Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan: A Book Review

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“We are all powerless in the face of evil. No, no, that’s not true. We are powerless when we wait for other people to act on our behalf. Yes, that’s it. The truly powerful man is the man who stands alone.”

I had never yet read such a mystery/ crime novel in Filipino, so I  must join my fellow  Filipino readers celebrating and heralding  this book  as the first ever Filipino crime novel.

I am even drawing a theoretical conclusion  that its being the first crime novel  could have been  one of the reasons leading the panelists of the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize ,  National Book Award , and Madrigal-Gonzalez Award  to give the award . Nevertheless, I would have mulled over the two reasons if I had been one of those respected panelists: It is well-written and timely and relevant to the present state of the country.

In my book, crime novels are blood-curdling and nerve-racking in my imagination. I can’t stand pages scattered with horrendous, horrible, hideous, and heinous scenes. They are so intense that I could collapse with cardiac arrests as though I were a witness to a crime committed by a killer, trembled with fear that I might be the killer’s next victim. I would say that one of the best examples of such novels   is Native Son by Richard Wright. Read it! I promise you. At the same time, crime novels are   unpredictable, puzzling, and brain-bashing to the extent that they would tax my stamina, and I would be at the end of my wits. But, in the end, you would let go of the breath you would have been holding for a long time. Therefore, Smaller and Smaller Circles, however, did not meet those characteristics or elements I have been borne upon. It is not that extremely arresting in that a faint-hearted would die of it. I would just remember the cliché that curiosity kills the cat. In fact, I did not even give a fig about who the criminal is, nor did I feel that there is a case the sleuths have to resolve. Rather, what I felt were the deeper and compassionate   friendship between Father Saenz and Father Lucero – Could I assume it a bromance if I were malicious? – the dog-eat-dog atmosphere in the National Bureau of Investigation, and  the powerful hierarchy of Catholicism in the Philippines. The crime case is finally emphasized in the climax, but not that revealing as what I had expected. My reaction was just that I nodded in agreement with both Father Lucero’s and Saenz’ final whodunit conclusion. In fact, anyone could guess the identity of the criminal.

Like the other writers in general, it took the author many years to finalize it. The first time she wrote it was in 1996 when she was still in her mid-twenties; the second one was in 2013 when she was in her forties. As a matter of fact, her desire to continue writing it was inspired by her deep-seated anger toward the miserable state of the Philippines due to callousness, complacency, and corruption as she put it in her acknowledgments. Consequently, the book is steeped in simply beautiful   sentences with a profound impact. They are not jaw-breakers to assimilate. There is no such feeling as “stuck in between the lines”. Rather, reading the next lines is unruffled. However, the author may have come to the point that she was at loss for any ideas. I guess it is somewhere in her first book. So, it could be obvious that she may have patched this part with her second part. Nevertheless, it’s neither here nor there since such situation happens to all writers. It is just a matter of creativity.

The most important thing that would lead me, as a panelist, to consider it deserving of those literary prestigious awards above is how the author thought about the characters. The characters represent each unit in society such as the two Jesuits who happened to be liberal and crusader against   hypocrite priests in the Philippine Catholicism, the incorrigible   director of the NBI surrounded by sharks in the institution, the reporter who is hungry for factual information, the poor families of the criminal’s victims: All simply paint the real political, economic, and social state of the Philippines as what the author must want to convey to her readers. Therefore, the recurring themes are pivotal rather than its whodunit concept.

This novel was published in 2002.It has been reprinted four times since the book was, needless to say,  hyped up by the  literary award-giving  bodies, not to mention some  book club sites like Goodreads. No wonder it has still been one of the best-sellers in some prime book stores in the country.

 It occurred to me that:

*Another interesting thing about this novel is that both protagonists are priests and forensic experts by trade. It’s a common perception in the Philippines that priests only say homilies and prayers.

*I didn’t like the ending. I have read and watched it many times.

* Could anyone tell me where in the world psychopaths don’t exist? Hahaha

Rate: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.) 

Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong: A Book Review

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The first book written by Bob Ong  that led me to the portal of his idiosyncrasies is Bakit Baliktad Magbasa Ng Libro Ang Mga Pilipino?  I was impressed by his ways of writing out his ideas or opinions in a conversational way. Reading it was like an editorial article full of facts but funny, intended not only for young but also old adults . Besides, I sensed his  hidden blaze of nationalism. Amused, I borrowed Macarthur from my cousin who happened to be his avid reader. After that, I was magnetized again because the theme is not that as deeply  and humorously academic and journalistic as the former one but, instead, it is a simple story that young readers may never forget because it reflects the social problem with illegal drug. The story is so worth remembering. No wonder when you ask a young avid fan about which Bob Ong books his/ her favorite is. I bet my boots that it is one of them. And please, count me in. The  very thought of the sachet of  crystal meth floating  in the pooped bowl  repulses me!

I was in university when I got the opportunity to read another Bob Ong book. Another Bob Ong fan lent me some of his other works. I got the good chance of reading Stainless Longganisa . But I admit that I found it pretty boring. It is just a story of how a writer struggles with completing his book or having it published.  If it is so, why did Bob Ong make it more complicated with his satirical dramas?  He could have just written it in the other way around. But who am I to cast aspersion on his writing style? Walang basagan ng trip.This is his trademark.

I was disappointed more after reading his other books such as Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas  and Kapitan Sino .  They almost have the same pattern. The situation is like all Bob Ong has to do is to strike up a witty conversation with me ,with his satirical sentiments and dramas. Thereafter, I got sick and tired of Bob Ong. Nakakasawa na. I promised myself then that I would not read another Bob Ong books.

I tried to read another Bob Ong when  friends of mine  gave me an intriguing  idea of Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan . My friends said that it is a scary one. HmmmAnother friend tampered with my febrile imagination claiming that she could not sleep it off. After burying myself in it for the whole night, yes!  My friends did not prove me wrong. I was horrified. Somehow, it scared me so witless that I would it put down when I did not want to read what would happen next. I did not want to picture how the scenes look like. Then, my hair stood on end when I patched all the puzzling parts together. Gee, that’s why?  A typical reaction when you have come to understand everything. Who won’t forget the scene when the grandma who is supposed to be dead gets up from its bed to approach Galo, the protagonist? Who regretted reading the Latin phrases at the end of his each diary? How about the secret room in where the human –sized saints are kept ?

The story is clearly manipulating because Bob Ong intended to play our imagination. All the settings are mixed. He intended to lead us in some parts which turn out to  be the  linchpin of the  horror. For instance, Galo also makes us  read the Latin phrases he reads out of curiosity. Even though I didn’t understand the words, I still kept on reading them. But , in the end, I deeply regretted doing so. You should not read them if I were you. It is a warning. Plus, the twins, Jezel and Niko .Potek,I thought they were just ‘saling pusa’.

I was first confused with some information with which Bob Ong padded in the story. For instance, the date of the setting is in 1998. But MTB, a famous noon-time show ,was not aired in that year yet. Another thing is a high-tech computer. As far as I know, high-tech computers were unveiled in the 2000’s. There are some more happened in the 2000’s Bob Ong played back in the 1990’s. Thus, I inferred that Bob Ong loves to scrabble all the things that happened from different generations.

My friend speculates that Bob Ong may have written it off the cuff. He may have dabbled in writing it in a corner without any specific theme on his mind. So, his publisher may have ignored it and still seen its potential to give his readers the creeps knowing that he has established a name in the market.  Or she may have meant to say that the story begins with Galo’s “nega moments”; then, all of a sudden, it segues into a horror part. Thus, the book appears to be inscrutable because she is not sure what Bob Ong may want to imply in this book since all his books appear to have satirical meanings. But apparently, one of the insinuations could be that anyone can have a Cinderella life. Of course not! Galo does not have a Princess Charming.( laughs)

Somehow, there are good points in the story that caught my interest aside from the “katatakutan” moments. I liked the philosophical conversations between  Mama Susan and Galo although I find them obscure and irrelevant to whatever Bob Ong wants to preach to us. Besides, if it were not Mama Susan’s revelation about Galo’s past , I would really have demoted Bob Ong to all  wannabe writers (like me)  by giving it one  out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  Fiddlesticks! I wish I read books literally.

As a matter of fact, after reading it, I don’t want to give it a try again nor flip through its pages  given that I found it not that really scary . Perhaps, I just don’t want to read the Latin phrases anymore. Gee, it is the impact on me!

Warning: Please, don’t read the Latin phrases.  Just skip them.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: A Book Review

thegirlontetrainThe winner of the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Mystery and Thriller.  It narrowly defeated Stephen King’s Finders Keepers and  J.K. Rowling’s  Career of Evil under her pen name Robert Galbraith. I have not read the latter ones yet, but I am aware that Stephen King is well- known for writing such genre. How about Rowling’s skills in captivating her audience with her magic spell?  So I cannot comparatively but subjectively criticize it if this is deserving of the award. Don’t take umbrage at me, Ms. Hawkins.

I may not be a movie snob, but I believe that this is the agglomeration of the author’s collected ideas she may have drawn from the mystery and thriller movies she has watched, needless to say from the books she has read. I bet my boots Stephen King is one of her influences. So there are some parts in the book which are not new to me any longer: I guess who among the characters the real killer is. It is the kind one who turns out to be the bad one;  the part when another character drowns her baby to death. This sounds Greek to me. Where did I read and watch it? ; Rachel’s episodic-memory  scenes ; and the victim’s husband will be the protagonist’s friend and eventually enemy.

Nevertheless, the author wrote her collected ideas very well. The sentences are light, loose, and expressive which I believe are essential in writing a mystery and thriller. I can imagine the vivid scenes. I can connect to the characters. I can sense the suspenseful parts. However, I notice that there are some parts which enervate and undermine the excitement in reaching the climax such as too many emphases on the protagonist’s abject misery. She does something like this and like that off and on. In addition, the idea of alternate personal accounts among the three characters, notably between Anna and Megan, taxes my interest in and focus on Rachel, the protagonist. I do not care much about both of them; I just want to focus on Rachel. How about playing down to some other characters such as the two detectives? In other words, the author intends to leave us readers hang in the air which I find monotonously dreary and annoying . Ooops! You might find me now harsh, but I mean business. Mea Culpa.

Despite that the book appears lacking  originality, there is one thing that I found somewhat interesting. It is  the main character’s role. She is a divorcee and   dipsomania as well. That is why she loses her job.  In fear of shame, she pretends to go to work   by staying on the train where she forms her   fantasies and in a library where she reads and reads and reads- the settings I have not read yet.

Since Goodreads, the largest book club site in the world, catapulted it to fame, for sure,  Ms. Hawkins will be expected to write something better than this. Congratulations to Ms. Hawkins!  I am sure she takes her hat off to the readers who voted for her. Can I still belong to them? ^_^

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It’s OK.)

 

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe: A Book Review

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“All the beautiful things in this world are lies. They count for nothing in the end.”

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy-

You might cringe and boggle at it if you give it a try. The novel is written with very little punctuation without separating the dialogs and thoughts. I could not even follow the exact settings. That is why I put it aside for almost one month. Perhaps I am not used to this kind of writing style. In the end, I have gotten around to it. I have teased its essence out. The writing style is the mental state of the protagonist. Also, the content of the book has satirical meanings.

Amidst the intricate narration, it occurred to me that Patrick McCabe wants to illustrate how a child, unloved, a victim of a broken family for his mother is verbally and physically abused by his sardonic alcoholic father and has suicidal tendency and committed for a mental institute, molested by a priest, ratted on by his only best friend, Joe Purcell, perceives his little world. In the end Francie becomes a psychopath killing Mrs. Nugget.

In the context of satire, the psychological instability of Francie Brady has something to do with the socio-political state of Ireland during the sixties. At that time, there was rapid change as well as ethnic and political violence within Ireland, which is the responsible for molding a dysfunctional family. In addition, the novel alludes to the TOLL TAX, the moral status of the church, IRA, and what not. Only an Irish or World History scholar could best analyze it literally.

Although the book was intentionally written for Ireland, so I could not completely relate to its real socio-political history, the novel is still engrossing. Poor Francie. He bled my heart. If I were Irish, I would give it 5 stars.

If I had long vacation, or reached my retirement age, it would be one of the books I would give a try again. Why not? I liked the creative idea of Patrick McCabe. ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti: A Book Review

Niccolò+Ammaniti+-+I'm+not+scared+3Niccolò Ammaniti is an Italian writer. This book, I’M NOT SCARED ( Io Non Ho Paura in Italian), said to have redounded his fame and caught the interest of the international mecca of the literati. Me too! Me too! Me too! I want to count myself in them.

The first idea occurred to me while reading the first and second parts of this novel was Mark Twain ‘s The Adventures of Thomas Sawyer;it is sort of a picaresque novel.The main characters are also as young as Thomas Sawyer,so I was expecting that the story was something excerpted from one of the scenes in the book which centers around one concept. The only big differences are that Thomas Sawyer on the one hand,is naughtier,more audacious,has more sense of adventures with the Pollyanna principle.(No doubt children find him amusing.) Michelle Amitrano, the protagonist,on the other hand,is deeper. He bears all the hallmarks of naiveté, a young child full of curiosity about life,faith,family,and so on- a typical child as we used to be.It may be due to his parents’ ignorance of child psychology since his father is busy with his “monkey business ” , and his mother is often petulant.So when you read it,emphatic with him as though regressing to his age,you might jump to the conclusion why he channels his sexual energies into jejune and puerile adventures.I like Michelle. I can relate to him. ^_^

On the brink of finishing the denouement , I opined that I am almost familiar with the story I’m fed up with. TV writers and directors are always adapting this kind of story for TV films and dramas which they may have drawn inspiration from other novels, just the like of this Nicollo Ammaniti’s who himself may have done it likewise since this novel was published in 2001;then translated into English by Jonathan Hunt in 2003.Thus, I may give 1 star if I watch it on TV.
As a matter of fact, it has been adapted for an Italian film and I wonder if it is as interesting as the book. Could I give it 1 star too? Or I could be brainwashed as when I saw the film adaptation of the LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding of which I understood the story more, and eventually it ended up as one of my most favorite novels.

Nevertheless, nothing beats reading such kind of garden-variety story put into a book, written with beautiful sentences,peppered with vocabularies I am almost familiar with, and I could commit to memory more. Then,I was amused,chuckling, snickering,turning my head ;at the same time, I was moved ,holding my breath ,skipping a beat until,at the end of the story, I was cut to the bone as though I could not get over the fate of Michelle- I was screaming bloody murder. Blanketyblank father of his! Whoa, it is readable in one breath.

When you finish the story,you might say the ending is tearfully lamentable. But I would say that the ending as the writer intended is clearly understood. I won’t ask anything more because I have had an idea. He should not have narrated it more. Also, no need to appeal to its sequel. The ending is enough to leave you bewildered,tinged with a wave of painful reactions- anger, pity,and disappointment. It is a tearjerker more than on TV films and dramas I have watched .

Lesson learned: As the hackneyed saying goes,” FEAR IS AN ILLUSION” like what Michelle said to his friend Filippo ,when he was left in the hole,” You are not scared …there is nothing to be scared of .” Oh, poor Michelle! T_T

This book is a good read. The story is rather deeper, more realistic and sensible- something different with the other stories on TV if it had not been for the styles how the writer himself molded the sentences.

Rating : 4/ 5 stars