Category Archives: Contemporary

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

BOOK DETAILS:

A SINGLE MAN
By Christopher Isherwood
Published by: Vintage Books
Paperback edition: 152 pages
ISBN: 978-0-099-54128-8

MY LOCAL LIBRARY:

Minet Library – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Minet-Library-Lambeth-Archives/182910281761857

SYNOPSIS:

A Single Man is the story of George Falconer, an English professor in suburban California, who is left heartbroken after the sudden death of his lover, Jim.  With devastating clarity and humour, as George is determined to carry on with his lifestyle, evoking the unexpected pleasures of life, as well as the soul’s ability to triumph over loss and alienation, due to separation and the death of a loved one and watching a friend dying in a hospital bed, alone. And what say of him when its his turn? As George himself says “The Future ― that’s where Death is.”

MY BOOK REVIEW:

This was a book chosen by my local library Reading Group, I enjoyed reading it, although for all the vastly wrong reasons. As I never hate a book, I think I wouldn’t be a book reviewer of honesty, that is in a very direct manner, as also to remain impartial, because I don’t look at a book fancifully, that being in what its trying to say or convey to the reader.  As in any book I dislike, usually I find that it still has a message and that sense of communication of some kind, even if the entire book irks me, it’s usually one that I get a perverse sense of enjoyment out of its content, as to be unforgettable, least not justifiable engaged with tempered hostility, which for me, is the best to read, for it brings out my passioned filled reading like nothing else. I get to say a lot more about it, then I intended, which sometimes you can’t say of a ‘good book’ without running the risk of being short-changed emotionally to be bereft.  

I’ll start off saying that this book ‘A Single Man’ is a plain speaking short novel, which is a contemporary book of post-modernism (1950-1970) in its content. The cover illustration of the book (see picture on the left), I felt wasn’t right as to the content of the book, as George himself was in his fifties, yet only saw youthful fleeting shadows of his former self, when he was young or in his prime, when he looked in the mirror or when visiting the gym for a work-out.  Therefore, I felt this cover jacket of the book mis-leading, to the reader thinking George was a young man going through this passage of his life, and didn’t match the publisher being Vintage either, I know the irony isn’t lot on you listening/reading to this part, of old, elderly or vintaged. Was it trying to convey George as some sort of self-applied Greek God of Apollo type on the cover? That is he’s going through a mid-life crisis.

And of the main character, I didn’t like George that much, as he made me question his personal motives, all the time, because of his behaviour, and not his intellect, and that intention of what he was about wasn’t revealed whatsoever, he was singular indeed, which captures his essence within the phrase of ‘what you see, is what you got’ very well, but wasn’t necessarily in any particular order of character, that one could say you’d figured him out. His whole being was only that of a personality shape-shifter, and I think he knew it, hence his mood-swings which where all over the place.  And the author set this right for the book’s main character to hold the story together in such a novella.  I sensed that the author didn’t want any close to the bone examination of George’s character, only that of one’s expectation of him to express himself suitable well for us to identify with him, and that’s all. But I won’t oblige.

And I didn’t like the patriotic hypocrisy within the book of the things George said, as he slides to and from so easily, from Americanism, colonial as well as the material era of when this book was first written, to a British nostalgia and parental patronising attitude, to the loathing of Europe, but George, quotes Greek God mythology to the students taking his English class at a college campus, like he was born an Italian as Cesar in principle of a panto-dame out of season, that is, all carried out as a sham in performance, to show some superficial elitism to impress others with his beguiling sense of self-importance in how he ‘came across’ to them. Thus each subject he mentioned was picked for that purpose of a desired effect, he was a man on the picket fence, but not the picket line, as you read on wards with the book, a cop-out stance.  

The publishers of the book, should also note the typo error on page 70, as it states: “for the very simple reason that an American motel-room isn’t a room in an hotel, it’s the Room, definitively, period.” It should have read: “for the very simple reason that an American motel room isn’t a room in a hotel, it’s the Room, definitively, period.”  Even my grammar checker in Microsoft word program picked up on that. And the reason I point it out was as an iconic one dimensional transgression into symbolism. I do expect standards to be maintained, even at a minimalist level in a novella. Thank you.

The character George’s attention to the minutiae details of his own ‘life-style’ was very symbolic, and somewhat it left you not having or being a progressive style of expressing concern for the character. That is George was making a statement in everything he said or did, thereat it didn’t set any trends of thought, but rather enforced whatever came to his mind upon the reader. It shouted whether or not you like it, this is the real George in words, but not in George in his actions, or the way he choose to live out his life pattern, was ruddy well down to him and not the author, but here in this book there is a snippet of what it could be like for him, as it stated on page 38 “It knows at least three dozen of his best anecdotes. But here, in broad daylight, during campus-hours, when George should be onstage every second, in full control of his performance! Can it be that talking-head and the chauffeur are in league? Are they maybe planning a merger?” but George channelled it out, to the reader of the book, as a worn collateral communications medium of a non-entity, that the author has called George. It knows that its name is George.

It’s not a book where, once you finished it you’ll come out of it with any of the ‘feel good factor’ that is so USA, Californian sunshine as a clique or could the word be clinquant. No. You’ll most likely come out from reading this book piqued and ruffled by the experience, due to his cynicism with life in general. On purpose. Perhaps. No doubt. The post-modernism of unsettling the Establishment. Though I must say, did we ever have an ‘Establishment’ period of writing styles reflecting the society anyway. Was it all about social profaned adult angst spilled over from teenage years. Notice that wasn’t a question either, but a statement comment of implied, explicit, conjure on my part, and should be taken as such, because I’ve written as an informed Reviewer only looking at this contemporary book of post-modernism.

However, ‘A Single Man’ did try to make you think much about the environmental and the political issues, but this I felt was a distraction, as that could be displaced anywhere and anytime even in dystopia novels, and was simply used as a ploy of crafting unrest to the intellectual safe as houses ignorant, with the aim of distrusting society as a whole, rather than the individual construct that made up the social world, similar to what Germaine Greer did to the sixties post-feminist movement, she trivialized it all using pop-culture catch-phrases, intellectually, but of course, which appealed to a certain section of women, whom saw an opportunity to make alot of noise around themselves. 

And to be honest, even though I read it, those issues don’t interest me that much, because I inevitable consider them to be that of the ‘white noise’ within the plot, that some authors what to get over, as to say how they are political or environmentally are on the pulse of what makes any ‘issue’ a credible one, and thus in touch with the common people in their concerns, if they ever had one, but only if it makes good reading, and only from a certain social class perspective, being considered worthy enough (George-skeptism applied) to them to warrant that of an educated sparid, no, think could also be, sprayed rantification. You’re welcome.

What I didn’t like much of is the pop-culture aspects either. For what the hell is ‘Sarah Lawrence trained’? that the author writes about a female character on page 68, that is never explained. I hadn’t a clue, to be honest, and it seemed that one should be in the know of these things as you read it, and I emphasis the point of ‘as you read it’ as the text implies you should. But you aren’t, and when a book makes you look it up on the internet, I felt that I shouldn’t have had too, to find out that it’s a private women’s USA college campus in the state of New York. Either say it and while you’re at it explain it, or don’t bloody say it at all, as I don’t want to do a personalised author’s pub-quiz on it. I felt like the author was writing for a particular audience: the ‘Harlem Intelligensia’, which was called the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ during the 1920-1930s, but during the 1940s-1960s was more likely to have formed another period of cultural enlightenment, hence the term given ‘Harlem Intelligensia’ which would’ve appealed to such persons of ilk-type pursuits, and also because George, the English man, the personality that he was, liked American black women and men of a certain class and type.

The irony of what the author wants you to feel, I think is still lost on you, the reader, as you think in the context to the way George spits it out, that something is wrong with going to such an educational institute for a woman, especially one that been around since 1926 which has the motto ‘Wisdom is Understanding’, is it just pure reverse-snobbery on his part. As George says about her on page 70 that of her being the “kind of bully who likes being challenged; it smoothes the itch of her aggression.” Now to whom does that possibly remind you of, as an illustration, during the post-feminist movement during the sixties onwards? To name but, for example purposes, a few women, such as he could be refering to as: Germaine Greer, Julie Burchill or Janet Street-Porter? Perhaps all free three. Their work happens to be so readily, easily, and accessible, in the public domain.

Therefore can you blame the character in the book called Charlotte for speaking her mind either, as a counter-culture figure, as she says on page 110 “…No, Geo, cross my heart, I am honestly not being bitchy! I wouldn’t have put up with it, either, in the long run.  Women like that ― we’ve simply got to hang on to our roots.  We can be transplanted, yes – but it has to be done by a man, and when he’s done it, he has to stay with us and wither ― I mean water ― I mean, the new roots wither if they aren’t watered.” Now even when drunk, she makes perfect sense, even to George! As he liked her wonderful lack of perception. For irrelevant she wasn’t. 

Although, you do get the feeling that he, being George terminally, doesn’t like those other aforementioned type, and a certain class of female, but prefers the dominance of being male, in a twisted game, to subdue them anyway, to his whimsical whims in playtime, that they still had to please him in some way, even though he’s a closet homosexual, the social-contrary-hard-to-believe thought, was not lost on me however, as to his unease to his all-conquering attitude to which ever gender was before him. And whilst we’re talking about gender, metaphorically speaking, I actually at one point in the story, thought the sea and beach was gay or bi-sexual, at the very least, and that’s why the book was based there, refreshing notion isn’t it. 

And what got to me, was in regards to his bereaved grief, that some I could see what he was getting to as an insight into this process, but in other instances within the book, I felt the ‘how could he!’ as I got nearer the end of the book. For George, in the process of moving on with his life meant replacing someone who he apparently was supposed to care for deeply, with someone just like that of the lover he lost. And for some reason that rubbed me up the wrong way, once I finished the book, and I apologise for those who are sensitive towards the sentimentality of death, but I thought, glad he never got the chance. Hence for me anyway an apt one for the title, excuse pun, as to the way George remained in that status throughout the book.

So, what I felt when I finished the book, was that George, the one that over-hyped, had been playing some kind of parlour game, as he was doing with the female character Charlotte when he was drunk, and when he was sober wouldn’t remember any of it, but you would, as he’d hoped you would to remind him of it, hence the book, when he was long gone, you’d be saying things at the dinner party “and George said in the book A Single Man and I quote…”  It left the after taste of a hang-over, where’s the ice-pack for my forehead. 

FAVOURITE PASSAGE:

“Well ― to put it crudely ― it’s like Plato; it’s a Dialogue. A dialogue between two people. Yes, but not a Platonic dialogue in the hair-splitting, word twisting, one-up-to-me sense; not a mock-humble bitching-match; not a debate on some dreary set theme.  You can talk about anything and change the subject as often as you like.  In fact, what really matters is not what you talk about, but the being together in this particular relationship.  George can’t imagine having a dialogue of this kind with a woman, because women can only talk in terms of the personal.  A man of his own age would do, if there was some sort of polarity; for instance, if he was a Negro.  You and your dialogue-partner have to be somehow opposites. Why? Because you have to be symbolic figures ― like, in this case, Youth and Age.  Why do you have to be symbolic? Because the dialogue is by its nature impersonal.  It’s a symbolic encounter.  It doesn’t involve either party personally.  That’s why, in a dialogue, you can say absolutely anything.  Even the closest confidence, the deadliest secret, comes out objectively as a mere metaphor or illustration, which could never be used against you.”

(extract taken from pages 124-125, ‘A Single Man’, by Christopher Isherwood, first published in 1964)

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Filed under Contemporary, Reading Group

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

THE BLIND ASSASSIN BY MARGARET ATWOOD
Published: for World Book Nights 2011
Paperback: 641 pages
ISBN: 978-1-86049-880-0

AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: http://www.margaretatwood.ca/

MY LOCAL LIBRARY:

Minet Library – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Minet-Library-Lambeth-Archives/182910281761857

SYNOPSIS:

The elder sibling Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her younger sister’s Laura’s death. Like no other character within the book, she examines all details before her time runs out, however, on the other hand… 

MY BOOK REVIEW:

Before I read this book ‘The Blind Assassin’, as part of the Reading Group of Minet Public Library, I read to get familiar with the author’s writing style, which was written by her too, another book called ‘Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer On Writing’ by the same author, which I own a copy of, that is when it came out alittle later than ‘The Blind Assassin’ as a stand alone book, and its a short study guide, as she talks in-depth about what writing actually ‘means’ and how reading is also important to what is ‘gifted from its insight’ when it comes to a book and any of this kind in its form, such as ‘The Blind Assassin’ which is presented to the Reader.

So therefore I knew that reading the book ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ give me a fore-taste, and would ease me into her way of writing narrative prose and to ‘hear’ her vision on matters, because although all appears normal on the surface, by using a specific reading technique; a nuanced one, as you get into the book you find there are under-currents worth exploring too, in the plot and theme of the Blind Assassin, which gives this book a texualized richness. For she says within this book of ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ that:

“Talking is very old, writing is not. Most people learn to talk when they are infants, but many people never learn to read.  Reading is decoding, and in order to do it you have to learn a purely arbitrary set of markings, an abstract formula.” (page 46)

Buy book on Amazon: Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood

This one quote from ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ helped with understanding why she wrote the way she did for ‘The Blind Assassin’ generally and when it came to do the review for this book. As her views on writing and that of the character of Iris, is pretty strong on their creative processes which are markedly similar. 

For you were set a blind task to decode through-out the book, you have to ‘trust the purpose’ literally because Iris is talking like someone elderly but her writing is lively. And this comes across from the text of ‘The Blind Assassin’ because there’s much left unsaid and unfinished, as you feel from the book that there is a shortened space of time left too, not hurried so much to have a fast pace to the flow of words in the narrative, its just that there’s a feeling that time isn’t on your or her side to complete the mission in the body of work, and thus each word, each sentence must account for something, and each phrase must count its cost. As one of the character’s states:

“…Sometimes you don’t like me very much, she says. I can’t think about much else lately, he says.  But liking is different. Liking takes time.  I don’t have the time to like you.  I can’t concentrate on it.” (The Blind Assassin: The lipstick heart, page 31)

And that abstract formula is carried through the book in two ways: Religion and Moral Trust. And this is because it’s the mainstay of what keeps them going on, whether they like it or not, whether they believe or not, whether they care for it or not, it leaves a trail and a process of active thoughts as for example it states:

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read.  Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.  Impossible of course.  I pay out my line, I pay out my line, this black thread I’m spinning across the page.” (The Steamer Trunk, The Blind Assassin, page 345)

This is very much moralistic in its tone, about life and how as individuals we interact with it, because even if you’re not writing down truth, you can’t assume visually that you won’t be read either, and that is one of the premises of the book ‘The Blind Assassin’ because even if God doesn’t come to read her words in printed form, there is another person that is known who could; without even waiting for the finished copy to be published: is that of the Holy Spirit of God, and as the character states: “The real author was neither one of us: a fist is more than the sum of its fingers.” (The Heap of Rubble, The Blind Assassin, page 626) And this was the message that Iris did have some sort of faith afterall, however you only realised it later on in the book, that she wasn’t an Atheist, which you might have been lead to believe.   

And I thought about this, and this way it took me so long to write this review, for surely I felt that coming from such an upbringing of a duty-bound background, something must have been heartfelt religiously within her! As she spoke to no-one about how she was dealing with life, no friendship outside of peers, only that of adult company, so who was it that Iris turned to during those times when she required that of stability?!

Because the elder sister, Iris, didn’t put her trust in God, unlike her mother, who was a devout Methodist, or younger sister, Laura, who was also a Methodist although with fanatical leanings to what religion and God stood for, literally and unqiuely, and that of their father, who was an Anglican, although losing his faith in God when he returned from the War, and never regained his trust in the Lord back, even with the encouragement from his wife to still uphold his religious creed, he didn’t, although he wasn’t an Atheist either, for as Iris says it wasn’t a term yet invented nor was it up for discussion with his children.

But with Iris you couldn’t tell so easily, but you only became aware to that of her affinity with that of the Holy Ghost much later on, if you hadn’t written off the book due to not ‘getting it’ as a form of repentence, and not given it much thought, as everything she wrote was ghost-like and spiritual, and the Holy Spirit, who to her was a ‘Trans-cultural Metaphor’ which being the ‘living bird’ is represented as a Dove, and it could be decoded from within the book because all of Iris’ experiences she gives in the most poetic views of how she sees Creation, as from the standpoint of the Holy Ghost first viewing the waters of the Earth, right from the begin she doesn’t see herself in the spotlight but her presence is called for and that of being a helper to others, but all this was given through a personal absorption when she writes as its says:

“I look back over what I’ve written and I know its wrong, not because of what I’ve set down, but because of what I’ve omitted. What isn’t there has a presence, like the absence of light.  You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together.  But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth.  Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind.  The living bird is not its labelled bones.”  (The chestnut tree, page 484)

Which meant for this book that there’s an underlying unity of the confessional as well as the contemplative lives of the characters, and in that and from that premise, the book has no predictable quality to it, that we as Readers can also identify with in reality, as so much of our own lives are withheld from view, that is, even from ourselves, as in the novel it states on page 632:

“The picture is of happiness, the story not.  Happiness is a garden walled with glass: there’s no way in or out.  In paradise there are no stories, because there are no journeys.  Its loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward along its twisted road.”

And all this was purposefully set out in the complexity of the novel, because for a time, while we also read it, time has stood still, we do come back to read it at intervals to continue onwards, much as we do in our own lives, and that’s how the book’s format takes us along. As you’ve lost that sense of ‘Paradise’ that you might have held onto in an idealized way, this book shakes that off, but this is because there is not a natural flow, there’s no sense of a re-enactment of trying to write wrongs, nor give explanations for actions or thoughts, what you do get is raw emotional longings of things that hadn’t a chance to flourish within themselves as well as in the social world.  What really brought this home was when I read that line “In paradise there are no stories because there are no journeys.” They end. You don’t do anything in Paradise, you just stand still unmoved and unstirred. But does that mean in Hell there are many stories with differing roads as well as journeys. As said in Paradise Lost by John Milton:

”So without least impulse or shadow of Fate, or aught by me immutablie foreseen, They trespass Authors, to themselves in all, Both in what they judge and what they choose; for so I formd them free and free them must remain, Till they enthral themselves: I else must change Thir nature and revoke the High Decree, Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain’d Thir freedom, They ordain’d Thir fall…” (page 26, Paradise Lost, by John Milton, PC Kindle version)

And for me that sums up the book, because in alot of the character’s traits, there was no telling who was doing the writing, the editing and the publishing; especially of the completed novel of Iris’ which should have remain hidden in the trunk, but it didn’t work out that way, for we have read it, and thus would she have wanted it public anyway is questionable. So was the revenge unknown to even Iris by its publication without her consent; the lawyer who knew where to find it, perhaps even Myra had it published for the memory regarding what her mother Reenie was like as a loyal person, or was it the grand-daughter who decided to publish the book as a combined bind-up, as some sort of payback: hence the title of the book ‘The Blind Assassin’, for we’ll never know, because it’s a book within a book of another book which we’re reading; a confessional, testimony and a tribute: a memorial (their heritage) within a memorial (the siblings keepsakes) within a scrapbook journal as a written memorial (the people around them that emphasised their lives) but with a betrayal and some very tragic outcomes born from deceit all round.

Along with that, each character mentioned falls short, within their own flaws, as they weren’t well-rounded people nor well adjusted, although none could see it, even from that of the Reader’s interpretation, as they were enthralled with themselves, as each character comes to pass and live even through a brief moment, the author dies alittle as they move across the page in creating because there’s no second chances in this type of abstract novel, for the Readers’ play that of Revelations and divine retributions, that is the Reader of the book becomes God in Judgement, the Holy Ghost as Comforter, or the Devil’s Advocate, and the absence of Jesus as Love, but as with all of them, its hard to judge them without entering into cliques, and taking into account their motives, blind convictions and chances, yet still, they and us remained free, and in what they themselves judged we might not have given such thoughts, and to what they choose throughout the events, we came to our own conclusion as Readers.

Overall, this book would be very resourceful in the many discourses that could be entered into as part of an educational set book due to the subject offerings that can be pulled out of the book eg. historical perspective, feminism, sexuality, class structure, religion, industrial welfare, war, sibling rivalry, inter-racial romantic relationships, the ethical practices of the commercial media and that of women in society, to name but a few. As well as for being beneficial to Reading Groups to have a lively discussion regarding the different Reader interpretations that could arise. But last, but not least, for just being a read definitely worthwhile. It deserves to become a ‘Classic’ book. 

MY FAVOURITE PASSAGE:

“Jesus sits at the right hand of God,” she said, “so who sits at God’s left hand?” “Maybe God doesn’t have a left hand,” I said, to tease her.  “Left hands are supposed to be bad, so maybe he wouldn’t have one. Or maybe he got his left hand cut off in a war.” “We are made in God’s image,” Laura said, “and we have left hands, so God must have one as well”, She consulted her diagram, chewing on the end of her pencil. “I know!” she said “The table must be circular! So everyone sits at everyone else’s right hand, all the way round.” “And vice versa,” I said.  Laura was my left hand, and I was hers. We wrote the book together.  It’s a left-handed book.  That’s why one of us is always out of sight, whichever way you look at it. (The Heap of Rubble, The Blind Assassin, page 627)

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Filed under Contemporary, Inter-racial Romance, Reading Group

The Celibate by Michael Arditti

THE CELIBATE BY MICHAEL ARDITTI
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Arcadia Books
ISBN: 978-1906413224

AUTHOR WEBSITE: http://www.michaelarditti.com/

SOURCE FROM: Library Collection

MY LOCAL LIBRARY:
Minet Library – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Minet-Library-Lambeth-Archives/182910281761857

____________________________________________

MY REVIEW:

As the author, as to and through his main character conveyed a significant insight about all manner of subjects, but less on experience, therefore he had ‘Specific Understanding’ that is the main character that he himself admits. For it was picked up on that they, both the author and main character lacked and felt contemptuousness of those that do have the ability of ‘Sensed understanding’ internally regarding meanings gathered from awareness, which the author through the main character admits on page 212 when assessing that of another person, “that there is a gulf between ‘Sense-Knowledge and that of ‘Revelation Knowledge’ for he laments that ‘Sense-knowledge could never tell us which came first;” true, as it tells what is, where is, there is, and how is, and most importantly why is it so.

However, in modern times is given more credence in terms of acceptance when done as a self-confession rather than from any type of meaningful-interaction with reflection.

As there are three regards which applies to ‘Sense-Knowledge’ particularly as you read this book, or a book that is complex, is that it should be borne in mind with sensitivity as to:

Social Causality – reflecting on the causal influence regardless of who actually begins the interaction as it gives rise to impression about behaviour and its causes.

Temporal Contingency — as to the interaction with each other by eliciting our behaviour in that we may understand a greater number of traits in others than in ourselves.

Spatial Proximity — creates the perception of intentionality, the reader is ‘figural’ here which gives a tendency for the reader making out the purposes, the contexts and working with it.

As the character says: “Its hard to gain a perspective from a position of partial truth. And yet there are so many truths even as there are many stories. And at some point they must all connect. I used to think that that would only be in death; but I’m now convinced that as I reach out to more and more people, so I’ll come to understand their stories, and the partial truths will make more sense.” (page 247-278) Hence my reading was in the style of being nuanced in thought, that is just as much as the author’s were multi-complex in the contents.

To which I state that ‘Sense-knowledge’ is a virtue, which when a reader masters how to judge a book regardless of subject matter, just as much as they must know how to arrive at an understanding of its contents, that is no matter the subjectivity of it, the outcome of which is that there must be resolutions being stated in terms of shared critiques that builds upon awareness in having social perspectives that is insightful.

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