Month: September 2011

2011 Book #42: The Castle

kafka_castle.jpegI had forgotten that Kafka died before finishing The Castle , or I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Few things annoy me more than not knowing how a novel is supposed to end, though, I guess, good ol’ Wikipedia gives us a clue, but that’s only a bit of a consolation because, of course, it is Wikipedia. The Castle has been on my reading list for a few years. I started reading it a long time ago, but I didn’t get very far. I don’t remember why. I think it might have put me to sleep. This time, though, it held my attention throughout, and I really enjoyed it – until it cut off at the end with absolutely no resolution.

Here’s the general plot: A man named K. wanders into a village governed by officials in a castle not far away. He checks into an inn, goes to sleep, and is awakened by the innkeeper and one of those officials, who says he doesn’t have permission to stay in the village and that he must leave immediately. K. claims to be a land-surveyor summoned by the castle (we never really learn whether he is or not, but I assume he’s lying), and after some phone calls, he is allowed to stay. So he sleeps. The next morning, he tries to contact various officials, but he finds it impossible. He thinks he has a chance at talking to an official who knows an official, etc, etc, etc, but, of course, he doesn’t. It’s the same general idea as The Trial , though they’re certainly two different novels. And then it breaks off. The end.

It doesn’t sound like it, but I really do like Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Trial when I was in college and, for a while, thought it was the best novel I’d ever read. The Castle was okay. Next time, I’ll read one Kafka finished writing.

2011 Book #41: The Book of Sand

Several years ago, I dated a guy whose mother so often said that Kevin Costner was originally cast in Patrick Swayze’s role in Ghost, that her sons came up with a gesture to express it more succinctly: they would simply touch their index fingers to their foreheads. I need to come up with similar gesture for my usual excuse of waiting too long after I’ve read a book to write about it. Or I could just abide by my general rule of posting about the book I’ve just read before I begin the next, though that idea doesn’t seem to be working for me too well. So maybe I’ll raise my hands above my head and cough.

Anyway. About a week ago, I finished The Book of Sand, my second Borges collection. This time it was all fiction, which was a plus, though, in general, I enjoyed Labyrinths much more. I felt challenged and entranced throughout the short stories in Labyrinths, but I found myself a bit bored with The Book of Sand.

The only story I really like in this collection is “The Book of Sand,” which is about an infinite book. A bible salesman appears at the protagonist’s door, offering to sell him a book with no beginning or end. As you turn to the back of the book, more and more pages appear, and the same thing happens when you try to find the front. Pages also continually change in the middle.  The protagonist (who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges) buys the book, becomes obsessed with it, and realizes that it’s a curse, so he does his best to get rid of it.

There are a couple more good stories, like “The Mirror and the Mask” and “The Disk,” but I didn’t see any comparable to one like “The Library of Babel” in Labyrinths, which just might be one of my favorite stories ever.

I still love Borges, of course, but I hope that most of his work (that I haven’t read) is more like Labyrinths than The Book of Sand, though I guess they’re both the same type of thing. One of the blurbs on the back of the book compared it to Labyrinths, but it’s certainly not as good.

2011 Book #40: The Devil All the Time

The-Devil-All-The-Time_211.jpegI really need to be better about posting quickly after I finish a novel. Unless it falls into the Best Novel Ever category, I forget what I wanted to say before I write anything down. Once I hit this year’s quota, I might take a break from the writing part. Or not. We’ll see.

I decided to read The Devil All the Time because it sounded similar to stories and novels by Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy, at least in substance. I’m generally pretty bad at reading pop fiction, a category into which this novel definitely fits, though I didn’t have a hard time getting through this one. I think it’s a story that could easily have come from either O’Connor or McCarthy – and it’s certainly as gruesome.

The Devil All the Time is about various damaged people in terrible situations trying to survive. One is a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. His father wants his mother to live so badly that he builds an alter in the woods behind his house and sacrifices animals (and one person), hanging them onto homemade crosses. Then there’s the couple who drives across the country picking up young male hitchhikers, raping and killing them. The storylines eventually converge.

I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would. It’s better-written than I’d expect it to be, though I’d never heard of Donald Ray Pollock before, so I guess I didn’t know what to expect. The plot is well thought-out, and the style is good. Pollock wrote another novel that, I think, is somehow related to this one, called Knockemstiff (the name of a town that reminds me of a certain author who wrote a series of novels set in another town with a stupid name, though Knockemstiff really exists), and I think I might be interested enough to read it. We shall see.

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