Archive for February, 2011

Book Battle: Fathers and Sons vs Eve Green

I recently read Eve Green, by Susan Fletcher, on the strength of it garnering glowing reviews and having won a major award. I was utterly underwhelmed, and looked to Amazon to see what real people thought of it. Opinion is divided: it’s either a beautiful, mysterious evocation of Wales or a dull trudge through an unlikeable, self-involved character’s tedious past. I fall squarely in the latter camp, but I wondered if that was partly because I was so smitten with Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, which I read immediately before.

So, I’m pitting the two books against each other, but I decided that it wasn’t fair to choose the battleground myself; I want a good clean fight, here. Being the geek that I am, I had no trouble knocking up a simple random word generator, to decide on the categories on which each book shall be judged. I used the ‘All Adjectives’ word list to generate 5 random categories.

Round 1: Clear
A tricky start for Eve Green, as it comes out flailing with some oblique references and flowery language; for some people these are it’s strengths, but Fathers and Sons lands a stinging blow with a title that tells you exactly what to expect, followed up by a flurry of descriptive passages that are the epitome of clarity. Verdict: Fathers and Sons.

Round 2: Immense
Interpreting ‘immense’ literally, both books move on the defensive, as neither will break a toe if dropped on a foot. A few cagey jabs later, and this damp squib of a round is over. Verdict: Draw.

Round 3: Fluffy
Fathers and Sons is on the ropes, reeling from an unprecedented attack by a cuddly toy dog from Eve Green, but it rallies towards the end of the round as Eve Green‘s darker heart asserts itself. The spectre of death haunts both of these distinctively un-fluffy novels, and it’s another tied round. Verdict: Draw.

Round 4: Curious
After a quiet couple of rounds Fathers and Sons gradually builds up a strong sequence of curious punches: smack – inter-generational dynamics; smack – our place in the universe; smack – frustrated desire. Eve Green is curious about human nature on a smaller scale, and counters with a few hits of loneliness and the nature of evil, but now looks like a broken book. Verdict: Fathers and Sons.

Round 5: Wandering
The episodic nature of Fathers and Sons comes out swinging in this round, but its attack weakens as it becomes clear that the trajectory of Bazarov’s fate has been far from aimless. Eve Green takes advantage with a few time-travelling blows, finishing with a pointless and devastating granny’s-dead-Cornish-sailor of an uppercut. Verdict: Eve Green.

The winner: Father and Sons. A victory for both literature and websites with random word generators.

Present Tense Book Review – Fathers and Sons: Part 2

(Part One of this Present Tense Book Review.)

This is a book that really makes you think about the universality of human nature. It sets before you a series of characters, male and female, from different generations, and different classes, and describes their interactions simply but effectively. And then throws in some musings on the nature of science, our place in the universe, and what you can do with your life in the face of it’s ultimate futility. Read books like this, for one thing.

Present Tense Book Review – Akira: Part 2

(Part One of this Present Tense Book Review.)

I’ve recently read volumes 3 and 4 of Akira, and the story has now diverged quite a lot from that of the film (I did wonder how the film plot was going to stretch to over 2000 pages). Much of the action of book 3 was rather reminiscent of a cliffhanger-based TV show like 24, where there are a bunch of people trying to find/protect a MacGuffin, and there’s lots of shooting and entertainingly destructive collateral damage. It does get a bit much, but things pick up again in the next volume.

In book 4, Akira sort of takes centre-stage, as a physical presence rather than a latent, mythical spirit, although he remains ominously mute and child-like, and the action is done in his name, rather than by him personally. It’s a powerful, effective technique that makes Akira simultaneously scary and vulnerable. I missed Kaneda in this volume, although it was nice to see Kaori make an appearance, albeit in role rather different from the one she played in the film. And it seems sort of obvious, but I should say that the drawing is ridiculously good – sometimes I get caught up in the story, and then flick back to look at the pictures in more detail. Smashing stuff.

Cats I Have Known – Baldrick and Nursie

Baldrick and Nursie were my neighbour’s cats, named after characters in Blackadder (actually, Baldrick was originally called ‘Black-and-white-adder’, due to his coat colour, but it hardly rolls off the tongue). They overlapped with our Fluff, and I remember Baldrick’s first encounter with her: he was still a wee kitten, and she was sleeping on what he clearly thought was his lawn. His fur and tail puffed up, and he did a bit of sideways scuttling and hissing. Fluff, about twice his size and largely unflappable, deigned to raise her head to see what the fuss was about, before ignoring him entirely. A rather confused kitten eventually sloped off, and they subsequently tolerated each other perfectly well.

Baldrick grew into a sturdy and sleek cat, friendly to us hoomins, less so to the avian, murine, and occasionally feline, communities. His sister Nursie, a pretty tortoiseshell, was a much different character, shy and a bit skittish; she was in a car accident, and I think it permanently left her a bit spooked. She was a sweet affectionate cat, though, and had a litter of four kittens when young; but more of them another time…

A Cat’s Tale – Part Four

The story so far: Binky Mackenzie has found a nice home in the suburbs, but his adventures are far from over…

My house stayed the same for a while, which was nice, but things are always changing; this morning, for example, I found an interesting smell behind a door that I’m sure never used to be there. Anyway, the shape of the house eventually changed again, and the garden seemed further away. One of my hoomins carried me out there once, but I successfully communicated my discomfort by staying within a paw’s breadth of his feet, and wheeling out my best plaintive voice. I did not get taken outside again. Although later I did fall out of one of those holes that you get in the sides of houses, after I lost my balance during a particularly vigorous grooming session. I was a bit shaken up, but I got an inordinate amount of attention from my hoomins afterwards, so it didn’t turn out too badly.

To be continued…

Present Tense Book Review – Fathers and Sons

This week I’ve gone for a classic novel by Ivan Turgenev. I like a little bit of Russian literature every now and then, and this is a good ‘un. The title tells you the main theme of the book, and it thoughtfully explores the characters of men (and the odd lady, which the emphasis on ‘odd’) from different generations. There’s not much plot to speak of, but that’s not the point; it’s involving, and the descriptions of the Russian countryside are lovely.

The edition I’m reading is quite an old translation, from the early Sixties, by Rosemary Edmonds. The introduction has a lovely reference to ‘beatniks’ being the nihilists of the current day. And there’s a particularly choice quote, in chapter 11 (I think): “Not for nothing was he a nihilist”.

Present Tense Book Review – One Good Turn: Part 2

(Part One of this Present Tense Book Review.)

This was a fun book – lately I seem to be reading a lot of books that are written from multiple perspectives, and this was nicely done here. The characters are believable, and the plot is intricate and surprising. If you read enough thrillers and watch enough detective shows on TV, elements of the plot can seem obvious, even if you’re not trying hard to work out the mystery. Columbo-style ‘already-know-whodunnits’ can be entertaining, but it’s satisfying to have a good, unexpected (but plausible) twist, such as this book provides.