The Bridge by Iain Banks : A Book Review

TheBridgeWhile I was burying myself in this book, I was vacillating anywhere between 4 and 3 STARS. Every chapter left me to twist in the wind.

4 STARS

Iain Banks is immortal for how he begins his novel just the like of his famous one, THE CROW ROAD. In THE BRIDGE, I liked its opening, describing the bridge with beautiful sentences- something savory, something musical to my ears when I read it aloud, something that is imagined in awe.

“The road cleared the cutting through the hills. He could see South Queensferry, the marina at Port Edgar, the VAT 69 sign of the distillery there, the lights of Hewlett Packard’s factory; and the rail bridge, dark in the evening’s last sky-reflected light. Behind it, more lights; the Hound Point oil terminal they’d had a sub-contract on, and, further away, the lights of Leith. The old rail bridge’s hollow metal bones looked the color of dried blood.”

Notably, with the background in psychology, I enjoyed keeping up with the characters –from John Orr, one of the protagonists to the dour shrinker, along with his two delusional patients. Although feeling a tingle of scare, I absorbed myself in it more; I could not put it down-I just read and read.

Another thing that spiced up my interest is the psychological tests, which were given to the protagonist, I had been preoccupied with. I could not analyze what the relevance of those tests.

Besides, an ignorant atheist may raise a question if NDE (Near-Death-Experience) has something to do with afterlife. But, for sure, a deep-rooted believer might insist so.

3 STARS

Fiddlesticks! I enjoyed the beginning a lot until I reached the part incited me to get annoyed because I could not make out the Scottish accent rendered in phonetic words. I was interested at first, but it took me a lot of effort to decipher the dialogues among the camouflaged entities until I gave up because the story seems to be different since I had been preoccupied with the first story- as though I moved to another dimension in a comatose state I was not familiar with. So I was just trying to be more patient because I knew it was Banks ‘intention.

4 STARS
I found transisting to another dimension more interesting. There was something new. And at this time, I liked Iain Banks more. I can now recognize his styles for writing; he is like a raconteur. There is something about his styles that I tend to read smoothly, calmly despite the fact that his book is steeped in violent and hostile situations. He gave me an inspiration how to be a writer.

1 STAR
I said it! I had expected to pass this nose-bleeding part. I wanted to get furious, with the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt like spitting on Banks- he should not have written such parts. So I just skipped it since I could not figure out the phonetics even though speaking with Scottish accent sounds interesting, but not like this- somewhat stuffy. I had almost been attached to the real story as though I did not like to separate myself from the protagonist. Uh-oh! I was disappointed. So, I was sick and tired of the same situation as though I wanted to get out of that wacky world. I could not wait for what would become of John Orr. But still, I was trying to hang in there.

5 STARS
At last, I appreciated this book a whole lot. I had gone out of that quizzical and mind-boggling world. I had patched every story together. I had understood why everything had been going all along. I could not believe my eyes that I had felt those feelings. I had been carried away by Iain Banks. I was speechless at the end of the story, with some questions niggling in the chambers of my mind. It iss a big WOW! If I did not have too many books on my list to read, I could re-read it beyond the shadow of doubt.

To understand the real concept of the book, I browsed through the Wikipedia. Eventually, I realized that the story centers around the three protagonists: Alex (full name hinted to be Alexander Lennox, but never explicitly named), John Orr and The Barbarian, the character in the “epistaxis “ parts.

Iain Banks thought that of the novels he had written, this is his personal favorite.
“Definitely the intellectual of the family, it’s the one that went away to University and got a first. I think The Bridge is the best of my books.”

No doubt! I have not been able to get over this book yet. I have still been trying to digest and assimilate all the stories. Like the brain-teasing psychological tests given, it is like a whodunit novel. I have still big WHYs?

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It is amazing. )

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Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder: A Book Review

SophiePhilosophy is a complete no-brainer for some who have this highfalutin IQ level. Not at all! It is not more or less chicken feed than they had expected. Even luminaries from different fields of studies may have a dickens of a time philosophizing. In my case, I have read it several times, but even now the philosophical arguments are still boggling my mind. (It only bespeaks that I am suffering from low IQ.) So Sophie’s World could somehow cut the Gordian knot.

Jostein Gaarder may have intended to lecture on the History of Philosophy since the suggestion of teaching Philosophy is heavily stressed in the story. He may have had the bee in his bonnet that incorporating this field into a novel might turn out to be something unique. So he used Sophie as the instrument in studying the subject; Albert Knox, the Philosophy teacher. He may have instructed Albert Knox in teaching strategies for captivating imagination by trying some instruments before the lessons are discussed. To be more realistic and insightful, Jostein asked the cameos of Disney and literary characters such as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in the Wonderland, and what not- not to mention of the biblical figures such as Adam and Eve and Noah of Arc. Cool! Why not? He’s got a clever idea. The class seems as interesting as best-selling it became , doesn’t it?

If so, naïve students, like Sophie, might, likewise, manage to answer the first questions given to her. Who are you? Where are you from? But at the end, after having been instilled in all the philosophical arguments, they might be left hanging with a question. To believe in God or not to, it is a question.

I read it as though I boned up on Philo 101 for a comprehensive test. But I did not find the class high-flown- let alone boring. The deeper the class, the more engrossing it is and the clearer I am on the points. In fact, like Sophie, I have not hung it together yet since I scratched the surface in university. But I would love to read it again and again. If I were cast away on a remote island, this would be one of the books I would ponder over. Why not? I need not to be hard upon myself. This book is no less a big help to me. No need to take my time to mull over the arguments among the philosophers. But for sure ingrained religious believers might raise their brows, for they might suggest the Bible be one of them a la Robinson Crusoe or Rodion Raskolnikof when he was sent to a jail in Siberia. As Albert Knox puts it, it is a bagatelle. (laughs)

The book appears to be a synopsis; it should have been a compendium. But it would doubtless fail to be a big hit. …. Jostein Gaarder knows his stuff.

It’s a bagatelle.It gave my mind pleasure. ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: A Book Review

evelynI learned this novel from one of Thomas Merton’s biographies. Then, I became curious why this novel had an impact upon his religious and spiritual journey.

Since Evelyn Waugh is said to have converted to Catholicism, I got confused about his real intention why he wrote such novel. There are some parts of the dialogues which appear to be inconsistent. Did he intend to channel his religious devotion in order to convert readers to Catholicism? Did he intend to differentiate between “believers” and “nonbelievers”? (Sighs!)

If an avowed atheist or agnostic like me reads it, without bias, there are some parts of the dialogues she /he will take an exception to:

(a) Sebastian Flyte’s and Charles Ryder’s characters. In the novel, Charles Ryder, the openly agnostic protagonist, is emotionally empty despite being financially comfortable, unsure of what he wants to do in his life. Did E. Waugh intend to symbolize him that life is “hollow” without religion? How sure E. Waugh of that (all) agnostics and atheists in general have these kinds of feelings? On the other hand, Sebastian Flyte is an alcoholic who gets astray since he ignores his deeply religious mother’s advice that he, if I’m not mistaken, enter an institution to rehabilitate himself. Eventually, he will abscond somewhere in Africa and become an object of charity under the auspices of a monastery. But he will still struggle for his alcoholism. What did E. Waugh intend to drive at?

(b) The ambiguous ending. Its ending is a little “lack of substance in plot”. In other words, it is not convincing for me that Charles Ryder converted himself in the end on account of Lord Marchmain’s concession to his (Lord Marchmain) daughter, Lady Cordelia’s suggestion that he he ask forgiveness for all the sins he has committed through the blessing and prayer of a priest. In fact, Charles Ryder insisted that Lord Marchmain could die or live to the other life, if there is one, without the blessing and prayer of a priest. Charles Ryder has more logical reasons, doesn’t he? Would E. Waugh reason that it could be the “Divine Grace”? Hmmm…it is another atomic collision between Religion and Science.

(c)The frustrating attitude of the religious characters. There is a scene that one of the characters made for the confession room, but was ignored. Another one is the Marchioness of Marchmain and her son, Bridey ‘s prejudice against Sebastian’s alcoholism as well as Lady Julia’s love affair with Charles Ryder; let alone Rex Mortamm’s insincere conversion. These plots are befuddling me. Should E. Waugh have characterized them positively? If she had done it, the story could be of use? Well, they must be the archetypes of religious upbringing. E. Waugh may have wanted to disclose the holier-than-thou in church.

Whatever Waugh‘s real intentions were, well, kudos to him! This novel is the product of his religious devotion- its content is creative, deep, and meaningful. I guess the panelists who included it in the list of the TIME’s 100 Best Novels of All Time could have been subjective.

I could be as subjective as the said panelists may have been, it is nevertheless compelling because of the intimate relationship between Sebastian and Charles Ryder. I wish E. Waugh meant to picture that homosexuality was repugnant at that time. Or I wish he were not that since their said relationship has been unsure and debatable among the readers whether both had a secret love affair. In my opinion, they had. ^^

To be enlightened, I read Evelyn Waugh’s biography in Wikipedia, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I am more intrigued by his religious viewpoints. I hope to read his other works.

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway : A Book Review

oldmanI may not know diddly about the criteria the panelists based on choosing this for Pulitzer Prize in 1953, for me , an ordinary reader like me can’t get at it. My mind was boggled at its middle part. I was even close to giving up, but still I did hang in there because I knew that its denouement would get it across me. At the end, I understood the concept . I bet its writing style or enigmatic story- how Ernest Hemmingway created such plots and settings – may have struck the panelists’ fancies.

The story is simply about an old man and the sea , who is at sea for 84 days. The old man has difficulties catching some fish , which is considered as “salao” or unlucky form for fishermen. At eighty fifty days, he lucks out a big fish which he believes can cost a lot and feed many people. However, he is unable to pull in , so he keeps on holding the line for two days. Then, he will be worn-out, but managed to load it on his skiff( which is physically impossible ) . To top it all off, he has to kill a line of sharks attracted to its dripping blood. It is a blood-curdling and breath-taking battle between Santiago and marlin.

After reading some secondary resources, it dawned on me that there is something in the story. It reminded me of an allegory from the bible. It could be. If you are in the same boat and feel like beating your head against a wall, I suggest you read it literary analysis on http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/oldman/

In the end, I appreciated the book. It is crystal-clear why the book is deserving of the Pulitzer Prize as well as of Nobel Prize. But since I tend to be subjective, I won’t be brainbrushed. ( laughs) Its fishy taste still remains in my tongue.But I won’t mind reading it again as well as his other works. I want to dig into Hemmingway more. ^^

Rating: 2/ 5 stars 

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: A Book Review

kitchenI bet my boots whoever has lost loved ones can relate to this. It has two stories ,but they have the same theme- struggling with loneliness.

The first story is KITCHEN. Mikage Sakurai is a Japanese woman who has lost her parents and closest grandmother consecutively. Eventually, she will become close with her grandmother’s friend, Yuichi, along with her transgender mother, Eriko. However, the sudden murderous death of Eriko will make a big difference to the lives between Mikage and Saturai. Meanwhile, Mikage will take to cooking as she is emotionally attached to a kitchen.

The second story is MOONLIGHT SHADOW. It  centers around the three characters: Satsuki, Hiiragi, and Urura. They will cross the same ways , for they are in the same boat. All of them have lost their loved ones. Sasuki’s boyfirend , Hitoshi, died in the accident , and will eventually be friendly with his late boyfriend’s brother, Hiiragi whose girlfriend also died in the same crash. Likewise, Sasuki will meet the mysterious woman, Urura at a bridge at walking night, who has lost someone, and will introduce the mystical experience of The Weaver Festival Phenomenon.

If you analyze the story, the theme has something to do with the effects of losing someone loved. Mikage seems to have empty feelings. She is relatively lonely. She has lost four people to whom she has almost attached. On the other hand, Satsuki, along with Hiiragi and Urura, has to get over the grief they have collected.

To take it out, the characters have different defense mechanism. Mikage wants to compensate her burdensome feeling to cooking. She even wants to escape from another emotional attachment to Yuichi. She seems to be tired and sick of losing the people she has loved repeatedly. At the end, it is not clear if she has to give up on Yuichi. In the Moonlight Shadow, the characters turn to the therapeutically mystical experience The Weaver Festival brings about.

To dig it deeper in the context of philosophy, reading it deals with “existentialism”. Life is empty if we do not have fill of personal choices.

Oh, Banana Yoshimoto’s finesse is fantastic. I was boggled in the middle and at the end of the story. I did not know that Kitchen and Moonlight shadow have different stories. She did manipulate my attachment to the characters with the same feelings. So, after finishing it right off the bat, I reviewed the other parts to connect as well as to make sure of what the relationship among the characters are . That’s why I really liked it. I want to read it again. Although I could feel the same unavoidable feelings passing through the pages of loneliness, I would not give a fiddle’s fart about them. Mainly because I understand how it feels to bereaved, to be lonely and to finds ways of struggling with grief. It’s another subjective epiphany!

Relatively speaking, the light flow of the story bears little resemblance to PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM by Kyung-sook Shin ( 3 stars). They have just different styles but both writers have hit the same target- to punch in your chest.

I want to eat another Banana stories. Encore! ^^

The Call of the Wild by Jack London: A Book Review

jackWhile reading this, there were four things bubbling in the chambers of my mind:

(1) Charles Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest”
(2) Nature vs. Nurture in psychology
(3) The vampire movie I have seen.
(4) Timbuktu, the dog in the novel of Paul Auster

Buck is accustomed to living in an uncivilized place where he has no idea of how horrible life is, for his masters are indifferent to him. Unfortunately, exposed to the law of club and fang, he needs intestinal fortitude, ignoring his ‘pure conscience “; rather, he will learn to follow his “primordial instinct” to fight off the biological motives. Apparently, Jack London anthropomorphized the dogs to illustrate how a man’s moral is developed. In fact, I learned that Jack London was primarily influenced by Charles Darwin‘s The Origin of the Species; and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. By virtue of these books, he may have had an idea of how to put his experiences in Alaska into such an unforgettable classic.

Since I have background in psychology, the ad infinitum debate about whether a man is developed by Nature or Nurture appears to be one of the themes of this novel. In the story, Jack London may have wanted to expound that a man, in the image of Buck, is built; that a man could be a blank sheet; that a man could be barbarian in origin. Buck in the story is dictated by his primordial instinct. In fact, London seemed to have used symbols to represent two kinds of dogs: uncivilized hard dogs in the North and civilized soft dogs in the South.

Absurdly speaking , the book reminded me of vampires, especially the Filipino movie” VAMPIRA” . In the movie, when the moon is full, the protagonist played by a famous actress transforms into a vampire whether she likes it or not. Her vampire instinct to eat flesh of animals including human is unruly. In the novel, the moon could be the symbol of his primordial instinct. Since Buck has been civilized by the virtue of his new master’s genuine love, there are times, however, that the “call of the wild” still specters him. Once to be tempted, he will overcome it for the good memories of his new master. Unfortunately, at the end, Buck backslides to his past when his “civilized community “is “annihilated’ by a group of Yaheets. Does it mean that under dystopic or disintegrated circumstances, a man could forget his feelings in the name of survival? Gee, this classic could be an interesting term paper in the context of other fields of studies. I believe that Jack London missed something.Nevertheless, I appreciated it a lot. ^^

Literally, the novel must deal with what a world of dogs is like, for us to come to the realization that dogs are not far different from us. They should be treated like a human being. (Uh-oh! I believe some readers have had ideas of dog life, so I recommend TIMBUKTU by Paul Auster. )In the Philippines, we have the laws on animal rights- which particularly put a great deal of stress on domesticated animals- strictly prohibit any body to make bad use of them. On the other hand, I guess in Alaska at that time may not have been aware of this reality, for dogs were used for sledding. But what struck me at the end is that LOVE is such a powerful element to make a big difference to our lives. ^___________^

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde : A Book Review

dorianA young, naive, shy man at 17 ,with finely-curved scarlet lips, frank blue eyes,crisp gold hair – this is how Dorian is hardly depicted in the novel.I may not be able to completely imagine how strikingly handsome he is, but based on how the painter, Basil Hallward, who appears to be a closet gay, is fond of and devoted to him is,well, I may fall in love with him too.Everyone could be a cradle-robber.(laughs) But despite his oomph, I were bound to stay away from him; he gives me the creeps. He is unpredictable. He reminds me of the psychopath in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Gee! For the life of me!

What makes the novel more interesting is that the characters’ dialogs are replete with polemic ideas. I have almost dogeared the book by highlighting the negative and positive points of Lord Henry particularly his ala Socrates feministic view. Shit on him! If he were such a real persona, I would rebutt him a lot. (laughs)
(But I think Lord Henry may be the smbolic archetype of the narrow-minded society at that time.)

The story for me is typical of a real novel.The beginning tells the emptiness of the protagonist ,its climax and ending narrates the cause and effect of his vainglory. In comparison with the famous writers in this modern century, they have different styles of how to circulate the plots. Besides, the good thing is Oscar Wilde peppered the story with witty words. However, since I am not much cognizant of the ancient literature, I could not relate to the figures and symbols namedropped in illustrating Dorian Gray’s obsession about beauty. I had to adverse myself to looking the archaic words up in a thick dictionary or in the Internet. ( Anyway,this is the essence of reading classics.)So reading the climax was like trudging through the mud, towards the flat , dry land of exciting denouement.

To understand Dorian Gray in the context of psychology, he is spectered by his bad childhood. Orphaned and repulsed by his grandfather, he has low-self esteem. Instilled in by Lord Henry’s philosophy and Basil Halwaark’s portrait of himself, he becomes vain about his looks. He wishes that the painting get along in years,for he loathes to get wrinkles himself . Beauty becomes his moral.For instance, he falls in love with a beautiful actress. He is crazy not only about her physical beauty, but also about her stellar performance on stage. But eventually, he will break up with her as she performs poorly. Vainglorious he is, he will not consider what his heart dictates to him. Rather, he will do as what his moral standard is- aesthetics. Unknowing to the consequences of his evil deeds, the painting turns out to have a soul;it will alter whenever he makes something immortal. It is a matter of Karma. As he wishes, the painting will become hideously ugly. But deep-rooted, he will be indifferent. He will become involved in orgies and other worldly activities. But since life is a matter of choice, Dorian Gray will have a deep realization, he wants to change. In fact, I was moved and I became empathic with him when he says,” I want to escape, go away, and forget.” Oh, poor Dorian Gray. He’s lost. As the banal saying goes,”Old habits die hard.” Whatever he does,whereever he goes, he will still be recidivistic, life has a moral consequence. As the introduction takes claims, ” There is always a price to be paid for uniquitous and self-indulgent behavior. ” It is a lesson we must keep in mind.

While reading this book, an idea bubbled into the chamber of my mind: It is human indeed that one who sets what is good or bad. But for sure, more or less the believers would rant and rave against my insight . As Lord Henry himself puts it,” It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue .” kkk

Before I read it , I was moved by the quotes – which must come from Wilde’s – about the concept of the novel, which I liked a lot.

The artist is the creator of beautiful things .
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

Oh, nice one. I remembered the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars