Sunday, March 28, 2010


Title: 2666
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Picador, 2009 (2004)

Ladies and gentlemen, I advice you all to steer clear of this behemoth of macho intellectualism. As always, I am wary of lengthy novels but wanted to give this one a chance due to all the rave reviews. I shouldn't have bothered. I finished the first three parts (of five) and while I don't mind the post-modern, the intellectual or the challenging novel, it still has to be interesting and engaging. This was mostly boring. And - if a woman had written a novel so exclusively about women as Bolaño writes about men in 2666, it simply would not have been considered significant.

Furthermore, apart from boring me, too often, in parts one and two, the third part contained a scene where a woman (yeah!) did not reach true climax until she was gang-banged simultaneously (mouth, vagina, anal) by unknown assailants (eeuwwww!) Since the last two parts of the novel seemed to be headed for the story of the abduction and murders of hundreds of women in Mexico, I just did not feel comfortable letting Bolaño take me down that particular road. So, in conclusion, spend your time on other books and the next time a man waxes lyrical over 2666 - give him a wide berth!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Temple-Goers

Title: The Temple-Goers
Author: Aatish Taseer
Penguin/Viking, to be released March 2010

This debuting author has been called the Indian Bret Easton Ellis, which does indeed point you in the right direction. However, expect more Less Than Zero than American Psycho. The setting is Delhi and the main character a young man returning from studies abroad to a life of wealth and leisure. However, lack of any real challenge in life, has left him alienated and slightly numbed. As he tries to create meaning for himself, by structuring his daily schedule, a second character, a foil, emerges.

Aakash is his personal trainer and the initial description of him is high comedy. But this flamboyant, even clownish, persona turns sinister as cracks in the facade reveals a rage that lashes out at potential adversaries. The two central characters and their strange relationship is the true value of this reading experience. The female lead is far from as well drawn, and the city, Delhi reveals herself in glimpses but does not come alive as I think she was meant to.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Children's Book

Title: The Children's Book
Author: A.S. Byatt
Vintage, 2010 (2009)

I usually think 600-page books are too long, but although this one could have been dieted down a bit, there actually is a certain point to its heft. It reflects the time and the characters of the work in a rather interesting way: the laborious ornamentation of the fin-de-siècle and the soon-to-be-pointless artfulness and intellectualism of the grown-ups.

The story takes place from 1895-1919 and centers on a group of families bound together by their political ideas (Fabianism mainly) and family ties . But for all the beautiful and worthy principles they claim in theory, in practise thay are self-involved and narcissistic. The children bear the legacy and the Great War serves as a narrative full stop to all the fine ideas. What is left is something like distilled humanity.

Byatt makes the turn of the century feel close enough too lick, and the characters are both interesting and engaging. The first half is the sharper one though, as the story-telling becomes somewhat blue-eyed towards the end. How many women really do become pregnant the first time they have sex? I admit it is a good trick to put a spin on a story, but you are only allowed to use it once per novel, I think.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

American Wife

Title: American Wife
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Black Swan, 2009 (2008)

Since I am home sick, and since it is all but impossible to say something worthwhile about a novel in Twitterlength, I will sneak in a post on this interesting novel. Sittenfeld has used former first-lady Laura Bush' life as a blueprint for the story and I can't help but think how weird it must be for Mrs. Bush to read about herself in this way.

Despite the mild excitement of sneaking a fictional peek into the lives of such a debated couple, the novel raises important questions about culpability and responsibility. What choices does life push people to make and how inevitable are they? The answer, provided in the character of Alice Blackwell, aka L.B., is both empathic and unforgiving.