Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Empire of the Sun (1984) by J.G. Ballard

Image result for empire of the sun movie
Christian Bale played the lead role in the movie of Empire of the Sun, the 1984 novel by J.G. Ballard.
Book Review
Empire of the Sun (1984)
by J.G. Ballard

  Empire of the Sun is a fictionalized version of Ballard's actual experience in World War II, as a child separated from his parents at the beginning of World War II in China.  Captured by the Japanese, he is confined to a prison camp outside of Shanghai where he probably had the mildest experience of being interned in a Japanese prison camp of anyone.   He probably benefited from being close to Shanghai. If you read other depictions of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, like say, the ones in A Town Like Alice,  the camp in Empire of the Sun sounds like a summer camp.

  There is no doubt that Empire of the Sun is a ripping yarn and a compelling narrative.  It's hard to say much more than that.

The Wasp Factory(1984) by Iain Banks

Illustration of the Wasp Factory itself from the novel The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Book Review
The Wasp Factory(1984)
by Iain Banks

  The Wasp Factory, the debut novel for Scottish writer Iain Banks, is a nasty little bit of work; the novel equivalent of a bare-bones noir which introduces the world to a talented film maker.  There is much to like in The Wasp Factory, and just as much to hate, certainly just as much to offend.  Like many early works by notable British authors in the 1980's and 1970's, The Wasp Factory combines sensible, economical prose with thematic concerns that border on the grotesque, with a heavy dose of the gothic and macabre.

  Set on a remote Scottish island, The Wasp Factory is told from the perspective of a psychopathic teenager, living alone with his aloof father.  Frances(the narrator) calmly discloses to readers that he has already murdered three people- including his brother and a female cousin- before he hit puberty.  He professes to have left that behind as a "stage" and he now contents himself by wandering the island and murdering animals in creative ways.

  The Wasp Factory of the title is a mechanism Frances constructs out of an abandoned clock face, which gives captures wasps 12 different ways to die.  The major action concerns the escape of Frances' more floridly psychopathic older brother Eric from a local insane asylum.  It's hard to discuss much more without at least hinting at the plot twist which appears at the end of the book. Banks went on to make his name as a science fiction writer, and received much critical and popular acclaim in that world (Elon Musk has named several space related projects after starships in his sci fi books.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Money: A Suicide Note (1984) by Martin Amis

Martin Amis: Money A Suicide Note
Book Review
Money: A Suicide Note (1984)
 by Martin Amis

  I was really looking forward to reading Money: A Suicide Note and I am pleased to report that it was not disappoint.  Indeed, you could argue that it is just as relevant in the era of Trump as it was in the era of Reagan.  It's the story of John Self, a cockney made good in the world of advertising, who has abandoned his craft in an attempt to film "his story" which is called both Good Money and Bad Money at various points.  He is assisted by a breezy "20 something" film producer, Fielding Goodney (played by Pete Campbell from Mad Men in the BBC version).  Back and forth he goes between London and United States, his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical health tracking the state of his film production.

  Although it was the style of Money: A Suicide Note which engaged me: brusque, masculine, lurid, Amis also knows how to put together a plot, and the denouement comes as a startling surprise. Money: A Suicide Note also contains meta-fictional tricks like including the author as a character (brought in to rewrite the original script for the film.)  John Self is a memorable character, sympathetic despite the fact that he is a confirmed woman beater, alcoholic, whore monger and of course, successful ad executive, all of which would seem to make him the opposite of sympathetic, but then, that is a testament to his skill as a writer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in The Color Purple
Book Review
The Color Purple (1982)
by Alice Walker

    The Color Purple was not the first book to depict the experience of African American women, but it was arguably the most successful narrative depiction of that experience, likely because of the Whoopi Goldberg/Oprah Winfrey starring movie version.  Not to take anything away from the book, but the movie created an indelible, iconic image in the mind of the general public.  The Color Purple is often called an epistolary novel (a novel written in letter format) but it's really a hybrid of epistolary style and straight forward third party narration.

  The scenes of Celie's life in the rural South are contrasted with the life of her sister as a missionary in West Africa.  The southern part of the novel is similar to other (not necessarily southern set) books written by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in the 1970's, but Walker introduces a level of stylistic sophistication that was maybe lacking in the more straight forward narrative of the 1970's.

  Perhaps the most unusual fact about The Color Purple in terms of the canon is that it has a happy ending, almost unheard of for "serious" literature, and maybe grounds for questioning whether it is truly canonical, especially compared to Caged Bird, Sula and Song of Solomon.

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