Novel set at the moment of Kenyan independence from the British, where the victorious Kenyans are not united but divided by their experience of colonial rule and the fight to be free. Tries to provide a panoramic view through the eyes of several characters, but Thiong'o clearly cares about some more than others, so it's all a bit uneven. The good bits are good though, and one of the characters (Mugo) is put in a desperate situation it would have been intriguing to read more about (if the whole book had been about him, I'd have been happy). The book lacked a bit of humour and vibrancy, but he has a good eye for the complexities present even at the liberation movement's moment of triumph. A book I liked more sitting and thinking about it afterward rather than in the process of reading.
Michel has changed. All the crudely satisfying rage of his previous books has largely dissipated, and while he hasn't cheered up any this was smart, bleakly funny and insightful, and generally a pleasure to read. He must have grown up or something, eek.
Collection of short stories set in LA in the early-mid 80s, using many of the same characters. Basically an inferior riff on the themes of Less Than Zero - the characters are drugged and bored out of any emotional connection with the world, which makes the book tough to engage with at first, until the later stories show what that state of affairs leads to and some outlandish horror occurs almost unnoticed. Decent enough by the end, but basically the same ground he covered in a far more impressive novel a decade earlier.
An odd one, a 'scandalous' book of its time that recounts the life of Jean Des Esseintes, who hates the 19th century French society he lives in and shuts himself away from it, indulging in various sorts of decadence - going through obsessions with flowers, jewellery, perfumes, classical literature etc. The book has no plot beyond his going into seclusion and its eventual end, but generally just catalogues his tastes in all those things in some detail. If that sounds rather boring, it is. The most interesting chapter is a memory from a previous time, and his attempts to make a passing young man into a murderer.That said, it was worth reading the book to have it to think about afterwards. The point of view it describes might not make for compelling reading but is certainly stark - reading the intro and appendices to the book, describing reaction to the book and how the author saw it afterwards was more interesting than the book itself. Huysmans saw the book as the start of his later conversion to Catholicism, which seems about right - Des Esseintes has contempt for the world and all things human but does not have the hope of anything better elsewhere. That is a tricky position to hold, intellectually and emotionally, and the reviewer who told him he needed either to shoot himself or convert had a point.
Two magicians attempt to bring magic - real magic - back to an England in need of help defeating Napoleon. This is a pastiche of long, Regency period novels, and so the pace can't be expected to be electric - but even accepting that, this is really slow, 450 pages go by without real tension or intrigue beyond the initial, attention-grabbing setup of an England about to be made magical, with faeries and talking statues and ghost ships to deceive the French. The second half of the book, however, really picks up the pace and is very enjoyable. While I was never totally wild about it (I think the main problem was I just never massively got behind any of the characters, except Strange to an extent) it's very different and tells a good story.
An academic grieving for his wife and children finds distraction in writing a book about a minor silent movie actor, Hector Mann, who disappeared mysteriously in 1929. One day, he receives a letter from someone claiming to be Hector's wife saying that Hector is still alive, and would like to meet him. For the most part I thought this was excellent, brilliantly written and intriguing, a smart book that also managed to be a really compelling mystery. I was slightly disappointed by the ending, not because it was bad or inappropriate, but because it didn't quite have the kick that could have made this a truly brilliant or even great book. Still very, very good though.
Family drama that borrows the springboard and to an extent the structure from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying - the mother of the family lies on her deathbed, prompting the telling of the family story from the point of view of each of the family members. Very well written and observed, it feels very real. This could be a family you knew and did not consider particularly remarkable, but would be intrigued once you got under their skin. They see the same events differently, come closer and drift apart in very ordinary and human ways. Not the most exciting, but it aims for something different. I'd read more by her.
I’m a Gray fan and this was trailed as a sequel to his brilliant Straw Dogs, so I expected fine things. I mostly got them – it isn’t as sharp as Straw Dogs was, or such a bucket of cold water over the head, but as a collection of ruminations on the idea of progress, myths and how they operate, and man’s place in the grand scheme of things, it was very enjoyable and thought-provoking, which is all I ask of philosophy.
Big Phil wigs out once more – a reality bending novel where nobody is really quite sure if the floor beneath them isn’t about to turn to marshmallow. Reminded me of his novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, in a good way. I’d try to describe the plot, but it’s so tangled I’d struggle to sum it up in a line or two. Very enjoyable, some of the writing is a little ropey and the characters aren’t amazing, but that isn’t really the point. Really good.
How to be Christopher Hitchens, in a few 'letters' to the reader. Principled talk, focused on how to think rather than what to think (although of course the correct 'how' will exclude many a 'what'). Rambles a bit sometimes, but the aim really is to raise a variety of subjects rather than to go into depth on them, so that never becomes too much of a problem. Where I disagreed with him it was worth disagreeing with him; he provokes thought, which is always good. The last two essays, one on Bosnia and the other as a summation of what had gone before, were by far the best, making for a pleasing end.