Review: A Universal History of Iniquity by Jorge Luis Borges

Perhaps I’m too underdone to appreciate this. Started reading it as part of Borge’s ‘Collected Ficciones,’ but could not persevere throughout the entire compilation. As I delved deeper into the collection and Borge’s aged, more and more self was given up to indulgence. Stolen stories then made up and into new things is a good self-description of this collection. I enjoyed it – but less than I expected in light of the mammoth reputation that Borge’s short fiction possesses.

Pirates and bandits, love and adventure and life and death live in these stories. On the surface at least. Peel it back and find yourself bemusedly spending time with a writer not wholly engaged with any of the aforementioned – examining them and dreaming them and, most importantly, writing them, but not bringing you with him to live them. It was an interesting experience to read writing that never forgot it was literature – that never peeled back the curtain and flung the reader directly into the story. Instead of immediacy – that metafictional framework. Reading a writer writing about a writer writing about what he’d read. Fictional historians of sometimes fictional, sometimes factual history – clever and engaging and stimulating.

Review: The Scar by China Mieville

Although in some ways this novel is better plotted than ‘Perdido Street Station,’ (which is not to say that it doesn’t drag in parts) I will always have a soft place in my heart for Mieville’s Bas Lag debut despite its comparative clunkiness. The Scar didn’t surprise me as much; the setting, whilst creative, didn’t have the same aura of discovery. I felt the same way that I feel after many of Mieville’s other works – that style is dominating substance (just a teensy bit).

Baroque and overwrought, prose vacillating from lumbering to evocative and used effectively to construct sword and sorcery monster of the week encounters (pew pew explosions what a badass type shenanigans) within a truly engaging setting with not so engaging characters. A mixture of pulp niche genres – steampunk, dark urban fantasy, Cthulhu-lite monstery fun – that gives a chunky sort of goodness somewhat lacking in nutrition.

Review: The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

A boy with nine lives walks through worlds, gets up to mischief and no good. Loses lives, makes friends and grows up a little. In doing so he becomes the Chrestomanci, guardian-enchanter-magician of the multiverse. Loved it.

A modern day fairy tale in an idyllic magical England. A twist on some common and not-so-common fantasy tropes framing a light-hearted coming of age story with a hint of prepubescent romance.

There are some things that you’re exposed to as a child that you end up carrying around with you for the rest of your life. The books I’ve read as I’ve gotten older do move me – but never in quite the same way.

The first time I read this novel in primary school I was still reeling from early exposure to Harry Potter. Diana Wynne Jones has a lighter touch than Rowling, more whimsical and strange. The sort of book I want to read to my children when I get around to having them.

Review: Dubliners by James Joyce

Collected stories that speak with soul. Portraits of people, the small happenings in between life lived. More alliteration than I expected, but that’s the sort of thing that I find charming (although a friend from my high-school english days couldn’t bear to read it in my essays. Too cringe-inductive by far).

Traditional inspection and dissection of the lives of the common folk of Dublin. Tight woven stories worthy of the label ‘short,’ capture fleetingly in motion character and situation. Easy to read and without pretension or overwrought construction. Quietly moving. Surprising from the author of ‘Ulysses.’ He doesn’t feel the need to impress anybody with these stories, I would think. Passing time changes things.

Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Life is hard – particularly if you’re a young man or woman looking to grow up in a world (or even just a Japan) that doesn’t seem to give much of a shit. Eat, drink, sleep, fuck – if you’re lucky – and the cycle repeats. A beautiful anhedonia.

The story’s framing device – an older Toru looking back on his young life – doesn’t add much. Sludges the main character. Although I suppose that’s the point – Toru’s self obsession reflect his inability to grow past the point in his life where he lost Kizuki. As a whole the book lacks the hallucinatory, vital quality of ‘Kafka on the Shore.’ Keeps the aimless male protagonist and adds an unconvincing three-way between two papery manic-pixie-dream girls. The illusion is sustained somewhat more effectively in the written word than the moving picture.

The novel made me think of a friend of a friend. She killed herself the other day. I didn’t know her very well. I don’t think she knew herself all that well, either. The knowing makes that sort of thing much harder to go through with – how could you give up something that you’ve grown attached to? I feel like I want to say the novel is trite and constructed – but it knows youth, knows the struggle of growth and escape. A bildungsroman that doesn’t ever get so far out the front door. Murakami might have published this in 1987, but it feels like a millenial kind of a novel.

I’ve been left with a vague feeling of disgust – mostly at the somewhat mortifying degree to which I could identify with the characters. Young people suck. But ennui just feels so goddamned good I can’t bring myself to give it up.

Why I love Goatperson, and other tales

The book was Goatperson (and other tales), a collection of cartoons by the Australian ‘poet, cartoonist, and cultural commentator’ Michael Leunig. It was published in 1999. In that year I was six years old, a recent migrant from Burma to Australia, and even more recently from Perth to Adelaide. My mother and father had made the decision to move east for work and training at a hospital in the centre of the city – the sort of opportunity that was not to be passed up however much myself and my older siblings protested. I was not to discover the book for several more years, coming across it finally in the late summer of 2004. It was February, and it was hot, even inside the Angus and Robertsons that I found myself in whilst my mother was shopping for groceries in the city. I was now eleven years old, and, having survived the turmoil of relocation back from Adelaide to what was to reassume its role as primary site of habitation in Perth for the next decade, I was busy bracing myself for the impending doom of the new school year.

It was into this receptive and impressionable period of my life (long before the descent of the burdensome clouds of cynicism that were gifted to me by a rather unspectacular adolescence) that Leunig’s book inserted itself.

Goatperson was, and is, for me, an uplifting, alluring, magnificently marvellous and exceedingly good-looking collection of cartoons. At the age of eleven, these little images and words made me feel that I had found someone else who understood the beauty that exists in life. As I have grown older, stuff has changed, I have changed – but Goatperson is still as inspiring as it ever was.

Titus Groan and Gormenghast – a review, of sorts, of the novels by Mervyn Peake

I recently read Titus Groan, a fantasy novel by the British author Mervyn Peake – and I have to say that doing so was an experience that has stuck with me in a way that I didn’t really expect. I’d heard of the novel and the sterling reputation that it and its sequel, Gormenghast, have in the speculative fiction community – both are seen as landmark works that are demonstratively literary in their approach to the writing of fantasy. I know that I myself am quite a rambler – I fill pages and pages up with writing, words that tumble and trickle and play viciously amongst the long slopes of language in a way that is obfuscating and entirely unnecessary. At times I interject with anachronisms, ruining the flow of the piece, and at others I interrupt with colloquialisms that are too modern and bombastic in their natures to suit the otherwise contemplative nature of what is written. I am a horrible writer, I relish in unseemly grandiosity – a terribly astute example of purple prose at its worst. There is no way to ‘reign it in,’ as to do so would require the reigning of so much material that the saddle and rope would not be able to handle it and fall to pieces.

Reading Peake’s work, then, was a true revelation – at last, amongst the barren fields of well-balanced and engagingly-written prose that I have otherwise been subjecting myself to, there is a grotesque, obsessive authorial structure that looms on the literary horizon. A structure, a behemoth, that speaks to me personally, with its strength and grandeur and twisted obscurity. Arrogant and headstrong in its hubris, but perhaps more powerful in the end because of it, Titus Groan and Gormenghast strike a gargantuan pose on the landscape, digging deep to the earthen bones of the place whilst joyously scraping at the sky with jagged peaks. A beautiful place, but one that could all the same never really be called friendly. It is a home that has not been built for the reader. Unlike other novels that I’ve had the terrible pleasure to read, these books of Peake’s do not seem to attempt to accommodate the reader, to make him or her feel welcome in his abode. But, then, they also do not go out of their way to challenge, to push and prod and poke with words to see what makes us tick. In the end, it all feels rather more like a monument – not to the reader, but to the thing itself. To Gormenghast and to Titus, the seventy-seventh earl of that most illustrious line and all that it represents. Titus Groan is a book written for itself – it is beautiful and terrible and long and heavy, grotesquely dark and yet frivolous and light in ways that remain preternaturally unforgiving. It is a novel that should be read, and I am very glad that it has been written.