book reviews

Book review: The Acolyte

The Acolyte.The Acolyte by Thea Astley.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Shockingly, I’d never read any Thea Astley until I read The Acolyte. I felt guilty about having not done so, sure, but it wasn’t until I was at a loose end and needed a book quickly that a hasty grab from a bag of books rescued from the last-days sale of a cavernous bookstore brought it to my attention.

And boy, am I glad that chance brought me in contact with the story of Paul Vesper, the titular acolyte of blind (and fictional) composer and pianist Jack Holberg. Because it makes me feel a lot better about my own creative inertia, frankly. (more…)

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Book review: Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 1

Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 1.Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 1 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I kind of know what happens here.

I mean, I’ve come to read this manga after I’ve seen the anime. So I know more or less how the story goes.

But I’m interested to see what else there is on offer, knowing that adaptation can sometimes squeeze the life out of a property. I guess I was interested in seeing what more is hidden here. Because let me tell you, if you have no idea about this series, it’s a trip, involving inhuman murder, shady government research, weird blood-based powers, a fatal version of It’s a Knockout! and a fairly major character who may or may not be real.

Corpse Disposal Unit is an EXCELLENT band name.

Oh, and it all takes place in a devastated Tokyo, after an earthquake obliterated 70 per cent of the city. In a prison that also doubles as an amusement part, where death row prisoners die if they don’t get a ration of special candy. (more…)

Book review: The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die

The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die.The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die by Roger Moore.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Roger Moore was my first James Bond.

That’s not quite right. Ian Fleming was, as I had heard of James Bond and decided it was worth checking out some of his books from the library when I was woefully under the target age for them. But I remember discovering a whole series of movies through my parents (and a troop of babysitters). And being the ‘80s at this point, Moore was the go-to.

Of Moore’s tenure, two films still are sentimental favourites with me: The Spy Who Loved Me (which the actor considered his favourite outing), and Live and Let Die, his first time in the double-digits. (more…)

Book review: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment.Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (tr. Oliver Ready).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I first read Crime and Punishment in my late teens, I was surprised at how accessible I found the text. I’d been led to believe that Russian literature was, to a word, turgid and overblown – not to mention depressing. Imagine my surprise when I found that the straitened world of Raskolnikov was intriguing and compelling. It was a revelation, and opened me up to a lot of literature I’d not previously considered.

This time around, I was surprised at how much more lively the text appears when viewed through the lens of a more recent translation. And how much deeper the book appears – and how differently I viewed parts of it – after an extra 20 years of life. (more…)

Book review: Death: A Graveside Companion

Death: A Graveside Companion.Death: A Graveside Companion edited by Joanna Ebenstein.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

You know, there’s nothing like a graphic investigation into the imagery of death to provide a kind of mortal “oh, is that the time?” feeling in the reader. This is, undoubtedly, the role of the Ebenstein-edited tome on funerary fetishism and the culture of the crypt: to examine how humanity has dealt with its ceaseless tramp towards death through creativity. It’s certainly the way I felt while flicking through its Grim Reaper-filled pages: tempus fugit. Death is coming, but hell, people have made some strange stuff to herald its coming. (Little trees of hair, anyone?)

SPADE THAT MOTHERFUCKER, BONESY.

Aside from this, the book reiterated that skulls are cool.
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Book review: Klotsvog

Klotsvog.Klotsvog by Margarita Khemlin (tr. Lisa Hayden).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I guess if one was looking for a literary bummer with which to pass the time, Klotsvog would fit the bill. It’s a story, written by a Ukraine-born Muscovite, about an indefatigably solipsistic woman who sheds partners and children like Kleenex.

“You, Mayechka, are made from a different dough. Like matzo. Unleavened and hard.”

There’s more to it than that – her awfulness, her awareness of social standing and her denial of her Jewish roots are clear commentaries on Stalinist purges and on the difficulty of life both during and after the second world war. But foremost is the portrait of Maya Abramovna Klotsvog: a woman who believes she is smarter and better than everyone else, but who also, apparently, doesn’t give a fuck who she irritates in the pursuit of her desires. (more…)

Book review: My Travels In Ding Yi

My Travels In Ding Yi.My Travels In Ding Yi by Shi Tiesheng (tr. Alex Woodend).
My rating: 2 of 5 stars.

So, I could be a bit dim. I mean, I didn’t pursue philosophy at university beyond first year, so Shi Tiesheng’s 156-chapter stream-of-consciousness journey through life, the universe and everything – by painstakingly recounted way of Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape – might be just be something that’s rocketing over my head, satellite style, shooting across the heavens leaving a trail of profundity that I’ll never grasp, dullard that I am.

The film had fewer dumplings, though.

Could be. (more…)

Book review: The Warming

The Warming.The Warming by Craig Ensor.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

So let’s take it from the start. It’s the 24th century, and things aren’t, for the Earth, going well.

Because global warming has, of course, managed to eliminate a whole lot of the planet’s population. (What’s a few billion between friends?) Between increasing heat and rising sea levels, a whole load of the planet is now uninhabitable, and what’s left of humanity keeps a brave face on while moving towards the poles, in the hope that the areas of declining iciness might provide a place to live, at least for a time.
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Book review: Journeys

Journeys.Journeys by Stefan Zweig (tr. Will Stone).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I must admit that prior to reading this book, I’d only known Stefan Zweig’s work through its influence on The Grand Budapest Hotel – which is a fairly enormous watering-down of his importance on my part.

Yes?

Turns out Zweig’s writing is much more than just the inspiration for some lovely cinema. Journeys is a collection of the writer’s work, translated by Will Stone, spanning four decades, all of which specifically relate to travel.
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