1001 Books Round-Up July 2021
This months winners and losers…
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer BOTM #1. What GR says: A young man arrives in the Ukraine, clutching in his hand a tattered photograph. He is searching for the woman who fifty years ago saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Unfortunately, he is aided in his quest by Alex, a translator with an uncanny ability to mangle English into bizarre new forms; a “blind” old man haunted by memories of the war; and an undersexed guide dog named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. What they are looking for seems elusive — a truth hidden behind veils of time, language and the horrors of war.
What they find turns all their worlds upside down . . Pretty accurate
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this new take on the holocaust novel, the way the story is told in 3 overlapping narratives is unique and plays on the idea that history is unreliable and sometimes a story is better than the actual facts. It also highlights that good people do bad things and that because they are good people the bad things haunt them.
The absurd humour in the novel really appealed to me and several instances had me laughing to myself. The way Alex uses English was so amusing even as his skilled developed I loved seeing what he would write next.
This book really plays with the unreliable narrator trope in the sense that everyone in the story is unreliable from “blind” grandfather the chauffeur who has kept his past hidden, to Alex who is writing his own version of Safran’s visit and finally to Safran who is rewriting the story of his past as a work of fiction. Nothing is true so everything is true.
4 – stars this won’t be for everyone you need the right sense of humour and you need to be able to gloss over (or enjoy) all the sexual shenanigans (of which there are many, described in great detail).
The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell BOTM #2. What the publisher says: a gripping tale of the siege of a remote British outpost during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and a fascinating, and blisteringly comic novel of ideas. Farrell’s picture of the British Empire in crisis raises questions with a bearing on contemporary conflicts between East and West.
In 1857, Indian soldiers in the British army—known as sepoys—rebelled against their colonial overlords, and serious conflict broke out in the northern half of the subcontinent. In Farrell’s novel, the British inhabitants of the fictional town of Krishnapur ignore rumors of unrest only to find themselves under siege by the rebels.
Trapped in a dwindling number of buildings, subject to repeated attack, and suffering both from sickness and the oppressive heat of summer, the British community soon finds itself under threat from within, too, as the simple certainties of superiority and invulnerability that have sustained them and the British Empire begin to crumble.
Farrell’s characters, from the local priest and doctor to the young men and women who have come east to make their fortune or marry, are shown responding to this challenge in unexpected ways. Especially interesting and sympathetic is the character of Mr Hopkins, the administrative head, or Collector, of Krishnapur. In him, Farrell offers an unforgettable picture of a decent man enduring the death of his ideals.
With its many memorable characters, riveting battle scenes, and tragicomic appreciation of the ironies of history, this masterful novel—winner of the Booker Prize in 1973—will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Maybe some readers but not this one.
My thoughts: Don’t get me wrong I did appreciate this novel I just don’t love it the way others seem to. Yes the author does a great job of describing the heat, the dust, the illness and the smells associated with a siege but I was never really invested in anyone.
I believe I was meant to root for the Collector and Fleury but that was more because they were the characters who we heard from most and to be honest they were both quite often fighting back lustful thoughts about the women under their protection something that doesn’t think comfortably with the #metoo era but is probably perfectly acceptable for the time.
To give him credit Farrell does use this novel to show the follies of colonialism and what happens when one group of people believe themselves to be superior and above another group but despite showing this through what happens to the British and to their eventual points of views there is a complete lack of perspective from the other side. The Sepoy’s are never defined individually and the reader is never told the reason for the revolt. As a result of this the reader is given a very one sided viewpoint whereas I would have liked a more detailed look at things from the other side.
The Indians we do meet are largely the servants of the British and are referred to simply as “the Sikhs” or “the Muslims” only 2 are named that I can recall the Prime Minister (an ineffectual man who seems to follow orders more than lead anyone) and Hari who was educated in the West and is seemingly enchanted by Western culture.
Along with the stereotyping of the Indians the women also fit into the traditional Virgin/Whore complex again typical of the time but not a well-rounded piece of storytelling.
3 Stars – a story of its time and of its setting
High Rise by JG Ballard Other. What GR says: When a class war erupts inside a luxurious apartment block, modern elevators become violent battlegrounds and cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on “enemy” floors. In this visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, re-create a world ruled by the laws of the jungle. Or to put it simply Lord of the Flies with adults.
My Thoughts: Having previously read Super-Cannes by the same author I recognised several of the key themes those of architecture and its impact on people and landscape; class divide as well as the idea that isolated communities develop or should that be regress into primitive societies in which survival of the fittest becomes the norm and morality is thrown out the window.
The High Rise provides everything the residents need in fact apart from the few who work outside the building (white collar workers, the blue collar workers live in) there is no need to ever leave the building. This is all great while things are going smoothly but when the building itself starts to fail (broken elevators, waste disposals and power cuts) those inside begin to feel like prisoners and to resent those whose facilities are still working.
The High Rise reflects wider society in that fact that people begin to fall into 3 distinct social categories The Lower Floors (Working class) The Middle Floors (Middle class) and the exclusive Upper Floors (Upper class) the higher you live the better your social standing and the facilities available.
Told through the eyes of 3 men who inhabit the different social levels in the building the reader watches as simple everyday annoyances escalate to full out violence as the internal society breaks down. Meanwhile the world outside carries on obliviously.
I found the ending to be interesting with what it seems to be implying about our move from individual living to the life of the high rise…
Warning this book contains most triggers you can think of.
3 Stars – an interesting take on the dystopian novel and much easier to read that the truly awful Crash by this author.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical. Hmm I thought Deborah was already dead..
My thoughts: I enjoyed this wholesome look at small town life in England. Cranford being a town of mainly women added an interesting dimension to the stories. I liked the tales of rivalry among the women but the best stories were the ones where they came together to support each other.
3 Stars – Short and sweet.
Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought.