Friday, April 11, 2014

Chris Eaton, A Biography ~ Chris Eaton

Have you ever Googled your own name and wondered about the people that you share it with?  Well, Chris Eaton has and the result is a work of fiction centered around the lives of various male and female Chris Eatons along with a few other quirky characters.

Perhaps we all know, have met, crossed paths with, a Chris Eaton in our own lives?  I know I have, he's a charming Englishman who works at our Sydney head office and briefly worked with me in Queensland a few years ago.

You won't find a linear story here, but what you will find is your life paralleled with one of the Chris Eatons within the narrative.  Encompassing a broad spectrum of lives lived, this is by turns a funny but thought provoking novel.  At various points I did think that I was re-reading Moby Dick with the amount of facts and figures being presented on a multitude of topics, whether true or not I'm not sure as I don't think that the narrator was altogether reliable at times, but some of it was very interesting.

I did, to my surprise, find myself really enjoying this book.  It was very well written, and I was interested in many of the topics (punk rock, salt ...... otoliths).  I could not believe the book included the obscure otolith!  These little buggers are dominating my life at the moment, causing me severe vertigo at their worst and light headedness at their best, and no-one around me has ever heard of them, yet here they were speaking to me from the page (Kindle) LOL.

There were many thoughts, feelings and interactions in this novel that I could identify with, and it made me realise that we are ALL THE SAME.  We don't need to share the same name to experience the same hopes, fears, loves and life lessons.

This really is something different to read, and I can recommend it as a well written thought provoking independent novel.


Ps: I Googled my own name and I found mostly obituaries which was rather disconcerting!

Monday, April 7, 2014

1Q84 ~ Haruki Murakami

*Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers*

Two moons, little people, a cat town, an 'Air Chrysalis' and parallel story-lines that merge at the end.  Sounds surreal and mystical doesn't it, and just my type of read from an author I usually enjoy.  I didn't expect to be so wrong!  This love story between Aomame, a cold blooded assassin, and Tengo, a ghost writer, could have been intriguing but instead it was distasteful, boring and extremely repetitive.
I had several problems with the writing which totally frustrated me.  For one, I couldn't understand why there was such an in depth description as to the type of head a man must have for Aomame to sleep with him.  This was a ridiculous story-line to begin with, but being constantly told that it must be a certain shape and slightly balding didn't make sense as Tengo, her supposed soul mate, clearly did not have this head type at all, so what was the point?

When we were first introduced to Tengo he was in the grip of a disturbing vision/memory of his mother. These visions stop him completely in his tracks, he cannot function, and we are told in great detail that this happens on a regular basis (a bit like me and my BPPV!).  Yet it is barely alluded to for the rest of the novel.

The writing (or maybe it was the translation?) came across as very unprofessional. When you have only two characters in a scene and they are conversing you don't need to say for example "Tengo said”.  We know who’s talking.  and when one of the two characters repeats the other character’s line (which happened way too much in this novel I can tell you!) you don't need to say for example “Tengo repeated”. Aaaaagh, it was too much!

There were in depth histories of several secondary characters which served no purpose to the story, and sequences involving a ghostly NHK fee collector who we must suppose is Tengo's comatose father which also served no real purpose whatsoever.

I did enjoy the character of Ushikawa, but the amount of time spent with him was wasted as he was killed off. I didn't get it, why did I have to spend so much time with this secondary character and learn about his past, his flaws and hear his inner thoughts, only to have him die and achieving nothing in the way of propelling the story in any meaningful way?

My biggest gripe though is the fact that there was way too much repetition over-all in the novel, especially the constant recapping of the story thus far and dumb explanations of what was going on by various characters so much so that I found it pretty insulting to me as the reader.

I was so hoping for something magical like Kafka on the Shore, but this novel could have easily been cut by a third and I think we should demand a re-write – especially that of Aomame’s character, dialogue and motivation as that side of the novel was just plain awful.

I'm a very disappointed Murakami fan.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Shelter ~ James Everington

The Shelter is a novella by the independent writer James Everington in the style of Stephen King's The Body which resonated with me in the fact that it is about a group of children (in this case four boys) getting up to no good during a school summer holiday.  Set in England, it brought back memories of those long six week holidays, with not much to do except going exploring with friends.  It is something we probably don't let our children do today but, without Foxtel, Apple, X-box or PC's, our options for entertainment back when I was a teenager in the late 70's and early 80's lay in the outdoors.

The story of The Shelter is related by a thirteen year old Alan Dean who, with his best friend Duncan and two older boys that he knows from school, goes in search of an old air raid shelter that supposedly lies outside of their village.  When they get there it's location seems a bit bizarre with the shelter being located in the far corner of a field, the atmosphere changes too with the incessant buzzing of wasps and a feeling of rising anger that threatens to overwhelm the boys themselves.

Driven by excitement and fear, and wondering if this is the resting place of Martin, a local schoolboy whose disappearance has dominated the news reports lately, they open the metal lid that covers the entrance to the shelter.  Everything appears normal until a simple prank leaves Alan in a terrifying situation and open to a supernatural event.  But did it really happen?  

As children we are ready to accept the unknown, and in a state of heightened terror we can imagine any amount of horrors.  Yet for all those nights of being too afraid to look under the bed, or in the closet or at that bundle of clothes thrown on the chair that looks like something unimaginable.......... did any harm ever come to us?  This then brings doubt and cynicism into the mind of the adult, and the realisation that there never was anything there at all. This is the thought that the older Alan will ponder as he reviews the events of that summer.

The writing style does need some polishing, and the idea itself of using a group of bored children to propel the story along isn't all that original - just read Stephen King and Dan Simmons - but I found that I really liked it because of the memories that it stirred up for me and I almost (almost mind you) felt a pang for a genuine English Summer.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

As I Lay Dying ~ William Faulkner

There's something about Faulkner that I really like, but I can't put my finger on it.  I've only read two of his novels but I guess it's the quirkiness of the characters, and the secrets that come out during the telling of the story, that grabs my attention.

Addie Bundren is dying, her husband and children are waiting around for her to die, which is her wish. Her son Cash is out in the yard making her coffin which is also her wish.  Her final wish though is to be buried in Jefferson with 'her people', and basically this is what the novel is about.  We follow this hillbilly family to Jefferson to bury their mother, but it's not an easy journey and Addie will be several days dead before she is finally laid to rest.

During the journey we find out that Addie and her husband Anse were not happily married nor great parents, that one son is not Anse's biological son, their only daughter is not as pure as she seems and another son is dangerously mad.  

As I lay Dying is told from the viewpoint of fifteen different characters, including the deceased Addie.  I'm not usually a fan of using different narrators, but it works in this novel especially when the antics of the family are viewed by a more sane narrator.  It is by turns both funny and sad.

Jame's Franco's movie adaptation of the novel is quite stunning.  Using the split screen device he is able to capture the multi-narrator point of view for several of the scenes, and in others he has the characters staring into the camera narrating a monologue to the viewer.  My favourite monologue is that of Cash as he describes the build of Addie's coffin.  

What I like best about the movie is that it barely detracts from the novel at all,  which is a rarity these days, so I guess Franco's not just a pretty face after all!

After enjoying this so much, and also The Sound and The Fury, I look forward to reading some more Faulkner later this year.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Roadside Picnic ~ Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic is a novella by Russian sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and was adapted for the screen as Stalker.  The movie and the book are very different but there are enough similarities to make it recognisable as the same theme.

The story centres on 'The Zone', an area made uninhabitable since an alien visitation destroyed it. It is illegal to enter 'The Zone' without the appropriate authorisation and protective clothing, but people do. These people are known as Stalkers, and they make their money from the items that they bring out of 'The Zone'.  Successful Stalkers become legendary as many don't make it out alive, and if they do then some are not always in one piece. The one thing that they all wish to obtain is the 'golden ball' for it is said that it will grant your innermost wish.

The novella follows a Stalker called Redrick Schuhart, who is known as 'Red' by his peers. It is well known that the wives of stalkers bear deformed children, and Red's daughter is no exception.  Nicknamed 'Monkey' there is mention of golden silken hair on her body but, as the story progresses Monkey's hair darkens and her face becomes sunken, and she becomes disassociated from her family.

The title of the story relates to the alien visitation, which is likened to a roadside picnic. When we have a picnic we disturb the area that is home to the various creatures living there - insects and birds etc.  We eat our food, play some games, leave our rubbish and then drive off without giving a second thought to the place again.

In the movie (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky) it is many years since the alien visitation and a stalker is taking two men into The Zone to find a room that will grant their wishes.  This is an extremely beautiful and atmospheric movie to watch. Some of the scenes are like watching a painting.  The music is gorgeous and captures the feel of the location perfectly.

More philosophical than the book, it asks the question: What really is our heart's desire?  You might know what your dearest wish is but your innermost desire might be something in your subconscious ie you might wish for peace on Earth but subconsciously you might desire your brother dead............when the Stalker and the two men find the room this question plagues their consciences.

Stalker is a movie that you can watch on many levels.  I love watching it just for the visual images,  I like to watch it without any subtitles so that I can soak in the sound of the Russian language, and I watch it just to enjoy the soundtrack.  This is certainly a beautiful piece of movie making.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Review: The Battery

Every so often an independent movie comes along which has you thinking about it long after you have watched it.  The Battery is one such movie.  

I think that we are all agreed that the Zombie genre has just about been done to death, but if you are a fan of The Walking Dead, and enjoy watching the survivors play out rather than reveling in zombie gore, then you will appreciate this movie.  Fans of baseball will understand the title and, for the rest of us, it is revealed about half way through the movie.

The premise is a simple one; two baseball players find themselves on the road trying to survive not only zombies, and other survivors, but also themselves.  They weren’t friends off the baseball field, and on the road their personalities clash more often than not. Ben will do whatever it takes to survive, but Mickey is more of your squeamish new age sensitive type.

Set in Connecticut the two keep on the move staying off the main roads scavenging food, and other items, along the way. They pick up a couple of walkie talkies from an abandoned house, and whilst trying to reach out on the airwaves Mickey stumbles across an obscure conversation between a man and a woman.  Mickey is convinced that they will find sanctuary with these people but he is told in no uncertain terms that they are not to come looking for them, and that they are not welcome. Mickey becomes obsessed with trying to contact the woman, and his reluctance to let it go bodes ill for the future.

The soundtrack to this movie is awesome, and I guarantee that the standout scene for anyone watching it will be Ben (played by Jeremy Gardner who is also the writer and director) singing and dancing to Anthem for the Already Defeated by Rock Plaza Central. 

If you are serious about your zombie viewing, this is a movie not to be missed!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 ~ My Literary Year That Was

At the end of each year I love going back and having a look at what books I enjoyed and what I did not.  So, without further ado - what I enjoyed:

Philip Roth
Phillip Roth was a new author for me this year, and I found that I was very comfortable with his writing style.  I read several of his novels, but hands down my favourite was The Plot Against AmericaNarrated by a young Philip Roth, I completely identified with this nerdy little boy and his beloved stamp collection (yes, a little known fact about me is my love of stamps and my stamp collection!).  The novel is an alternate history which is seen through young Philip’s eyes as he tries to make sense of the affect of the isolationist Charles Lindburgh’s presidency on his local Jewish community and immediate family prior to America entering World War II.  I loved it.

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

I haven’t finished this one yet, but I’m ¾ of the way through it and it deserves a mention here.  I read somewhere that the best way to read a Pynchon novel is just to read the words and if some of it makes sense or connects in some way then good-ho, but if it doesn't just keep reading and try to enjoy his use of language.

 I totally disagree. 
This is my first Pynchon novel, but the best way for me to enjoy Mason & Dixon has been to read it in conjunction with essays and notes on the novel.  Pynchon just gives you so much in a few words; one sentence can hold a plethora of meaning, historical fact, science, humour and innuendo.  After reading just the first chapter I realised that there was something very special about the writing and I didn't intend missing a trick.  I only read three pages a night and then I read through associated notes so that I completely understand what I have read and can research some of the historical and scientific references.
This novel is also an alternate history, as related by the Rev. Wicks Cherrycoke who claims he 'was there'.  With a bit of embellishment for the sake of the children listening to the story we follow the friendship of Mason and Dixon as they complete the famous Mason-Dixon line in America.  There are a few adventures thrown in, and a hilarious segment about a chef and a love sick mechanical duck.  I have never read anything like this before, it’s been a total challenge.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This was the year that I discovered this awesome poem. I don't really like poetry, although my favourite childhood book was A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, but Coleridge has a gothic bent which really appeals to my tastes.  When I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner it totally blew me away, and I have read it and listened to it many times since.
New Authors

Each year I always try to find new authors to read.  I did try several new ones this year but the stand outs for me were William Faulkner (I read The Sound and The Fury) and Philip Roth.  On the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die listing that I follow Don DeLillo has more books on it than that of any other author so I tried Falling Man (not on the list) and The Body Artist.  Unfortunately I found both of these novels profoundly boring, and the writing style reeked of self indulgence, so I'm very wary of trying another.

The Classic

My 'classic' this year was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.  After two or three false starts I finally got into this very funny novel and I marveled at how well the humour still worked today, although I did find the second part of the novel much easier to read than the first part.  Sancho was funnier and more endearing in the second part, and I loved his multitude of proverbs.  There were a couple of very good short stories within the novel (as well as some short stories that totally detracted from it!), one of which was the excellent The Impertinent Curiosity about two friends, Anselmo and Lothario, and an 'indecent proposal'.
What I Didn't Enjoy

Apart from Don Delillo, I also struggled with The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde and The Invisible Man by H G Wells.  Out of over 67 books read for the year that’s not a bad failure rate.  With all these novels it was the characterisations which let them down.  Jean Rhys dared to use characters from Jane Eyre and I could not correlate the two stories at all, Jasper Fforde’s characters were just plain silly compared to his other wacky novels, and the character of The Invisible Man was a nasty piece of work through and through and I didn't enjoy reading about him.  Another set of characters I didn't enjoy reading about were those scottish drug addicts in Trainspotting.

But, I'm sorry to say (because my love of Stephen King goes way back), my most disappointing read for 2013 was Dr Sleep.  This novel was highly anticipated, especially on the back of the brilliant 11/22/63, but I have to say it – it was abysmal.  The writing style was amateur, the story just plain silly, and using Dan Torrance from the The Shining has now marred this novel for me.  If I mention that I will be shelving my copy between The Regulators (written under Richard Bachman) and Rose Madder, you will 'get' how bad I found it.

The Horror

My reading year would not be complete without a horror or two thrown in, but I'm finding it harder and harder to find a new horror to read, or should I rephrase that to 'a readable horror'.

I started the year with The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson but it's such a well known, and well worn, story that I didn't get the thrill I was looking for from it.  My next attempt was Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist, but I just didn't 'get it' and it wasn't scary at all. THEN, I picked up a small factual book called Zombies: A Field Guide to The Walking Dead by Dr Bob Curran and a couple of articles in it did unsettle me in the way I was looking for.  I also really enjoyed an old classic The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson which was years ahead of it's time and which completely thrilled me. Cypher the cult classic by Kathe Koja wasn't too bad, but I didn't connect with any of the characters and I also finally got round to reading some once elusive Shirley Jackson novels, and mostly she did not disappoint.

So, with 2013 winding down, I'm now full of anticipation to my reading year ahead.  I hope it's a good one!