Archive for January, 2009

Book swaps are one of the classic free kicks of travelling. Exchanged a chewed-up copy of Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass (in its turn picked up at a nunnery in Bamako) for Oryx and Crake in the Senegalese beach town Toubab Dialao. I got quite excited since I have enjoyed my forays into Atwood-land (The Blind Assassin and Cat’s Eye). Chomped right through it, but felt a bit nasty afterwards, and not just because of the paedophilia references (ba-doom-ching?).

But to the plot: Snowman, the protagonist, is babysitting a hyper-actualised tribe of human beings engineered by his friend Crake. They only mate at specific times, feel no sexual jealousy, and can heal each other by purring. His supervisory role is permanent — there’s no-one else left to do it. What has happened to everyone else? Where is Crake, and why is Snowman so bitter towards him? Atwood opens with a mystery looming, a trick she used to great effect in 2001′s The Blind Assassin. There’s no doubt it’s a cluey way to drag you to the end, but I’m not sure I’m fond of its employment becoming habitual.

Unabashedly post-apocalyptic subject matter definitely isn’t an issue for me. But crappily imagined vocabulary for the imagined post-(or pre-)apocalyptic world is. Oryx and Crake is a novel I would like fine, even considering its tv-soap standard dramatics (guy falls in love with an underage Asian pornographic model as a teenager, ends up being able to feed her pizza from his fingers because they’re in love or something like that), because it certainly entertains.

Comparisons of this novel to Orwell’s 1984, though, just aren’t justified. While Orwell imagined a political state with language as a mechanism for control and oppression, and realised such a language, Atwood’s clownish neologisms (pleeblands = imagine Gotham City writ large; Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages; pigoons) characterise the downfall of humankind as ridden with words that are simply jocularly ugly, rather than cleverly manipulative. Her corporate sillinesses no doubt have their stems in McTerminology, which is an example of the human enterprise’s blindness to beauty in words for sure. As far as criticisms go, there could be far worse, but Logophile’s Country this is not. For that, look to the inestimable John Banville’s The Sea, which was fellow holiday reading, review forthcoming.

January 21, 2009

I’ve met quite a few people while travelling and I hardly ever mention my blog to them, because I think it’s still a word which has very specific social ramifications when you whip it out, none of which is unqualified admiration. And if there’s anyone who’s shy about connecting her written work with her physical self, it’s me. Even though millions of people who wouldn’t consider themselves bloggers shrill and excogitate across Facebook and Myspace every day, I still feel that to invoke ‘blogging’ in company is to niche-ify oneself quite drastically.

But when it does come up, I have cause to recall the reasons why I started this blog. Apart from reading being my favoured solo entertainment activity (no cracks please), discussing books for me is almost as pleasurable as opening the first 5 kilogram box of export quality cherries in the summer (key advice: you had better watch out). Generally I feel much more comfortable discussing books I’ve read having nutted out a couple of sentences based on my reading experiences, because I can be useless at retaining information otherwise.

Anyhow, somewhat in relation to these ruminations, Tuesday has very kindly awarded me the Premios Dardo award. I like it because it is an extremely kind and lovely thing, but also because it was simultaneously bestowed upon a bunch of other awesome bloggers, some of whom I’ve never had the pleasure of coming across. Edit: I’m also supposed to award 15 other bloggers! my bad. I’ll do that soon.

Anyhow, I’m currently in London and therefore book reviews are likely to remain thin on the ground for a bit. I am going to Topshop tomorrow and will likely be in a post-shopping coma until I get home, only to be interrupted by a Pakistani feast and perhaps Twelfth Night at the West End. And Rothko at the Tate. Who needs the Antipodes anyway?

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In a compound adjective: a narky-post-terminal-sickness-New-York-old-guy-redemption novel. You know, man starts with nothing and ends up with everything he could ever have wanted. Entertaining all the same, proposing as it does the theatrical narrative potentialities inherent in all lives. Irksome and prone-to-monologue dialogue balanced out by a sublime raft of characters which span the quirky to the quotidian. A little bit formalistic and neat but pleasurable enough if you like the idea of absurdities bringing people together and happy endings after middles that seem irretrievably muddled.
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January 4, 2009

I consider reading such a simple, necessary pleasure. But travelling in West Africa has given me reason to reconsider. My two friends and I think nothing of pulling a book out on 4-24 hour bus rides. In fact, it’s a staple activity on trips where the endless savannah deceives my sense of time and countless food vendors take the slightest attention as encouragement for thrusting bags of raw roots and greenish oranges in front of your eyes. But West Africans don’t read on the bus; not surprising in countries where literacy rates are often lower than 60%. Most of them play with mobile phones or stare out the window.

The only book stores I’ve seen have been big, Francophone vendors, where books are expensive (the new J.K. Rowling book costs about 65 Australian dollars); and tiny roadside stalls with religious, Arabic and educational texts. From which I have deduced that reading is considered either a pleasure afforded the wealthy (mostly tourists and expats) or a practical/religious necessity.