April 26, 2009

Recent reads - Aira, Waugh, Akutagawa, Nabokov, Hamilton, Boll, Achebe and a badly-dressed Fitzgerald

I've not really been keeping up with my reading, or at least, not on reporting it. So here is a brief series of highlights. (A completely pointless exercise as I never say anything interesting about books, but, ah, sigh, there you are...):
Cesar Aira - "How I Became A Nun." I was very taken with this book. It's very funny and disturbing but not in any of the ways those words are usually applied. It's a little like a slightly inconsequential dream you almost remember but which makes you feel weird all day. All the same, I don't think even cover quotes from Bolaño are going to make Aira a household name - too weird (for which, more power).
Evelyn Waugh - "A Handful of Dust". I've always been a bit sniffy about Mr Waugh (blame that whole 80s Brideshead thing) but Ms Melissa Xrabit said it was her favourite book and I read it and I have to say it was fucking storming. Funny, strange, upsetting and all those good, unsettling things.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa - "Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories". A superb collection of Akutagawa's short stories, moving from his early recasting of Japanese folk tales up to his final, painful, suicidal, autobiographical works like "Spinning Gears" and the cold-as-ice "Life of A Stupid Man". Thanks to StuB for the gift.
Vladimir Nabokov - "Laughter In The DarK". I'd only really ever read late Nabokov, but someone up the road from us was giving away books and I got this. As you'd expect it's beautifully written, very funny and really quite horrible and, if the neatness of the ending gives it a genre feel, that's all the better as a cautionary tale for middle aged men contemplating going off the rails...
Patrick Hamilton - "Hangover Square". I can't honestly say that it's beautifully written, but it's very, very sad.
Heinrich Boll - "The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum". According to my wife, when she did it for her German 'A' level it was meant to be about the mass media and tabloids etc, but it seems pretty tame on that level these days. Best read, instead, as a kind of compressed, capsule view of Germany in the early '70s. Very concisely written and also very funny...
Chinua Achebe - "No Longer At Ease". A kind of generational sequel to "Things Fall Apart." On one level a book about corruption and how we become corrupted but more than that, a book about being lost. "Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly forever."
Now I'm reading "The Great Gatsby" in an edition with the very worst book cover you've ever, ever seen, truly contradictory packaging... Classy stuff.

If you've been following past posts (you few, you unhappy few) you'll be shocked by the lack of detective fiction. Well, new year's resolutions are made to be blown asunder. I would apologise, but I can't...

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