Friday, January 10, 2014

The Russian Concubine

I was in the mood for a fun read during the two weeks that I had off in December. I thought Kate Furnivall's The Russian Concubine would be that novel. I don't know why I wasted by time with it.

I cringed my way through the writing - it was so bad that I was conscious of it most of the way through the story, so couldn't fully immerse myself. So many cliches.
   The history was interesting, but Belinda Alexander did a similar Russian refugee in China story, which was far superior.
   The story was way too far-fetched, and the main character, a teenage girl who seemed to stomp her foot and get her own way all the time - she was the most annoying character ever. After putting everyone through a lot of unnecessary stress and pain, the character seems to grow up suddenly and leave the mess in her wake without a thought.
   The longer I've thought about it, the worse I've thought of it.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Farewell to Arms

Another classic that I've read in the last couple of months is Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms.

I really enjoyed the writing in this novel. The narrator stuck to the rule that saying less says more, and the way that the dialogue was written was refreshing - banter between the men, the wit and sarcasm, and the humour that the characters use to cope.
   The story was very simple and touching (at some times in the middle even feeling a bit aimless), the relationships between the characters were well constructed - the relationship between the narrator, Lieutenant Henry, and his girlfriend Catherine Barkley, and similarly between the narrator and his soldier colleagues (both subordinates and fellow officers).
   I am still touched by this book, and still feel its essence, even though I finished it weeks ago. I could only ever aspire to write like Hemingway.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The White Tiger

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2008. But I didn't enjoy it. It wasn't the worst thing that I've read in the last couple of months, but I was certainly disappointed.

I think the main reason for my disappointment was the writing itself. I understand that the narrator is an uneducated Indian, but I didn't like the format of the letters, nor did I like the simplicity of the language. More so, on reflection, I don't think I liked the voice of the narrator at all. 
   In some ways I have to forgive these reasons, because I have not read anything else by Aravind Adiga. For all I know, the writing style perfectly reflected the character of the narrator - who was not a very nice person. In which case, the reasons I so disliked this book are actually very clever writing techniques. But, I can't completely forgive these things - it could have been written from an omnipresent narrator, and the story would still have been a striking a depiction of India.
   The reviews called it 'blazingly savage and brilliant', but it's probably just the truth. The truth is savage, and the hot Indian sun makes that savagery blazing! I have no doubt of the corruption, and the dramatic differences between the poor and the middle class that exist in any country dragging itself into the first-world. It doesn't make this book a masterpiece, but it is a story that will take you away from your comfortable bedroom for a few hours.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

I read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in the last months of 2013. This is one of the classics on my list to read.

What struck me the most about Nineteen Eighty-Four was that it was clear when it was published, and even for decades afterwards, that it was a reflection on communism in Russia. But as a modern reader, I think that this futurist horror story is far more broadly applicable. The control of information is terrifying, particularly the manipulation of historical records and even journalism. Society in Oceania is also highly regulated, which our current society is increasingly becoming. Even the language was being reduced down to official language that took away expression, and perhaps the increasing use of acronyms in certain circles of our own society is another reflection of this.

   I think this is a book for all ages, all times, and the name could continually be changed to be twenty or thirty years ahead of the reader, and it would still be so relevant. It points our the dangers of authoritarianism, the degradation of the individual, and what can happen when power is completely taken away by dictators. The complete terror that Winston is living in, the terror that has kept him compliant all his life, is palpable. Then the terror of the torture and the reeducation is also teeth-grindingly present.
   The writing is beautiful. It is not difficult, it is not cliche, it is not preaching, and it probably rewards the reader with something new every time it is picked up. I can't wait to read this again. A true masterpiece.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Slack … though some small achievement

So, I've been very busy. In 2013, I've done no writing at all, and to be honest, not as much reading as I wanted to. I have also let my posts slip - I've got a few more books to review since my last post, and have just had them sitting in a pile for nearly two months. The books have stared at me and made me feel guilty about my procrastination. So I need to catch up … and my expectations for myself in 2014 won't be as high, so I don't feel so guilty when I don't achieve them.

In 2013, my computer crashed, the hard drive completely died, and I lost a lot of notes and research that I had done for my novel. So my new year's resolution is to use DropBox for most of my work, and to back up on a USD drive. My external hard drive also died - overheated because the fan stopped - so I won't rely on an external drive and automatic backup system anymore either. All this was really disappointing, and I feel like I'm starting from scratch.

I'm also struggling to find time to read, and I have less patience for bad writing. I'll liking the classics more and more, and have recently read a popular book in which the writing was so bad that I was cringing most of the way through and couldn't concentrate on the story (but you can read my next couple of reviews and work out which book that was for yourself.

One thing I did achieve this year, is that I did complete the 2013 Aussie Author Challenge by reading the following novels:
Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
The Odd Angry Shot by William Nagle
The Engagement by Chloe Hooper
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
1788 by Watkin Tench, edited by Tim Flannery
Rose By Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy
Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton
Chain of Hearts by Maureen McCarthy
Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons
The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
The Turning by Tim Winton
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Great Melbourne Cup Mystery by Arthur Upfield

At least what little I have read this year has been broad ranging, diverse and balanced.