Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sunset Park

Title: Sunset Park

Author: Paul Auster

Number of pages: 308

Started: 20 April 2011

Finished: 27 April 2011

Opening words:

For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things. There are at least two jobs every day, sometimes as many as six or seven, and each time he and his cohorts enter another house, they are confronted by the things, the innumerable cast- off things left behind by the departed families. The absent people have all fled in haste, in shame, in confusion, and it is certain that wherever they are living now (if they have found a place to live and are not camped out in the streets) their new dwellings are smaller than the houses they have lost. Each house is a story of failure — of bankruptcy and default, of debt and foreclosure — and he has taken it upon himself to document the last, lingering traces of those scattered lives in order to prove that the vanished families were once here, that the ghosts of people he will never see and never know are still present in the discarded things strewn about their empty houses.

Plot summary:

In the sprawling flatlands of Florida, 28-year-old Miles is photographing the last lingering traces of families who have abandoned their houses due to debt or foreclosure. Miles is haunted by guilt for having inadvertently caused the death of his step-brother, a situation that caused him to flee his father and step-mother in New York 7 years ago. What keeps him in Florida is his relationship with a teenage high-school girl, Pilar, but when her family threatens to expose their relationship, Miles decides to protect Pilar by going back to Brooklyn, where he settles in a squat to prepare himself to face the inevitable confrontation with his father that he has been avoiding for years.

What I thought:

I was not entirely convinced by Paul Auster’s previous book, Invisible, but I think he was on much better form with his latest book, Sunset Park.

I thought this was a good read and had clear indications of earlier novels - misfit characters, strange circumstances, no nice neat endings – and hung together well. It was a satisfying read and reminded me why I like Paul Auster.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hideous Kinky

Title: Hideous Kinky

Author: Esther Freud

Number of pages: 186

Started: 16 April 2011

Finished: 20 April 2011

Opening words:

It wasn't until we were halfway through France that we noticed Maretta wasn't talking.
She sat very still in the back of the van and watched us all with bright eyes.
I crawled across the mattress to her. 'Maretta will you tell us a story?'
Maretta sighed and turned her head away.
John was doing the driving. He was driving fast with one hand on the wheel. John was Maretta's husband. He had brought her along at the last minute only because, I heard him tell my mother, she wasn't well.
Bea glared at me.
'Maretta ...' I began again dutifully, but Maretta placed her light white hand on the top of my head and held it there until my skull began to creep and I scrambled out from under it.
'You didn't ask her properly,' Bea hissed. 'You didn't say please.'
'Well, you ask her.'
'It's not me who wants the story, is it?'
'But you said to ask. I was asking for you.'
'Shhh.' Our mother leaned over from the front seat. 'You'll wake Danny. Come and sit with me and I'll read you both a story.'
I looked hopefully at Bea. 'Oh all right,' she relented, and we jumped over Danny's sleeping body and clambered up between the two front seats.

Plot summary:

While Mum immerses herself in the Sufi religion, and contemplates wearing a veil, the children begin to rebel: Bea insists on going to school while the five-year old narrator dreams of mashed potato and fantasises that Bilal is her father.

Read an analysis of the book in The Guardian.

What I thought:

This was a tale of two children being dragged to foreign climes in order for their mum to live the carefree life she aspired to. It was an interesting read and was a well written book. It was an engaging and, in some ways, a fairly light story. But you felt for the children at times who were looking for things from their mum and those around them and sought “normality”, which was rather at odds to their mum’s aspirations. A good read.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Point of Departure

Title: Point of Departure

Author: James Cameron

Number of pages: 312

Started: 8 April 2011

Finished: 15 April 2011

Opening words:

I cannot remember when these curious moments of suspense first began, when I would find myself unanchored and adrift in the dark groping for clues as to where I was. Sometimes, indeed, even who I was. These moments came, and still come, at the exact transition between sleep and awakening, lying on the edge of uncertainty: what is this bed, where is this room, what lies beyond it – Egypt, Engalnd, Berlin, Jerusalem, Moscow, Minneapolis, Peking; there have been so many places, and any of them could be the background of this vacuum.

Plot summary:

Reportage resists easy definition and comes in many forms - travel essay, narrative history, autobiography - but at its finest it reveals hidden truths about people and events that have shaped the world we know. This new series, hailed as 'a wonderful idea' by Don DeLillo, both restores to print and introduces for the first time some of the greatest works of the genre. The classic memoir by one of the great British journalists of the twentieth century, a man who earned universal respect not only for his courage in reporting from dangerous places, but for his candour and independence. "Point of Departure" features Cameron's eyewitness accounts of the atom bomb tests at Bikini atoll, the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the war in Korea; and vivid evocations of his encounters with Mao Tse-tung and Winston Churchill.

What I thought:

This is the first non-fiction book I have read for ages. It was the account of a journalist, James Cameron, who was mainly active post WWII to the 1970s. This meant that they were not periods of history that I have lived though, although some of them were familiar. I think because the book was not giving a perspective on things that I was particularly familiar with, it made the book less accessible/ relevant to me. I did not necessarily understand the politics that was beneath some of the things that happened or that Cameron reflected upon. But that said, it was a book that gave a unique perspective in some major points of history. He was there when atom bombs were dropped 9and became one of the founders of CND as a result). He was there to see Churchill when he was frail and expected to due imminently. For others with a more indepth view of history, I suspect they would have got more out of this than I did, but nonetheless it gave some fascinating insights into 20th Century world history.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Title: Neuromancer

Author: William Gibson

Number of pages: 317

Started: 29 March 2011

Finished: 7 April 2011

Opening words:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

"It's not like I'm using," Case heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. "It's like my body's developed this massive drug deficiency." It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.

Ratz was tending bar, h is prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled a tray of glasses with draft Kirin. He saw Case and smiled, his teeth a webwork of East European steel and brown decay. Case found a place at the bar, between the unlikely tan on one of Lonny Zone's whores and the crisp naval uniform of a tall African whose cheekbones were ridged with precise rows of tribal scars. "Wage was in here early, with two joeboys," Ratz said, shoving a draft across the bar with his good hand. "Maybe some business with you, Case?"

Read a longer excerpt here.

Plot summary:

Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway--jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way--and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance--and a cure--for a price....

What I thought:

This is the book that inspired the film “The Matrix” and I could certainly see the similarities between the two (with an occasional character name change). Science fiction is not really my kind of genre. I like John Wyndham, but he would not have described himself as a science fiction writer as such.

Whilst I found Neuromancer a decent enough read, it did not entirely inspire me and it has not convinced me that science fiction is a genre that I want to indulge it at the expense of others that I enjoy more. That said, this book is a really foundation stone of all sorts of science fiction that followed it and worth reading for that reason alone.