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The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive, distracted, withdrawn, sullen–an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life. His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster–but at a cost: in Luzhin’s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality. His own world falls apart during a crucial championship match, when the intricate defense he has devised withers under his opponent’s unexpected and unpredictable lines of assault.

You would have thought he’d opt for a winnin’ defence!  Now that bad, not to mention obvious and cringeworthy joke is out of the way, I’ll leave the comedy and your tolerance in peace.

This being one of Nabakov’s earlier works, there are hints of the writer he would later become; with some wonderful prose in places, that demands the reader savour such lines appreciatively.

Like Stefan Zweig’s Chess, The Luzhin Defense is a fascinating leap into the mind (and abstract genius) of a grandmaster, with its sad but gripping descent into madness.  In this case we see the beginnings in his formative years, a lonely, tortured child unable to integrate with his peers and family who comes across the game and becomes seduced by the simplicity and more importantly the complexity of the it.

Luzhin is a closed, provocative character and very hard to like to begin with, although I softened up to him quickly, he is exhausting, uncommunicative, both annoying and likeable, and absurd.  Without this earlier connect to his childhood I probably would have become frustrated with the direction of the man over time and certainly a lot less sympathetic to him. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 14/12/2017 in Fiction

 

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Monumental Reading

Many thanks to Crissy for taking this and the pther Philippines photos

by dint of studying, of analysing myself, of reaching out for higher things, and of a thousand corrections, I was transformed little by little, thanks to the influence of a beneficent professor….cultivating poetry and rhetoric had elevated my feelings, and Virgil, Cicero, and other authors showed me a new path which I could take. – Jose Rizal, spoken shortly before his execution on 30th December 1896

*photo taken near the Rizal monument in Rizal park…I was reading Rizal.

 
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Posted by on 08/12/2017 in History, The Philippines, Travel

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Winter – Anthony Powell

Anthony Powell’s brilliant twelve novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

Volume 4 contains the last three novels in the sequence: Books do Furnish a Room; Temporary Kings; Hearing Secret Harmonies.

As ever no spoilers will be contained in this review so as not to mar the experience for readers yet to embark on, or are already in amongst the wonderful prose.

Having read each season in a different one, Spring in Autumn, Summer in winter and so forth, I finally finished Winter in the heat of August and feel that melancholy of emptiness when eventually concluding a mammoth series and wondering what could top that.

Starting book ten I was feeling a little sad for this, the twilight of the final trilogy and it seemed my thoughts were echoed by Narrator Nick as well. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch characters come and go and age but sadly these last three books didn’t quite live up the magnificent first nine books.

As journey’s go, this one has been immensely gratifying. Even this late into the series, there are still new characters to be met as well as much welcomed appearances from the series stalwarts. Although after the previous war books, the original cast does feel sparse and it does leave a gap, knowing that those characters won’t be popping up unexpectedly in the Dance.

What makes it a little less immersive is the modernity of its time, whilst the inevitability of things moving on is one thing, the choice of actions and, in particular words chosen in their speech felt jarring against previous books.  In other chronicles, this would, perhaps, be a minor point but having the grounding books one to seven (and arguably eight as well), the change has been subtle but is easy to trace on reflection.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/09/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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At Horizon’s End – Chris Sarantopoulos

The Man Who Fed On Tears always knows whose time it is to pluck from the world of the living. His existence is one of a symbiosis between his need for the tears and woe he causes to those closest to the deceased, and the natural order of life and death to which he is bound. He never questions himself or his actions and has never made a mistake. Until now.

Stella is a four-year-old girl who misses her mommy and wants to see her again. She doesn’t yet understand the concept of loss, so when she sees close family members crying, she tries to stay cheerful and optimistic. After all, Mommy said they’d see each other again when the time comes At Horizon’s End. So if they’ll meet again, why is everyone crying?

Short stories are always challenging to review, especially ones of exceedingly short length, such as At Horizon’s End.  However having been sent a preview copy, I was willing to take the task on so shouldn’t complain about the challenge.

The story is a poignant dealing with, and understanding of grief, essentially from three sides; four-year old Stella, her family (to a lesser extent as they are mostly in the background) and Death, who is having something of a wobble in his understanding of the impact of the job.

The touching, simple and sparse narrative switches between these two main characters, offsetting a child’s innocence and moving way of looking at things with something more timeless and harsh in death who, is humanised to good effect.  The split narrative works well and fleshes out the scene to good effect.

This is a story of love, a short, sharp piece of prose which I really did enjoy.  The conclusion is strong and raises some interesting speculations which adds to the overall story.  It’s a lovely piece of writing, it won’t take you long to finish but if you are anything like this reader you will think on it for a good time after.

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Posted by on 31/07/2017 in Fiction

 

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The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

The Secret Library is a fascinating tour through the curious history of Western civilisation told through its most emblematic invention – the book.

As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.

You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.

Books about books are great, they reaffirm our love for the medium and encourage us to go out and buy more, not to mention the exciting finds of obscure literature that can be shared and kept alive by intrepid reading adventurers.

What drew me to the book originally was the cover. Who can resist looking at a cover that has a bit cut out of it?  Stripping off the cloak, rows and rows of books are seen, as through the key hole.  It’s a nice touch and puts the reader in mind of being close to discovering lots of new books, always a good feeling.

This history of sorts is broken down into eras of Western civilisation and the chronological order is as follows: The Classical Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Romanticism, The Victorians, The Americans, On the Continent, The Modern World.  There is a lot to be enjoyed in each age but it would have been fun to have read about the other continents, but then that was not the remit of the book so hopefully a future book of the sort could grace the shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/07/2017 in Essays, History

 

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The Lyons Orphanage – Charlie King

Sam Watkins, an orphaned young teenager, possesses the ability to read the minds of almost everyone he meets.

Howard Lyons, the owner of the orphanage where Sam has lived since he was a baby, has been reluctant to let Sam leave the orphanage.

Unable to read the mind of Mr Lyons, he takes it upon himself to investigate the reasons behind the owner’s decisions and learn more about the origin of his ability, his parents and the potential of his power.

However, Sam’s investigation and mind-reading abilities reveal a power struggle at the top of a faltering orphanage between Mr. Lyons and his assistant Natalie.

Sam’s involvement in this conflict leads him to look for ways to save the orphanage and uncover the true motivations of both the owner and his assistant while trying to learn about his past.

Orphanages don’t seem to pop up in the books I read very often – unless a it’s a grim Dickensian version, that is – so it was a refreshing backdrop for a story.  I had no idea what to expect from it really and by the end I knew I would never expect what I did get from it.  That’s all the hints you will get plot wise as it is fun to discover where it branches off from your expectations.

From the outset there was plenty of character building and this foundation really allows the reader to get invested in the plot.  All this does well to build up a fast paced story where what the characters do and think matters, leading to an ending where all the threads all come together in a pleasingly dramatic fashion.

Main protagonist Sam is a very mature thirteen year old, perhaps too mature for his age but owing to his circumstances, this is perhaps a case of me not understanding the emotional complexities of an orphan.  Not that this was a negative point, it was refreshing to see kids with strong personalities having serious conversations without then resorting to lying about a hurting scar as one book series that-shall-not-be-named did so tiresomely. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 29/06/2017 in Children's Literature, Fiction

 

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Free Books, Good Home

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It is always a pleasure to welcome a new book into the fold and I have two to show that have recently been added to the collective.  The first, The Lyons Orphanage, arrived today generously and promptly sent by author Charlie King only yesterday and a few weeks ago Liz was kind enough to send me The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson.

Both of which look like being fascinating reads, the first a mystery novel set in an orphanage and the other about companionship over a long winter in a small hamlet.  Both promise lost souls in different ways, as ever you shall have reviews on them both.

For those of you wondering about my lack of posts of late and also the shortness of these two latest, fear not normal service of travel posts and reviews will resume shortly as will my ability to visit all your blogs.  Until then, here are the respective blurbs. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/06/2017 in Blogging, Lists/Ephemera

 

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