Expat@Large

Hit Man

Posted in books, economics by expatatlarge on September 5, 2011

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManConfessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How the world works. You knew this, but now it is written down. Similar theme to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

View all my reviews

(and when I say “now” I mean 5 years ago.)

E@L

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Bad Press

Posted in books, criticism, idiot, people are stupid by expatatlarge on March 31, 2011

How not to respond to a bad review

Big Al (see above link) gives a mildly critical review of a self-published novel called, for some wildly un-circumspect reason, The Greek Seaman (no [more] puns please), in which he says he likes the essential story, but was distracted by the number of typos and/or spelling errors. He also has some issues with the author’s grammar and (later in the comment section) some awkward sentence construction.

Now, go and check the rest of the long comments section.

OK – you couldn’t be bothered? Let me precis it here.

The author, Jacqueline Howitt, responds to this 2-star review by cutting and pasting some 4-star and 5-star reviews she had on Amazon, in order to prove to Big Al that he is wrong! She insists that she is a good writer! He must have downloaded the wrong version! He however, counter-insists that his was the correct and latest version, and that it was indeed full of errors.

Then some other people chip in and chide her for being petty, unprofessional and overly-sensitive…

And she bites back, bites back again, and yet again… And the chides keep coming in, only now they are because she is biting back against these chiders. They keep telling her that she is only making matters worse, but she refuses to apologize or to acknowledge the inappropriateness of her responses and back down. She is obviously not reading what people are saying and has gone limbic.

Eventually she descends to such a level of incoherent rage and paranoid frustration at these people she sees as attacking her (which they are, but not for the reasons she seems to think) that all she can scream is, “Fuck off”!

Twice. Charming! The right thing to say to her audience of potential customers? No.

As one commenter observes: “Incredible. Absolutely, positively, inanely and asininely incredible. Utterly and inexplicably self-destructive, as well. That’s one author I know I’ll never waste time reading. Thanks for the heads-up, Big Al. You’ve done an incalculable service to readers everywhere.”

Now no-one wants to read her damned book.* If she had just shut the fuck up and taken it on the chin…

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I waded accidentally into this quagmire from a link on Mercer Machine’s blog — it was a post at TheWorstBookEver. There, Aaron analyses the issues much less aggressively than I have here, and suggests the following:

Here is the correct response: Thank you for the review, I will look into the formatting errors and have it re-edited. I am so glad you liked the main story and I hope once it has been worked through you can review it again and maybe we can move the 2 stars up to 5.

E@L

* The bunfight continues at Amazon.

The Whole World As The White Man’s Brothel

Posted in books, defenestration, despair, expats, hookers, sex, stereotypes by expatatlarge on March 20, 2011

I swear by the holy hand-grenades of Antioch, I think I’ve heard in bars, clubs, pubs and dinner parties throughout Asia, in Hong Kong, Beijing, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Dubai, Saigon, Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Vientiane (and I haven’t even been to Laos!) and Singapore, EVERY one of the comments, and a few more, that are contained in the following text. It is an excerpt from a book I am reading which reviews the history of Western attitudes to their experience of sexual life in what we historically call “The Orient”.

Nothing is new under the sun, nor under the sheets (Japanese pornography excepted).

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Flaubert’s sexual adventures in Egypt were exceptional in his life and not repeated. For Burton, however, Eastern sexuality was a life-long preoccupation. To be sure, it was always a fascination among a minority of Western men, with the vast majority falling in love with, and being sexually drawn to Western women. But Burton prefigured something that would happen when the mixing of civilizations became common and some men would develop a veritable cult of the Asian woman, who seemed to them more sensuous, less inhibited, more sultry, slender, fragrant, feline and languid, less competitive, less demanding of absolute fidelity, and for some or all of these reasons, more desirable than Caucasian women. Burton felt that way. The cult of the Asian woman among Western man – her erotic elevation – didn’t originate with him, but it received validation from his writings and his experience. From the very beginning in India, he and others like him extolled the virtues of the bibi over the white women back home, both because she caused less trouble and because she was better in bed. None other than Anglican bishop of Calcutta, Reginald Heber, admitted that he had difficulty keeping his eyes off the local Bengali women he saw bathing in the river at dawn, confessing that “the deep bronze tint was more naturally agreeable to the human eyes than the fair skins of Europe.” With slightly different reasoning, first Viscount Garnet Wolseley, field marshal in the British army, admitted that he consorted with an “Eastern princess” who fulfilled “all the purposes of a wife without any of the bother” and that he had no intention of marriage with “some bitch” in Europe, unless she were an heiress.

The East, The West, And Sex: A History, Richard Bernstein. Vintage 2010, pg 117. (empahasis mine)

More about The East, the West, and Sex

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Of course some Asian ladies still find the antics of the sex-pat, the modern equivalent of Flaubert and Sir Richard Burton (the explorer not the actor, you philistine!) to indicate that the perfidious perpetrator is some kind of abberation, to be despised and/or mocked, as he (it’s always a he) is doing something unheard of and shocking! (Hollyjean’s post is perhaps not the most sterotypical example of such sterotyping there is, but it is indicative of the genre.)

The “can’t get laid at home” sex-pat, or indeed sex tourist, might just enjoy the East for EXACTLY that reason: they cannot get laid at home. But this is nothing new at ALL!

Sigh.

It may not be comprehensible to the beautiful people of the world, the modern world and the old world, those of them who climb all sort of exotic (ha, means ‘from another country’!) sexual territories in order to shag other models and other six-packed atheletes exclusively, but unattractive people do have sex drives, similar to theirs.

Ugly people (old, bald, beer-bellied: people like E@L, in short) like to fuck too. Not only do they like to fuck, they NEED to fuck. They should fuck, and if they can fuck, let them fuck. They were commanded by God The Creator in the Garden Of Eden to fuck. And they can fuck, thanks the sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil, for as long as they fucking want.

Can’t get laid at home? Can get laid in Wanchai, the 4FoW or Nana Plaza. Problem solved. And with a lady whose beauty and demeanour may complete utterly their deepest sexual fantasy. Why the fuck not?

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[E@L doesn’t want to stir up a fist-fight here, he just being honest about it from a certain Occidental point of view. He is completely aware of the horrors of sexual slavery, people trafficking, and child exploitation, drugs, etc… but these things are not limited to Asia or to the last 40years and the book I am reading is at pains to point out. The Americans soldiers on R&R in the 60s and 70s did not invent the concept of the caravanserai of mobile brothels following troops on their marches to war. “Hey you pedites, and even you, old bald fat general, you’re all probably gonna die tomorrow, gimme a coin or two and let’s FUCK!” (So I can feed and educate my children back in Rome, living with my mother.) Nor did the modern sexpat invented the concept of the harem, as Bernstein points out. Once the secret key to the mystery of the harem was limited to the Sultan, now it available to anyone with 2000Bht. But the fishbowl of Ratchadamburi Rd is still essentially a harem.]

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Other complications may arise (no pun intended) for the sex-starved and often love-starved sex-pat. The repeated [Rule of Three, blog to come] plaintive statements of real need and the earnest protestations of true love can burn through the rational misgivings (they pretend to like you, and you pretend to believe them) of even the most cynical owner of the hardest heart and create new neural pathways in his dopamine driven brain.

When this happens, as it will, the cannot-get-laid-at-home man no longer distinguishes the “lub you long time” of an exploitative (and exploited, of course) bar-girl, from the “I love you oh so passionately, Roger, my heart melts as I swoon in your arms, and I’ll never leave you, kiss me, you fool,” of something from Jane Austin or from some other trash Romance novelist.

And before you know it, reality intervenes, as does our exploited lady’s boyfriend, and our sad and tragic hero is doing the Pattaya swan-dive* from the twelfth floor of his lost-love hotel.

But such dramas are not for discussion here…

E@L

Related Posts: The Fishbowl, Brad Pitt and E@L – Separated at Birth?

* Hat-tip to Chuck Woww.

Unforgivable

Posted in books, dysfunctional families, French, writers, writing by expatatlarge on February 24, 2011

…is the situation re: Philippe Djian. My copy of the book arrived from some sub-dealer with Alibris and it had a black pen across the pages at the bottom – remaindered, right? Yet I paid for an unmarked ‘NEW’ copy! Anyway, finished it tonight…

Well, should a) I send it back, or b) learn to read French in order to catch up on all Djian’s untranslated stuff, or c) was this the only one worth translating over the past 20 years, or d) why can’t we just get over the Betty Blue thing and translate some more of his brilliant stuff into English, and why, while we are in a cataloging mode, e) can’t we just dump Michel Houllebecq – he should delay no more and get his merde out of our visages – we want more Djian!

More about Unforgivable

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I know that this blog rambles from nonsensical book reviews (case in point) to the cataloging of the sexual exploits of various people called Bruce, to para-seditious mumblings about Singapore’s taxi drivers, coffee purveyors and the spookily ubiquitous Lee family who run the city of Singapore like a fascist state. Well big deal. Blogging is dead. These digital pages are for me and my handful of necrophiliac lurkers and zombie friends. And I don’t care if you’d rather read about Clive Cussler, Clive James or Clive Barker – what I’d like to talk about tonight is what I talk about tonight.

And I really had trouble deciding what tone to take in this book review type post tonight. I chose the ‘pissed ramble’.

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You’ve never met such an arsehole as the narrator in this relatively short novel (212 pages, large type). Not that he is violent (much) or your classic anti-hero as such, not a likable rogue who gets away with it, not your Ripley/Alfie type. No, he is just selfish to the point of pathology and as grumpy, narcissistic and insensitive as anyone you’d ever have the misfortune to meet – in short, he is French. Or English, in the Kingsly Amis, Philip Larkin mold.

‘Curmudgeon’ is a word you might associate with such grumpy, intransigent old men as this, and with the previous generation of angry young/old men writers like the above-mentioned insufferable (at least to his son and wives) Kingsley Amis. Well the protagonist of Djian’s recently translated novel is also a curmudgeonly old writer, an ostensibly (and perhaps essentially) unlovable, fastidious and unloving, old fart. Self-centred and misanthropic? You have no idea. Makes the infamously arsehole-ish Kingsley look like the unflappably affable host of a Sunday morning TV chat show on the shopping channel.

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The elderly writer Francis (please Lord I hope this is not based on Djian, surely on Amis) has one surviving daughter, Alice. When she was a teenager, her mom and sister were incinerated after a car accident in front of their eyes as she and Dad, who both survived the crash, looked on, helpless. To illustrate his insensitivity and self-centredness, at one point, just after the tragedy, Djian has Francis come into her room and tell the desperately grieving Alica, that hey, he has writer’s block and needs some sympathy.

Alice has grown up to be a (willful selfish) famous actress, who is rather alienated from dad (duh!), and shagging the likes of Brad (while denying it – “Angelina is my friend“) and/or Shia LaBoeuf, while her ex-drug-abusing banker hubby Roger and their adorable twin girls (one with two less fingers thanks to a stoned Roger) look on with great confusion.

Then Alice disappears.

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Then it goes downhill. New wives, PIs – amateur and professional, old girlfriends turned lesbians with suicidal sons fresh out of jail, and writer’s block, and homosexual dog-murderers, and guns (and lovers) [good name for a band?], misunderstandings, massive jealousy and a web of little white lies… as Francis’ long lost passion for writing comes back…

One of the reviews calls it “cinematic”. I guess that is because Judith, Francis’s second wife, is a real-estate agent. And because someone fires a gun at the end. But the frequent and often un-noted time shifts (paragraph by paragraph sometimes) swerve the narrative back and forth, it might seem like something you’d see in some Stephen Soderburgh directed/edited flick (the person dying in a burning car is another link) like ‘Crash’, rather than having the conventional linearity of the dysfunctional family in ‘American Beauty’.

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I downed the last 80 pages of ‘Unforgivable’ in a rush, along with a bottle of Coonawarra Cab Sav and a medium-rare rib-eye, and was sitting in the low red ambiance of the Rib Room of the Landmark (got upgraded to a suite, so thought I’d give them all their money back) and was stunned (by the book, not the wine, though it was bloody nice too) and considering that if this is what it takes to be a writer, then I don’t want to go there…

Francis’s aunt had a solid affair with Ernest Hemingway (she knitted that thick white jumper you see him wearing in some photos, and sent him a load of anchovies [wtf?]) and he is Francis’ writing hero. He has his aunt’s couch, one that Hemingway slept on (he keeps reminding us) and a framed card thanking her for the anchovies (brilliant!). Was Hemingway an arsehole too? c.f. ‘Happy Birthday Wanda June.’ Discuss.

Francis knows almost nothing about his fellow human beings and seems to care only as far as things affect him, at least with those is in his immediate family and environs. He reminds me (another film allusion) of the Jack Nicholson character (Alice would never sleep with Nicholson!) in ‘As Good As It Gets’ – someone who can write amazing stuff but cannot live or act in the emotional real world, completely unlike his characters or his authorial self. High functioning autism.

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But despite the chaos, the anger, angst and emotional dysfunction (here’s another film allusion that is not a million miles from the mark – ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’) I still am fond of Francis. “Am I not allowed a sexual life?” he asks his angry (packing her bags, leaving with the twins) daughter when, after years of abstinence/impotence (he was incapable of making love with his second wife), he surreptiously, he thought, brings home a lady he met in a bar. She (Alice) breaks down and cries on his shoulder. “Forgive me”, she says. Yet, hell, holy fuck, HE should be asking, pleading, begging, gnashing his teeth, cutting off his arms in pleas for her forgiveness for HIS unutterably bad parenting (which made her turn out this way).

[Addendum: now I think back on it, with the perspective on literature one gets after two or three hours, I’d say there is only one unequivocally nice person in the whole goddamn book (and she… no, won’t spoil it), not counting the sweet, almost interchangeable and digitally challenged twins – but counting their always crying newborn baby brother!]

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And the pains of the writing process he describes; the concentration and dedication required to get the rhythm of one sentence right, let alone the clarity of a paragraph or a page and the solitude one needs for this task, and the pressure that this intolerance of distraction puts on the demands of family life… No, not a writer’s life for me. Just keep me blathering away incoherently and unedited on this blog till the wee hours (again).

And stay well paid in my day job.

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More than recommended. Unforgettable – an emotional kick in the guts. As was that Katnook Estates Cab Sav!

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Some writers produce books so that you have something to hold in your hand as you pass the time (and be “entertained”), and some so that you have something to think about when you put the book down.

E@L

(also highly recommended for those times you are wandering around Chiang Mai in a daze – The New Yorker fiction podcasts. Short stories from the NYer archives, read by other writers. Awesome. Free. How I got onto the incredible Denis Johnson)

THE Vietnam War Novel

Posted in books by expatatlarge on January 1, 2011

In a daze, wandering into the supermarket. Spooks and shaman’s, death delivering double/triple agents, assassins. The air is ice-chilled and unnaturally dry. The December monsoon’s sweat instantly evaporates from my skin when I enter through tall glass doors that knew I was coming. I feel that Viet Cong are hiding at the end of each aisle, ready to pop a sniper’s shot at my unmissable belly, or is it a Psy-Op, a tree of smoke?

I’m just coming from the coffee shop, where I’ve just finished reading a novel…

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Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. Man! Reads like the night scene in Apocalypse Now, but 700 pages. At the end, everybody permanently damaged, changed, weirded-out, mythologised, and still fighting the enemy (enemies from either sides) in their heads.

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The opening sequence, OMG, a soldier shoots and wounds a monkey in the jungle near his camp in the Philippines. The first living creature he has ever shot. Stung with remorse, he puts down his gun and he picks the small creature up. It is crying. It gasps its last breaths in his hands. He leaves the jungle devastated, he forgets the gun, has to go back a pick it up. The monkey’s body is gone… Seriously, I cried along with the monkey.

The most perfect way to prepare for what’s coming. Touching, tense, confronting, bitter, raw, beautiful, innocent and about to be altered profoundly and irredeemably… And not for the better.

Later, young Skip, a virgin in not just the usual way, is taken by more worldly-wise soldier buddies into a tiny bar in a tiny village somewhere outside Saigon. They drink a few beers, chat up the ‘hostesses’ and then he takes one of these Vietnamese hookers into the back room. He is amazed and reverential at her perfect body, awed at the beauty radiating from her pre-Raphaelite face. Even more amazed when she lies back on the edge of bed, her feet on the floor, spread apart, and proceeds to smoke a cigarette with her pussy.

So many scenes like this set you up and then they stun you, man they stun you hard…

Well maybe not so much those us who have done our tours of duty through the bars of Patpong and Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, but still they are strong, vicious and teetering on the insane.

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And one amazing thing (I just realized this after I first posted) about a novel set in the mad world of war, where random death and destruction are inherent and expected – hey this is a war novel after all – is that almost every act of violence or death has repercussions. Like in real life of course where your actions mean things, things happen to real people who have real bodies and real emotions, and then the cops come around.

There is no (not many anyway, except, say, the generic hooker mention above) fictional ‘cannon fodder’ in here – every character is a person, with emotional depth and uniqueness, and there are MANY characters in this book. War And Peace comes to mind, at least in this attribute of Johnson’s novel. Everyone death diminishes me, but makes for a deliciously complicated and emotionally powerful story.

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What do I mean?

Imagine a scene in Star Wars in which Luke is about to shoot some Storm Trooper, but before this can happen the Storm Trooper pulls off his mask and pleads for mercy – “I have kids, I love my kids, don’t kill me! I am only doing this job to pay for my wife’s cancer treatment, let me live!!” sort of thing.

Also (my favorite thought along these lines), imagine some shoot-em-up movie where the main guy is out for revenge – “You killed my brother” – and blast dozens of anonymous goons to smithereens in this virtuous quest. Imagine each one of these dead goons has a brother, right? Imagine each of these goons’ brothers decide to chase after the main guy, and in the process kill another bunch of goons, who naturally enough have revengeful brothers who chase after the goon who… ad infinitum.

Well, there is nothing like that…

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The Vietnam War. If you want the definitive novel, here it is.

More about Tree of Smoke

E@L

p.s. I apologize, patient readers, for not blogging for so long – hopefully work and travel will settle down for a while and I get some good rumination time… Maybe even be funny again.

Toes

Posted in anatomical variants, Bangkok, books, David Foster Wallace, hookers, knees, literature, toes by expatatlarge on November 12, 2010

I was going to write a piece about Thai bar girls’ ugly knees (a Bruce story) and the strange looking toes I noticed on one of my colleagues (on her feet to be exact) – they were long and thin and splay-toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes, gecko-like, Gollum-like, and they really freaked me out – until* I read the opening lines of David Foster Wallace’s Broom Of The System

Most pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metelman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. They’re long and thin and splay-toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes… etc…(No mention of Gollum)

Sigh.

More about The Broom of the System

(Wrong picture – I have the new Penguin Ink edition, cover art by tattooist Duke Reilly)

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Finally, yes, I’ve started to dispel the fog of guilt in which I have been literarily (new word?) lost, never having read Infinite Jest. [And now I’ve purchased BotS! What an fracken idiot!]

When Wallace ended the universe of himself – rope, neck, kitchen ceiling (I believe) [I wonder if he wore shoes when he went, or were his toes exposed? Were they pretty toes or ugly ones?]- a few years back, I thought, heck I’d better read it, in memoriam you know? But immediately he went, all his books evaporated into the libraries of similarly motivated but more prompt aesthetes, and I failed in my epicish (new word?) endeavour to obtain an edition of IJ, indeed any of DFW’s books, in Singapore. Consider the Lobster I eventually found in Bangkok, but still it sits unread on my unread-over-weighted shelves. Then, slippery cerebral circuitry, Infinite Jest escaped from my mind for a while.

I was reading about infinity a while back and trying (failing) to come to terms with the Aleph of infinities proposed by George Cantor in the late 19th century, when I saw in the science/mathematics section Wallace’s book on infinity – Everything And More – grabbed it, read it, but it didn’t really help, only frustrated me more. My fault of course – glazed eyes? you have no idea.

Izzy’s friend Tom (hey dude) is a maths prodigy (compared to me, compared to anyone), and he helped; but he was amazed that I hadn’t read Infinite Jest. So, by now it was far enough away from his funeral for the new editions to have returned to the Kinokuniya shelves, at his insistence I took one home. Unread. Guilt. Fog. Book become invisible.

Then on Tuesday (this Tuesday, last Tuesday I mean, a few days ago, remember?) at a pub quiz – beers, pizza, imminent victory, jaws, defeat – the conversation inexplicably turned to DFW. Did I start it**? Maybe I did. Two of the guys, one Welsh (another mathemetician) the other American, went quasi-orgasmic over Infinite Jest. They seemed to have read everything of his, but they didn’t know which week Thanksgiving falls in! So again me, with guilt/inadequacy. Fog. Shuts up. (But I read today – I should be working, not blogging or reading interviews, I know – in an interview with Arundhati Roy that she hadn’t read any William Faulkener, so hey… [oops, neither have I])

So now, two days later E@L is about fifteen pages into IJ; autistic/savant tennis players, dope fiends… and skipping around about too, to sample what’s ahead.

EVERY SENTENCE IS AMAZING and requires you to think and puzzle, find the joke and the wit and the genius, but somehow it is enjoyably readable (once you let it flow, as you have to do with Proust). At one point while browsing ahead, I hiccuped into spontaneous laughter – fat woman’s buttocks inextricably wedged out the window of a bus toilet! One minute hyper-intense, 60 seconds later slapstick.

And I only have 1000 pages of this stuff to go!

More about Infinite Jest

It took the below footnoted David Eggers a month to read it he confesses in the intro to my edition. Ha! That’s what my McSweeney subscriber said as well. As I struggled and wanked my way for fifteen years to eventually get over Gravity’s Rainbow, (somewhere, oh that’s right, in Phuket) I doubt I will be that rapid in my reading…

E@L

* the “I was going write”, not the freaked out bit

** Oh that’s right, I had mentioned McSweeney’s in a facile attempt to make me sound smart (iron, Eiffel tower, who woulda thunk?) a propos who the frack knows what, but one of the guys had been a fracking subscriber to McSweeneys (embarrassment, curl up, ball), and then the question (not from the pub quiz) as to who was the editor of McSweeneys (I thought Rick Moody, but fortunately kept my mouth shut) and then up (on my Google phone) came David Eggers and he subsequently led us through the garden of fracking allusional (new word?) paths of semi-drunken one-up-manship to the topic of the works of one David Foster Wallace (deceased).

Books Again

Posted in books by expatatlarge on October 2, 2010

Books. I have been busy doing nothing. I have read four – is it five, six? – in the past three weeks.

Beware: spoilers ahead, maybe.

More about The Merry-Go-Round in the SeaMore about By Night in ChileMore about The Housekeeper and the ProfessorMore about QuicksandMore about Elegy for April

The newest, greatest Australian novel –Bereft by Chris Womersly is rather over-rated. First world-war soldier and hero comes home to where he is thought by his family and the small-town’s inhabitants, particularly the policeman his uncle – cue the woooo music – to have murdered his sister 10 years earlier. He didn’t do it, or did he? No, this other guy did it, the one is chasing an inexplicably fore-sighted girl who lives in the hills, where the soldier too – Rambo-like but nothing like Rambo – hides out. Surprisingly (or not, given the hysterical praise quoted in the blurbs and the reviews), the prose is not magical, not Cormac McCarthy-like at all. It is just words, words like mine – well not like mine exactly – sequential, impersonal (is this what is supposed to be McCarthy-like?), it seems adjective-less, adverb-less, though I am exaggerating a bit here. Nothing special, nothing different from anyone else in the novel-writing work-shop, from any over-edited writing excercise.

The end is an anti-climax, not one twist nothing surprising or quirky or memorable; the murderer is just the person we expected it to be, as we knew in fact – we were fucking TOLD – from the first third of the book.

I really don’t get what is about Australian book reviewers. I rarely agree with their opinions which are universally positive. Are they in the pockets of the publishers, or am I tasteless and stupid? Don’t answer that.

Lesson? Beware the Next Best Thing – not a new piece of advice, that. Read the classics. At 53 and feeling like death is around the corner (my family history? you have no idea!) there is no time for contemporary, transient fashion, no mater how enthusiastically hyped. Except maybe some of Bolano, or David Mitchell, or. Only time can tell. Life is short, the struggle hard, success fleeting – there’s plenty to read already without all the new stuff. Including blogs.

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“The Merry-Go_Round In The Sea” by Randolph Stow (the late Randolph Stow – maybe he didn’t press the lift door close button in time) is a classic (early 60’s), it is magical. Its prose ripples and hums, surrounds you subliminally like the roar of cicadas in the bush. It is suffused with nostalgia and love, with a flood of amazingly delicate sensory images. With description, with real people. A young boy (Stow’s age – this is something of a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman) grows up in small town in Western Australia where there is a rusty old – wait for it – merry-go-round, and where there is a wrecked ship sunken in the harbour with a spar that sticks out of the water like a broken – wait for it – merry-go-round in the sea.

The boy’s hero-worshiped cousin (absent father syndrome) goes jauntily off to the second-world war. At the end of the war, the PTSD soldier returns; changed, emotionally shrunken, lost, severely affected by his horrific four years as a prisoner of war in Japanese camps (partially at Changi in Singapore, partially in Thailand). The cousin and the now adolescent boy can no longer connect. But the ending here too is, I feel, something of an anti-climax. The expected suicide – at least I expected a suicide – does not happen. But this is good for the boy – Stow often just calls him ‘the boy’ – obviously in Stow’s life although people died (grand-mothers, sickly aunts) no-one committed suicide.

Lesson? There are books you should have followed up from your reading lists at school. We did “To The Islands” in Year 11 or 12.

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Other books:

Roberto Bolano’s “At Night In Chile” – a rich stream of consciousness reminiscence by a dying priest. Reminds me of parts of Beckett (without the humour) or, even more closely, Hermann Broch’s dream-like “Death Of Virgil” (no humour there either). Mesmerising. Really must try again on “Savage Detectives.”

Yoko Ogawa’s “The Housekeeper and The Professor” – reminiscent of Ryu (not Haruki) Murikami, a short novel set in a small Japanese seaside town in the off-season about a teenage girl and the kindly(!) older gentleman she visits. A twisted perverse emotionally chill ending. (The sort of ending that could have lifted “Bereft” out the ordinary bulk of the soon-to-be-remaindered first editions.)

Yunichiro Tanazaki’s “Quicksand” – tragic lesbian triangle set in 20’s Japan. Widow confesses to a famous novelist (wouldn’t be Tanazaki himself would it?) what went wrong. Somewhat dated, but the morally ambiguous ambiance of Tokyo at that time is interesting, if not fascinating.

Benjamin Black’s (John Banville) “Elegy For April” – nowhere near as gripping as the first couple (“Christine Falls”, “The Silver Swan”) in this series about an alcoholic abused-by-Catholic-priests-as-a-child pathologist in 50’s Dublin, but still pretty damn good. Interestingly for the protagonist in a pathologist-as-crime-solver sub-genre, Quirke (quirkey, geddit?) rarely uses his infrequent autopsies for solving the plot. For a start, in this one, we know the April is dead not missing from the beginning, or why do think it’s called “Elegy”?

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I only read excellent books (as a rule, but not always obviously) so all except Bereft are highly recommended.

Bereft is OK, just not as good as they say. Moderately recommended.

E@L

Why Books Get Thrown Out Windows

Posted in Black Death, books, defenestration, lack of a good editor by expatatlarge on June 11, 2010

The French suffered more grievously during the period 1622 to 1646. In contrast with the situation in England where the most serious epidemics occurred later, between 1620 and 1666.

Return Of The Black Death; The World’s Greatest Serial Killer Susan Scott, Christopher Duncan Wiley, 2004. p52.

I’m sorry, I’ll read that again…

“Later”?

“Earlier” could also be valid with dates given.

Maybe serious epidemics DID peak in England after they had peaked in France, that is to say, between 1646 and 1666, but these two sentences neither state nor support this.

There were some other ambiguous or unclear date-related offenses I had already worried over, but this one just sent me into a spin of frustration.

Rewrite. Better still, delete. Best, defenestrate.

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So disappointed; wanted to read a good book that discusses whether the first wave of the Black Death was bubonic plague (from fleas on rats) or, as is more likely (for several reasons), pneumonic plague (from person to person by droplets, such as in influenza.)

Should have predicted such an assault on E@L’s nerves what with the corny subtitle, eh?

E@L

If The Dead Rise Not and others

Posted in books by expatatlarge on May 4, 2010
More about If the dead rise not

Bernie Gunther:  I’ve found that buying books is no substitute for reading them.

Bernie Gunther (after stirring the fire with a poker): The maid smiled back at me bleakly, although it could just as easily have been a sneer. It crossed her mind to say something tart until she thought better of it. I had a poker in my hand, after all, and she looked just the type who gets hit by one.

Bernie Gunther is a Chandleresque wise-cracking, ethically compromised homicide cop; private investigator; reluctant SS member; Russian prisoner of war; ex-Nazi on the run in Peron’s Argentina; ditto in Cuba. Here a a few tales of murder and political intrigue in Germany before, during and after the rise of the Nazis and the ensuing disaster of WWII.

Sometimes the smart-arse metaphors are little strained, and the plot-required continuity errors across the series can slightly annoy pedantic bastards such as myself- is it chess or backgammon that he plays at master level? – but overall the Bernie Gunther books, from the much more bleak Berlin Trilogy of the 1990’s to the latest three, are great reading. Some of terrific insight into the Nazi mentality and the panic and chaos it caused, with the creation of a host sympathetic German characters ( and a double host of extremely nasty ones) caught up in Hitler’s monstrous unstoppable machine, from (the otherwise mediocre in my honest opinion) Philip Kerr.

Better than Bernhard Schlink’s (The Reader) entertaining “Self’s Deception” and “Self’s Punishment” (ex-Nazi Germany magistrate turned private detective) which are not  bad in themselves, just not as engrossing.

E@L

India – Reality Check

Posted in books, economics, India, politics by expatatlarge on December 16, 2009

If you want to find out about the shaky lower storeys upon which India’s skyscraping supposed economic boom is built —

More about Listening to Grasshoppers.
Listening to Grasshoppers

Even if you don’t, it’s still a sobering (shocking even) look at how that sacred cow (ha ha) of Globalisation, the word ‘Democracy’, can hide a multitude of sins… and crimes.

The discussion in these essays, while specifically about how India’s various warring religions, sects and tribal/racial groups are able to commit atrocities and gloss them over afterwards with ‘an election’, thus soothing international concerns, speaks of lessons not learned that could be applicable pretty much everywhere in the developing world; don’t be corrupt, don’t hate those you falsely see as Others, don’t rape (gang-rape), pillage (historical sites) and burn (people), even if you can easily get away with these crimes against humanity, don’t think elections are the panacea they are promoted to be by the globalisation buffos.

Democracy = two lions and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.

The lions have to be caged.

For example, despite (or because of) the alleged boom, the disparity of incomes in India has actually increased in recent years, and that is not only because of the obscenity of two of the world’s 10 richest men being Indian, are shooting the top level so high, but also because the poor really are getting poorer and less well fed.

They have less access to grains and cereals available than they had in the Second World War. As those lions of industry Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal dine on fine lamb cutlets in their private jets, “Forty seven per cent of India’s children below three suffer from malnutrition… an average family eats about one hundred kilograms less food in a year than it did in the early 1990s.” (Roy, p31.)

I’ve spoken about the Indian famine in Goa before, when million of tonnes of grain were in trains passing by the starving farmers who had grown it all, bound for the profitable markets of Europe and England. In the current situation, that grain is actually destined to feed livestock, which are more important than humans it seems.

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However, what are you going to replace democracy with? A benign dictatorship?

NNNNOOOOoooooooo…! Scary!

E@L