pondělí 26. září 2011

Émile Zola: Thérèse Raquin (Tereza Raquinová)

   After quite a long time, I came back to the good old classic literature – when people got sued for what they wrote and when writing about sexual intercourse was really something different (where’s the fun today when no one minds a woman on a stage yelling I LOVE MY CUNT). Yeah, those were different times…when Zola was the most read French author, Baudelaire was more that “the only French poet I have ever heard of”, Madame Bovary was an upsetting novel and Maldoror walked the streets of Paris and forced dogs to molest little girls.
   The story has four main characters – Thérèse, Camille, Madam Raquin and Laurent. Thérèse grows up with her aunt Madame Raquin and her cousin Camille. Camille is a sickly, feeble boy and Thérèse spends quite a lot of time with him indoors, taking care of him. In reality, she has temperament and she would love to be running in the woods and enjoy nature. But little by little, she falls under influence of her cousin and Madame Raquin and submits.
   Later, she marries Camille but she is never really happy. Camille meets his old friend Laurent and introduces him to his family. Thérèse falls for him immediately and it doesn’t take long before they start a sexual relationship. Thérèse changes completely and the nice, calm girl turns into a crazy, passionate lover.
   Gradually, their relationship becomes obsession and they decide they want to be together. Obviously, there is a problem – Camille. Which may possibly turn out not to be such a problem. You just have to take him for a ride in a boat. And than throw him into the water. And than jump in and pretend you were saving his dear wife when the boat turned about.
   So far, the plan goes great. No one suspects them and they pretend not to care about each other. They even play Madame Raquin and her friends to propose the idea of their marriage.
   On their wedding night, they find out that this might not have been the best idea ever. They can’t sleep, they can’t sleep with each other, they actually can’t be in the same room. Such a situation is unbearable and drives both main protagonists into utter madness.
   This is the third book by Zola I have read so far and I liked it the best. I can’t really remember Nana, I read it a little bit too fast, and Germinal was good but a little slow. This one is short and something keeps happening all the time. Not that I would mind lack of story in books but in case of naturalism, you really need some that will catch you. It’s one of Zola’s early work, I believe it’s his first published novel, and he already uses his aesthetics of analysis and scientific approach to literature. But I guess we all know that.
   What seemed really interesting to me was that Zola was the first to realize (according to our literature professor) that human emotions are physical. There is of course insight into Thérèse, Laurent and Madame Raquin (interestingly, there is almost none into Camille…he is probably just too dull so even Zola didn’t care what he was thinking) but when they feel something, they feel it through their bodies. He goes in his analytic approach so far that his characters are based on four major temperament types. At least wiki says that Thérèse is choleric, Laurent sanguine and Camille phlegmatic; I dare say that Madame Raquin is melancholic.
   I think there is a lot to like about this book. Sure, there are those yucky parts some people could mind (like the description of Camille’s putrefying body) but you can’t read Zola without them… So if you get over them (or you skip them or you weirdly enjoy them) you get to his description of life in its brutality and savageness. Those people are hideous but they also can’t help themselves, it’s in their nature.
   The only thing I really disliked was the fact that Thérèse’s mother was from Africa. Given the philosophy of predeternism Zola uses in his work, her mother’s origin is a direct reason of her temperament and her savage and in a way primitive nature. Sure, using Africa as a symbol of barbarism and primeval instincts in humans wasn’t weird or offensive in that time (and few…many…decades later) but still…it feels weird nowadays.

pátek 23. září 2011

Douglas Adams: Holistická detektivní kancelář Dirka Gentlyho (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)

   I bought this book like zillion years ago to my Mum for her birthday or Christmas or whatever. She was reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and she loved it so I thought Dirk Gently would be a great gift. Unfortunately, she over-adamsed herself and she never touched this book. I thought that at least I should read it so it wouldn’t be a complete waist of money.
   I will be quite brief on this book, especially as I didn’t like it very much. The story begins with a weird, alien, mechanical monk who somehow gets on the Earth. He has no idea where he is and gets completely confused.
   The main hero, Richard, works as programmer and he comes to Cambridge to join a dinner with his old professors and to meet one of them and have a drink. After few hours, he realizes he was supposed to bring his girlfriend with him. While he is drinking with the old professor, a horse appears in the professor’s bathroom.
   Richard’s boss Gordon is murdered in his car. He leaves a message on his secretary’s answering machine. Later, he becomes a ghost.
   Susan is Richard’s girlfriend and Gordon’s secretary. They both piss her off. She has a dinner with Michael.
   Michael leads a little literary and art magazine. The magazine is not very good and his mother – the actual owner of the magazine – gives the job to someone else. Michael doesn’t like it. He is also an alien.
   Dirk sees someone climbing a building and getting into someone else’s flat. Later, he finds out that it was Richard and that the flat belongs to his girlfriend.
   Everyone thinks Richard murdered Gordon.
   There are more aliens involved in the story.
   There are also many quotation of Kubla Khan. Considering the end of the book, the poem is probably really vital for the story.
   I actually forgot the ending of the story. But I can remember I didn’t understand it. Someone wants to do something and someone else wants to stop him and travels in time and Coleridge is involved. Ehm. Maybe the problem is not in the book.
   Anyway, it was quite fun but it wasn’t anything special. I probably expected too much after the Hitchhiker. I don’t know what the problem is. I didn’t like the characters very much – Richard is boring and Dirk is an ass. The story didn’t catch me either. I really didn’t care who and why killed Gordon. It’s probably because it is not very good as a detective story (but it was probably never meant to be an actual detective story) – you don’t know anything about the victim and his surroundings so you can’t try to find the murderer on your own.
  It has good and funny parts but I never actually laughed loudly. And that’s what I expected from this book. Next time, I’ll take something by Pratchett, next time.

středa 21. září 2011

William Trevor: Děti z Dynmouthu (The Children of Dynmouth)

   Well, after a few weeks with no review, I am back. I read this book quite a long time ago so I can’t remember it very well. But I will do my best. We chose this book for our reading club, I had had no idea what it was about, who was the author…I really didn’t know what to expect. But the book surprised me – it is really good.
   It takes place in Dynmouth – an imaginary little town on English coast (in the exact place where Francis Drake destroyed the Spanish Armada…it’s probably somehow meaningful for the book, I just didn’t find out how exactly). The main character is a young guy called Timothy who spends most of his time on his own, watching telly. His mother and sister have to work and even when they are at home, they don’t pay him much attention. As expected, Timothy seeks attention elsewhere.
   As he has very little to do, Timothy browses the town and watches people. Unfortunately, he watches them more or less all the time (except for the time he watches TV) and with no regard to their privacy.
   There is an annual festival where people have different performances and they can win some totally worthy prizes (something like British Hillbillies Got Talent). Well, Timothy thinks he can participate. Not only participate, he can win. He makes up a funny scene about a serial killer and his three victims (young brides) who he drowned in bathtub. Obviously, no one thinks it would be even remotely funny but Timothy is resolved to get all the props he needs (a bride’s dress, a bathtub and a curtain).
   He may be a complete weirdo and the most antisocial guy in the town, but it doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He starts blackmailing his neighbours in order to get all those things and when they don’t agree to give what he wants…well, that’s when the real fun starts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter if people obey him or not, he tells their secrets to everyone anyway.
   There is no point in describing the whole of the plot so I will proceed right to the core of the matter. Timothy is an ass (obviously) but he is a) still more honest than most of the town and b) unlike the others, he sees the life of the town as it is. On the other hand, he might see through people’s masks but when it comes to his own life and the way he lives it, he is just as delusional as everyone else. Another point of the book is that people never really change. Timothy forces some of the inhabitants into really tough psychological struggle, they get through it and than…they carry on as they always have. An lastly, Trevor shows not only particular stories but he also presents the town as a unit. There is an old crazy religious lady, a divorced couple, an unfaithful husband with a young mistress, an old couple, a spinster who has spent all her life waiting for her beloved man to leave his wife, etc. Not only you can find almost same pattern in basically every town and village, people themselves repeat it – the children in the story begin their way to become some of these people themselves.
   It’s not a very nice book. I really hated Timothy. I wanted the little sod to die (I somehow expected that someone will lose their nerves and do him in). People in the city are all weak and when he threatens them, they run or they just let him hurt them. But…that’s probably how it is.