Monday, June 26, 2006

Three Quick Book Reviews

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I've had some free time recently to catch up on some reading.Over the last month I've read among other books the following...
"The Crazed" by Ha Jin. Vintage International.323 pages.
I think the title refers to Professor Yang in this story set in the summer of 1989 shortly before the events of Tiananmen Square.The Professor has suffered a stroke and is hospitalised.He is looked after by Jian Wan the main character a student and protege of the Prof.
Through the Professors reminiscing and semi-conscious rantings and ravings both Wan and the reader learn about his personal and academic life and recent Chinese history.
One feature of the novel is the idea of relationships and the power struggle within them be they husband/wife , teacher/student or individual and bureaucratic state.
The author also assigns animals such as pigs,chickens and owls to various characters which has echoes of Orwells "Animal Farm".
The majority of the book deals with the dying Professor and the last few concentrate on Wans journey to Tiananmen Square and its after-math.
Its a book with lots of detailed narrative about rural China and some thoughts about the role and value of academics,bureaucracy and as noted earlier relationships.

The second book is Nick Hornbys "A Long Way Down".Penguin.333pages.The book opens with the four main characters on the roof of a tower block on New Years Eve considering suicide by jumping.A
disgraced former TV presenter,a downtrodden middle-aged mother, a teenage rebel and a failed has-been musician.
Aside from the fact that it seemed a little too coincidental all four choose the same night and building it required another "leap of faith" and suspension of belief round the fact that the four represent modern society.Even down to the fact that the middle-aged woman has a disabled son and maybe the musician is gay.All thats missing is a blind lesbian Arabic Greenpeace vegetarian.
Maybe though thats his point that anyone given the circumstances could contemplate killing themselves.
Anyway if you get over these hurdles you then have to accept that this ill-matched group bond and try to help each other get on rather than end their lives.
Each character in turn gets a chance to relate about their lives and how they ended up on the roof.
At times some of Hornby's insights and writing reaches the heights of his "High Fidelity".Some passages are moving particularly those about Maureen and her relationship with her son.There are also some funny swipes at media,reporters and a failed "interventation session".Worth reading,though bearing in mind my reservations above.
The third book is "Mircoserfs" by Douglas Coupland.Harper Collins.
371pages.One of Couplands earlier and well known works.Set in the 1990s the main characters are 20-something computer workers.
The book relates their flight from a big company to their creating their own company.Its a very humorous detailed look at their work and personal lives.There are lots of pop culture references such as Dockers and Gap and Ikeda furniture.Unfortunately due to the nature of this fast paced industry some seem dated.
In fact leafing through his latest novel JPod at the bookshop it seems to be Microserfs updated to the age of Google and

Again,as with the other three of his books Ive read the characters in this work also seem believable.Aside from the main characters there are also some notable supporting players.Female characters arent mere add ons or extensions of their male counterparts.
For me the books main themes appear to be about balancing work,family,relationships without losing touch of whats really important.
Despite all the geeky computer words, much of which went over my head,the book is grounded in humanity and what I like to think as Couplands own brand of spirituality.The last few chapters take an unexpected twist which brings the book to a satisfactory close and puts things like work,jobs,friends and family in perspective...

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