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Archive for the ‘Novel’ Category

The Man Who Was Thursday

In Novel on December 8, 2009 at 12:57 am

The Man Who Was Thursday

Author: G. K. Chesterton
Publisher: Penguin Classic

This book was written in 1908, yet it felt so post modern and cinematic (before movie languages were established). I’m surprised it was never adapted on silver screen. I could easily imagine a Triplets of Belleville treatment: a bizarre, nightmarish and grotesquely comedic visuals with caricatured but iconic characters.

It started off as a thriller story about an undercover policeman infiltrating a secret Anarchist society, with some amusing philosophical discussion on chaos vs. order, nihilism and the most dangerous and destructive criminals being the intellectual, educated kind.

Our hero’s descend into the underground secret Anarchist society is a ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience. From then on the story takes on a wild, fantastical turn. The hero took a misty boat ride that is like traveling to another dimension. There he met the highest order of the anarchist society: a motley crew of seven men who’re named after weekdays. The president is Sunday and was described as a frighteningly giant and fat  (is it wrong that I just kept picturing Jabba the Hutt?). I found Monday, aka ‘The Secretary’, oddly attractive! He’s a slim, handsome, pale and goth looking guy with a devilish smirk. The hero also went on great lengths to describe how scary this one guy with dark spectacle is, because it reminded him of people putting coins on corpse’s eyes…that imagination is lost for us contemporary readers (it’s sunglasses, duh!).

Later on the story turn into a chasing game that’s perfect action comedy gold. It’s a blast to see the band of colorful characters chasing each other. At one point there’s even a flying elephant!

The chase eventually escalated to a garden party that’s like a Borgesque Christian allegory. My jaw drop at the sudden nonsensical and fantastical resolution, but the transition was neither abrupt nor unbelievable. I kept thinking of Alejandro Jodorowsk’s Holy Mountain.

Even though the author is a devoted Christian, he pointed out the “神又係佢,鬼又係佢” paradox in Christian theme.

The book is like a lot of things I’ve read/seen before but never together all at the same time, not to mention it predated them all. Somehow I had the impression of it being a detective thriller (because of the author’s Father Brown series), so I’m pleasantly surprise by how fun and crazy it gets.

The packaging of this Penguin “Boys Adventure” edition is just too cool to pass by. Why can’t more books be in this dimension as well?

Là-bas (The Damned)

In Novel on March 25, 2008 at 12:19 am

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The Damned/Là-bas (1891)

Author: Joris-Karl Huysmans
Publisher: Penguin Classic
Pages: 320 pages
I had this book on my Amazon wish list for a long time even though I didn’t know much about it except for it to be about Gilles de Rais and satanism. When I visited the fascinating Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris and saw the interesting show on author J.K. Huysmans’s fin de siècle (turn-of-the-century) writings in relation to Moreau’s fin de siècle paintings, I finally picked it up.

There’s not much of a plot to this book, in fact it reads more like nonfiction sometimes. But the subject matter is interesting and shocking for its time, hence quite a page turner. The novel starts with the author’s rambling on his dislike for Naturalism through the main character Durtal, a 19th century man bored with unromantic modern life and delved into writing a biography on Gilles de Rais, who’s also known as the “Blue Beard,” the world first known “serial killer” who tortured, raped and killed more than five hundred young boys during the Middle ages. A large part of the novel devoted to Durtal’s biography on Gilles, chronicling his role in aiding Joan of Arc to the very horrific atrocities he committed for Satanism. Dural also attempted to explain “how an honest soldiers and a decent Christian, could suddenly turn into an evil, cowardly, sacrilegious sadist.” These parts are the most captivating parts of the novel. It’s a good source to learn about Gilles de Rais and the medieval time. The author offered some interesting views on the matter through the characters.

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The Piano Teacher

In Novel on June 15, 2005 at 2:44 am

thepianoteacher.jpgThe Piano Teacher

Author: Elfriede Jelinek
Release Date: May 3 2005
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Pages: 288

Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek won the 2004 Nobel prize for literature. The Piano Teacher was her classic from early 80s. Between the book and the acclaimed 2001 film version, I’m glad that I read the book first because…I don’t think I can stomach the visualization, especially of several horrible scenes involving self-multilation and rape. Also I wouldn’t be in a tantalizing hell pondering about characters’ underlying motives and feelings from the film, as these were all stated clearly like a psychoanalytical profile in the book. If interested read about the story here.

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The Monk

In Novel on May 4, 2005 at 2:41 am

themonk.jpegThe Monk (1796)

by Matthew Lewis

Another Gothic related entry~ ^_- I have a BLAST reading this, it’s a pity this novel is burdened with the status of “Classic Literature”, when in fact it is a galloping over-the-top, exploitative sensational shock entertainment (you know, trashy like Wuthering Height). It is a DAMN good read! I feel ashamed to say but it is quite up there at my most favorite novels list. XD Though not the first, The Monk is the best-selling and most influential Gothic Literature of its time. Author Matthew Lewis wrote it when he was a 19 year old teenager in ten weeks…and it shows. The story revolves around a well respected and proud monk named Ambrosia. He regarded himself morally superior and cruelly unforgiving to everyone else. His vanity and inhumanity eventually led him spiral to hell in an epic, bloody and spectacular fashion full of horrors, tortures, witchcrafts and demons (the good stuff).

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Bonjour Tristesse

In Novel on March 12, 2005 at 3:33 am

bonjour.jpgBonjour Tristesse (1955)
by Françoise Sagan

I better write down my thoughts before my memory starts to fade. I admit I read this solely out of my slight Francophile tendency and cute cover. ^_- Bonjour Tristesse means ‘Hello Sorrow.’ Author Françoise Sagan, one of famous French literary prodigies , wrote it when she was only 17 years old, published in 1955. It’s a juvenile novella about that awkward stage of ‘not a girl but not yet a women’, full of teen agnst and resistence toward adult/social expectation and confirmity. Though in today’s standard it is a rather cliche-ridden and dated coming-of-age story. The heroine’s supposedly scandalous acts of rebellion are rather…normal and her ‘schemes’ felt preposterous. Speaking from my generation and background, it reads like the comics by Ai Yazawa (flawed young heroine’s struggling between pleasure and responsibility & right amount of realism, characters with complex emotions and motivations, soupy drama, romance and bittersweat ending ;D). However the romance plot between the heroine and Mr.bland was so boring and forgettable. The best part was the central relationship between the heroine and her father’s fiance Anne. I especially enjoy stories exploring conflict between the young and old (why I dig Wes Andersen). I disagree with the introduction in this edition that put far too much weight on the relationship between the heroine and her father, which in my opinion is not as important as the one between heroine and Anne. All in all the book is a fun light read, written with delicacy and complex understanding of thinkings and emotions.

According to Sortie (a Francophile mook ^_-) Bonjour Tristesse was inspired by Billie Holiday music, with songs such as ‘Good Morning Heartache.’

Troll ~A Love Story~

In Novel on January 6, 2005 at 2:59 am

troll-thumb.jpgTroll ~A Love Story~ (2000)
Johanna Sinisalo

Originally titled ‘Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi‘ (translated as ‘Not Before Sundown’) in Finnish, it finally got translated and released here four years later. It won the highest Finnish literature award Finlandia. The story set place in contemporary world with a slight alternate history twist: mythical creature troll‘s existence has been scientifically proven and identified as real but extremely rare species since early 1900s. The legends of troll are originally found in Norse Mythology and Scandinavian folklores. I’ve read stories about Finnish trolls before: the Moominvalley by Tove Jansson ^^;;! In this book trolls are not that cuddly at all, they are 2 meters tall demonic cat+ape-like creatures who hide out in forest and caves.

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

In Novel on December 12, 2004 at 3:27 am

johnstrange.jpgJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel
Susanna Clarke

Finally finish this 800 pages book after spending the past month reading it, absorbing the richly detail world setting, investing in the colorful cast of characters and stories-within-stories that’s full of mysteries and twist and turns. Now I feel a sense of lost and wish there’s a sequel!! >0The writing style is witty, fun and easy reading, and I can totally see why some critics called it a “Harry Potter for adult”. The book start out slow with seemingly episodic events, then they weaved together as the pace pick up. You can read the summery here.

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Once is Not Enough

In Novel on November 23, 2004 at 2:50 am

onceisnotenough-thumb.jpgOnce is Not Enough (1973)
by Jacqueline Susann

I read Valley of the Dolls few months ago, it was the famous (infamous?) best-selling trash classic from 60s. It sure was a hell of an enjoyable read. 😀 Once is Not Enough was last of her “trash trilogy,” finished shortly before her death. It followed the same formula as Valley: rich and famous glamorous lifestyle, entertainment industry, sensationalism, drugs, sex, lesbian affair, gang rape, orgy, retards, a high to low fall and much more… Once started out just as great as Valley but then fell short with the pointlessly depressing ending, or as Chinese saying goes: “spray dog blood.” Maybe it’s due to the fact that Jacqueline Susann was at her final stage of cancer when she had to race against time to finish the book. It was just an unsatisfying but somewhat fitting strange surreal supernatural ending that marked her final exit.

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Battle Royale

In Novel on November 11, 2004 at 2:55 am

battleroyale-thumb.jpgBattle Royale (1999)
by Koushun Takami

The premise sounds great: A class of junior high students were forced to participate in a survival game on an isolated island conducted by a (hypothetical) Fascist government. Each were given a random weapon, ranged from utter useless things to a machine gun. They have to kill off each other within 3 days until one survivor remained, or else the collars locked on their neck will explode.

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Winter Rose

In Novel on November 11, 2004 at 2:34 am

winterrose.jpgWinter Rose
by Patricia McKillip

After finishing Johnathan Strange I wanted to read more about faeries. I picked up this book based on the reviews saying that: 1) it is a retelling of the Scottish Tam Lin legend, and 2) the author is acclaimed to be a modern day Hans Christian Andersen. However it didn’t live up to my expectation. The weakest part, which is the major problem I have with the book, is the portrayal of the central Tam Lin character. In McKillip’s story, two sisters are enchanted (both figuratively and literally) by a man with mysterious past. But this man came across as totally boring, hence I cannot comprehend nor get into their strange fascination with this…bland nobody. McKillip’s prose is flowery, they’re borderline pretentious for my taste but they did illustrate a certain sensuality and aesthetic atmosphere. A lot of dreamy descriptions worked on a metaphoric level. I like how she depicted the rose thorns and the brutal winter storm (reminds me of Andersen‘s Snow Queen). The ‘mystery’ in the story is also quite engaging. Though another weak point for me is the villainous character of Snow Queen/Faerie Queen, who didn’t feel much of a ‘character’ as her presence was too other-worldly and metaphorically, hence less frightening and interesting (compare to another much more entertaining modern Tam Lin retelling I read before: Diana Wynne Jones‘s Fire and Hemlock).