1001 Books Round-Up: March 2020
Time for the winners and losers of March 2020
The Midnight Examiner by William Kotzwinkle. BOTM #1. What Goodreads says: Fantasist William Kotzwinkle takes readers on a wild ride in this thriller set in the sleazy world of the tabloids. Howard Halliday, the editor of the Midnight Examiner and the unlikely protagonist in William Kotzwinkle’s latest novel, becomes embroiled with several shady characters, including a bloodthirsty crime lord and a porn queen in danger, who lead him into a bizarre escapade that rivals only the freakish headlines in the Midnight Examiner. I can confirm that all the above is totally and utterly accurate!
My Thoughts: This book definitely appealed to my British sense of humour and it makes a welcome change from all the heavy reading that the list normally entails. Would I include it on the list if I was composing now? Probably not but as it stands there are a lot of books I would remove from the list before removing this.
The heroes in this story are an unlikely ragtag gang of tabloid journalists out for the sleaziest most sensational headlines they can write. Everyday events are turned into lurid headlines in their minds however when the chips are down they pull together with a wild assortment of everyday weapons (boomerang and fishing rod to name but 2) to come to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Think Kickass but without the superhero costumes.
I loved this mocking look at the world of tabloid newspapers and how their stories end up becoming the “truth” despite being completely made up.
3 Stars – if you liked Kickass you will enjoy this. If you didn’t like Kickass grin and bear it as the book is only 208 pages long.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner – BOTM #2 What GR says: Reno mounts her motorcycle and sets a collision course for New York.
In 1977 the city is alive with art, sensuality and danger. She falls in with a bohemian clique colonising downtown and the lines between reality and performance begin to bleed.
A passionate affair with the scion of an Italian tyre empire carries Reno to Milan, where she is swept along by the radical left and drawn into a spiral of violence and betrayal.
The Flamethrowers is an audacious novel that explores the perplexing allure of femininity, fakery and fear. In Reno we encounter a heroine like no other.
My thoughts: Personally I found this book overlong and boring but I appear to be in the minority. Reno herself is not that exciting you would think someone who leaves her home and heads alone to New York who also becomes the female land speed record holder would have more pizazz instead she limps along fawning over men who don’t actually appear to care about her.
Boring female characters and the men are basically dicks.
3 Stars – Not bad & not great much preferred The Mars Room.
The Red and the Black by Stendhal – Quarterly Read – What GR Says: Handsome, ambitious Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble provincial origins. Soon realizing that success can only be achieved by adopting the subtle code of hypocrisy by which society operates, he begins to achieve advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him into the heart of glamorous Parisian society, along the way conquering the gentle, married Madame de Rênal, and the haughty Mathilde. But then Julien commits an unexpected, devastating crime – and brings about his own downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical portrayal of French society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui, and Julien – the cold exploiter whose Machiavellian campaign is undercut by his own emotions – is one of the most intriguing characters in European literature. Julien, Julien, Julien…
My Thoughts: Julien is not intriguing he is a man with his heart set on being better than anyone else; of showing off how very clever he is because he can memorise shit; of seducing the women he happens to meet through his employment – because why the hell not he is hot stuff to look at and he can memorise shit.
Julien’s sole claim to fame is that he is really good at memorising shit. Well that is swell however memorising doesn’t make you intelligent understanding does. While the reader is expected to believe that Julien is an educated man his complete lack of understanding when it comes to relationships means that what you are left with is a man who can memorise shit and who treats women badly. Not to mention he has a massive chip on his shoulder about his origins.
Did I mention he can memorise shit?
Julien’s personality aside this was an interesting look at the society of the day and the value that was placed on religion, virtue and of course money and community standing.
While I may have dislike Julien I did enjoy following his rise to fame and his eventual downfall.
3 Stars – don’t read this for the characters read it for the historical social comment.
Pierre and Jean by Guy de Maupassant – TBR – What GR says: The fraternal love that Pierre Roland feels for his younger brother Jean has always been tinged with jealousy. But when a lawyer arrives at the house of their parents, to declare that an old family friend has bequeathed his entire fortune to Jean, this envy rapidly becomes an all-consuming force. Despising himself for the hate that he feels, Pierre roams the seaport of Le Havre alone, desperate to come to terms with his brother’s success. As he walks through the streets, however, one thought dominates his mind. Why was he not left a share of the friend’s estate? Vivid, ironical and emotionally profound, Pierre and Jean is considered Maupassant’s greatest novel – an intensely personal story of suspicion, jealousy and family love. Who would have thought that the legacy from a good friend could destroy a family?
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected to. Maupassant really captures sibling rivalry and how that can lead to rifts within a family. I would defy anyone in Pierre’s position to feel genuinely happy for their sibling with no hint of jealousy (if you say you could I don’t believe you are human).
What I found interesting was the viewpoint of the society of the time, when I read about Jean’s windfall I thought nothing of it but then as we watch Pierre be influenced by the opinions of society what I missed did seem obvious. In fact Maupassant did spell it out for the astute reader (not me) from the start. Those with a suspicious nature will probably look at the opening and know immediately what will follow.
I also found the family dynamic intriguing I loved how the brothers reacted differently and how they finally managed to resolve the issue between them. At the end of the book my sympathy was with Pierre yes he caused the situation himself but he was oh so human.
4 Stars – short read with a powerful punch.
Have you read any of these? Tell us what you thought in the comments? Am I too harsh on Julien?