Archive for August, 2011

‘The Bromeliad’ by Terry Pratchett

August 25, 2011

This is a collection of three early (1990/91) novels ‘for younger readers’: Truckers, Diggers and Wings. They are about a race of tiny people who think The Store under whose floorboards they live is The World, and ‘Arnold Bros (est. 1905)’ is God. It is also about different ways of making sense of the world and coping with cognitive dissonance: the way of religion (or maybe I should say, of churches?) and that of science. (However, I may be oversimplifying here; the main protagonist of Truckers and Wings, Masklin, is neither a nome of science nor a religious one, but rather a representative of actual common sense — an uncommon thing. Another wellspring of deep insights about religion, by the way, is of course Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, very much recommended.) The title sounds like the book might constitute an epos about ‘Bromel’ or ‘Bromels’, but the tiny people mentioned are in fact called ‘nomes’. Whereas a bromeliad is a plant that grows in rainforest canopies and whose flowers may contain small frogs who live their entire lives inside that flower. Or so it says in the book.

As usual with Pratchett books, this one is (or these three are) fun to read and full of good ideas. I’m really looking forward to reading Snuff, the soon-to-appear next Discworld novel. I might shorten the waiting period by reading The Carpet People, which must be the last Pratchett book I haven’t yet read. For the moment, however, there is 1977 by David Peace — something completely different.

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‘The Last Unicorn’ by Peter S. Beagle

August 23, 2011

This is a nice little fantasy story published in 1968. It’s not Conan-style heroic fantasy, nor Tolkien-style serious fantasy (yes, I know, Tolkien was not a barbarian hero and Conan is not a writer; but he is better known than Robert E. Howard, his creator — Conan’s, that is), but rather fantasy of a witty and self-ironic, but also poetic, kind. What style? Hm, The Last Unicorn reminded me a little of William Goldman’s (not to be confused with William ‘Lord of the Flies’ Golding) The Princess Bride (1973). Both play with the conventions of the genre and subvert the reader’s expectations (as far as I recall The Princess Bride, which I haven’t yet read in the original. By the way, I think I liked the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride even better than the book). I believe that, cautioned by the 1968 publication date, I detected hints of hippie spirit in The Last Unicorn. Usually, hippies, flower power and New Age tend to turn me off because of the attendant naive utopianism; but the effect wasn’t strong here at all (or maybe I have more hippie spirit in me than I care to admit to myself).

In summary: The Last Unicorn is not a must (but then, what is?), but a good read (who needs a must on his or her book shelf, anyway?). (I inserted way too many parentheses here, sorry! It’s probably a sign of a deep-seated [or maybe not so deep really] insecurity.)

‘Until I Find You’ by John Irving

August 10, 2011

A very voluminous book, at least in the hardcover edition I obtained cheaply. Noticeably thicker than Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, but with 1400 grams (for 824 pages) not quite as heavy (AtD weighs 1572 grams, having 1087 pages, not counting a few empty ones). Bloomsbury, the publisher of UIFY, could have somewhat reduced the thickness by using a fine thin paper like the one chosen by Penguin for AtD, instead of the slightly rough one they did use, and thereby also lowered the book’s weight by a good 200 grams. Even then it would not be recommended for reading in your bed while lying on your back (as I did, for a large part of it).

If you like to posture with the books you read (or seem to read), then, considerations of both size and weight favor the Irving book. Considering the sophistication of the content, however, rather suggests carrying around Pynchon’s novel. (Another hot contender in all categories: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, 1079 pages, almost 100 of which are in small print — I have a paperback edition, though, so the weight comparison would not be representative.) I like Pynchon very much (though perhaps partly because of a certain impressionability on my part: his books sound so deep, they must be great!), but I still do not recommend Against the Day. It’s just too weird, and I couldn’t see it getting (or going) anywhere; and thus it also feels much too long. Better read Gravity’s Rainbow or V.! — Back to Irving: Until I Find You is a very enjoyable book, not as sophisticated as Pynchon’s doorstoppers, but still very good. In spite of its length, a very good read! As are almost all of Irving’s novels (I didn’t like The 158-Pound Marriage). It makes me want to read Günter Graß, because Irving holds him in very high esteem. Maybe one day I’ll read Die Blechtrommel … (Infinite Jest is well written and very interesting in many places, but I couldn’t see where this book goes, either. Maybe it isn’t supposed to go anywhere.)

There is a piece of music that is mentioned repeatedly in Irving’s novel, the Toccata from Léon Boëllmann’s  Suite Gothique. The way it is described made me curious, so I googled it, and it is indeed a very impressive piece (look for “boellmann toccata roryorgan” on YouTube; I have fallen in love with that interpretation — I wish I could download it as an mp3 somewhere). Reminds me of Fantomas playing the organ in one of those old Louis de Funès movies; maybe there is also a movie adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea where Captain Nemo plays something like this onboard the Nautilus. (I used to think that the ‘20,000 leagues’ refer to the depth they dive down to; but I guess it’s just the distance they travel underwater.)

Something else repeatedly mentioned in Until I Find You (besides the penis of the protagonist) is Roses of Jericho. The pictures I found (during a not-very-thorough search) on the internet were not very impressive, though.