October 2010

Photo of Cape Town by Gnuboss used under a Creative Commons license.

Lauren Beukes, Moxyland (Jacana Media, 2008).
A thriller which follows four main characters through a dystopian Cape Town of the not-too-distant future, a world not all that different from our own, only moreso in some significant and disturbing respects.

Here is a little about Beukes; also, she has a blog (careful: spoilers), and tweets as @laurenbeukes. Here’s an excerpt (but don’t mind the page numbers — this is from the middle). Google Books lets you take a look. There’s a soundtrack! Download it on iTunes. Jonathan McCalmont calls it a viciously cynical read. McCalmont also says it could be set anywhere, but Andreas Spath finds much to recognize in its Cape Town. Miranda Sherry calls it courageous, cool, and refreshingly unsentimental. Rebekah Kendal says it’s a high-octane, techno-savvy, indubitably hip thriller. Timeshredder compares Beukes to William Gibson and Cory Doctorow. Bonnie L. Norman says the inclusion of so many narrators gives its storyscape a rounded feel. Janet van Eeden calls it fast-paced, smart and sassy. The Mad Hatter was lukewarm at best. Gareth L Powell says it’s lean, sharp, and tightly written. James Trimarco says it breathes new life into its genre, while Paul Raven calls it a strong fast zap to the brain. Dark Fiction Review calls it tightly-written, beautifully edited and nigh-on flawless. Alex named it South African novel of the year. Karina Magdalena Sczurek says it will knock you off your feet before you know what’s coming. Says Antony, it impresses and disturbs. Patrick Hudson sees it as a tragedy in the classical sense. Jonathan Cowie says it’s a real treat if you like that sort of thing. Dave Brendon says reading it is like being electrocuted with a blend of Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, George Orwell’s 1984 and Ian McDonald’s Necroville, with a dash of A Clockwork Orange. But Judith Du Toit didn’t finish it. Jon Nichols hasn’t read it yet. James calls it fresh and funky and spiky. Basil likes the first sentence. Tiah Beautement noted aspects of South African life. But Martin Jenner says its South Africa is denaturalized. Anna says it’s what South African fiction should be. Harry Markov says Beukes can bring cities to life. In an interviewed with Mandy J Watson, Beukes says it’s very much an apartheid novel. Nerine Dorman interviewed her too. And here’s the book’s trailer.

Buy it at Half.com.

Photo by Martin Biskoping used under a Creative Commons license.

Ian McEwan, The Innocent (Anchor, 1998).
A thriller set in the 1950s.  The protagonist, Leonard Marnham, is a young English technician detailed to assist with an American operation to tunnel under East Berlin to intercept Warsaw Pact communictions.  On his own time, he finds himself seeing a rather more experienced German divorcee. In time, these two parts of his life begin to interfere with each other, though it would be a shame to say much more about it.

Here are McEwan’s site and Wikipedia’s page on him. Bob Corbett recommends it as a quick and fairly interesting story, better than the run-of-the-mill popular novel. Orrin Judd calls it an adequate spy novel, with some interesting true background and some entertaining psychological twists and turns. Paul says that if you want an intelligent cold war thriller, and you want it about Berlin, then you could do much, much worse; he also recommends a Berlin bookstore. L.S. Kiepp (EW) calls it a haunting black comedy with a silver lining, charged with psychological complexity, sex, and suspense, full of narrative cunning and precise, darkly witty prose. Roger Boylan (Boston Review) says the novel’s Berlin is scented with the real thing, the diesel fumes and beery scents and the Wurstwagens and the bracing Berliner Luft, the air of Berlin. Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times) calls it a powerful and disturbing novel, a tour de force of horror and philosophical suspense. Shane describes it as a coming-of-age story wrapped up in an espionage novel. Madhvi Ramani calls a thrilling tale about lost innocence and loyalties that plays out in pre-wall Berlin, and says it’s one of her top 10 Berlin novels. Karen read it desperately to the end. Nathan Hobby (n.b. – spoilers) sees it as a precursor to later McEwan novels. Anne (spoilers) couldn’t suspend disbelief. Larry says beware: it’s not a Hollywood love story. Shuggie is becoming a McEwan fan. Devora calls it a bleak portrait of post-war and mid-Wall Berlin. P. says it captures the sense of the era. Don Swaim interviewed McEwan in 1990 about the book. Patrick McGrath interviewed him in for BOMB in 1990. Adam Begley interviewed him in 2002 for The Paris Review. Dan Zalewski profiled McEwan for The New Yorker in 2009. Caryn James (The New York Times) called the 1993 film a slowly satisfying thriller.

Buy it at Half.com.

Photo of Seoul by Jaako used under a Creative Commons license.

Young-ha Kim, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (Harcourt, 2007).
Chapters about a dark angel who roams Seoul looking for potential clients, incipient suicides, bookend stories of his clientele, though narrative games abound here as our nominal protagonist is self-consciously artistic about their stories. Indeed, discussions of paintings by David and Delacroix bookend the story as well; the self-consciousness about art and death is quite overt.

Google Books lets you check it out. Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on Kim Young-ha. Here’s the bio on his own site. The Complete Review calls it engrossing but creepy, a powerful but disturbing read. Wook Kim (EW) describes it as a determinedly ”literary” effort exploring the alienating effects of life in the late 20th century. Publishers Weekly (via Google Books) calls it a self-conscious exploration of truth, death, desire and identity, and says that though it traffics in racy themes, it never devolves into base voyeurism. Danny Yee calls it atmospheric and compelling in its presentation of characters and its evocation of a “noir” Seoul. Serdar says it’s not great, but interesting. Brian Jungwiwattanaporn calls it a good opportunity to explore some of the concerns of Korean society. Monique calls the writing dreamlike and cinematic, with a certain dark brilliance. Jonathan Messinger says there isn’t enough story here to accomplish what Kim wants to do. Charles Montgomery sees a Nabokovian hall-of-mirrors, and elsewhere calls it a post-modern meditation on meaning, art, and death. John Burns says it seems to say, better to die with style than to go on living. Ada Tseng says it’s representative of the postmodern turn in Korean fiction.  According to Paperclippe, it’s a disturbing, gripping tale of sex and suicide, of how lives are tangled up together even when they seem unfathomably far apart. Silk Stocking says it was a quick read. Hyun describes it as a slim, fast-paced novel about art, existentialism, sex and suicide, with characters desperately searching for meaning in their lives in contemporary Seoul. Grierson Huffman doesn’t recommend it. Joseph Mark Switzer says traditional Western themes are lifted from Camus, Klimt, and Kafka and woven into the urban landscape of Seoul. KBS interviews him. So does Dafna Zur.

Buy it at Half.com.

Image from sarahamina used under a Creative Commons license.

Siegfried Lenz, Stella (Other Press, 2009).
A simple and bittersweet novella, a coming-of-age story set on the coast of Germany in the 1960s.  Seventeen-year-old Christian falls in love with his young English teacher, Stella.   The story opens with Stella’s funeral, and yet its innocence is not lost and its tragedy does not seem ordained.  N.B. — While the publisher and many reviewers place the setting on the Baltic coast, an early reference to a North Frisian island prompts me to think that the setting is rather Germany’s North Sea coast, in the area known as Frisia or the Heligoland Bight.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry on Lenz. The Complete Review says it is well crafted, if too obviously so, but isn’t all that moving. David Vickrey says Lenz tells an old story with such grace and control that it seems new, just as the world seems made anew in the eyes of young lovers. Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) calls it a tenderly evocative sense of place, mood and era, and thanks Anthea Bell for “a flawless translation which captures a prose that shifts in nuance as often as the North Sea winds and currents that run through the story.” It didn’t rock Katy Derbyshire’s boat. According to beer good, it has a tone that reminds one of the Skagen painters; the wide open sky, the false nostalgia of easy life in a place where most people have to work hard for everything, the hazy North Sea light.

Buy it at Half.com.