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Wittgenstein's Nephew: A Friendship (Phoenix Fiction)
Wittgenstein's Nephew: A Friendship (Phoenix Fiction)
by Bernhard
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious nihilism, 24 July 2003
This is one of my favourite Bernhard novels. It is both funny and pessimistic at once, slamming the borgeois and literary worlds of Vienna, while examining the themes of mental and physical illness and the artistic temperament. And although this is a portrait of Paul Wittgenstein, nephew to Ludwig, it is also a largely revealing portrait of the artist. Bernhard's view of book awards is worthy of an award in itself! But, like The Loser, this novel seems to take real-life characters and twist them into fictional constructs (eg. Paul has both his arms); however, if you know a little of Paul Wittgenstein, then you will be able to spot the differences and realise that this truth-bending only goes to serve the narrative and the narrator beneficently. It is short, like most of his works, but naturally presented in the one-paragraph format that hypnotizes you and simply does not let you put the book down. This I would almost recommend as the perfect introduction to Bernhard ... either way, a cracking good read.


Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family
Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family
by Thomas Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timeless classic, 24 July 2003
Buddenbrooks is the last great classicalist novel. It tackles various themes, in the chronicling of a late-nineteenth century German borgeois family. Essesntially, like most, or all, of Mann's novels, it is the theme of decline which dominates, but the characterisation is truly inspired. As is the masterful control of language and observation. Really, it is Antonie's story, as she is the only one who actually survives from beginning to end, and in all honesty, she is the strongest and most beautifully drawn character. But little Hanno steals the show right at the last moment, a sort of prelude to Tonio Kroger as it were, with slight intimations to Faustus, and no doubt slightly an autoportrait. The technique of leitmotif which Mann borrowed from Wagner is most apparent in this novel, as is his love of Schopenhauer, and the novel overall reads as a deep and philosophically satisfying epic, though just as readable as any blockbuster family-novel of the modern day. The Porter translation is essential, as she spent her life following Mann and putting him into English.


Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend
Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend
by Thomas Mann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection of form, 24 July 2003
Well, what can you say? If Felix Krull is the novel that would have perfected Mann's form, Faustus was the one which actually did. The technicality of language and construction of novelistic technique here is like Nabokov tenfold. It is unsurpassed, even by Proust. And while it may lack the sublime artistry of Proust, Mann has his own inimitable style of beauty. The going is very slow, it takes you down two gears as a reader, and then another, as you absorbe all the dense but vague symbolism (that of Germany and her Mephistopheles, Hitler), and the complex character which is based on Schonberg. If you enjoy literature in its perfected form, National Socialist German history, Goethe's Faust legend, or dodecaphonic music, you can do no finer than this.


The Legend of the Holy Drinker
The Legend of the Holy Drinker
by Joseph Roth
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully simple, 16 Jun. 2003
This novel is very short, but is beautiful and delightful in its condensed and minimal form. I almost did not notice the fact that I finished reading this in one hour - it really was as involving and achieved as a full-length novel. Read this if you are an alcoholic. Read this if you are looking for the most precise prose (and see Hem's Old Man and the Sea). It is a wonderful little story, and so poetically written. Especially under the circumstances. A major work of genius to remember!


Concrete (Phoenix Fiction)
Concrete (Phoenix Fiction)
by Bernhard
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-blowing, 16 Jun. 2003
Concrete is, structurally, a reworking of Notes From Undergroud, but for the post-Holocaust world. The narrator is clearly autobiographical, and is an intensely introspective and introverted hypochondriac. Or is he? He suffers 'sickness', as does Dostoyevsky's man from underground. Most of the novel is dictated from inside his head, and during these parts I experienced the most intense and affecting prose of all time: this was extremely emotional and confessional stuff, but also intensely metaphysical and perspicacious. I recommend this as a foray into Bernhard: read this first, it does not get any better; having said that, it does not get any easier . . !


Destiny
Destiny
by Tim Parks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite impressive, 16 Jun. 2003
This review is from: Destiny (Paperback)
While reading this I was certain that I had stumbled across the most original living writer in English literature. I really enjoyed the style and the 'atmosphere' that the book put me in: books which are constructed, as this one, in a manner of direct thought, force you to move to a lower state of consciousness to absorb them: this cannot be read in a lucid state of consciousness. What is remarkable is the manner in which sentences jump between time frames, and quite credibly, as if they are direct transcriptions of actual thought, and each chapter seems to follow both the narrative of the present-time events, and reminiscences of the recent-past. This is how the story is told, and the technical virtuosity is quite impressive and consistent how Parks jumps between the two story lines to create one whole of the narrator's life, and it is an effort (though pleasurable) to keep up, as it were, of exactly where the narration is in the sphere of time. That is what I have to say in terms of technique and style; in terms of narrative and form, I found, after having read the book, that Parks was almost forcing his plot into a certain mould, one that might suit the judges of the Booker prize, say. This dissapointed me; the style became, by the end of the book, somewhat mechanical, and certain 'unrealist' plot occurences 'forced' the book in a direction I was unhappy with. That said, I do still consider Parks to be a highly original writer; you will need to be able to appreciate 'internal' writers such as Woolf and Sebald to enjoy this - or else you will quickly become impatient.


In Search Of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann's Way: Swann's Way Vol 1 (Vintage Classics)
In Search Of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann's Way: Swann's Way Vol 1 (Vintage Classics)
by Marcel Proust
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Perfection, 12 Jun. 2003
Proust's great novel is by far the greatest work of literature I have ever read, including Shakespeare, Goethe, Joyce, Woolf, Dostoyesvsky, Austen, Nabokov, Hemingway and Tolstoy. 'Lost Time' is a story spanning forty years in the life of a man named only once in the narrative, and follows his reminiscences of love, society, and becoming a writer. Proust has the deepest insight into human behaviour and the human mind: it is humanity itself that he essentially aims to dissect within the flesh of his novel. But 'Lost Time' is also a novel very much about art, sexuality, and of course, his famous themes of Memory and Habit. The plot itself is very, very slow (it took me five weeks of absolute solid non-stop reading to devour all six volumes, but by week two my wife had only got as far as page fifty, and then gave up), so if you want a pacey story, a quick and satisfying read, then this will not be for you - having said this, I actually found parts quite exciting, and, despite the banality of some of the events, Proust's writing makes the story so enjoyable that it is quite unputdownable; it can be hard work, but it can also be sublimely easy to read: it is as if, after a hundred pages or so, one becomes 'fluent' in Proust, and reading him becomes as natural as taking another breath.
Proust manages, in my opinion, to achieve perfection in every literary sense: vol. 1 is a poetic and moving reminiscence of childhood, and contains some breathtakingly beautiful passages (especially of Combray), and includes the delightful novella 'Swann in Love' (these Swann bits and childhood bits are important to the later volumes too); vol. 1 is perfectly acceptable to be read on its own, without the others, if you so desire (and don't have the time); vol. 2 is the 'Bildungsroman', as it were, and sets up all the important characters, including the wonderful Saint-Loup and the alluring Albertine; vol. 3 is very much a 'society' novel, although don't expect 'Vanity Fair' ... what struck me in this part, and more so in vol. 4 was how utterly hilarious a writer Proust is - his humour is at once cruel and delightful; then vol. 4 is very much the 'gay' novel, and probably the funniest too - I laughed aloud all the way through ... the characterisation of the Baron is formidable in this volume - probably one of the best drawn characters in all of literature; but vol. 5, the Captive, I found to be very slow, and very intense, but although it has the most frustratingly slow passages, it has the most sublimely beautiful ones too - ones that rival the entire poetical canon; and vol. 5, the Fugitive, is sort of a summing up, a tying up of loose ends before the finale; finally, vol. 6 is indeed the very finale, and it is quite spectacular, one can see clearly the terrifying influence of the Great War on Proust in this part.
Vols. 1 and 6 were written first as a small (700p) novel, which Proust then added, and added, and added to, as the years went by. I could really feel his development (to perfection), as a writer, through the volumes, but it still all holds in the same wonderful voice throughout. Incidentally, the new Penguin translations read quite poorly in comparison to this one, and lose a lot of the humour. Always stick with the D.J. Enright revised translation - it is the best English version.
This is a must read for everyone who has the time to do so. Reading this was not only the most phenomenal literary experience of my life, but also one of the most amazing experiences of my life full stop. This novel finds the perfect balance between the most poetic prose of all time, engrossing characters (and their stories), intellectual and investigative essayistic passages, artistic and pyschoanalytical investigation, both satirical and delightful humour, and the most perspicacious observations of humanity ever written.
Proust's great novel is sheer perfection. If you read it, be prepared to not enjoy any other novels afterward - because you probably won't: nothing better can be written. Genius.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2009 9:43 PM GMT


Intimacy
Intimacy
by Hanif Kureishi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time favourites, 5 Jun. 2003
This review is from: Intimacy (Paperback)
This is indeed one of my all time favourites. I must say I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed Proust, Woolf and Hemingway. It is the story of a man who plans to leave his wife, the next morning, and we follow his thoughts through that night. It is utterly frank and honest, and I believe based in true events of Kureishi's life. But this is not what makes it good. Kureishi here makes the break from the forms that have been holding him back for years. The structure of his novels Black Album and Buddha were very conventional and restricted, in my mind, a lot of his talent was cramped and repressed by these walls which he must have thought he needed to be contained in. But he has broken free. His short story work is formidable, and he finds, I think, in these short formats, the ability to express himself with the freedom and honesty of a true artist. The same goes for this short novel. It holds many truths and sublime observations, often simple and insouciant, yet always universal and human. This, I believe, will always be one of my favourite novels, and is, in fact, alongside one or two of Woolf's, my favourite English book. It is by far the best work of contemporary Britain, I think. There is no one around who has achieved this level of artistry, although most writers these days seem concerned only with commercial saleability or technical proficiency. This book is not a feel-good novel, so don;t buy it expecting that. And although it has a certain 'gravitas' about it, it really is a pure and direct form of artistic communication, and for this reason I reccomend it - it should touch a level of emotion reserved only for the greats, and will stay with you, as it did me.


The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Edition: Paperback

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 31 May 2003
If, in order to write a book, you must first arrange each sentence systematically in your head, then dictate each letter of each word in those sentences by way of blinking your left eye as someone reads the alphabet to you, you are bound to keep your prose spare. And that is exactly what Bauby did, his formidably touching and beautiful novel uses only the most essential lyrical and simple prose, and is a short but wholly engaging read. This makes a perfect present as I have never met anyone young or old, male or female, who has not enjoyed this. A must for everyone's bookcase.


Madame Bovary: A Story of Provincial Life (Penguin Popular Classics)
Madame Bovary: A Story of Provincial Life (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Gustave Flaubert
Edition: Paperback

4 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but dated, 31 May 2003
Flaubert's style is delightful. It is simple like Maupassant's (who may have been his son, as he had an affair with his mother), whom he taught, and yet analytical too, as say Balzac. The translations are fine you find in England, Emma is a wonderfully drawn character, so real, and we judge everything and everyone in this novel by actions that we witness - an interesting method, as there is little interior action. The story is tragic and the characters supply a broad sample of humanity for Flaubert to make us give judgement to. The only thing is that like Wuthering Heights for example, this novel reads quite dated now. If you read Bel Ami, it could have been written by Sartre, if you read Lost Time, it could have been written by DeLillo (only perhaps not), what I mean is that those novels are timeless examples of what Bovary is. They utterly transcend any definition of time, whereas Bovary (like the Brontes) is an archetypal synecdoche of 'a time'. It does read dated. Yet as Proust teaches us one can document an era without resorting to over-detailing or cliche or anecdotes. That said, Flaubert is amongst a handful as the one of the best writers of the 19th century, but I don't think this novel is one of the greats. I keep seeing it on 'must read' lists like Julian Barnes's, and to have this novel and not Proust's is just nonsense.


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