4

American Literature Month: (One From the Archive) ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut ****

First published September 2013.

I feel, after finishing Slaughterhouse Five, that I should have started reading Vonnegut’s work a long while ago.  For me, the premise of this novel is a wonderful one, and its standing within the canon of American literature made it seem like a good book of Vonnegut’s to begin with. slaughterhouse-5

The storyline in Slaughterhouse Five is an amalgamation of the events in Dresden during the Second World War, the life of protagonist Billy Pilgrim, and the somewhat bizarre customs of another planet, Tralfamadore, on which Pilgrim finds himself during his bouts of time travel.  I liked the way in which the threads of all of these different stories were pulled together through a series of scenes and small vignettes, and the entirety was told in such an engaging manner.

“Listen:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day.  He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941.  He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963…
Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun.  He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”

Vonnegut is rather clever in Slaughterhouse Five.  The story is both historically grounded and suspended in a sense of non-time.  The structure which the author has used is interesting.  The time periods in question jump all over the place, but it somehow still flows marvellously.  Overall, Slaughterhouse Five is an odd novel in many respects, but it is so very difficult to put down.

Purchase from The Book Depository

7

Most disappointing books of 2014

Hello and a Happy New Year! 🙂

I’m really sorry for my long absence from the blog, but things got really busy and time proved to be insufficient for most of my activities.

Instead of a list of the best books I read in 2014, I decided to compile a list of the most disappointing ones, because, sadly, there were quite a few of them. I will make some brief comments about why they were disappointing for me, so if you would like to see a full review on any of them just let me know 🙂 In no particular order, here is my list:

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger **

I had heard so many great things about this book, and having bought it since last year, I was really looking forward to reading it. However, my high expectations were everything but met. I found the book rather dull and boring, and even though I expected to finish it within a few hours, it actually took me a couple of months to do it. I wasn’t particularly fond of the main character, Holden, either. I expected something big to happen by the end, but the book let me down in that aspect as well.

2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut **

I am usually not so absolute with authors, but this book, having been the first of Vonnegut’s I read, made me reluctant to pick up any of his other books. The plot and the premise were so very interesting and I was convinced I would be in for a fabulous read, but that was far from what I eventually experienced. I recognise that Vonnegut has a rather poignantly humorous writing style, but I’m sad to say it was not for me. I caught myself struggling so much while reading, and I couldn’t wait until the book was finally over.

3. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki ***

This book looked like one I would thoroughly enjoy, since its main theme is the praising of the Japanese lifestyle and parts of their culture. As a Japanophile, I usually adore such writings, but this one disappointed me a bit. It lacked the passion I expected it to have, and I found it a bit boring in some parts.

4. Happy Days by Samuel Beckett **

Since I’m usually not really fond of Beckett’s plays, I should have tried to avoid this one. However, I was obliged to read it for one of my university courses, and I have to admit that I have never struggled so much in reading a play. It is flooded by stage directions that obstruct the reading experience, and it tired me out so much. Despite its tiny length, I had to take many breaks whilst reading in order for me to concentrate on it. I’m not doubting the great messages its analysis brings to light, but I believe this play would probably be better watched rather than read.

5. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest ***

Another book I expected to thoroughly enjoy but didn’t. I love fantasy and science fiction, and this book was good, but nothing more than that. It didn’t make me feel very excited while reading and often I was quite reluctant to pick it up and continue reading it. The plot was nice, some of the characters wanted a bit more working out, but it wasn’t anything particularly great.

6. The Skriker by Caryl Churchill **

Who would have thought that a play about fairies would be so un-fairy-like? The dialogues were confusing, the characters not particularly interesting and the premise rather dull for my liking.

7. The Gunslinger by Stephen King **

That was my first Stephen King book, and I didn’t find it as compelling as I had expected. I didn’t really like the writing style and the plot was confusing and very disorganized. Despite the fact that it was the first book in the series, I believe King didn’t introduce his world and the characters adequately for the reader to grasp what is going on. Sometimes, the chapters seemed unconnected with each other, and it looked to me more like an amateur writer’s first draft than a book by such a well-known author.

8. The Metamosphosis by Franz Kafka **

This book had been sitting on my self since last year, as well. The plot had an interesting premise and again I had heard so many wonderful things about it, but when I finally got around to reading it I was very disappointed. It tired me quite a lot and it took me a long time to finish it. I didn’t ike the ending and I felt that even though the story wanted to convey a certain message, it failed in doing so for me.

I am sure you have read some of the books I mentioned here, so I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on them.

I hope you all have a great (reading) year!

0

Flash Reviews (12th March 2014)

‘Far to Go’ by Alison Pick

Far to Go by Alison Pick ****
I adore historical fiction, and I absolutely loved the Czech Republic when I visited in 2012, so it was only natural that I have wanted to read Alison Pick’s Far to Go since I first learnt of its publication.  The prologue of the novel begins in the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia, in December 1939, and it then goes back to 1938, which is where its story begins.

Throughout, the second person perspective, along with the use of letters and the like, is engaging from the outset.  Pick uses each of these perspectives just as well, and is firmly in control of her story and the language which she uses.  Each and every one of her characters is as strong as the sense of place which they inhabit.  The looming of war is almost like a character in itself in the novel – ever-present and full of foreboding.  The history, and the way in which it affected the Czech people, has been so well researched, and the consideration of events from different points of view has also been well rendered.  This probably would have been a five star read for me, if it wasn’t for the modern day narrative which unwound alongside the main story.  In my opinion, this was not necessary at all, and it drew me away from the novel a little.  Still, Far to Go is a great novel, and one which depicts the way in which one family ‘flee Nazi oppression’ very well indeed.

Purchase from the Book Depository

2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut ***
I really enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five when I read it last year, and when I spotted this just waiting to be read on my Kindle whilst on a long weekend in France, I thought I would give it a go.  The title of the story refers to a phone number (‘To be or not to be’) which those in rather a dystopian society, the average age of its citizens around 109 years old, are urged to call if they no longer want to live – the number of the Municipal Gas Chambers.  As with much of his fiction, Vonnegut’s concept is interesting and, like George Orwell’s 1984, it seems like such a modern vision to have in the time in which it was written.  The entirety of 2BR02B is really quite creepy, but it is certainly intriguing and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Purchase from the Book Depository

A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays by Percy Bysshe Shelley ****
I also decided to read this whilst I was in France, particularly after realising how long ago I had downloaded it to my Kindle.  The book is comprised of seven essays in total.  The majority of them are quite short, and it is possible to read the first few in just a few minutes.  Those towards the end of the volume are longer, and require far more contemplation.  As one would expect, each essay is beautifully written, and everything has been sculpted so well.  Throughout, Shelley plays upon such things as memory, psychology, philosophy, theology and the notion of love.  The entire collection is intelligent and well measured, and I particularly loved all of his musings upon Greek literature.

Purchase from the Book Depository

2

Flash Reviews (26th September 2013)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ***
I was warned that this would be heartbreaking holiday reading, but intrigued as to why, I began it regardless.  I really like the way in which Nao’s story converges with Ruth’s, but I found a lot of the sections which dealt with Ruth rather dull in comparison to those which focused upon Nao.  I understand why Ruth, living on a remote island somewhere near Canada, was used as a character in the book – she was essentially a vehicle to move the mystery of what happened to Nao forward – but she was still not overly necessary in the quantity of her sections.  Some of A Tale for the Time Being was incredibly difficult to read, and a couple of the scenes were almost heartbreaking in their violence and sadness.  The novel, for me, would have been far more powerful as a whole had it focused mainly upon Nao, who was a believably constructed character, with so many sides.

None Turn Back by Storm Jameson **
I would not have read this book at all had it not been on the Virago Modern Classics list which I’m working my way through.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel, but after the rather promising first chapter, it began to read like a third rate South Riding.  The writing was nice enough, but the characters – and there were so very many of them! – were both dull and instantly forgettable.  Whilst the social context is interesting, I think Jameson loses sight of it a little.  In consequence, it is not overly clear what she has set up to achieve with this volume.

The Big Trip Up Yonder by Kurt Vonnegut ***
An odd yet rather clever futuristic tale, in which the concept of time is examined and reexamined.  I expected it to be a lot larger in size than it was, but it throws up some interesting ideas, particularly with regard to age.

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan ****
Love is the Higher Law is very much a chilling tale.  It tells the story of three different teenagers living in the vicinity of New York City on the morning of 9/11.  Each perspective is linked by the event and by eventual frienships forged due to common ground.  Levithan has captured distinctive voices in each of his narrative perspectives, and has lovingly crafted the entirety.  The book is a sad one, but an incredibly important and worthwhile read.

0

‘Slaughterhouse Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut ****

I feel, after finishing Slaughterhouse Five, that I should have started reading Vonnegut’s work a long while ago.  For me, the premise of this novel is a wonderful one, and its standing within the canon of American literature made it seem like a good book of Vonnegut’s to begin with.

The storyline in Slaughterhouse Five is an amalgamation of the events in Dresden during the Second World War, the life of protagonist Billy Pilgrim, and the somewhat bizarre customs of another planet, Tralfamadore, on which Pilgrim finds himself during his bouts of time travel.  I liked the way in which the threads of all of these different stories were pulled together through a series of scenes and small vignettes, and the entirety was told in such an engaging manner.

“Listen:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day.  He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941.  He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963…
Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun.  He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”

Vonnegut is rather clever in Slaughterhouse Five.  The story is both historically grounded and suspended in a sense of non-time.  The structure which the author has used is interesting.  The time periods in question jump all over the place, but it somehow still flows marvellously.  Overall, Slaughterhouse Five is an odd novel in many respects, but it is so very difficult to put down.

Suggested accompanying playlist:
1. ‘Deathbeds’ by Bring Me the Horizon
2. ‘Trouble is Temporary, Time is Tonic’ by We Are The Ocean
3. ‘Time Turned Fragile’ by Motion City Soundtrack