Saturday, March 26, 2011

Early Thoughts on Kafka on the Shore

When I first joined a book club I found that the genre I least enjoyed was Magic Realism.  Some novels seemed to read as normal life but would then go on a magical tangent.  The Known World by E P Jones and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez spring to mind, along with that horrid stream of consciousness in Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I couldn’t enjoy these novels as I felt that the genre lended a ‘silliness’ to them.

Then, I borrowed The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The explanation of the events at the end of the novel made the story acceptable to me!

Now, as I become more wider read, I’ve realized that the books I have enjoyed most recently due to their ‘bizareness’ are in fact Magic Realism J  (ie Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle).  So, what am I leading to?  Well, I’ve started another in this genre also by Haruki Murakami called Kafka on the Shore, it’s got me hooked from the opening line, and I felt the need to write about what I have read so far.

I haven’t read any other works by Murakami apart from Wind-Up Bird, so I’m not sure if the cat theme is running through those too.  He must be a cat lover (although with his Johnny Walker character I  might need to question that remark).  In Wind-Up Bird, the protagonists wife hires someone to look for their missing cat,  In Kafka on the Shore one of the main characters Mr Nagata spends his life searching for lost cats.  I love this character, he’s slow witted due to a bizarre event in his childhood (which forms a parallel story in this novel) and talks in a slow and deliberate manner (like our PM Julia Gillard!!).  As a youngster, during WWII, Nagata was picking mushrooms in a wood with his classmates.  Mysteriously they all fell unconscious, though  slowly one by one each of the children came around – except for Nagata.  When he finally awoke in a military hospital, his mind had been wiped clean.  Now an old man he supplements his ‘government subsidy’ with the money he earns in locating cats. Nagata is largely successful in this job due to the fact that he can actually converse with the feline species.  In the search for Goma, the much loved pet of the Koizumi family, he is warned of a dangerous man who dresses like the icon Johnny Walker and has been taking strays from a nearby vacant plot.  This man is a collector of cat’s souls, and it is apparent that he has taken Goma.

The other parallel storyline is that of Kafka, the name taken by a 15 year old boy who has run away from home.  The inner voice that gives him encouragement is known as ‘The Boy Named Crow’, though he may not be an inner voice at all but a separate entity and I wonder if he may be the part of Nagata that went missing as one of the cats remarked how thin Nagata’s shadow was compared to other humans.  It’s obvious the two stories will converge at one point and I wonder if this is the link.

Kafka passes himself off as a 17 year old and spends his time in a library or at the gym as he  doesn’t want to look like a runaway roaming the streets.  Kafka’s mother and older sister left the family home when he was very young and he barely has any memory of them and so he wishes in the women that he meets that they were really his mother or sister.

Some time after travelling and managing to get by with his new identity, Kaftka wakes up after a period of unconsciousness, away from his hotel room, and covered in blood…..

It’s very intriguing so far, and the incident on Rice Bowl Hill in the ‘40’s becomes even more so when a letter from the children’s teacher is written to the professor who studied the event.  She claims that she withheld some information for all those years which probably had a major effect on the result of the study, and the information involves an incident with the young Nagata.

Poor Mr Nagata!  He has lead such a difficult life, having to learn everything all over again but never regaining his former intellect. Kafka has had a well to do life, is very intelligent, but is ultimately a loner who dearly feels the loss of his sister and mother from his life.

I shall sign off now and read some more J

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jane Austen Rules!

 I starting listening to Austen’s Northanger Abbey on my iPod, but for some reason entire parts of it cannot be accessed, so now I’m relegated to reading it on my Kindle.  I love Austen's dialogue, it is so natural you know exactly who is speaking as the banter flows so perfectly. 

I can see Catherine Morland as a kindred spirit, her love of the gothic novel suits  me right down to the ground.  The novel of the day is Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Uldopho (which I really must put on my to-read list.  I once tried an appalling Libravox recording of it but gave up).

The characterisation of Isabella Thorpe is brilliant.  Just via her dialogue we can ascertain what a wishy washy selfish and indulged girl she is.  She makes out that she is concerned only with Catherine's wellbeing and has all the time in the world for her when in fact she only cares about herself.  She is very expertly realised by Austen and I'm sure we all know of, or work with, someone just like her!  Even Isabella's brother John Thorpe is a very selfish character who comes across initially as a lot of fun, but is ultimately too contradictory, loud and with only a limited amount of topics to discourse, becomes very quickly boring.  Once Catherine has spent more time with these new friends of her elder brother James' in Bath, she begins to see their failings and is very disappointed in them.

Romance looms on the horizon early on in the novel in the form of the amiable Henry Tilney, and his young sister Eleanor appears to be a more genuine friend for Catherine, although this friendship has a very rocky beginning due to the selfish interference from the Thorpe's.

As you can see, I am enthralled so far and reveling in Austen's writing.

I've also gone back to my love of horror and started listening to Robert Bloch's Psycho.  It is interesting to note that the character of Marion Crane from the movie is actually Mary Crane in the novel and that the self loathing Norman Bates is fat and wears glasses! Though he is still very creepy.  

I am however, very disappointed with the 'shower scene'.  Basically Mary was in the shower, noticed a shadow outside of the shower curtain, saw the butcher's knife which......"was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream. And her head."  Not a great deal of drama and horror there really - oh well!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Disgrace, A Second Chance

Do you ever read a novel by a new author, find you don't like it and then don't bother with any more of his or her work?  I generally do.  It's not the same as reading a tried and true author and finding they've written a bomb.  You generally forgive  the disappointment knowing they are capable of better work.  When I was with my first book club we read Slow Man by J M Coetzee, it was a slow novel and I didn't see the point in it.  Coetzee has several novels on the 1001 list but so far I've bypassed them in favour of something else, Slow Man being too recent a disappointment for me.

However, I bought some books in a book sale last week and one of them was Disgrace by J M Coetzee.  I liked the cover and on reading that the edition was printed to celebrate the centenary of Harvill Secker and is only one of 250, 000 copies, and because this title is on the 1001 list, I thought I would give him a second chance - and I am so pleased I did - I can't put it down.  It's not long, only about 215 pages, but it's so concisely written and touches on so much emotion in so few words, it's brilliant.  Set in South Africa, the premise is about an aging University Professor who's a bit of a Casanova with the some of the young students.  He takes things too far and a student complains which leads to his resignation - a choice he takes rather than apologising for what he feels are his animal desires and which he doesn't want to keep in check. To avoid living amongst the scandal he decides to visit his daughter who lives on a small farm with boarding kennels.  They seems to connect quite well and he helps with the selling of the farm produce and looking after the dogs until one day they are savagely beaten and robbed by two black men and a boy....... His daughter had sold some of her land to a black man called Petrus who has also helped on her farm, but he is no-where to be found on the day of the attack, and  the professor thinks this is far too convenient.  Anger begins to well in him for what has been done to his daughter. This  novel is stark and brutal, but amazingly written.

I wonder if I should give William S Burroughs a scond chance??? Nah, I think I'll pass on that one!!

I finished Something Wicked This Way Comes and it was followed by a brilliant short story called A Sound of Thunder.  It's a sort of 'butterfly effect' warning about a time travel company that can take you back in time to hunt dinosaurs.  The only proviso is that you stay on the designated path and only shoot the marked dinosaurs as they would have died within the hunting time-frame anyway so that the delicate balance of cause and effect will not be disturbed.  Eckels, one of the hunters, however ignores the warning and on returning to the time capsule he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly........ it was really good.  I remember seeing some sort of movie with really bad special effects that was based on this. 

Now I'm listening to 20, 000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne and I'm sad to say I'm not enjoying it as much as Around the World in 80 Days or Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  So far, it doesn't have the fun factor that the other two have.  It's being narrated by Harlan Ellison who wrote Demon with a Glass Hand (which was the inspiration for Terminator) but he sounds like Bosley from Charlie's Angels which is putting me off a little bit!

Anyhooo, I'm in the mood for horror lately so I've just downloaded Robert Bloch's Psycho, and will try to get that listened to (along with Austen's Northanger Abbey) before bookclub next week!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Halloway and Nightshade

What great character names!  Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade - the protagonists from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Will and Jim are more like brothers than best friends, born just one day apart they live next door to each other in a small American town.  The novels opens with the promise of fun that only a child can see as Autumn begins, but a dark cloud is about to hover over them as an ancient carnival pulls into town.  The boys realise that something is very wrong with the carnival when they see one of its operators Mr Cooger ride the carousel backwards and so watch him grow younger and younger until he is a small boy.

Mr Dark, the illustrated man, seduces adults with promises of youth and his body is covered with the images of those he has lured.  What the adults don't realise is that to be young again will mean giving up all their friends, and finding themselves alone so frightens them when they have become a child that they beg to go back on the carousel.  They are promised that they will be given back their lives but first they must travel as freaks within the carnival.

Jillian Petrie as The Dustwitch
One such freak is the blind Dustwitch - one night Mr Dark sends her out in a monstrous balloon to find the boys.  The sound of the balloon billowing in the wind and the blind freak holding out her hands to sense the boys is very creepy. They know the secret of the carnival and Mr Dark needs to silence them.......................  make no mistake, this is not a childrens book.  It is brilliantly told from a child's perspective, and I love how Will's opinion of his father grows.  He initially sees him as an old janitor at the library, but as the novel progresses Will realises that he seems taller and stronger - dependable and more importantly, he believes.  

I'm lining up a few books on my iPod now, and as I write this I'm transferring Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami which I'm really looking forward to 'reading' as I loved the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  When I was shopping at Harbourtown on the weekend I came across a book sale, and all books were $5.  Heaven!  Trouble was it was cash only and I only had $20 on  me.  Just as well as I would have spent a fortune.  Wind-Up Bird in hardback was there but I had to put it back in favour of something I hadn't read.  So, in the end after much debating and shuffling of books I bought Disgrace by J M Coetzee, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (both on the 1001 list), The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro &  Chuck Hogan (sequel to The Strain) and The City of Fallen Angels by John Berendt which is set in Venice.  Berendt wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which was brilliant so I have high hopes for this one!  Really it was a shame that these books were going so cheap as it was probably a fire sale for a book store that has closed down - one of many to close it doors in recent times I fear.

Still struggling with Melmoth but 60% of the way through it according to my Kindle.  Also struggling big time with Opposing Energies.  The best thing about it so far is the title unfortunately.  Whilst there isn't much wrong with the writing for a first novel, and apart from the bad proofing and editing prior to publishing, I'm half way through the book and not much has happened and I don't like any of the characters.  I do read sci fi and fantasy but I think this one is probably aimed at the teen market.  I'll pick it up now and again and I guess I'll finish it eventually, but it's not a priority.

Well that's me up to date, I'm off to bed now to read a bit of Disgrace.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Favourite Literary Characters

Whilst reading Earth  Abides, I got to thinking about my favourite literary characters.  This of course will always be a moving target the more I read, but  it's been fun thinking about who they are and how much I enjoyed reading the novels they appeared in.

Most recently I added May Kasahara to this list from the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as I loved her dark eccentricity, and Nick Andros from The Stand will always be listed here as I really took to this character and when  Stephen King killed him off I actually went into mourning.

Not all of my favourite characters are nice, take for instance Count Fosco from The Woman in White, a devilishly nasty man but quite a charmer with the ladies and what about Hatsumomo from Memoirs of a Geisha - one of the best antagonists I've had the pleasure to read about.  Plus there's also Tom Ripley the sociapath from The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith made an excellent job of this character - you actually want him to get away with it!

There have been striking characters such as Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and John Egan from Carry Me Down.  Both very troubled souls though Alex is redeemed in the end.  I often think of John Egan and wonder how his life turned out - the novel never had a satisfactory ending so I'll never know.  I really liked him and felt so sorry for him, his inability to really connect with the world around him.

Then, there are the endearing characters.  Odd Thomas was one I really liked but he became over exposed by Koontz writing many awful sequels, but the original Odd Thomas however was a really lovely story. My all time favourite in this category would have to be the ever faithful friend of Frodo - Samwise Gamgee.  He was the biggest hero from The Lord of the Rings. 

And now in this top ten list I can add Isherwood Williams from Earth Abides.  Ish is an ordinary man surviving extraordinary times.  A man who will spend his life worrying about the survival of mankind, and the future of his 'tribe' and who finally realises that studious learning is not what will be important for his children and grandchildren but practical skills.  Rather than sitting back and going with the flow as other members of the 'tribe' do, he shows them how to make and use a bow and arrow and how to make fire.  He cared about what the future would bring and I really admire him for that.