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This site seems to be more book blogs than actual specific boards for discussing books so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. 

 

I'm gonna just copy and paste all my reviews from BGO and put them here. 

 

Starting with my favourite book.

 

Journey to the End of the Night (1932) Louis-Ferdinand Celine

 

It begins in World War I with Bardamu (Celine's alter ego) and explores the trauma and futility of the war. Bardamu meets his doppelganger, Robinson, a character that comes and goes throughout this life (a character I have theories about). Bardemu goes to Africa which results in yet more suffering and confusion. Then he goes to New York and works at the Ford company and meets a prostitute called Molly. Then the book jumps ahead six years to when Bardamu has become a qualified doctor. He begins working in a working-class suburb of Paris and deals with horrific things such as botched abortions, miscarriages and the death of a local child. This is where Leon Robinson, becomes a regular character in his life. 

 

The book is often described as a celebration nihilism. Celine has very little respect for humanity. To him, it's suffering, crime, greed, and pain. He witnesses awful things but responds to them as though they're the utter embodiment of normalcy (the book is actually quite funny because of this). Even when Robinson plots to murder an old woman, Bardamu doesn't care, he simply thinks... 'it's nothing to do with me.'

 

There's an underlying message about the trauma caused to both him and Robinson due to the war. They have both been numbed to the point that they are no longer human.

 

The prose is some of the most exquisite I've ever come across. Which is interesting because it was made famous for its more authentic, real-life writing. 

 

There's a chapter where he's on the boat to Africa which is amazing. It encapsulates humanities distrust of other people and their tendency to hate. Bardamu doesn't speak much or get involved so everyone on the ship turns against him and you genuinely feel the sense of threat, that they might actually kill him for daring to be different. 

 

Celine, of course, was a noted antisemite in real life. That might be an issue for some. Personally speaking, the fact that Celine is a fairly awful person himself only makes the book resonate more. I have a tendency to separate the artist form the art. And thank God because this book is a masterpiece.

 

10/10

Edited by Hux

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Atomised (1998) Michel Houellebecq

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this.

 

I've never read him before and only know him through reputation, namely that of a racist misogynist (though in today's climate that applies to people who make the 'okay' hand gesture so I'll take that with a pinch of salt). I'm not sure what all the fuss is about; he describes sex. What of it? Anyway, I wonder how many people have been put off him by virtue of a media that are full of hypocrites. I absolutely loved this. It was like being nourished by food, a feeling I haven't had while reading for quite some time. My interest was waning somewhat by the final third but that tends to happen with every book (all books, in my opinion being longer than they need to be). It picked up again after that and was a delight. My only criticism would be the epilogue. It essentially transforms the novel from a story about brothers to a peculiar science fiction romp that wasn't remotely necessary. I could have done without that in truth. 

 

The story is essentially two half brothers (Bruno and Michel) who have no real bond until adulthood. Bruno is obsessed with sex while Michel is almost asexual with only an interest in his scientific work. I must say, I found it hard to believe Michel as a character but complete understood Bruno. That may say more about me. 

 

I'm not sure what Houellebecq was trying to say by giving the two women in the brother's lives such tragic endings. Maybe that's where the misogyny accusation comes from. He seems to be suggesting that their sexual freedom is the very thing that has ruined their lives and left them unfulfilled as women. To be fair, that seems to be exactly what Sally Rooney was also saying in 'Normal People' too yet I doubt she gets accused of being a misogynist. The book is clearly about our 'atomised' western societies and how we have lost meaning so I'm not sure the criticism is valid. It's kinda the point. 

 

Very Good. Will read some more of him at some point. 

 

8/10

Edited by Hux

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The Map and The Territory (2010) Michel Houellebecq

 

I read this after enjoying Atomised so much.

 

Having read my first Houellebecq (Atomised), I resolved to read more. This is my second forray into his work, and while it wasn't as good as Atomised, it was, nonetheless, a wonderful reading experience and frankly, a damn sight more creative and interesting than most of the turgid contemporary novels I mistakenly read because they're nominated for Booker prizes.

 

The book is about an artist called Jed who seeks to paint the famous writer, you guessed it, Michel Houellebecq. I enjoyed Houellebecq making himself a character, and especially enjoyed the moments when he mocked his own character (at one point he muses on whether Houellebecq might be a paedophile).

 

I'll put the final third of the book in spoilers because I honestly didn't see the it coming.

 

Spoiler

In the final part of the book, the famous writer Michel Houellebecq is brutally murdered. Decapitated no less. His murder is not especially important in terms of the plot, or who did it (no-one especially significant), it's more the fact that it's a curious exploration of celebrity and death, Houellebecq's using his own fame as a device for looking at those themes. 

 

Frankly, this book, though not being anything profound, was significantly more fun and enjoyable to read than most of the crap I read these days. Original and thought-provoking. I will definitely seek out more of his work.

 

7/10

Edited by Hux

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Normal People (2018) Sally Rooney

 

Where to begin. In terms of the writing it was an enjoyable read but my, the hype was not justified. At the very minimum I expect a book to be an enjoyable read. 

 

Truth be told this was a Mills and Boon romance novel for the contemporary age. Every time a book like this wins awards and gets praise, I come to the conclusion that modern books are written for the growing demographic of people who... don't like reading books. Firstly, there's nothing remotely 'normal' about these two characters. I'll skip over the predictably dream-like otherness of Marianne and focus on the utterly non-existent Connell. I'm sorry ladies, but that guy (calm, thoughtful, caring, emotionally mature, intellectually honest, culturally sensitive, left-wing, etc) only exists in the heads of women -- women writers in particular. Connell isn't just these things by the end of the book. No, he's these things from the very start, as a teenager. You know, like most teenage boys are.

 

These two people are highly popular, good looking, the smartest in school, having regular sex, and are apparently off to university where they'll be going travelling around Europe and becoming writers. Normal people, you say? 

 

I was genuinely quite irritated but this book. It's everything I hate in fiction. I was half-expecting a final chapter to reveal that Marianne was sexually assaulted as a child (perhaps by her father, maybe even by her cartoonishly evil, moustache twirling brother) but thankfully, that didn't happen. I was also slightly offended by the implication that women (or men, for that matter) who enjoy rough sex have some kind of underlying mental health problem. I did, however, like the ending. These two millennial idiots can't seem to communicate their feelings. Even at the end she tells him to go to New York. I do wonder what point Rooney was making though. It's not as if her generation are emotionally closed off. If anything they're more prone to expressing their feelings than any other generation. Maybe she was criticising that - modern people sleep with everyone without consequences but... gulp... maybe there are consequences. Sigh.

 

I honestly couldn't tell if the book's title was ironic or if it was a clever twist on those awful romance novels (what if, instead of a pirate and a curvy wench, it was a saucy romance between two... normal people). Geddit?

 

This is an airport book. That books like this get so much hype and applause depresses me.

 

5/10

Edited by Hux

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The Peregrine (1967) A.J. Baker

 

This is a book about a man (A.J. Baker) who develops an interest in bird watching and specifically takes an interest in peregrines. He details his fascination over the course of several months in the early sixties and follows the birds around the South of England. 

 

read it based on several excellent reviews. It's generally considered one of the best nature books. 

 

The first two chapters detailing his interest in bird watching were indeed exquisite. The prose is gorgeous and sets up a passion which borders on obsession. His use of metaphor and simile are amazing. But I have to say, I found the diary portion to be hugely repetitive with endless descriptions of the same colours, the same landscapes, the same north easterly winds, the same list of birds (woodpigeon, lapwing, plover on and on). He occasionally returns to the wonderful language seen in the opening chapters, usually when he tangents onto a separate, more personal subject. There's one where he details the way animals fear humans and he describes humans as stinking of death; and another when he describes his encounter with a fox. But other than that, it just repeats, repeats, repeats.

 

Reading those opening chapters got me very excited about what was to come but the following diary section was a rather dull and turgid experience. I got the impression it was one of those books that one reviewer loved, then another, then another, until eventually, it developed an unwarranted reputation for excellence based on the poetic beauty of those opening two chapters. The fact is, the diary stuff doesn't match up to that. None the less, I definitely embraced Baker's passion for the subject matter. And I recognised his obvious gift for language. I just wish he would have more eagerly applied it to the latter half of the book. Or perhaps some fiction. The diary section only came to life for me when he expressed his opinion rather than when he described the same identical actions and events over and over. 

 

I highly recommend the opening chapters. Some of the most beautiful prose I've ever come across.

 

7/10

 

After that... it's very repetitive.

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For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940) Ernest Hemingway

 

I really struggle with Hemmingway. His writing is so dry and matter of fact. Sometimes, it's unbearable, but other times, it's strangely compelling. Can't quite put my finger on it. I enjoyed this up to the half way point, then found it to be a bit of a slog.

 

The basic plot revolves around American, Robert Jordan, being an explosives expert in the Spanish civil war fighting against Franco's fascists. The vast majority of the book takes place in and around a cave where they're camping out in preparation for blowing up a bridge. And that's about it. There's also a romance, but that's the gist of it.

 

I didn't hate it, but like I said, Hemmingway is hard to like. So far, only 'The Sun Also Rises' impressed me. And that was a long time ago.

 

7/10

 

The Old Man and The Sea (1952) Ernest Hemingway

 

Maybe I missed something here but this won the Pulitzer prize and was cited as an influence in Hemmingway receiving the Nobel Prize? Why?

 

I mean, it's a perfectly nice short story about a man battling with a fish then watching as his prize is devoured by sharks, but it's really not much more than that. I enjoyed it but at no point was I thinking... this is epic literature. Truth be told, it's essentially a short version of Moby Dick, a story that looks at a man's obsession taking over him and resulting in no reward. It had all the classic Hemmingway characteristics of being cold and detached and to the point which I disliked in his first person narratives (The Sun Also Rises) but don't mind too much here. 

 

Ultimately, it's all rather forgettable stuff though.  

 

5/10

Edited by Hux

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16 hours ago, Hux said:

Atomised (1998) Michel Houellebecq

 

 

Thanks for the review of this. Its a book I have been thinking about reading for many years as the little I know about Houellebecq intrigues me. I will have to pick up some of his work sooner rather than later.

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16 hours ago, Brian. said:

 

Thanks for the review of this. Its a book I have been thinking about reading for many years as the little I know about Houellebecq intrigues me. I will have to pick up some of his work sooner rather than later.

 

It was superb. My favourite contemporary writer. 

 

Houellebecq is a rather fascinating character. Even acts. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnEw6INkg2U

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4 hours ago, Brian. said:


That looks absolutely bizarre :D

 

He's mad as a box of frogs. Great writer though.

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Confessions of a Mask (1949) Mishima Yukio

 

I'm always trying to expand my reading beyond the European tradition and this writer was recommended. 

 

The book is short and sweet and covers the period of a character's life (which feels extremely autobiographical) that would generally be described as bildungsroman (early years to adulthood). The main character is a gay man in Tokyo coming to terms with his homosexuality and obsession with death just prior to the war. He's in love with another boy called Omi (though sometimes it's seems more like admiration than attraction) and in his late teens he develops a relationship with a woman called Sonoko which might lead to marriage. Eventually, he calls it off knowing that he can never really give her the love she wants and yet, despite this and her later marriage to someone else, the two begin to meet again on a regular basis but in a purely platonic way. The book ends with them at a dance where he gazes lovingly at a half naked man knowing that he can never truly be happy because he is gay

 

This is pretty groundbreaking stuff for 1949. I'm frankly amazed he was willing to publish given that the character is so clearly the author. 

 

I enjoyed the style of writing, it being concise but fluid, though it's always hard to judge such things when it's a translation. I was certainly impressed enough to look into reading more of his work.

 

 7/10

Edited by Hux

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The Gathering (2007) Anne Enright 

 

bought and read this because it was a Booker prize winner even though I've made that mistake before. 

 

It's about the death of an Irish woman's brother and the memories associated with him, and while it's mostly very readable, with nice short chapters and a compelling narrator, it always felt just a little... I dunno... a little obvious.

 

Modern books all seem to be like this in my opinion. Narrated by slightly dazed (and somewhat robotic) narrators who 'gaze at the begonias and think about Richard and the summer when we held hands that one time.' Yawn. It's all a bit by-the-numbers and predictable with an author who talks about the world as though they have a unique perspective that other people just couldn't have (they're always bored by sex while their partners are very keen and they're tediously middle-class and seem to resent most aspects of their lives). It just felt like I'd read so many books this before (I strongly suspect 'Normal People' will be very similar). EDIT - it was (see above review).

 

The twist, if you can call it that, was another banal cliche. 

 

Not entirely awful, and reasonably readable, but the idea that this is Booker Prize winning stuff is worrying.

 

5/10

Edited by Hux

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The Leopard (1958) Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

 

This might be the saddest book I've ever read. It's kinda heart breaking.

It begins in 1860 and introduces us to Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina. We follow his life and that of his children and his nephew Tancredi during the period of the reunification of Italy under Garibaldi. The language is so rich and fluid and provides a sumptuous picture of Sicily until you can almost feel the sun on your back and hear the waves crashing below. Occasionally, the writing is a little dense and meandering and lost my interest a little but when it worked, it really was quite beautiful and lyrical.

Don Fabrizio is an aristocrat with ties to the past but equally embraces the changes taking place at the time (especially encouraged by his progressive nephew Tancredi). Concetta, his daughter, is in love with Tancredi and for a moment it seems as though he's interested in her but then we are then introduced to the beautiful Angelica, daughter of an up and coming member of Sicilian society (new money). She is described as being quite exquisitely beautiful, mesmerising everyone.

Tancredi is also impressed by her beauty and the two soon begin a relationship to the delight of Don Fabrizio.

The novel then jumps ahead. We see more of their lives. Garibaldi is successful. Tancredi and Angelica marry. Then we jump ahead further. And again and again. Then Don Fabrizio dies. Then comes the final chapter set in 1910 when Concetta is in her 70s and Tancredi is dead. 

Then we discover something. And it's heart breaking. 

Despite some of the writing being a little dense, this is one of the most amazing explorations of death, mortality, the loss of traditions, the passage of time, the inevitability of mortality, the dying of passion, and the blindness of youth, I've ever read. The major theme is that of wasting our lives, losing them to time, to mistakes. 

It reminded me of Atwood's Blind Assassin in many ways (she owes a lot to this book) though her book hits you over the head with its themes and doesn't come close to this level of genius. Lampedusa takes a far more subtle approach when looking at the fragility of human existence. This book doesn't tell you that it's a question of living for the moment or that you shouldn't waste your life; it tells you that living for the moment is impossible. That we will all, in some way, waste our lives. 

Poor Concetta. 

 

9/10

 

Edited by Hux

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The Story of The Eye (1928) Georges Bataille 

 

This is a very famous erotic novella. Written in 1928 and detailing the narrator (a young male) and his sexual escapades with a girl called Simone. 

 

They begin having a sexual relationship but don't engage in full intercourse, only masturbation and exhibitionism. Eventually, they manipulate a local girl, Marcelle, into joining them in their games. This leads to an orgy which in turn leads to Marcelle having a mental breakdown resulting in her going to a sanitorium. Eventually, she commits suicide and the narrator and Simone go on the run to Spain with the help of an Englishman called Sir Edmund (another like-minded pervert). In Seville, Simone seduces a priest and with the two men helping her, she rapes and murders him, taking a unique pleasure from removing his eye.

 

As you might expect, this book has a lot of gratuitous language and sexual imagery. There's milk and eggs and bull's testicles and, of course, the titular eye ball. 

 

When I first read it, I assumed it was supposed to be a true story. As the story goes on, however, you quickly understand that it's too fantastical to be true, a classic male fantasy which outs the power in the hands of the female protagonist. Bataille himself confirms that it was indeed 'a mostly' manufactured story, a kind of wish fantasy about women being as dirty, as sexual, and as aggressive as the men. Women, After all, have all that sexual capital yet never seem to exploit it. Hence Simone is always the instigator in the sexual acts, always the leader in their games.

 

There was a moment when Bataille seemed to be equating semen with urine because, in his interpretation, that's what orgasm is to a man -- it's not something we build up to like women, but something we relieve ourselves of. Like so many other bodily functions it is primitive, basic, nothing more meaningful than eating, defecating, breathing, sleeping. They all exist on a spectrum of pleasure.

 

I actually laughed out loud at the final chapter with the priest. It was so utterly unreal, so visually crisp, that it developed a distinct comedic element. I loved this book. The prose was quite sincerely beautiful at times.

 

Quote

"I stretched out in the grass, my skull on a large, flat rock and my eyes staring straight up at the Milky Way, that strange breach of astral sperm and heavenly urine across the cranial vault formed by the ring of constellations: that open crack at the summit of the sky, apparently made of ammoniacal vapours shining in the immensity (in empty space, where they burst forth absurdly like a rooster's crow in total silence), a broken egg, a broken eye, or my own dazzled skull weighing down the rock, bouncing symmetrical images back to infinity."

 

Highly recommended. 

 

8/10

Edited by Hux

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Blood Meridian (1985) Cormack McCarthy

 

This is the first Cormac McCarthy book I've ever read. Will probably be my last.

 

I'd heard bad things about him, specifically that he's rather contrived and tries a little too hard, has a tendency to throw in a ton of alliteration and rhyming schemes and assonance and whatever else he can find. This was sadly true and meant the book was an appalling reading experience as a result. I really don't intend to make the same mistake again (especially give that this is considered his greatest work).

 

The story about a young lad joining a gang and riding out west is fairly interesting though the 'kid' never really feels fleshed out as a character. It's the other characters that are more interesting especially Glanton and the judge. I got definite Kurtz vibes from the judge and rather enjoyed the chapter where he stalks the kid like Yul Brynner from Westworld (another possible influence). He is the most intriguing character by far and possibly represents death itself. But those sporadic chapters aside, I sincerely hated reading this book. It was such an unpleasant chore. Sadly, I'm one of those people who generally keeps going once I've started. It wasn't worth it.

 

The writing style felt so deliberate. Like McCarthy sits down and thinks about how every word, sentence, and paragraph should be constructed, framed, and presented. It's frankly awful and feels like you're reading a film script that's far too descriptive. Imagine reading this paragraph on every page:

 

Quote

"They saw the governor himself erect and formal within his silkmullioned sulky clatter forth from the double doors of the palace courtyard and they saw one day a pack of vicious looking humans mounted on unshod Indian ponies riding half drunk through the streets, bearded, barbarous, clad in the skins of animals stitched up with thews and armed with weapons of every description, revolvers of enormous weight and bowieknives the size of claymores and short twobarreled rifles with bores you could stick your thumbs in and the trappings of their horses fashioned out of human skin and their bridles woven up from human hair and decorated with human teeth and the riders wearing scapulars or necklaces of dried and blackened human ears and the horses rawlooking and wild in the eye and their teeth bared like feral dogs and riding also in the company a number of half naked savages reeling in the saddle, dangerous, filthy, brutal, the whole like a visitation from some heathen land where they and others like them fed on human flesh."

 

And breathe...

 

Imagine that on virtually every page.

 

Just terrible. Sometimes I genuinely wonder what people are reading. This was such an awful experience. Hated it.

 

3/10

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The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) G.K Chesterton

 

Thoroughly enjoyed this mad nonsense (especially after the disappointment of The Great Gatsby).

 

I'm tempted to categorise it as magical realism but, well... no, not quite. It's definitely a little bonkers and a very fun romp through the secret world of anarchy and religion. I won't pretend to have grasped the finer details of the religious analogies made throughout the book but I got the general gist of the main themes and even though a lot of it was too intricate to properly analyse, it was still very enjoyable and thought provoking. 

 

A nightmare indeed.

 

7/10

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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (1981) G.B. Edwards

 

This was an exquisite piece of work. A proper good-old yarn.

It felt so real that about halfway through I googled G.B. Edwards to see if this was literally just his life. But no, he left Guernsey, lived in London, had a very different existence. Ebenezer feels too real to be fictional though; too cantankerous and funny and opinionated. Most novels are narrated by personality-lacking robots who gaze into the middle distance and say nothing remotely human. Yawn. This was sweeping and epic and full of life. A real life.

I so desperately wanted him to get together with Liza Quéripel but it just doesn't happen. Because that's just not how life works. I felt for him when his best friend Jim died in the First World war. When Tabitha lost her husband. When Raymond lost his faith. When the sisters Prissy and Hettie fell out and made up again and again. When Neville Falla vandalised his property. When he killed a Nazi. When he befriended another. And when he told us about the book he was writing.

This book was an absolute joy. And to learn it was yet another book which publishers rejected reminds me how incompetent most publishers are.

"The older I get and the more I learn, the more I know I don't know nothing, me."

 

8/10

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The Posthumous Memoirs of Bràs Cubas (1881) Machado de Assis

 

Really hard to believe this was published in 1881. It really does feel like it could have been written today (in terms of tone and humour at least). I guess because so many of us associate 19th century literature with the British and Russian epics. Their bombastic style kind of sets a tone for what you begin to expect of literature from that particular era but the Brazilian style presumably kicked against that without being very familiar to us. Books like this were so hard to find in the pre-internet days. They've found a new audience in the modern world.

 

The story is told by a Bras Cubas after he dies. He begins by describing his funeral before telling us his life story. It's not an especially epic story. He just lives, loves, works, and often fails. There's not much more to him. Because that's what life is for most of us. It's more the humour and darkness of the book that make his story interesting. He rejects his marriage match then, once she marries someone else, begins an affair with her. But that's about as interesting as his life gets. Then, as promised, he dies. He takes comfort in having no children, specifically in the idea of not forcing the misery of life onto another. 

 

The chapters are very short, some only a paragraph long. Some chapters are blank. Some are merely an opportunity to speak directly to the reader (or to the critic as he does in one short chapter). I was always of the opinion that people like Joyce invented the modern novel, but again, it seems clear that isn't the case. This book certainly qualifies.

 

As much as I enjoyed it, the truth is it didn't live long in the memory once I'd finished. Ultimately, I'd describe the book as a curious and worthwhile read but one which is perhaps a little frivolous and lacking in impact. 

 

7/10

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On 10/02/2021 at 2:26 AM, Hux said:

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) G.K Chesterton

 

Thoroughly enjoyed this mad nonsense (especially after the disappointment of The Great Gatsby).

 

I'm tempted to categorise it as magical realism but, well... no, not quite. It's definitely a little bonkers and a very fun romp through the secret world of anarchy and religion. I won't pretend to have grasped the finer details of the religious analogies made throughout the book but I got the general gist of the main themes and even though a lot of it was too intricate to properly analyse, it was still very enjoyable and thought provoking. 

 

A nightmare indeed.

 

7/10

Oh I love that book. I really must read it again one day. It's a very strange yet utterly compelling read. I remember loving the vibrant and dynamic imagery in it.

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My grandfather was a holiday friend of Chesterton's (his family used to go to Folkestone for the summer and Chesterton lived there). They were both large men (being polite here!) with pridigious appetites, both were authors though Granddad was a biographer, both loved seaside postcards and mildly dirty jokes. Apparently you could give any word to Chesterton and he'd come up with a properly rhymming limerick in under a minute. He was never defeated.

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3 hours ago, France said:

My grandfather was a holiday friend of Chesterton's (his family used to go to Folkestone for the summer and Chesterton lived there). They were both large men (being polite here!) with pridigious appetites, both were authors though Granddad was a biographer, both loved seaside postcards and mildly dirty jokes. Apparently you could give any word to Chesterton and he'd come up with a properly rhymming limerick in under a minute. He was never defeated.

 

How very interesting, France. We need him here for our limerick game :lol:

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5 hours ago, ~Andrea~ said:

Oh I love that book. I really must read it again one day. It's a very strange yet utterly compelling read. I remember loving the vibrant and dynamic imagery in it.

 

I read it purely as a piece of fiction but, should I ever get round to reading it again, would probably pay closer attention to some of the religious themes explored which, at the time of reading, went over my head. And I still find the notion of policemen infiltrating a secret society of anarchists only to discover that all but one of them are also secret policemen enormously intriguing. 

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The Book of Disquiet (1935) Fernando Pessoa

 

The book of disquiet is quite simply one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.

There's no narrative to speak of, no plot, only a man giving his thoughts on the world and the human condition. It feels like a diary, and many of the chapters do, indeed, have dates, but most don't and even the ones that do aren't chronologically ordered, but rather placed, haphazardly, in any order. You might read several entries from 1932 only to find, many chapters later, that you're reading his thoughts from 1916. Not that it matters, the whole book could be read in any order, in any way, starting at the middle and moving backwards, or picking any random chapter you wanted. It makes no difference at all.

Pessoa writes using the heteronym 'Bernardo Soares', and tells us very little about himself other than where he works, his boss, the errand boy, with a few occasional references to the streets and the weather. More than anything, he concerns himself with the nature of existence, the tedium of life, the mystery of being alive. He writes beautifully, almost poetically, and is always accompanied by a sense of melancholy and, perhaps, even despair. The book reminded me of 'Journey to the end of the night' by Celine in its low opinion of humanity. Yet he also sees the beauty in life, and adores nature and art. He ponders the meaning of things and the emptiness too. It's exquisite.

I wouldn't recommend this book lightly. If you're someone who prefers a narrative, then this might not be your cup of tea. But if, like me, you enjoy books where opinions are given, ideas explored, and thoughts are allowed to spiral into the darkness, then this is a glorious example of that.

 

The book was published long after he died which, given that he spends a moment towards the end of the book contemplating being rediscovered as a writer by later generations, fills me with joy.

 

The book is an exhaustive list of wonderfully quotable thoughts such as... 

 

Quote

I'm almost convinced that I'm never awake. I'm not sure if I'm not in fact dreaming when I live, and living when I dream, or if dreaming and living are for me intersected, intermingled things that together form my conscious self.

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I asked for very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me - this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we're mean-hearted but because we don't feel like unbuttoning our coat.

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There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful

 

There is so much sadness in the character. And you can just picture him, gazing from his window at night, seeking out a small piece of light.

 

9/10

Edited by Hux

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On 3/2/2021 at 6:29 PM, France said:

My grandfather was a holiday friend of Chesterton's (his family used to go to Folkestone for the summer and Chesterton lived there). They were both large men (being polite here!) with pridigious appetites, both were authors though Granddad was a biographer, both loved seaside postcards and mildly dirty jokes. Apparently you could give any word to Chesterton and he'd come up with a properly rhymming limerick in under a minute. He was never defeated.

 

Now that is impressive! I wrote a limerick for a friend's birthday this year instead of a gift and it took me hours :lol: and it wasn't even that good!

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A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) John Kennedy Toole

 

I enjoyed the book for the most part but wasn't necessarily blown away by it. The first third, where we are introduced to the wonderfully grotesque globule of man known as Ignatius J. Reilly, was a lot of fun to read. This man just utterly overwhelms you with his absurd, pompous affectations and over-the-top character. Then, however, I found my interest slightly waning, especially when we're introduced to the rather pointless characters (if you ask me) who frequent the 'Night of Joy' club such as Lana and Darlene and (worst of all) Jones. All he does is sweep the floor and say 'ooo eee' over and over. It's easy enough to read and has a lot of chapters predominantly filled with dialogue rather than narration, and occasionally there are some long, and very boring letters to and from his friend Myrna which I hated. The truth is the plot of this book (which only tangentially requires the involvement of the other characters) is rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. This book is about the amazingly outlandish Ignatius. He is the book.

And that's kind of why the book ultimately fails for me. As comical and mesmerising as he is, the man is an altogether unrealistic individual whose personality dominates all aspects of the plot. As a result, the plot therefore becomes redundant. Frankly, who cares about the pornography scam, or the need for policeman Mancuso to get an arrest under his belt, or 'Levy Pants' being sued. None of it matters. All that matters is Ignatius. He is simultaneously the best thing about the book but also the reason it feels ultimately... inconsequential.

The truth is, we rarely meet people like this in real life. The whole book feels like a collection of buffoonish clichés and convenient plot points, all in service of this obese and pretentious oaf. Sorry, but that isn't enough for me. I need literature to have something more to it than a clownish character who belongs in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Not a terrible book by any stretch. But not remotely worth the praise either. I read through it rather quickly and found it mostly inoffensive.

 

6/10

Edited by Hux

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