Saturday, August 25, 2007

In just-spring

After weeks of cold grey days, today the sun is shining and it's 18 degrees. We've opened all our windows and been out for a walk to see the wattle and daffodils in bloom in our suburb. Makes me think of e.e. cummings who captures spring better than just about anybody. I'll probably lose some of the layout of this poem but you get the idea anyway...

in just-

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reading Update

I've read a few books recently that I don't feel too inspired to review at length. I'm not sure why except that maybe I don't feel I have a lot to say about them so I'll do a quick round up and leave it at that.

I read The Point by Australian author Marion Halligan partly because it is set in Canberra and partly because I enjoyed her earlier novel, Lovers' Knots. There aren't many novels set in Canberra. It's such a new city and so carefully planned that it feels soulless at times. My theory is that literature is one way to give a city colour and a sort of cultural 'texture'. While it is fascinating to see how Halligan sees Canberra, unfortunately I don't feel it's the book that will bring the city to life. She manages to capture Canberran light and weather, and includes some really interesting descriptions of Lake Burley Griffin, but the characters bored me and the dialogue was annoyingly stilted. So my search for the classic Canberra novel continues.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson was an addictive read. I really couldn't put this book down until the last page. Unfortunately I found that it didn't stay with me and now I find it really hard to think of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. I might have to read more of her work and see if there is something meaningful to get out of it for me.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka is a light hearted look at the immigrant experience. Nadezhda is the grown daughter of Ukrainian immigrants in England. She and her sister Vera are dealing with their father's relationship with a much younger, brash and manipulative Ukrainian woman, Valentina. I found some of the Ukrainian history in the book heartbreaking and the clash between the new and the established immigrants in the novel is interesting. I felt that some of these issues deserved more examination than they are given here but I still enjoyed Lewycka's book.

Philip Roth's American Pastoral, which I'm about a third of the way through, looks like providing a more thoughtful analysis of immigrant communities and their assimilation into their adopted country. So far I'm really loving this book- structurally it is really interesting and I'm really curious to see where Roth takes the reader. So far the narrative has unfolded in unexpected ways, jumping between times and events and between the real and the imagined. There are lots of interesting comments on the way characters are created by writers and how much we can really know another person.

Anyway, best go actually do some reading...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

It's not often that I laugh out loud in books, and actually I tend to cringe when I think of what might be considered 'comic novels', but I have to say that Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa was really, genuinely funny.

I was inspired to read this novel by Dorothy's post on it back in March and I find myself generally agreeing with her thoughtful review.

Llosa's novel is set in Lima, Peru and is about Mario, an 18 year old law student who works in a radio station. The novel follows his scandalous romance with his Aunt Julia, his divorced 32-year old aunt by marriage. Interwoven with the story of their relationship is the tale of Pedro Camacho, a strange little Bolivian writer who writes serials for the radio station where Mario works. Camacho is a tireless writer who churns out endless stories in a frenzy of work. His fantastical tales make up every second chapter in the book and are just as compelling and fascinating as they are purported to be by the other characters in the novel.

Unfortunately Camacho has only a tenuous grip on reality and as his output reaches fever pitch he finds his stories and characters becoming hopelessly confused. Characters change names, jobs and religions, they swap fates and circumstances, and they come back to life only to die again in spectacular ways.

Simultaneously, Mario's life comes to more closely resemble the lives of Camacho's characters. His family are horrified by the romance with Julia and their efforts to marry are filled with comic misadventures.

Some interesting reflections on the process of writing and creation add another layer to the novel. The self-referential idea of 'writing about writing' would, I imagine, have been more novel when the book was published in 1977, but despite the waves of writers who have since covered similar territory, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter still offers fresh insight on the topic.

My only criticism of Llosa's novel is the ending is sudden and a little flat. I felt the story of Camacho was unresolved and attempts to tie up loose ends were unsatisfying.

That said, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is so much fun that I can forgive any minor imperfections. Llosa's wit and verve shine through on every page and his characters will stay with me for some time.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Artemis Fowl

I've just finished a lightning fast (for me) read of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl and I absolutely loved it. In a way it provided me with all the answers to what I feel is lacking in the Harry Potter series (although I won't go on about that anymore- I know most people don't agree with me).

Colfer's novel is aimed at young readers. It tells the story of one Artemis Fowl, a criminal mastermind and twelve year old, who embarks on an ambitious scheme to steal fairy gold. Artemis is a wonderful character, neither obviously good nor obviously evil, smart, aristocratic and supremely confident in his ability to pull off this job.

The fairies in the story are also great. In Colfer's world the fairies, along with trolls, dwarfs and other magical creatures, have been driven deep underground in order to keep their existence a secret from the Mud Men (humans). Policing this vast underground world is the elite LEPrecon unit, and Captain Holly Short is their first female officer. When Artemis manages to kidnap her during a rare but necessary journey above ground to perform a ceremony that will renew her magical abilities, the LEPrecon unit begins a rescue operation that will stop at nothing to keep the world of fairies and that of humans from colliding.

Colfer has so much fun mixing genres in his novel. The fairies of the LEPrecon unit are straight out of a cop show, especially cigar-chomping, hard-living Commander Root, and some of the dialogue is priceless, especially when Colfer makes fun of cliched police speak. These fairies smoke, swear and have all the petty ambitions and jealousies of humans. I also particularly enjoyed the character of Foaly, the tech expert who is a little too big for his boots, but who is the only one who understands how all the fairy equipment works. Oh, and who just happens to be a centaur.

Young readers will love some great fart jokes involving a dwarf with a rather 'explosive' digestive system. I have to admit I laughed out loud during this part of the novel, proving you never really out grow toilet humour.

Artemis Fowl is witty, fun and thoroughly unique in style. This is a fantasy novel in which characters aren't telegraphed as 'good' or 'evil' and I appreciated this more complex approach to morality. In fact, I really wasn't sure who I wanted to come out of the story triumphant, the charismatic Artemis with his stolen booty of fairy gold, or the LEPrecon fairies, who risk their lives to recover the treasure and restore balance between the worlds.

I can see why Colfer's series has been so popular. He never talks down to his audience, young or old, and he resists the urge to oversimplify. And, of course, he writes a cracking good yarn.