I’d like to introduce you to a couple of books that I particularly enjoyed this year before I started my blog …
I’d like to introduce you to a couple of books that I particularly enjoyed this year before I started my blog …
1997 Nobel laureate Saramago was born in 1922 and is considered to be Portugal’s top living writer. He wrote this novel in 1995 and what a book it is! This was our book group choice for December, and we all found it an intense and compelling read.
When an epidemic of sudden blindness happens, the blind and those contaminated by them are quarantined in an old asylum where they are left to fend for themselves. This situation rapidly changes from quarantine into imprisonment and squalor as the blind fumble about – they befoul the corridors as they can’t find the toilets, people get injured and die from infection. The army don’t deliver enough food and everyone gets very hungry. When an armed gang of blind men take over the food distribution demanding first valuables and then women in payment, you are truly horrified where before you were revolted by the conditions. I can honestly say it makes you feel dirty.
But there is just one person in the asylum who can see. An eye doctor’s wife – rather than leave her husband, who, as the doctor who examined the first man to go blind and was himself one of the first group to catch the disease, she pretends to be blind. She secretly and subtly tries to help the others around her without giving her secret away. It is through her eyes that we see most of what is going on – and it is a huge burden for her which she bears with grace and dignity.
Eventually the armed gang is overcome, and the internees realise the army outside is gone too. They escape to find a world which has rapidly become a barbarian place as the entire population is now blind. Bodies litter the streets, everyone is searching for food, there is no clean water, dogs and rats scavenge everywhere. Later there are some marvellous scenes which relieve you temporarily from this grim vision – the cleansing powers of a shower of rain and the friendly dog who licks the tears away.
An astonishing book and powerful commentary on the denial and removal of basic human rights and the question of whether it is possible to not revert to being a barbarian in such circumstances. It was easy to read, although Saramago’s largely punctuationless style takes a while to get used to. The lack of chapters and many paragraphs can make it seem rather relentless. It is a novel that will stay with me for a long time, and shall look forward to catching the recent film (with Julianne Moore as the doctor’s wife.
I was so sad to hear of the death on Monday of Oliver Postgate. My childhood TV viewing was full of gems from him. Sadly, I was just beyond the age for the ‘Watch with Mother’ lunchtime slot when Bagpuss came along, but I have always loved the Clangers …
Another thing I got a while ago, but haven’t got around to reading yet (but is now promoted up the pile ) is Postgate’s excellent autobiography Seeing Things, which is out of print but you may be able to get it used as I did. Make sure to get the CD-ROM with it though, it’s a delight. As well as containing the entire book, it has many clips from all Postgate & Firmin’s series, plus extra notes on the chapters and more, all with the characteristic Postgate delivery telling you all about it on top, and Firmin illustrations throughout.
In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the men of the Northlands sit around their great log fires and they tell a tale…
These words from the start of each episode of Noggin the Nog epitomise the art of their simple storytelling. However I’ll finish this post with a typically modest quote from the blurb on the back of his memoir, Postgate says:
I have never felt that the twelve or so worlds which Peter Firmin and I put together are in fact creations. We may have altered the scenery a bit, looked at it from a different angle perhaps, and the worlds have certainly taken on a life of their own. Even so, they are all really versions of this one, with troubles and delights that we can recognize – if they were’t they wouldn’t be interesting.
I am always delighted when people tell me how much they enjoy the films, but I am not being modest when I say that I did not create that joy. The ingredients are everywhere, I was just the cook.
Personally I loathe them. My TBR mountains are too precarious to start searching for that elusive book to complete a challenge on books published in the year of your birth, or novels with fruit in the title. Besides, I really don’t like choosing what I’m going to read next beyond the immediate one following. I like to be able to change my mind too and not feel any duty to read anything in particular so I can cross it off a list.
The only exceptions to this are the books chosen by our book group – for them I will delve deep into the piles of the unread to find buried literary treasures.
However, I find that I have signed up for one challenge for 2009 … It’s called the Read Your Own Books Challenge 2009 and can be found at http://readingwise.wordpress.com/ryob-2009/ All you have to do is give a total number of books of yours that you aim to read and that’s it. I’ve managed over 100 books this year, but have signed up for 50 in this challenge.
What could be better at spurring you on to scale your TBR mountains. It’s a great concept- I love this challenge!
This is a novel of globalisation and alienation, set in a world in which electronic communication and understanding is instant, but that between humans remains a mystery.
Arjun, a naive young Indian thinks he is about to achieve the American Dream. He lands a job in the US, but finds he’s signed up for a computing sweatshop. Eventually he breaks out to get his own position at an antiviral software company who promptly make him redundant. He unleashes a virus to get his own back, planning to be the first to come up with the solution and thus get his job back, but it is transmitted worldwide and everything goes horribly wrong.
Interspersed with this main plot and taking over most of the second half of the novel, we we are introduced to two other characters: Guy Swift, a brand marketer who owns a start-up company with no clients and dwindling funding; and Leela Zahir, a Bollywood starlet, adored by Arjun who makes her the face of his virus. Of course the virus cripples Guy’s business plans at the worst possible time. The lives of all three intertwine as the consequences of the viral attack play out.
Arjun, and to a certain extent Leela, appear to be realistic characters, you can’t help but sympathise with Arjun, even if you can’t condone what he did. Both are young and naive; Arjun as number one son has had a sheltered upbringing, and Leela, now 21, has been in the Bollywood business already for years and never experienced normal life. As for Guy, well he is a caricature of the young marketing man who lives and talks jargon, an empty shell fuelled by coke, with a trophy girlfriend and show-off apartment. I didn’t like him at all – but then you’re not meant to, and I didn’t care whether he sank or swam.
I would have liked to have read more about Arjun, particularly after he went on the run, but the author cuts the story off in its prime after 268 pages, inserting a 25 page coda which acts like the credits at the end of the movie Animal House which tells you what all the silly students went on to do. It would have been a much longer book without this device.
I enjoyed the novel and I like Kunzru’s style and confidence in writing about the technology without much technobabble, but given that the world is changing so fast, (it was first published in 2004), I believe that it will date sooner rather than later. Read it now while it’s of its time.
I just got back from my daughter’s school Christmas concert which was lovely. I was amazed though to find out that the perennial favourite Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (preferably the Springsteen version for me), has some introductory verses:
I just came back from a lovely trip along the Milky Way,
I stopped off at the North Pole to spend a holiday;
I called on dear old Santa Claus to see what I could see,
He took me to his workshop and told his plans to me.
Now Santa is a busy man, he has no time to play,
He’s got millions of stockings to fill on Christmas Day;
You’d better write your letter now and mail it right away,
Because he’s getting ready his reindeers and his sleigh …. so
You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid, and Donder and Blitzen;
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all …
Browsing in my super-local-indie-bookshop Mostly Books yesterday, my eye was drawn to this sitting by the till… Wendy: The Bumper Book of Fun for Women of a Certain Age by Jenny Eclair and Judith Holder. It’s a girl’s type annual for grumpy old women by one of the sharpest comedians on the planet.
I only had to open the front cover and I nearly dropped it in paroxsysms of laughter. They’ve created Top Totty pin-ups by pasting celeb heads onto other pictures – and there on the inside cover was Paxo’s head on a Val Doonican bejumpered body, and facing him was Richard Madeley in a limo in a posing pouch! There are many more delights inside – all the articles you might expect in a Jackie-style teenage comic are there – given the GOW treatment. It’s hilarious all the way through – It would be an ideal bog-book for girls – though as any fule kno, we of course don’t spend hours reading on the toilet.
Just one major drawback – whereas the Q.I. Annual has a list price of £12.99 and you can get it for about half that online, Wendy is £18.99 and you can’t get it for less than £12 at the moment, thus rather limiting its use as a stocking filler …
Last year I read some Halldor Laxness, and found the Icelandic humour distinctly hard to get. This contemporary novel by Bragi Olafsson (formerly in the Sugarcubes with Bjork) was much less oblique, but despite its relative brevity took some time to get going. When it did though, it became the stuff of pure farce which you could easily imagine on stage.
Emil returns home from a trip abroad to find that Harvard, a certifiable lunatic he shared a house in London with for a while a few years ago is looking for him. When Harvard turns up, Emil hides under the bed rather than let him in. What he doesn’t bargain for is Harvard climbing in through the open window to wait for him, and then when various other friends and acquantances turn up, Harvard invites them all in and entertains them with Emil’s record collection and drinks cupboard. Emil elects to stay under the bed, hoping they’ll all go….
The back-story of how Emil and Harvard met and how Harvard managed to kill the pets of the family they were house-sitting for in London is gradually teased out, no wonder Emil’s scared to come out – he’s made his bed and must sleep under it! This impromptu party gets through an almost Hemingwayesque amount of booze – you can feel Emil wincing. What’s even worse for him is that Greta, the girl of his dreams, whom he met on the plane home, is there and it’s Harvard who’s entertaining her!
This was a quick and entertaining read, the translation was crisp and oddly, given the cast of mostly 20 or 30-somethings, swear-word free. I wasn’t convinced about the ending though – but of course I can’t give that away.
It’s the first day of advent, and it was Cadburys for breakfast for daughter Juliet. When I was little, there was no chocolate involved in advent calendars. But enough of that humbug! …
My blog’s first competition closed yesterday and tis time to find out who won. Firstly thank you to everyone who entered. I made the draw this lunchtime, and first out of the hat came Denise, and runner-up was Michaela. I’ve emailed both of you and a selection of my handsewn Christmas decorations will be on their way to you as soon as you send me back your mailing details – Congratulations!
In case you’re interested, the answers to the questions were:
1. Which broadcaster’s current Christmas book is subtitled: ‘Food, Family, Friends, Festivities’? – Nigella Lawson
2. In which book by the author of ‘Sophie’s World’ does Joachim discover things going on behind the windows of his advent calendar? – The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gardner
3. Whose ‘Father Christmas’ is bald, always grumpy and moaning about ‘Blooming snow’? – Raymond Briggs
4. What is the name of Ebenezer Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’? Bob Cratchit
5. Who wrote a hilarious book of school nativity play anecdotes called ‘A Wayne in a Manger’? – Gervase Phinn