By John Perkins.
This book really is terribly written but I kept on going because the content was interesting. When I say ‘content’ I don’t mean the author’s imagined contemplative and personally dramatic moments, but the statistics and the arguments that Perkins makes. The only justification for such a woefully written novel is that Perkins wants to get his message across and the way he does this is to sensationalise and make it cheesy as hell. Socialist Worker newspaper does something similar I guess – they use a tabloid format to try pick up new readers and get their views to a greater number of people. So, the end justifies the means, possibly.
This book made me cringe with almost every sentence but it was worth reading for some of the insights into the economic world and US foreign policy. It has inspired me carry on down the non-fiction (sic) trail and to read something similar. I only wish Perkins had decided to emulate Graham Greene in his prose, who he meets in the book. Greene later wrote Getting to Know the General about Omar Torrijos – so maybe this book should be next.
Soundtrack: Os Mutantes – Dom Quixote.
By Knut Hamson.
I really don’t know what to think about this novel. It was written in a masterful way but something didn’t connect with me. Part of the frustration was with the characters – the narrator is like a God and the foibles of the characters are plain to see as he categorises them – except with Isak for the most part. He is stable, and is stable because work and the land keep him this way. It is a moral tale and one with a pretty simplistic view of humanity. People can be many things and even someone who is vain and is puffed up by their learning can still be positive and good and act well towards others. Not so in this novel. The only people that have any worth are Isak and his son Silvert. Everyone else harbours evil thoughts, motives and is unfulfilled. All of pettiness and sensational negatives of the characters are shown. True, Geissler is a little different. He is like the narrator but in the novel.
In Growth of the Soil you can see not only a contempt for society but also, unfortunately, humanity. People and characters and whole families are drawn in such broad brush strokes with the negatives highlighted. A person is a certain way and can’t change. Hence they can be written off and devalued
I loved Hunger and several other novels by Hamsun and have always been confused as to how the writer of these books could have supported the Nazis, but after reading this I can see how fascism would have been attractive to him. Strength is valued greatly, attributes are simplified into such generalisations, and I really got the feeling that the narrator had a real contempt for humanity – seeing only negatives rather than the possibilities.
The attachment to nature and treatment of animals is however a different thing. The book creates a wonderful atmosphere and desire for nature in the reader. I enjoyed that aspect. Hamsun is still or was a fantastic writer. One must be careful not to draw him in broad brushstrokes either. I guess the fact I have thought about it so much over the last couple of days makes it worth reading.
Soundtrack: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – People Ain’t no Good.
By Antal Szerb.
I had no expectations before reading this book, but was left very impressed by the end. It didn’t just tell a story but had many very interesting asides involving the characters and their thoughts. The analysis of how death is viewed in different societies was thought provoking – Szerb obviously was a very knowledgable man and you can tell.
I particularly liked that the characters constantly changed. For a few pages you would think you had a handle on the absolute of one of the participants, a truth would be discovered, but then everything would change. This is a marked difference to the usual novels where each character has a core and once you discover what it is then this purpose forms the story and the actions. Not so with Journey by Moonlight. The irony is that much of the story relies on coincidences that you can see coming, which does give a surreal, fantastical edge to the action. However, despite such foresight you never really know how each character will respond to what has been set up.
This was a very unusual book and at times I felt a little out-to-sea because of the inconstancy of the characters. I have to admit I liked this and part of the novel’s intrigue was how the characters would change and act. The ending was perfect and the final sensation was that I had just eaten a sumpuous dinner with many fine flavours, the brandy at the end hinted at the evening ahead.
Soundtrack: anything off the Eels ‘Tomorrow Morning‘ album.