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Category Archive for 'Literary'

In this collection of eleven short stories, author Joseph O’Neill focuses on imperfect and often uncommitted men as they live their usually unexciting and unrewarded lives. Their stories are, from a “story” point of view, as unexciting as their lives, yet they are also fun and often even funny. O’Neill, the son of an Irish father and Turkish mother who traveled and lived with their family all over the world, writes without the clever and quirky characteristics one usually associates with stereotyped “Irish writers,” presenting his stories instead with a “straight face” as he recreates his characters’ lives and leaves it up to the reader to form judgments and draw conclusions. Throughout the collection, O’Neill varies his literary style to fit the subject, and in “The Mustache in 2010,” his overtly academic tone for a subject like mustaches, as he traces the history of facial hair, serves as an amusing introduction to “the drama of Alexandre Dubuisson’s mustache.” Ultimately, the collection feels somewhat anti-climactic, lacking real, direct conflicts resulting in final resolutions. The male characters are weak and are often afraid or too easily distracted from the real issues to make independent moves.

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The speaker of this work of “fiction,” who appears in every way to be the author himself, insists that this book is, in fact, a report – “pages intended only for my files.” Despite this assertion, the resulting work is so introspective and so intimate, and the many known “facts” of the author’s own life are so clearly identical to events of the speaker’s life that the very borders between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, and observation and interpretation are blurred. The book feels like an internal monologue by a talented writer exploring the very nature of his own being, Its Australian author, Gerald Murnane, often suggested as a candidate for the Nobel Prize, appears to be so invested in the nature of thought and its creative manifestation through writing that he is willing to sacrifice what many of us would regard as everything physical that has had meaning for him in the past to find answers to his inner questions. The book which has resulted is unlike anything else I have ever read – a book without a plot, without a real conflict, and without a clear sense of direction – yet I found it hypnotizing.

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Returning to Prague for the location of this novel, after setting The Glass Room there in 2009, author Simon Mawer uses his familiarity with Prague, and his obvious love for it, to create this stirring novel of political history and intrigue. Set during the almost magical Prague Spring of 1968, a time in which Russian influence had waned and a broader view of socialism and some new freedoms were being celebrated by students and political writers in Prague, Mawer focuses on “the fleeting nature of presence” as the Prague Spring is cancelled by the sudden arrival of half a million Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union, which went on to occupy the country for the next twenty-three years. A writer who focuses primarily on people and their lives, rather than on politics or cultural movements, Mawer brings the Prague Spring to life by focusing on two couples who come together in Prague, live and love, engage in adventure, and find their lives permanently changed by the arrival of the Soviet-led troops. The couples represent different backgrounds, and they experience the Prague Spring in different ways. Each has connections with people from Prague who help them during the danger which evolves, providing a broader picture of the events as they affect all the people of Prague, instead of the more limited focus which might have occurred with fewer main characters. This is a carefully developed novel, filled with fascinating history and sidelights involving literature, music, and popular culture, a fine addition to Mawer’s bibliography.

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NOTE:  At the end of each year, I enjoy checking to see which reviews are getting the most attention (highest number of hits) on this website, and each year I am always surprised by the number of older books (and reviews) which remain in the Top Ten. For this new list I wanted to see which books would appear on the list if I removed the perennial Old Favorites. Gone from the list of old favorites are the following, some of which have been published and/or reviewed here ten or more years ago by Jo Nesbo, Helon Habila, Alan Duff, Kamila Shamsie, and Alan Paton.

The new TOP TEN, published more recently by newer authors, feature books from Tasmania, Vietnam, Norway, Republic of China, Chile, England, Germany (rediscovered from 1932), Netherlands, France, the aboriginal community of western Canada, and the Native American community of the US

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“Over the past few decades, Emily Carr’s reputation has soared so high that it now can be argued she is Canada’s best-known artist, historic or contemporary. Her impassioned paintings of the West Coast of Canada – her depiction of the monumental sculpture of British Columbia’s indigenous peoples and of the towering trees and dense undergrowth of the region’s rain forests, executed during the early decades of the twentieth century – have superseded [every other] claim to Canadian wilderness. And to national identity.” – Robin Laurence, “The Making of an Artist,” Introduction, 2005. In this autobiography, Carr shows her superb talent as a writer and observer, concentrating on her feelings and her intense responses to life’s challenges over the seventy-four years she has lived – including her struggles to acquire the skills she needed as a painter on an island where there were few others, her trips to aboriginal villages and her desire to preserve their unique qualities, and her friendships with the Group of Seven which gave her new impetus to continue with her landscape paintings. Lawren Harris, in particular, became a mentor. Fascinating and enlightening story by a woman whose success almost did not happen.

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