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Archive for the category “Book Reviews”

Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

I was perusing the latest copy of The Spectator (29th September,

it arrives in Muscat a week late) and was fascinated to

see that it is the 50th Anniversary of A Clockwork Orange‘.

As a youngster, growing up in South Africa, I remember the

Stanley Kubrick 1972 movie was banned (as were most

things in the Apartheid Era).

When I did get to see the movie, as an adult,

the sheer brutality was disturbing and shocking!

I still think of Malcom McDowell‘s bowler hat,

false eyelash and malevolent stare!

Roger Lewis, in The Spectator, writes a great article

where he describes Burgess as “rollicking, he was

shameless and he was a self-invention”.

Anthony Burgess, the pen-name of a former Branbury

schoolteacher called John Wilson was “a nervous

chap who for a staff-pupil cricket match wore a

tweed jacket and bowled underarm.”

Lewis writes that “though Burgess claimed to live as a

tax exile in Monte Carlo, whenever I met

John Wilson he was staying in

Twickenham and drawing his old-age pension.

He had odd ideas about money.  

If a newspaper commissioned an article,

payment had to be made in cash,

the brown envelope left at the reception

desk of a hotel in Grosvenor Square.  If pressed,

he maintained that he mostly lived

in a Bedford Dormobile.  

His plan was to criss-cross national boundaries

to avoid residency restrictions for tax purposes.”

In its day the movie version was an outrage,

particularly the rape-scene .  .  .

nowadays turn on the TV and scenes like this are the norm!!

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Franz Kafka – The Judgement

 

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The cover shows a detail from Saturn Devouring One of His Sons 

from the series of Black Paintings, 1819-23,

by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, in the

Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

It is disturbing, much like the story itself.

Kafka considered this his best story, it is a heavy,

dark, short story which deals with the tension

between isolation and alienation of the modern

artist and the demands of family and societal expectations.

Some critics have said that this story is a breakthrough

of the conflict between a father and son that

produces guilt in the younger character and that

this is ultimately reconciled through his suffering

and expiation; that there is a parallel between

The Judgement and Kafka’s own life.

  • Georg Bendeman, a young merchant writes a letter to a childhood friend in St Petersburg, announcing his engagement to a wealthy young woman, Frieda Bradenfield
  • Georg tells his old father who then questions the very existence of this friend of his son (?!)
  • The father then brings up his deceased wife, Georg’s mother and then accuses Georg of being a ‘bad’ human being and condemns him to death by drowning
  • Georg then flees from the house and jumps off a bridge to his untimely death!!

I quote from this dramatic, surprising ending:

‘Out of the front door he sprang, across the roadway, towards the water he was driven.  Already he was grasping at the railings as a starving man grasps at food.  He swung himself over, like the outstanding gymnast who had once been his parents’ pride.  Still holding on, with a weakening grip, he spied through the railings a motor-bus that would easily cover the noise of his fall, called out softly: ‘ Dear parents, I did always love you,’ and let himself drop.

At that moment the traffic was passing over the bridge in a positively unending stream.’

Comments about the story are that Kafka was plagued

by the discord between his literary ambitions and

his ambivalence about marriage.

Some Biographers say his relationship to Felice Bauer,

to whom he was engaged twice but never married,

was a catalyst to some of his most brillant work,

of which ‘The Judgement’ is the first.

Hardly ‘laugh-a-minute’ reading!

I can’t wait to get stuck into ‘In the Penal Colony’

I believe it is all about pain and torture! (heavy sarcasm)

 

Martine Murray – The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley

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This delightful book for young adults (or adults who have young hearts!)

is totally engaging.  I picked it up yesterday at a second-hand

book sale and have not put it down!

Martine Murray was born in Melbourne and this is her

first novel published by MacMillan in 2003, thankfully

she has gone on to write several others!

Cedar B. Hartley, the heroine is an adorable, unusual little

girl and together with her dog ‘Stinky’ we are taken on a

‘quirky, exasperating’ journey of her everyday experiences.

Philip Ardagh of the Guardian writes of it:

“Perfect. Very funny and deeply moving.

Treasure it”

Cedar’s favourite thing is to hang ‘upside down’, she feels that this way

you get a more realistic view of the world.

She also plans to one day build a philosophy on

‘bees’, why (they are paradoxical in that)

they give us sweet honey, yet

have a sting to hurt us, perhaps something

about life?!?

A heart-warming ‘darling’ of a book, most enjoyable!

Jonathan Livingston Seagull a story – Richard Bach

Richard Bach is a writer, pilot and author of three books on flying. He has edited a flying magazine and written more than a hundred magazine articles and stories.  A former US Air Force pilot, he is now seldom without an aeroplane of his own.

Several publishers rejected this little ‘gem’ of a book and Richard,

much like his character Jonathan Livingston Seagull,

persevered until in 1970, Macmillan Publishers took a chance on him.

By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print.

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Long before the technological brainstorm of tweets, smses,

Face Book and other social networking,

this book was one of the first books classified

under ‘spiritual’ and ‘self help’.

It tells the timeless ideas about human potential.

Ray Bradbury writes of it:

“Richard Bach with this book does two things.

He gives me Flight.

He makes me Young.

For both I am deeply grateful.”

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The book contains lovely black and white photographs

by Russell Munson, who started taking pictures of aeroplanes

as a child and has been involved with flying

and photography ever since.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is no ordinary bird.

For him flying is life itself and he goes

against the conventions of ‘seagull society’

to seek a higher purpose and become best at doing what he loves.

This story is for people who follow their dreams and make their own rules,

it is a fable about the importance of making the most of our lives,

even if our goals run contrary to the

norms of our flock, tribe or neighbourhood.

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(I took this little ‘Jonathan’ in Cape Town, South Africa at the magnificent Waterfront)

Through the metaphor of flight, Jonathan’s story shows us that,

if we follow our dreams, we too can soar!

Anton Chekhov – At Home

 

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician,

dramatist and one of the greatest short story writers

in history.

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Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career:

“Medicine is my lawful wife”, he once said,

“and literature is my mistress.”

Anton Chekhov dealt with many poignant themes of human

existence, of love, loss, pain, joy, suffering, victory,

sorrow and death.

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He came from humble beginnings, the son of a grocer

and went on to become a renowned story-teller

and compassionate medical doctor who died

at forty-four and left behind some 240 stories

and some of the most influential plays

ever to hit the world stage.

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The story I would like to comment on is ‘At Home‘,

first published as ‘Doma’ in New Times on

7 March 1887.  It also appeared in the collection

In The Dusk, published in St Petersburg in

1887, and in many subsequent collections.

This story attracted high praise at the time:

Tolstoy considered it to be one of Chekhov’s best.

A busy lawyer comes home and  engages in an

interaction with his seven-year old son who is

purported to have been smoking (reports the governess).

The only way he is able to win his son over is through a

little impromptu, tale, which has a major

impact on Seriozha, his son.

“An ending like this seemed to Bikovsky artless and absurd, but the whole tale had made a deep impression on Seriozha.  Once more sadness and something resembling terror crept into his eyes; he gazed for a minute at the dark window and said in a low voice: ‘I won’t smoke any more -‘

What I enjoyed in this powerful, short story is how

Chekhov manages to capture the psychology of the

seven-year-old boy, who had recently lost his mother.

The haphazard, simplistic thought patterns of the

child serve to provoke Eugene Bikovsky’s power of reasoning:

‘He has his own field of thought,’ the lawyer reflected. ‘He has a little world of his own in his head, and knows what, according to him, is important and what is not.  One cannot cheat him of his attention and consciousness by simply aping his language, one must also be able to think in his fashion.’

The story ends where the lawyer is ‘at peace’

of a kind, by incorporating the boy’s reasoning

into his own (that of a high-powered legal, analytical mind):

‘Medicine must be sweet, truth must be beautiful; this has been man’s folly since the days of Adam.  Besides, it may all be quite natural, and perhaps it is as it should be.  Nature herself has many tricks of expediency and many deceptions – ‘

This exquisite, sensitively written story is a must-read for

anyone who has had ‘any dealings’ with a seven-year-old!

 

Albert Camus – The Stranger

 

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I have just ‘revisited’ an old friend, ‘The Stranger’

or ‘The Outsider‘ by Albert Camus.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking beginning

(of any novel) is when Meursault, at his mother’s funeral,

expresses none of the expected emotions of grief.

He smokes and drinks coffee in front of the coffin and

does not wish to see the body.

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Albert Camus, an author, journalist and philosopher was

born on 7th November 1913 (to 4th January 1960 in a car crash).

He was a Pied-Noir (black foot), a Frenchman born

in the Maghreb, the northernmost crescent of

Mediterranean Africa then the heart of France’s

African colonies. His mother was of Spanish descent

and half-deaf and his father was a poor agricultural

worker who died during World War 1.

The writings of Camus resulted in a rise of the philosophy

known as absurdism which emphasises that

happiness is fleeting and that the human

condition is one of mortality.

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What this embodies is that we value our lives and

existence so greatly but at the same time we

know we will eventually die and ultimately

our endeavours are meaningless.

 

Although this novel is widely classified as an existential

novel, Camus’s theory of absurdism is a more accurate

description.

In the first half of the story, Meursault exists only

via sensory experience (the funeral procession,

swimming in the sea, his interaction with his girlfriend)

and his actions are reactions to the ‘physical’ experience of life.

He kills an Arab man as a meaningless occurrence

in response to the sun’s physical effects on him.

Only when his own death is impending by formal execution,

is he able to acknowledge his mortality and take

responsibility for his own life.

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In the second half of the story the arbitrariness of

justice is examined.

Emotional honesty overrides self-preservation as

Meursault refuses to pretend to find religion (Christianity)

in an effort to save himself.

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He accepts the idea of punishment as a consequence

of his actions as part of the status quo.

The absurd overrides responsibility, despite his

physical terror.

It did not matter that he paused after the first fatal gun

wound and then shot four more times.

The humanity of the victim and the murdering of another

human being is inconsequential.

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Two themes are explored, that of ‘free will’ and

‘colonialism

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Meursault is aware that he has the freedom to do as

he pleases, he is considered an ‘outsider’ to society

because he doesn’t care what society thinks of him;

he does not feel a need to conform.

 

Colonialism could be evident in that social segregation

is suggested in Meursault’s indifference to it i.e.

Raymond’s mistress, the nurse and the murder

victim are all nameless in the novel, suggesting

their lack of importance.

Albert Camus presents a meaningless world where it is the

individual who gives meaning to the  circumstance.

The French translation of the title into English can mean

‘stranger’, ‘outsider’, ‘unknown’, ‘foreign’, ‘alien’, ‘unconnected’, ‘

irrelevant’ or ‘overseas‘.

Meursault’s downfall in the end is that he is ‘oblivious

to societal norms and expected emotional conventions.

The opening sentence: “Mother died today.”

draws you in as you embark on a deep, disturbing,

emotional rollercoaster which makes you ponder on

society at large and the meaning of life.

A short, compelling read of just over 110 pages.

 

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