neděle 17. července 2011

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (Opatství Northhanger)

   Dear readers, please, stand up, fetch a glass and pour in something alcoholic. Done? OK. Let me make a toast as this is the 100th review on my blog – on good literature, on bad literature and on the vampires who don’t glitter. So, keep reading and commenting and let’s hope we will meet here for the occasion of another one hundred reviews.

   Northanger Abbey focuses on Catherine Morland, a 17 year old girl from middle class, quite pretty (but no reputed beauty) and quite plain. She is invited by family friends to accompany them to the city Bath and spend some time there with them. Catherine finds out that Mrs. Allan has no acquaintances in the city at all and just keeps repeating that she is very sorry about it and that she would love Catherine to have someone to dance with. Luckily, they meet Henry Tilney who dances with Catherine, they both like reading novel and have quite a lot in common. Catherine loves reading Gothic stories and there are many allusion to real Gothic novels of the period (some people believed she had made them up but they are real and were re-edited afterwards, you can have a look at them here...I really have to read The Necromancer of the Black Forest). Later, they meet Mrs. Thorpe who is a former classmate of Mrs. Allen and she introduces Catherine to her own daughter Isabella. They find out quite quickly that they know Catherine’s brother James who is a friend of Isabella’s brother John.... (just to clear it up, Catherine and James are siblings and Isabella and John are siblings...). Catherine and Isabella become BFFs (just the last F stands rather for fairly-short-period than forever) and they speak about Udolpho and other Gothic stuff.
   Catherine then meets Henry again and he introduces her to his sister Eleanor and they…surprisingly…also become great friends. She settles a walk with the Tilneys but than John, Isabella and James come and persuade her to come with them because the Tilneys wouldn’t have a walk after a rain and John claims to have seen Henry with another girl heading in another direction. When they are in the carriage, Catherine sees the Tilneys on the street and asks John to stop but he just makes the horses go faster. That’s just to demonstrate that John is a total ass.
   Catharine is then invited to come with the Tilneys to their home – Northanger Abbey. She looks forward to coming there because it will be just like in her favorite books – a huge mysterious house with long forgotten secrets, dim passages, unexpectedly moving curtains and all that stuff. She also meets General Tilney (Eleanor and Henry’s father) who is really extremely nice to her but often quite cross with his children and everyone feels much more in ease when he is absent. Everyone (expect for Catherine) can see that he is a despotic maniac but…she really has no chance, considering her backgrounds.
   Well, long story short, Catherine finds out that Isabella is a bitch, John is and idiot and the General has no secret basement where he hides his supposedly dead wife. Oh, and she marries Henry. For a short time, I thought they wouldn’t but that was really naïve. It might be a spoiler but I feel obliged to prevent everyone from being as silly as I was…
   The whole book is primary a parody of Gothic novels. The heroine is a perfect opposite of traditional heroines of those books (she is not really beautiful, her mother didn’t die in mysterious circumstances, she is not really bright, can’t play piano, draw…she is really nothing special). She has spent her whole life at home with her parents so when she comes to the real world she more or lese expects it to be like in the Gothic novels. There are some funny parts, for example when Henry makes up a story of what it will be like when Catherine comes to their house or when she finds an enigmatic wardrobe in her room. It won’t crack you up, it’s kind of…rib tickler. There are many other themes like boredom of life in higher society (but that’s in all 19th century novels), difference between fantasy and the real world or the fact that people are not what they seem to be.
   I liked the book but the end really annoyed me. The whole thing is solved on few pages, everything is explained and there are no obstacles for the marriage of Catherine and Henry. It might be much better if it took longer time to discover what happens at the end of the book. On the other hand, Austen probably wanted only to write a parody of Gothic stories and when her heroine comes to the Abbey, finds out there are no secret passages, no weird servants, Mrs. Tilney wasn’t murdered by her husband and, although it is kind of a let down, no part of the furniture in her room contains remains of a diary of a girl from the 15th century who entrusted her deepest secrets and dramatic romantic story to the paper, there is just no reason to bring the book on. It isn’t a bad book but it also isn’t particularly good one so it is a worth reading only for those who enjoy Jane Austen.

pátek 15. července 2011

Ursula K. Le Guin: Čaroděj Zeměmoří (A Wizard of Earthsea)

   I had been planning to read something by Le Guin for a pretty long time, I first heard of her in the movie Jane Austen Reading Club and her work seemed really interesting. So I chose one of her books for our Reading club but than I finished the book and decided to choose something else for our discussion…I don’t know if I have just picked a wrong book but it didn’t meet my expectations at all.
   The story is about a young boy named Ged who lives in a little village. Their local witch finds out he is very gifted in magic and starts teaching him. One day, an army attacks their island and when they get to Ged’s village, he uses his power to hide them in mist. The word about his power spreads and one day, a stranger turns up in the village. Surprisingly, he is a famous kick-ass magician and takes Ged as apprentice.
   Later, Ged leaves his master and goes into the school for sorcerers. He is extremely talented and he is very well aware of it – he knows no one at the school can compete with him. So he is really mean and arrogant. There is only one student who tries to compete with him and he provokes him to summon a ghost.
   Accidentally, Ged summons not only the ghost but also something else from behind the veil. No one knows what it is and how it got into their world but one thing is certain – it will try to seize control over Ged and when it succeeds, it will be absolutely unstoppable. Ged finishes his training and leaves the school to fight the shadow.
   In one point, they meet and the shadow uses Ged’s name to suppress his magic powers. Ged has no idea how it got to know his name (almost no one knows his real name – people call each other by nicknames and you tell your name only to your real friends). I guess no one will be surprised by the ending by I won’t spoil…but the end is the lamest thing you can think of after reading this (so actually I did spoil…ssoooorrryyy).
   I have to say I didn’t like this book. It was one huge cliché after another. There were mysterious strangers with weird advices (that the hero followed immediately), there were dragons and super powerful sorcerers and deceitful women and all the characters were…just exactly what you expected them to be. I didn’t make myself like Ged in any point of he book. At the beginning, he’s a complete idiot but later it doesn’t get better. OK, he turns into someone who understands much more about the world and people but…gosh, you know that will happen from like the tenth page. I waited for the interesting…let’s say deeper…part but it just never came.
   Another thing I didn’t like was the system of magic. Maybe I just didn’t get how it works but simply, you learn some special language which expresses the real essence of things. But it also somehow depends on how local people call things so the far Ged gets from his home, the less powers he has. Well, maybe that’s where Le Guin gets philosophical but…whatever.
   I expected there would be something more than just a story. And if not something more, at least some catchy story. This is just boring, boring and when you start hoping it will turn out better…it gets even more boring. I guess I will try to read another book by her, there must be something into it…
  I have just found that there is a movie base on the Earthsea series. Accordingly to the reviews, it's even worse than the book... 

středa 13. července 2011

Peter Carey: Oskar a Lucinda (Oscar and Lucinda)

   I found this book browsing in the second hand bookshop by the Charles University – it was one of those books no one wants which they sell for 20 CZK. It is really sad that someone can be one of the only two authors who have ever got two Bookers and still your books can be sold under the price of the used paper. I have already read one of Carey’s books – The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith – and I have to say that he is a great author (well, that’s why he got those two Bookers…along with Coetzee).
   The story is (obviously) about Oscar and Lucinda. In the beginning, Oscar is a young English boy whose father is a Baptist, he is very strict and severe and does not show much of affection to his son (he really loves him, he just doesn’t know how to express his feelings). Oscar is a deeply religious boy and listens to his father’s every word but things change when their servant – a young girl – prepares a pudding with raisins. The father finds out and forces Oscar to vomit it out but the boy doesn’t believe that God would care about pudding and when he thinks that God gave him a sign to leave his father, he does and he moves at an Anglican priest’s house.
   Lucinda’s parents both died and left her with a farm and land. Her mother writes into her last will that she wants the land to be divided and sold so that Lucinda has enough money when she comes of age and gets married easily. She is given 10 000 dollars (which was apparently a real fortune in that time) when she reaches the age of 18 but she feels betrayed as she was looking forward to keeping the farm. Anyway, she comes to Sydney and buys a glass factory.
   Oscar studies at Oxford to become a priest but he becomes a complete social outcast there. But most importantly, he never realizes he is a weirdo. Than, me meets Wardley-Fish, another student, who takes him to horse races. Here, Oscar discovers his passion for hazard and starts earn his living by betting on horses. Lucinda starts her life in Sydney but doesn’t do much better than Oscar. She befriends a priest who is interested in glass and helps her with factory. She also comes to visit Mr d’Abbs’ house where she plays carts with him and his circle of friends. Both characters meet later in the book and gradually (without knowing it) they fall in love. Oscar ends up living in Lucinda’s house so every one thinks they sleep with each other, but that’s not the case...neither of them believes the other one would like him (or her) so they never say a thing about their feelings. An important moment is when Lucinda tells Oscar she wants to build a glass church and he bets with her that he will transport it across Australia – important because they both bet everything.
   The best thing about this novel is the two main heroes. Lucinda is the kind of heroine you love in a book but who you would probably despise in real life (I know she would get on my nerves). She scarcely talks, she doesn’t bond with other people very well but in fact, she longs for human contact. She always does everything as she wants – she buys a glass factory when no one expects women to be in business, she wears weird cloths because they are comfortable and doesn’t bother with fashion, she tries to do stuff as if she were a man. To be precise, she gradually realizes that there are huge differences between what a man and a woman are supposed to do. She quite suffers for the way she is treated by workers in her factory because she would love to be friends with them but they never accept her. She also often makes men nervous because of the way she behaves. Oscar is a less likeable character. He’s feeble and pale, he has no social skills, his religious beliefs are a little bit over the top, even for his time, he’s ugly and…really, there aren’t many things to like about him. You usually feel sorry for him because he’s really pure and innocent but weak when it comes to hazard. And sometimes you just get POed by his religion but that might be just an opinion of a mostly-atheist-with-an-uncrtain-belief-in-something-not-yet-defined. He is also probably the only man who could be with Lucinda which more or less makes you like him.
   It really is not easy to define this book. It’s about rigid Australian society of the late 19th century. It is about two social outcasts who can’t resist a good game of cards. It also has kind of D.H. Lawrence modernist atmosphere, at least at the parts where personal values are considered superior to those of society. There is a strong love story but it shouldn’t bother anyone, even romance-haters. You know from the beginning that this story just can’t have a happy ending so you know there will be no sleazy, all sugary happy ending with a wedding and “and they lived happily ever after”.
   I didn’t enjoy Oscar and Lucinda as much as Tristan Smith, mainly because this is a realistic novel and Tristan is kind of a weird fantasy with its own mythology, political system and so on. It is also kind of lengthy at the beginning and in general I hate long descriptions of hero’s sucky childhood. I was also a little confused by the narrator. It is a young boy who speaks about Oscar as about his great-grandfather but he tells the story from the position of an omniscient narrator. He sees into Lucinda, too…actually into all characters in the book from his past (if I remember well, he doesn’t describe thoughts of his parents). So it is a little bit weird.
   But it is a really great novel (it didn’t get the Booker for nothing), a little bit slow in some parts but definitely worth reading.
   Oh, and there is a movie with Cate Blanchette and Ralph Fiennes based on this novel...I haven't seen it but with these's a total must.

pondělí 11. července 2011

Neil Gaiman: American Gods (Američtí bohové)

   This is my first A to Z Challenge Review, the book (accidentally) even begins on A. My friend chose this book for our reading club so it was not entirely my choice but I have always wanted to read something by Gaiman, anyway (I have read only Sandman so far and it was great).
   The story is about Shadow – a big guy in his thirties who tries to survive the time he has to stay in jail without problems. We don’t know how precisely he go there, it just seems that it was not completely his fault. He comes out of jail in the beginning of the novel only to fin out that his beloved wife is dead and his best friend (who was supposed to give him a job) is also dead. Than he finds out that they died together. In a car. Doing…things. Nasty things.
    He is accosted by a man who calls himself Wednesday and who says he wants to give him a job as bodyguard. He takes the job and they begin kind of a road trip across America  and meet Wednesday’s friends (or rather acquaintances). It doesn’t take a long time to Shadow to gather that all those people are gods and to reveal Wednesday’s real identity (if you would happen to read the Czech translation, try not to look at the translator's note here - for some reason, he decided to explain who Wednesday is when he appears for the first time). In the world of this novel, all gods that someone believes in actually exist. They came to America with different settlers from all over the world and they had to change and adapt in the new place. But now, new gods appeared – gods of malls, TV, Media (no, that’s not the chick who murdered her children) and Internet (well…I think the fat kid was supposed to be Internet but no one says it openly). Naturally, the old gods dislike the new ones and vice versa so there is going to be war and Wednesday is recruiting his holly buddies for the last stand.
    Gradually, I started to enjoy this book. The first half seemed a little slow and I felt like nothing has actually happened for the first 200 pages but later it is really….ehm….compelling (I just hate this word) and I felt sorry there are so few pages left (I started to feel this way like 250 pages before the end so you see what a torture it must have been to read on and on seeing the number of pages grow). Obviously, it is a great book for people interested in mythology, especially the Germanic, but I am pretty sure you will see there Gods you have never heard of. There is even a goddess that Gaiman claims to have made up completely (Zorya Pulnochnaya, to be precise). It is maybe better to read something about Germanic mythology, especially about the sacrifice on tree, before reading this book. Otherwise, you may get a little bit lost in some important parts and that would be a pity.
   There is not only the main story line but there are some short chapters about people coming to America and their gods – there are stories about Vikings, about some pre-historic tribe, black slaves, Irish girl or a young Arab boy – all of them from different historical periods.
   Gaiman is a great storyteller and he can capture the reader and never let him go until he finishes the last page (I made really ugly faces on my Mum when I had to stop reading and go mow the lawn). He also mixes quite many genres – there is a love story (Shadow’s wife comes back as a zombie), there is a detective story (actually…there are two of them), road trip, mythological stories…well, let’s just say they are numerous. A huge theme is obviously the confrontation of the old and the new – of values, ways of life and different priorities people used to have and have today. Gaiman shows this difference on his characters of gods – not only on the difference between the old and the new gods but mainly on the old gods who live in America and their original version (because the American Kali is not the same as the Indian Kali). It would be simplifying to say that it is a criticism of American way of life (if there actually is anything like that), Gaiman just show us that there we should sometimes stop and think a little about the way we live. And of course, people don’t focus their lives on technology only in America, it is quite plausible for all developed countries.
   As I have said, it is a really great book with an enjoyable story but it also…makes you think (OK, this sentence is an awful cliché but…but it is also true).

čtvrtek 7. července 2011

A to Z Reading Challange

I've just found this challenge over Becky's Book Reviews and...I just could not resist. I am not sure I'll have enough time until December 31 but I'll do my best. If you want to join in, you can sign in here.

Here are the rules:

How does this reading challenge work? Choose the option that works best for you...

Authors -- Read alphabetically by author. Commit to 26 books.
Titles -- Read alphabetically by title. Commit to 26 books.
Authors & Titles -- Commit to reading 52 books

How strict is the 26 or 52? I know it isn't always easy to find those difficult letters. The thought of finding the X's (for example) might scare folks away. It shouldn't! I'm a merciful host! (Ask anyone!)

If you want to give the X's a go... For authors, try to find an X in the first name, middle name, or last name. For titles, it doesn't have to be the starting word. Try to find an X somewhere in a title, and it'd count in my book.

Still can't find a book for the letter you need? I'll take your word for it. I've been there. I know. If your library doesn't see the need to order books just because it starts with an X, then I don't blame you for not wanting to special order a book that you may or may not enjoy. You gave it your best, don't feel bad. You can still make this challenge work for you.

I chose to read books by their titles but I doubt I will read them alphabetically. So this is the list of books I know I want to read so far, I'll add the others later:

A - American Gods (Neil Gaiman) - review
B - Bareback (Kit Whitfield) - review
C - The Children of Dynmouth (William Trevor) - review
D - Dirk Gently's Holostic Detective Agency (Douglas Adams) - review
E - Every Man For Himself (Beryl Bainbridge) - review
G - A gyertyák csonkig égnek (Sándor Márai) - review (CZ)
I - L'Immoraiste (André Gide) - review (CZ)
L - Love, Again (Doris Lessing) - review (CZ)
M - La Maison Déserte (Jacques Tournier) - review
N - Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) - review
O - Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey) - review
P - Persuasion (Jane Austen)
S - Skippy Dies (Paul Murray) - review
T - Thérèse Raquin (Émile Zola) - review
U - Un Lun Dun (China Miéville) - review
W - A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin) - review

pondělí 4. července 2011

Jean-Paul Sartre: Zeď (Le Mur)

Zeď (Le Mur)
Místnost (La Chambre)
Hérostratos (Érostrate)
Intimita (Intimité)
Mládí vůdce (L’Enfance d’un chef)

   Tak, kluci a holky, po zkouškovém a jeho obzvlášť nabitém závěru mám zase čas číst a psát a tak. Tohle jsem rozečetl už někdy jeho začátkem, abych si mohl na seznam četby na francouzskou Literaturu II napsat i toho Sartra (kdysi jsem viděl Caligulu, ale vybavuje se mi z toho jen to, že Langmajer v tom byl fakt skvělej, což asi není to, co by PhDr. Take-it-easy chtěla slyšet). Teda do tý doby jsem přelouskal jen tu hlavní povídku, a o tý stejně všichni víme, o čem je. Nicméně největší highlight týhle knihy byl doslov, protože při jeho četbě jsem odhalil a) proč se existencialismus jmenuje existencialismus a b) že jsem si do toho momentu nevšimnul, že vlastně nevím, proč se existencialismus jmenuje existencialismus.
   Jako celkově to ve mně nějak zásadní stopu nezanechalo, asi kromě povídky Hérostratos, a ta hlavně kvůli tý neskutečný ironii osudu.

Le Mur
   Děj týhle povídky musí znát úplně každej, kdo dával na hodinách literatury aspoň trochu pozor…myslim. Pablo bojuje v španělský občanský válce, ale chytnou ho zlý frankisti a snažej se z něj dostat, kde se schovávaj jeho kamarádi. Pablo je ale statečnej a nepovolí, tak mu řeknou, že jim to buď řekne, nebo ho ráno postavěj ke zdi. Pablo stráví noc v cele, sleduje spoluvězně, jak se hroutěj (protože je taky chtěj popravit) a nakonec usoudí, že tohle celý je takovej velkej kosmickej džouk a že to je stejně fuk. Tak ho ráno vezmou k výslechu znova a on jim řekne náhodný místo, kde se zbytek skupinu určitě neskrývá. Ale ouva…jejich šéfa napadlo přesunout se a právě tam, kam naznačil Pablo. Takže všichni umřou, samozřejmě kromě Pabla, protože ten dostal zaslouženou odměnu.

La Chambre
    Tohle ani nemá moc děj, točí se to kolem Evy a jejího manžela Pierra (fakt nesnáším, když se takhle míchaj český a původní verze jmen, překladatelé z frániny jsou na to experti). Pierre je blázen, jen leží v posteli a jednou za pár dní má záchvat a myslí si, že kolem něj lítaj neviditelný sochy. Evu všichni přemlouvají, aby ho poslala do ústavu, ale nechce. Navíc ho pořád miluje, nebo prostě je na něj fixovaná dost na to, aby to odmítala. Samozřejmě jí samotný začíná lehce hrabat a během Pierrova záchvatu má dojem, že taky ty sochy slyší. Nakonec uzná, že jednou bude Pierre tak v háji, že už do ústavu bude muset, ale k tomu nedojde…ona ho dřív zabije…dum dum dum (dramatické bubny).

   Nejdřív menší lekce z dějin – Hérostratos byl chlapík, co žil ve 4. století př. n. l. ve městě Efes. Jednoho dne usoudil, že se zapíše do historie, a podpálil Artemidin chrám. Dostal trest smrti a aby to nebylo málo, bylo vydáno nařízení, že se o něm pod trestem smrti nesmí mluvit, a jeho záměr se tak nevydařil. Jak vidno, tohle opatření se minulo účinkem, hlavně vzhledem k tomu, že se o něm zmiňujou už dobový zachovaný materiály. Takže nejen, že Hérostratos nebyl zapomenut (a že by si to ten parchant zasloužil), ale navíc je o něm povídka napsaná jedním z největší spisovatelů 20. století, jedna báseň, dvě opery a jeho jméno se přeměnilo v termín v psychologii (herostratismus, kdyby vás to nějak mocně zajímalo). Nevim, nevim, ale zmínka o tom chlápkovi by se nejspíš zachovala, i kdyby na nás Cyloni naházeli atomovky.
   Povídka sama taky moc děj nemá, jde o text psaný v první osobě a hlavní postava je šílenec, co se rozhodnul zapsat se do historie tím, že na ulici zastřelí náhodně asi 6 lidí. Tahle povídka se dá těžko nějak předat, ale je to opravdu dost zajímavej pohled do hlavy takovýho člověka…nebo spíš pohled na to, jak to tam nejspíš vypadá.

   Ty další povídky si odpustím, přijdou mi zajímavý jen pokud se rozhodnete zjistit, jak ten existencionalismus má vlastně vypadat, jinak dějově úplně chytlavý nejsou. U Mládí vůdce jsem to dokonce málem vzdal, ale pak přišla scéna, kdy hlavní hrdina zjistí, že si tak dlouho odmítal připustit, k čemu se schyluje, až mu nezbylo nic jinýho, než vlézt do postele se surrealistickým básníkem a nechat si to od něj udělat, tak jsem to pak teda nějak dopřelouskal (navíc na sebe potom hrdina kouká do zrcadla a v duchu si říká: „Jsem pederast“, což je fakt divný slovo, který by si člověk měl pamatovat a pokusit se ho protlačit do nějaký seminárky…společně s examplifikovat, kruciální a hipopotomonstroseskvipedaliofobie, ačkoli u toho posledního si nejsem jistej, jak bych ho někam dokázal protlačit).
   Povídky jsou všechny vážně dobrý, i když ty lítající sochy nebyly moc záživný, ale jak jsem napsal, ani jedna z nich nijak zvlášť neutíká a člověk musí být ochotný vážně se snažit najít, o co vlastně Sartrovi šlo (OK, to platí o všech knížkách, ale někdy můžete číst jen děj a kašlat na zbytek, to tady dost dobře k ničemu není).