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Tag: :MM’s Bookshelf:

Review: Peter Weiss‘ “Marat”

peter weiss marat sadeWeiss’ play — full title The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, commonly known as Marat/Sade — is a partly historical rendition of the 1793 murder of French Revolutionary Marat, performed as if in one of de Sade’s plays put on when he was a real-life inmate of Charenton Asylum. The play exemplifies Artaud’s concept of Theatre of Cruelty (here you can expect whipping and assassination onstage) and one can imagine it as stark and brutal in live performance. Interesting, dark, political, recommended.

Where it came from: MM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed then armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I
d recommend it to: Readers after a historical genre experience with a good dose of politics thrown in
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Buchi Emecheta’s “The Joys of Motherhood”

buchi emecheta joys of motherhoodNigerian-born Emecheta moved to the UK in her early twenties and made a living as a novelist. This book, with its ironic if not scathing title, tells the marriage and motherhood woes of Nnu Ego, daughter to a chief and wife to a washerman in the newly burgeoning city of Lagos. Set between (about) the 1920s-1940s, the characters play out the struggles associated with the modernisation of Nigeria under British colonial rule, and particularly looks at how women were impacted by changing societal norms. An absorbing read, gritty, rich with real-life details that make it so interesting to the non-Nigerian. Highly recommended.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Oddly enough, Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South
Who I’d recommend it to: MOD
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Review: E.L. Doctorow’s ”The Book of Daniel”

WARNING: Cover dysphoria!

WARNING: Cover dysphoria!

This is a skilled book and a tough, dark read. Daniel, in full-blown, po-mo, multi-generic multi-voiced style, relates the story of his Communist parents’ judicial persecution – leading to the death penalty by execution – in the late 1940s in Washington, D.C., and traces the impacts on himself and his family (wife Phyllis, baby Paul, sister Susan, adopted parents) some 20 years later. The political analysis is considered, sophisticated and astute; one recognises the parallel gap in contemporary fiction, although I suspect Richard Flanagan’s The Accidental Terrorist has the same aim. Strong characterisation: one has no doubt how messed-up these people are. Well-constructed. Difficult to read because the characters are awful, the story is brutal and violent (especially the sexual violence Daniel does to his wife), possibilities for salvation progressively eliminated. Not fun, but enlightening.

What I found most interesting – let’s be real here: most confronting, shaming – was that this story of the generational impacts of political violence detailed the traumas I’d only interacted with before in countries where it happens to poor, brown, foreign people, and then in a largely intellectual sense. It was elucidating to read of it happening to educated, white, English-speaking, first-worlders. It was, goddess forgive me, in some ways more real, more shocking. This was not a human rights case study. This was – despite being fiction – more to be feared: these things can’t happen in an “enlightened” Anglo-Saxon “democracy”, surely. But they do, and I ought to know much better.

Recommended. Most of us need these reminders.

Where it came from: MM’s special secret po-mo pile
Time and manner of reading: Assorted grim samples, culminating in a determined morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: See above
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers in need of a political stiffening up, or a reminder of how fortunate one still is (so far…)
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Review: Jeanette Winterson’s “The Passion”

jeannette winterson the passionSpurred on by my recent Winterson experience, I gobbled this down and was entranced by it. Winterson writes of chicken-cook Henri from rural France, Casino-dealer Villanelle from Vienna, and Napoleon Bonaparte and the passions which bind and separate them. Slimly and wisely written, a zesty and careful faerie tale, excellent read. Recommended.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
One all-in-together-girls evening armchair read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: The first Napoleonic section’s stateliness reminded me of Jennifer Mills’ writing
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers who need reminding of the pay-offs and costs of passion
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49”

thomas pynchon crying of lot 49A surprise reread, getting some points on KAM’s mega-list. The 1966 tale of the randomised adventures of Oedipa Maas as she executes an ex-lover’s will and tracks down the history of a rogue postal system. Bewildering but gripping once you’re in the zone, eloquent and zany and fun, I can imagine this would have had scads of revolutionary charm 50 years ago. I’d still recommend it as a good read.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few confused sampler reads, followed by an absorbed-and-slightly-running-late-but-what-the-hell morning read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (although an awful lot briefer)
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers after a quick, quirky qulassic
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Jeanette Winterson’s “Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery”

jeanette winterson art objectsI had pretty much written off Jeannette Winterson under the comment “My god, she can write, but my god she’s a wanker”. I even confess that when I recently put together a Must-Read Literary Lesbians list for a newcomer to the sisterhood, I included only one short story, ‘The Poetics of Sex’. These essays have renewed my faith, however, and made me eager to (selectively) reread JW to see what I can understand in her now. Here, she writes of poetry, artistic need, social need, purpose, transcendence, sexuality, and book obsession, with insightful pieces on Woolf, Stein and others. The pretentious introductory “why we should love pictures” essay aside, this is a fine and challenging collection. Recommended.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Sleepy bedtime sample and devoted morning hoe-in
Where it went: Home, but I wish I had a copy for the Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris
Who I’d recommend it to: JH, MOD, EC
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; A Brief Stay with the Living by Marie Darrieussecq

Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”

kurt vonnegut slaughterhouse-fiveI blithely marked this off KAM’s list years ago, but having just (re?)read it I think I must have been a) asleep or b) in someone else’s body while this book was being read. A sharp, clever and terrible account of the dog-days of WWII, particularly the fire-bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut flings his hero Billy Pilgrim into time travel, zoos on other planets, and prisoner-of-war camps in doomed German cities. Compassionate and grounded, I can highly recommend it. Enjoy.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Padding reads around dinner this evening
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers seeking a witty, savvy classic
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; A Brief Stay with the Living by Marie Darrieussecq