There shall be more book reviews but unfortunately, not for a while as I’m going travelling across Italy for 2 weeks but I’ll be reading a lot then! So, I’ll see you later.
N.P. is a novel written by Banana Yoshimoto in 1990 in Japanese, and was translated to English by Ann Sherif in 1994. The novel contains elements of magic realism.
N.P. is short for North Point which is 'a very sad song'. Thus the mood of the novel is established, a sad and melancholic look on lives haunted by the past, yet these characters seem to perpetually live in a time-locked world where we become the observers. When I say time-locked, I don’t mean literally, although it feels like that sometimes. And it is obvious that the author wanted to convey this mood intentionally as it becomes an important leitmotif.
Kazami Kano’s much older boyfriend, Shoji had committed suicide a year ago. He had taken up the responsibility to translate the ninety-eight story from N.P. , written by a Japanese writer who only wrote in English. This writer, along with anyone who dares to translate N.P. seem to have their life cut short by suicide. Kazami meets the writer’s son Otohiko, then his daughter Saki. Kazami finds that their lives too have become engulfed by the book. A book, which another character, Sui, the writer’s step-daughter and incestuous lover, says contains darkness. It is a darkness in the form of a curse, but it is alluring and one cannot get away from it.
The universe in its infinity only seem to contain these four characters, thus adding to the feeling of timelessness. The past keeps coming back, but they keep living in the present engulfed not only by the book but by each other. It is told in first person through Kazami’s view, and is in past perfect. Foreshadowing is key in the novel. Kazami seems to fall in love with all three of the other characters, but especially Sui, who not unlike N.P. contains an alluring darkness.
Much doesn’t happen plot-wise, but the lives of these four characters intertwine in a novel set in one summer.
The major themes are the occult, family and love. But in my biased opinion, the themes that creates the novel for me is alienation. An alienation from other people, but also from the universe itself. In one incident, Sui and Kazami are sitting on top of Shoji’s old apartment building when Kazami feels like she’s being watched by him, and she implies that she always feels watched.
Incest is also an important leitmotif. Sui not only had incestuous relations with her father, unknowingly in the beginning, but also with her step-brother Otohiko, also unknowingly in the beginning.
Banana Yoshimoto does a brilliant job of writing Kazami, and her love or attraction to Sui, Saki, and Otohiko. She also describes Kazami’s loneliness and sadness very well while using amazing metaphors.
I rate this novel a 9.5/10.
Spoilers (a lot of the review summarises the novel)
Life of Pi is a fantasy action novel written by Canadian Writer, Yann Martel. The book is centred around a South Indian boy named, Piscine Molitored Patel. The novel is told in first person, but in the beginning it is established that author is actually narrating the story, getting his facts from an older Piscine (or Pi).
The novel is divided into three parts, the first part primarily deals with Pi’s childhood in his father’s zoo, and his discovery of religion (first Hinduism, then Christianity, then Islam). It deals with his unconventional beliefs and how everyone around him handles it.
By the end of this part, Pi’s father declared that due to unstable political conditions in india, they are moving to Canada. After making arrangements for selling the animals in the zoo, they deaprt to Canada via a Japanese ship.
This is the part of the novel that drags on a bit, although I did enjoy it immensely as it was informative and gave a good introduction to Pi’s inner working.
However, I will have to point out two mistakes that struck out to me.
The first is Pi’s name, not his first name but his last. The surname Patel does not geographically fit. Both Pi’s parents were South Indian (as stated in the book), so there is no way he would be named that. Another mistake is his Sufi teacher’s name ‘Satish Kumar’, which isn’t a very Muslim name at all, neither is it a very common name in Tamil Nadu (as is said in the book). These are, however, mishaps that don’t necessarily affect the literary aspects of it, and we will now move on.
Part two of the novel deals with the ship’s eventual wreckage, how Pi manages to get on a lifeboat with a Hyena and a Zebra (and eventually, and Orangutan and a Tiger).
This part it the focus of the novel. It deals with Pi’s immense loss of his family, and therefore his immense suffering. It deals with a few surreal happenings, but Martel makes it sound believable.
Eventually, all the animals die out due to one reason or the other, and only the Tiger named Richard Parker is left. The tiger, after much work from Pi, learns to cohabitate with the boy. The tiger, because of its constant need to attention and because of its constant threat to Pi’s life, becomes a saviour to Pi. They survived because of each other.
There are various events that happen in this part of the novel, several near death events, several spiritual events, several moments of complete hopelessness; and two completely surreal moments.
In the end, after 227 days in the sea (more or less), they end up in Mexico.
This part ends with Richard Parker leaving Pi ‘unceremoniously’, thus making him realise that even if emotionally, he would like to believe otherwise, Richard Parker is a beast that operates on instincts and not a human that one normal conditions operates on emotions.
Part three is rather humorous. Pi’s in the hospital in Mexico recovering, and two Japanese representatives from the ship’s company come to get an account of what happened as Pi is the sole survival. After Pi tells them the story, they’e skeptical and ask him for the real version.
Pi tells them another more believable story.
Pi, then, discusses the nature of reality and perception. He, then, asks the men which story they prefer, the representatives say the one with the animals, and Pi says ‘so it goes with God’
The novel, in the end, isn’t about a boy sharing a lifeboat with a tiger (although, that is a big part.. haha), it’s about Pi’s struggle with his humanity. In the first part, Pi’s a vegetarian. But to juxtaposition it with the second part, when Pi has to to eat aquatic life to survive, we see his humanity slowly waning as his instincts to live kick in. It hurt him to kill a fish for the first time, but by the second time he doesn’t feel that pain, claiming that we can get used to anything. There is also the part where he resorts to cannibalism, although in all fairness, he wasn’t the one that initiated this act. It’s about his faith in god, and his belief in family and love in general.
Through it all, he manages to keep faith, and when he declares ‘so it is with God’, he means that god might not always be believable but it is the life the Pi prefers.
Martel’s writing is at once rustic (no doubt to portray Pi well) and melodiously beautiful. Pi’s journey was far more than about religion, it was about belief in general. It deals with loss, pain, faith, humanity, and survival.
I rate it a 9.5/10.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter S. Thompson famously invented the ‘Gonzo journalistic’ style where the writer/journal takes elements of their life, and their experiences, and applies it to a piece of journalistic writing. This novel is widely considered to be his first foray into such writing. The autobiographical elements of the novel is usually layered with a fictional element.
It revolves around Raoul Duke (who’s drug induced state the novel is told from), and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo. In the 1970’s, the two of them are supposed to report on the Mint 400 motorcycle race but instead take a variety of recreational drugs and remain paranoid, and high throughout the novel. It’s narrated in a surrealistic, fast paced manner and is supposed to reproduce the high the protagonist is feeling.
The main theme of the novel is the break down, and lie of ‘The American Dream’. It also explores the ‘drug culture’ of the 60s and 70s, and the break down of the cultural and political importance of the 60s.
Although, mostly hilarious; I felt very uncomfortable reading parts of it, the casual racism and homophobic language of course, but mostly the rape scene. The characters weren’t meant to be amicable, but what bothered me is that they walked away mostly without facing any consequences. Or course, in the end the notion of ‘The American Dream’ was challenged, and the failure of the duo to find it was established but they still walked away high as ever.
I rate it a high (bad pun, sorry) 6/10.
'The Elephant Vanishes' is a collection of short stories written by Haruki Murakami in Japanese, and translated to English by Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum. The stories were written between 1983 and 1990. The collection was published in 1993. It is a collection of 17 stories.
I find reading short stories difficult, nonetheless I enjoyed reading these. I loved most of the stories, they hold a very memorable quality to them. The themes are of surrealistic nature, although not all stories have absurdist happenings. For example, ‘A Family Affair’ and ‘The Silence’ are very believable stories but still hold some out of the world qualities to them. In my opinion, the most important similarity between the stories is the theme of loneliness. Loneliness is presented differently in each story, but in the end the protagonist of the respective story has to deal with it one way or the other.
It is well written, and the metaphors always tie is very well (the best example of this is the ending of ‘A Slow Boat to China’.
Keeping the fact that I’m probably biased towards Murakami (and probably will always be) in mind, I give it a 9/10.
'Much Ado about Nothing' is a play written by William Shakespeare. It has been said to predate 1600 AD.
Although, I have read Shakespeare before, this is the first time I read a comedy by him. It is about two couples: Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick.
The former pair are typical in their love, whilst the latter had to be tricked into confessing their love for one another as their relationship was based on sparring and bickering.
Hero and Claudio also have to deal with adversities in the form of a Don John conspiring to deface Hero so as to ruin their relationship.
It is hilariously written with very strong female leads (especially Beatrice). Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship takes centre stage in my mind, with it being more fleshed out and funnier than Hero and Claudio’s. We are also provided with further comic relief in the form of the constable Dogberry who completely misses the bigger picture, always.
Much Ado about Nothing is raunchy with its numerous sexual innuendos including in its title, with the word ‘nothing’ being a homophone to ‘noting’ which meant gossip but was also used as a slang for vagina. The play challenges gender roles but also verifies them, thus presenting contradicting themes within it.
I give it a 9/10.
Published in 1982, ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ is the finale to the trilogy that is Douglas Adams’ 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (but actually, isn’t really the end at all).
It presents a cynical and absurdist view of the universe. The universe is presented as odd and apathetic. Although, the two previous book in the series also aim to do that, this one, in my opinion, does it the best. It manages to play with the themes of insignificance and significance perfectly, while presenting a very ironic view on the nature of existence.
Adams is at his wittiest and bravest here, exemplified by ‘the krikkit wars’, a pun on cricket but also a silly and surreal view on ignorance, and its consequences.
The somewhat ironic cosmic angst is perfectly balanced out with laughter.
I enjoyed the fact that Trillion got to play a more serious and sombre role (strong female characters are always appreciated in science fiction), and I enjoyed Dent’s character development.
The plot is weaved in beautifully, seemingly meaningless random happenings are most of the time just that: meaningless random happenings.
I rate it a very high 8/10.
Fully recommended for existential crises (if you don’t want them to end, that is); laugh at yourself and at the universe.
The first book I read this year is entitled 'Kitchen', it is written by a Japanese writer named Banana Yoshimoto. It was written in 1988 and was translated in 1993 by Meghan Backus.
It is actually two novellas, the first one is Kitchen, the second one named 'Moonlight Shadow'. In my opinion, the former was the better of two.
Yoshimoto’s writing, at first, seems to lack technical refinement. As the novellas progressed, I either got used to her awkward, somewhat stream of consciousness, writing, or her technique got better.
The underlining theme of the novellas are as the protagonist of ‘Kitchen’, Mikage, puts it ‘the unbearable sense of loss’. It is, in the end, not about overcoming obstacles and pain, but accepting it and therefore surviving it.
Yoshimoto has a very beautiful minimalistic approach to writing, it’s quick and slightly surreal. Another one of her tricks is that sometimes she explains metaphors as they are happening, this both intrigued me and made me cringe.
The first novella is more compelling, in my opinion, but it is also problematic. The protagonist, Mikage; and deuteragonist, Yuichi do not fully fathom the idea of being trans*, and often say ignorant things while also, sometimes mixing up any trans* identity with homosexuality, and cross-dressing. This can probably be attributed to the writer’s own ignorance. While that criticism remains, the novellas are still beautifully written with some very quotable moments. It was also refreshing to see a story, as such, being told from the point of view of women.
It portrays pain in an accurate manner. The ending of the latter novella is more concrete than the former’s, which gives it a sort of open ending; although, to be honest, the purpose of both the novellas is not to see the characters’ story through.
I give it a 7/10.