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Thread: Recently finished books?

  1. #5101
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    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    Colson Whitehead, The underground Railroad - Meh. Don't understand the acclaim it's receiving. The beginning starts promisingly enough, but by the end of the South Carolina section its flaws are obvious. Paper thin characters, most of whom are tossed aside after their section or two. (Spoilers: Caesar, who had been shaping up into a major character, dying suddenly off screen was awful). Writing at times shines, at others is mediocre. And the sense of danger completely evaporates at the end and any violence that happens seems like cheap attempts to bring back a sense of desperation. Ultimately, a good premise and first few sections that quickly go off rails.
    Yep. The beginning section and the passage in North Carolina were decent but everything else was very low quality and rushed. Nearly every character was interchangeable because none of them were fleshed out, especially those ones at the end in Indiana.

    There's very brief sections that try to discuss importantl topics but the rest of time it reads like a rough draft of a thriller.

    Though I haven't read any of Whitehead's other work, an article I read months ago basically said that The Underground Railroad seemed very much dumbed down compared to his other output.

    I will never understand the acclaim this novel got. There's plenty of works I may not "get" or works by authors I despise that get acclaim but generally it's still obvious why they got acclaim or why the works were heavily awarded. This Is not one of those cases.

  2. #5102
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    Quote Originally Posted by Isahoinp View Post
    authors I despise
    Given the amount of venom Whitehead has received from you, I hesitate to ask who are the authors you despise?

  3. #5103
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post
    Given the amount of venom Whitehead has received from you, I hesitate to ask who are the authors you despise?
    I don't hate Whitehead, I've only read this one novel of his. I just think it's absurdly overrated and overhyped. My pushback is less towards him and more towards the awards and endless praise the novel is receiving.

  4. #5104
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    Max Frisch - Homo Faber

    Didn't enjoy it in the slightest.

  5. #5105
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    Tommy Wieringa - The death of Murat Idrissi +

    Wieringa's latest publication is another proof of his craftmanship. In a style that is sober and beautiful at the same time he tells the story of two young women who try to help a Maroccan guy illegally into Europe.

    Unfortunately the publisher printed the word Novel on the cover, only for commercial purposes. It has unnecessary wide line spacing and lots of white pages between chapters. Just to make it look bigger than it actually is. This book is a novella. A beautiful one, for sure. But not a novel.

  6. #5106
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    The plot really interests me, but it looks like this book has yet to be published in English. I did, however, find some strong reviews of Wieringa's first novel, Joe Speedboat. Have you read that one, Peter?

  7. #5107
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    Disgrace - JM Coetzee 3/5

    There are three major disgraces at the heart of this novel: the disgrace a university professor faces after sexual misconduct leads to his resignation, the disgrace he faces after his daughter is raped and he fails to protect her, and the disgrace his daughter faces after this rape. Coetzee discusses the repercussions of these disgraces and also examines animal rights and Byron in this novel.

    Coetzee is a a good writer. His prose is calculated and precise and his frequent allusions show that he knows his literary history. That being said, the novel just lost steam for me as it went on. It started off strong but I found it losing momentum as it went on. The main character is obsessed with writing an opera about Byron and that entire idea just seems really cheesy to me. The sections in the novel describing this opera and how the main character sees it relating to his own situation are amongst the best passages in the novel, but I don't think they meld well with the rest of the plot.

    This is a personal preference and no fault of Coetzee's writing, but the novel features a type of character that I just hate. I can't stand characters who allow themselves to be pushed around and then continue to whine about it without doing anything. There are numerous instances where the main character can do something about his situation but instead he just continues to whine about it. The entire situation with the daughter also irks me because at the end she essentially just gives up and submits to sexism and intimidation.

    As far as South African writing goes I think I prefer Nadine Gordimer. Coetzee seems like he's better at crafting specific characters and getting into their heads psychologically but I prefer the more straightforwardness of Gordimer's plots.

    It seems like I would enjoy other works of Coetzee's. I like his style and tone, it's just that I didn't care for the plot of this novel and the specific characters in it.

  8. #5108

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    Intriguing response to Disgrace. That novel frightens me off everytime I want to pick it up. I find Coetzee is a writer who throws my life into calamity whenever I read him, especially when he is at his best. As a result he is one of my favourites.

    I'm intrigued by your comments about his characters. How important is it for you to like the characters that you are reading? I remember a few years ago, when a book by Claire Messud was being released, a lot of attention in the book media in Canada and the US was directed towards this question because she had put so much effort into constructing a character which couldn't be liked. So I wonder...

    I also like Gordimer. I think she handles plots and characters well, even if I think she often falls victim to the "characters as ideas" problem (something I would lodge at Ngugi Wa Thiong'o as well). I don't find this with Coetzee. His characters are something different, impossible to really describe. I haven't read many other South African writers, but I've heard Brink is fantastic as well, and, for the most part, completes the White Writer Triad from that country. So you might enjoy looking into him as well.

  9. #5109
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    I've read other responses to Disgace where people seem to dislike it/Coetzee because the main character is seen as being sexist. This isn't my issue. I have no problem with authors writing "dispicable" or evil characters.

    My issue was how the characters react to their situations once they've been disgraced. To an extent the main chracter holds his ground at the beginning and refuses to submit to a higher authority. When he's disgraced a second time though he essentially gives up and just spends the rest of the novel complaining about the situation that has been caused. There are numerous instances where he can confront his issues but he always shies away from actually doing it.

    It's similar to a complaint I had with Sinclair Lewis' novel Main Street. It's well written, but the main character clearly identified issues within the first 100 pages of the novel, and then instead of doing anything about it she basically just spends 300 pages complaining (it's far more nuanced than that obviously, but more or less that's what happens).

    I just dislike it when characters complain and whine about their situations when there seems quite clearly a lot that can be done about it.

  10. #5110
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stevie B View Post
    The plot really interests me, but it looks like this book has yet to be published in English. I did, however, find some strong reviews of Wieringa's first novel, Joe Speedboat. Have you read that one, Peter?
    I sure did. Joe Speedboat was his breakthrough novel. In fact, I read practically all of his work. If you have never read anything by Wierenga, Joe Speedboat is probably the best book to start with. Caesarion (in later versions of the English translation retitled as Little Caesar, probably because it’s a reference to the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra and not to a C-section) and These are the names are also highly recommended.

  11. #5111
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    Quote Originally Posted by Isahoinp View Post
    Disgrace - JM Coetzee 3/5

    Coetzee is a a good writer. His prose is calculated and precise and his frequent allusions show that he knows his literary history. That being said, the novel just lost steam for me as it went on. It started off strong but I found it losing momentum as it went on. The main character is obsessed with writing an opera about Byron and that entire idea just seems really cheesy to me. The sections in the novel describing this opera and how the main character sees it relating to his own situation are amongst the best passages in the novel, but I don't think they meld well with the rest of the plot.

    This is a personal preference and no fault of Coetzee's writing, but the novel features a type of character that I just hate. I can't stand characters who allow themselves to be pushed around and then continue to whine about it without doing anything. There are numerous instances where the main character can do something about his situation but instead he just continues to whine about it. The entire situation with the daughter also irks me because at the end she essentially just gives up and submits to sexism and intimidation.
    This is very similar to my first reaction after reading Disgrace. Then I realized that Coetzee intended exactly this to be the reaction to reading his novel, in other words: he was trolling us, his readers. That realization was a valuable key when reading more of his novels: it helped me to understand, say, Elizabeth Costello or the ongoing Jesus saga, brilliant exercises in trolling in style.

    Also, thank you for your honest, combative and insightful posts, Isahoinp.
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
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  12. #5112
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cleanthess View Post
    brilliant exercises in trolling in style
    I have to say, that's a pretty shallow reading of this amazing author. And I happen to dislike Disgrace quite intensely. But his books are brilliant; Waiting for the Barbarians, Elizabeth Costello and The Master of Petersburg are probably his best. Haven't read the Jesus stuff yet.

  13. #5113
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    What can I say, I’m an admittedly shallow and hedonistic reader. By the way, long time no talk Liam, thank you and thanks to all the others who keep this wonderful site active.


    I agree with you that Coetzee is an amazing author and his books are brilliant (I even like Disgrace). Trolling is a matter of intent, not of execution, or even of content after all. Please consider these two passages and tell me you don’t sense the malicious joy behind them. The first one is from a 2003 book with a contemporary setting, so it must have been completed shortly after a certain date that for a while was irresistible to trolls:


    “As I write to you, who are known above all men to select your words and set them in place and build your judgements as a mason builds a wall with bricks. Drowning, we write out of our separate fates. Save us.

    Your obedient servant
    Elizabeth C.

    This 11 September, AD 1603”


    “On the third day I surrender, put the paper back in the drawer, and make preparations to leave. It seems appropriate that a man who does not know what to do with the woman in his bed should not know what to write.”


    Please also consider the disingenuous meta-trolling Coetzee engaged in, when he was called out about that date during an interview: “As for September 11, let us not too easily grant the Americans possession of that date on the calendar. Like May 1 or July 14 or December 25, September 11 may seem full of significance to some people, while to other people it is just another day.” Coetzee, doesn’t even bother to mention Chile or Allende, for example.


    Two more quotes from that interview to show Coetzee’s adversarial attitude towards his readers, and the importance of style to him:


    “Let me point here to the inherent tension between on the one hand the artist, to whom what we can call "the question of ones life" or "the question of how, in ones own case, to live" may be the source of a drama that plays itself out over time, with many ups and downs, and on the other hand the critic or observer or reader who wants to package and label the artist and his particular question" and move on elsewhere. No offence intended.”


    "The deepest lessons one learns from other writers," you say, "are, I suspect, matters of rhythm, broadly conceived." And later, you say, it is not "ideas" that one picks up from other writers, but (I simplify here) style: "a style, an attitude to the world, [which] as it soaks in, becomes part of the personality, part of the self, ultimately indistinguishable from the self."
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
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  14. #5114
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    I suppose I take issue with your reductive description of his novels as "exercises in trolling in style," as if there's nothing else to them and as if that is what they are first and foremost. They're not. Personally I didn't see any trolling in Elizabeth Costello, and I read that particular novel three times, but perhaps it was an omission on my part, I don't know.

    Also, I find your choice of the word "exercise" curious. Exercise implies two things: a physical warmup and/or a school assignment that is usually simple enough for the student to learn from before moving on to the next lesson (curiously, Coetzee calls his chapters in EC "lessons," so maybe you're on to something).

    I can sense a lot of pain behind Coetzee's words, as well as concern for the world (animals in EC, humanity at large in Disgrace) but no "malicious joy." Once again, perhaps my eyes have been blinkered by the medieval literature I am studying, but I just don't see, and I'm trying, any joy (and malicious at that) in the quotations you've given.

    That said, however, I will keep your observations in mind when I read (or reread) my next Coetzee,

  15. #5115
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    Liam, thank you for your kind, insightful and considered response to my nonsense. Of course you’re right there’s a lot more to Coetzee’s books than my poorly chosen word “trolling” would imply. What I meant by that term is that Coetzee’s books are trying to do the same thing as putative alter ego Elizabeth Costello’s books do, shake their readers: “About sex, about passion and jealousy and envy, she writes with an insight that shakes him. It is positively indecent. She shakes him; that is what she presumably does to other readers too. That is presumably why, in the larger picture, she exists. What a strange reward for a lifetime of shaking people”. As for the exercises part, you're spot on.

    It occurred to me once that Elizabeth Costello belongs to the tradition of medieval sapiential books, along the lines of, say, the Kalila wa-Dimna (كليلة ودمنة).
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
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  16. #5116
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    No worries,

    OK, I think I see what you're saying now. I agree about Elizabeth Costello being Coetzee's "putative alter ego": it's a clever platform to use, on the author's part, to voice his own views (his and not his, since they also belong to his character). I saw a lot of pain in EC, and knew from the start that the main character was probably going to die, which made reading the book so much more poignant to me. Also, the essays on animal welfare did not bore me at all (many readers have said that EC is "boring")--they're quite brilliant, I think, and fit the context perfectly.

    The Kafkaesque chapter at the end is staggering in its symbolic power; and I thought that the old mangled dog at the gate was a sly nod on Coetzee's part to the ending of his own previous novel, published right before EC: and that was Disgrace!

    I'm curious to see what you made of the "Postscript." On the one hand, it's a clear allusion to Hugo von Hofmannstahl's short story; but on the other, I thought there's was so much howling pain behind it, and expressed perhaps what Coetzee was beginning to feel toward the end of the novel (as he was writing it)--that ultimately all words fail, that humanity's disgrace and our millennia-long torture and abuse of the animal kingdom just can't be described or summed up in words, it's impossible, and if one tries one shall go insane.

    I finished the book with shaking hands, it's been one of my favorite novels ever since, not just by Coetzee, but in general.

    I agree with you about the possibility of the "sapiential tradition" bleeding into the plot a number of times, but I must say I am not well versed in the medieval Arabic/Persian traditions at all--so if you could say more about that (perhaps we should move this to another thread?), it'd be much appreciated,

    Coetzee is probably the least religious author currently in existence, but it also strikes me how many readers come away from reading Disgrace without realizing how deeply Catholic that novel is and how deeply ingrained its symbolism is in the Christian tradition. Coetzee mocks this a bit at the end of EC when she's granted a brief glimpse of paradise beyond the gate, and it looks, to her at least, like any other place: it's so ordinary. And of course, the great final image of the dog by the gate, who is Cerberus but also God read backwards, I just loved how he could play with so many different traditions and symbols at once, it was extremely well-done.

  17. #5117
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    Hunger - Knut Hamsun 5/5

    Written, published, and loosely based on the period of Hamsun's life in which he nearly starved to death while struggling to earn money as a new writer, Hunger was a pioneering work in the field of psychological literature. At the time of its conception Hamsun believed that literature should be psychologically based, pushing against the moralism displayed in works by fellow countrymen Bjornstjerne Bjornson and Henrik Ibsen. Following the publication and success of the novel Hamsun embarked on a lecture tour during which he mocked these authors to their faces while they were in attendance.

    Hamsun's prose is concise and direct, a contrast to the flowery, detailed prose one generally expects to find in 19th century writing.

    Seize the Day - Saul Bellow 4/5

    A very typical post-war, mid-twentieth century novel. In this short work, published after Bellow's much lauded The Adventures of Augie March, Bellow explores capitalism, the rising middle class, marriage, and the meaning of death. A brisk novel, it's readable in a short sitting or two.

    While interesting and well written, there's not enough going on in the plot or in the main character's thoughts to make it a 5/5 for me.

    The Immoralist - Andre Gide 5/5

    Andre Gide was an admitted homosexual pedophile and in this novel which is based on his life he explores these themes. Gide also heavily explores philosophical ideas presented by Nietzsche, who was massively influential at the time of the novel's publication. The subject matter itself is a bit creepy/gross at times but throughout the novel Gide's prose is skilled and beautiful. Portions of the novel read like a travelogue.

  18. #5118

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    Great reviews Isahoinp. I loved Hunger years ago when I read it, and I'm really wanting to read it again. It might actually remain one of my favourite books - top 10 perhaps. I don't know. It definitely needs to get reread. I quite enjoyed the way that Hamsun created a beautiful character, filled with sympathy and generosity for his world, a little bit too naive to be surviving in the city - and, as a result, incapable of surviving in the city. I haven't read the other two though they are definitely high on my list of things to be read. Last year I was in an online book club that read Seize The Day, but I skipped it. Everybody enjoyed it. And Andre Gide has a very admirable reputation, and what little I have read of his prose style has thoroughly impressed me.

    Last night I was sick. Well, to be honest, I still am today, but much less so. I can, at the very least, talk almost normally. But I stayed up late and finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

    Americanah-Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie 3/5

    In the coming weeks I'll be writing a full review for my goodreads account. For now, let me put this out there. This book is good, without being great. It has a cast of interesting characters and a bunch of interesting events and a bundle of great ideas that it wants to talk about. And it is particularly aware of the current zeitgeist. It is every #SJW's dream book (speaking as an SJW); it tackles gender, racism, even hints at class, the lack of power felt by immigrants, the grand cultural divide between America and the rest of the world, intersectionality; all those shiny, pretty, cool things that us over-educated and under-employed people certain of our own intelligence are really into. And yet too many things just click too well and don't click well enough. It is caught in the balance of being too well-structured, too and controlled and tight, while also feeling altogether far too bloated to be able to make sense of itself. I've seen it in several other reviews I've read, the author (I don't know if her last name is her last name or her two last names, so I'm going to say "the author") needed to edit this down quite a bit in order to get to the core of what she wanted to say. And there are more than a few scenes that feel stilted and forced. The writing is, ultimately, what holds it back, even if there are many moments where it is fantastic. I'll read more by her. I'll even recommend this book. But I'm not going to rush to do it.

  19. #5119

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    At the same time that I think Americanah could be divided into many novels, each of them talking about one specific topic (race, immigration, gender), I also feel like Chimamanda just couldn't do it because somehow all these things are closely related to each other. I liked the book, gave it 3 stars on Goodreads but I will probably never get back to it. I love Chimamanda and liberal feminism but Americanah left me a little lazy about her others works. I will probably keep watching her vids on YouTube tho.

  20. #5120
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    A lot of the reviews I've read of her work (I've never read any of it) have basically said that eventually her novels just become soap operas. Did you get that out of Americanah?

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