Sunday, July 31, 2011

Three stories to cheer you up this month! 'Room' by Emma Donoghue and both the classic 'Trial' and 'Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka

One reviewer says 'In some sense, Room is not so different to Donoghue’s earlier historical novels, because it is inspired by real events, turned around and retold from a different perspective. Room is based on real women and their children, confined under horrible circumstances. But the perspective of this story makes it unique – it is not the sensationalistic story of a man holding a female victim hostage, but the story of a child and his mother in an incredibly difficult situation. Donoghue’s sensitivity and humour make this story not only readable, but beautiful and compelling.

This would be a very different novel if it were told by Jack’s mother. The five-year-old acts as a buffer between the horrifying reality of her existence and the reader. We know what’s going on, but often Jack doesn’t grasp the meaning of the events he describes. This isn’t a fictionalised ‘survivor story’, but a story of the love between mother and child. Through Jack’s voice, we understand what he can’t – that his Ma would do anything for her son to get out of the room.'

According to another reviewer 'The Trial opens with this first sentence: "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested."

It goes downhill from there.

Throughout the novel, Josef K never learns the charges against him, his lawyer is a preening incompetent who has built a mini-industry defending similarly "slandered" innocent (or maybe not so innocent -- we don't ever learn what's legal and what's illegal) men, and the reaction of the other characters in the novel ranges from mild shock to resignation to an irony that's half-comedic and half-tragic.

In the end, men he doesn't know confront him with one of the greatest of human horrors for reasons he doesn't understand and with a timing he doesn't suspect: "Was there still help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? Of course there were. Logic is no doubt unshakable, but it can't withstand a person who wants to live. Where was the judge he'd never seen? Where was the high court he'd never reached?"

Kafkaesque is a word that has become deeply rooted both in the English language and the psyche of the "free world." Having The Trial in your personal library is essential for the appearance of cultural literacy ("appearance" being a notion that fits perfectly with much of the middle of the book); but to read it is to understand how an obscure (at his death) author's last name has given birth to a powerful and enduring adjective known around the world.'


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Two cautionary tales this month: one set in the past and the other in a possible future.

The Observer wrote about Gunter Grass's classic 'The Tin Drum'
' "Granted: I'm an inmate in a mental institution…" So begins Oskar Matzerath, narrator of G√ľnter Grass's 1959 debut. With the help of one of his titular drums, Oskar recounts – not always reliably – the extraordinary events of his first 30 years: arresting his own physical development on his third birthday by throwing himself downs the stairs; "singshattering" glass with his otherworldly voice; impregnating his father's second wife; his key role in the deaths of his parents; finding independence as a stonemason, then later an artist's model and recording artist in the German postwar economic miracle.
Set primarily in Grass's native Danzig, the shadow of Nazism hangs heavy over the first two-thirds of the book, with Kristallnacht, the fall of Poland and ultimately the Soviet capture of the city all refracted through Oskar's eyes, as is the plight of German refugees struggling westwards ahead of the Red Army.
But it's Grass's dazzling use of language that sets The Tin Drum apart, as he spins a dense verbal web alive with wordplay and innovation. It's no coincidence that Oskar enjoys a stint with a jazz band, as there is an uninhibited, free-flowing musicality to the telling of his life story.'

The publisher had this to say about Margaret attwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
'Offered is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets where signs are now in pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant because, in an age of declining births, Offered and other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offered can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now....
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.'

Happy reading!