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1001 Books Round-Up: November 2020

Novembers winners and losers….

Black Box by Amos Oz BOTM #1 What GR says: Examines the lives of a contemporary Israeli couple whose marriage has ended in disaster. Short sweet and to the point.

My Thoughts: I am impressed that Oz managed to make such compelling reading out of a book with essentially no likeable characters. While I didn’t actually like any of the characters I was intrigued to know what their story was and where they were going with their letter writing.

I love the fact that this is an epistolary novel so we get the story in the form of letters and telegrams between the main characters. A good job this is set in the 1970s as this set up would make no sense in the modern day with email, text and Whatsapp ruling our correspondence.

I will say that some of the letters don’t actually read like letters and that is because Oz has to let us the reader know the details of his character’s lives and for this to work the characters need to tell us things in a way that would not occur naturally in a letter. For example writing things like and then you told me, or then we did, you said z etc you get the idea.

The title is best summed up in this quote “as after a plane crash, we have sat down and analyzed, by correspondence, the contents of the black box.” The breakdown of the marriage is the disaster that the letters record so that the reader can see where, when and why things went wrong.

On top of showing us how a marriage breaks down Oz also gives us an insight into the fanatical and in particular extreme behaviour, not in the sense of being an extremist but in the sense of living your life as an absolute with no tolerance for grey areas. All of the characters show this absolutism to a greater or lesser degree.

4 Stars – read it, hate the characters but love the book.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: Jim, a young British seaman, becomes first mate on the Patna, a ship full of pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the hajj. When the ship starts rapidly taking on water and disaster seems imminent, Jim joins his captain and other crew members in abandoning the ship and its passengers. A few days later, they are picked up by a British ship. However, the Patna and its passengers are later also saved, and the reprehensible actions of the crew are exposed. The other participants evade the judicial court of inquiry, leaving Jim to the court alone. He is publicly censured for this action and the novel follows his later attempts at coming to terms with his past. The novel is counted as one of 100 best books of the 20th century. GR makes it sound so simple and straightforward but this is Conrad…so it isn’t

My Thoughts: Conrad is the master of  obscure writing the GR summary tells me what happens at the start of the book and if it wasn’t for this I would not have had a clue apart from the fact the boat sank even I managed to understand that.

This book reminded me of Heart of Darkness and in a way some of the same themes are explored. To escape from the shame of what happened with the shipwreck Jim retreats from the known world to Malaysia where he makes a life for himself among the natives. Without giving too much away there is a girl, a fight and it ends badly.

Personally I found this book easier to read than Heart of Darkness but it is still not the type of story I enjoy. I appreciated the look at how bad news travels round the world, how guilt and shame can drive a man to extreme lengths to escape and the treatment of native people by the “whites” who discover them. But as a whole nah not for me.

3 Stars –You gotta read it sometime to complete the list

 At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill – BOTM #2 What GR Says: Praised as “a work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement” by Entertainment Weekly, Jamie O’Neill’s first novel invites comparison to such literary greats as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens.

 Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916—Ireland’s brave but fractured revolt against British rule—At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O’Neill.

Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son—revolutionary and blasphemous—of Mr. Mack’s old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys’ burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation. Pretty much sums it up.

My Thoughts: I found the start of the book to be, dare I say it, dull. That said this is a character driven book and the characters did become more interesting as the book went on and we got to know them better.

This is a tender exploration of what it meant to be young and gay in Ireland in the early 1900s. It also shows how life in Ireland is changing, dissatisfaction with British rule and a longing for the return of the Irish language which culminates in the birth of the IRA.

The book also looks at the role of women and rather than the stereotypical Irish house wife the reader is presented with a range of different characters that I appreciated.

3 Stars – read it for the tenderness and humour don’t let the 600+ page count put you off.

Have you read any of these books? Let us know what you thought of them?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. I loved Lord Jim, and I think the old movie convey very well the complexities of the character


    December 5, 2020

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