Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

WARNING: chock full of spoilers.

This book effortlessly kept my attention and curiosity and had no problem spending hours with it – something I can say all too rarely these days, sadly. That’s about the only good think I can say about it and the sole reason for the second star. Everything else about it is mediocre at best and some things are downright awful – from the needlessly convoluted mystery through the tedious exposition, the pointless bloat, the ridiculous rants against everyone and everything JKR finds objectionable in society to the heavy-handed character development. A ringing disappointment.

220px-lethal_white_ukI cheered JKR politics in The Casual Vacancy. They were an annoyance here. I suppose it’s simply because I agreed with the former and tend to disagree with the latter – she’s grown noticeably conservative and that in itself is a disappointment. It’s not great, as a lefty reader, to read disdainful quips about „hard left“ circles (whatever that’s supposed to mean – but I suspect it’s a way to denounce leftist politics and by extension policies without coming out as a conservative) in the book and incredulously follow the story arc of a shady leftist portrayed as an irredeemable villain. Roughly 1/3 of the bloated text was a protracted and at times plainly satirical political rant against people who’ve criticised or annoyed JKR on Twitter – and it’s completely pointless, too, because it never amounts to anything. The sleazy leftists turn out to be mere plot devices with no bearing on the plot or the characters and I was left with the distinct impression they were there primarily as a foil for Rowling to get back at people she doesn’t like by parodying them in a book. Nasty, petty and unnecessary.

Let’s leave that aside though, because it’s more of a personal issue than a legitimate criticism of the book. Lethal White is too long (yes I said it of a JKR book, I can scarcely believe it either), verbose and expositional, and the vocabulary is frankly ridiculous for a crime thriller. This could of course be overlooked for a great mystery plot or fascinating characterisation (what I come to Jo for, tbh), but the main attraction on the character-development side, Robin’s relationships with Matthew and Strike, was underwhelming, too, to say the least.

The romantic tension between her and Strike, which was rather contrived in the previous novels as well, relies entirely on cliches and is hardly believable as a result. It’s superficial, almost sleazy, and disturbingly misogynist – his main attraction to her seems to stem from her excellent figure and her markedly feminine lures: she’s repeatedly praised for brewing perfect tea, in contrast to everyone else, being tactful, not wanting to change him – the only woman who doesn’t, too, – being diligent like a straight-A middle school student, and doing exactly as she’s told. She, in turn, derives pride, pleasure and, seemingly, her entire sense of worth, from his approval. She repeats it in her head, glowing, it literally restores her self-respect in one instance and she seems to live to get pats on the back from Strike, like a loyal dog. My high school diary has more mature descriptions of love and attraction.

Things are better with Matthew – honestly, the only believable, fully-rounded character at this point, whose chapters I looked forward to more than any others – but he featured scantly, edged out by the absurd will-they-won’t-they dynamic of Robin and Cormoran who inexplicably repeat the same patterns of misunderstanding-baseless suspicion-coldness-crisis-renewed friendship of the previous books, like they’ve learned nothing from their relationship so far and for some reason refuse to trust each other despite past experiences. It’s a frustrating lack of development that plainly serves to postpone their inevitable hooking up some more. I know JKR is capable of writing with deeper psychological depth and I can’t account for her laziness here.

As for the mystery, it kept me hooked and hungry to see what really happened. But it fails to deliver. I managed to work out Raphael was having an affair with the wife – they mentioned one too many times how much they hated each other. In the end, it was all too convoluted, unaccountably complicated (tracking down a kid from your childhood, hooking up with his girlfriend so you could feed her information that she would relay to him that would possibly make him blackmail your target so you can later use it as one of the reasons to claim it was suicide? really? JKR really needs to work on finding simpler accounts for her red herrings), and left a few plot holes, like for example why couldn’t Kinvara leave the key to the house under the mat or something? He had to go the trouble of buying clothes to pretend to be a homeless person just so she could give him the key? And the door not being closed properly was made too much of – sometimes people forget to slam the door even when they know it won’t close otherwise. I doubt the police would really have found that suspicious. Not to mention that the second mystery, the one the book starts with, kindles the characters interest and is selling the whole book on the back cover blurb, doesn’t pay off at all. It wasn’t really murder and the kid was alright. Hooray.

Since the book is so long and there are so many details, plotlines and characters, the explanation of what happened and why about 80% of it was red herrings took 20 pages of dialogue, which really dampens the Aha! moment we all ultimately read mystery books for. When most of the clues, leads and weird details were revealed to be ultimately inconsequential, I felt underwhelmed and kinda cheated. All of the clues that actually contributed to the mystery plot I picked up on, and it would have been nice if there had been something I’d overlooked, like the Aberforth Dumbledore in the picture of the Order of the Phoenix, so I could go back and say wow, it was there all along! Well there was one moment of that kind – while they (and I) were trying to find out what Chiswell was being blackmailed about by the tantalising hints – what was legal then but is outlawed now, but it would still be believable for a minister to not have a guilty conscience over? – the answer is given directly in a completely separate plotline (Charlotte’s renewed interest in Strike), so that the reader wouldn’t make the connection. And I didn’t. That was really neat, and what I read mystery novels for. Pity it wasn’t used for the main mystery.

This book, like the other three, has glaring issues with misogynistic writing.

The women are all cliches – the super talkative annoying woman, the sexpot, the devious homewrecker, the spoiled rich girl, the idiot smitten with a handsome crook, and of course Robin, who is Not Like Other Girls. The continuous stream of super attractive young women throwing themselves at the unattractive, emotionally unavailable Strike is also a mystery that the author did not feel needed any explanation, and it is especially grating in juxtaposition with the infuriating morality tale of the dangers of handsome men and autonomous sexual desire in women. Matthew and Raphael’s only positive qualities are that they’re handsome, and attraction to both men proves devastating and in the second case near-fatal for Robin. It’s the same shit JKR pulled with Ginny and Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets – demonising women’s sexuality by unvaryingly portraying its effects as dangerous and ultimately catastrophic. Don’t go for the handsome one, girls, be prudent, save yourself for a worthy candidate. The joke here is that there is no reason to suppose a handsome man would be any more of a misogynist dick to women than a regular guy – the only difference is that you actually want the hot one. I really resent that narrative and JKR’s pushing it in both her kids and adult books.

This is compounded by the supremely vexing virgin trope – well, since female characters in 2018 can’t believably be actual virgins without some kind of extraordinary circumstance in place, the trope has mutated to female protagonists who have only had one or two sexual partners (and all in serious relationships) before they hook up with the male protagonists. I hate that Strike gets to have sex with a different knockout beauty in every single book but Robin can’t even feel sexual attraction to another man – and if she does, he turns out to be a literal murderer. It was the same in The X-Files with Mulder and Scully and it bugs me every time I rewatch it. It’s the same with Ted and Tracy on How I Met Your Mother. It only serves to reaffirm the noxious idea that worthy women aren’t promiscuous, don’t have sexual needs and only have sex with men they have judiciously chosen as long-term partners. It basically perpetuates slut-shaming and I hate it.

But that’s not the only issue with Robin’s character. She is a total Mary Sue in this novel – her all-conquering attractiveness, which was merely noted in the previous novels as one characteristic, is constantly commented on here, there is not a man alive who doesn’t lust after her, and she’s not just pretty, but also diligent, a do-gooder, a moral compass for Strike, and basically never fails in anything – or if she does, she relentlessly beats herself up over it in unrealistic internal monologues. All the other women in the novel are foils for her character – they’re variously shrill, incompetent, vacuous, wicked, vain, victims to their lust, or just not good enough compared to her. All the insulting, misogynistic stereotypes about women are paraded in various characters so that Robin can stand out as special, an exception among women. That’s a continuation of the line taken in the previous novels, most notably the end of Silkworm, where she literally says „I’m not most women“. I really, really resent that approach and it just makes it hard for me to identify or sympathise with Robin.

There isn’t much to be said about the writing, either. The lack of editing is painfully visible – the style is onerous, with long and clumsy sentences, multiple inverted clauses and a peppering of pompous vocabulary, descriptions of feelings and sensations are repetitive and often awkward; not to mention the multiple typos and unedited sentences with repeated phrases, leftover words from previous versions and butchered grammar. It reads like a manuscript, not only because of the unnecessary plot points, wordy descriptions and unpolished writing, but it’s literally unedited, too. I couldn’t believe it was allowed to go to print in this state.

It’s all a pity because it’s so rare for me to find a series I get really invested in.


Review: Suffragettes

Hugely informative little book. The most impressive thing about it is how little anti-feminist rhetoric has changed in 100+ years. In fact it hasn’t changed at all. Isn’t that sad.


The book is divided into three sections: Suffrage, Anti-Suffrage, and Victory, the last one consisting of the relevant texts from the two Representation of the People Acts (1918 and 1928) and a newspaper article about the umber of voters swelling after each franchise bill.

So basically the suffrage movement had two branches – one sucking up to men, the „constitutional“ suffragists who loved to emphasise how law-abiding and good they are (NUWSS). And the „militant“ one whose members had grown a tad impatient with waiting, for 43 years and three reforms, to get recognition for women as regular citizens (WSPU). Can you guess which one got the job done?

Yup. People in power will never willingly give it up. Women were not „given“ the vote, they won it by relentless and increasingly militant fighting. As Emmeline Pankhurts says in her speech given in Hartford, Connecticut, and published in the book, you have to make yourself obtrusive – and they did.

Though it is decidedly noteworthy that the militant actions of the suffragettes mentioned in this book (which I know is nowhere near exhaustive) only inflict property damage and damage to themselves. They set a library on fire – but during the night, and nobody was hurt. They cut off telegraphic communication between stockbrokers in London and Glasgow, upsetting their work. Miss Davison threw herself at a horse at a derby (and sadly died from her injuries), and her previous record, as reported in the newspaper article about the incident, consisted of obstruction, throwing stones at buildings, hunger strikes, setting fire to pillar-boxes and one assault. The suffragettes themselves emphasise that they are only willing to risk their own lives in their militant actions:

Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won’t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.

What I found fascinating and a little disturbing is how closely the discourse from 110 years ago resembles our modern discourse on feminism, on both sides. Observe:

From the Suffrage section:

We women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact – a very simple fact – that women are human beings.


It is about eight years since the word militant was first used to describe what we were doing. It was not militant at all, except that it provoked militancy on the part of those who were opposed to it.

From the Anti-Suffrage section:

They call it „justice“ and „equality“. It is nothing of the kind. It is the subjection of man to woman.


Men of all ages have had to do the brunt of the world’s business, and ought to govern.

The Suffrage section was by far the most interesting. I especially enjoyed the newspaper report of an underaged suffragette whom the judge had decided to let go and wrote to her parents to come pick her up, to which they said they’d raised her in „Socialistic and Progressive beliefs“, and that she’d requested that her father ask the judge to give her the same sentence as the other arrested suffragists, which he intended to do.

The militant suffragettes had a great sense of humour, too, it seems – when they set fire to that library, they left a book by Christabel Pankhurst at the site with a note reading: „To start your new library“.

And finally, a few quotes I think merit attention:

To be militant in some way or other […] is a duty every woman will owe to her own consciousness and self-respect, to other women are less fortunate than she herself is, and to all those who are to come after her.


This is the whole history of politics. You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to be more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under.


[T]here is a good deal of warfare for which men take a great deal of glorification which has involved more practical sacrifice on women than it has on any man. It has always been so. The grievances of those who have got power […] command a great deal of attention; but the wrongs and grievances of those people who have got no power at all are apt to be absolutely ignored. This is the history of humanity right from the beginning.


A large number of amiable but short-sighed M.P.’s are willing to grant the demand, without getting your permission.


Save suffragists women from themselves and other women from Suffragists.

(All bolded and underlined text in the quotes was so in the original.)

Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

30555488Cora is a teenaged slave in 19th century America. The book is the story of her prolonged, painful and seemingly impossible flight to freedom. The book maintains a pretty bleak mood not only because of the various graphic horrors endured by black bodies, but also because of the relentless shadow of the yoke present at all stages of Cora’s journey, hammering in the notion that slavery is inescapable. Escape seems straightforward at first glance – just flee the plantation where you’re enslaved. But once you’re out, you’re not free. Freedom isn’t the natural result of distance and shedding your manacles. How could you escape, where would you go if everything in the world – laws, traditions, ideas of wrong and right – defines you as property? There is nowhere to exist as a human when you’re only one in your own internal conviction, and the whole world is constructed exclusively for other people. The claustrophobic feeling mounting from the moment Cora flees reaches a crescendo in the North Carolina chapter, by far the most gruesome and macabre of the book. Wherever she goes, with the help of friends and allies or dragged by enemies and mercenaries, whatever sanctuary she finds, whatever impossible gifts of freedom and humanity fall into her lap, her status as property and the logic of the world that only has place for her in shackles, catch up with her eventually. On the ground, in the water or underground, she’s in a perpetual, infinite prison.

I think it’s significant that Whitehead literalized the Railroad Underground. Cora and all her companions at various stages of her struggle to set herself free must dig their way to another world, advancing through constant darkness („the true face of America“ – still undefined) until they’ve fought their way to the as yet non-existing light. There is nowhere to hide – if you want to live as a free human, you have to carve a space that allows it. IMO Cora’s final journey in the underground, from the abandoned station through the uncharted tunnel, that she completes using her own physical strength, her body, epitomizes this struggle that lays ahead – crawling and fighting through darkness not to reach, but to make a place of light, peace and existing as a human being.

I admit it was impossible for me at times to put myself in Cora’s shoes. Slavery – not just being a slave, but existing as a black person in a slave-holding world – is a marginal, unnatural, impossible to merely *imagine* state of being.

The book is fast-paced, exciting and deals with its tremendously horrible and tremendously enormous topic head-on – unflinchingly. But I found something lacking in the style maybe that left it feeling incomplete for me. Perhaps it was too dispassionate, distant for my taste or for what I perceive to be fitting for this story. A lot of things happen off-page and are then briefly summarised, making for a sort of disjointed narrative. A lot of the characters’ speech is second-hand, too, distancing the reader from the action and the characters’ personalities and emotions. I think I just needed to feel more „into it“ a lot of the time.

Ревю: „Войната не е с лице на жена“ от Светлана Алексиевич

Достатъчно има писано за ужаса на войната, разказана от очевидците с цялата палитра на човешката емоционалност – директно, без академично отстраняване, без стремеж към неутралност. И наистина трудно се четат някои от разказите в книгата, трудно е за един човек, живял винаги в мир и задоволеност, да си представи какво е да функционираш в подобна гранична ситуация и да се справяш, да преминаваш през неестествения ужас, в който живееш всеки ден. Някои откъси почти съжалявам, че прочетох. Има много отчайваща бруталност в тези разкази. Но, както казах, за това е писано достатъчно; аз ще се спра повече на други неща, които ми правиха впечатление, докато четях.

Photo on 6-8-18 at 1.35 PMНе ми беше особено приятно да чета за неща, към които имам силна съпротива, защото нямат нищо общо с ценностите ми и в много случаи са в пряко противоречие с убежденията ми – героизъм, патриотизъм, саможертва за Родината, пращане на деца на фронта (навсякъде се подчертава, че те сами се бутали, дори лъжели за възрастта си, бягали и изобщо изобилства с оправдания за хвърляне на 16-годишни девойки във войната), военна пропаганда и митологизиране на военната история и изобщо приповдигнатия тон, с който се говори за нещо толкова отвратително като войната. Аз не можех да се възхитя безусловно на подвига на войниците, жени и мъже, защото такива разкази, за обикновени хора, забрани от полето, от училищата, от предприятия, институти, болници и хвърлени във война за имперски интереси, не ме изпълват с удивление, а с гняв. Това беше значителна пречка пред това да чета с удоволствие, защото духът на книгата предполага четене с възторг и възхищение. И наистина описаните случаи, епизоди, впечатления, чувства на разказващите жени варират от трогателни до всяващи искрен ужас и разбирането за нечовешките им усилия, оценката на извършеното като саможертва и подвиг, чувствата на състрадание и възхищение са действително естествени у читателя. Просто цялостната рамка на книгата, която изисква от читателя не просто да съчувства, да разбира, да се възхищава и да помни на човешко ниво, а и да оценява всичко това в рамките на безпрекословно преклонение пред Великата отечествена война като историческа ценност сама по себе си, ми беше страхотно неприятна и четях с почти постоянна вътрешна съпротива.

С тази книга обаче, колкото и да кънти пропагандата под структурата й, Светлана Алексиевич прави нещо, което абсолютно заслужава Нобела, дори да не беше написала нищо друго през живота си – тя издърпва, вероятно в последния момент, тези жени от забравата, която обикновено е съдба на почти всички жени в историята. Има хиляди примери за това как жените систематично се изтриват от събитията още от съвременниците си и после и от следващите поколение историци – предимно мъже, работещи в създадена от мъже система по мъжки приоритети и разбиране за света. Алексиевич не позволява това да се случи и с 800 000-те съветски жени, участвали във Втората световна война на всякакви позиции и с всякакви дейности. Тя осигурява място в историята не само за женското участие, но и за женския глас, за женската памет, както тя я нарича – защото жените разказват сами, от първо лице, какво помнят, без след това историци да отсяват „важното“ от разказа им по мъжкоцентрични критерии за значимост.

Самата Алексиевич неведнъж в книгата излага черно на бяло сексистките нагласи и практики, които запращат жените в небитието на историята.

Един голям началник не поиска да ме изслуша. „Мислех, че идвате да ходатайствате за заслужил фронтовак, а Вие за някаква си перачка.“

Книгата й е тяхното противодействие и затова е абсолютно безценен труд. За съжаление обаче тя самата също изпада в есенциалистки капани, когато говори за войната и пола – всъщност това е рамката, в която е поставена цялата идея на книгата, както личи и от заглавието – че войната е противна на женската „природа“, че е неестествена за нея и затова авторката си поставя за цел да обясни участието й през призмата на тази противоестественост, на тази дихотомия война-женскост.

Когато чувах, че нашите медицински сестри, попаднали в обкръжение, са стреляли, за да защитят ранените, защото ранените са безпомощни като деца, това го разбирах, но ако две жени пълзят да убиват някого със „снайперка“ по неутралната ивица – това все пак е „лов“… Макар че и аз бях снайперист. И аз съм стрелял… Но аз съм мъж… […] На разузнаване може би бих тръгнал с нея, но за жена няма да я взема… Не… Моята жена – снайперистка, това не мога да си го представя. Ние сме свикнали да мислим за жената като за майка, любима.

Алексиевич хем се обявява твърдо и дори възмутено против цитираните редица мъже, за които жена и война е не просто неестествена, но и неморална, едва ли не мръсна асоциация, хем сама прегръща това противопоставяне като основа и ключ за четене на книгата си. Аз намирам това за ограничен и всъщност погрешен подход, който напълно необосновано подменя социално обусловената динамика на пола и насилието. Но предполагам, че не мога да очаквам да намеря идеите на Втората и Третата вълна на феминизма през 80те в СССР. Сред самите разказващи няма оплакване от очевидно несправедливото отношение, което често са срещали – само една или две споменават, че това ги ядосва.

Върне ли се мъж – той е герой. Партия за женитба! А ако е момиче – веднага го погледнат криво: „Знаем какво сте правили там…“

Останалите изтъкват как са преодолели предразсъдъците на мъжете.

„Шегувате ли се, там са само мъже и ни в клин, ни в ръкав, жена да ги командва – това е чиста лудост. Какви ги приказвате!“

И когато командирът на батальона каза, че ето на, представям ви вашия нов взводен командир, отведнъж всички завиха: „Уууу…“ Един дори се изплю: „Тфу!…“

А след една година, когато ми връчваха орден „Червена звезда“, същите тези момчета, тези от тях, които бяха останали живи, на ръце ме носиха до моята землянка. Така ме уважаваха.

Не знам, аз не можех да не се дразня – толкова е очевиден стройният механизъм, по който жените биват изключвани от всякакви дейности и поприща, а след това и от историята – ок, някои успяват да „се докажат“ и устояват. Но на мъжете не се налага да се доказват, защото започват с кредит на доверие. Това неравенство в старта е очевиден ущърб и очевидна несправедливост, която е и основна причина за неравенството в успехите.

– Изпращаха ли и жени наравно с мъжете по задачи?

– Нас гледаха да не ни пращат. Трябваше да се молиш и да заслужиш, с нещо да се отличиш.

Когато при мен дойдоха две момичета, командири на сапьорни взводове, някакъв глупак от отдел „Кадри“ ги беше изпратил, моментално ги върнах. […] Имах достатъчно добри сержанти, които да вършат това, за което бяха изпратили тези момичета. […] За тези момичета ще трябва да се строи отделен блиндаж, за командната им дейност да се организират куп най-различни момичешки неща.

След като приключих книгата, научих, че първото издание (по което е правен преводът на моето) е непълно и самата Алексиевич днес настоява преводите да се правят по събраните й и допълнени съчинения от 2010 година, чиито разлики със старите издания са съществени. Това обяснява поне в известна степен пропагандаторския и за мен извратено приповдигнат тон по тази ужасяваща, мракобесна и доста натуралистично описана тема. Доста ми олекна, като го научих, защото това настоятелно усещане, че чета пропаганда, ме караше да се чувствам доста гузна, все пак става дума първо за нобелов лауреат и второ за такава необятна, чутовна човешка трагедия – 20 милиона жертви от СССР във ВСВ.

Ето тук има няколко малки откъса, които са били заличени от цензурата през ’80-те: Както си и мислех, не всичко е било съвършена хармония и братско-сестринска обич между мъжете и жените на фронта – четях и си мислех, сексуалното насилие на война е неизбежно, особено когато тази истерично гранична ситуация е в такива мащаби. Разбира се, че го е имало, както го е имало винаги и го има и до днес във всички социални контексти, в които има възможност то да мине безнаказано. Но в книгата думичка няма за това. Заради тази и други очевидни липси не можех да се отърва от усещането, че чета охудожествено партийно представяне на темата – всичко в тази война, при все всички ужасяващи натуралистични описания, на които се е мръщила цензурата, е изкарано в крайна сметка благородно, човечно, надматериално, смислено, героично, величаво – въобще добро, достойно за безпрекословно преклонение. А да се пише така за война ми се струва кощунство, струва ми се обидно. Това съвсем отделно от факта, че бие страхотно на очи как всички истории са за добри, извисени духовно хора. Ни дума няма за озверели хора, за отчаяни от глад, за опиянени от власт, за ожесточени от желание за мъст – неща, които естествено се случват с човека в подобен екстремен контекст, съветския човек включително. Ето защо не присъстват: „Това е лъжа! Това е клевета срещу нашия войник, освободил половин Европа. Срещу нашите партизани. Срещу нашия народ-герой. На нас не ни е нужна вашата мъничка история,  на нас ни трябва голяма история. История на Победата.“ (из разговорите на авторката с цензора през 80те).

И в крайна сметка цензурирането на разказите от първо лице, окастрянето им само до тези части, от които може да се сглоби героичен наратив, пригласящ идеално на официалната история, подрива напълно идеята на тази устна история, чиято цел – велика цел, бих казала – е точно да поставя под съмнение, да посочва пропуските в логиката на официалната история; да бъде един вид коректив, да напомня, че не всичко остава в книгите по история и не всичко в тях е представено от ъгъла, който би бил най-релевантен за човечеството, което би искало да се поучи от нея. Така че издаването й в този куриран вид е чиста проба саботаж.

Всъщност тези няколко изрязани откъса на линка ме потресоха и развълнуваха повече, отколко почти цялата книга, каквато я четох. Просто много си личи лъскавия пропаганден слой отгоре, премълчаването, претупването, замазването. Така че горещо бих препоръчала да не си вземате старото издание, ако искате да прочетете книгата.



Ревю: „Сезонът на Йоана“ от Яница Радева

28001494Романът има сюжет, което го изстрелва с няколко обиколки пред буквално всички други съвременни български романи, които съм прочела досега. Историята е интересна, но доста постно разказана, без развитие на персонажите, но пък с много безсмислени подробности, които се усещат като досаден пълнеж. Поетичният стил също не ми е изобщо по вкуса, а и затруднява четенето – изреченията са дълги, с навързани една след друга фрази, повечето от които с обърнат словоред, и звучат като поток на мисълта, само че скучен. Според мен логиката на повествованието водеше към щастлив край, но българският вкус към безсмислен трагизъм се е проявил и тук и накрая героите се разминават за малко. Аз лично не видях причина за този завършек. Общо взето писането е сносно, макар и не по моя вкус, авторката явно има понятие от писане на романи, разбира от структура и литературни похвати, но всичко ми се видя недоразвито, недовършено и в крайна сметка скучно.

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I’m clearly in the minority here, and a minority at odds with a very high literary consensus at that, so I have to assume there’s something here that I’m failing to register, that it’s me, and not the book. But I really hated it. I rolled my eyes at literally every page and had to force myself to read on.

297673I found the story hollow and mind-numbingly boring, couldn’t care less what happened next or what any of the characters amounted to, I hated the familiar over-exotisation of the foreign, the Other (reminded me strongly of <i>Middlesex</i> which was also thin on story but heavy on the rhapsodising over that mythical exotic race, the Greeks); and to me the famously eclectic, original style was merely showy, original for the sake of it. It’s like Diaz had this thought of mixing old-school nerdiness, street slang, Dominican Spanish and pretentious uber-literary words and references, throwing in some supposedly self-deprecating but actually smug markers of self-awareness, and it sounded awesome in his head but the end result is, to me, a boastful dissonance with no beauty or point to it, a grape stew, as we say in Bulgarian – a hopscotch of discordant ingredients that tastes off. The book sounded off to me the entire time, and not just the awkward and unyielding blend of varying writing styles, but the drawn out metaphors and similes that seemed to painfully stretch their points, and the supremely annoying, forced-dramatic use of one-line paragraphs, exclamation points and exaggerated descriptions of strong emotions that nevertheless failed to elicit any reaction from me.

And another thing. I’ve had it up to here with the casual misogyny in super cool mega literary hyper praised dudes’ books. It’s not cool and I’ve heard it a million times before and at this point I can’t abide it. Every single woman that makes an appearance in this book (except one, who is there to play the role of the witch) is described in dripping detail as a collection of appetising body parts, and all of those women are traffic-stopping hot, naturally, because what is even the point of non-fuckable females? Diaz, for one, seems at a loss for finding one. Women are routinely referred to as the collective „ass“, „culo“ and „toto“ – like they’re a natural resource instead of, you know, people. Even historical women are mentioned, sometimes manipulatively so, merely in terms of their desirability – like the Mirabal sisters who founded a whole resistance movement but the narrator only mentions them as girls Trujillo wanted to fuck but couldn’t so he had them killed. I found that really irritating and frankly, insulting.

I know it’s supposed to be critical, because the narrator is this hypermasculine guy and in the book hypermasculinity only leads to violence and loss (including Oscar’s own desperate pursuit of it), but Oscar is supposed to be the opposite of that negative and he isn’t that great either. He’s obsessed with being in love with women he literally does not know and this is supposed to be an antidote to machismo? He merely sees women as another sort of object. Not to mention he checks all the boxes of the abominable Nice Guy(TM) stereotype – he gets violent when his love interest starts dating someone else, he stalks a woman, following her around and literally endangering her well-being and possibly life against her protests and appeals, and rationalises it by telling himself if she really wanted him to stop, she’d have him killed. Like, what?! And I so appreciate reading yet another account where women’s actual, stated desires are completely dismissed in favour of men’s ridiculous and self-serving interpretations of their behaviour. Not. Oh, and his fantasy about fucking a friend on the sly because she isn’t hot enough „to date openly“ (Oscar is a character described as physically unattractive and bullied for it) was another favourite too. Love these microaggressions in my literature, cause it’s not enough to actually live them in real life.

This supposed criticism of misogyny still revolves around men and how it affects them – all of the feeling, compassion and analytical power is devoted to them. The consequences for women are presented in a disinterested way, like a natural calamity that can’t be avoided. Which incidentally is exactly how misogynists see misogyny. So, a complete failure from where I’m standing.

The idea of likening the dictator Trujillo to a sci-fi or fantasy supervillain with unearthly origins and powers like Sauron sounds interesting, but is lost on the page. It’s suggested in direct terms, in the space of a page (btw the only page in the entire book that aroused any interest in me), and the rest of the time I guess the reader is supposed to make the connection between the descriptions of his all-enveloping evil and the annoying repeated references to LotR, but those two merely coexist in the same book. No literary devices are employed to imply that connection that I could find.

The similarities with <i>Middlesex</i> were obvious to me and very annoying. Both authors exploit their countries of origin for the easily impressed American literary circles who are always ready to believe the most far-fetched and absurd things about non-US cultures, especially the more exotic-sounding ones. One uses a gene that travels down the generational line, the other uses a curse (fuku) that functions the exact same way. One utilises science, the other – magic. Both things decidedly outside the mundane logic of regular life. It seems performing literary magic tricks for the wide-eyed, well-intentioned but no less jingoistic for it American literati really pays off.

By the way this whole fuku/zafa thing, which only gets vaguely interesting literally in the last 5 pages, reminded me strongly of our own superstitions about уроки and the things you do to break them, like knocking on wood, spitting on kids, etc. and I really couldn’t be as awed by it as I was supposed to be. I suspect the problem is I’m not an American for whom anything outside their borders is non-civilisation, a realm of primitive customs and supernatural forces.

I’m sure there was something supreme and subtle about this book that I just couldn’t comprehend and therefore appreciate – perhaps I should have puzzled it out from the cryptic phrases, references and literal blank spaces in lieu of words thrown in the last few pages which I think were supposed to help piece together the possibly alien nature of the fuku hanging on the de Leons and how it could be undone. Well, I failed. Maybe I’d have been better prepared to place the novel had I been well-read in the Latin-American literary tradition. As it is, I’ve only read Isabel Allende from that crowd and I didn’t care for her either. Maybe Latin-American magical realism, with or without hip additions like Jersey slang and nerdy references, just isn’t my cup of tea.

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Warning: spoilers in the last paragraph.

A delightful read. Effortlessly creepy, with a couple of genuinely surprising and well-constructed plot twists (I was lucky enough to be spoiler-free), and wonderfully atmospheric – precisely what you’d want from a „haunted mansion“ kind of book. It has echoes of classic Gothic stories like Jane Eyre. The writing style is flowing and elegant, shining especially in the descriptions of dynamic changes in nature, which are a sort of a barometer for the story’s upcoming twists and turns, creating a sense of premonition which keeps you on your toes. My heart actually raced at a few places. No wonder Hitchcock loved du Maurier’s work.15760593

I identified with the narrating main character almost the entire time. I, too, was the bumbling, inelegant, eager to please awkward girl at 21. I share her fascination with the passage of time, which she dwells on beautifully. I was also easily dazzled by splendour and froze whenever someone expressed the tiniest negative feeling around me. I found her vantage point immensely relatable and that helped me experience the thrill, fear, and apprehension of the new bride in the gorgeous but ominous mansion, imbued with the tastes, touch and spirit of its old mistress who seems to have ruled over every room and every soul in it.

I found Rebecca to be infinitely more fascinating before it was revealed Maxim isn’t pining for her but feeling the weight of his crime. I thought it rather frustrating that Maxim has murdered a woman, and one who he thought was pregnant, to boot, and not even a line is dedicated to how that may be wrong – there’s no remorse, fear for his soul, no reckoning with this pretty horrible deed at all. His bride doesn’t seem to have any ambiguous, at least, feelings about it either – like there’s an understanding that it’s not really a bad thing to do. That kind of flattens the character of Rebecca out; she is much better developed before she is revealed, ironically.

I was a bit bummed the narrator’s name is never revealed. At the beginning it’s mentioned as unusual and beautiful and I really wanted to know what it is.

Review: Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry

You can tell this is a debut. The collection is uneven, the author seems unsure – some stories don’t have a clear direction, others explain too much (crime in the short genre IMO), as if anxious to not be misunderstood; the language is excessively rich, as if to make sure the reader knows this is literary fiction. 828699

Even so, most stories are told from a deep need for storytelling – they’re sincere, unafraid to tackle the humongous topic of the human condition and at times genuinely moving or reflective. There’s a lot of comedy in these pages, but it’s rather grim – like in A Fine Balance, Mistry looks misery unflinchingly in the eye, only this time it’s mostly poverty of spirit rather than physical want he’s dissecting. Much like the parents that are interwoven curiously into the last story – both a part of it and explicitly marked as being outside of it – you can’t really tell how the author feels about this Parsi community or the memories of his childhood. If we go with his father’s theory on writing, expressed in (or from the edges of) the last story, perhaps he started writing before he had achieved sufficient artistic distance. The emotional entanglement is tangible through the dispassionate tone, but not easy to parse.

One thing that irritated me through all the stories was how women (except for mothers) existed in a constant state of being ogled and used for sexual gratification by the male characters, including by the one who’s clearly the author’s younger self – in one story he even sniffs his neighbours’ underwear and masturbates on it wile they’re away. And it’s all just passing remarks, not really a plot element or symbol or anything of artistic purpose, like it’s just how things are generally, without any judgement or comment. In one story, there is a whole page dedicated to the way stray pubic hairs dance around the wearer’s crotch while she’s floating in the pool; in the same story he ogles some women while they’re sun bathing and when later he sees they’re older, he calls them „the two disappointments“; when one of them seems to show interest in him, she becomes a „horny old cow“. This reminded me in a very unpleasant way of this particular experience of my time in India – being constantly ogled, stalked and groped. And it really bugged me that it was described so uncritically here, like it’s harmless and normal. It isn’t.

Review: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Warning: spoilers for both this book and Jane Eyre

29429901Wide Sagrasso Sea is about the hopeless abyss between coloniser and colonised, although the colonised here is represented by a white Creole (i.e. an earlier coloniser). It’s about how Antoinette became Bertha – the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre – through a process of relentless othering by her husband who refuses to recognise her as his social equal and, resenting the fact that he’s been thrust into this marriage for the humiliating reason of monetary need, he drives her to madness with his hardness, and with his willingness to listen to vicious rumours from this „alien“, as he repeatedly calls it, environment. I don’t think it was really the rumours themselves – he had two competing accounts and he chose to trust the one coming from strangers, because he needed an excuse to bury this unequal, from his point of view, marriage he could only associate with humiliation – even though it’s clear, I thought, that he did love Antoinette. He hates that he was forced to marry her for money, he is anxious that she might not be fully white, he is furious that he feels lost on this island, a continuously rejected stranger. All of this works to facilitate his willingness to erase his wife – both her identity, by calling her Bertha (and she confronts him directly about it – „I know, that’s obeah too“), and later, as we see in Jane Eyre, her existence in his life.

It’s a story about the stubbornness and impermeability of a imperialist culture that will not make room for any alternative narratives or points of view as much as it is an account of how Bertha Mason came to be locked in the attic. Rochester could have been happy with Antoinette but that would have meant adjusting his idea of what is truth and what is reality, and as a Victorian materialist, as a representative of a colonising empire that needs all its excuses to occupy, loot and enslave, he cannot do that. The fact that Antoinette ends up a mad woman in the eyes of proper British society not only underscores its rigidity but replays the age-old view that non-conforming women are crazy, not right, unhealthy, and need to be removed from the world. The violence of misogyny here echoes the violence of colonialism, two kindred philosophies practised by wealthy white men.

The introduction, explanatory texts about obeah, slavery and the Caribbean islands, and the notes to the text are a real asset to this edition – they put me in context and helped me understand the setting, atmosphere and a lot of references that would have flown over my head. To me, they made the reading more enjoyable.

Ревю: „Тъмни зори“ от Кирил Христов

Не знам как да определя този роман. Като главния герой и идейният заряд се люшка между злостно женомразие и уважение към жената и мястото й в живота на мъжа (в контекста на едно традиционно общество). Жените са категорично осъдени като нищожни, по-близки до „скотското“, „негодни за култура“, по-извратени сексуално и от по-ранна възраст. Впрочем главният герой вижда всяка проява на човешката сексуалност като извращение, но особено мастурбацията. Има някои шокиращи, дори (или може би особено) за днешно време, сцени в книгата – включително на две седемгодишни момиченца, които мастурбират заедно и взаимно. 8290058

По-голямата част от романа е посветена на душевните терзания на младия Асен, който не може да примири поведението си (сексуална връзка с млада вдовица, която впрочем овдовява на първата страница и на петата вече е в леглото на юношата) със силните си вътрешни убеждения, а именно, че сексът е нещо недостойно, мръсно и животинско. В интерес на истината тази непрестанна вътрешна борба, която постепенно разяжда щастието и желанието за живот на момчето, е описана талантливо и убедително, с немалък психологически усет. Това описание освен това е подплатено от повествователната нишка на романа с изобилие от сцени, в които читателят има възможност да види героя през очите на негови близки и да се „убеди“, че вътрешната борба действително е сериозна, че има силата да промени отношенията му със света и дори чувствата му към собственото му семейство. В края на романовото действие обаче се появява Мъдрият човек (учителят по философия, г-н Божилов), който като лъч от небето спуска наготово обяснението и разрешението на този огромен конфликт благодарение на забележителната си мъдрост, житейски опит и умелост в „сърцеведството“ – всъщност реалистична развръзка, но разочароваща за роман, особено за такъв с толкова патетичен тон.

Изключително интересно е как в речта на този полубожествен образ на г-н Божилов едно след друго следват две напълно противоположни, поне от моята гледна точка, изложения относно любовта, секса и жените – първото е споменатата по-горе женомразка тирада за това как жената има по-повърхностен духовен живот от мъжа (и телесно недоразвитите жени се мъчат да се занимават с мъжки интереси, заприличвайки на „пародия на мъж“ – тази реторика е оцеляла до ден-днешен в България, колко депресиращо), а второто е проникновено и фино изложено описание на правилния начин да прекъснем една връзка, в която не можем да отвърнем на чувствата на другия човек. Ето го в цялост:

„За мене е ясно, че ти всъщност си избягал така презглава от жената, с която си близък, и че без да искаш, отнесъл си се с нея тъй, щото тя ще да е останала със сломено сърце и може би в отчаяние. Ако тя те обича беззаветно, ако, откъснат от нея, ти я излагаш на отчаяни постъпки, знай, че мъката, която те чака, би била още по-непоносима. Ние не бива да не държим сметка за терзанията, които причиняваме на ония, що ни обичат, защото изкупленията, които нашата съвест ни налага, са ужасни. Любовта само на едната страна, разбира се, е недостатъчна. Но ако ти се увериш, че не можеш да й отговориш с напълно достатъчно за тебе чувство, то не бива да бъдеш жесток, а трябва търпеливо да подготвиш раздялата с всичката почит, която дължим на страданието. Ние в никой случай нямаме право да убиваме ония, които ни безпаметно обичат!“

Накрая обяснението защо все пак „умереният“ секс между хора със здрава духовна връзка е добър за умственото и нравствено развитие е сдъвкано и неясно – люшкането между желание и отвращение катализира вътрешните борби и оттам и израстването или нещо подобно. Струва ми се, че и авторът не е много наясно с конкретния механизъм на тази причинно-следствено връзка – просто търси начин да примири еснафските си убеждения по отношение на секса с естествените прояви на сексуалността си.

Краят на романа е мелодраматичен до истерия и доста снижава цялостното му качество, за съжаление.