Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe (Japanese)
A huge letdown after A Personal Matter. Doubts set in at the halfway mark and were fully confirmed at the end. The book is over-populated, over-written, over-plotted. There’s much agonizing, and Oe constantly leads the reader to believe that profound revelations will be revealed. They never materialize. What we get is pretentious, awkward, false in its portrayal of human nature. And, worst of all, foolish.

Friend of My Youth - Alice Munro
Many of these stories meander around the emotions of women; they’re baggy, unfocused and too long. Munro experiments, goes through stages, and this was one of her stages. Despite being baggy and unfocused and long, “Wigtime” and “Differently” succeed in part because the characters and situations are engrossing; but it’s the muted mood of melancholy suffusing these stories that give them resonance. “Pictures of the Ice” is the most straightforward piece (which is the approach Munro should stick to). It begins with an enigmatic premise; the ending resolves the enigma perfectly. Three very good ones.

Warlock - Oakley Hall
Hall takes the stereotypes of the wild west – characters and situations we’re overly familiar with – and deepens them, gives them complexity. The real humans behind the stereotypes emerge. Hall is concerned with moral choices, difficult ones; the west of the 1800s provides an ideal backdrop to explore right and wrong. This is a long book, with many characters, many plot threads; it provokes thought and at times it surprises – but the changes people go through are convincing. At the novel’s core is Johnny Gannon, a man engaged in a lonely struggle with himself – a struggle that I became intimately involved in. *
Anthills of the Savannah - Chinua Achebe
Achebe wrote Anthills more than twenty years after his previous novel, and he had clearly lost it. Lost what? – his ability to write well or his desire to do so? The book is sloppy in both its construction and the prose; the characters are wooden and unconvincing. What pervades this undertaking is a sourness. The sourness is justified (Achebe was writing about the politics of Africa), but he presented his story artlessly. I stopped reading at the halfway point.

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