Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yes (1978) by Thomas Bernhard

Austian writer Thomas Bernhard
Book Review
Yes (1978)
 by Thomas Bernhard

  Austrian author Thomas Bernhard is up there in your top 5 post Word War II German-language novelist/writer discussions.  He's not Gunter Grass or Krista Wolf famous, but his deeply weird and obsessive novels continue to resonate with aficionado's of post modern literature.   Like Correction, the other Bernhard penned book I've read thus far, Yes features an obsessive protagonist and is centered around suicide.

  Bernhard's prose resembles the experimental prose of writers in other languages, the constant rephrasing of mid career Beckett and the works of French writers from the Oulipo movement like Raymond Queneau and George Perec.  His narrators have a habit of repetition and rephrasing that is annoying, on purpose, I imagine.  It seems in terms of his themes and styles that Bernhard wants to challenge the reader, that he would be fine with an unhappy reader, because unhappiness is the natural state of the universe.

The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Image result for autumn of the patriarch
Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Book Review
The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975)
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    The Autumn of the Patriarch is probably Marquez's third most famous title behind One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.    The Autumn of the Patriarch is more challenging than either of the two other books.   It is more of a "prose-poem" then a novel.  The sentences are long and opaque, the plot thin to non-existent.  What it does contain is atmosphere, loads of it.  The atmosphere oozes from the walls of the decreipt Presidential palace, the location of the even-more decrepit Patriarch in question who is, "in reality" a dictator of an unnamed Latin American backwater, but who bears a marked resemblance of several of the uniformed"Caudillo's" (strong-men) of Latin American politics in the post World War II 20th century.

   In that sense, The Autumn of the Patriarch is a minor-key in the ballad of literature about 20th century dictatorships, ranging from the experience of German's under Hitler, the victims of Hitler, the experience of Russians under totalitarian Communism, the experience of the Chinese under Mao and assorted other victims of power-mad single-person state governments.   What makes it worth while is the attempt, with however much poetic license, to get inside the head of the perpetrator, rather than his victims.   Nothing is pointed enough to constitute a specific criticism of a specific person, rather The Autumn of the Patriarch is an attempt to make the reader feel the stench of corruption engendered by a totalitarian regime

  It is an irony of 20th century history that regimes that are imposed with the specific idea of instilling discipline, purity and respect for authority so frequently obtain the opposite result, as citizens passively resist edicts they've had no part in formulating.   I was surprised at times by the gross-ness of the imagery.  It seems like few people have actually made it all the way through to the end, because there are scenes of De Sadian depravity towards the middle-end that really blow your hair back.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: The Shining (1977) by Stephen King

Image result for calumet the shining
Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's film adaption of The Shining by Stephen King.

Book Review:
The Shining (1977)
by Stephen King

  You could argue that Stephen King was the most successful writer of fiction in the 20th century, and sixteen years into the 21st century, he is still a formidable figure both in genre fiction and popular film.  He also figures prominently in almost any serious discussion of the boundaries between "high" literature and "low" fiction.  Certainly, in the mid 1970's the idea of a genre author transcending genre and ascending into "literature" was not entirely foreign.  What is amazing about the extent of Stephen King's popular audience is not simply that he has sold over 350 million copies of his books, but also that more than 30 feature films have been made, and several of those have achieved classic status.  I'm thinking of The Green Mile, Stand By Me, and of course, The Shining.

    Any discussion of The Shining (novel) needs to start with a discussion of The Shining (movie).  I would say that like all Stanley Kubrick films based on literary sources, the movie is better than the book, but only because the movie is world class, and the underlying source material is, at best, above average. The Shining (novel) makes it onto the 1001 Books list as King's only representative.   The Editors probably figure that like The Odyssey and The Bible, enough people are familiar with his work to omit all of his books but for The Shining.  

  Kubrick clearly came to King's source material with his own agenda, and the eye of a film maker, vs. the concerns of a genre novelist, albeit a transcendent genre novelist.   Of course, literally any human being reading The Shining in 2016 will have seen the movie and therefore know the broad outlines and even the details of the book.   People riding the wave of recent interest in the meaning of the Kubrick film can find much to debate in the book.  Specifically, I think the only valid interpretation of the book is that the area on which the hotel is built is occupied by a malevolent spirit, which compelled the initial builder to build the hotel in the first place, and this spirit has maintained the existence of the hotel by manipulating the behavior of the owners and occupants of the hotel.

   This malevolent spirit maintains the souls of it's past victims, and it is interested in new victims.  Kubrick, of course, was interested in expanding on what is essentially a ghost story, and it is he who added the spatial manipulation that fans of the film seem to focus on.   There isn't much.., style... in King's fiction.  It's amazing stuff, but clunky and awkward, with dozens of pages that seem included specifically to manipulate the emotions of the reader, but that is probably why he is so successful. 

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