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{Review} The Owl Service – Alan Garner

{Review} The Owl Service – Alan Garner

Summary
Owls. That was the pattern formed by the plates hidden upstairs. But these owls vanished when they were copied onto paper. With each owl that fades from the page, another layer of magic is awoken, forming a net that encloses the valley. As the web tightens, will Alison, Roger and Gwyn be able to free themselves, or are they the latest three in the valley’s history to be forced to relive it? Read the rest of this entry »

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{Review} A Matter of Death and Life – Andrey Kurkov

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Ukraine)

I meant to read ‘out’ from the UK, slowly reading my way across countries until I ended up poised on the edge of Europe, about to step out into Asia. So obviously I went in search of a copy of the Ukranian, A Matter of Death and Life in the local library and decided to give Kurkov another try after the slight misunderstanding we had back in May 2013.

Due to the political situation in Ukraine, I’ve been doing my best not only to keep abreast of developments in the region but also trying to get to know a little more about the nation in the 20th century. As such, I felt better-placed to understand a little more of Kurkov’s famous satire.

Blurb
Tolya, our main character, begins the novel with a despondent, self-destructive attitude to life. No-one cares about him while he’s alive but he’s realised that if he dies in tragic, mysterious circumstances then people will remember him. He’ll seem ‘interesting’ and be talked about in his absence. By cutting short his life, his memory will live on far longer than he could ever hope to.

The problems start after he hires an assassin to bump him off in a rather prominent café. With so little time left, Tolya starts to value all the things he had previously looked forward to avoiding in the next life.

But he cannot call off his killer or his date with death…

Review
Whether fleetingly or seriously, I’m certain most of us have considered suicide at some point. Kurkov takes this to the next tragicomic level with ease.

As in Death and the Penguin, Kurkov hints at links between death (especially the being-bumped-off variety) and various prominent political figures. He writes about the ‘everything that can be bought’ mentality with a matter of factness that boggles the mind. I’m still not entirely sure as to what to make of those parts of his commentary on contemporary post-Soviet society but it’s interesting to note that they’re some of the main themes that Kurkov explores in his work.

Is this observational satire or critique? Is it a little of both? Think I’m going to have to read some more Kurkov before I can answer that one satisfactorily.

The ending of this story was far more satisfying than that of Death and the Penguin as Tolya’s actions felt more in character and there wasn’t the same degree of bitterness mixed in with the sweetness of the conclusion.

Note on the translation: George Bird’s translation feels direct and sometimes as though there’s more that’s lingering between the lines than in them. I put this down to Kurkov’s ‘between the lines’ sort of satire.

It’s a really good translation though- it puts me in mind of the pictures of post-Soviet Ukraine I saw in a gallery once.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s a little rude of me to imply that post-Soviet Ukraine’s a little grey around the edges… :/

Overall
Either I was better prepared for Kurkov’s satire, or A Matter of Death and Life is a little better (or both?).

Whichever way, this was a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to improving my knowledge of Ukrainian politics and society before reading the next of his stories.

I’m not sure that his social and political satire are the sharpest I’ve ever come across but he’s still very good and this novel’s more than worth the 100 minutes or so it takes to blaze through it.

 

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{Review} The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Finland)

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, one of the first books I reviewed was Paasilinna’s A Charming Mass Suicide. Weird as it may sound, I needed to read that book at that stage of my life. I was afraid to try to read any of his other works as I didn’t know if they’d strike the same chord as A Charming Mass Suicide.

Two years later, in a completely different country and forced to sit in a chair for most of the day (I’ve sprained my ankle and my goodness does it HURT), one of my house-mates lent me The Year of the Hare to pass the time.

Did it live up to the high standard Paasilinna set with ACMS?

Blurb from the publisher’s site
Vatanen the journalist is sick of his job and fed up with city life. One summer evening while he is out on an assignment his car hits a young hare on a country road. Vatanen goes in search of the injured creature, and this small incident becomes a life-changing experience as he decides to break free from the world’s constraints. He quits his job, leaves his wife and sells his possessions to travel in the wilds of Finland with his new-found friend. Their adventures take in forest fires, pagan sacrifices, military war games, killer bears and much more.

Review
As you may have gathered from my reviews of Nothomb’s “A Life Form” and Kurkov’s “Death and the Penguin

How can you say ‘no’ to this cover? Seriously! How?!

”, I do rather like my books to have a little dash of the unexpected in them. Luckily for me, The Year of the Hare definitely delivered the goods here.

I don’t know if I was reading this ‘right’, but my overwhelming impression was that this is the story of a man who decided that he wanted a simpler life and then spent the course of the novel finding out just how hard it is to lead that sort of life when you factor in interacting with the rest of the world.

That is a horrific over-simplification of a beautifully crafted story but I’m going to stand by it. Each chapter moved from one strange (and sometimes surreal) scene to the next and the penultimate chapter introduced a rather amusing twist on the book as a whole. No spoilers, I promise!

The section set in the USSR was particularly amusing, especially when contrasted with the action of the last few chapters. Sort of wondering if the bear was allegorical for the USSR…

Any theories on this one are welcome. 🙂

Overall
If you’re after a quick read with a plot that’ll stay with you for a while, then this is the book for you. Likewise, if you’re finally standing up to external pressures and trying to live the sort of life you’ve always hoped to, then you may find that this book makes you feel better about all the moments along the road when you end up falling flat on your face and feeling like an eejit.

As before, this Paasilinna novel found me at just the right time in life. 🙂 I sincerely hope we keep meeting like this.

In the meantime, if you have read any Finnish novels and enjoyed them, please tell me the titles?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 4, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

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Post 13- A book that disappointed you

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 😀

There are those books that have been on my TBR pile since the first moment I heard the title whispered reverentially by a fan of said book. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov was one of them.

It is also, sadly the subject of today’s post.

This was through no fault of the book or its author and I know exactly why I was disappointed by this one and am taking slow baby steps towards improving myself so as to thoroughly enjoy it the 2nd time around.

How many times have you seen a penguin at a funeral?

Blurb (from goodreads as it’s unbiased)

Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.

So how on earth could a book like that disappoint me? It’s about a journalist who has a pet penguin. A penguin that runs around in a happy, splashy way, eats fish and ends up working as a professional mourner for goodness’ sake! Place a penguin in front of me and you could brain-wash me into doing almost anything.

Well firstly, it’s because of the title and yes, that sounds fatuous but really, it is the case: that title is a hard act to follow.

In the words of Alice from the Vicar of Dibley: “The title says it all

Secondly- and most importantly- I was disappointed because I didn’t understand what was going on sub-textually (is that even a word?). I’m English, so subtext is basically as important as the actual text, if not more so. As y’all know, satire’s all about the subtext and due to my paucity of knowledge about Ukraine’s political system, lots of bits that I’m pretty certain are dead funny and spot-on just soared over my head like a pair of large helium-filled balloons or some other large, soaring creature that sounds more majestic than a humble balloon.

The current political situation in Ukraine’s given me the push I needed to get started on reading up about their political and bureaucratic systems and I aim to be able to understand a little more (OK, a lot more actually) of what’s going on in the next few months.

Expect a euphoric review in the next year or so. 🙂

 

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