Le livre du rire et de l'oubli, Milan Kundera tr. François Karel
Deep. Light. Wet. Smells a bit like farts.
The Hippopatamus, Stephen Fry
Consciously but involuntarily, when I read, I always observe if the author has a tic. If he does, I have trouble reading any further work; if he doesn't, I keep going.
I'll give you an example of one who failed. In Rutherford's London, he uses an interrogative as a particularly romantic qualitative, just way, way too often: "How lovely the bridge's arches," "What fragrance wafted from the fields," "How brazenly bulged his muscles under the tanned skin." It sounds Ok at first, but after 800 pages, I no longer see the text; I see the tic.
It can be anything. A word, or a particularly over-dramatic way of ending each chapter. I hope I always start with the benefit of the doubt, but once I notice it, I can't ... well, the author gets in my face. I can't suspend disbelief. And if you can't do that, why read?
In Fry, I haven't seen it yet, but I am beginning to see a hint of it. It's really hard to pin down, but the tic I am beginning to see is a sort of childishness. I'm not going to try to analyze it.
I'm not going to try to analyze it because I don't want to ruin it for myself. His books are immensely fun, simple ideas developed in astonishingly complex directions, and I would hate the discovery of an irritating habit to destroy everything.
L'amour au temps de choléra, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, tr. Annie Morvan
I was not prepared to suffer another slab of magic realism, much as I liked the first two. And I was impressed at how Marquez didn't need it.
This is good storytelling, and it's a story that needs skill. That he pulls it off without magic realism--and that he manages more than once to even tip over the brink of magic realism before pulling back--proved to me, in the funny sense that these things need to be proven in academic reading, but do not so in casual reading, that this guy is very, very good.
If there were ten other Marquez books waiting for me, and if this one had been the third in a
row that dosed out the same gimmick, I would not have given the rest a thought. Now, I expect how ever many of them are left to be too few.
Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer or Harry Potter? This book's OK. I like the wry narrator, but I feel that his wit is wasted on the subject of children. Why children? He observes a good deal about adults, but does it bring something to do it through children's eyes? To ponder...
I can see from the confident language and colourful dialogue why this is a classic, but it has some structural weaknesses--chapters that just seem useless and independent of the story, events that lead nowhere--that don't make it very exciting. It's not great; it's curious.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco, tr. Geoffrey Brock
Painful, though not boring because you're always waiting for that final resolution, and you don't realize that Umberto is taking you farther and farther away from it. So not boring, because you always believe he'll reveal the key to it all for you, even as the right-hand ream gets thinner and thinner, and as the larger and larger illustrations leave less and less room for the crucial text. And no- he does not reveal it. He reveals nothing but has just tricked you with his smirky face into plowing through catalogs and catalogs of gratuitous comic book narratives and war-time Italian pop lyrics, encouraging you with good but despairingly sparse stories, encouraging you to come to the end of nothing. Nothing at all, not even what we didn't think was worth caring about. Yet- though nothing- something. Something that returns to the beginning and ties something down; I'm just not sure what it is.
It's not painful; it's... Gently frustrating.