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Mr. B. W. Evans "benjaminevans.co.uk" (Guildford)

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Ordinary Thunderstorms
Ordinary Thunderstorms
by William Boyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, but ordinary outcome, 15 April 2010
This review is from: Ordinary Thunderstorms (Paperback)
Adam Kindred, a climatologist, is inadvertently set up for a murder he did not commit and is forced to lose his job, money, home and friends and live amongst the shadows of modern London.

Boyd follow up to the award winning Restless is a novel about how, with one simple act, our fragile identities our in a fast paced, self obsessed world. There is nothng more gripping I in this book than the two or three chapters in which our protagonist - about to be employed for research job by a top university - has his entire life ripped away by the his inadvertent decision to pull the knife from a dead body in his flat. Boyd's novel masqueragdes as a thriller but is much more an exploration of a charcter trapped in limbo trying to save what is meaning amongst the disposable.

With no career, no bank account. No qualifications and no history, what are we left with?

This is the setting that Ordinary Thunderstorms occupies, the murky depths that lie underneath London's polidhed exterior. Kindred's efforts to escape the price on his head lead him down the Thames, to Rotherhithe, Canvey Island and Isle of Dogs, places io the map but off the capital's usual cultural radar. Away from the pressures of the city one might expect something of a natural utopia, but this is anything but. There are no noble savages amongst the water and the grime, rather those hanging on to a subverted existences, relying on crime, prostitution and the hand-outs to survive.

However, having taken us to an intriguing setting and with a world of interesting directions to take it, Ordinary Thunderstoerm becomes neither one thing or the other. The main, thriller element of the plot weaves a familiar tale of corrupt big business trying to eradciate A PROBLEM, but the ease at which Kindred seems to be able to evade the assassin on his tale makes this something of a distraction, rather than the page turning thrust for the reader. The identity problem is similarly absent of drama - we understand the Kindred's brains mean it is easy for him to earn money, find a new persona and live a relatively straightforward life, albeit with a new name and nationality. With this all simply concluded then the point of the book is taken up by the relationships he forms in this new world, and as a reader the only thought that really drives us is `will he go back?' or will Adam Kindred remain in amongst the underclasses forever? This doesn't make for a bad book, but nowhere the possibilities its milieu entailed.

For me the key to making Kindred's situation interesting was to make it as real as possible. Losing one's money, job and connections is THE modern nightmare, but never feels as such. I guess maybe this is Boyd's point - the storm does indeed turn out to be something very ordinary indeed - and perhaps underneath that is all we are, the same human beings and it is only the modern commercial world that makes us believe anything else. All very comforting I guess, but what does this make this book - a thriller whose twist is that its not very thrilling or a charcter piece that spends a lot of time on thrills? It's a confusing world, but I;m not sure this book captures it or seeks to provide any answers.

Love in the Time of Cholera
Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex meditation on the simplicity of love, 4 Dec. 2009
Love in the turn of the century Caribbean. Marquez transports us to a world of hammocks and parrots, before taking us back in time, to the centre of the hot, sweltering city and love forming and growing from youth.

It is the story of Florentina Ariza, the child without a father who sights Fermina Daza through a window down a decorative alley and falls in love with her forever. They woo each other with a childish infatuation, feeling love at its most sentimental, expressing it in poetic letters and music, with an ethereal transcendence drawn from the optimistic belief of youth. It is here that the novel, and Marquez are at their best - celebrating the magic of young love, juxtaposed with the tropical, whimsical Caribbean background, giving it all a utopian feeling, which is everything that adolescent mind strives for, and believes it can find.

A trip on the river, through the barren fields and marshes away from the city - a liminality in an area of the world full of quickly contracting cultures and identities - changes Daza's opinions forever. It is the backdrop of Cholera, growing and spreading amongst the rural lands that steals love away from her forever, makes her realize the reality of the world, that love isn't always the answer, that there is always tragedy lying behind. It brings her back to the city a different person - material, pragmatic - and leads to her romance with Dr Urbino. It is a doctor, the curer of disease, that she looks to. A healer of the darkness of love and tragedy.

We then see the different sides of how humans change and become their different selves - selves who they feel the world demands of them - how they form existences away from love, and yet determined by love all the same.

Ariza becomes a serial womanizer of widows, who can understand his feelings of loss, of existing beyond love through sex - obsessive sex, sex that never satisfies, but is enough.

All the while Daza exists, in a world of wealth, travel, romance and manners, where she is domesticated but unhappy. It is the two polarities of escaping love and truth - the façade and the introspection.

Perhaps it is in her own repressed infidelity that is the cause of her husband's affair - there are some conditions that he cannot heal.
Perhaps it is also through age that we realize what we truly need, and he could cheat himself no longer.

Finally Ariza and Daza are able to join together at the age where the youthful sense of reckless frivolity returns - there is no responsibility anymore - and impending death means that they feel immortal. Together they return to the river, back to the region of poverty and death, where cholera is rife and where Daza left her feelings long ago. The raising of the cholera flag represents the journey back to freedom, freedom from their feelings, away from a society built to repel disease and repel truth at the same time, the two of which still lie dormant amongst the natural beauty of the Caribbean.

A Wild Sheep Chase
A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murakami on more surreal form, 18 Nov. 2009
This review is from: A Wild Sheep Chase (Paperback)
Murakami on his more surreal form. If his books are written along the lines of a freestyle jazz piece, than A Wild Sheep Solo would be the xylophone solo. Purposeful and structured but an oddity all the same.

The book is based around a central character looking for a sheep, that had taken possession of the head of a powerful political organization but was now lost, and without it he will be unable to survive. The search takes him away from his job, his home, his girlfriend and into the depths of the Japanese Mountains.

We are back on Murakami's central motif here - characters lost or at a junction, in a world that they cannot understand, a world that is human but not at the same time. Here though the main character is anonymous - with no name and no real existence. In fact his only real trait is that he is as ordinary as he can possibly be. He is only given meaning by others - by the search for the sheep, the letter from The Rat (his previous acquaintance) taking him on journeys he would otherwise not have made.

To me this is all about the transience of self. Here we have a person who has built up a life, a wife, a business, but who is then transformed quite arbitrarily into a completely different world and existence, where sheep possess humans and women have incredibly attractive ears. Indeed it is the ears that start the whole plot off - an idea of new sensory perception perhaps? Could this happen to any of us?

From here it is the quest for the sheep that dominates, and a journey into old Japan, a Japan that is being lost in the new world, where the old towns and settlements are simply disappearing off the map. In fact times seems to be passing in a similar way, to the sense of nihilism that dominates the book. In this world it is something as arbitrary to a sheep that can change an individual. What else?

The only God is that of the sheep, it is the permanent soul of a transcendental world, looking for somewhere else to lie but finding nowhere. As such it sits dormant back amongst nature, on a mountain with his flock. With the soul removed we no longer dream, we are happy just to be ordinary. All ideals are false - men in sheep outfits.

The book is a homage to the hard boiled novel of Chandler and Hammett - individuals removed of hope and morality in a post-depression, mid-war world, on a search for criminals not for redemption, but just because this is what they do. Things will happen and there is nothing they can do about, it is only the relentless pursuits of time that is a constant. When this stops, existence does not continue.

In this respect is A Wild Sheep Chase a post-modern novel - trying to find new meaning in a world of where nothing is new and different - or is it all a bit frivolous and eventually meaningless. Or are those exactly the same things in the first place? Whatever it is there is definitely something new about it and for me that gives it a value, even it all turns about to be as meaningless as a sheep lying in a field, waiting for something to happen.

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
by Paul Malmont
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Pulp about pulp, 18 Nov. 2009
Walter Gibson, L Ron Hubbard, Lester Dent - the great pulp writers of the American depression, become embroiled in an adventure greater than any of their works - as a mysterious figure from the Orient tries to hold the world to ransom.
This is pulp, pure and simple, but on a grand modern scale. Whilst the plot has a political edge, and the characters an interesting historical basis, this is a book predominantly about writers and writing, and going to the edge to find a great story. This is what sets it above a traditional pulpy thriller, as Dent and Gibson compete and then unite in ever more elaborate ways, creating the plot as they go along trying to form excitement and suspense as they go - all the time followed by their assiduous companion Hubbard. Its pulp creating itself as it goes.
Malmont is reflecting how the great writers of the twenties and thirties worked, in a blur between fictional hyperbole and the reality of the Great Depression, to the point where they became mythological characters themselves.
The question is what is this book for - pulp writing about pulp? I was left wanting a bit less pulp and a bit more thought, but maybe that was what this world was all about. If it wasn't for the pulp, what else was there, just poverty and an uncertain future? This was how the writers lived, as pulpy parodies of themselves, and Hubbard is the natural conclusion of it all - letting it take over his life to become more than just fiction - a religion - the seeds of which are sown in the novel as Gibson is followed around by his own character, the Shadow, to the extent where he feels he may becoming him more than himself.
Perhaps pulp got lost in its own preposterousness, and in stages this book does as well, but then again isn't that the whole point? Either way it was always an entertaining ride on the way.

Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intrigue, riddles and questions of the soul, 15 Nov. 2009
A fifteen year old boy - Kafka - runs away from home under the guidance of his alter-ego `A Boy named Crow.' He holes up in a remote library and is take under the wing of Oshima, the resident hermaphrodite with a smooth, attractive way.

Kafka has a brief teenage affair with a girl he believes to be his sister, falls in love with his mother and ends up in the woods at the back of a remote shack, where time and lives exist in a different world.

Meanwhile a tracker of lost cats, Nakata, mentally impaired after a strange accident in the same woods as Kafka's, kills Kafka's father and sets off on a journey whose meaning does not become clear until it is over.

This is Murakami doing what Murakami does best, a loosely connected mystery with fantastically resonant characters and ideas, that all revolve around each other in a sense of cool thoughtfulness, questioning the nature of their existences and reality as they go. No wonder he is the writer of choice for a purposeless generation.

The themes here are very adult and esoteric. Patricide, incest. Metaphor and mimesis. Who is Kafka? What are our lives but abstract representations of ourselves? Do we act in reality or in a universe parallel to that in our heads? What if all this wasn't bound by the tight rules of the earth, not trapped in space or time, where our different selves and realities, either current or lost in the past, float around each other at different stages of being? Would we find greater meaning then? Is there someone in control of all of this, playing his flute made up of the soul of last cats? Does any of this really matter?

The answers are all in riddles says Murakami, but I'm pretty sure that isn't really the point. Kafka on the shore, makes us think of a boy looking out on a liminal world in front of him. It is all about stepping back away from the self, to deal with what lies in the past, to be in any control of the future. It is all about trying to find life after death - emotional or physical - how our selves constantly change into representations of our past, as ideas are created in our heads and others are left behind. It is all about understanding the randomness as to which things occur in the world and dealing with this as it comes - a lightning storm, a shower of leeches, having an umbrella at the right time. Meanings keep coming, and none are necessarily right or wrong in a world with chaos at its core.

Kafka represents the emptiness that comes with losing his sister and mother - no female upbringing - and he buddies up with Oshima's male persona while holding a secret affinity for `his' female reality. Miss Saeki, his mother and lover, represents a love lost and a life lived and away from the intense emotions that love brings. Nakata meanwhile, Kafka's possible future self, a life incomplete, where senses do not operate fully - he is Kafka trying to find his full self, unlocking the secrets of his past.

Murakami's books always open up a sense of wonder and question the validity of the self in our world, but as with all of them, I still feel they have an emptiness at their heart - a hole where the soul might be. The characters are always considering and questioning but in this way do not feel like real human beings. I know this is the point to an extent, but in this dreamlike world there seems to be something missing, a sense of passion, of humanness. Everyone is too cool to be real, and I know this is what makes Murakami so readable and accessible even in a book as complicated as this, but I still feel left cold. I enjoy the experience but it doesn't stay with me like a great book should. Maybe this is the modern world and the modern novel, and its me wanting something that isn't there. Maybe I'm as lost as Kafka and Miss Saeki, but come on...where is the love, the heart!

Still, this is definitely Murakami's best for me. Not as disjointed as The Wind up Bird , or as gimmicky as the Wild Sheep Chase, more thoughtful than Norwegian Wood, but the latter is still the only one for me that feels real. Then again this is a novel, it's all just a metaphor isn't it?

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