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About Hux

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    The Plague - Camus
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    Books, Writing, Dachshunds, Star Trek, Football.

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  1. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) Charlotte Perkins Gilman A very interesting short story about a woman suffering from depression who is taken by her husband John (a physician) to a country mansion to rest and recuperate. She has recently given birth to a child and this may also be a cause in her mental health deterioration. While there, she becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper on the bedroom wall and with the pattern upon it which she believes resembles a woman. After a while, she begins to think the woman is creeping on all fours and trying to escape from the wallpaper. Given that this was written in 1892, it deals with the subject matter in an interesting and modern way. At first, it seems her husband is very caring and wants to help her but as the book goes along, she reveals that she is more of a captive than we first thought. Her narration is therefore unreliable to say the least. And by the end of the story, she is positively lost in her mental breakdown. The most obvious interpretation of the book is to view it as a feminist exploration of how women with mental health issues were treated back then. But this has a contradictory element. The assumption being that women's mental health issues were dismissed as hysterical or a 'touch of the nerves.' But this implies that men's mental health issues were, in comparison, somehow taken seriously. Or, conversely, that men didn't have these kinds of breakdowns at all. Which is obviously at odds with the interpretation given. I know we must look at everything through the lens of identity these days but I find that kind of simplistic overview a little bemusing. Sometimes, you're not being oppressed, you're simply not being understood. 6/10
  2. The Discovery of Heaven (1992) Harry Mulisch A ripping yarn of a novel. The story revolves around Max and Onno, two Dutch men who meet in the 60s, become friends, and later become entwined in a love triangle with a woman called Ada. The book develops over decades, across the 70s and 80s, and deals with philosophical and religious themes. I loved the first half of the book; watching the highly intelligent and charismatic Max interact with the cultured and dry witted Onno was wonderful. Their relationship was a delight and seeing them spar was enormously entertaining. So entertaining, in fact, that I completely ignored the chapters where two angels discuss the events of the book (a thing that I found irritating and vacuous). But sadly, by the hallway point, I was done. After that, the book speeds up so that we can watch Quentin (the son of both men) grow up as fast as possible (he has absolutely no life nor hinterland because of this), and become the chosen one or something. I just didn't care by this point. By the final third, I was literally skim reading so that I could get to the end (which builds to a climactic denouement that both fizzles out and wasn't worth it). The writing's great. But the novel meanders off a cliff into an unconvincing religious epiphany that might appeal to believers out there but simply rang hollow and seemed silly to me. That all being said, if plot driven novels or books that toy with a sense of the profound (especially in the religious sense) are your thing, then I would definitely recommend it. The book is clearly very good. It just happens to combine the two things I don't really care for in literature: third person plot driven narratives and chattering angels (the fact that the book began with them was a big concern although it did get much better). The book was very easy to read but you're quickly invested in the two men (that part of the book is superb) so the moment it stops being about them, Mulisch slightly loses the impetus. He obviously has a bigger story to tell but it wasn't one I was interested in. Had the book simply ended with Max and Onno going to the movies that would have been fine with me. But instead we get comas, meteorites, concentration camps, murder, communism, the ten commandments, Francis Bacon. Oh and those boring angels again. I dunno. This just isn't my thing. 7/10
  3. Suddenly a large dog burst into the room and everyone ran outside. The dog appeared to be...
  4. Elle (2012) Philippe Djian Do women secretly want to be raped? Shucks, I dunno but let's discuss it... So Elle (Michele) begins the book by telling us that she has just been raped in her own home by a man wearing a ski mask. While this is obviously at the forefront of her mind, she nonetheless continues with her daily life in much the same way she might have done otherwise. Before long, she is narrating predominantly about the mundane things in her life such as her mother (Irene), a sexually voracious 75-year-old with a new toyboy lover, her son (Vincent) who has shacked up with a pregnant girl (not his), her best friend and business partner Annie (whose husband, Robert, she is having an affair with). I could go on because, my God, there is so much going on with these people and it's all rather melodramatic. I haven't even mentioned her father who is in prison for committing a truly horrendous crime. As the book goes on, Michele not only discovers the identity of the rapist but... eek! she actually begins playing along with these encounters, agreeing to scream and fight and let him physically assault her (often with sincere violence). They essentially develop two personas, the one they use in polite society and the one they use for their sexual games. Djian does a fairly good job of making her motivations convincing but ultimately you do spend most of the book thinking... what is wrong with you? The people involved are, of course, all living rather bland middle-class lives and yes, I agree that human beings are ultimately designed for visceral experiences of survival, (trust me, I had an ex who shared traits with Elle) but being members of the bourgeoisie who are dulled by ennui isn't quite enough to justify the bloated amount of melodrama here. Djian really overloads the narrative with it. Presumably because without the rape aspect, he's got very little to give us. So he offers an intense amount of noisy people whose lives are packed with incident (mass murder, foreign prisons, several affairs, other people's children, a struggling business, horny old people, violence, car crashes, and an ageing cat). Djian just slings it all at you and yes, it's actually very entertaining. But my god, it isn't literature. That all being said, I did rather enjoy it. Maybe because it made me think of that naughty ex. 7/10
  5. The Sandman (1817) E.T.A Hoffman A wonderful, albeit very short story from 1817 which, along with Mary Shelley and Poe, is very much part of the gothic tradition. The story begins with three letters concerning the childhood incident of a young boy called Nathanael who experienced a genuine fear of The Sandman. Later he attaches this personality to a business partner of his father's called Coppelius who disappears from their life after his father's death. As an adult, Nathanael encounters a man named Coppola and believes that he is the same sandman. His friends and family suggest this is merely a creation of his own mind. Then Nathanael meets Spallanzani, his teacher, and falls in love with his daughter Olimpia. What follows is a genuinely creepy discovery that is both ancient in its eerie nature but also curiously modern. It involves Olimpia and results in some sincerely interesting notions about the individual, the self, the human. I found this very notion both profoundly disturbing but also very much ahead of its time. It's hard to explain without certain spoilers but ultimately it concerns what it means to be human and how we define these traits and know (if we can ever know) who is genuinely conscious and who is merely... a puppet. A fun and fascinating little read. 7/10
  6. Flights (2007) Olga Tokarczuk I've written several reviews where I criticise authors who throw their vignettes and short stories together and pretend it's a novel. Just write a damn book of short stories for Christ's sake! Anyway, here we go again. This time the 'theme' is travel (and maybe the human body) and some of the stories are mildly diverting but not much more. Between each story, there is a woman narrating in the present about her own trips around the world. She is presumably the thread keeping this narrative together. The best story by far is the first one about a husband and wife and their young child on holiday on a Croatian island. The mother and child get out of the car to go for a pee in the bushes but go missing. What follows is an intense and gripping page turner about the husband and the police's search for them. Then were done and move on to the next one. There's one about Philip Verheyen, the Dutch anatomist, which focuses in his relationship with his amputated leg. One about a sailor. A professor. A woman who hangs about with a crazy train gypsy or something (I'd lost interest by this point). I really don't care for this stuff at all. It's maudlin and glib. And there is something tediously pretentious and self-indulgent about it. The books only saving grace is that Tokarczuk's writing is always very accessible and easy to read. I actually liked the first half but once it becomes clear that it's just her attempt at being Sebald, the novelty wears off very quickly. Again, the writing's good but it's only in service of the banal and the forgettable. I liked 'Drive your Plow' quite a lot but was never that impressed and this book has only further confused me. I guess anyone can win a Nobel prize these days. I might need to read her earlier works to grasp the hype. Anyway... I would recommend it because the writing is fluid and clean and the subject matter is worth exploring but it wasn't for me. 5/10
  7. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2010) Thomas Ligotti A non-fiction piece which ostensibly focuses on the work of Peter Zapffe, a Norwegian philosopher who belived that consciousness was an evolutionary blunder which took the human species away from being part of the natural. As such, Zapffe belived that we, as a species, should explore the possibility that non-existence is preferable to existence; that the whole human race should consider antinatalism, allow itself to leave, to end the cycle of birth and death, that we should simply opt out of existence. The book is superbly written and very enjoyable to read. Ligotti looks at the ideas of various philosophers and writers (mostly those who write of the supernatural) and does so with a deft touch that makes the reading experience very entertaining. He identifies thinkers who, via philosophy, psychology, or fiction, have addressed the issue of being alive and whether or not it is, for want of a better term, worth it. Despite his even-handedness, it seems clear from the outset that he does not. While I enjoyed the book, there was nothing in it that I wasn't already familiar with and, should you want a greater, more in-depth analysis of the subject matter, I would recommend the writers and thinkers he refences more so that this book. Zapffe in particular. In essence this is a simplified version of complex ideas which, understandably given Ligotti's horror fiction background, he makes a little more accessible via their relationship with horror and the supernatural. Existence and consciousness are, after all, a horror story. As a means of producing an easy to digest and easy to understand exploration of these ideas I would highly recommend the book. Very interesting stuff. But ultimately nothing too deep or heavy. 7/10
  8. The Virgin Suicides (1993) Jeffrey Eugenides The story of five sisters who commit suicide. This is not a spoiler as the book opens by telling us this (and the methods used). But really the story predominantly deals with Lux (the second eldest) as she becomes the focus of the narrator's attention (which appears to be a boy (or a group of boys) looking back on the events). Once the youngest, Cecilia, has attempted suicide (cutting her wrists) but fails, and later jumps off the roof (succeeding this time), the narrative zooms in on Lux as the central character despite all the other sisters (Bonnie, Mary and Theresa) also commuting suicide. Make of that what you will (given that she also becomes very sexually promiscuous, it felt clear to me that some insinuation of sexual abuse was evident in the family but this is never made explicit). Regardless, the book is very much about Lux and it seems silly to ignore the fact that huge chunky chapters are dedicated to her and her experiences while the other girls (save for Cecilia) essentially become background characters, footnotes. Again, this feels very intentional. I found the writing to be perfectly entertaining but never anything more. But I found the ethereal nature of the girls (like they were beautiful ghosts) a little tedious (and presumptuous). Eugenides fetishises these young girls as other worldly beings, sexualised without being too overt, turning them into non-humans who merely exist to be fascinating creatures to others. And again, I would say that was deliberate but I still didn't really find it especially ground breaking or original. As pleasant as the reading experience was (it zipped by), I never really found anything meaningful in the book beyond the potential exploration of our need to otherise pretty girls (and even that was never entirely convincing). But it was okay. I would mostly recommend it. 7/10
  9. Spider (1990) Patrick Mcgrath I can't recall where I first heard about this book but a brief glance at the synopsis (a man wandering the streets struggling with his mental illness) appealed to my natural inclination for nihilistic literature. But the book wasn't quite what I thought it would be. Yes, the main character (Dennis Cleg or Spider) is a man with mental health issues who regularly takes walks by the canal but the book is more about his reminisces regarding a traumatic childhood incident than anything else. The story he tells about his mother and father, however, is enormously engaging and quickly sucked me in. But then halfway through the book, we begin to discover that Spider might not be the most reliable of narrators. The story switches from the one he is telling us about his parents and becomes more focused on his twenty years in an asylum. This is all well and good but the problem I had was that I was actually enjoying the story of his childhood and was frankly fascinated to discover what happened next. As such, I was not that interested in his current mental state or the asylum he was living in. But it becomes clear that the reason for this sudden change of pace is to reiterate that Spider's version of events (the story he is telling us) might not actually be very accurate. You can see the twist coming a mile off and part of me hoped McGrath would subvert my expectations (but he didn't). I wanted the story of his parents to continue but once we get the reveal, there's very little point in doing so. And that's part of the problem. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and found the prose both inventive and fluid. But I really don't care for books with plot twists of this nature. Not unless there's something a little unique about it (something surreal or creepy or ambiguous). I couldn't help but feel a little short changed. That being said I really liked the book but simply found my interest waning once it becomes clear that Spider's memory of events couldn't be trusted. Definitely worth a read though. 7/10
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