Origin

Novels

Dan Brown is still preaching the Gospel of Atheism with evangelical zeal. I know this should put me off, but it doesn’t because he’s got interesting, fast-moving plots, and you always learn something new. Which is certainly true about his latest novel Origin. The tone is, as always, quite preachy, and it’s not really an option to question the presuppositions of Professor Robert Langdon or futurist Edmond Kirsch. Well, not until you come across a few lines suggesting doubt, lines that seem to have been thrown in at the end of the novel as an afterthought. In terms of plot versus character, plot wins hands down. However, one interesting and perhaps somewhat complex character that pops up in this novel is Winston. Look out for him. Or it. Weaving in quite a lot of details about contemporary art is a fresh angle that I really enjoyed as well, and there’s enough of recent scientific theories to peek your curiosity enough to start googling between chapters. In other words, this is a fast-paced plot-driven storyline that makes Origin a novel difficult to put down.

Advertisements

The Racketeer as Audiobook 

Crime

My idea was to try listening to an audiobook for a change while running in the morning – instead of my usual mix of Paul Simon, Rodriguez, 1 Giant Leap and Enigma. When The Racketeer by John Grisham popped up in the newly acquired audiobooks section at the college library, I decided to give it a try. 

I loved this book!  To begin with, I enjoyed the story unfolding bit by bit while running my 3.5 km each morning. The American narrator did a good job bringing the book to life, and after a while I was looking forward to the next bit of the story as much as my morning run. 

About mid-way through the novel, with the first unexpected twist, I ended up listening to the story after I got back home post-run as well – instead of turning on the news. I guess that’s what happens when a page turner is delivered in an audio format.

I do recommend this novel if you’re looking for a good story set in a prison/law courts/crime context. Unexpected twists keep coming, especially towards the end, and to me, it was a very satisfying read (I mean listen!). Perfect pool reading for the summer break.

 

The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep

Uncategorized

I can’t remember who recommended this book or why I bought it. After a couple of pages, I had to check the publishing date since no-one was using mobile phones, and the comments about the Armenian genocide didn’t take the Turkish view into account at at all even though th story started off opinion Turkey. I discovered Lawrence Block published this book in 1966.

The story line was not bad, but many of the twists and the turns in he plot were so unrealistic that I felt it was too far removed from today’s well-researched and authentic-sounding story lines to be enjoyable. It read a bit like a film script, and some of the dialogue and the comment were quite entertaining. Still, I don’t think I will read any more of Lawrence Block’s novels. Apparently he has written over 100 books. He could be an acquired taste, but I won’t pursue this author any further, partly because the happy ending was way too tidy.

20131102-213156.jpg

Shantaram

Uncategorized

This book started like an adventure novel with a cross-cultural theme, which I really liked. But for each hundred pages (it’s 933 pages in total), the story became rougher and rougher. About two-thirds way through, there were so many bloody and gory bits, many which were very explicit, that I was thinking that this was definitely not my kind of novel at all. But I was hooked, because this rather violent and gritty story has a very warm and life-affirming centre: it’s really about redemption, love and forgiveness. And freedom.

The vivid description of life in Bombay is fantastic, and the multifaceted plot draws you in. Often you have no idea of where you’re heading. And I think this sense that I didn’t really know what the novel was “about” – until I had passed page 700 – was something I actually really enjoyed, because when it all became clear, it was all incredibly clever.

Lindsay, who escapes prison in Australia and hides in Bombay, India, has a powerful moment of recognition – what Aristotle would have called the anagnorisis – and this moment in the novel is superb. All the various threads in the story suddenly make sense, and the rest of the novel is about what Lindsay does with this new understanding, and where it takes him. I realise this is rather vague, but I don’t want spot spoil the impact for anybody about to read this book.

Another thing I really liked about this novel were the gems hidden in the often rough dialogue. Moments of clear perception of something rather large and complex, like, “What is India?” The lines about India as the “Land of the Heart”, or personality as “[the] co-ordinates a on a street map drawn by our intersecting relationships” are profound and very perceptive.

This novel made me think a lot, and I won’t forget the colourful and rich descriptions of Bombay. They kind of stay with you.

20131026-165242.jpg

The Kill List

Novels, Uncategorized

I’ve just finished reading The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth, not because I’m a fast reader – it was released in the UK yesterday – but because it was already on sale in Dubai last week. And seeing only a couple of copies left on the shelf, I decided to go for it.

The blurb suggested this clean, crisp plot: The Preacher (terrorist) versus the Tracker (US manhunter). However, I’ve been a bit disappointed. It’s reasonably fast-paced, with quite a lot of detail (military procedure, slang and hardware, international inter-agency cooperation and non-cooperation, secret service protocol) and some twists and turns here and there in the plot. Still, I felt the novel didn’t quite deliver. I’m not saying it’s not worth reading, but it is not at the same standard as The Day of the Jackal, The Fourth Protocol (my Forsyth favourite), or The Devil’s Alternative.

Having a computer genius with Aspergers is not a new angle in 2013, but there were a few great phrases here and there adding a bit of spice – my favourite one being “with the imagination of a chapati”. And it annoys me when the research for local detail has been shoddy – the only “cheap local airline” flying direct between Doha and Dubai International is FlyDubai, and their passengers definitely don’t see “a truly vast duty-free shopping mall” on arrival. The Duty Free at Dubai Terminal 2 is definitely on the small side (as all FlyDubai passengers know very well).

That said, I think The Kill List compares favourably with The Cobra, The Afghan and Icon.

20130927-164453.jpg

A Delicate Truth

Novels

John LeCarre’s A Delicate Truth is pure delight. I haven’t enjoyed a novel of his this much since The Little Drummer Girl, my LeCarre favourite. Though, mind you, all LeCarre’s novels are either very good or excellent.

The subtlety of the characters and the multi-layered plot make this a great read. LeCarre is a master at combining the spy world with interesting psychological portraits of people. I also enjoy the social and political comment. Normally, I don’t go for the whistle-blower theme, but this novel is just so satisfying, from the very beginning to the last page.

20130927-135136.jpg

Fasanjägarna

Novels

Jag blev rekommenderad att läsa Fasanjägarna av Jussi Adler-Olsen när jag var i Stockholm i sommar. Jag tog med mig den på min resa med Transsibiriska järnvägen men undrar nu i efterhand varför i all världen jag läste den till slutet när jag också hade Dostojevskis Demonerna i resväskan.

Fasanjägarna hade en hyfsad början men sen tyckte jag att resten av boken gav ett fragmenterat intryck, där vissa teman gick runt i cirklar i all oändlighet. Romanen hade också nåt overkligt över sig, vilket jag inte gillar i en kriminalroman.

Orsaken till att jag inte gav upp var att jag ville veta hur det hela slutade. Jag läste färdigt boken någonstans mellan Bajkalsjön och Ulan Bator och lämnade den på ett vandrarhem i Mongoliet.

Demonerna hade varit ett mycket bättre val för resan på Transsibiriska järnvägen.

20130927-132000.jpg

Only Time Will Tell

Novels

I haven’t read a book by Jeffrey Archer since I read Kane and Abel and the Prodigal Daughter back in the 80s. However, I was slightly intrigued by a comment Jeffery Archer made at a talk he gave at the Dubai Festival of Literature in March this year. He said, “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.” So I bought a copy of Only Tome Will Tell.

It is true that I complain about the lack of characterisation when a novel is only plot. But it’s equally true that I get bored if it’s only characterisation and the plot moves forward millimetre by millimetre, and could easily be overtaken by a snail. So I guess I’m looking for a balance between the two, in addition to some kind of elusive thing called “good writing”.

That said, Only Time Will Tell is plot only. And the plot is too neat and polished for my taste. Also, the authorial presence is quite “preachy” for lack of a better term. But I read the whole novel from beginning to end because I wanted to know what would happen next.

That’s the power of plot. With a plot in ultra slow motion and no “good writing”, I just forget about the novel somewhere before page 100. I won’t read the rest of the Clifton Chronicles Trilogy, though.

20130927-123354.jpg

Incidents at the Shrine

Uncategorized

I went to a workshop with Ben Okri at the Dubai Festival of Literature in March this year. The workshop was called “Finding Your Voice” and Ben Okri kept asking me to delete adjective after adjective from my writing task until there were no adjectives left. “That is your voice,” he said.

His advice makes sense, reading his collection of short stories called Incidents at the Shrine. The prose is kind of minimalist, very tight, and the effect is that I’m painting my own vivid pictures in my head almost entirely on my own as I’m reading these stories. Of course we all visualise what’s happening in a story as readers, but with Ben Okri’s stories in this collection the langue is so economical, so condensed, that I have to fill in a lot of blanks. Make assumptions. Look into my memory and what I know about life and ask myself, “Is this really what is happening here?” I feel I’m building the story myself. Perfect texts for reading-response theorists, I suppose.

There are two things I really like about this collection of short stories. First, the stories give me such a completely new and different view of life that I feel I’ve travelled very far away from the world I know. The privilege of seeing life from a completely new angle. Exotic. Strange. Second, these stories really challenge me because the situations described are often really desperate – I keep asking myself as I’m reading whether people really live under these circumstances – and yet the language is so totally matter-of-fact. Which enforces the sense that this is life as normal for the characters in the stories. And I find that challenging.

This is a great collections of stories with vivid colours, sounds and smells from Africa. Most of it made up by yourself in your own head as you read because of Ben Okri’s tight, focused, concise prose.

20130615-151257.jpg

Life of Pi – The Novel and the Movie

Novels

The problem with the novel is that the movie is absolutely dazzling. It’s stunningly beautiful. That is not to say that the novel is not great. It’s a fantastic novel, but the visual impact of the movie, minus a few gory bits in the novel that I quite frankly could do without, makes the movie stay with me – grab me – in a way the novel does not.

The plot is the same. The key moments in the story – the lines in the story that the whole argument, for lack of a better term, rests on – are the same in the novel and the movie. But I feel that Ang Lee captures the nature of the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker more succinctly and crystallises it. That is one of the main strengths of the movie.

In the novel, the view of events is less precise, more hazy – and more in keeping with the mind of someone who’s floating around shipwrecked on the Pacific Ocean for 227 days.

But without the novel, there wouldn’t have been a movie in any case. And the underlying argument in the story, the case for faith – to tell you a story that makes you believe in God – is the same in both the movie and the novel.

If you have neither read the novel, nor seen the movie, my suggestion is the you read the novel first. To give it the full attention it deserves. And the chance to stand on its own – a chance I missed by watching the movie after I had just read a few chapters of the novel.

20130512-222300.jpg