By Gianni Rodari.
Quite a light pleasant surreal read. I’m not sure what genre you would place this in which is always an excellent state of affairs – confuse the marketing people with something askew. I think of this as a contemporary novel – even though it was written in 1978 it seems current somehow. Very imaginative throughout and full of surprises and chuckles but it is the rounding up in the last paragraph that raises it to be something special. Special within the context of contemporary literature.
By Owen Jones.
A well-written book which contains many many pertinent ideas regarding ‘chavs, class and how it relates to Britain, and other countries, today. Class is definitely not dead – even if conservatives choose to not define things in this way for their own ends.The occupations that traditionally related to the working class have changed from the like of manufacturing and skilled labour to call-centres and supermarket – but class still exists and the income gap has widened dramatically. We are not ‘all middle class now’.
One (of many) really good points Jones makes is that the narrative we are fed is that British manufacturing in the late 70s was uncompetitive and finished – so that justified the lack of government support and destructive economic policies of the Tories. However, in other parts of Europe industry was supported and while it wasn’t unscathed there are still strong manufacturing sectors and more balanced economies than we have in Britain. The government bailed out the banks in 2008 to help them through a difficult time so they didn’t ‘fail’ – why couldn’t that have been done in the 70s and early 80s with manufacturing? This would mean that the current economic woes partly caused by an over-reliance on the financial sector wouldn’t be as extreme.
There is much food for thought in this book. The discussion relating to the bias of the middle-class media is excellent as is the analysis of aspiration. It’s easy to read and understand and quite immersive. Following are a couple of good quotes.
This was from a conservative MP off-the-record:
‘What you have to realize about the Conservative Party,’ he said as though it was a trivial, throwaway comment, ‘is that it is a coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.’
And another good point.
‘Clearly not everyone can become a middle-class professional or a businessperson: the majority of people still have to do the working-class jobs in offices and shops that society needs to keep ticking. By putting the emphasis on escaping these jobs rather than improving their conditions, we end up disqualifying those who remain in them. We frown upon the supermarket checkout staff, the cleaners, the factory workers—slackers who failed to climb the ladder offered by social mobility.’
By Andrzej Stasiuk.
Again, another breathtaking book from Stasiuk. He has probably written a great amount more in Polish – but we have to wait for it to arrive in translation. The translation is really good – but this could be in part because Stasiuk doesn’t overdo things. He states it all very cleanly. This is the photo which haunted Stasiuk for years and which provided an impetus for travel – though by the sounds of it that was already there long before.
There is an episode where he talks about all the pieces he has collected over the years during his travels and that he takes them out sometimes to remember. This book, and much of his other work, is a remembering that combines with these objects. This is a private remembering and he creates something new out of these tokens. If he was a chancer like Warhol or Hirst he would no doubt have an exhibition of these objects rather than creating something new. It strikes me that much of modern creative endeavour involves collecting things. Curation masquerading as creativity. This is a fine book, which can be reread over and over and dipped into. The chapter about Moldova was excellent.
By Andrzej Stasiuk.
Another fantastic book by Stasiuk. I think he perhaps is the most interesting contemporary writer writing today. His voice is unique and even though it seems that he writes about straightforward things there is such an atmosphere attached to these along with an undercurrent of thought and ideas. This is a novel about light and the town of Dukla in South-Eastern Poland – except that it isn’t really a novel and it isn’t really about these things either. It seems to me he has gone further than Gombrowicz in that form is present but it is very definitely broken down and that different layers are present underneath each structure and these peep through and take precedence at different times. But the book isn’t slavishly in thrall to these forms, it all happens quite naturally. Stasiuk really is masterful.
“There’ll be no plot, with its promise of a beginning and hope of an end. A plot is the remission of sins, the mother of fools, but it melts away in the rising light of the day. Darkness or blindness give things meaning, when the mind has to seek out a way in the shadows, providing its own light.”
By Iain Sinclair.
I started reading this on the day the Olympics started in London in order to give a balance to my experience of the event. I like watching all the various sports, but the official narrative that is given to each event or athlete is something that I do not relate to. Let’s just have their actions do the talking. I am also suspicious of the overall story that surrounds the games by the sponsors, officials, community leaders and politicians. This is where reading Sinclair’s book at the same time provides a useful counterpoint. It is an enthralling book – not just because of the subject matter – but Sinclair writes in a very captivating way, he makes many literary and filmic references which direct further reading or research. This really is a broad canvas with ideas, thoughts, people and places. A very worthwhile read – here is an excellent quote.
In the age of the spinner, content means nothing; the apparatus of explanation, the word-weaving, tells us what we are looking at and how we should react.
By Naomi Klein.
This a very detailed alternative history of the last 50 years. It is well referenced and written. Reading this was actually quite a depressing experience – at various times it seemed that there was no hope and those with money and resources seem to keep themselves on top and also win the propaganda war. The way the book ends with some analysis of South America gives some grounds for optimism. I think I want to read about the history of Bolivar, he seems to be behind the desire for self-determination of many South American countries.
By Susan Richards.
This book just ambles along and somehow keeps your interest all the way through. Some reviews seemed to dismiss it because of this – but for me the lack or traditional plot arc was part of the attraction. The importance lay in the gaze and not the object – as Gide said – or probably paraphrased from someone else. The characters, who are actually real people, are very engaging and the encounters always illuminating. I wouldn’t call them ‘ordinary’ Russians as for the most part they are part of the new intelligentsia. I enjoyed the process of reading this book and learnt a lot along the way.
Yeltsin seemed to really mess things up for a Russia hoping to have a meaningful democracy. I’m part way through ‘the Shock Doctrine’ as I write and this seems to be borne out by many commentators. After reading, I am interested to find out more about the nineties and what actually went on in not just Russia, but the rest of the ex-soviet bloc. I already know a fair bit of what has happened in Poland with the rise of the neoliberals, but to see things in a broader context would be good. At any rate, this is the best modern book I have read for a while – I wouldn’t call it fiction but still there are bound to be embellishments along the way. In addition to the political, the adventures relating to Russian spiritualism were intriguing as well.
The characters and people that make up the book ground it and give it focus, though if there is one criticism it is that they are framed too often from the writer’s perspective in quite an obvious way. Perhaps it wasn’t needed, because as the reader, you will have formed an impression and opinion of the people involved rather than being told how the narrator views them and the changes between each meeting. But this is a minor distraction. Well worth reading.
Soundtrack: Elena Kamburova – Pesnya Klouna.
By Stig Sæterbakken.
I didn’t enjoy this novel. There were not enough interesting ideas and the motives and thoughts given to the characters seemed artificial and two-dimensional. Every now and then I give a contemporary writer a chance, but ultimately I then return disappointed to something older and with a bit more weight. Exceptions would have to be James Kelman, J M Coetzee and Tatyana Tolstaya who have modern works I really admire. But, generally, contemporary literary fiction (if such a genre exists) leaves me with the feeling I have just wasted hours of my life. I am happy to be proven wrong as I was with DBC Pierre whose ‘Vernon God Little’ novel was very good.
I went to a panel discussion a couple of weeks ago organised by Dalkey Archive and Sæterbakken was on the panel – he said quite a few interesting things (along with Drago Jančar) so I bought this novel which was on sale there. I may have just started with the wrong book.