Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

No Country for Old Men (2005) by Cormac McCarthy

Book Review
No Country for Old Men (2005)
by Cormac McCarthy

  I love love love Cormac McCarthy Audio books.  Of course, the movie version of No Country for Old Men, a Coen Brothers film- is tremendous, one of their best.  McCarthy originally wrote it as a screenplay, so that makes sense- that the movie would be so good, but also because the plot- a "Texas" or "Southwest" Noir, dovetails with the highlights of the Coen Brothers filmography- their first movie, Blood Simple, is a Texas noir, and Fargo was arguably their greatest hit.

   After listening to the Audiobook, I watched the movie again on Netflix.  McCarthy really managed to smooth down the rough elements of his earlier work, but still managed to produce a work filled with blood shed and violence.  The contemporary setting: relatively speaking- No Country for Old Men takes place in 1980, closer to the present than any of his other books, except maybe The Road, which takes place in the "near future;" marks No Country apart from McCarthy's other work.

  At the same time, it is hard to imagine the character of Anton Chigurr or Llewelyn Moss as written by anyone other than Cormac McCarthy.  

Monday, April 15, 2019

Love in the New Millennium (2018) by Xan Cue

Deng Xiaohua is one of China's most controversial authors []
Xan Cue is a pseudonym for Chinese writer Deng Xiaohua

Book Review
Love in the New Millennium (2018)
 by Xan Cue

  Love in the New Millennium by Xan Cue was a Booker International Prize longlist title, but it didn't make the shortlist- a bit of a surprise I think, because Cue had one of the higher international profiles of the longlisted authors. The jacket copy of the book I checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library has a quote from Susan Sontag stating that Cue is the only Chinese writer with a plausible chance of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I think Yan Lianke and his fans might have something to say about that claim, but still, she said it.

  The tone of Love in the New Millennium is poetic, vague, elliptical, about several women and their lives and loves in contemporary China.  The publisher, Yale University Press, gives a good precis:

In this darkly comic novel, a group of women inhabits a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flower beds and false reports fly. Conspiracies abound in a community that normalizes paranoia and suspicion. Some try to flee—whether to a mysterious gambling bordello or to ancestral homes that can be reached only underground through muddy caves, sewers, and tunnels. Others seek out the refuge of Nest County, where traditional Chinese herbal medicines can reshape or psychologically transport the self. Each life is circumscribed by buried secrets and transcendent delusions.

  I guess that describe it.  Truth be told, I had trouble enjoying Love in the New Millennium- it reminded me of the books produced by avant garde type writers in central and eastern europe under Communism.   Sometimes you can slip under the radar of of dictatorship by retreating into the abstract.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Monkey: Journey to the West (1592) by Wu Cheng’en

Book Review
Monkey: Journey to the West (1592)
by Wu Cheng’en

Replaces: Amelia by Henry Fielding

  The pre-18th century portion of the original 1001 Books list was the most Western-biased section, with nary a book from China or Japan.    Both cultures had a literary culture that supported the publication of "novels" during the early-modern/Renaissance period, hundreds of years before the much described 18th century English "invention" of the novel.  Journey to the West is known inside China as one of the either four or six Classic Chinese Novels.  

   The story of Journey to the West is that of a Buddhist monk and his supernatural travelling companions (including said Monkey), who travel together from China to India in search of sacred scriptures.  Supernatural characters include the Monkey, the Emperor of Heaven and Buddha himself.   I was not a big fan of the Audiobook edition, narrated by Kenneth Williams, and it is worth pointing out that the standard Western translated edition of this book is an abridgment, but like 1001 Nights, the full version is long enough to make a complete translation a commercial non starter.

   It's also clear that the Journey to the West was heavily influenced by the Indian mythic tradition- the idea of a super powered Monkey seems like something you read a lot about in Indian myth.   Monkey: Journey to the West has some fun moments- several battles which are as colorful as anything you'd see in a 20th century comic book, and occasional moments of humor which aren't lost in translation.   


Memoirs of Rain (1992) by Sunetra Gupta

Photo by: Charlie Lee Potter
Professor Sunetra Gupta
Book Review
Memoirs of Rain (1992)
by Sunetra Gupta

Replaces: Glamorama by Brett Easton Ellis

   Widely hailed as a "true heir" of Virginia Woolf, that should tell you all you need to know about the experience of reading Memoirs of Rain, Gupta's debut novel about the relationship between the cloistered upper-class Indian girl Moni and her English husband, Anthony.    Virginia Woolf is on my list of canonical authors that I need to revisit, right now my feeling that Virginia Woolf is the epitome of the difference in tastes between the academic audience and the lay audience for 20th century fiction.  Among Professors and students of literature, Virginia Woolf is probably THE Author, the author whose understanding is a required achievement of any serious student of literature.  Outside of that ambit, she is not widely read.  Her books are all in print because they define the literary canon, but you'd be hard pressed to find a movie or television adaptation which has achieved any significant success.

  Like Woolf, Gupta's straight forward story of cultural misunderstand and textbook infidelity by a man towards his wife, winds backwards and forwards through time, hiding the conventional narrative of courtship/marriage/marriage conflict that obsesses so many 20th and 21st century writers.  Moni, the woman and narrator, is what you might call hopelessly naive, which seems to be the standard position for Indian women of high caste well past the colonial period.  Anthony- I mean you have to know he is going to be a jerk just based on the Virginia Woolf comparison. 

  Perhaps due to her elliptical approach, the locations in Indian and England are vivid.  The experience of  immigrant writers contrasting home environments and western environments are always interesting for me, and Gupta is better than most.

  It's also worth noting that Gupta is a professor of infectious diseases at Oxford University in England, so she is both a widely admired author and a scientist of global level achievement.   Gupta replaces Glamorama by Brett Easton Ellis- hard to argue with that substitution.  I actually own a hardback, first edition copy of Glamorama but I don't think I've reread it for this blog- making it one of the 50 unreviewed titles from the first edition of the 1001 Books selections. 

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