Search This Blog

28 April 2012

'1Q84' Books 1, 2, 3 by Haruki Murakami

Sex, violence, unpredictability, a keen awareness of the unknowable, perception of reality, love, indifference, happiness and secrets

Finally, I finished reading them as one book!  It has been ages since 'Kafka on the Shore'.  In the mean time, I read several of Murakami's other books.  The length of 1Q84 made me salivate (mentally, of course, it's been years since I drooled on my books).  It was so much more than I had hoped.  Murakami and his surreal worlds are imaginative, completely subjective yet believable.

This time his story has an under current of menace.  It is a faceless sense of danger that I could not relieve.  Every now and again I would put the book down to catch my breath.  Of course, it would not be long before I picked it back up and got that creepy feeling again.  The book covers just too many topics to discuss here; sex, violence, unpredictability, a keen awareness of the unknowable, perception of reality, love, indifference, happiness and secrets.  Each one of these themes are worthy of independent essays.

Murakami must be a firm believer in individuality and independence, especially when in love.  Live your life based on who you are not who you think you should be or who people tell you to be.  The key, according to this book, ( I think) is to act on that 'belief in yourself'.  You must live according to your principals without the need for a uniform to give you authority and respect.  You also do not need an overbearing, ill-tempered god to give you comfort and security provided you follow a set of arbitrary rules.  Would you act on your belief to protect the weak and innocent if it meant you had to murder one man?  The key is belief in yourself and when in love... belief in each other.  The story uses love in such strange ways that surreal is once again the only way I could describe it.  Reading what I just wrote I realize that this theme of belief and love may not be new but it felt fresh and unique in this book.

1Q84 is a surreal world being subtly contrasted to 1984.  Several of the protagonists realize that they have entered a surreal (alternate) world.  They become aware of the power of narrative and belief.  Religion as the focus of belief is treated as a prop and dismissed as unyielding and cruel.  If you believe in yourself strongly enough God comes to exist, but not in a religious sense.  She becomes a partner, who helps at your request.  Belief in yourself, respect and the willingness to act become the miraculous tools that can change your reality in tangible ways.

The lives of the protagonists down to their most personal relationships change radically in 1Q84 without reason or logic.  1Q84 does not follow the same rules as 1984.  Perhaps the mysterious 'little people' know the rules?  Our protagonists are vulnerable and at the same time powerful because they have patience and a growing belief in their own narrative as opposed to a tale handed to them by family, religion or 'little people'.

By the way, secrets and the unknowable are very different.  A secret is or was known, understood, even if the secret went with someone to the grave.  The unknowable is just that... no beginning, no end, no answers and no apologies.  The protagonists enter 1Q84 without knowing why and must make up their own answers as they go along.  Then they have to believe in those answers.  Just like you and me, perhaps we live life a little more blindly and don't often notice how much we warp reality and create little 2Q12s of our own.

Haruki Murakami 
ISBN: 9781846555497 

22 April 2012

'The Last Werewolf' by Glen Duncan

Is it morally worse to be an unwilling monster once a month or a willing hunter?

This book struck me as an intelligent thriller with introspection and regrets.  Duncan writes beautifully.  His vocabulary, sentence structure, topics, pace and themes made it a joy to read this book.  I like the meandering philosophy of the protagonist.

How is it that the "monster" is often so much more humane than the humans? As a reader or witness it becomes rather easy to side with the werewolf given the humans that are presented to us.  Issues of trust, fate, choice and loyalty come up, but the readers have to come up with their own conclusions.

The werewolf consumes a life completely.  Memories, feelings, fears, smells, in short, all components of our self-aware existence are felt by our protagonist as he eats.  It can't be very comforting to the victim, but the werewolf feels the life he takes and carries it with him for the rest of his existence.  Is it morally worse to be an unwilling monster once a month or a willing hunter?  These (human) hunters kill not just werewolves but anyone that stands in their way.  They kill without empathy and often to advance personal goals.  They seem hardened by their certainty and self-righteousness.

The ending is exciting and full of twists and turns.  Exciting as it ought to be.  I bought this book knowing it was the beginning of a trilogy.  I worried that it would end in the popular "cliffhanger".  I was relieved to read a proper ending.  The story comes full circle.  Some other characters (unexpectedly) pick up the baton for book 2.  What binds a longer story together seems to be the question "WHY?"  Why do werewolves exist, why must they suffer?  The answers are hinted at but only just.  I feel I have to read carefully, look for clues and pay attention.  This bodes well for the next two books.

Glen Duncan
ISBN: 9781847679468

15 April 2012

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Ransom Riggs

I became aware of my own prejudices and preconceptions

I bought this book as an antidote to my previous reading.  I paged through it at Waterstone's and the photographs gave me the creeps.  A straight forward story about monsters, I thought.  I was wrong but not the way I would normally be wrong.  It is a story about monsters but, as in any good book, the magic is in the telling.

As I read the story, it became obvious that the photographs are an integral part of the story.  These photographs are not illustrations or companions to the story that perhaps outline or frame passages.  Instead, the photographs themselves are indeed "worth a thousand words".  It is a unique story because the telling of it is provided by these photographs like a picture of your great-grandmother brings to life tales you grandmother may have told you.  The children are not only brought to life because the writer provides a good narrative, they come alive through the photographs.

In most books you get to know characters slowly, if only because physical words and the mechanics of writing limit the writer and reader in time and space.  Characters are described, they take certain actions  and eventually you decide their place in the narrative (you cannot always trust what you are told), for example, good, bad, important, annoying, funny etc...  This book begins with the mystery of these children's photographs.  They appear to be figments of someone's imagination, circus performers or the pictures are manipulated.  As we learn more about the protagonist and our protagonist learns to look at these photographs from different mind sets and maturity levels, suddenly the pictures come into focus for the reader as well.

I became aware of my own prejudices and preconceptions.  My own instincts had been wrong.  I was excited every time I could put a face to a myth.  Photography like any visual art requires the viewer to have a certain state of mind in order to see what the artist intends you to experience.  The biases I had, as I first encountered the pictures, were turned on their head.  I was humbled and happy at the same time.

ISBN: 9781594744761

07 April 2012

'A Game of Thrones: Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire' by George R.R. Martin

Tolkien writing a version of Conan the Barbarian, edited by Machiavelli

First of all, cool name, of the author, I mean.  It got me thinking about what name I will chose should I ever write that novel my well intention-ed, loving, nearest and dearest wants me to write.

Normally, I would say 'not my kind of book'.  Too much horrid intrigue.  I find intrigue for intrigue's sake annoying.  I like characters to grow and (with luck) reflect.  What with so many knives, swords and poisons around, people often die as soon as they learn something. Those that survive often keep cursing every time something unexpected happens, like a war.  This book has more twists and turns than your first French kiss.  Betrayal, rapes, revenge...  It puts me in mind of Tolkien writing a version of Conan the Barbarian, edited by Machiavelli.

But who am I kidding?  I love fantasy fiction.  Mercifully, there is magic here but only in glimpses; more is on the way, I suspect.  Martin does not feel like a writer who keeps coming up with a better idea of how to back-stab while he writes the book.  It feels like this is the first act just to set the players up.  There is a promise that the best is yet to come.  Promises like these are hard to keep.

It occurs to me that readers often have low expectations of fantasy.  Somehow the bar for suspending disbelief is set lower.  It is probably one of the reasons fantasy is dismissed by some 'serious' readers.  I argue that the opposite is true.  Because it is fantasy, the author and the reader must (together) create a completely new world. The bar must be set that much higher than fiction which takes place in familiar Manhattan with its average rainfall, gravity, litter and total lack of dragons.  Martin has the intrigue down like a proper thriller writer.  In between bouts of gore and regrets he gives us glimpses of the traditions, values and foundations; cultures in which this 'game' plays out.  I am not sure I understand the ramification of all these intrigues within their settings; I am not sure I care yet for this new world with so much death, despair and tears.

One of my real concerns is 'how long does this go on?'  These sorts of epic stories ought to have endings as well crafted as the maze of amoral games in the books.  Publishing houses and often writers, like to squeeze every last penny out of a successful story unnecessarily.  Not only does the writing and the story suffer, but the reader suffers too.  A bad book not only steals my money but my time as well.  I will give this series a try but I am suspicious.

Now, naturally, I have to go shopping for one or two more books.  Beloved Proof Reader made a deep sigh   this morning when informed.  He's lucky I mentioned it at all.

ISBN: 9780007448036