Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: The Ballad of Peckham Rye

The Ballad of Peckham Rye
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not as intense as THE DRIVER’S SEAT (which is the book that’s caused me to read more Muriel Spark), THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE has comedic moments and essentially shows how a suspicious character who may or may not be the devil causes chaos amongst the various relationships of the people he meets. Unlike other novels that rely on the “he’s the devil but no one knows” setup (see: THE CONFIDENCE MAN by H. Melville), this novel seems less concerned with keeping his true nature a secret. It just doesn’t confirm the truth. In fact, Dougal Douglas originally comes to town because he’s following a woman he loves; but Dougal has a weakness where he cannot be around people who are sick.

I had a trouble keeping track of the cast in this book, but that could be because THE DRIVER’S SEAT was a story about one person on a mission and this was about the corrupting nature of one character amongst many.

Maybe not the best novel to start with by Spark, but definitely worth reading.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: The Driver's Seat

The Driver's Seat
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book that’s reveals to you the ending, the factual ending, but doesn’t tell you why, just gives you little clues about the why, just pushes you and pushes you to get to the end because you have to know WHY everything just happened?

Of course you have, if you read mysteries.

But this book, oh this book.

Don DeLillo once said:
"When I think of highly plotted novels I think of detective fiction or mystery fiction, the kind of work that always produces a few dead bodies. But these bodies are basically plot points, not worked-out characters. The book’s plot either moves inexorably toward a dead body or flows directly from it, and the more artificial the situation the better. Readers can play off their fears by encountering the death experience in a superficial way. A mystery novel localizes the awesome force of the real death outside the book, winds it tightly in a plot, makes it less fearful by containing it in a kind of game format.” (

Muriel Spark wrote this novel as a direct counter to what normally happens in a mystery novel. And it’s fast, weird, FUNNY, and brilliant.

Read it and know this: the main character is infuriating but she’s funny in her comments, behaviors and thoughts. Things get grim, but I read this so fast and loved it.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Blue Fox: A Novel

The Blue Fox: A Novel
The Blue Fox: A Novel by Sjón

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE BLUE FOX reads like Hemingway crossed with a more recent Jayne Anne Phillips novel. Cut into three sections, the first is a series of precise beats following a hunter who tries to take down a fox. The middle section bursts forth with life and connectivity, loss, death, and reveals just who is the hunter we were first introduced to. The final section provides an excellent resolution, if one takes joy in reading about the suffering of a cruel and heartless man. I’d say more but don’t wish to spoil things.

Read this if you love crisp sentences and want to see how a story can be told slightly out of order to great effect.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: The Heart of a Dog

The Heart of a Dog
The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

HEART OF A DOG is a fun, focus, grim, wonderful book. Some understanding of the history of the Soviet Union is helpful going in, but as long as a reader understands that this is a critique of societies that expect immediate change in the common citizens after revolution, things will make sense.

Put this on your list if you enjoy Kafka, politically astute fiction such as IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis, or even George Saunders.

Translation is always crucial and while I have no idea how “faithful” this is to the original, I can say that it reads well--losing none of the intricacies of the conversations, though early on the narration is a bit confusing.

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Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well paced and fascinating, with a dark energy beneath it all. The voice is strong and I love the scene with cousin Charles and Uncle Julian. Basically, lots of things in this story are odd, perhaps untrue. In fact, this is an unreliable narrator story whereby the reader knows this but still trusts the narrator since the facts are less fascinating than the mood.

Hard to describe more without ruining elements of the plot, but at 148 pages, this is not the kind of book that will demand huge amounts of time, so I’d recommend it to anyone who likes gothic fiction.

Only downside is that I expected a bit more out of the ending because the plot climax was substantial and seemed world-altering. Not saying the ending “ruins” anything; it just wasn’t what I expected.

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