19 August 2010

Reading diary: April 2010

More quick reviews. But before that, I should mention that this blog is now proud to be in the directory of Filipino Book Bloggers. I invite you to visit the site and link to many enthusiastic book reviews by bloggistas from the Philippines.

APRIL 2010

19. Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard

"It is the the misfortune (but also perhaps the voluptuous pleasure) of language not to be able to authenticate itself," says Barthes. For that we may need images and photographs to certify the text. Barthes's reflections on photography offer some subversive theories on the persistence of images in the imagination. In the end, however, the writer's memoirs provide a surprisingly affecting portrait of a man coming to terms with his personal loss.

20. Piercing by Murakami Ryū, translated by Ralph McCarthy

A book for the faint of heart, that the heart may skip a beat, or several beats, and then resume its life of pumping. A send-up to the psycho killer setup in movies and books, Piercing is transgressive fiction at its creepiest. And yet it's very funny. That funny-scary combination must be one of the hardest to pull off but Ryū is criminally accurate in puncturing the reader's ready expectations. He is a serial novelist who aims for the kill. I'd like to be victimized by his other books.

21. Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

Paris is a moveable feast. It is a place for finding love and of losing it. In this novel we find two couples struggling with circumstances of their own making. It's like The Sun Also Rises for the 1990s in which the once-hippie lover will ask at the end of the affair, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

The book escapes the bathos of nostalgia and ennui by embracing them. The drifting ways in which love ebbs and flows are well told by George Dyer, who lately have been known to produce some hybrid novels of journalism. This novel is of the traditional sort. But it's crisp in its portrayal of longings and loves as it is.

22. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

Aira is an incandescent talent. This novella is beautiful, poetic. The episode just ended too soon. The book's theme is the creation of a masterpiece, and it's very near producing one itself. It unfolds like a canvas of lighted landscapes here traversed by artists in the making.

What I love about An Episode and the other Aira I've read (Ghosts) is that you keep reading the books even after you finished reading them. They linger in your mind like a flash of lightning or something. The story ends with always the maximum impact. In between the flashes of brilliance are musings of the poetical nature.

Ghosts is a bit longer in length. And I think it is just as well made if not better. Aira is a puzzle-maker. I asked myself after reading each of the books: What the hell was that all about? Yet it all made sense in the end. As if the abrupt way the story ended is the only possible way to end a story already unhinged from its frame.

23. Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Jaime Deza, the protagonist of this novel, has this power of reading people. His mentor, an old man, is the same. They can know people's history and psychology and what they're capable of just by observing them and hearing them talk. Nothing happens much in this the first volume of the story. What is certain is that by the end of the third volume, someone will be betrayed and will pay the price for "careless talk." This is ultimately a spy story, but it's James Bond in the role of a psychologist.

Marías is Marías. His characters talk and talk and think and think. They can be repetitive and exasperating. Very few paragraph breaks and sentences that go on and on and on and on. Some beautiful insights into telling stories and the capacity to betray others with a single word.

I’m bracing for less talk/more action in Act II (Dance and Dream). But I wouldn't be surprised if the spies still battle with their minds here. Dance and Dream is proving to be another mental bloodbath.


  1. Sir, I really admire your writing style. (Damn, when will I be able to write this way?! :))

    Anyway, I especially like Aira and Marias. I really enjoy reading novels about paintings and painters and An Episode sounds promising. Marias reminds me of The Death Note somehow.

    Thanks for posting them. ^_^

  2. Ouch. Thanks for your compliment, Fun and Fearless. I think you'll enjoy Aira's writing. Marías and Death Note, what a connection!