Thursday, June 29, 2006

Peter Carey, Theft, 2006.

Theft is the only one of Carey’s novels that I’ve read. No Oscar and Lucinda, no True History of the Kelly Gang for me. Clearly I have no respect for people who have won the Booker twice? I dunno.

At any rate. It’s an uninspiring book. Alternating in direct, first person narration by two brothers--“Butcher”, a brilliant painter, and Hugh, a person who is not balanced--the novel is not easy to get into. The oscillation between their styles makes it more difficult than I would like to find the rhythm for reading the book, and once found, the plot does not, to my mind, provide enough sustenance for one to remain interested. It's not overly intricate, but too detailed in too much depth. It's a fun story, though, of art-world manipulation and theft.

What Carey does well is the characterization: both Butcher and Hugh are phenomenally self-absorbed, though Hugh less so, and care for the other brother deeply. Perhaps Butcher’s problem is that he cares too deeply for his art to care enough for his brother? Or perhaps that’s too trite an assessment: I’m still not sure.

What’s difficult, to my mind, is to tell a story so enmeshed in the world of art that pictures have to be real for the reader. Carey kept me interested in the various canvasses that inhabit the world of Theft, and interested me in them enough that I’d like to see them.

Having read this book, I’m not sure that I’ll be in a rush to go near Carey’s Booker winners. It was a quick weekend read, but not worth the three-days’ worth of library fines that I’ll incur when I return the novel tomorrow evening.

Monday, June 19, 2006

David L. Robbins, Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, 2005.

I am not normally a fan of historical fiction. There's quite a bit of decent stuff--I'll admit to a weakness for Rutherford, as I enjoyed Sarum and Russka, for example--but I've never been excited. Having said that, this novel is quite good. It was recommended to me by a friend of my parents, TH, largely because of issues of faith.

The central character is Rabbi Ben Kahn, attached to the 90th American division, just after D-Day. His son is MIA, after the B-17 he was flying was shot down. Rabbi Khan is himself a veteran of the 90th, from the first World War, and is appalled by the lack of leadership in his old division. He integrates himself into the division, and his interactions with the doughboys are fascinating--but more fascinating still is the depiction of the Rabbi's relationship with G-d, and with another (Baptist) chaplain.

The other vital character is Joe Amos Biggs, a driver in one of the logistics/support companies. After shooting down a fighter with the .50 calibre on his truck, his position within the company changes--and he develops an interesting relationship with a couple of French civilians, almost taking the role of Pharaoh when Abram and Sarai first visit Egypt (Genesis 12--a spoiler for this book, if you don't recall the story off the top of your head). Much of Joe's story is what life was like in the Red Ball Express.

The final important plot element is Chien Blanc--a deserter, a GI running in the Parisian black market--and especially his gasoline scams.

At any rate, the various stories link up eventually, plausibly but too neatly. It's an interesting story that just seems to resolve too nicely. It was a good book, and it was fascinating to read about the fighting in the bocage in Normandy from the perspective of the 90th, and watching the division grow from an embarrassment into one of the best combat divisions in the ETO. It was well-researched, and nothing felt overly didactic--but for me, as with much historical fiction, it just didn't quite click. A good book to borrow from the library, and not to own.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind, 2006.

I was underwhelmed by this novel. Ostensibly the story of the friendship between Georgette George and Ann Drayton, who meet as room-mates at Barnard, it's more a drawing of New York City as affected by the climate and mores of the Vietnam War than a gripping story. I got sufficiently bored that I didn't finish it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Jessica Cutler, The Washingtonienne, 2005.

At times, what I read depresses me. I read this because... because I was reading Wonkette two summers ago? And thus read the blog on which this was based? Really, I have no defence.

It's crap. Absolute, mindless crap that doesn't even rate me calling it pulp. The book is poorly written and plotted; it's a thinly re-worked version of Cutler's blog detailing her paramours/method for paying rent via... what is essentially prostitution. Lots of dirty sex, lots of drug use, more alcohol than I've read about. Well, no, not really. But it's poorly written. Stick with the blog: it's shorter. Save yourself the time. If you want to read about sex, find some decent erotica. If you want to read about drugs, go read some Brett Easton Ellis. But save yourself the hour it would take to read this dreck.

What truly baffles me is the prose that claims to be taking a step back and reflecting, and yet at the same time is so clearly self-involved and narcissistic that any decent editor should have made some effort to get Cutler to rewrite long segments. Oi with the poodles already. Find something decent to read, self.