The Pesthouse by Jim Crace (book review)

Happy Monday!

As I mentioned last week I have for you today a very spirited book review of The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, another one of those books that “…the kind of book that when you finish it, you want to toss it against a wall” however in this context that’s not a particularly good thing and it disappoints me to say that.

The Pesthouse, a post-apocalyptic story set in the United States, opens up with some of the strongest writing in the entire book. Consider the opening paragraph:

“Everybody died at night. Most were sleeping at the time, the lucky ones who were too tired or drunk or deaf or wrapped too tightly in their spreads to hear the hillside, destabilized by the rain, collapse and slip beneath the waters of the lake. So these sleepers (six or seven hundred, at a guess; no one ever came to count or claim the dead) breathed their last in passive company, unwarned and unexpectedly, without any fear. Their final moments, dormant in America.” (1)

However this is from the preface from a character named Nash, who is never revisited and very loosely related to the story in a rather irrelevant way which is a shame as he might have been a more interesting or likable character than the lot Crace has cast for us. Once the narrative proper starts with chapter one page eight, the quality of writing

the pest house

Instead of ‘The Pesthouse’ this book should be renamed ‘The Passivehouse because almost the ENTIRE novel is written in the passive past tense voice.

goes down for me because nearly the rest of the book is written in this slow dead-paced passive voice

“Franklin Lopez had not been sleeping in Ferrytown, though [he had] wanted to. [He had] not been sleeping anywhere, in fact. [Could not] sleep. [He had] weathered such pain the day before that [he had] been forced to consider…” (8) italics for emphasis

Notice in 3.5 sentences Crace uses “had” 5 times (I count conjunctions ie the original quote reads “he’d” and I extrapolated it for emphasis as [he had]) and another passive past tense word “could” once. I’ve had creative writing teachers who would not accept your story if it was written entirely in the passive voice unless it was used for specific reasons (an example that comes to mind is the story format of the frame story where a character, usually a lead is remembering back and telling us [both the reader and the audience in the context of the story] their story complete with

pat rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss can grow a sexy beard

foreshadowing because of hindsight insight, an excellent example of this story structure executed masterfully is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss and The Pesthouse does not present a reason for this stylistic choice.

Without giving spoilers, I found the story to generally drag on until about the final act when the story converges with a strange religious sect when both the story and writing quality improved enough to help me push through to the rather anticlimactic ending.

Overall I really didn’t like this novel because it felt like a first draft of something that could have been much more interesting rather than a cash grab at the Post-apocalyptic America-land trend(1). If this was Crace’s first novel, I’d be much more lenient because this novel does have potential to be something more interesting however it’s his 10th novel in 20 years and not only but he’s an award winning author and a member of the Royal Society of Literature. I haven’t read Crace’s other novels but if after 20 years this is what he can produce, I am not impressed.

Footnotes:

  1. Whilst in the UK and talking with one of my friends on the subject of post-apocalyptic stories, she pointed out to me a distinct lack of non-american set post-apocalyptic stories particularly none she could think of taking place in the UK [I failed to remember, somehow, that Children of Men takes place in the UK] and whilst on the subject of the post-apocalyptic trend in media I do want to note that I would really like to see more stories set in places that are not america for a change or maybe more interesting types of apocalyptic events like H.P. Lovecraftian monsters enslave the human race or aliens visit the planet, unbenounced to humans, and grant all the octopi super high tech helmets that allow them to build structures and complex tools which leads them to creating an alien atlantis which then leads them to land excursions and demanding rights leading to interspecies civil war (they create helmets for dogs and pickles and things too), or maybe all the water on the planet turns to jell-o (or jelly for my UK readers) and it’s like a science thriller race against time to figure out a way to turn the jell-o into water again or something fucking original (zombies are cool and I will likely never get my proper fill of zombie media but seriously there are other interesting crisis to subject fictional humans to).

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Dust Tracks on a Road (Book Review)

Happy Monday!

Dust Tracks on a Road is an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston.  I remembered reading a bit of “Their Eyes were Watching God”, also the Crash Course Lit episode is excellent, the first 3.5 minutes of which give a pretty neat summary of her life plus some extra tidbits, in fact let’s justs have a look shall we?

 

I decided to pick this book up in a reading project I’m starting where I plan to fill out my knowledge by reading books considered an “American Classics”(1) (with a focus on the 20th century lit) and the follow the reading list provided from Crash Course Lit(2).  


Overall Dust Tracks on a Road, from here out referred to as Dust Tracks, left me withmixed feelings.  That being said and without giving spoilers, I can say I recommend the book based on its historical and literary significance but unless you’re seeking it out for it’s historical or literary significance, I wouldn’t give it high priority.  

Footnotes:

  1. This burgeoning list has begun with this list, thanks to wikipedia:
    Books referred to as a “Great American Novel”[edit]

At one time, the following works have been considered to be a Great American Novel:

19th century

20th century

21st century

Plus these United States National Epics:

 

  1. Crash Course Lit list (what is listed here are the ones that I have not yet read AND are not already listed above; this is not an exhaustive list of the books covered in all three seasons of CC lit):

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sula by Toni Morrison

(**SPOILERS BELOW**)
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The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (book review)

Happy Monday!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t forget to check in tomorrow for Brad Evan’s introductory post to his Tuesday column.

After reading Davacallaro’s Cyberpunk and Cyberculture I was in the mood for something post-modern.  What I found was The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster whichny trilogy  is a set of three mystery stories, the volume I have has all three stories in one book: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.  

 

City of Glass: The protagonist, an author William Wilson, gets repeated phone calls from a wrong number that insists to speak with the detective Paul Auster.  Eventually Wilson, who already writes under a pen name of Daniel Quinn, finally accepts the identity of Private Eye Paul Auster and takes a very strange and challenging case.  

Ghosts: Blue is a Private Eye who was trained Brown, then hired by White to spy on Black.  Blue takes the case because he needs the work but the seemingly easy job becomes much larger than anticipated.  

The Locked Room: The protagonist, the nameless Narrator, is a writer who can’t write fiction but when he gets a letter from his childhood best friend’s wife about Fanshawe’s death, Fanshawe was the Narrator’s childhood friend, and instructions to judge whether the late writer’s works were worth posthumous publishing he agrees to a task that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

 

Conclusion: It’s a fair warning to say that it’s best to go into this book blind as it has potential to be an extremely memorable detective fiction experience as the mysteries are as likely to surprise the reader as they do the protagonists.  Besides, what’s  the fun of reading detective fiction if you already know the mysteries?

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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cyberpunk and cyberculture by Dani Cavallaro (book review)

Happy Monday!

 

I was at the library a few weeks ago and I found this book and was sold from the colourful cover and funky title “cyberpunk and cyberculture”(picture of book).  As per the back cover, “Dani Cavallaro is a researcher at the University of Westminster and a freelance writer specalising in contemporary Literature, aesthetics and critical theory.”  


cyberpunk and cyberculture is a literary analysis on science fiction and the first six cyberpunk and culturebooks of William Gibson including, Neromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), The Difference Engine (1990), Virtual Light (1993), and Idoru (1996).  

 

Synopsis:

Davallaro explores the motifs of SF lit and the subgenre cyberpunk in a variety of different respects rooting the genres in mythology, explores how the cyberbody is presented in the works and how it relates to contemporary issues pertaining to the body, gender and sexuality.  Most interesting and surprising to me is the convincing arguments Davallaro makes linking the genres SF lit and cyberpunk to the gothic, modifying my understanding of the gothic from a genre in itself to more of a meta-tag genre that can be used to better understand the place of SF lit in cannon.  

 

Conclusion:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t read any William Gibson.  Sorry, please don’t shoot me! Neromancer has been on my list for almost 10 years and I didn’t realise this book was about those works when I got it and now it’s been moved up near the top of my “to read list”.

 

However, that being said, if you have an interest in Gibson’s books or an interest in lit crit I cannot recommend it enough. As a reader it has given me an additional lens not only to dissect my favourite genre but also a framework to approach troubling questions that are becoming increasingly hard to not consider in our changing society.   

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Spoiler Free)

Happy Monday!

 

On the Road and Jack Kerouac were for me, growing up, one of the quintessential travel stories written by the archetype of the traveler. Or so I believed, because I hadn’t read it for the first time until this year.  I’ve spent a lot of the last eight or so years traveling, and in doing so I would read through peoples’ libraries, hoping someone would have copies of books I wanted to read.  However I never did find On the Road until I got a library card again(1) here at Lancaster.  Taking advantage of my library privileges I’ve gotten my hands on three books I’ve been wanting to read for ages but never gotten around to until now: Slaughterhouse Five, The Fault in Our Stars, and On the Road.  The other two books lived up to my expectations.  Did On the Road? Let’s find out.  

Image result for on the road movie

Apparently it’s a movie now, but it only got 6.1 stars on IMDB. I plan to view it at some time.  Review pending.

On the Road is a semi-autobiographical work about a character named Sal Paradise and loose cast of characters all of whom were influential beat authors, including the St Louis native William S. Burrows as Old Bull Lee(2)  The book is split up into five distinct parts which tell a story of Sal Paradise working, loving, running with friends, getting his heart broken, but in the end Kerouac gives Sal an optimistic ending and Dean gets a semi-romanticised ending.

On the Road, like a long-term trip, has some unforgettably beautiful passages that will stick with you long after moving on. But, also like a long-term trip, it gets tough to slog through in parts (and I have faith enough in Kerouac’s style to believe it was structured that way for pacing purposes).  Overall, I’d say the book is worth the read, but it’s likely to be a slow read, because also like a long term holiday, no matter how you try, some things can’t be rushed. And those things tell you when it ends and begins.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Most of the places I’ve lived require “proof of address” to get a library card and because I moved around so much, I’ve had a hard time getting one.    
  2. Allen Ginsberg as Carlo Marx and Neal Cassidy as Dean Moriarty are the other notables. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road)

 

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The Things They Carried (book review **SPOILER FREE**)

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Happy Monday!

I’m trying to read more shorter length books, 200-300 pages, because the last several months, almost a year now, I keep getting invested in these epic 1000+ page books which are generally rewarding do take me so very long not only to read but to digest (I’m looking at you Infinite Jest). In a means towards that end, I restarted and finished a book I started for a class in October, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

things

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Things They Carried (TTTC) is a war novel but it’s not about war.  TTTC is a piece of non-fiction where the author blatantly tells you “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (70) The Things They Carried is less about a war or about the validity of the stories inside the covers but at it’s heart it’s a story about the things these men carried with them before, during, and after the war.  The literal things they each carried, from the stockings of a sweetheart to a fully illustrated New testament bible or simply a big bag of dope, to the memories and guilt and ultimately stories they tell themselves and anyone who will listen.

Generally set in the 1970’s the novel loosely follows Tim O’Brien and his company of fellow soldiers in a non-linear story line.  The stories that take place before and after the war are the minority leaving a strange and confusing amalgamation of funny and brutal stories about their experiences over there.  The non-linear story structure really works with the content of the story in that O’Brien “[Wants] you to feel what I felt. [O’Brien wants] you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (179) and in this way I believe his choice of a non-linear narrative structure has helped convey this feeling that when you’re reading TTTC you are entering a shadowy and crowded room full of ghosts chattering, all vying for your attention but only a few voices come out clearly.  Ghosts and memories have no use for time as we understand it.  TTTC is a short novel at 236 pages however if you liked it, like I did, there are at least three more books about his experiences in Vietnam (Northern Lights, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Going After Cacciato).

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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Post Office by Charles Bukowski(book review)

Happy Monday!

Today I have a book review for you today by this guy named Charles Bukowski. Let me give you some background on this Dirty Old Man to give you an idea for what we’re getting into:

Image result for charles bukowski

This about sums it up.

Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.[4] His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City.[5][6]

In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”.[7] Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”[8]

-wikipedia, Charles Bukowski

Going into Post Office, I was pretty blind.  The extent I had heard was that he was an American Beat writer and the friend who gave me my copy of Post Office told me when I asked them “What’s this about? What’s Bukowski like?” They kinda looked off, chuckled, and said “Bukowski is a bastard.  You’ll like em.”  After reading Post Office, I get it.

Image result for post office bukowski

Imagine this copy except a couple of coffee spots at the bottom left.

Post Office falls square in this sub-genre called Dirty Realism and it wasn’t named because of this book but it could have been.

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Narrative follows a guy named Henry Chinaski and his drunken meanderings between Post Offices in California with a brief stint in Texas, the overall narrative reminds me of the movie, “Barfly” which is “Based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.” (IMDB)

Overall I was a little offended, the story was strange, but I found that I was so amused I couldn’t quite stop until it was done reading.  I equate developing a taste for Bukowski like developing a taste for hot sauces: it’s never entirely pleasant but when you understand the burn an appreciation can be developed.

**SPOILERS BEYOND**

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The Passage by Justin Cronin (book review *SPOILERS*)

Happy Monday!

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

This book should come with a warning: “Buckle up, this book will grab you by the FUCKING throat. Read at your peril.”

I read a lot(1) however it’s not often when I pick up a book that gives me problems, as in when I start reading the book I have such a strong compulsion to continue reading that I start stealing time from other things like sleeping or coursework(2).  That being said, I should say that this book is less of a page burner from page 1 but more of a shadow slowly stalking up on you until about page 241.  At the time, I didn’t realize it until about page 315 that I was screwed.

the passage

Cronin isn’t messing around with the “Something is coming.” subtitle.

At 963 pages, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a physically daunting book and it’s ambitious. The story takes place over the course of 97-1008 years depending on how you count, the setting spans most of the United States west of the Mississippi from New Orleans LA to Southern Oregon, and there are about 9 core characters.  This both works for and against the passage.

It can be exhausting keeping track of that many characters and the first and last part of the book has several separate story lines to keep straight.  Some of the characters and story lines I found more interesting and while nothing in the book is boring, some story lines felt jarringly interrupted by switching gears to other story lines.  However for the majority of the book when all the character arcs are plaited together it transforms into a tour de force of action, drama, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, Gothic horror.  Highly recommended.

Footnotes:

  1. I average a book a week/300 pages.
  2. I lost 2 solid days reading 648 pages.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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