Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review - "The Empire of Angels"

"The Empire of Angels" by Bernard Werber
My grade: D

I have to begin by saying I read this book in Russian, as there was no English translation available in all the places I looked. Now I understand why. This book is, in one word, shallow. It introduces a bunch of potentially interesting ideas, along with a whole slew of useless ones, but doesn't develop, in any sense of the word, a single one through. Some relatively-loaded opinions he casually mentions without expanding on them at all, begging the question: why bring it up at all? To simply put your opinions out there, in the form of a disconnected novel, is not really enough to either convey any sort of message nor to convince anybody of it.

Certain moments in this book are, dare I say it, ridiculously cheesy. For example, Marilyn Monroe is one of these angels, for no apparent reason whatsoever. On top of that, at some point in the novel, the angels are fighting with the lost souls in limbo in a "Care Bear Stare" sort of way. If you have every watched Care Bears, you will know what I'm talking about; the angels send really great messages of love and all things nice to overcome the 'evil' coming from the lost souls. Unless this book was written for 5-year-olds, it's hard to believe that the author actually expected to accomplish anything with it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review - "To the Lighthouse"

"To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf
My grade: didn't finish

For some reason, I simply can't read Virginia Woolf, although I've tried again and again. I think more than anything it is her style of writing that puts me off. I wish she did more showing, and less telling. She loses me in her tales. I'm also not too keen on the fact that she skips around from one character to the next, leaving the reader with a jumble of partially-developed people in their heads.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review - "Raw Shark Texts"

"The Raw Shark Texts" by Steven Hall
My grade: B+

This book is conceptually very similar to Scarlett Thomas' "The End of Mr. Y" and Murakami's "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" - both excellent books, may I add (reviews of both available on my blog). For those not familiar with these works, they are in a kind of genre dealing with a world within a world, a Matrix of sorts.

Hall's writing is absolutely exceptional! Not to speak of the endless creativity. The work is very conceptual and definitely requires a lot of concentration. This is also the kind of book that requires several readings, and I'm sure I will come back to it at some point in the future. What I did find on the negative side, though, was the underlying love story at the beginning and end of this. It was a bit too sappy for me, although very cute. In general, though, I definitely recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review

"Absurdistan" by Gary Shteyngart
My grade: D

I'm really glad to be finally done with this book. It's rare that you read a novel that hardly evokes any emotion whatsoever, and what little feelings there are, are entirely negative.

Firstly, this book is exceedingly disgusting, grotesque, crude and unnecessarily pornographic. I hardly say or think in this direction, but the author is clearly hung up on some sort of sexual and bodily themes. The language is downright offensive, especially to those of us who understand the connotations of the Russian words he insists on using.

Secondly, the characters are completely flat. Not a single one of them is developed. Most are based on stereotypes, which is fine. The others are completely middle-of-the-lane kind of folks, entirely unbelievable in their characterizations and arouse no sympathy whatsoever. In fact, I don't think I ever cared so little about the fates of these 'people'.

Thirdly, this novel is satirical only for the sake of satire. I fail to catch some great message here. Shteyngart hasn't opened my eyes to anything at all, and hasn't even really entertained me. Most of the time, I was exceedingly bored.

Finally, I want to say that I'm not sure what a person who has little knowledge of Russian mentality and way of life, Jewish culture and the American culture can gain from this book. Here is the ideal audience: an immigrant Russian Jew, living in America. Big problem: Russian Jews living in America don't care for your story because they've got their own (and that one is probably better). The saddest part of all is that the writing, itself, is quite good. There is clear talent here. The story, though, from beginning to end, is unrefined, uninteresting and from my perspective, entirely useless.