Reading List 2011 : Part Three
Biography is a tried and true genre. Detail the beginnings of a life. The birth, glass over the family, skip to schooling, adulthood, marriage, fame, downfall if applicable, and finally death.
Lauren Redniss' book on the Curie's is not different. It parallels the two as they age, meet, fall in love, then change the world. Pierre dies young and Marie is left to win a Nobel, fall in love with a married man, is the cause of a duel, and finally to die from the very thing she discovered. All very normal biography material.
Redniss tells this story through paintings, comic book panels and glow-in-the-dark wonders. How better to tell of the discoveries of radium and polonium then in beautifully rendered water colors? Redniss was a finalist for the National Book Award and has won many other awards for this 200 page object of beauty.
The Ice Trilogy (2002-2005) by Vladimir Sorokin
I had a bit of a Russian theme going for a large chunk of the year. This trilogy has been published in the US by the New York Review of Books publishing arm as one volume.
In 1908 in Tunguska, Russia a meteorite blast epically destroyed a large swath of forest. In the aftermath a man feel compelled to the impact site. Once there he finds the ball of space ice and cracks his sternum open on it, bleeding until he falls into unconsciousness. When he awakes, he realizes that he is one of 23,000 celestial beings responsible for the creation of the universe and it is up to him to find his amnesiac brothers and sister amongst the people of Earth. Then destroy the planet, their perceived flawed creation.
Through the three novels - Bro, Ice, and 23,000 - Sorokin takes us from a small band of special people trying to climb a mountain to reach a goal to an eventual corruption of the idea and the stunning race against time conclusion where humans must fight to save their planet from destruction. He manages to be both Chekov and Asimov. And it works amazingly well.
Extinction (1986) by Thomas Bernhard
Franz is an exile from his family's estate in Austria. He lives in Rome and creates a world for himself that he likens to high art. When his parents and older brother die suddenly in a car crash he is forced home to become the head of the estate he never wanted. He must decide the fate of the house, the lands, and his sister. All of which he hates.
Bernhard's final novel before his death in 1989. The book is written as a long form monologue. I found this after Vintage recently republished all of Bernhard's books. Honestly, I found this book a little tedious. Franz is unlikable, whiny, a misanthrope. He hates the world and the world seems to hate him, until the veil begins to fall and we see the world without his lens. A fascinating character study that will infuriate at times but pays off in the end. So good I read another Bernhard novel later in the year.
Anne Carson from the Preface: "Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief."
B.M.W. Knox on Euripides: "...he was born never to live in peace with himself and to prevent the rest of mankind from doing so."
Carson is hands down one of my favorite writers. Plain Water vibrates with sorrow. Anger bubbling just under the surface. Here she takes a look at history's oldest grief monger.
Carson translates four plays: Herakles, Hekabe, Hippolytos, and Alkestis. Before each she breaks each down in short prefaces on the plays. What they do, how. She is lyric, magic, and spins these ancient tales into modern parables. Each a story where heroes are torn apart and revealed to be all too human, too frail. They break apart the stories we think we know and remold them into tales of sadness that are all too close to home.
Tana French has been a bit of a love affair for me. I have read her three books as quickly as they have been published. They are a disconnected series. This is the third one. In each the narrator was a minor character in the previous. In this one Frank Mackey is forced to return to his family home to solve a strange mystery involving a suitcase and a body under the floorboards of an abandoned house. The mystery of what happened to Frank's first girlfriend 20+ years before.
Faithful Place is not your basic murder mystery. She doesn't follow basic mystery tropes. French has a way with character. A page in and you are stuck. You want to linger with these people, know them. Similar to Haruki Murakami, French gives you the details that bring them alive. You know their inner psyche. From the city streets of Dublin to the council estates in the hills around Ireland, these books breathe.
I recommend starting at the beginning, In The Woods, then The Likeness, before reading this one. Though you can read them out of order, they each tell a different story. Her new book Broken Harbour comes out in July.
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