Sunday, February 5, 2017

January Reads Part Two

Splinter by Adam Roberts
Human Acts by Han Kang
Life Class by Pat Barker
The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
Land of the Headless by Adam Roberts

For Splinter, I think I'll just copy and paste the paragraph I wrote for Goodreads. I gave the book 5 stars though this was strategic, an attempt to offset the multitude of one and two star reviews. If I were to be honest, this is a 4 star or even 4 and a half star novel. Reading the reviews gave me a headache; people don't seem to understand what they're getting into with Roberts. Here's my paragraph:
I'm definitely the target audience for this book: exceedingly clever and imaginative thinking combined with the author's trademark gorgeous prose. His cleverness is sometimes stultifying as it can be too much at once. But his sensitivity to his characters and their emotional plight always tempers the cleverness. Case in point, SPLINTER features two major flashbacks, both of which appear more thematically relevant than narratively relevant. In the first, the protagonist remembers thinking nothing is original and then becoming irritated because he isn't even the first to come up with that idea. Secondly, the emotional climax of the novel reveals in flashback a bike collision between the protagonist and a girl he was crushing on. Written more like Will Self than Roberts, this final flashback ties together many of the themes of the novel: collision, separation, maturity by violent and destructive means. It ends with no answers (how I like em) and offers a gentle suggestion that perhaps the protagonist has finally or will finally reach adulthood.
Much of the same can be said for his Land of the Headless in terms of its cleverness, but the execution is remarkably different than in Splinter. The closest comparison I can make to Land of the Headless is Gene Wolfe, both in terms of prose and in theme. Headless is concerned with religiosity, memory, women as objects (though satirically instead of straight ahead, as with Wolfe), unreliable narrators, and formal, archaic-sounding prose, much to my delight. I read Headless in one day, finding it a fascinating exploration of shame and the disciplinary discourses which structure, compel, and produce among other verbs emotions related to shame.

The Arrival of Missives was a text greatly admired by critics on Twitter whom I admire. A young girl in a small village just after the first World War has a crush on her teacher; though when she confronts him about her love, he inadvertently reveals he is receiving messages from the future in the form of warnings and he must alter the timeline to prevent this future from coming to be. A short novel, closer to a novella I guess, but stuffed to the brim with incident and theme. I quite liked it.

Life Class was heartbreaking, but not Barker's best.

Human Acts was tremendous. I loved it.

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