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Tag Archives: Melancholy

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

Picking this up at the airport was always going to be a risk. as bestsellers always seem to be these days when it to comes to quality.  As expected it was an easy book to get into and a quick read, I enjoyed it to begin with, reading 132 pages in one sitting. Further on there were a few problems that niggled me and ultimately the book became distinctly average.

The first part of the book is superior to the rest by a country mile (or indeed a mile of any sort).  The depiction of Afghanistan and the life as seen through Amir’s eyes was interesting and his relationship with Hassan was one worth investing in .  Seeing the distinctions of class and race, as well as the influence of religion and the day-to-day life rituals of Afghans was something new and refreshing to read about.

I didn’t like Amir at all, he does nothing to endear himself to the reader but I appreciated that, it gives the writing more impact when I did feel sympathy for him.  His relationships with friends and family are decently done, enough to keep me caring about the characters throughout but never overly so.

There is some good prose – again mainly in the first part – and for a time I was totally engaged with the novel and the characters, sadly that ended with the first part of the book and it became more imprecise in its focus before descending into generic bestseller fare.  That is not to say that there wasn’t anything good to speak of in the latter ha;f, I found the nod to a lack of integration or acceptance of older immigrants, into new countries and cultures to be a good topic to approach.  Similarly the intolerance of Islam and the hypocritical way some have of applying religion, which stretches to all religions is a timely topic to write about. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 09/05/2018 in Fiction

 

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A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years.

It’s been an utter pleasure rereading this splendid short book, heading back to 1920’s Oxgodby and its five hundred year old church painting. Reacquainting myself with the inhabitants, and a way of life lost to time reminded me of Carr’s evocative prose and the beauty of the English countryside.

This is a great story to get lost in – one which demands repeat readings be savoured – it really accentuates the little things in life, those wondrous things that surround us, yet seem hidden in plain sight until viewed in hindsight. There is a comforting sense of isolation here, a total delight to be immersed in.

The plot revolves around the methodical and gradual uncovering of a medieval wall painting and this also extends to the personalities of the  people.  As time moves on there is a slow exposing of both, as well as the social life of the village.  All this is played out in such a relaxed manner that the under the surface busyness is very subtly played out.

Birkin’s love for mechanisms and how the parts slot together are a fitting metaphor for how he sees the community and also in a literal sense of the time. There is a feeling of being on the cusp of changes in his life, in the rhythms of countryside and nature and how the industrial age is really starting to impact the isolated countryside.  It’s pleasurably melancholy and allows readers of any age to feel the loss of what once was. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2018 in Fiction

 

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Motorway Melancholy

Sometimes a song makes you recall something, sadly neglected from the past. The song in question wasn’t heard until years later but conjures up a feeling of something mostly forgotten and brings it back to the surface in a surprising amount of clarity.  unsurprisingly the dreamy feel of this song matched well with Twin Peaks in which it was featured last year.

The dark, mysterious qualities of the night and accompanying drowsiness of a passenger make for a fertile playground. Sat, staring at a frequently empty motorway, the gentle motion of your transport flowing smoothly like liquid between lanes, lulling you into flights of fancy.  The near silence, the faint sound of tyres rolling over road or background ambient music, all lead one to their own introspections.

Other solitary cars travelling to destinations important to them, sometimes appear, demanding stories are created for their occupants. Then as fleeting as this brush with another is, it becomes just another soul forgotten instantly, unconscious background layering to your musings. Then that one thing that holds the attention of your mind appears.

It’s that turning with all the implied adventure of the unknown or the almost totally hidden building secreted in darkness and lying tantalisingly back behind the tree line. The mystery is overwhelmingly intoxicating because of that single light left on in a warehouse or office.  The signs too poorly lit to be properly legible, yearn to be read. This singular beacon in its lonely magnificence begs as much speculation,as the tiny lanterns of light in the black sky. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/01/2018 in My Writings, Travel

 

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The Eye Opener – Indrajit Garai

In this collection, meet:
Franck, who has to align his desires with his needs; Nathan, who has to adjust to his constantly changing turf; and, Cedric, who has to open his eyes to reconstruct himself.

After reading volume one of Indrajit Garai’s short stories entitled Sacrifices – which I enjoyed a lot –  volume two was much-anticipated by this reader.  It was a pleasant surprise then, to recently find an email sat in my inbox, offering the second book up for review.

In this round of stories, there is a more international feel, instead of focusing solely on France. The demanding circumstances and struggles of the characters remain the same, however and retain the emotional impact of everyday struggles and problems.  All walks of life depicted here, meaning plenty of variety in the works on offer.

Garai’s strength lie in humanising his characters, making the reader feel invested in the characters, sympathising with their trials and the things they do in order to survive; allowing us to examine ourselves through the protagonists.  The important things in life can be so often forgotten, as these stories show so without spoiling anything I will succinctly give a brief outline of each story.

The Alignment takes the odious subject of hoarded riches and how it is moved around to the detriment of the workers who need the security. As well as the perception of social status regarding money and the people who have it. The sheer waste of money is highlighted along with legal but morally shady big business practises used everyday.   Also there is the persona aspect of how easy it is to blinded by the gaining of wealth, instead of caring for those around us; which is the true richness of life.

The second story, The Changing Turf, is about contact with a different culture, the contrasts and fitting in.  This story didn’t entirely convince me, although I sympathised with Nathan, I didn’t really like his character, he became a little annoying in some of his ways after a time.  The ending a little obvious to me as well, and I felt this to be the weakest story of both of Garai’s books to date. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22/01/2018 in Fiction

 

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Black Sheep – Susan Hill

Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…

dispensing with the normal ghost story – always atmospherically written by Hill –  which has become a bit of a tradition for me around the holiday season, this year I chose this short story instead to mix it up a bit.  Whilst not being conducive to Christmas cheer in any way whatsoever, it was a very rewarding read.

As the front cover says this is a bleak piece of writing and I can imagine that a lot of people may well be put off by that, however I really appreciated it for its unflinching portrayal of a tough and cheerless life.  The story is told in few words and as such the shortness of the book helps the reader through, as being under 150 pages long/short means the story is manageable over a brief period and doesn’t drag the reader into too much despair.

The miners and their families are easily recognisable, they could have come from other iconic works.  The citizens of the community resemble less extreme versions of those found in Zola’s Germinal or Dickens’ Hard Times for example. It does feel almost clichéd in that respect Hill writes on the side of accuracy as memorably depicted by plenty of authors and social commentors such as George Orwell’s insightful and agonising The Road to Wigan Pier.

As well written as it is, sometimes this is a tough read but I found it a book I could read quickly and more importantly wanted to read in a couple of sessions.  The strengths of the book lie in the simple yet descriptive writing, which contains many interesting and well-rounded characters and their struggles with their severe reality, of life and loss. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/01/2018 in Fiction

 

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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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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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