Sunday 28 June 2009

The Spider's Web: Joseph Roth
A dark, vivid little novel that follows the fortunes of an ambitious young man involving himself in right-wing maneuverings during the Weimar Republic. Not especially intelligent, but brutal enough to be effective in times when brutality was in the ascendant. He is, of course being manipulated by everyone, including a Jewish double- or more- agent who stands out as the most remarkable character in this book: sly, patient, cynical but with a hidden fervour.

Rings Of Saturn: WG Sebald
Sebald rambles along on a walking tour and riffles through history and literature to find patterns in the broken remnants of the past. His sympathies are with the dispossessed, the marginalised, the quixotic, his erudition is sweeping and by the end of the book I had a clearer picture of the complex ways in which culture and exploitation co-exist in an uncomfortable alliance most of us prefer to ignore.

The Moth Diaries: Rachel Klein
Disturbing if the supernatural elements were true; perhaps even more so if they weren't. Adolescence, the female variety - as told by a girl who is far more intelligent and disturbed than a dormitory full of Holdens. I loved the subtle commentary on the ways in which people engage with books that are interspersed through the book. It's worth re-reading some of the things referred to here to see how Klein cleverly draws on everything from J Sheridan Le Fanu and Robert Chambers to Proust and Nietzche to add resonance to her characters and her story. It should ideally be read by precocious teenagers who will want to read everything that is read by the characters in this book, especially the narrator.

The Invention Of Morel: Adolfo Bioy Casares
Somewhere on the intersection of Italo Calvino and Philip K Dick (as comparisons, not influences - I have no idea if Casares ever read either author). A fugitive thinks dark, Malthusian thoughts and hides out on a deserted island, which soon turns out to be all too crowded. Who are these strange people? Along the way, thoughts on sentience, artificial intelligence, machines as aids to memory and immortality, the possibility of editing in new elements into an old recording and more. Brilliant. I want more

Love: Angela Carter
As morbid and gothic as they come, this early novel (her first, I think) is about two somewhat damaged brothers and the very unstable woman who falls into their orbit. It's a full-blown tragedy and melodrama given a sheen of exoticism by Carter's eye for the bizarre and instinct for making unlikely characters seem somehow believable. I give it full points because it is a gripping read at a concise length, wonderfully written, sometimes to excess, and, without the afterword added in the 80s, incredibly dark and haunting.

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