Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Inland (2019) by Téa Obrecht

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Balkan-American writer Téa Obrecht 


Book Review
Inland (2019)
by Téa Obrecht


 Inland is the second novel by Téa Obrecht.  Her first novel- The Tiger's Wife, published in 2010, it won the Orange Prize in the UK and was short listed for the National Book Award.    Nine years is a long time between published novels, and I checked out the Audiobook last month with the thought that Inland might but a National Book Award longlist- although it might not be eligible till next year- it didn't get nominated this year.

  The Audiobook is partially narrated by Anna Chlumsky- who I loved in VEEP- and the stroy is set in pre-statehood Arizona in 1893.  Narrating duties are shared by Nora (voiced by Chlumsky) a wife and mother who is anxiously awaiting the return of her husband- an intellectual pioneer who has failed in a succession of western towns.  The other narrator is Lurie- a former outlaw who falls in with a bunch of camel jockeys.

  I read some rhapsodic reviews, and I like revisionist stories of the old west- Cormac McCarthy- to name the most famous writer in that area; but I wasn't taken by Inland.  Nora did not move me with her plight, and Lurie was barely interesting.   Everyone in the book is simultaneously over-articulate for the character and largely unsympathetic.

The Map and the Territory (2010) by Michel Houellebecq


Book Review
The Map and the Territory (2010)
 by Michel Houellebecq

     The 1001 Books Project included Houellebecq's first three novels in the first and second editions.  The Map and the Territory, his fifth book, was released after the second edition came out, and it was included in any subsequent edition, but it did win the Prix Goncourt, which is the French Pulitzer Prize, more or less, and Houellebecq continues to publish with regularity, though he was hasn't yet had a hit in the USA, and I'm assuming that he has more of a following in the UK, since there are plenty of literate people over there who actually read novels in French, and a greater audience for literature in translation.

   If I was to trace a trend in his novels it is that each successive novel has grown more "high concept" and elaborate in terms of the characters and the story.  Whatever, his first book is basically an anti-bildungsroman in the mold of Catcher in the Rye, but French, and the protagonist is a yuppie working with computers. Atomised begins the trip towards elaboration with the character of Michel, the biologist who eliminates sexual reproduction, but also keeps to his root obsession with the unhappiness of families and the emptiness of modern existence.

   Platform is very high concept, with sex tourism, extensive monologues on the state of the leisure-industrial complex and a gruesome bombing by Muslim terrorist.   This thematic ambition is rare to non existent in contemporary European fiction, which mostly involves sad failures being sad about everything, call it the European existential novel.   And while most Houellebecq's characters are miserable assholes, they at least do things besides being poor and sad.

 The Map and the Territory delves into the world of modern art, featuring a typically Houellebecq-ian protagonist who sounds like a post-modern artist who could really exist.   Sure, he's hateful, but he's fun- fun to read- so much of the literature I read is tedious or a chore.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Scrappy Little Nobody (2016) by Anna Kendrick

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Sexy Anna Kendrick/GQ photo
Book Review
Scrappy Little Nobody (2016)
by Anna Kendrick

  It's only mildly embarrassing to declare myself a fan of Anna Kendrick, based on her performance in Up in the Air.  I learned from this book that she was in the Twilight movies but the closest I've come to that franchise is a sighting of Kristen Stewart with her girl posse in Echo Park five years ago.  The Audiobook is freely available at the Los Angeles Public Library- over 60 copies available at a time!  Also, Kendrick herself reads her own book, which was something I enjoyed listening to Julia Louis Dreyfus read the Veep memoir of her television character.

  So yeah, I listened to Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick's best-selling 2016 memoir, and I have to say that I found it incredibly, heart crushingly sad, and I can't believe that Kendrick and her publishers didn't see it the same way.  Take, for example, the saddest portion of the book, where Kendrick describes the imaginary parties she would like to throw for her non-existent friends, she doesn't have time for parties or friends because she has been working non stop since she was in junior high.

 I'm not a snob when it comes to celebrities, I'm interested in the process of fame as it relates to art, and you can make an argument that actors are artists (they would certainly make that argument.)  Unsurprisingly, Kendrick doesn't spend any time on the craft/art of acting, presumably because the assignment is to create a series of themed "essays" with the depth you expect from twitter- where Kendrick maintains a well-curated presence.

  I am of the frequently voiced opinion that all famous artists are monsters because they possess the irrational believe that they, among thousands, are destined for fame.  I also think Kendrick is interesting enough to have some thoughts on that subject, but baby, they ain't here.

Larva: Midsummer Night’s Babel (1990) by Julian Rios


Book Review
Larva: Midsummer Night’s Babel (1990)
by Julian Rios

Replaces: Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernieres

    It is hard to say much about Larva: Midsummer Night's Babel.  Originally published in Spanish in 1983, it was immediately hailed as a "post-modern masterpiece," which should tell you that it is most likely five hundred pages long and nonsensical.  That does indeed proof to be the case!  Larva shares similarities with Joyce and anticipates the concerns of psycho-geography.  I guess the idea is that Larva is a present-day retelling of Don Juan set in a well articulated London, but I only know that because I read it on the internet and the front flap of the book jacket. 

   I'm not sad to see Senor Vivo get replaced- Louis de Bernieres seems like a one book guy, and that book is Captain Corelli's Mandolin, not Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, but I'd be hard pressed to tell anyone, "Yes, you must read Larva: Midsummer Night's Babel," and I'm almost positive the readership for this book in the US is restricted to participants in university writing programs.

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