Snake and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara.

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                I always love Japanese-themed novels. I remember having a particular phase in my reading life in which I want to read anything Japanese even if the author is not from the country. Anyway, this particular title catches my attention just with its quirky cover and the author’s name belonging to Japanese. Since it looks like it’ll have to do something about self-destruction –I like self-destruction and teen-angst in fiction as I hate them in real life— that I decided to give this one a try.

                The novel is about Lui (short for Louise Vuitton) whose suddenly become enchanted by the snakelike forked tongue of a stranger called Ama. Following Ama, Lui straightaway moves in with him and begins making plans to have her tongue pierced. Ama’s friend Shiba designs an exquisite dragon tattoo for her back as Lui wants to push further her boundaries. And that’s when Ama’s jealousy stirred which makes up the turn of events.

                This is such a short novel that I can consider this as a novella for I finished this in one day. There is nothing cool about self-destruction but the way the author tells her story makes me want to stare at her characters and admire them from afar, commenting that weird they are but can’t help yourself wanting to be friends with them. I also want the creativity of the book, having this tiny ink-blot like thing taking it first as dirt of some stuff, which goes larger as the page go by in which turns out to be Lui’s pierced tongue hole. And a plus for being new to pierced stuff –although I have my right lobe pierced—the descriptions on how you can achieve a fork tongue makes me bite my own while reading.        

                Although I cannot say much and comment on what has happened at the end and just leaves things at it is, I guess it is okay for me to say that the author writes in a commanding way and gagged us so we can’t say something.

                The author was awarded the Subaru Prize for Literature in 2003 and was one of the youngest authors ever to win Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize, in 2004 for her first novel (this one), Hebi ni piasu (Snakes and Earrings).

                Opening Sentence: “Know what a forked tongue is?”

                Ending Sentence: Then I turned to the sun, and I squinted into its unrelenting brightness.

 

The Collector by John Fowles.

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               The Collector is one of my favorite novels from my favorite author; John Fowles. He has this particular prose which in every word is dropped like a blow to a hot metal and shapes as a finely sharp sword. I notice that when an author writes like these, he is really in command of what he is writing and is not resorting in confusing the reader and leaves it just to them on what really happened. That is what John Fowles is to me, a very strong and influential novelist.

                The story is just about a lonely young man whose sole interest in life is to collect butterflies. Until he wins a pool –which is sort of like a lottery— and then start to achieve something he really wants; a girl named Miranda Grey. I wouldn’t spoil any unsuspecting reader on what happened since this has a plot which can be describe with one word. But then you’re wrong to assume that that just about it. The story is narrated with Fowles conversational prose which makes everything feels real to the point of it being chilling and disturbing. I often remember that every time I’ll go to sleep after reading a couple of chapters, I pause for sometime not knowing what the real reason for my actions is. Maybe I’m trying to erase a part of it from my consciousness since before I go to sleep, I fetch something down stairs and that’s what I’m trying to avoid, darkness, closed space, shadows and underground floors. It’s not that we do have an underground floor like the old times but going downstairs at the wee hours of the evening makes my imagination working in an unfavorable way.

                It is such a weird way to sympathize with Clegg but while reading the novel, I get to understand some of his actions. Is that why some stalkers act that way? Well that’s how convincing and powerful the writer is. The novel ends in an unfavorable way for me since I root for Miranda –of course, who will not be moved on what she has gone through— but that makes me also hope that there will come a time for Mr. Clegg to pay for his sins. But why someone has to suffer first? How can you love a novel that ends in an unacceptable way? But how about the author’s talent in making us sees things and believing in everything he says?

                The Collectors is adapted into a feature film in 1965 to great acclaim.

                Opening Sentence: When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe.       

                Ending Sentence: I only put the stove down there today because the room needs drying out anyway.                   

 

 

 

No Night Is Too Long by Barbara Vine.

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I remember this particular title from a writer that I really admire. For those of you who doesn’t have an idea who she is, Barbara Vine is a pseudonym of Ruth Rendell –and I  believe— the most profound of all mystery writers. This is my first encounter of a ‘Vine’ novel so I expect a lot since I’ve always heard that novels from her pen name are much more poetic, menacing and chilling if Rendell novels are not enough of that. And I have to agree with that, that it makes me brag about the writer and wonder at the same time why her popularity is not that much (but I am always glad whenever I encounter a novel which is compared with the name, Rendell).

About the novel, it is about the handsome Tim Cornish that is believed to murder his long-time older lover. Or has he really? Tim confesses about the crime which makes me grew with excitement as I turn the pages, there are times when I felt that he is being miserable and confused which somehow makes me despise him but his quirkiness and unpredictability makes me hope that the story ends in his favor. Enter a beautiful stranger whom Tim encounters while his partner is away, developing an intensely erotic affair and has suddenly vanished into thin air. The novel asks if not questions what one’s sexuality is. Is there really a right or moral one? Why we do the things we do and why we try to run when the one’s we really want most suddenly likes us?

But there is something I really don’t want about the novel; the ending. It’s not that I don’t want it to end but how things resolved is not in my favor. I don’t have the feeling of injustice here even though it’s normal for someone to feel that Tim should pay for what he have done, because the whole novel explains it…(don’t want to spoil). But it makes me feel lost. There is someone to blame but I don’t know who…that just makes me miserable. It is like tying a braid for a girl’s long hair but then you only twist two handfuls and left the other one.

Aww, the ending just makes me really want to question the author and ask her a big ‘why?’ Although my respect for her as one of my favorite British authors doesn’t brush off on what I’ve felt for this particular ending. Maybe Rendell just wanted to present a reality that things come as they are, and in real life, one cannot do something about it like Tim’s confusion and unstable decision making. And what I’ve said somehow makes me accept what happened since I cannot do something about it. But I don’t want to know that I’m just making this up. Oh, well. I’m here for you ***.

No Night Is Too Long is also adapted as a TV movie produced by BBC with the same title in 2002.

Opening Sentence:  Outside a high wind is blowing and making the sea rough.

Ending Sentence:  I wrote this last bit in the train, coming home to you.

 

The Copper Peacock and Other Stories by Ruth Rendell.

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I guess it is not a mystery to everyone –of course, for the ones who read some of my blog entries— that Ruth Rendell is one of my favorite authors (in a sense that I would read everything she writes), so it is expected that I’ll possibly have biased opinions but if I do sound too favorable which is easy to do, just do say so.  But I promise I will be honest as possible.

This collection of short stories is my first Rendell anthology and it’s not excitement I just felt before I start reading anything from her but it includes expectations for the author I respect and grew to love. Stories from this collection compose of different themes, from the clever happy tone, the mischievous, from the moving and to the shocking. Honestly, some of the stories here leave me with enough confusion. Asking myself like if I really understand the story or it just holds a self-interpretative ending. Some of it are also ‘just okay’ stories, like I’ve fully understand them but I guess I can’t quite relate that makes them less memorable. I also chose not to mention those titles not just with the intention of not spoiling readers but to give them an unbiased reaction when a time came they encounter this collection. All in all, by the time I’m ready to give the whole collection an impression that I don’t like majority of its stories, thus came the moment I read –the title story— The Copper Peacock, which saves the whole team from losing.

The title story is one of the most moving stories I’ve read. It is not just clearly and beautifully written but as I’ve finished reading, I have the triumph of not just having the thought that I’ve understand the story completely –ha-ha— but mostly, a particular character from it still haunts me, which is until now still makes me think of him/her. Oh well.  And a Chief Inspector Wexford –Rendell’s most famous creation— story, just saves the whole ship from sinking. In the end, I realize that what I’ve read is a wonderful collection, and each is made with precision, style and is carefully planned and written which makes them very readable. I recommend this to everyone not just for Rendell fans but for large readers of fiction especially of the short story form.

Stories:

A Pair of Yellow Lilies

Paperwork

Mother’s Help

Long Live The Queen

Dying Happy

The Copper Peacock

Weeds

The Fish-Sitter

An Unwanted Woman (A Chief Inspector Wexford Story)

Ordinary People by Judith Guest.

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                Ordinary People is about a typical –I can say that is fairly ordinary— American family (ordinary in a sense of not having something unique but possessing problems which makes the novel believable, the characters, human). The Jarrets composes of four members; unfortunately, we get to know them as just three, for they are struck with an inevitable tragedy. And that’s one of the factors that revolves around the story.

                Someone would likely to comment that the novel is a way bit long than the intended storyline. Readers would likely get tired of the slow narrative of events, even though how it is written is very admirable. Having said this, I guess that it cannot pull enough emotions if the author doesn’t narrate the story as it is, slow –at times— it is.   Basically, I would not recommend this for readers who want to read something fast-paced and thrilling. But if one wants to read something that builds in an emotional tension and understanding, don’t look around further.  Yeah, the novel has a tendency to bore some readers, but perseverance is well paid-off.

                Ordinary People is made into a major motion picture. Robert Redford’s direction of the adaptation is highly praised and it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1980.

                Opening Sentence: To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle.

                Ending Sentence: He picks up the nine-iron, swinging it lightly through the grass as he walks toward the house.

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George.

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I have read a fair amount of psychological thrillers especially of the British crime genre which leads me somehow to have a fair judgment on what is a ‘good’ or the ‘not-so-good’ of the genre. Elizabeth George is an American who is fond of writing Classic British thrillers, with that is an instant challenge for the author to convince readers specially the British the she is capable of writing a novel with a foreign subject.

Thomas Lynley together with her redoubtable detective, Barbara Havers has been sent to solve a murder that shocked a peaceful countryside. For the unlovable Roberta Teys has been found an axe in her lap, seated in an upturned bucket beside her father’s headless corpse.  Her first and last words were “I did it. And I’m not sorry.”

What I like about the novel is its supposed questions on whether Roberta kills her father; on whether the novel is a whodunit or a whydunit. I’ve read somewhere that one of George’s favorite authors is John Irving which is also my favorite writer.  And with that information, makes me notice Irving’s writing in George’s prose. George cut’s a scene abruptly in a good manner and then retells what has happened later on. I’ve also read a quote from Irving in a different manner but that one doesn’t make me judge the author’s ability, in fact, before I finish this one, Elizabeth George won me over.

The novel is somewhat long, but one can understand why the length for the author has a flair for characterization and detail; descriptions that is really necessary for a superb ‘English’ mystery. She affects the reader with her three-dimensional character that’ll make you watch for them not just for the solving of the crime.

I have this rule in rating a novel. I categorize them as good, better and best and when I chose a rating, it still undergoes another category.

Good – (Good, Better, Best)

Better – (Good, Better, Best)

Best – (Good, Better, Best)

And A Great Deliverance, I categorize as ‘Best better’. Why not ‘Best best’? There are parts that I do feel a ‘trashy scene’ is present. The mouse in the head reminds me of an old paperback cover of a horror novel. I guess that the headless corpse is enough violence for the whole novel –and that alone makes the whole crime creepy—, need not to put ‘yucky’ parts. All in all, it is a superb mystery, specially coming from an American author. The success of the novel fairly credits the author’s talents for convincing and writing a great ‘English’ mystery.

The novel won the Anthony Award and the Agatha Award for best first novel in 1988.

                Opening Sentence: It was solecism of the very worst kind.

                Ending Sentence: She ran up the slope into her mother’s arms, and they entered the house together.

My Book Spine Poetry. ^_^

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Like being killed,
Josie and Jack.
Revenge of the rose, all over.
But the shoutin’.
Where the heart is,
lucky Jim.

 

 

Dance on my grave, disordered minds.
Everlasting, star-burst.
Time enough for love,
The torment of others.

 

 

Juggling
the stars.
Early from the
dance.
Girlfriend in a coma, madness.
The easy way out?
The extra man.

 

 

September, the first hurt,
something happened.
The brutal language of love;
”Hello, I lied.”,
becoming a man.

 

Hope y’all like it. ^_^

Kinflicks by Lisa Alther.

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Before I start my review of Lisa Alther’s triumphant debut novel, let me put on a list of novels with the same theme together with their publication date and some commentaries.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. (1973)
Kinflicks by Lisa Alther. (1975)
The World According to Garp by John Irving. (1978)
Parachutes and Kisses by Erica Jong. (1984)

I have come up with the list for the sole purpose of pointing and clarifying some things about these books because each entry –if you’ve read them all— will make you associate one from the other. Not that I accuse some particular writer of copying some ideas from others work.
Kinflicks is a funny, insightful, perceptive, sad, and a moving read. It presents some of the most original wisdom about life and death in fiction. If John Irving’s Garp is obsessed with the safety of his own family, and having the realization of no way to protect them from the harsh reality, irony and madness of life, Kinflicks talks about and illustrates how cruel, unfair and unpredictable life is.

From the start of the novel, it gives me the sense that I am once again to read a novel from my favorite author, John Irving. I am about to praise the novel as a female-Garp, however, learning of its publication that Kinflicks precedes Garp, I suddenly dropped the idea. Garp is much powerful in its entirety that I also wouldn’t dare calling Garp the male-Ginny. I might also call Alther as an informative writer, and her fascination with encyclopedias’ is obvious in which it is a good thing with the unavailability of the internet at the time.

Kinflicks tells the story of of a 27 year-old heroine named Virginia ‘Ginny’ Babcock. The novel is separated in two parts; the first is narrated in Ginny’s point of view in the past while the alternating chapters are narrated in third-person. Ginny’s voice talks about her coming-of-age journey, her struggles to take hold of her future, and desperately tries to join in everything that comes her way. These parts –Ginny’s submissions— may somehow irritate the reader, but in my opinion, I understand her actions for I got to see the part where she’s trying to live a life without the influenced of her parents while unconsciously trying to shape things around her with the prejudices and bias she learns from her family. Her adventures remind me of Erica Jong’s heroine, Isadora Wing from her novel Fear of Flying. The feeling to take control on things without shame, to grasp without reluctance and to decide without being guilty afterwards. To stand about your choices no matter the consequences. Ginny’s past and Isadora on ‘Fear’ are both narrated by the heroine.

On the other hand, the part where it is narrated in third-person which talks of the present makes me remember another of Jong’s novel, Parachutes and Kisses –also narrated in third-person’s point of view— being the third novel and continuing Isadora’s adventure and finally her being a mother. Just like Isadora, Ginny is now in the stage of motherhood or struggling to be. In Jong’s novel in which spirituality and death plays a big part; Ginny comes home to take care of her sick mother. Ending with the understanding of their actions from the past and though they might not admit it, a final act of understanding and acceptance for their deeper selves. I’m also not blind by the fact that some might notice Ginny as lacking in character, that she doesn’t learn something grand in the end. However, I find this to be interesting, and since Ginny is still trying to live her life (again) in the end, there is a possibility that someday she is more than just a lost soul. I just hope the author writes a sequel about her.

I don’t really know what’s happening to my reading list, it is as if it is lined after my own life. Having suffered some recent tragedy makes my vision while reading be crystallized with tears, and moments unknown to me, I’d suddenly stomped my feet like a hammer on the arm rest for no apparent reason while tears continuously flows down my cheeks, not that I want to stop myself from crying but I guess to bring back what was lost. There are times at the end I want to hurl away the novel for making me cry like a baby.
I’ve given the novel a higher rating but before doing it, I’ve pondered on some questions why I should. I’ll try to ask you those. Will you give a novel a higher rating that makes you remember something depressing? Makes you cry because you can relate into it? A novel which makes you sad? I’ve tried not to answer those because if I do, this will be poorly rated.

I just consider of how wonderfully written it is, how the author manages to construct it beautifully, how the author’s ability to make it believable and how she carefully illustrates the many guises of life. And finally, convincing the reader how life, though we may not all accept it, is harsh and cruel than reality.
It is hard to tell what it’s really all about and narrating of some of its superlatives may not give justice on how a good story Kinflicks is. You just have to read it, but be careful.

Opening Sentence: My family always has been into death.

Ending Sentence: She left the cabin, to go where she had no idea.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book One) by Lloyd Alexander.

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I have often heard about the Chronicles of Prydain as it said to set standards of excellence in fantasy for children’s literature. Honestly, I really wanted to read fantasy books from the past for it evoke a sentimental feeling in me, maybe because of it written in the year of 1964? For I believe that fantasy from the past (The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc…) are more original for they are less influence by technology and just based on pure thoughts, humble opinions that makes heroic deeds much more believable and rooting, the quality of its magic and adventure is much grounded which makes it somehow much more possible to happen. Its wisdom is not totally old-fashioned but has a sentimental quality in it for it is picked from troubled times. And that’s how I’ve decided to read about the land of Pyrdain.
In The Book of Three –the first of the five books in the series– we are introduced to Taran, an assistant pig keeper who grumbles on just how he lives his life and yearns to go into battle and search for an adventure like his hero, Prince Gwydion. An unfortunate incident I wouldn’t spoil makes the pig, Hen Wen that Tarran keeps escapes from her pen and thus the adventure of the just pig-keeper begins. He starts his journey together by meeting an unexpectedly companion he yearns to meet, and then starts a new with a strange assortment of companions on a dangerous mission to save his beloved land of Pyrdain (this part reminds me of the Final Fantasy series for its recruiting allies, though this would remind me that the latter doesn’t own the concept). At times, Taran irritates me by his clumsiness and finds it as his necessary weakness, which makes me care for him through his adventure. He is also carefully illustrated by the author for sometimes when he tries to act sincere and heroic; he is suddenly mocked by his companions which I think is funny and gives the novel a jolly atmosphere even though in times of impending troubles. But I’ll conclude that is Taran’s way of coping with the situation, he knows he isn’t capable, but to act as if can somehow lift the situation. Facing the evil leader who threatens the peace of Pyrdain; makes me wonder how Tarran could have defeated such powerful creature. And I wouldn’t want to read something far-fetched and contrive. But that aspect is the one that what makes the book unpredictable. The characters fragility makes you care for them until the end. All of them are carefully described and characterized. I can’t recall if I was depressed while reading this one, but I find myself on the verge of tears as I reached the end. I am very sentimental but it is not often and is rare for a book to make me cry.
I really can’t put a finger on any particular part, aspect or scene of the book that makes it special, I guess the book as a whole is what I should be referring. After I’ve finished this one I had to read the next book to see what happened. Not that the first book can’t stand alone, it is simply because of the fact that it’s too exciting and compelling that I just wanted to know what’s next.
I recommended this not just for fantasy readers but for everyone who wants to read something entertaining in a short sweep, for its wisdom and sense of heroism. The prose is easy to read and the story flows smoothly and fast that makes it much readable. It can also be classified as a coming-of-age story for after the adventure, Tarran learns of his growth and maturity and what quality he admires for his hero, he unconsciously possessed. And that is something far more rewarding for the reader as Tarran accomplished. The book contains everything a great book should have, great adventure, foreboding danger, sense of evil, and love and death.
There are books you feel warm that stays with you and never be forgotten and The Book of Three is one for me. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Opening Sentence: Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.

Ending Sentence: “Hwoinch!” said Hen Wen.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

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I’ve always noticed that whenever science fiction is mentioned especially when one is comparing or presenting something about one of its most profuse and original inventions of the theme, many of Ursula K. Le Guin’s works are present.  With the inclusion of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read before You Die, finally convinces me to read her, not that I really trust the list. A friend of mine also states that if I loved Atwood’s writing, I should try Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This I realize that if Atwood paints using words, Le Guin writes beautifully because of her magnificent insights.

The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a solitary human emissary named Genly Ai, in a cold planet called Gethen or Winter as Terrans’ call it. His mission is to facilitate Winter in an intergalactic civilization, more like to be an alliance to establish communication and friendship even though there aren’t neighboring planets. Being an alien in an alien world is very hard for Genly, and although Winter’s inhabitants offers certain kindness and treats him more likely as any other scholar or foreigner working in an important subject or matter, the latter notices peculiarity about the world he now occupies which constantly makes him question everything  he sees. Imagine, us human beings here on earth are used to (hope I used the right word) having the company of the opposite sex in which the planet Winter doesn’t have. I didn’t say they are of one sex, but they can change their gender and that is something one can’t choose or control. When having sex or undergoes the process of Kemmer (more like of fertilization as familiar to us) in which all the process of changes appear, they are of a single sex and one is suddenly transform in to the female’s role and the other goes for the male. Like, if one of the couple becomes male, the other automatically becomes the other.  I don’t mean about how someone act while having sex, I mean who will bear the child after the copulation. Have you heard of a pregnant king?

For me, The Left Hand of Darkness is a tale of trust and equality. The major point of Genly’s mission is somehow simple. But with lies and misunderstandings thus makes it ridiculous and impossible, well we can’t blame other for not trusting an individual alien to us and vice-versa. As I’ve said earlier, Le Guin’s insights are exciting and enjoyable to read, forget it being possible but the thought of it being true offers us answers for the questions that is somehow unable to provide us its answers for the facts is somewhat impossible.  Other’s regarded the novel as being feminist, maybe for its vision of equality. Feminists’ novels are those that talks about the subject matter directly.

But I don’t think it as such together with the author, for she just illustrates us human beings in a world without prejudices especially in gender roles. Like would their be equality if we are of one gender like in the planet of Winter? No black or white, top or bottom, passive and active, seme and uke? Although I’m not just talking about roles, it is also applicable on anything, like their will be no rape because no one will abused someone and willing to be, there is no superior and inferior of the others.  Is that possible? Equality in being one? Hmm.

It is not a doubt that the novel is heralded as a classic for its depth, vision and originality in the science fiction canon and stand without a question as the best from the best of its genre. Readers of this novel will agree that no science fiction bookshelf is complete without it. Published in 1969 to great acclaim, this is truly a groundbreaking novel at that time and is now considered as timeless.  With such creativity, wisdom and insight, its mythology and construction and the ability to create a world with its unique culture and traditions, Le Guin’s tale is much ahead of her time and is still unsurpassed (and very hard to) by any other science fiction author. I highly recommend this one, and believe it could convert non-science fiction readers to one, and read as many as they can to experience something what they have read from Le Guin. The ending I believe will make the reader question himself about whether he liked it or not, in my opinion, the journey going through the end is much more worthy than the one that is inevitable. Though I really don’t read a book twice, it is the type of novel I want to reread in the future.

The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo Awards (given every year by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction and fantasy works. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories) and the Nebula Awards (as the year’s “best novel” according to convention participants and science fiction writers. The award is also described as one of “the most important of the American science fiction awards” and “the science-fiction and fantasy equivalent” of the Emmy Awards) respectively in 1969.

Opening Sentence: From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.

Ending Sentence:  “I should like to hear that tale, my Lord Envoy,” said old Evans, very calm. But the boy, Therem’s son, said stammering, “Will you tell us how he died? –Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars– the other kinds of men, the other lives?”

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