Violence begets violence: Tóibín’s House of Names

Food merely whets our appetite, sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a taste for further satisfaction.

House of Names

House of Names · Colm Tóibín
Scribner, 2017 · 275 pages, hardcover

The curse placed upon the House of Atreus…Colm Tóibín’s most recent novel, House of Names, is Clytemnestra’s story. It tells of her husband’s, King Agamemnon’s, sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia. It tells of their son Orestes’ escape and their daughter Electra’s imprisonment. It tells of Clytemnestra’s affair with the prisoner-come-king Aegisthus and the manipulation they wrought in the name of love and power.

Clytemnestra, Electra and Orestes – Tóibín tells the story through their eyes. His finesse lies in his control of language and perspective, which shift with each narrative. His words are of the simplest nature, but he pulls the strings of linguistics to make the words bleed from his pages. Continue reading

Political theater, poetic farce

Orhan Pamuk’s Snow begins as a novel that had a good shot at feeding the intellect but instead contorted itself into a soap opera complete with convenient fixes for its weaknesses.Snow - Kar

Snow · Orhan Pamuk · 2002
Maureen Freely translation · Vintage, 2005 · 463 pages, paperback

A political coup that manipulates the theater to confuse and gain power? A string of suicides inspired by Turkey’s uncertain position on the East-West divide? An exiled poet who just might find enlightenment in the forsaken streets of his home town? Pamuk’s writing in Snow (originally published in Turkey as Kar) is too placid for the story he wanted to tell. We read the few moments of heightened drama in this novel in a detached way, as if we’re too tired to keep our eyes open and our brains can’t hold onto the words we’re reading: we just don’t care.  Continue reading

The Fellowship of the Ring

Doom-boom. Doom-boom. Doom, doom, doom. Doom-boom. It’s a quieter kind of evil, but it’s an evil that reaches throughout all Middle-earth. Tolkien proves in the first part to his Lord of the Rings trilogy (actually six books in three parts) that subtlety makes for powerful magic.

Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring · J.R.R. Tolkien · 1954
Mariner, 2012 · 398 pages, paperback

Frodo inherits more than Bag End and an adventuring spirit from Bilbo Baggins when he moves into Bag End. The Ring he’s left holding is cursed with dark magic, and he’s set on the quest to destroy it – far South and East into Mordor, into the heart of the Sauron’s territory.

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Currently reading/Up next

Even as Frodo and company are only leaving Tom Bombadil’s at sun up, I’ve already started thinking about my next reads.

Currently reading:

The Fellowship of the Ring – JRR Tolkien
Snow – Orhan Pamuk

Up next?

The Godfather – Mario Puzo (re-read)
Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

But THIS is what I’m really excited about:

House of Names
Colm Tóibín, House of Names

May 9, 2017
Scribner, 278 pages (hardcover)

The story of Clytemnestra:

[…] how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.”

— summary from Goodreads

Sounds so good! I saw a review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune shortly before its release and continue to *almost* pick it up – only scared it will fall short (I’ve not read Tóibín before so I really shouldn’t have this fear.)

Patricide and prejudice in Twelve Angry Men

“We don’t owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn’t he? What d’you think the trial cost? He’s lucky he got it. Know what I mean?”

Twelve Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men · Reginald Rose · 1954
Penguin, 2006 · 73 pages, paperback

Reginald Rose’s teleplay Twelve Angry Men opens onto an empty jury room, drab and bare of what isn’t necessary. “One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully” – the judge, reminding the jury – and the audience – that New York required the death penalty for any convicted murderer.

Which is why the behavior of the men who then file into the jury room is so revolting.

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Nikolai Leskov and the brotherly charm of skaz

Dozens of travelers in various states of tiredness, en route to destinations far-flung and close by, take refuge at an inn while the whirling snow buffets the window panes and threatens to become a blizzard. Sleepy chatter among the travelers lazily rises against the warmth of a large Russian stove until one man’s comment stops them all.

The Enchanted Wanderer
The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories · 
Nikolai Leskov · 1865-‘87
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Knopf, 2013 · 575 pages, hardcover

The story Leskov’s narrator tells, that of “The Sealed Angel,” taking place on the cold banks of a river and requiring the theft of religion (in more ways than one), is so far removed from the inn of these travelers that it’s a secret pleasure when someone interrupts the narrator, bringing us once more into the warmth of the inn.

The stories in this new collection of Nikolai Leskov’s work, selected and translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, vary in scope, tone and depth, but each of them comes wrapped up in this same brotherly feeling.

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A peek into this week’s reviews

upcoming reviews - Leskov, RoseIt’s a little sad to leave Leskov behind…the cozy samovar-on-the table/bast-shoes-under-the-bed kind of feeling he gives….Leskov wrote most of the stories in this collection as anecdotes, apropos of something said between travelers at an inn, among passengers on a boat or just so: he created characters and scenes for the purpose of introducing his stories, and he provided these characters with listeners (who sometimes interrupt, only making that cozy, chummy feeling cozier and chummier). The copy I have is from my favorite translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and is one for which I’ve already reviewed the title story, The Enchanted Wanderer, as it’s own piece).

Also publishing a review for the classic teleplay Twelve Angry Men. Disconcerting to read how cavalierly a jury could play with a man’s life. Rose wrote the play in 1954, when the Civil Rights movement was just barely starting to simmer. The way he slowly skins his characters down to their piths is masterful. Seventy-three pages, one setting (a drab jury room) no physical action…but the psychology of it is beautifully done that it hardly matters; its theatrical plainness is to its credit.

Estimated publishing dates are Thursday and Saturday (May 18th and 20th).

Mystery train

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express · Agatha Christie · 1934
Harper Collins, 2017 · 267 pages, paperback

A wealthy man of dubious morals is found stabbed to death the night after he discloses to detective Hercule Poirot that he fears for his life. Snowdrifts have caught the Orient Express en route between stations. No footprints in the snow: the murderer must still be aboard, and it’s Poirot’s job to find out who it is. It’s classic whodunit style.

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A simultaneity of selves: Auster’s 4321

We humans are a messy business with our many different selves, often conflicting selves, all bundled into one body and not allowing us to sit easy because what if? 

Auster, 4321

4321 · Paul Auster
Henry Holt & Company, 2017 · 866 pages, hard cover

4321 answers that what if? Four Archie Fergusons, four variations on a theme, a concerto played in four keys – the raw materials are the same but…a tweak here, a crank there…different circumstances then, and the changes these circumstances wreak on Archie as he grows up yield young adulthoods so outwardly varied that it’s only through Paul Auster’s talent as a novelist that we can discern that each of the four Archie Fergusons is undoubtedly the same man.

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