Avid reader and book enthusiast. Blogging against the forgetfulness of everyday life. I read and review in English and German.

The common theme of the Romantic Tales was transgression. Millers and Finders often figured in them; their professions contained an element of moral risk, in Valley eyes, and they were perceived as dangerously attractive people—people on the threshold.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 96)


The link between attractiveness and liminality is something I hadn't seen before. 

2 Stars
Margaret Atwood: The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

I read this over Christmas, so only about a month ago, but it turns out I'd already forgotten half the plot. After briefly refreshing my memory, here's what I've got.


It's the near future and most major industries have collapsed due to an unspecified economic breakdown. Stan and Charmaine are living out of their car, working odd jobs and trying to make ends meet. When they are offered a safe(ish) life in a walled-off experimental town, they don't hesitate for long. The only catch: every other month they have to leave their artificial 1950s bliss for a stint in the town's prison. Meanwhile, alternates take their place – and soon throw their lives into turmoil. 


There are a few things about this novel that are just off, for lack of a better word. The main thing I couldn't get over was how naive and uncritical Charmaine was made out to be. Of course she was meant to be a foil to Stan (and her other, more secret self with Max) and a mirror of this whole 1950s aesthetic and how false it is, but come on: I opened the book at a random page to refamiliarise myself with the novel, and there she is, not even saying, but thinking: "Dang it to heck, I dropped a stitch."


You'd think a woman who has survived economic collapse and post-apocalyptic wastelands would get to swear inside the safety of her own head, but no. It's meant to be satirical, but it just kind of falls flat. And this assessment holds true for a large part of the novel. 


Then there's the respectability politics. Charmaine and Stan are not doing well, but at least they're not those people. Charmaine might be a waitress at the beginning of the narrative, but she can still sneer at sex workers. Stan doesn't have a job and no prospects of getting one, but a life of crime? Unthinkable. 


Margaret Atwood has always had certain blind spots (and penned some remarkable novels nonetheless), but in this book it was especially noticeable that what happens in the world is not a dystopia until it happens to formerly affluent, mentally and physically healthy, heterosexual white people. (For whom else were the 50s a grand time, anyway?)


All of this could have worked, and Atwood tries for an over the top, black humour approach, but it just doesn't, in the end. Work. By the time the last quarter of the book rolled around I was waiting for a very specific twist that might have made it all worthwhile, perhaps, but even that didn't happen. It was just sad to see a great author so out of touch. 

We have to learn what we can, but remain mindful that our knowledge not close the circle, closing out the void, so that we forget that what we do not know remains boundless, without limit or bottom, and that what we know may have to share the quality of being known with what denies it.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 29)


Loved the idea of knowledge as a crescent that must not be closed off. What is known lies reliably inside the half circle, within the grip of the crescent, but the greater part, the unknown, escapes us. There's an exchange that can take place, though, and that's important. 


Also reminded me of communities that pride themselves on having gained awareness or found solutions to social ills, usually overlooking other important perspectives in the process. Which is not to say that gaining awareness is in itself a bad thing. 

3 Stars
Ali Smith: The Accidental
The Accidental - Ali Smith

I love Ali Smith, and after reading How to Be Both and There but for the I wanted to explore more of her earlier work. 


The Accidental is stylistically perfect, but it left me a bit cold.


The plot is simple: a family of four are holidaying in Norfolk, and during their stay a woman named Amber appears and turns their lives upside down. The story is divided into three distinct parts, the beginning, the middle and the end, and in each part there is a chapter for each family member, written from their perspective. In addition, there is a three to five page intro to each part, presumably narrated by the mysterious Amber herself. 


If this sounds a bit overwrought to you, you've already noticed part of the problem: a strong emphasis on form that either works for you or leaves the narrative a bit lifeless. For me it did a bit of both, and I didn't find all of the perspectives equally engaging. The trope of the mysterious, attractive but dangerous woman turning up out of the blue is a bit played out, and while the book is self-aware about this, it didn't help in making the narrative feel less constructed. I also found the topic of a stranger entering and upsetting the delicate balance of other people's lives to be better explored in There but for the


But then again, not many writers can write phrases like "the sweet headfuck of the endless, ended time in that house, in that church" and make it work, and I remember why I love Smith. She has an enormous sensibility for people, for words, and even though this book didn't blow me away like some of her others, there were still amazing bits scattered throughout.

Agate's voice was beautiful, and when he read or told one listened and entered into space and quietness.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 24)


It's so good to be reading Le Guin again, and again it's not just her inventiveness, it's the tiny but very carefully selected details that make her writing so remarkable. To enter into space and quietness — the feeling of your normal life being suspended while something more enormous and at the same time subtle is happening.


It's a rare quality that her writing achieves in its best moments.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The God of Small Things
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Immersive. Like the Meenachal river that connects the Heart of Darkness to the Ayemenem house. Claiming lives, breaking bodies, silent, quiet and deadly. Unfathomable depths fractured through the eyes of children scarred forever. A narrative to match. And still, stark beauty.

liest gerade

Bereits gelesen: 125/160pages