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El log de lectura de Fisgón

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  • Meg Wolitzer's writing is new to me, but the style and subject matter, the overall narrative voice, are actually quite familiar.

    The narrative voice of The Interestings sounds like her contemporaries, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Zoe Heller, it is smart, funny, compassionate, a mixture of pop culture references and sharply drawn characters. The voice of a contemporary American writer writing about modern life.

    It examines the lives of people who were teenagers in the seventies, and who are in their forties and fifties in the present. The novel, like all of the other writers above, explores the last few American decades, mixing the public with the private, how the lives of the characters intersect with historical events like Vietnam and 9/11.

    Like a lot of American novels, it is partly about America, about privilege and fame, but it is also substantially about six characters that meet in a summer camp in 1974 and whose lives are linked from then on.

    They are a sampling of the American middle class, gay and straight, talented and ordinary, beautiful and plain. The narrative is not in fact very complex, it simply tells the story of what happens to these people over the space of forty years, illness and marriage, kids and careers, the various attempts they make to forge lives for themselves.

    And yet it sucks the reader in. Partly this is down to the style, which is seems light and accessible but is deceptively deep and lyrical. But it is the characters that hold the attention, they are real enough and convincing enough to make you care what happens to them. The slow, gradual drift through their lives gently reels you in, until before you know it you find yourself really wanting to know what happens next.

    The tone is warm and sympathetic to its characters, and make it easy to identify with them. A book that gets better the farther you get into it.




  • Extremely disappointing. In fact, this is juvenile, cringeworthy, pseudo-fantasy nonsense. Quite a shock to read such tripe from a great writer, don't know what he was thinking.

    Full review here....




  • Purity is the name of the book, of the main character and is also the aspiration of a number of the characters, who are searching for something pure and simple in their lives.

    The book starts off iffily enough, but does really get going when the action moves from California to Berlin and introduces Andreas: son of East German communists, rebel, seducer of young women.

    This is what the book does well; it gets inside the heads of its characters and gives us intimate knowledge of their motivations, desires, confusion.

    The story soon takes on epic proportions, spanning decades, three continents, multiple characters. At first it seems like there is no connection between the protagonists, but slowly they come together and the inevitable links between their stories become apparent.

    It is also a page turner. The novel is literary, but easy to read, and the story picks up pace and depth and colour as it progresses, until it is really difficult to close. It is a little long, and there is some repetition and some longeurs, but it is the work of a writer who knows exactly what he is doing and has confidence in his ability to tell a good story.




  • Kevin Barry's strength is when he writes dialogue, and when he manages to get inside the head of a troubled, flailing individual. His descriptions are rich, earthy, and very Irish.

    And this is when Beatlebone works. He has fictionalized a visit of John Lennon to the west of Ireland in the 1970s, when he is being pursued by the press, and just wants to escape to an island in Clew Bay that he bought, years previously. The wonderful parts of the book are the madcap, surreal discussions that John has with his minder/driver Cornelius, and the descriptions of John's inner life and the landscape that he sees around him.

    The weakness lies in the plot, or lack of it, and the fact that the novel becomes aimless quite quickly.

    The other problem with the book is that the writer has plonked a large section of non-fiction in the middle of the book, when he speaks in his own first person voice about the "making of" the novel. I know he thought that he was doing something innovative, but it is a terrible idea, breaks up the flow of the story and dispels the illusion created by the previous 100 pages.

    In sum, a mix. Wonderful writing, poor structure, a bit aimless.




  • To be clear, the title is "Mary Lavelle", the author Kate O'Brien.

    This book was apparently banned in the thirties when it came out, and it is only in the second half that you discover why. It is quite daring for an Irish novel published in 1936, with adultery and open discussion about same-sex attraction.
    - "I like you the way a man likes you."

    I enjoyed the novel much more than I was expecting. Mary Lavelle, a middle class Irish woman in her early twenties goes to the Spanish Basque country to work as a governess for a year. She is engaged to be married back in Ireland to John, solid but dull and not very enlightened.

    The strengths of the novel lie in two areas: The first is the description of Mary's rapid fascination with Spain, with the people, the bullfights (which repel and intrigue her), the language, the landscape.

    The second is the portrait of the world of the "misses" - the community of Irish governesses that are charged with educating the youth of the Basque upper class. They all refer to each other by their surnames - O'Toole, Conlan, Lavelle, etc, and are practically all snobby, whinging, contemptuous of their adopted country, incapable for one reason or another of going home. It is an intriguing perspective on a little known community.

    Mary discovers passion there in Spain, and in four short months the impression is that she has learned and developed more than in her whole life in Ireland. The book is a kind of love letter to Spain, a wistful, affectionate, at times intense portrait of a young woman who is opened up by living in another place, in another milieu.

    The writing is intense and precise and full of detailed descriptions of characters, emotions and places, though it never gets top heavy. The best thing I can say is that I would certainly read Kate O'Brien again.


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  • This book is way too long for the subject matter.

    It is a slight tale of a kind of Don Juan figure who falls for a woman who moves into his building. The poems of John Donne act as a kind of framing device, adding a commentary on the story. The main character is a calligrapher who has received a commission to produce thirty Donne poems, so this is the way the writer gets this slightly gimmicky element into the novel.

    It is an enjoyable read; light, humorous at times, like a Channel 4 drama narrated by someone quite posh. But it is essentially insubstantial and has passages and scenes and conversations that seem pointless and could have easily been cut. There is absolutely no justification for the book to be nearly 500 pages.

    The denouement of the story is very unconvincing, and the couple of semi twists near the end are very strained and hard to buy. Enjoyable, for what it is, but limited, and not as clever as it thinks it is.




  • Irish writer, Elske Rahill, has written an uncompromising book. Based around three young students in Trinity College, Dublin, it is about sex and growing up, with a good sprinkling of mothers and daughters as a central theme.

    There are a lot of descriptions of sex in the novel, but almost none of them are erotic: sex in this book is connected to domination, control and fantasy; it certainly doesn't seem to be a lot of fun or very pleasurable. The human body and its functions are also prominent: there is semen, menstrual blood, a miscarriage, childbirth, live sex shows, transvestism.

    And yet, what the novel lacks is humour. It is powerful, but the characters are just too constantly intense, misguided, stumbling from one crisis to another. The tone is melancholy and dark; there is little joy in their lives.

    This book is innovative and honest, but could do with some light, a breath of fresh air.




  • If nothing else, this book is entertaining. Once you get past the first few sections, which are very heavy with economic theory, the story moves forward quickly, and the characters are never bland, if not always likable.

    It is the story of the future economic disintegration of the US and the return of American society to a kind of pre-industrial state. Set between 2029 and 2047, t explores debt, aging, social justice and concepts of freedom.

    What I would say is that it is all very bleak, and relentlessly so, for the first three-quarters of the book. Nothing good happens to anyone, and the fate of the characters constantly gets worse and worse; there is no respite.

    However, Shriver is a talented writer, has a fertile imagination and can tell a good story. And this is what makes the novel readable and more than just another dystopian calamity story. It has endless ideas - not all of them work - but the invention and sheer creative energy give life to a dark, scary vision of the future.




  • Started slow, and picked up speed, intensity and interest as the narrative progressed.

    Probably close to a 7 out of 10, if I had to rank it. I enjoyed the developing relationships in the African village, Lamin and Hawa and Fern were some of the most rounded characters in the book, and it was when the story moved here that it started to draw me in.

    The narrator is only interesting in that she is a non-person - I have just noticed that she has no name in the novel, no-one ever calls her anything. She is constantly subsumed by other personalities: her mother's, her odious friend Tracey's, her pop star boss's, Aimee. The narrator is not sympathetic, she is passive and aimless and has no real ideas of her own.

    The novel is about music, about culture, race, the mixture of races, cultural appropriation, dance, the sucking dry of the developing world by its leaders and by the West. Perhaps it is about too many things, and has a couple of loose ends that are not tied up properly, but it is always intelligent, flexible in its perspectives and with characters that are vivid and full.

    It would rank in the middle of Zadie Smith's books for me, below the magnificent White Teeth and On Beauty, definitely above the tedious N.W..




  • Slick, easy to read, but kind of unremarkable, though not totally in a bad way.

    The book is the story of Frances, a 21 year old student in Trinity in Dublin and her relationships/friendships with Bobbi, Melissa and Nick. They get together, split up, talk about stuff (online and in person) and wander in and out of each others' lives. In truth, they don't really do that much.

    I don't mind that much that there wasn't a powerful plot driving forward the narrative, and I didn't mind really that some of the characters - Bobbi and Melissa, in particular - are hard to like. It was an enjoyable enough read, and impressive from someone so young (though that shouldn't really be a consideration if you are reviewing a book).

    I have seen it described as "post-Irish", and I identify with this perspective, as there is literally nothing of the traditional Irish literary tropes and themes in the book - and that is a good thing. The story could be set in any modern western city by changing a few place and street names.

    I do, though, find it a little difficult to get the minor hype that the book has inspired.


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  • One of my first thoughts about this book was – I pity anyone who had to edit it. The style is unique; it uses short sentences, non-standard grammar and spelling, a kind of stream of consciousness that attempts to express the fractured nature of the girl – and then young woman – at the centre of the narrative.

    Also, there are no names in the book; we never learn what the protagonist is called though her experience is all we are given. These techniques give a kind of intensity to the narrative, but also alienate the reader a little, forcing us to look at the world we are given in a very different way to other novels – it becomes a little dreamlike and at times hallucinatory.

    It is often impossible to know if the dialogue that we hear is only in the main character’s head or if it is really spoken, and there are parts where it is impossible to say exactly what is going on. It owes something to Joyce but probably more to Beckett’s novels; this kind of intense internality that attempts to let us into a disturbed, fractured human mind and to see what is going on from the inside.

    The cast is minimal – a girl, growing up in rural Ireland, her brother who had a brain tumour as a baby and who is still affected by it, her judgmental, pious mother and an uncle who abuses her. There are some incidental characters that pop up, but no one of any real significance.

    The plot is not exactly complex either. The girl grows up with her older brother who is teased and bullied in school. She is abused as a thirteen year old, and becomes promiscuous and wild. She finally escapes to the big city – Dublin? – to university, where things don’t really improve for her. She starts a relationship with the uncle who raped her as a thirteen year old, engages in some risky sexual behaviour, then her brother’s tumour returns and she has to deal with his slow decline and her mother’s growing resentment.

    Not exactly a barrel of laughs. The more I read of this book, the more it reminded me of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel from 2015, A Little Life. In that book, the main character is abused by almost everyone he meets, and endures such extremes of horror and depravation that it is at times hard to read.
    In A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, the central character – for practically the whole novel – is immersed in self-hatred, degradation, self-harm, guilt, depression, abuse, grief and loss. It is a litany of sadness and despair with no chink of light or touch of humour. The misery is relentless and only grows towards the end, building to the almost inevitable conclusion (similar to the conclusion in A Little Life).

    The writing is, at times, powerful and moving, but the utter unforgiving relentlessness of the horror and gloom is hard to take, and hard to take seriously, in fact. If a male writer put his female protagonist through what Eimear McBride inflicts on her main character, he would be asked what drove him to want to punish her so badly and accusations of misogyny would abound. The writer seems almost to take a kind of glee in ramping up the abasement and degradation of her heroine and depriving her of any redeeming element in her life, any joy, consolation or safety.

    The novel has won, or been nominated for, multiple prizes, so misery lit is obviously appreciated by literary judges. The truth though, is that it is an intermittently impressive but very flawed book, seemingly concerned only with transmitting to the reader the slow disintegration of a human being, a life without solace, hope or growth.




  • A very standard tale, with little remarkable about it at all.

    The book is reasonably well-written, though the prose is at times a little simplistic. The characters are clear but feel like people I have read about - and seen on TV and movies - many times; types rather than real figures.

    The setting is compelling; Shaker Heights in Cleveland, a well organized city where people do the right thing and are considerate to their neighbours - like an American Japan. Into this setting comes Mia, a talented photographer, and Pearl, her teenage daughter. They are immediately out of place amid this trimmed, managed urban landscape.

    The book feels like it was written with the film rights in mind - it is easy to imagine a script being written based on the story. The narrative moves forward steadily and always held my interest, but in a casual way; I was interested in hearing how it finished, but if I didn't, I also wouldn't have minded.

    Underwhelming, conventional, though a story that keeps you reading.




  • The writing in this book is so bad at times that I had to re-read certain parts just to make sure that I hadn't misread them.

    I gave it two stars for the energy and at times the humour of the story, but in general there are so many things wrong with it that it is hard to take it seriously, and I did not succeed in finishing it - there are too many good books out there I could be reading.

    For starters, the characterisation is pitiful. In fact, there are no characters, only caricatures. Characters in the book have one or two defining traits - Julian is a ladies' man, Miss Ambrosia is a floozy and talks about her periods a lot, the priests are predictably stern and sex-obsessed - and there is no real believable dialogue - each character has a catch-phrase that they use every time that they appear in the story - eg. Mary-Margaret is constantly talking about things not being "of her standard", Charles never stops talking about Cyril as his "adoptive son", that he is not really an Avery - every single time we meet him.

    Added to that is the sheer ludicrousness of some of the conversations between people - early on in the novel two seven year olds in 1950s Ireland have quite a detailed discussion about sex, using ideas and terminology that they could not possibly have been familiar with. Cyril's workmate - Miss Ambrosia, openly discusses her periods and sex life with her work colleagues in the offices of the Department of Education in 1966 in Ireland - again, if you know anything about the mid-twentieth century in Ireland you would know how utterly unreal this is. Again, in 1960s Ireland, a woman talks about "dating" her boyfriend - an American word that was not used in Ireland until the 1990s at least.

    People in Dublin have names like Woodbead, Terwilliger, Westlicott and Desmond Denby-Denby, as if these were normal Irish names and not the surnames of hobbits. The whole thing reads like a kind of hysterical farce written by someone who has no intention of being taken seriously. If this had been written by a non-Irish person, I would have questioned if the writer had ever been to Ireland, knew anything about Irish history or met any real Irish people.

    Do not believe the reviews; if you are looking for something complex and interesting, avoid this book at all costs.




  • Unremittingly bleak, this is a very one-note novel. This is its greatest flaw; it is absolutely uniform in tone, and that tone is one hundred per cent dark, drab, morbid.

    This was the first Eoin McNamee book that I have read, and I believe that it will be the last. It is a story of secrets, the past coming back to haunt the characters in this small Irish town and the links to a past injustice.

    The problem is that there is not one chink of light in the whole book. Every word, every phrase is there to communicate that this is a dark tale, told in a dark place about evil, damaged people. Every description of place is laden with adjectives and verbs to express its dilapidation and decay - a sentence taken completely at random - "She stood at the Victorian kiosk, the cupola broken and askew. The metal of the high board had begun to fail, the structure tilted to one side."

    It is relentless, this misery, this sense of despair and doom - "A few others swam in the pool....They did not speak among themselves. They had time for their own hardship alone. They came up out of the changing rooms as though last chances were involved."

    It becomes very tedious to read, this unceasing squalor and mess. It is often poetic, but is as subtle as a dark hammer to the head. Did not enjoy.




  • First of all, this is not a novel. That may not matter, but it mattered to me - it is a collection of nine stories, all with a man at different stages of his life at the centre.

    As I left each story, I was expecting to meet these characters again, and soon began to realize that that was not going to happen. I don't read short stories for this reason; they are bite-sized little chunks, a snack when you want something more substantial.

    It is a pity, because I was intrigued by the characters and their narratives. They are all a little lost, uncertain of where they are or where they are going, looking back and forward at their lives with trepidation, regret, uncertainty. Most came off as real people, flawed, curious, at times fascinating, and I wanted to know more about each one. Each story ended too soon, just as I was getting into it.

    I like the idea of writing specifically about European men; they are a sub-group worth writing about as much as anyone else - I don't really buy the criticism I have heard and read that there are no non-white men, no ethnic minorities (in fact, there may be - mostly their ethnicity is not mentioned at all) - writers are not required to be equal opportunity employers of characters.

    This book had a lot of potential that it did not quite realize. If the stories could have been tied together in some way, or a more unified narrative created, this would have helped the book as a whole.




  • The first novel I have read by Asimov, which is strange because I used to read a lot of sci-fi. To be honest, I wouldn't be rushing to read another.

    It was written in the late eighties, so it is not that old, but some of the references to the future are a little dated. It is set two hundred years in the future, but there is still talk of people sorting through "computer printouts", which is a hilarious idea, even to us today.

    Other parts were more fascinating, such as the idea that human beings have colonised the solar system and beyond and that real human civilisation is to be found on the settlements, which are artificial constructs in space.

    The planet Earth is seen as a poor, devastated, crowded, unhealthy place that space settlers avoid like the plague. One of these settlements devises super-fast travel and ends up outside the solar system, near a star called Nemesis and a planet called Eurythra.

    It is here where things fall away from science-fiction and come closer to magical-realism. There is a discovery of extra-terrestrial life that seems to be telepathic, and a gifted teenage girl who also seems to have some uncanny abilities to read people's thoughts. The whole story around this girl is very unconvincing.

    All in all, the writing isn't great, the story sags in parts and the vision of the future could do with some more details. There are fascinating ideas here, but they are mixed up with some aimless writing and some misplaced magic or fantasy elements. Could be better.


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