Archive for the 'loathed' Category

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

What was I thinking?

This is exactly the kind of book I really dislike: sitcom-style quirky, hyper-verbal, endless prose fireworks to cover the complete lack of substance… I guess I was having a really open-minded day.

The experience of reading this book is similar to that of having a coked-up mensa member cornering you at a party and trying to impress you. For seven hundred and thirty-six pages.

Insult to injury, as the cliché goes, three-quarters of the way through (probably because she didn’t know what else to do) the book suddenly turns into a thriller/murder mystery. Oy vey!

Addendum: I do not understand why people think “New York Times Bestseller” is a good thing to have on the cover of a book. It’s more like a deterrent. Have a gander at the “number 1″ titles for the last 60 years. It’s awash in hack writers. The appearance of a book that’s actually good comes as a bit of a shock.

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Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

You won’t hear me say this too often: “Don’t read the book, see the movie.”

The movie wasn’t perfect, but was obviously making an effort to examine the characters and ended with an interesting ethical question. When I saw that it was based on a book, I couldn’t resist. I should have. Especially since it cost me 11 euros 40. Which is, for me, a fair bit of time in the salt mines.

It’s my own fault. A dreadful prejudice of mine: that no matter how good the film was, the book must be better.

I’ll admit right up front that I’m not a fan of mystery/thriller novels. That’s being polite. But in the spirit of “what the hell, you never know” I gave it a go. Unfortunately, I was deeply unimpressed. (Re-enforcing that prejudice.)

So why was I so deeply unimpressed?

The first thing that struck me were certain descriptions. They were so bad I kept thinking: “I must not be getting the joke”. The author wasn’t joking. He wasn’t going for a surrealist effect or parodying anything. Brace yourself, here’s a few examples picked semi-randomly:

[four men at a bar] “One of them, a busted heap of red veins and yellowing skin named Lenny, said,…”

How a human being could possibly manage to look like a “busted heap” of anything is utterly beyond my imagination. And I think I have a pretty good one. Now throw in the veins and the skin and what you have here is the aftermath of a really nasty industrial accident.

Here’s another one:

“…with a wide body that seemed as if the thick flesh had wrapped itself in layers over the bone as opposed to expanding organically as the body grew.”

Now the writer is obviously at pains to make a point here, but what that point might be… Frankly, I can’t picture a person whose flesh is “layered”. (Almost sounds like a cellulite treatment from the film Brazil.)

And it continues:

“Big Dave had a bushel of beard and mustache around his lips…”

A “bushel”? Why the word bushel? The whole thing just sounds weird. A line missing at this point in the narrative might be: “He’d just kissed a puddle of super glue and then applied his face to an unswept barbershop floor.” Why not? At least it would be a little clearer.

What is this about? Is it sheer, unbridled laziness? Lack of talent? Early prototype of a novel writing program? Am I missing something?

Anyhow, it just went on and on with descriptions like this. Plus a lot of clichéd dialogue, chummy/hard-assed characters and unbelievable scenes.

Life is short, see the movie.

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Why I loathe Margaret Atwood

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Have a look at this interview. Why is she so nasty? If she doesn’t like interviews (as she claims) then don’t do them. Ah, but she does like doing them — she likes being mean and pompous and trying to make other people feel small and look foolish. The interviewer had some very interesting points about Atwood’s writing which Atwood blew off and tried to twist into something trite. Have a look, what do you think?


The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

I picked up this book because I love Italy, have never been to Venice and didn’t know anything about the Fenice opera house that sadly burnt down in 1999. Well, I still love Italy, I still haven’t been to Venice and I still don’t know anything about the Fenice opera house. The best I can say about this book is that the edition I read had a lovely cover.

Other than that, I have to say it was a dreadfully written, stupid book. “Portrait of Venice” my ass. We barely see Venice at all. Mostly, it’s about the author. Who appears to be tiresome, mean and personality-free.

Here’s a whirlwind tour of why I didn’t like this book.

The author is all about quirk-hunting. Look at all the funny wackos I found! I hope he is forever shunned in Venice (and everywhere else) for using people’s real names and exposing private details to public ridicule. He talks to people, pretends to be sympathetic and then makes them look ridiculous. It’s that ignorant school of pseudo-travel writing that portrays people of other cultures as cute/charming/quirky cartoon characters. This is disrespectful, of course, and does nothing but display the insecurity, shallowness and ignorance of the author. I suppose it makes him feel better than everybody else. Here’s a guy I’d like to punch.

With three or so exceptions, women mentioned in the book are reduced to their hair color: blonde, brunette, redhead… they have no past or future, no personality, no thoughts, no life. Sometimes they are allowed to be wives, mothers or girlfriends, but the description stops there.

Frankly, I think the author is a talentless hack. A not very good reporter trying to write a book. One of the many indications of this, is the endless cataloguing of dates, times and locations. “At 5:32 am Paulo got out of bed to get a glass of water.” A cross between a cheap mystery-thriller and a CNN update. As if temporal precision makes good writing. Another pretentious tick he has is never using contractions, making everyone sound unnaturally formal and stilted.

And finally, the author is embarrassingly celebrity/fame/money obsessed. The name-dropping is out of control. He’s amazed by every two-bit socialite — you can just see him wringing his hands like Peter Lorre at his most obsequious. The author craves the attention of the rich and titled. He slobbers dutifully over the memory of famous authors and artists, repeating their names like mantras. When invited to a house where Henry James once stayed, he reads a novel merely to be able say “I’m standing where this character stood.” Over and over the great man’s name is repeated as the author of this book scuttles about: sitting at a desk where HJ once sat, looking out over the water where HJ may once have stood, etc. Now, I have no objection to a bit of literary tourism, but this fellow never once gives any indication of appreciating the novels, or even being particularly fond oo otherwise of HJ’s work. So why is he going on about him? Because HJ is a famous author. Because everyone knows he’s supposed to be one of the great authors. Because he’s famous. Reminds me of a line attributed to Kipling:

“He wrapped himself in quotations- as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”

And one final hallmark of a bad writer: superlatives and extremes. No one merely says something. Nay, they must shriek. And wildly, too. It’s a veritable pyrotechnic display of things glittering, soaring and aglow with malfeasance — brilliantly transformed into an endlessly dazzling display of “twinkling in the multitudinous candles.” And that’s just the doorknob. His poor thesaurus must be in tatters.

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