Exemplary Stories

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By Miguel de Cervantes.

There are some fantastic stories here. How I wish Cervantes had had time to write another Quixote. Ah well, i’ll have to just re-read it.

“He answered that of the infinite number of poets in existence, the good ones were so few that they hardly counted, and so being unworthy of consideration, he did not hold them in any esteem; but that he admired and revered the art of poetry, because it contained within it all the other sciences put together. It makes use of all of them, and they all adorn it, so that it gives lustre and fame to their wonderful works, and brings great profit, delight and wonder to all the world.”

 

 

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The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle

By Tobias Smollett.

This was an absolutely brilliant and amusing read. It twisted and turned as Peregrine matured and immatured, traveled, fought duels, learnt lessons, caused havoc, fell in and out of love and generally encapsulated many aspects of the human experience. Smollett is a writer you don’t hear much of. Maybe, his books are too easy to read and are passed over in favour of Sterne and Tristram Shandy. But, there is much to be entertained by in this novel – and the scenes stay with you leaving you to consider them, but only if you feel inclined. Smollett also translated Gil Blas and Don Quixote – so you can see where his influences lie.

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Gargantua and Pantagruel – Book One

By François Rabelais.

This first book is quite cohesive. I guess Rabelais didn’t know himself  if he would write another and the impetus seems to be his own amusement and that of his friends. This was a very enjoyable experience and  as a result I took my time reading Book One. I like the way the episodes aren’t really connected they just sort of flit about and are not as linear as most novels.

Pantagruel makes you laugh, consider things philosophically and stimulates the imagination: it doesn’t get much better than this. I can now see where many of the writers I love got a great deal of their inspiration. There were free translations I could have found for the kindle but I decided that if I was going to make the effort to read all five books then it should be with the best translation – by most accounts Professor Screech’s translation is the best. There are many footnotes – but they don’t get in the way as the book is the kind that stimulates you in bursts as it is all angles and the footnotes don’t interfere but add to the richness of the text. The rest are coming up shortly.

 

 

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Wilson

wilsonBy Daniel Clowes.

This is the first graphic novel I have ever read – and I thought it was great. What has put me off reading any previously is probably the ‘superpower’ element that seems to be a part of so many comics – sorry ‘graphic novels’. But this was entertaining, meaningful and funny. The main character Wilson seems to blunder through life with no tact whatsoever exposing his neuroses for all to see and searching desperately for some kind of meaning. Whilst he is an arse, he is still treated with a touch of sympathy so that we don’t give up on him completely.

One thing I really liked was that each page was an episode and each was drawn differently. Now, this could be Daniel Clowes showing what a versatile artist he is – which is fine, but it is maybe nicer to think of it in that these episodes can be seen many ways. We are forced to see Wilson in a very simply drawn form then in quite a detailed film-noir character with all the shades in between. It was a great idea.

Having read and enjoyed this first graphic novel, which was gifted, I have decided it won’t be the last. The trick will be finding the good ones to buy as it is a strange new world that I know nothing about. All I know is that superheroes don’t interest me; but Wilson, as the polar opposite of a superhero, did.

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The Twelve Chairs

12By Ilf and Petrov.

Yet another great book. I seem to be on a roll recently or perhaps the critical process before I select a novel to read is paying dividends. This is every bit as good as The Golden Calf – I think it is maybe more standard as a novel but it still runs away with itself similar to ‘the Calf’ which is the sequel.

There are many laugh out loud moments but generally the book was read with a constant smile on the face. There is more than just the humour  – it is an indictment of the desire for money. The characters that strive for financial gain are sensitively treated however, particularly Ostap Bender. It also critiques the trappings of communism and the NEP reforms of the 20s along with the bureaucrats and it is precisely this political ambiguity which means the novel is still relevant.

This story is strange, amusing and imaginative with some underlying meaning. You never know what is going to happen at any juncture – who are the odd characters you will meet, will Bender and cohorts win or fail and does it really matter?

There is one more Ilf and Petrov book left to get – I will need to savour reading it.

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The Railway

railwayBy Hamid Ismailov

Both frustrating and brilliant. I don’t quite know what I feel about this book overall. It was worth reading as it exposed me to a new atmosphere and a different way of living. There were fantastic passages where you got caught up in the enthusiasm but then it seemed to dip and you didn’t really care about the next few pages. Maybe it was written over a long period of time – some parts – particularly the end felt like they had been tacked on. The end was quite strong though. This is experimental in that the plot and narrative are almost invisible but that being the case the form needs to hold it together and it didn’t quite.

I laughed out loud at several episodes or turns. Maybe a loose collection of associated short stories would have been better – or perhaps that is what it really is under the guise of a novel. All very confusing – which is a good thing. A book shouldn’t always leave you nodding in a self satisfied way, sometimes there has to be head-scratching and incomprehension.

The author definitely communicates the life of the town of Gilas and the surrounding area very well. There is a large dose of imaginative interaction and at the books end I did have the sensation of having experienced some new, along with the frustration. The assimilation of Communism and Islam was very interesting – and there didn’t seem to be the clash you would expect. Perhaps the novel shouldn’t be called ‘The Railway’ as the railway doesn’t play a great part – it is more of an aside. ‘The town of Gilas’ would have been better. The town, families, history and local characters are what this novel is about. The inhabitants travel and indulge in improbable picaresque escapades but it is always to Gilas and Uzbekstan they return.

I think it was worth my time reading this. Someone else may disagree.

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