Tuesday, October 30, 2012

“All right, then, I thought: here I am in the bottom of a well.” 

Now this quite literally is the strangest book I have ever read. Although it was strange, and although it went against every literary convention I am used to, and confused me, and puzzled me, and frustrated me, and infuriated me - it filled me with such intrigue and such hunger that I almost feel like I need to fill the hole (with another Murakami book) that it left once I completed it.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is made up of three books: The Thieving Magpie, Bird as Prophet, and The Birdcatcher. All three books are narrated by the main character Toru Okada. He is a man-child, he has no job, no accomplishments, no aspirations and a failing marriage (though he does not seem to be aware of this).

The story opens with Okada being deeply concerned that his wife's cat has disappeared. This perplexes him so much that he becomes obsessed with finding it. One morning though, he wakes up to find that his wife - who had not come back from work the night before - was also missing and so he then searches for her. All the while, through all these searches, he bumps in to and makes friends with characters that veer from the odd to the outright weird. 

I am realising that this sounds like the most bizarre description of a book ever... it's because the book is so fragmented and so strange. At some moments within the book you do not know if Okada is dreaming, telling the truth, is crazy, or imagining the personalities he meets or their stories. One thing you do know though, is that the characters that he meets (a psychic, a prostitute, a mute, a sixteen year-old girl, a war-veteran) bring a little colour to his otherwise grey world.

The Audiobook
The book is fabulously narrated by Rupert Degas. He does, quite simply, an excellent job in narrating and emoting a story that is quite chaotic. 

His pronunciations of Japanese and Manchurian names and places seem to be so well executed that to my untrained ears it sounds as if he is a native speaker (of course I do not speak Japanese and this is just my uneducated assumption). 

Degas does his best with the female character voices, which can sometimes be quite funny to listen to, but you do get used to it - and they do start to sound quite convincing! 

The Story
I have to say that this book just blew me away, and maybe not for all the right reasons. 

Whilst listening to it, I felt like I was pacing on a treadmill that I was unable to stop - that I was watching the brilliant imagery and scenes pass by me, not really able  to absorb the scene before being moved on by the author to the next part.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on stage
Surreal images, scenes and situations are experienced or described to Okada and he seems to show the same confusion, or apathy that the reader does. The sub-plots, which are all so painfully curious, are threaded beautifully throughout the novel, but as one reaches the end it is easy to become panicked as you'll come to realise that not everything will be explained. 

Destiny and fortune is a recurring theme personified, which is ironic, as Okada's lack of direction is reflected in the book's lack of direction. For those who love a tidy ending, and tight structure, this book will bug you to no end. 

Everything about this book should have had me hating it.
But I really quite loved it actually. The book was so refreshing and so tantalisingly curious that I could do nothing but need to listen on. I found the story monotonous at times, the characters so bizarre that they were bordering on annoying, and the hardest part of the novel was that nothing really happens. All the while, Murakami is winding you up, making you hold you breath so patiently, sure that there is going to be a climax that will make your eyes pop out of your head - but there is nothing.... and at the same time, in true style, there is everything.

I recommend this to anybody who wants to try something new. Anybody who enjoys surrealist literature, and anybody patient enough to read 600 plus pages and run the risk of blinking at the end, confused as to what you've read.


P.S. Okado spends a good bunch of pages sitting down the bottom of the well, walking through well walls in to hotels and curing people with a spot on his cheek that he got from said well.

P.P.S. Don't let the above 'P.S' put you off.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

“We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.” 
― Kathryn StockettThe Help

The Help is a contemporary novel discussing the strained relationships between white privileged housewives and their black house maids. The story is set in 1962, Mississipi - and with just that information, you can practically guess the tone, pace, and mood of the novel (and if you'd like a little bit more information - the novel rocked the book club world). 

Three narrators guide us through the novel; a black maid named Aibileen, who is raising her seventeenth white child and is mourning the death of her son. A white lady named Skeeter, who is so desperate to become a famous journalist, that she decides to collect interviews of black maids and their experiences, and there is Minny, a smart-mouthed black maid who basically brings some much needed flavour and humour to the narratives. 

All three unite to fight the prejudice, misinformation and oppression that they witness, are affected by and fall victim to. We're given an insight in to desperate housewives - who take their frustrations out on the help.

The Audiobook

I had downloaded this book through sheer desperation. I was leaving on holiday, had already packed paperbacks, and needed some audiobooks to get me through the lazy days. An hour before we left to go to the airport I was scouring through Audible's recommendations and came across The Help. I downloaded it, pretty much after reading the blurb and did not begin it until a week in to my holiday.

The producers of this audiobook did an amazing job. They brought together four different narrators to take on the different voices. All narrators used a southern accent which just added to the mood and tone of the novel. Stockett's writing, although good, was accentuated by these beautiful voices. 

The Story

So, what did I think of the story? Well, it's a hard one. Whilst other people have found The Help to have a Marmite effect. I find myself, at times, balancing on a fence and occasionally falling off one side, only to clamber back up to the middle again. 

I loved it. I hated it. At the same time.

I loved the writing. I loved the distinct voices of the characters. But I hated the clichéd voices, and the clichéd writing. I hated the obvious dichotomies of 'goodie' and 'baddie' but I also found that the lack of complexity made the book an easy read - perfect for holidays. 

I did, though, find the story uncomfortable. It was the recurring 'mammi' figures. The recurring 'white saviour' theme and the author's inability to represent the side of the privileged white housewives. It's not that I particularly want to hear what Hilly has to say, but, if we had heard a little more of what she had had to say we could hate her for what she is, rather than the stereotype she represents.

There were some massive changes happening throughout the United States during the 60s that I feel were not even alluded to. Although, some may argue that the very fact the maids plucked up the courage to be interviewed by Skeeter - that in essence they're contributing to the tension brewing during the civil rights movement. But I feel, just a slight acknowledgement that there were black people at the time not waiting for whites to 'tell their story' but were actively putting their lives at risk, and demanding and taking their rights. As the author has seemed to try to keep things a little light it did not ask the ultimate and most uncomfortable question of all.... if we had been white, privileged little housewives in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, would we be joining them in their prejudice?

Stockett was very successful in both mixing real funny moments, and moments that were quite devastating to read. Although the book had quite a morose tone to it, she still exhibited moments of hope. 

If I applaud Stockett for anything it is her ability to control her characters - I did believe them (except one), I even believed Hilly Holbrooke - I just wanted to know a little more about her and her psychology. It was Constantine - Skeeter relationship that I had a hard time believing, I just didn't really 'get it'. I was also quite impressed how she touched upon the pressures and oppression that all characters are victim to, whites and blacks. 

So overall, I loved and hated it. I know - not the best place to stand when reviewing a book, but it's where I stand; balancing, holding an umbrella on a fence.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Today I and a couple of my friends decided to go to the movies.

We were actually going to watch 'ParaNorman'. Well, we basically got the times mixed up and ended up NOT going to see it. 

After making our way to the movie theatre we decided that it would only be worth the journey if we actually watched something. So, we decided 'Let's see The Watch' but we all know how Ben Stiller is... sometimes he's awesome, and sometimes he's not so awesome. Unfortunately we all had busy schedules in the evening and so it was an impossibility to watch a later showing... and that is all they had available. 

And so... we opted for Dredd. All we watched was a trailer on YouTube in the middle of the mall's Food Court. We couldn't hear it, just see the fanciness of it all. I'm quite the sci-fi movie fan and so are my friends and so, well, we made the decision to watch Dredd (we didn't watch the 3D version).

This was probably one of the worst movies I have ever watched. Ever. 

The effects were pretty top of the line, but the story was just so ridiculous. I mean, so utterly ridiculous that it kinda stopped making sense right about twenty minutes in to the story. 

Karl Urban played Dredd and he was wooden, boring, and robotic. In fact, to be honest, if I hadn't watched Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd I would have actually thought for the first hour that he was playing a robot. 

The story is this. We're in futuristic, radiated America, and the only place that isn't barren radiated wasteland is a mega-city reaching from Washington to some other American city (sorry...). The city is pretty much a police-state run by police-people who have the authority to be both judge, jury and executioner. Dredd basically teams up with a Psychic (who is a mutant) and they're going up against Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who is basically the queen-bee, drug-dealing, eye-popping, murderess ex-prostitute; you can pretty much guess the rest. I love you Lena Headey... but why, why did you take this role? You were awesome just being the pretty lady from 300 and the psychotic queen from Game of Thrones.

The violence (which there is a lot of) is vulgar, boring and cliched. There was no suspense and in fact... let me be honest, I walked out twenty minutes before the end. 

I'm sure there will be some fans of the comic books who feel that Dredd is a lot closer to the comic book than Stallone was... this may be true, but it didn't appeal to my sensibilities at all. And I quite openly hoped that Dredd would die so there wouldn't be a sequel. 

Anywho, this film was DREDDFUL (Get it? Get it?) and you know what the worst thing is? It has been given a 7.7/10 on IMDB....
I give it a 2/10.

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