Tuesday, 4 August 2015

July Reads

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

I recently reread the Hunger Games and it was even better than I remembered! (Probably something to do with the fact I first read the Finnish translation...) Had to raise it from four to five stars. (Also I bought this beautiful foil edition, woah! It's amazing!)

Katniss is a really outstanding protagonist, she has an amazingly distinct voice. Often when I read in first person, it somehow seems to me that the author is trying a little too hard or not enough. But Katniss' story and personality comes through perfectly from her own point of view. I actually used to have a problem with the present tense (for some reason I never came accross it when I was a kid, so that's probably why...) but the Hunger Games is what ultimately got me over it when I first read it! I used to feel the present tense was too "in your face" but in this book it was really captivating from the first to the last page, even the first time around.

The characters in general are the best aspect of this book to me (which is how it should be, for the most part). I almost wished that Katniss wouldn't have to participate the Games, not because it's freaking traumatic but because I had to leave District Twelve and not see the life there, the life of her mother, Prim and Gale and especially Madge. For some reason I always really wanted to know more about her.

But, it never really interrupted my reading anyway because everything that happened to Katniss held my interest all the time. It didn't matter whether she was almost getting killed, or climbing a tree, or describing the food she ate in detail, not one sentence ever seemed irrelevant or uninteresting to me. Every scene was as interesting to me as another, just because it all happened to Katniss. That's just how vividly her experience has been written.

If you ask me, that's what makes a perfect protagonist. If the reader just cares about everything she sees or feels or tastes and doesn't even have time to question why.

Ilmeetön mies (The Expressionless Man)
Anu Holopainen

This book is about a woman who struggles to make her life meaningful and let go of her painful past. Sometimes she manages to see the daily necessities in a more romantic light but then it all seems to be in vain again. Almost accidentally, she develops sort of a one-sided relationship to her neighbour, a man who doesn't seem to have friends or work and who never speaks a word.

Well, I wasn't a huge fan of this book. It had some rather well described characters and the main character's feelings were believable but they never quite reach the depth I seek. This has actually been a problem to me with this author before too, even though I love her fantasy series and rated some of her books five stars even though I felt so, because they were otherwise so outstanding to me. That's why I picked this book up in the first place, even though it screamed the kind of comtemporary fiction I don't usually enjoy (even if it has a tiny bit of surrealism).

I felt this book had some interesting ideas but none of them were really followed through. They were just dropped here and there and altogether, what little conclusion this story had, seemed to be in all the wrong places. The descriptions of loneliness, apathy and depression were believable, even captivating for some short moments but then it went flat again. Nothing really grows through the whole book.

And, to be honest I thought the ending was plain cheap. Before the end, the book was about the main character's internal struggle. And then suddenly it was about the scandal in her past. Don't get me wrong, it makes perfect sense that something like this had happened to her but it wasn't carried out well. The weight of the story was suddenly on the event itself, like the author was too lazy to go through it with the main character and just trusted the event to be scandalous enough in itself so the reader would stay interested. Like we're supposed to go all *gasp!* because what happened shocks us so much we won't even pay attention to how the character actually feels about it anymore. To me this feels like looking down on your readers.

And the ending. Ugh, are you kidding me? I can't tell if it was a cliché on purpose (which would also qualify as looking down on readers) or if the author hasn't read any depressing comtemporary novels in the last couple of decades. Didn't feel organic to me in any streatch of imagination.

Before the ending the book was very readable though, and managed to stand up to its genre's expectations in some sense. I have to say, that this overly pessimistic style of narration you see plenty of in comtemporary novels, wasn't so repulsive to me in this book. I mean the kind of narration which makes every ray of sunlight, every hair in the sink, every item in the fridge and every chipped coffee cup look like The Ultimate Proof That Life Is Miserable. I mean, sure in some cases this fits the style because the character is really depressed. But in many cases, the style itself seems to be the whole purpose of the writing and more often than not, so pseudo-artistic it's nauseating. But actually, in this book, it wasn't so all-engulfing. The main character seemed like a real person, not a tool for this style and in her most apathetic moments, this feel in the narration actually made sense.

Stephen King

I've been meaning to read Stephen King for a long, long time, so when I found Carrie super cheap I figured it was finally time. (If it wasn't super cheap there's no way I would've bought a movie edition... but luckily this one isn't that hideous.) Also I figured it was only fitting to start ”from the beginning”, with the author's debut novel.

Now I can finally say, that everyone has been right, Stephen King really is an amazingly talented writer and I can only expect more from his later work. I'm really impressed that someone can make me love a book that isn't primarily the intriguing, mysterious kind of horror but the disturbing, actually horrory kind that gets under your skin.

Carrie is a telekinetic girl, who doesn't have it easy in school or at home. Her mother is abusive and sickly obsessed with her religious believes and other girls bully and shame Carrie at school. Eventually, all her traumatic experiences turn her power into something destructive.

The idea and the plot may seem really simple, but I guess that's were great writers can really shine. There's no need to try to make it more interesting by adding complexities when you can write great characters who are fully able to carry the story on their own. Everyone in this book has been written so realistically even the supernatural elements were never able to make the story feel more distant, they never stole the spotlight from the characters, because they were always part of the characters. Because Stephen King totally knows how to raise the horror from the human being.

I was also impressed at how well the varied ways of narration work in this book. They really managed to carry the story on without ever killing the atmosphere.

The ending probably does feel like the biggest cliché to a reader of my generation but I'm guessing maybe it wasn't a cliché when this book was published in -74.

The Stranger's Child
Alan Hollinghurst

Well this book turned out to be something completely different from what I was expecting. It was thoroughly enjoyable, though I have some questions and things I didn't fully get probably because I'm not british and not knowledgeable enough about the culture.

The Stranger's Child starts with the first encounter of two families and after that they are bound together through the decades the story centers on these families and their circles. It shows how their lives are interpreted and reinterpreted and how the one evening that started it all keeps coming up both in the right and in the wrong contexts.

I really enjoyed the episodic structure of the novel and how every part was like a new book (which I usually don't enjoy very much but here it was done just right) and how loosely everything was related and how the history kept repeating itself in so small ways that all felt like both, irrelevant and so significant in the end. Like the book fully noted both the worth and the unreliablity of subjective experience. The extend to which every character inserted themselves into their interpretation of everyone else was really well exposed because it did acknowledge the mistakes they might make but they also showed that "self-inserting" sometimes brought out things the other people probably should have considered. So it also showed that subjectivity doesn't mean false, that bias is inevitable which is sort of why it deserves credit. I don't know how to put it better right now.

That's probably why I loved the book, in a nutshell. All perspectives were so very well considered in it.

It was also very easy to start following each new ”protagonist”. It often happens to me that I'm still missing the old protagonist half way through the next one's story when a book has a sudden time skip. I guess it's because in this book the characters' own agenda and their interest in the previous central characters worked together so seamlessly.

Haluatko todella kirjailjaksi? (Do you really want to be a writer?)
Jera Hänninen & Jyri Hänninen

This is sort of a guide to the Finnish publishing world but it reads more like an intentionally cynic book of jokes. It was entertaining. Not very enlightening. I don't think it really answered the kind of questions the aspiring writers would really have about the industry. It was more about random trivia and making every editor, publisher and writer seem like they never have any clue about what the hell they're doing.

However, some part of the dictionary might turn out to be useful.

Virginia Woolf

I finally read Orlando, the famous story that starts with a young boy whose life changes dramatically when he turns into a woman.

I was actually surprised about how much I enjoyed reading this book. I don't usually match so well with stream-of-consciousness fiction because I get in the "stream" too but my thoughts go to completely different direction from the author's. And then I realize I don't remember what I read for the past three paragraphs. However, that didn't happen so much with Orlando. I guess the book just never wandered so far from what I thought was interesting in it.

Another thing I don't usually enjoy that much: biographies. But this book basically trolls on them. It probably breaks every possible rule there is but it still kind of is a biography and it's not even entirely fictional, it seems.

I loved how it was barely noted that Orlando didn't age like the centuries passed and how the reader was sort of assumed to take other peculiar things at face value too.

I also really liked it when the narrator figured that Orlando wasn't doing anything worth mentioning at the time and stole the spotlight for philosophical ramblings. It kind of makes it feel like the narrator is watching Orlando at the present moment all the time and only pretending to tell things from the past. After the narrator mentions that we've reached the present moment it seems like the superficial following of the form of biography is completely forgotten and the narrator is just in Orlando's head.

Somehow, the way Orlando's gender changed felt really out of place with all that mystical stuff. I don't know if it was intentional but I could definitely see it that way, maybe pointing out how the context can make the same stuff really engaging or really ridiculous.

The whole picking on gender norms was hilarious too, it reminded me slightly of Jane Austen sometimes, (although the style in general is pretty far from hers). I think Orlando was just perfectly written in that sense, he/she didn't really change at all but at the same time did change, if that makes sense. Sometimes, when people want to emphazise that men and women are the same, they completely ignore that society's expectations also play a role in one's identity and then some who want to emphasize the differences seem really stuck on the superficial level without understanding human nature at all. Well, to me it seems that Woolf totally understands the relationships in all of that.

I knew something of the book being thought of as a "love letter" from Woolf to Sackville-West but I didn't dig into that topic, because I didn't want to be seeking parallels any more than I was. Even if the book was intented as such, it's probably also intented for anyone to read as it is on its own so I prefered to read it without knowing too much.

So... altogether July was pretty good, though I had a bit of a reading slump here and there (First the Stranger's Child saved me from it and then Orlando...) Next month I probably won't be able to read very much because I have quite a bit of school work to do but I'm eager to reread some more of my favourites, so let's see.

No comments:

Post a Comment