Sunday, 25 September 2011

fifty-nine.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)

  "'That's all,' said the Doctor. 'I have certified you as capable of undergoing the usual descriptions of punishment as specified below, to wit, restraint of handcuffs, leg-chains, cross-irons, body-belt, canvas dress, close confinement, No 1. diet, No 2. diet, birch-rod and cat-o'-nine-tails. Any complaint?'
'But must I have all these at once?' asked Paul, rather dismayed.
'You will if you ask impertinent questions. Look after that man, officer; he's obviously a troublesome character."

Paul Pennyfeather is kicked out of Oxford after an incident which left him being seen without his trousers. He then gets a job as a schoolmaster at a private school in Wales where he'll meet the people who will mean most to him throughout his life. 

The story of Paul starts with a fall and then throughout life he ends up in one difficult spot after the other, but never complaining. The characters he meets are hilarious, and they are the real reason this is a great book. Evelyn Waugh is an author that I will definitely read more from.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

fifty-eight

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr (1979)


"And so the city became even more savage with the passing of each day, with the taking of each step, the breathing of each breath. From time to time a body would fall from a window and before the blood had a chance to seep through the clothing hands were going through his pockets to see what might be found to help them through another moment of being suspended in Hell"
 Harry, his girlfriend Marion and their friend Tyrone are heroin addicts. Harry and Tyrone get money from delivering newspapers and pawning Harry's mother's television set. Marion is spending the money her parents give her for her shrink on a variation of drugs. Tyrone and Harry also try to sell drugs, but they always end up using more than they sell.

Harry's mother, Sara, receives a phone call with a promise to be on tv. She decides to start dieting, but it's hard when the food is so tempting and comforting. She sees a doctor who gives her diet pills, she is to take four a day, each with a different colour.

As the days turn to weeks and weeks to months, the situation for all four is getting worse. Harry, Tyrone and Marion is suffering because of the drug drought and high prizes and Sara is suffering from paranoia and other side effects from the drugs, and is eventually given Valium. 
It is definitely not a happy read, the four are doomed from the start and Hubert Selby Jr does a splendid job describing the downfall. The only issue I had with the book is that a great deal of it is written in Bronx slang which made it harder to read and the teacher in me wanted to find a red pen and mark all the spelling and grammar errors! 

Having seen the film more than once, I actually prefer it to the book. It could be because the film has a few happy moments while the book is very bleak. I also like that the book is so timeless, it didn't feel like it is over 30 years ago since it was written.

Friday, 9 September 2011

fifty-seven.

"It takes vast willpower, luck, and skill to be the first. But it takes a gigantic heart to be number two."
Mattias is happy with his life in 1999; he has a girlfriend, they have been together for 12 years and he works as a gardener and he has a few good friends. And he is going with his best friend's band to the Faeroe Islands. He is completely satisfied with being a nobody, a number two; just like Buzz Aldrin, his hero. But then, shortly before the trip, he loses his job and the girl leaves him for an other man. The next thing Mattias remembers is waking up in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere on the Faeroes in soaking rain.

Havstein is the man who saves Mattias. He brings him to his home, which is also a half-way house with four patients. And here Mattias really melts down before slowly starting to recover. The people in the half-way house have all had their own rocky way from and to sanity. 

This book is also about so much more than Mattias and the people in the half-way house. It is about astronauts and Buzz Aldrin and the past forty years. Johan Harstad has written such a beautiful portrait of the Faeroes that it has become almost a character itself. I fell in love with the islands. I also cried a good deal while reading, not sure why, but it is sad in a simple and beautiful way.

Read it!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

fifty-six.


the Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (2011)

"'Sahib', he spoke after a while. 'You have asked me a question I have not been asked for a long time now.' His eyes started crinkling and all of a sudden he was laughing. Heavy, gusty laughter filled the room. Then he spoke. 'It is true, I am neither a Mashud nor a Wazir. But I can tell you as little about who I am as I can about who I shall be. Think of Tor Baz as your hunting falcon. That should be enough.'
Tor Baz was left in the desert alone on the after his parents were killed by the tribe his mother ran away from. During the next years he will be raised by many, always moving around in the area divided between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. He moves along the tribes but no one gets close to him.

Each chapter is a story in itself, sometimes with the falcon, Tor Baz, or not. There are no dates, but some stories are set before the countries' independence and some after. I usually get confused when a book moves back and forth in time, but because the chapters are so different from each other, all with a very good and informed beginning, it was easy to keep up.

Ahmad offers a fascinating insight to a very complex area. All the different tribes have their own code of honour and problems, and life is hard no matter what side you are on.

I'm also very impressed that this is the first book written by a man in his very late seventies.

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