1001 Books Round-Up September 2020
This months winners and losers
The Breast by Philip Roth – BOTM Sept 2020 – What GR Says: Like a latter-day Gregor Samsa, Professor David Kepesh wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed. But where Kafka’s protagonist turned into a monstrous cockroach, the narrator of Philip Roth’s fantasy has become a 155-pound female breast.
What follows is a deliriously funny yet moving exploration of the full implications of Kepesh’s metamorphosis; audacious, heretical – as darkly hilarious as it is existentially unnerving – making new the silliness, triviality and wonderful meaninglessness of lived human experience. Complete b******ks this is a book about a giant breast nothing deeper.
My thoughts: This feels like a book a teenager would write to share with their friends for a laugh. The whole time I was reading this I was thinking so this is how a man imagines a breast would think…zzzz. This wasn’t graphic enough to be shocking or shocking enough to cause outrage it was juvenile and quite frankly boring and if the author thought he was showing me how clever he was by mentioning Kafka, Swift and Gogol he was wrong.
2 Stars – Read it because it is on the list and only 74 pages long or don’t read it and you won’t be missing much.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – BOTM April 2020 – What GR says: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil. Actually they go back to an ancient way of thinking and in that way of thinking evil as a concept doesn’t really exist.
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this and despite being over 600 pages long I finished it in just over 2 days so it was certainly compelling.
While what is going to happen is clearly sign posted from the start it was interesting to watch the build up to the main event and then watching what happens after to see the fallout.
I liked the manipulation used by and on the characters and I did wonder if it was applied to some so subtly that they never even realised it was happening.
Julian for me is an interesting character how involved was he, what did he know and why did he choose to act as he did?
Henry’s decision was also interesting as it appeared to go against everything I as a reader assumed he believed based on his previous actions.
A thoroughly engaging mystery story.
4 Stars – don’t let the high page count put you off this reads like a much shorter novel.
Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: A failed love affair, the failure to find work as an architect, and the difficulties of substitute teaching cause Albert Angelo to re-examine his life. This book is so much more than this…
My Thoughts: I have previously read other books by Johnson and while I enjoyed their unique style I didn’t enjoy them anywhere near as much as I have enjoyed Albert Angelo.
As a character I love Albert, I love his refusal to admit that he is a teacher despite all evidence to the contrary. I love the way he teaches his classes, how he wants to inspire the children but more often than not finds himself failing. In short Albert is completely human and the story reminded me of my school days, minus the hitting around the head. I don’t agree with some of the things Albert does but I can understand why he does them.
In terms of unique narrative you really need to read this as a physical book because part of the fun in reading lies in how the pages are laid out. I particularly enjoyed the teaching sections where we hear what Albert is saying and at the same time see what he is thinking, this was genius and I loved it.
I also loved the section where it is explained to the reader what is real, what is lies and how a story is written.
5 Stars – Read this and savour it.
The Human Stain by Philip Roth – BOTM. What GR says: It is 1998, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president, and in a small New England town an aging Classics professor, Coleman Silk, is forced to retire when his colleagues decree that he is a racist. The charge is a lie, but the real truth about Silk would astonish even his most virulent accuser.
Coleman Silk has a secret, one which has been kept for fifty years from his wife, his four children, his colleagues, and his friends, including the writer Nathan Zuckerman. It is Zuckerman who stumbles upon Silk’s secret and sets out to reconstruct the unknown biography of this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, and to understand how this ingeniously contrived life came unraveled. And to understand also how Silk’s astonishing private history is, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “magnificently” interwoven with “the larger public history of modern America.” There are definitely a lot of secrets in this one.
My Thoughts: This is a complicated book and unlike The Breast its place on the 1001 list is completely justified.
Roth takes a seemingly ordinary aging classics professor and turns his life on its head just because off the cuff he happens to use a word that can be taken out of context. From this point on we move backward and forwards through time piecing together a whole life history. A history which is nothing like what is apparently visible on the surface.
In this book Roth explores the American need to sanction others to feel better about yourself, sexism, racism, domestic abuse, scandal involving those in power and the lasting affects of the past down the generations.
While some of the characters are caricatures on the surface once you drill down there are some complicated machinations going on.
4 Stars – Worth reading to see how Roth juggles all the different perspectives in this book into a cohesive narrative where nothing is black and white.