Friday, October 25, 2013

Trainspotting ~ Irvine Welsh

Never before have I resented being immersed in the world of a novel! I did not look forward to one minute spent with the characters in Trainspotting – yet I could not put it down.

Written in the Scottish vernacular I initially found it very difficult to read, yet I soon realised that this was the only way this book could have been written.  I soon got into the swing of it though, and when I wasn't reading it I could still hear the characters in my head, and even found myself thinking in the dialect! 

Narrated by way of various short stories by the various characters, I wasn't always sure who I was reading about.  The foul language is very in your face, and the ‘Junkie Dilemma’s’ at times were excruciatingly disgusting.  The most confronting story for me was ‘Bad Blood’.  It is a revenge story, where one of the characters takes revenge on another character who is responsible for his HIV diagnosis. I found it deeply disturbing and even when the twist was revealed at the end, it had gone too far to redeem itself for me.

I can quite honestly say that I did not like this novel at all, but it is the quality of the writing itself that keeps you reading.  It’s all so very real, and it takes a talented writer to make it so. 

If you saw the movie version and liked it, it won’t guarantee that you will like the novel.  The movie shows some humanity and humour in the characters, and although there is plenty of black humour in this novel, I could barely find a hint of humanity in it.  A junkie is a junkie, nothing else matters to them except for the next hit.

What a waste of a life.


Friday, October 4, 2013

American Pastoral ~ Philip Roth

THIS IS an amazing novel! The emotional impact of it hit me really hard.

Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov is a non practicising Jew who seemed to have it all.  He was the all American boy with blonde good looks, athletic, kind and heir to the successful family glove manufacturing business.  He was also the childhood hero of reporter Nathan Zuckerman who was friends with the ‘Swede’s’ younger brother Jerry at school.  The promise of a good life was all apparent during their school days, and when Zuckerman meets up with him after many years, he can’t believe how good the ‘Swede’ still looks; he has an attractive wife, three smart sons and his calm exterior suggests a life with no worries.  So, when Zuckerman bumps into Jerry at their school re-union soon after, he is stunned to learn that the ‘Swede’ has died from metastasised prostate cancer and that he had had a first wife (the former Miss New Jersey no less) and a daughter whom he had never mentioned at their meeting.  Jerry is not surprised that he didn’t talk about them, and Zuckerman is compelled to delve into the history of this man; piecing together what he can from Jerry, his own knowledge of him from their school days and newspaper clippings.  What he finds is that beneath the perfect exterior was a man who had been emotionally ripped apart.

The backdrop of the novel is set during the Newark riots, the Vietnam War and Watergate.  It was a very tumultuous period that had a profound impact on the Levov family.  the ‘Swede’s’ teenage daughter Meredith, swept up in the anti Vietnam war campaign, brings her protests back to her home town of Old Rimrock by blowing up the local post office, killing one man.  Merry goes on the run and when the ‘Swede’ meets his daughter again she is living in squalor under an assumed name and is virtually unrecognisable.  She had been raped many times whilst in hiding, and the plump stuttering girl is replaced by a skeletal abomination who now follows an obscure religion which denounces washing and eating – for fear of killing living things.  Despite this, she admits that whilst on the run she made (and planted) more bombs resulting in the deaths of a further three people.

The ‘Swede’s’ life is deconstructed in this novel in an attempt to find that point in time in which he began to lose his daughter.  To try and pinpoint that moment when something he did caused her to take a wrong turn in life.  The need to know who influenced this upper middle class girl, because it is inconceivable that she could have made those decisions on her own when she had been given everything in life.

This novel is so powerful, yet beautifully written.  The scenes with the ‘Swede’ and his father discussing gloves, and the manufacture of gloves, were wonderful and the scenes where the ‘Swede’ thinks about key moments with Meredith are disturbing but identifiable.   Here is a man who has it all, and when something threatens to rock his perfect boat he is unable to deal with it.  He is unable to make the right decisions and take a stand, and when he decides to tell all to Nathan Zuckerman at their last meeting, he finds that he is unable to let go of that perfect exterior because he is the ‘Swede’.  Here is a man in turmoil, wracked with cancer, and yet all he can tell Zuckerman is how great his life is and how smart his boys are.

Philip Roth is a recent discovery for me.  I love the ‘Jewishness’ of his writing, and at the right moments he is exceedingly funny.  Recently he has shocked me with Sabbath’s Theatre, The Breast and The Humbling, tickled my funny bone with Portnoy’s Complaint and The Great American Novel and I truly felt the anxiety of the protagonist in Nemesis during a polio epidemic.  But, American Pastoral will stand out for me as being a novel with so much raw emotion that I felt completely drained by the time I finished it.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Revenge is Sweet Indeed!

I've just read the poem The Raven.  Not the one by Edgar Allen Poe but the one by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and I really liked its irony so I thought I would share it here:

The Raven

A Christmas Tale, told by a school-boy to his little brothers and sisters.

Underneath a huge oak tree
There was of swine a huge company,
That grunted as they crunched the mast:
For that was ripe, and fell full fast.
Then they trotted away, for the wind grew high:
One acorn they left, and no more might you spy.
Next came a Raven, that liked not such folly:
He belonged, they did say, to the witch Melancholy!
Blacker was he than blackest jet,
Flew low in the rain, and his feathers not wet.
He picked up the acorn and buried it straight
By the side of a river both deep and great.

Where then did the Raven go?
He went high and low,
Over hill, over dale, did the black Raven go.
Many Autumns, many Springs
Travelled he with wandering wings:
Many Summers, many Winters --
I can't tell half his adventures.

At length he came back, and with him a She,
And the acorn was grown to a tall oak tree.
They built them a nest in the topmost bough,
And young ones they had, and were happy enow.

But soon came a woodman in leathern guise,
His brow, like a pent-house, hung over his eyes.
He'd an axe in his hand, not a word he spoke,
But with many a hem! and a sturdy stroke,
At length he brought down the poor Raven's own oak.
His young ones were killed; for they could not depart,
And their mother did die of a broken heart.

The boughs from the trunk the Woodman did sever;
And they floated it down on the course of the river.
They sawed it in planks, and its bark they did strip,
And with this tree and others they made a good ship.
The ship, it was launched; but in sight of the land
Such a storm there did rise as no ship could withstand.
It bulged on a rock, and the waves rush'd in fast:
The old Raven flew round and round, and cawed to the blast.

He heard the last shriek of the perishing souls --
See! see! o'er the topmast the mad water rolls!
Right glad was the Raven, and off he went fleet,
And Death riding home on a cloud he did meet,
And he thank'd him again and again for this treat:
They had taken his all; and REVENGE WAS SWEET!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Until next time J