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 are some recent scientific theories that will 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Life of Pi

Novels

I started reading Life of Pi on my flight to Istanbul in November last year, only to forget the book on the plane. And, no, AirArabia did not have it in their lost-and-found the following day, so maybe another passenger read it. I hope they enjoyed the book!

When the movie was about to be released, I bought an iBook version of the novel for my iPad and started reading it again. However, when I finally saw the film this week, I had only reached Chapter 9, so the film is sort of interrupting the book, and I can’t really compare the two until I’ve finished the book.

But I can say this. This is a great novel to read as an iBook. I’m very busy using the highlighter function to remember all these wonderful lines I keep stumbling across. Like this one: “It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth, men and women who came into my dark head and lit a match. ” (Chapter 7) Combining this quote with the scenes of Pi leisurely reading Dostoyevsky and Camus by the sea in the movie makes me think that the novel and the movie might be equally good.

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Red Notice

Novels

I’ve read one of Andy McNab’s books before but didn’t particularly like it very much. Anyway, when I saw Red Notice at Dubai Airport a few weeks ago, I thought I’d give him another chance. The cover suggested an interesting plot, and being in a holiday mood, I wanted a fast-paced spy thriller for the plane and the beach.

Having read it, I can’t say it grabbed me. The action is very detailed, which is not surprising considering Andy McNab’s professional background. There’s nothing wrong with his gritty, fast-paced style; but something is missing. Maybe the plot is a bit too polished, and the characters a bit flat.

I think I stick with John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth. Red Notice would probably make a good movie, though.

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The Missing Shade of Blue

Novels

The Missing Shade of Blue

I saw The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal reveiwed in the Economist the other week. When it said it was about a translator and messy relationships – along with lots of references to Hume, philosphy and linguistics – I decided instantly that this was a book for me. I popped into the BookWorld in the Dubai Mall and there it was on the shelf! Living in the UAE, it’s not always easy to lay your hands on a newly reviewed book, but this time I was lucky. Not many minutes elapsed between me reading the Economist review on my iPad and paying for the book.  The BookWorld is quickly becoming my favourite bookshop in the UAE.

I’m on page 86 at the moment and I’m not disappointed. I love the writing style. It’s subtle, ironic, with understatements and quirky details. For example, a university librarian at the National Library in Edinburgh has a cough that is a “perfect trochaic tetrameter”, matching the Shakespeare line “So awake when I am gone; for I must now to Oberon” – except that it is “one cough short”. This is exactly the kind of observation that makes a character interesting.

Now, I’m waiting for the relationships to get messy.

The House of the Mosque – Final Pages

Novels

Spoiler alert! It’s kind of interesting that I wrote “this novel has got bite” in my last review of The House of the Mosque. I was about three-quarter through the book at that stage, and the charming, picturesque portrait of the house and the mosque and the people around it started to give way to a harsher realism.  Just a few pages later, the story turned quite  brutal and the narration became a stinging critique of the way the Iranian Revolution played out. Clever structure and a real turnaround. Quite a surprise as well, which is why I think it’s a good read. Yet, the language was surprisingly constrained and the narration still kept a certain distance to events.

Looking back at the novel as a whole, I feel that (as mentioned earlier) the first half or so of the book paints a picture of a society that is ordered and in harmony with itself. It’s Iranian society as a well-woven fabric with many different strands and threads, but it’s a complete whole. In the second half of the novel, this fabric is slowly, but cruelly – and very brutally – destroyed, ripped to bits. When order is restored at the end, it’s primarily done by describing harmony returning as an internal, personal process.

My earlier thoughts about the narrator were both shattered and confirmed in the last couple of pages when he introduced himself as one of the characters in the book, Shahbal. I somehow managed to miss the note on Sahhbal as the narrator on the characters page! He’s now living in Holland, and is someone who seems very similar to the author. With Shahbal as the narrator, it confirms the early feeling I had that the house of the mosque itself was the narrator – the house is telling its story. But as Shahbal is drawn away from the house and becomes involved in the bigger picture, the narrative voice gets a wider scope as well. The voice is a bit school-teachery in a way – it has a message – but you can discern the person underneath, someone who wants to convey a message through a story, someone who wants to provide clarity.

I get the feeling that this novel follows the conventions of some form of Iranian narrative style – of which I’m not familiar – and the ending is kind of too tidy for my taste. But be that as it may, I got a lot out of reading this novel and the story is haunting. Memorable. Definitely a worthwhile read.