Saturday 31 December 2022

Book Review: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not a lover of fictionalised accounts of real peoples lives but I seem to have picked up a few recently. This was a book club read and I did manage to finish it. Barnes as usual writes well and has clearly done his background reading of the Shostakovitch biographies which he references in the Afterward, but I can only ever wonder which parts are truth and which are the fiction. What he does do well is expound upon the questions of courage and cowardice, conscience and survival, Power and art. At times it reminded me of Kafka, or of Solzhenitsyn. It does however read well the reader does not really need to know much about this musician to go with the flow of the novel and I mean that as a plus point. Mainly written as an interior monologue Barnes covers the denunciation of Shostakovitch, his visit to the USA and his joining of the Communist Party. Since this final act is a humiliation beyond all the others the story line is a sad one of a fearful artist, manipulated by and submitting to political dogma.

Thursday 22 December 2022

Book Review: Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated by Brian FitzGibbon

Miss Iceland

Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, transl. by Brian FitzGibbon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 

A deceptive, quiet, slow novel with no real ending which grasps the struggles of woman and gay men in 1960s Iceland and beyond. As the world goes through tumultuous change both physically with the 1963 sea volcanic eruption and creation of the new island of Surtsey, and socially with the assassination of JFK in the USA, the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's 'I had a dream' speech and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the narrator Hekla, poet and novelist, struggles against sexism in both workplace and in society at large. This is also the time of Miss World contests, the parading of young women in bathing suits, of measurement by vital statistics.

In Reykjavik she eyes the poets in their cafe huddle but does not venture in to join them. She moves in with one, Starkadur, but still keeps the fact that she is a published poet secret from him. As he struggles to write and be published, she writes and finishes her novel in secret. Inevitably he finds out, inevitably she leaves him.

Her friend Ísey, having gone down the socially expected route of marriage and family, finds herself married to a man who can barely read while she hides her diary in which she writes about what has not been said and what has not happened. Her other friend, Jón John, wants to make theatrical costumes but works and does not fit in to the traditional male domain of fishing and life aboard long haul deep sea trawlers and whalers. Persecuted by his work mates, in dreams of love and seeks escape.
How these four people understand each other and support each other is the up side to this novel - the power of friendship in times of powerlessness against persecution and prejudice.

The novel barely has what could be called an ending. I was disappointed that Hekla wasn't the volcano she was named after and didn't break through the glass cage. I was sad that escape was but a dream for them, that Jon John would have to wait more that the 'seven minutes to midnight' for a change in the law and that most likely the only dream likely to come to fruition would be Issy one of delivering hoards of children.

What this novel does very well is remind us who lived through these times how whilst everything may not be ideal things have thankfully changed for many if not for all - women can be successful published poets, novelists, writers; both men and woman can express there sexuality as they desire in many countries. But as I write this today we hear that after park bans and university education were stopped the Taliban in Afghanistan are now ceasing girls primary school education - yet another generation of dashed dreams and future generations of illiterate women with unfulfilled potential.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Book Review: The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison L. Strayer

The Years The Years by Annie Ernaux
Trans. by  Alison L. Strayer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not much of a Francophile and have never really holidayed there and will admit to having never heard of this author prior to her being shortlisted for this book for the International Booker in 2019 and winning the Nobel for Literature in 2022 and my book club chose it for its monthly read. Also I am not a fan of memoir or creative non-fiction. The Booker folk must have thought there was enough fiction in this to qualify but perhaps not enough to win. It has a very strange "we" voice with occasional lapses and even when it enters the third person it it referring to the girl , then young woman, in various photographs. This creates a weird sense of collective and individual in which to look back at their/her life experience from 1941 to the 21st century through a very nostalgic lens voiced as lists of events, things encountered . These lists of brand names, movies, music, politicians, historical events, social upheavals etc one level provoke the reader to think of the equivalents in their own lives, but after a while begin to feel like a bad history lesson. I found this wallowing in nostalgia, with little in the way of storyline or plot to be overwhelming. Combine this with the remoteness of the main character which the voice and style of writing creates I was just not engaged by the book. I persevered for half of it then really could not go on. It may well appeal to readers of memoirs and readers more in tune with all things French. Whereas brand names can usually be transmuted into those from ones one country many non-French readers may feel at a loss to relate to with regard to French Politics of the De Gaulle era, the Algerian war. I'm left with the feeling that the audience who will love this book is quite specific and does not include me .

View all my reviews