestly, I don’t want to give anything away. This is the kind of novel you enjoy more if you don’t know too much about it. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a heavily philosophical novel, Coupland writes in a way that is accessible for readers of all ages. Almost like a YA novel but for a more serious reader you have all these ideas worth exploring; this is the stuff I have the most fun with. I just love a complex novel that seems basic on the surface but if you are willing, you can spend hours trying to analyse.

I don’t think this reads like a post-apocalyptic fiction, but it does feel like this is the right genre. The entire novel takes place in a bar over five hours and feels more like a postmodernist novel rather than anything else. I’m not going to spend time trying to work out what genres to fit this into but rather just wrap up this review.

I know this is a little short but I really don’t want to give too much away. Just tell people to try it, maybe not the type of novel for females but if you like Vonnegut or like the sound of this novel then maybe this is for you. I’ll be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this book. I’m sorry this is a weird review but better to say too little than too much. It’s only 200 pages long so won’t take too much effort to try.


Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

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

Questions of Travel by Michelle de KretserTitle: Questions of Travel (Goodreads)
Author: Michelle de Kretser
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2012
Pages: 528
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

Laura Fraser is an artistic Australian, who lost her mother at a very early age and her father was cold and distinct towards her, as was her brother. On the other side of the world Ravi Mendes’ life was almost the complete opposite to Laura, but still struggles in life at times; currently he is determined to break into the computer science industry. Alternating from one character to the other, Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel explores why we are all influenced by travel.

Questions of Travel won the Miles Franklin award this year but if it wasn’t for my book club I would never have read it and I think that might have been a mistake. This novel is almost a post-modernist novel in the experimental way the author approached it. I read this book as if the two characters are sitting me down and going through their photo album and telling the story related to each picture. Slowly we get the full story but there are a lot of pieces we have to fill in for ourselves. The reason I thought this was just the way it was written and you have these really short chapters but every now and then you get a long one. Also the dates on each chapter become more specific as we got closer to the present day, almost like the character remembers the year rather than the decade now.

While reading this novel I got the impression that Michelle de Kretser was trying to explore the whole philosophy behind travel; why we do it? What we love about it? That feeling you get being in a strange country. This was a really interesting approach she took and really worked well with the experimental writing style. The author used to write for the Lonely Planet and throughout this novel you can see her small digs at these books and the bureaucracy behind them. Little things like this really helped lighten the mood for the novel.

Questions of Travel has some beautiful language throughout the book and you find yourself really taking the time to enjoy the book (even though I didn’t have much of that before my next book club meeting). This novel demanded more time than I gave it and I might have missed so much but due to time restrictions I had to power through it. There were times I found some great quotes and I wanted to write them down but I was in too much of a hurry (also I never seem to do that but am trying to make more of an effort).

The novel is both thought provoking and emotional; you’ll experience the highs and lows of the two main characters and even if you have found a favourite, both characters offer interesting insights to life and travel. Also on a positive note, this novel also offers one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in recent times, it comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the face. I spent days trying to decide if I liked this book and what I liked about it and that right there is why I enjoyed it; like Slaughterhouse-Five the time spent afterwards thinking about it is what I will remember more than the book itself. I’m not sure if I would recommend this novel to many people, you’d have to be willing to read experimental or post-modernist novels to really enjoy what Michelle de Kretser is doing.