After the Apocalypse – Maureen McHugh

McHugh’s opener in this collection of sci-fi apocalyptic shorts is a winner. The Naturalist is zombie literature at its best (I say as if I had read reams of the stuff!) Questioning ‘zombie lore,’ innovative in context, cutting in its application to society.

‘Cahill lived in the Flats with about twenty other guys in a place that used to be an Irish bar called Fado. At the back of the bar was the Cuyahoga River, good for protection since zombies didn’t cross the river. They didn’t crumble into dust, they were just as stupid as bricks, and they never built a boat or a bridge or built anything. Zombies were the ultimate trash. Worse than the guys who cooked meth in trailers. Worse than the fat women on WIC. Zombies were just useless dumbfucks.’

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Blindness – José Saramago

Translated from the Portugese by Giovanni Pontiero

Given that I read this novel during Spanish Lit month you would be forgiven for suspecting that I had forgotten that Saramago is Portugese. Ahem.

Imagine a post-triffid world lacking punctuation and in some respects you’d be close to Saramago’s Blindness. A population loses their sight in a manner reminiscent of a biblical plague. It’s a dystopian vehicle which isn’t peculiar to Saramgo, but one he makes peculiarly his own, by resort to the device of magical realism over science-fiction derived disaster. It sets the scene nicely for a satirical investigation of society, but in Blindness Saramago appears to take on not just a classic society but post-modernity.
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Monsieur Pain – Roberto Bolaño

Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews

This is my third Bolaño so it came as no surprise to find myself floundering. Having been accustomed to Bolaño’s heftier offerings the slimness of this volume is unexpected, and this paucity of pages may explain why I would cite this as a more difficult work to appreciate than either 2666 or The Savage Detectives. These latter literary monsters offer so much in terms of scope and size that while the finer points may prove elusive you’d have to be reading with your eyes closed to come up with nothing.

Monsieur Pain on the other hand is taut and concise and there isn’t much time to pin him down.
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Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel García Márquez

Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

On the face of it a simpler tale than some of the Spanish language literature which I have been reading for Stu and Richards’ Spanish Lit Month, this is a novella which is encapsulated in its title. On the unlikely off chance that the reader has missed this crucial point it is laid out in the first sentence:

‘On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.’

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Let the Wind Speak – Juan Carlos Onetti

Translated from the Spanish by Helen Lane

I am going to struggle to produce a synopsis of this tricksily meditative novel, and might indeed be wrong to do so. Attempting myself to make sense of the text through application to the back cover blurb was a thankless and unrewarding task.

The blurb may or may not be accurate, but the question is academic if you have to ask it. The potential for interpretation appears so fluid that any effort to pin down meaning would seem reductive. But a novel has to say something to be worthwhile, right? Otherwise you are into Finnegan’s Wake territory, talking about experimental novels which have failed.
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Two Spanish Picaresque Novels – Quevedo & Anon

Translated from the Spanish by Michael Alpert

Lazarillo de Tormes, author unknown, is credited with being the first ever picaresque novel. It was published in 1554, some half a century before Don Quixote. The Swindler may be considered roughly contemporary with Cervantes.

The two novellas share many common features. The pícaro of the picaresque novel is a reaction against the hero of the chivalric novel. Acts of daring are performed out of a motive of material self-interest, and this world view is lent credence by resort to a verisimilitude which draws from fundamentals. Hunger and, often, the scatological. The ultimate aim of the pícaro in each novel is to achieve a veneer of respectability, and a life of relative ease. The means are largely irrelevant.
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The Book of Sand – Jorge Luis Borges

This was the fourth (edit: fifth!) of the Spanish language books I read for Stu (and Richard’s) Spanish Literature Month, July 2012. It is the first of my choices to be blogged, and my second attempt to read Borges.

History does not record the details of my first encounter with Borges. All one can really say is that I began A Universal History of Infamy but did not finish. The Book of Sand, which contains poetry, I never expected to finish, but did so none the less. I do not know if it is pertinent, but the former is an earlier collection of stories, and the latter work is amongst his last.
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A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

Having imbibed, from various sources, an image of Hemingway which flatters only his prowess as a writer, I wasn’t expecting to warm to him in these, his memoirs of his early life as a writer, living in 1920s Paris. As a skilful writer it shouldn’t be surprising that Hemingway can (presumably) manipulate his reader into perceiving a certain charm.

Hinted homophobia, the odd critical comment, the charm isn’t unleavened. Gertrude Stein comes in for some harsh criticism, and Alice B Toklas is not quite the shy and retiring companion of her ‘autobiography.’

“But we liked Miss Stein and her friend, although the friend was frightening.”

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Discussion, Part IV

Nancy and I complete our discussion of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Nancy:

In our last post, we commented on Phases Five (The Woman Pays) and Six (The Convert). That leaves Phase Seven, Fulfillment, which is short but merits a post of its own. It’s like the finale of a symphony Here Hardy completes the life of Tess and sounds again all the themes we have heard before.
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Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Discussion, Part III


“The three o’clock sun shone full upon him, and the strange enervating conviction which had been gaining ground in Tess ever since she had heard his words distinctly, was at last established as a fact indeed. The preacher was Alec D’Urberville.”

The third and penultimate part of our discussion, Nancy (Silver Threads) and I discuss Phases V and IV.

Sarah:

In The Woman Pays, Angel, now fully and ingloriously acquainted with Tess’ past, effectively casts her off. In the intricate manoeuvring which follows the disclosure, social convention, religious dogma and financial considerations all have their place, at the expense of former romantic reasoning. Angel’s ability to look beyond the prescribed is sorely tested. It fails.
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