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Thread: Recently finished books?

  1. #5101
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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    Max Frisch - Homo Faber

    Didn't enjoy it in the slightest.

  5. #5105
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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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.
    Yoshida Kenko

  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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    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    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.
    Yoshida Kenko

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