Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2666 (93rd Book)

I thought that the book of the month, The Strangers (154 pages) was too short for my liking so I picked up this behemoth (898 pages) from the Vancouver Public Library to fill the remainder of the month. I almost ran out of time to read both! I think I have been warped forever by this challenge with my perceptions of what a "normal" length for a novel is. I scoff at any book under 300 pages. I never meant to become one of those people...

2666 by Roberto Bolano was a really odd breath of fresh air in a sea of ho hum fiction. What do I mean by that? I was excited to read it, and remained excited to read the novel throughout the entire process despite a really dark topic. The novel follows a series of different, completely unrelated people  who find themselves drawn to the Mexican town of Santa Teresa. It is apparently a picture perfect image of a very real town called Ciudad Juarez. I was horrified to discover that this is a real town since the novel depicts the utterly horrific murders of women over a several year period. Sure enough, I just googled the town, and it is famous for its extremely high numbers of female murders since 1993.

 I randomly chose this novel after recognizing it on the library shelf as a book from the 1001 list. I read the jacket description and was hooked. I love novels that draw extremely disparate people together in an unusual fashion. 2666 has several vastly different groups of people converging on Santa Teresa and meeting similar people and encountering similar things. If you are interested in this type of fiction I have two highly recommended novels for you:

A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher which is a novel in which a young boy is kidnapped from a planetarium. The people that both he and his sister run across in their search to find one another are extremely varied and incredibly fascinating. Take for instance a arachnologist with 8 fingers, a man who owns a huge hotel, and wounded airman and many other interesting individuals. By the end of the novel they are woven together in a most fascinating way that left my breathless and wanting to immediately reread the novel to pick up all the pieces that I might have missed.

The other is Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner (translated by Lazer Lederhendler). This novel follows a set of 3 seemingly unrelated people who all come together at the end of the novel and several repeated images, one of which is a broken compass that points to Nikolski Alaska rather than Magnetic north.

I am not sure why I liked this novel, but I was hooked and wanted to read right until the end to figure out what the hook was. Parts of it are a slog....but they are supposed to be. The novel is broken into 5 sections and the novel, which was published posthumously, was intended to be 5 separate books. The section entitled "The Part about the Crimes" is just shy of 300 pages of horrific deaths of woman many of which remain unsolved.  I struggled there, but at the same time, knowing that the novel was based on a real life town I forced myself to be witness to these tragedies.  I mulled over how a town allows such tragedies to happen, only to realize that BC has a very similar situation with the high number of murder or missing aboriginal woman.

I don't think I fully understand the novel, but the title is a date that lies several years beyond the authors death. Apparently many of his works make reference to this date and what I take from this novel is that it is a treatise on what makes a life worth living. The theme is particularly noticeable in the first section of the novel which follows a series of German literature enthusiasts who are obsessed with the cult author Benno von Archimboldi. This author has never been seen in real life and speculation around his life is the focus of  the group of german literature professors. They travel to Santa Teresa on hearing a report that he booked a ticket to the town and one after another they slowly come to the realization that they have been hiding from real life by their obsession with Archimboldi. Archimboldi is the focus of the 5th part of the novel and there is a lot of discussion around death and what honour and purity mean throughout his story.

What ever the point of the novel is there is so much packed into the novel that it makes for an interesting read, one that I would recommend to anyone that likes a cerebral novel. It isn't terribly good bedtime reading however, and particularly after the section on the dead women, the storyline frequently invaded my dreams. I count this novel as one of the successes of these two challenges in that I would have never picked this novel up if it weren't for my obsession with lists!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book 58- The Stranger

Book 58 is The Stranger by Albert Camus. The picture to the left is the cover of the hideous thrift store version of the novel that I read from! I had no idea what to think about the novel because I only knew so much about Camus (mostly that he was tied to the Existential philosophy) and nothing about the novel itself. I started the book in high spirits and totally over estimated my ability to plow through novels at a fast pace. I read the first 70 pages at the beginning of the month and then spent the remainder of the month reading the novel 2666 thinking I would have tons of time to read both... I almost didn't make it.

I found The Stranger extremely easy to read and accomplished the task in only two days of actual reading. Throughout the majority of the novel I was reminded heavily of The Trial by Kafka who was one of Camus's influences so this is not surprising. With Mersault's ambivalence with the world the novel has the same confusing feel that The Trial has. In both novels the world feels like it doesn't make sense. The main difference is that while the protagonist in The Trial doesn't understand the world, the protagonist in The Stranger doesn't care about the world. I didn't like the protagonist in this book. I found him callous and uncaring and vaguely sociopathic. He is devoid of feeling and his apathy at his mother death, ends up being his downfall.

I used to identify with the Existential philosophy in university where I first learned about it in a psychology class. I liked the fact that existentialists embraced the inability to know for certain what the world was about. Even as a Christian who holds to some truths strongly, I identified with the idea that meaning is created by each person individually. Seeing the outworking of the philosophy identified in one character, however, I see I only identify with it to a point. While Mersault was fully alive in every moment he was unable to put himself in another's shoes and he was certainly not able to comprehend the consequences of his actions without a great deal of thought.

This novel was not at all what I expected. It is also one of about 6-10 novels that are on The Novel 100 list, but not on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I am always curious about the differences between the two lists, but in this case I am satisfied that the larger list made the right choice. I will be curious to read the other novels by Camus on the 1001 list to see if I have a similar reaction to them, but at this point he will not jump to the top of my favourites list.

The other day I was flipping through my former blog posts and realized that I have been working on this list since sometime in August 2010. That means I have been plugging away at this challenge I have set for myself for over 4 years. I looked at the remainder of the list and realized I still have 3.5 years left to go if I continue to read books at my current pace of 1 book a month! This is definitely a long term commitment that I have gotten myself into. Despite all books I have had to slog through I am very grateful that I started this challenge. It has expanded my horizons hugely and I have stumbled upon many unexpected favourites! I would highly recommend that people work through someone else's list of books even if you don't think you will like them.