Thursday, November 29, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
London : Faber & Faber, c2007.
Another novella (her 20th) from Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, this could only have been written by a European. Wondering just how far reality shows will go seems to have engaged the imagination of many authors lately. I recently read a YA novel, Surviving Antarctica, using this theme. This novella is far darker, which is to be expected from this author.
The setting is France. The state of television is such that a new reality show called "Concentration" is all the rage. The show is as horrible as you might imagine from its name -- people are randomly pulled from the streets and sent to the concentration camp of the title. Every move is televised, and the thugs hired as kapos decide who will be sent to their deaths. Into this disturbing situation comes a beautiful young woman, Pannonique. Her beauty and nobility transfix viewers, and the producers allow viewers to begin voting on who is next up for death. It's the introverts, the old, the ungainly -- all those 'unmarketable' -- who go first. It's a chilling premise, both for the idea that the world could become so evilly callous, and for the shadows of Nazi camps which are evoked. I recognize her intent to point out the absurd fixation on celebrity at all costs, but I am nonetheless uncomfortable with the use of a concentration camp as the central image.
Eventually the whole show is brought to a halt by the selfish actions of one of the guards, who acts for Pannonique's sake. She is heroic by everyone's standards, for breaking apart the acceptance of the show's very existence, but she knows she has done it all for herself, not out of any sympathy or concern for the greater good.
I'm not certain where I stand on this novel. It is fully as dark and discomfiting as I'd expected, but I'm not wholly convinced that everything was necessary to the story. For one thing, prisoners are snatched off the streets, they do not volunteer -- thus the theme of "celebrity at all costs" is compromised. The victims here are not all willing. And I just could not get past the discomfort I felt with the concentration camp being used here. If feels somehow disrespectful, even though I understand her sharp-eyed purpose. (and such discomfort may be part of her intent as well.) So I can't wholeheartedly recommend this one. Unless you already have an interest in Nothomb, or want to read another reality show critique, I'd say pass by.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Res Telluris, c2007.
I read this for the Canadian Book Challenge, after being kindly offered a copy from the author for the purpose. Steve Zipp is an author and a blogger who is participating in the Canadian Reading Challenge as well.
The setting is Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories, on the eve of Y2K. Yellowknife draws in a variety of odd characters who survive on the edges, and each one has a story to tell. It begins with Danny, a drifter who finds his way to Yellowknife, ends up on the streets, and then lucks into a trailer-sitting job. As the book opens, Danny has just crossed the border into the NWT. He stops at a tourist information booth for directions:
She handed him a map, which he accepted gratefully, not having set eyes on one for days. His expression changed when he went outside and spread it on the hood of his car. There was an awful lot of empty space -- just lake, forest, and tundra, overlain by three or four roads and the migration routes of mosquitos. No wonder it was free. The cover said Official Explorer's Map. Probably you were expected to fill it in yourself.For some reason, this struck me as hilarious, and I relaxed into enjoying the crazy antics of Danny and the other characters who are introduced quickly. There's Freddy, who Danny at first mistakes for another street person; there are the scientists working for the government at the Carboniferous Building - Drs. Peck, Smolt, Vomer, Ungle, and Nora Lobachevski, who plays the largest part in the story. As the Dept. of Wildlife is "re-organized", their offices get crammed into the basement of the building, Nora's desk fitting into the mouth of a tunnel which appears when the wall crumbles. She ends up living in her office as well, and one night explores the tunnel in her pj's. She meets an underground dentist (named what else but Cavity) and then wanders lost in the tunnels until she finally discovers a way out, which deposits her on main street so that she rushes home through the early morning streets in her bathrobe. Quite an image! There are countless other characters introduced, and countless subplots and shenanigans. You'll have to read it to get the full effect. I do think that giving the book the title "Yellowknife" is perfect, because it's the city and the landscape that are the true stars of this story; the characters just appear and make their slight way through this great constant.
Alongside all the human foibles being highlighted, Steve Zipp also manages to bring out some more serious issues. The effects of corporate and tourist incursions upon natural resources -- ie: fish stocks, gold, diamonds -- is discussed quite naturally, but it is illuminating. He comments on these in a manner which fits in to the story perfectly, not reading like a soapbox speech. For example, as Nora is stumbling into her old mine tunnel, she remarks to herself that
She'd been so consumed by the evils of diamond mining that she'd forgotten about gold, about the underworld that existed beneath her very feet... Back in the 50s, two children had died from eating snow laced with arsenic, a by-product of the gold refining process. Today a quarter-million tonnes of arsenic trioxide were stored somewhere in Giant's underground maze. It was a classic tradeoff, poison for precious metal. What would happen when the mine ceased production, the pumps stopped, the tunnels allowed to flood? How long would it take for the drums to rust through and the arsenic to leak out? There was enough to poison all of Great Slave Lake.
My only reservation with this book was that many of the characters disappeared from the narrative quite rapidly and unexpectedly. I'd have liked the various lives to have meshed more thoroughly and their futures to have been suggested more explicitly. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this read. It was a pleasure to read a book set in the North that was fun and satirical and which used its setting to such great advantage. I appreciate Steve offering us a copy of his book, which I don't imagine I could have easily stumbled across on my own. Thanks, Steve, for making my 'trip' to the Territories so entertaining!
Other Reviews by:
Monday, November 19, 2007
The latest Bookworms Carnival is up at The Armenian Odar Reads. The theme is short stories, and she's collected a nice range of posts, including a couple of original stories submitted from blogging writers. Take a look, and enjoy the options! Thanks for hosting, Myrthe.
Monday, November 12, 2007
A Hatred for Tulips / Richard Lourie
"I am your brother," said the stranger at the door.
"Come in," I said.
And that is one of the reasons I found this book such a good read. With the last lines, I had to reevaluate the book I'd just read. If his story is true, is it guilt eating away at him that has led him to tell the story, finally? If it is false, what would lead him to associate himself with such a dreadful action? And what part does the audience (Willem and the reader) play in Joop's confessions? This is a book that I'll be thinking about for a while.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I couldn’t resist the title of this meme, found over at Bookfoolery & Babble. Too funny. And there are so many hot imaginary men!
1. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (self evident!)
2. Harvey Muldane from But Not for Me, a Harlequin I’ve recently confessed my soft spot for - he’s definitely Darcy inspired.
3. Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind
4. John Harmon, alias John Rokesmith, alias Julius Handford, from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend
5. John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (or is Richard Armitage colouring my judgement here?)
6. Gabriel Oak from Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd - I like how he is steadfast and calm and a 'sensitive' man.
7. Hamlet : ok, so he's a bit looney but the dark handsome bad boy is tempting.
8. Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel
9. Sirius Black from Harry Potter (I caved; couldn't avoid the HP phenomenon. Although when I commented after seeing the movie that Sirius Black - as played by Gary Oldman - was hot, the 15 yr. olds in the back seat all groaned and told me I was weird.)
10. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
Then, just for interest's sake I tried Amazon.com. The first one to turn up was another kids' book, one I've heard about but have never read. Cute cover, though.