Though not as successful as his quirky and insightful The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy is similarly appealing in its friendly, straightforward presentation of abstract thought. Here, the author tries to demonstrate how six major-league philosophers--Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche--teach us how to cope with life's difficulties. While the book makes for a fine introduction to these men's lives and thoughts, it falls short of offering any breathtaking wisdom. Nevertheless, it's stylishly written and, at least, marginally consoling.
This compact tale of a young Pakistani man forced to leave New York and return to his home country after 9/11 makes for a gripping read. True, there's a slightly contrived element to the narrative (that I'm not going to give away here), but the protagonist is fascinating, the story suspenseful, and the writing impressively self-assured. The novel manages to make a statement of social, cultural, and political weight, and be a breeze to read at the same time.
I came into Never Let Me Go with high expectations, and perhaps for that reason was let down a little. It's certainly readable, provocative and appropriately creepy (it presents a future in which cloned children are raised to donate their organs when they become adults), but I felt it would have worked better as a tight novella than a nearly 300-page novel. I wanted to buy into the world of the book, but practical questions about the plot kept nagging at me. Most obviously, what exactly keeps our highly intelligent protagonists from learning about the history of their kind for so long? Still, Ishiguro's conceit here hits the right existential questions, and his prose is eerily, fittingly as light as air.
A smart, gripping thriller about seaside thugs, Brighton Rock delivers intense character studies of evil and innocence and the energetic, exact language typical of Graham Greene. Though set in England, the novel seems just as exotic as Greene's stories set in Asia, West Africa, or Latin America; for me, at any rate, 1930s Brighton boardwalk life was a seedy revelation.
I'd already heard so much about this multiple award-winner that I probably had impossibly high standards for it, but it won me over anyway. The novel is energetic, inventive, surprising and ambitious, and manages to be emotional as well, an achievement that can be hard to pull off with postmodern narrative. Along the way, the reader is treated to a short, violent history of the Dominican Republic and that country's spooky grip on its emigrants, a love/hate curse which fuels the characters' electric and often outrageous behavior.
The first half of this new novel about a sad but still-pretty-hip middle-aged New Yorker who falls in love with a young Irish rocker (or her songs?) was so damn good I had to force myself to slow down to savor it. Phillips' descriptions of popular music, and "the longing for longing" it inspires, is a revelation. His sentences are wise and stylish, his characters (save for one or two) richly drawn. Perhaps inevitably, the falling action is a relative let-down--despite the author's obvious talent, he can't sustain the bursting energy through to the end. Nevertheless, a work of great promise that I'll happily recommend to all music fanboys/girls.
This thoroughly brilliant book of essays probably deserves 5 stars; my only quibble is that as a collection it asks a lot of the reader. DFW's metafictional take is effective and charming, with footnotes and annotations that are at least as entertaining as the more traditional text they complement. But since this is a series of essays, the PoMo approach can start to feel like too much of a good thing. Still, the subjects are varied and wonderful--among other adventures, the author spends time at the Adult Video Awards, on John McCain's 2000 Straight Talk Express bus, and visiting a late-night radio shock-jock--and the observations surprising, illuminating and witty.
Smooth noir detective fiction exploring anti-immigrant feelings in Sweden, this is the first of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels from the series that would later inspire the BBC series Wallander. The opera-loving detective is an appealing underdog, bad at just about every part of his life except his job: he's gloomy, drinks too much, weighs too much, has troubled family relationships, dreads the Swedish winter, and frets over his country falling apart. Ultimately, though, his courage and unwavering insistence on justice make him worthy of our care and attention. Though the novel's moments of high drama are limited, Faceless Killers is a likeable, realistic, understated police procedural.
Deliverance is dripping with so much manliness that it would easy to parody, but the novel still works, thanks to Dickey's sentence-craft and finely drawn narrator and protagonist, Ed. To summarize, four suburban Atlanta friends go for a canoe trip on a wild river in north Georgia, and murder, mayhem, and masculine self-discovery ensue. Though Dickey's poetic instincts sometimes lead him to go on for pages about the beauty of the woods, there is plenty of adventure to reward the patient reader. In its portrayal of Ed's ennui, the disappearing Georgia wilderness, and the encroachment of mass consumer culture, the novel anticipates keenly some of the spiritual challenges of contemporary America.
Highly engaging historical fiction focusing on the surprising volatility, and fragility, of 1919 America, The Given Day follows the converging paths of charismatic-Boston-cop Danny, plucky-black-man-on-the-lam Luther, and various historical personages from Babe Ruth to Calvin Coolidge. Though Lehane writes well, he is occasionally unsubtle; his scenes become florid at times, particularly towards the end of the novel. I'm too much of a snob to consider this book literature, but it is a fun and eye-opening read that manages the difficult feat of not seeming too long at 700 pages.