Archive for March, 2010

‘When We Were Orphans’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

March 22, 2010

Like many others, I liked The Remains of the Day a lot. So, when I heard that there was a detective novel by the same author, I was interested, because I also like detective or crime novels (Hammett, Chandler, Dan Kavanagh [i.e., Julian Barnes], Kinky Friedman, James Ellroy, Martin Cruz Smith [Gorki Park], Andrew Vachss, David Peace, …). However, this particular ‘detective novel’ disappointed me, and will probably also disappoint those potential readers who enjoy authors like those mentioned above. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book; quite probably it is not. It certainly has nice and interesting parts, and is well written. But there isn’t much in the way of action, thrill or adventure. Maybe it is an existentialist detective novel?? I wouldn’t know.

The protagonist is a famous young detective, whose parents vanished when he was a boy and they lived in Shanghai. Now he starts looking for them, to solve the crime he assumes behind their disappearance. It’s been a while since I read the book; I don’t remember the details. As I do remember it, he makes some progress, finds out much of what went on back then, but he doesn’t get his parents back. That’s not so bad in itself (for the reader), but one thing that is weird about this detective is that all the time he keeps on believing (if I remember correctly) that his parents are still alive and he can find and free them. Maybe there were other things, too, which he recalcitrantly clung to misapprehensions about. I guess that’s not the kind of detective that appeals to my reading tastes.

Maybe it’s more of a psychological novel, with crime as a mere backdrop? For example, one sentence (on p 36 of the faber & faber edition) reads: ‘It took no more than a few days to unravel the mystery of Charles Emery’s death.’ Now, if we were told how he unraveled it, it would have been interesting; but this one sentence is about all we are told regarding this particular mystery.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if I hadn’t clung to my own misapprehension that it was going to resolve into your ordinary kind of detective story. If that’s what you’re looking for, read something else (see the list above).

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‘The Dark Side of the Sun’ by Terry Pratchett

March 17, 2010

This is an early (1976) science fiction novel by Terry Pratchett, who is much better known for his Discworld series of satirical fantasy novels. I like the Discworld novels very much — some more so (e.g., the Vimes stories), some less (e.g., the Rincewind stories). I expected something similar, only not too well executed yet, from this 1976 book: lots of jokes, wordplay, satire, not much emphasis on atmosphere or mood or psychological realism (I guess I’m not doing the Discworld novels justice here) — literature strongly aimed at the brain (especially the humor lobes), less at the heart (or is it the belly?). But what I got reminded me more of Iain M. Banks’s works than of Pratchett’s own early Discworld books (of course Banks only started publishing in the eighties, so he certainly hasn’t influenced this novel): evocative prose, very inventive, too; weird cultures and beings, terribly old and technologically sophisticated civilizations. Obviously, there are also differences, too many to mention them all: The Dark Side … has more humor than Banks’s novels, and less darkness; and you notice Pratchett’s political awareness less than Banks’s.

All in all, I would say The Dark Side of the Sun is a good read for everybody who likes science fiction, and especially for Pratchett fans — although they shouldn’t hope for Discworld with lasers. If I were forced to choose, however, I would prefer almost any one of the (more substantial) Banks novels. Luckily, I do not have to choose.

Why this idiosyncratic and perhaps inappropriate comparison between one of Pratchett’s books and Iain Banks? Just because they are two writers I like very much, which I have read extensively, and which, in this book, came surprisingly close to each other, it seemed to me.

“Studer ermittelt” von Friedrich Glauser

March 13, 2010

Dieses dicke Buch (1108 Seiten) ist bei Zweitausendeins erschienen. Auf dem Umschlag steht ‘Studer ermittelt’ als Titel, innen aber heißt es: Sämtliche Kriminalromane in einem Band. Enthalten sind: Wachtmeister Studer, Die Fieberkurve, Matto regiert, Der Chinese, Krock & Co. sowie Der Tee der drei alten Damen. Mit Ausnahme des letzteren ist in all diesen Romanen die Hauptfigur der Berner Wachtmeister Studer.

Die Studer-Romane haben mir ziemlich gut gefallen. Wachtmeister Studer habe ich früher schon mal gelesen, in der hübschen Ausgabe vom Arche-Verlag; da fand ich’s ganz nett: ein gemütlicher Krimi. Letztes Jahr habe ich dann die umfassende Zweitausendeins-Ausgabe mehr oder weniger in einem durch gelesen (weniger, insofern als in meinem Exemplar ein Batzen Seiten fehlte und ein anderer doppelt vorkam; ich bekam aber umstandslos ein neues, korrektes Exemplar). Da bin ich dann auf den Geschmack gekommen: Es ist eine nette Welt, in die man von Glauser hineinversetzt wird. Zwar werden gelegentlich Leute ermordet; aber wie Studer dann gemächlich Nachforschungen anstellt und wie er mit den Beteiligten — Zeugen wie Verdächtigen — redet, in seiner verständnisvollen, einfühlsamen Art, und sich kümmert, da fühlte ich mich irgendwie gut aufgehoben, in guten Händen, behütet. Komische Charakterisierung für Krimis, aber so ging’s mir, und das war für mich ihre hervorstechendste Qualität. Studer ist kein Sherlock Holmes, kein Sam Spade, kein Wayne Tedrow jr. (lest The Cold Six Thousand oder Blood’s a Rover von James Ellroy), auch kein Inspektor Columbo (obwohl da vielleicht am ehesten eine Verwandtschaft besteht) — er ist ein ziemlich durchschnittlicher Mensch, der bloß zum einen ziemlich gutherzig und anständig ist und sich zum anderen in die Fälle, die er zu lösen hat, verbeißt und nicht loslässt, bis er Antworten gefunden hat, die nicht bloß die Staatsanwaltschaft zufriedenstellen, sondern sich auch richtig anfühlen.

Eine große Schwäche der Zweitausendeins-Ausgabe muss ich aber warnend erwähnen: Der Band ist voll von Druck- bzw. Satzfehlern. Vermutlich wurden die Texte eingescannt und dann sehr lieblos ediert. Oder wie sonst entstehen Schreibungen wie “Nach- [und hier ist ein Leerzeichen] mittagelang habe die Schreibmaschine … geklappert” (S. 808 oben)? Das geht viel besser, und es wäre gut, wenn Zweitausendeins diese schönen Texte auch in einer entsprechend schönen Form neu auflegen würde. Ich stelle gerne meine eigenen Korrekturen zur Verfügung; allerdings befindet sich der Großteil von ihnen in dem falsch gebundenen Exemplar, das ich zurückgegeben habe.

‘What Should I Do with My Life?’ by Po Bronson

March 10, 2010

As the title says, this book is about what to do with your life, about the question what work or purpose you should devote your life to. The ‘should’ is not intended in the sense of an obligation but rather in the sense of, this is what you really want to do. One could say the book is about the meaning of life. Or, more precisely, about how lots of different people went about finding out what their life’s meaning might be, how they tried, how they sometimes failed, and what they found in the end; also about what they found out about themselves in the process. Bronson doesn’t merely recount what these people (including himself) did and experienced, he also points out recurring patterns, which might help the reader making progress and avoiding pitfalls in his own case.

I’m not yet through with reading the book, but I’m already quite certain I can give a positive verdict: What Should I Do … would be a more or less interesting book if it contained mere theory — interesting, that is, for those readers who are interested in theorizing about the meaning of life. But as it contains lots of real-life stories, focusing on how those many searches for personal meanings went in practice, it stimulates the reader into undertaking his own search. It contains the stories of many different people so that you are bound to find several you resonate with. It is inspiring, not towards a preconceived goal some readers might not share, but towards whatever it is that really inspires them. Get clearer about what goal really pulls you, and start working towards it! Of course it is just a book and so won’t change your life for you. That’s a task you have to wrestle with yourself, but the book will give you the kick that you may need to get going.

Writing about the books I read was not my top-priority goal in life, but it was a proposition that had stuck with me for a while already, and Bronson’s book gave me the kick needed to actually do it. So it is only fitting that it is one of the first two books I write about. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

By the way, what sort of name is ‘Po’?? And is the author related to Charles Bronson?

‘Inkdeath’ by Cornelia Funke

March 9, 2010

I recently finished Tintentod (Inkdeath), the third and last volume of Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy. Already when I read the first volume (Tintenherz/Inkheart) I wasn’t captivated. But I wanted to know what her ink world would be like, so I continued with the second one (Tintenblut/Inkspell). I didn’t like that one so much, either. But I wanted to know how the author would resolve the story, so I read the third one, too. And that only confirmed my impression that the books weren’t very good — certainly not as good as the media suggested by comparing them to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which I love.

So, what’s wrong with these books, in my opinion? I’m afraid I do not have a clear and mature answer to this question but I’ll try to flesh one out anyway. Funke’s writing is a little bit stilted, especially her dialogues: they sound contrived, artificial, not natural. She is able to conceive an interesting plot, and to imagine a world. But that world doesn’t come to life; the poetic magic she tries to invoke by many colorful descriptions doesn’t work. It seemed to me like watching a painter trying to create something beautiful by slapping as many colors as he can manage onto the canvas. (For examples of the opposite, read, e.g., Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun pentalogy or the science fiction of Iain M. Banks.) The mood of the fantastic does not arise. The characters’ thinking and feeling remains crude and boring. Somehow you are left with lists of the wonders you are supposed to see, instead of actually seeing them.

Sorry, this wasn’t terribly clear. I am unable to put my vague impression into precise words. But the bottom line is clear: Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld books are okay if you’ve got nothing really good to read, but there are books which are much more worthwhile reading. Maybe children or even adolescents are entertained by these books — as they may enjoy food with strong but artificial flavors. Inkdeath spurred me into blogging because I felt the urge to disillusion people about it who hadn’t yet read it themselves.

Why blog?

March 8, 2010

‘Ein Leserleben’ means ‘A Reader’s Life’. For a short while I’ve been thinking about writing a blog about the books I read. Now, two books I recently read, respectively started reading, gave me the impetus to actually get going: Cornelia Funke’s Tintentod (Inkdeath) and Po Bronson’s What Should I Do with My Life?. For how they did this, see above.

Alternative titles (sadly, two of them are only comprehensible to German speakers) I considered for my blog were: ‘Leckt Türen!’, ‘The Lecturer’ and ‘Einserlesben’. — A later suggestion by Nils: ‘Praxis Bülowbogen’.