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For today’s Sunday Salon I would like to share my thoughts about The Gargoyle, published last year (2008). You’ll find other bookish news at the end of this post.


This picture of a gargoyle overlooking Paris was made by Simon & Vicki.

According to the online Merriam – Webster dictionary a gargoyle is

1a : a spout in the form of a grotesque human or animal figure projecting from a roof gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building
1b : a grotesquely carved figure
2 : a person with an ugly face

I read Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle during the dark days before Christmas because it’s the December read of my virtual book group, the Boekgrrls. And it was an excellent time for reading this book! It’s an easy pageturner (no brainteaser), although pretty gruesome at times.

*** spoiler alert ***
*** read on at your own risk ***

The Gargoyle is a story about a vain, superficial ‘Greek God’ type of boy getting massively burnt in a car crash. Outwardly turning into a grotesque creature (like a gargoyle; even his voice gets distorted to a gurgling sound), he becomes more human than he ever was during the healing process — thanks to his new acquaintances in the hospital.

The story starts with the accident and I can’t imagine anyone NOT wincing at the visual description. It was hard to read on (and I know people who didn’t), but you’ll be rewarded if you do. After a while the story makes a turn when the protagonist gets a weird visitor while being hospitalized, Marianne Engel.
Engel’ is the Dutch (and German) word for ‘angel‘ btw.

It’s a book in the style of The Shadow of the Wind (by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) and The End of Mr. Y (Scarlett Thomas). But I think I like The Gargoyle best, probably because it appears to be the least ‘pretentious’. Even though there’s a lot in it: history, art, (medical) science, religion, language and — of course — literature.

The most literal connection is La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri. I wish I had read it before I got my hands on The Gargoyle, like I’ve been meaning to for so many years! I think it would have added something extra to the reading experience. Next to being a pageturner about redemption (sic), this was a good read for the season because the stories about the rings of Dante’s Hell reminded me of the three ghosts of Christmas in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

I have thought about whether the horrifying descriptions in The Gargoyle were ‘justified’ — if you can even question a thing like that. I mean it as opposed to sensationalism in trying to reach an audience that has grown used to violent movies and video games. The strange thing is that I can’t recall wondering about that while reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or Iain Banks’s debut The Wasp Factory, both with their own gruesome scenes. Maybe because they happened later in the story, while The Gargoyle begins with a bad one. Like its narrator says:

Truth be told, I started with the crash because I wanted to catch your interest and drag you into the story. [p.5]

Aside from that it’s just plainly well-written, I do think it is valid. I believe I now have a better understanding of what burn victims have to go through and indeed it grabbed my attention. Also it is important for the story as a whole; fire being the first association of Hell, and a medium for purification. Like water that washes away sin.

Other contemplations:

  • Can the protagonist feel sorry for himself or does he only have himself to blame?
    A fate like that can never be said to have been deserved. It is inhumane to think so. “And I am unanimous in that.” ;)
  • How do I react to people that are deformed?
    I wish I would react like I do in relation to ‘normal’ people, but the fact is that I get self-conscious. Not that I look away as if that person doesn’t exist, but I do wonder about what the best way to react is. Usually I tend to get over-friendly, which might not be a good way either :\
  • The way the story is told it could either be true that the main character has been reincarnated, or not. So which is it?
    Like the protagonist himself I believe it is all in the head of Marianne Engel. But still, I like the idea that it could be possible and maybe there are too many coincidences to doubt the truth… In example the hallucination about arrows that cause the car accident to begin with.
    (“You do not want to believe.”)
  • How about the moral dilemma that the main character did not call out to Marianne in the end, considering his own thoughts about the truth?
    This is something I can’t put my finger on yet. I actually feel the need for a real life discussion to get my thoughts together on this point!

Like I said, The Gargoyle was a good read for these cold & dark winter days. But it won’t make my top-5 reads of 2009.

Andrew Davidson is a Canadian author who has lived an worked as an English teacher and website editor in Japan for several years. Look at the book’s website to read more.

Want to know what tea I drank with the book?

Other bookish things

During X-mas I also finished reading Zijde (Silk) by Alessandro Baricco. And I received the last book I was awaiting, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (again a recommendation by Kazuo Ishiguro)… It scared the wits out of me! It is a real chunker: 898 pages in small print!

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

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The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY! (Yes, I should really try to get my hands on a Ren & Stimpy dvd! ;)

Having blogged about Rei Kimura’s Butterfly in the Wind I officially accomplished my Japanese Literature Challenge for this year! But like I said in my post I will not stop at just one book.

I am also very glad I finally reviewed The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. It was a Random Act of Bookcrossing Kindness and I read it months ago… Now the book is on its way to new readers.

More good news is that I finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee today. I feel really good about that, not only because it is a GREAT book and I am happy to have read it, but also because I can cross it off my personal and classics challenges. Of course I do still need to review it, especially since it is a Bookcrossing bookring. I liked To Kill a Mockingbird so much I am going to look for a nice copy to keep! There are many, many editions out there… Oops, what did I write this week about not getting any more books?? :\

Cover Het pauperparadijsThe book I picked up from Mt. TBR to read next is Dutch again: Het pauperparadijs, by Suzanna Jansen. In October we’ll be having a company outing to a museum in the area that the story describes; the Gevangenismuseum (Jail Museum) is actually the last remaining building of the work-house where poor people were sometimes sent to in the 1800’s. It will be so much more fun (ahem) going there having read the book!

But for now, I am looking forward to the Book Blogger Appreciation Week, starting at midnight!

What were your bookish things this week?

Right now I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: a Bookcrossing bookray. I like it so much I am going to look for a nice copy of my own! Oops, what did I write this week about not getting any more books?? :\

Would you read a cursed book, if you had one? [p. 54]

Well, Ariel Manto, a lonely PhD student on the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas and heroine of The End of Mr. Y (by Scarlett Thomas), does. Guess what the title of the cursed book is?

Cover The End of Mr. YIn 2008 the novel was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction — one of the reasons why I wanted to read it. But which book addict would NOT put a page turner about a mysterious publication on his or her reading list? I read The End of Mr. Y while recovering from the flu and quite loved it. At times it has a really feverish plot! I’m just not sure about the ending… Intellectually I would have liked it to end differently, but sick & sentimental me sort of felt good about it.

The End of Mr. Y is a thought experiment wrapped in a contemporary adventure story that asks questions about thought, language, destiny, and the very limits of being and time. I didn’t think of that myself, I just copied Wikipedia ;) What does the book itself say on the topic?

[though experiments] are experiments that, for whatever reason, cannot be physically carried out, but must instead be conducted internally, via logic and reasoning, in the mind. There have been ethical and philosophical thought experiments for hundreds, if not thousands, of years but it was when people began using the experiments in a scientific context that they were first given the title ‘thought experiment’, a literal translation of gedankenexperiment, although Lumas had always referred to them as ‘experiments of the mind’. [..] Edgar Allan Poe used the principles of the thought experiment to solve the Olbers Paradox, and, some people believe, to more or less invent the Big Bang theory a good hundred years before anyone else [..] somthing close to the way he described infinity, as the “thought of a thought”.[p.95]

So not only is The End of Mr. Y a book-in-a-book, but also a thought experiment about thought experiments… Well, although I did write down the quote, I didn’t think about these things while reading. I was way too much carried away by the story!

Another quote, about quantum physics, brought two other books to mind: One, by Richard Bach (today I wouldn’t be caught dead reading it LOL), and Child in Time, by the well-respected author Ian McEwan.

There’s the many-worlds interpretation. In a nutshell, while the Copenhagen interpretation suggests that all probabilities collapse into one definite reality on observation, the many-worlds interpretation suggests that all the possibilities exist at once, but that each one has its own universe to go with it.

I hope I am not putting anyone off by these ‘scientific’ quotes. Just look at some of the excerpts on the book’s homepage to get a real taste of it!

Scarlett Thomas obviously likes to play with words. The name of the book’s protagonist, Ariel Manto, is an anagram of I am not real. And the Victorian writer Thomas Lumas has part of his name in common with the author herself. It made me contemplate about the name of Mr. Y, but I couldn’t come up with any nice theories. I’ll be glad to hear yours! I’ve thought about:

  • Mr. Why
  • Mr. Y being the opposite of, or familiair to the more well-known Mr. X
  • (maybe my best guess) x and y being opposites in a coordinate system, creating dimensions; this book being about other dimensions, you could think of the x-axis (horizontal) being our ‘ordinary’ world and ‘y’ going away from that. I hope I am not sounding too foolish? :\

I considered releasing The End of Mr. Y as part of the Utopian/Dystopian Sunday Sunset Release of February 1st (yes, that long ago), since the novel is definitely dystopian (about a society in which conditions of life are miserable). But because this book was a Random Act of Bookcrossing Kindness by rapturina, I figured I couldn’t just leave it somewhere out there in the cold, cold world. Now I am happy to have found it a new destiny: sterestherster, and Gondaaa after her; tweeps that have joined some other twitter people in a real life book group — and their next read is The End of Mr. Y. I hope they’ll write a (short) journal entry when they have finished it, because it is always nice to know what other readers think. The social web provides a great new dimension to our lives!

I am not afraid of bringing more people in danger because even though my health was weak, I still survived The End of Mr. Y (phew!). I guess the curse has diminished! Or has it?

* * *

My remark about the social web just reminded me… several weekly geeks asked about this book when I posted ‘Help me catch up on book reviews‘. I have already implicitly answered Dreamybee‘s, Maree’s and (most of) Jackie’s questions above, but there are two left that I want to touch on briefly.

Bart asked what I thought of the story-in-the-story. Can I just say: hey, I like reading about books?! :) I’m not sure what you want to know exactly. It’s a bit much to really go into details of the story itself — and I must admit: a bit too long ago as well!

Also Trisha wanted to know what the book says about the unconscious mind… I feel really DUMB now, but I have no idea. It is a mishmash of philosophical and scientific theories put into a quick and believable read. You wonder how Thomas managed to make such a coherent story of it. I feel I’ve done a worse job with this blogpost… :( Can’t blame the flu anymore, can I?! ;)

This week all book geeks should catch up on their book reviews. If they’re following Weekly Geeks, that is ;) This specific recurring question is how I came to know of Weekly Geeks so I can’t refuse, can I?

Now before I go on, MY QUESTION TO YOU is: which one would you like me to write about? And what question(s) about the book should I answer in my post?

So, here are some of the books that I still need to review…

ammaniti 9789048800452

Crossroads (Zo God het wil / Come Dio Comanda) by Niccolò Ammaniti (2006)

I bought this book because of a very positive review in Simon Mayo’s Book Panel. Great podcast to listen to btw! Crossroads was compared to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (but said to have more humor), and to movies by the Coen Brothers… I finished it recently during my holiday on Madeira. I’m waiting for Mr Gnoe to read it because I would really like to discuss whether this is a good book or if it will be thought another The Shadow of the Wind in a while…

akkerman 9789046805428

The Native (De inboorling) by Stevo Akkerman (2009)

In 1883 a Colonial Exhibition was held in Amsterdam, and real people from the Dutch colonies were part of it. De inboorling is a novel about a black Dutchman who, at a time when the Rijksmuseum is planning an exhibition in remembrance of the centennial of this event, discovers his great grandfather was one of the people exhibited. An interesting ethical subject for a museum employee like me! I bought this book at Teylers Museum, where an exhibition about exploitation of humans in exhibitions and art fairs just closed (De exotische mens).
scarlett thomas

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (2006)

I am really embarrassed that I haven’t reviewed The End of Mr. Y yet, because it was given to my as a RABCK by Rapturina: a Random Act of Bookcrossing Kindness. And I have a personal rule that I always review bookcrossing books that are sent to me, either as book ring, ray or rabck. Also I can’t send this book on the road again until I’ve made a journal entry about it! This novel about books and time traveling was an appropriate read when I had the flu ;)

tenzuidenvdgrens_w

South of the Border, West of the Sun (Ten zuiden van de grens, ten westen van de zon / Kokkyo no minami, Taiyo no nishi) by Haruki Murakami (1998)

Haruki Murakami is one of my few favourite authors. Some fans read all his books in one continuous flow, others (like me) like to take it slow and read a book every once in a while. Savour it, so to say :) South of the Border is my 9th book of this author since I started with The Wind-up Bird Chronicles in 2004 and I read it together with Elsje, who’s a Murakami addict of the other type ;)

BTW Did you know there’s a new Murakami novel coming soon? It’s called 1Q84 and has been for sale in Japan since the end of May. It’s a great succes already. Ha! Another 1000 pages to enjoy soon ;) Erm, soon? It will be published in Holland in 2011…

Anyway, here’s a bonus for all Murakami lovers in suspense of the new novel: 1984 by the Eurythmics on YouTube. Why? Q = kyū= 9 > 1984!

ETA: in the end I reviewed The End of Mr. Y based on your questions!

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