Books: schools for peculiar children

Alternate title: one topos, three books… and they could not be more different! Oh, except in that they all have a story that cannot be told without giving out too much! So no summary = no spoilers!

The book: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The edition:Italian translation by Paola Novarese, as published by Einaudi, softback, 295 pages

The good: I love Ishiguro’s writing, the detail, the tone, the language. (Or maybe I should say I love Ishiguro’s writing translated, because I never read him in the original.) And this book has a very interesting premise, believable characters, and a lot of potential for discussion.

The bad:the characters felt like they were only playing at emotions, playing at being human, but I’m not sure whether that’s the whole point of the book (as in, showing that they would not have a soul) or an unwanted byproduct. (Or even, an unwanted byproduct of what, at face value, seems a good translation.) Also, the whole premise was a bit far-fetched, and I was disappointed in how such a sensitive and controversial subject was brought up only to be downplayed.

The verdict: I’m very much on the fence about this one.

More: I went online and read many reviews, but there’s not one of them that does not give away the central mystery of this book.

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The book: Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

The edition: American paperback edition by Harperteen, 422 pages.

The good: well, I had read good reviews, but did not expect such a good book. I love the way the story unravels, little by little and mystery by mystery. I love the sense of place, of magic, of the hidden links between characters. I love the enclosed world Marchetta created, its rites and costumes. I love the different characters and how each of them goes on looking for his/her own way to adulthood.

The bad: Taylor’s whining and being something of a stereotype character (on this note: has anyone noticed how Katniss Everdeen is totally copied from her? The my-mother-doesn’t-care-about-me whining, the though attitude, the leading role, the “my name is Taylor/Katniss, I’m 17 years old” mantra, and even the unfriendly and savage cat?)

The verdict: this is why I keep reading YA books. The way the story is told is enough to put this book up in the same circle with some of my most loved ones (The God of Small Things, Goodbye Little Women).

More: this counts for the Aussie Author (although it did not feel very Australian to me), the Classic Double and the Semi-Charmed Summer challenges.

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The book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

The edition: Quirk Books hardback edition, 352 pages

The good: you know how we all craved for adventures when we were 7-8 years old and reading, like, Verne, or Salgari, or whatever adventure book it was at the time? This book makes you feel like that again, and the adventure it brings on is a well-stuffed one.

The bad: I really hoped that this would not turn out to be fantasy, I’d have preferred it that way — but that’s just personal taste. Also, I found the photos a little bit overly unsettling, and I didn’t like the very open ending.

The verdict: a good read for a hot summer day, when you want something different.

More: oh no! I just discovered this is going to be a series! For me, one was enough.

Book: Neuromancer

The book: Neuromancer, by William Gibson

The edition: Italian translation by Giampaolo Cossato and Sandro Sandrelli, as published by Editrice Nord, 256 pages

The story: see here (full story, spoilers included)

My experience with the book & my thoughts: imagine one of those spy stories or action movies where everyone is double-dealing and possibly triple-dealing and back-stabbing everyone else to the point that you come out of the theater with just a general idea of the plot, but would be hard pressed to explain the details. Now imagine a story set in a world that is completely different from what we know, and full of words that describe things we don’t have and therefore have no words for; and think about how difficult it is to enter this new world. Now combine the two and shake well. There you go, you have Neuromancer.
I read this with all the best intentions, but wasn’t ready for such impenetrable work. I understand that the effect was very much wanted, with Gibson saying:

I enjoy the idea that some levels of the text are closed to most readers.

and:

I was aware that Neuromancer was going to seem like a roller coaster ride to most readers- you’ve got lots of excitement but maybe not much understanding of where you’ve been or why you were heading there in the first place.

Except, I didn’t get the excitement.

What I liked: letting the book scare me for how much Gibson got it right.

What I didn’t like: everything else.

Language & translation: a “less than stellar” translation (yes, that’s an euphemism) didn’t help my understanding or enjoying the book — I don’t think it was my major problem, but it certainly didn’t help. Below the bad translation, I can see why someone would describe the writing as in a Goodreads comment I saw:

Gibson’s writing is poetry, not jargon. It’s personal, internal and emotional, not cold and externally descriptive. It’s the dark, fevered dream of a world where humanity and technology have been inextricably fused together with results both miraculous and profane. His prose is slick and jagged like a serrated knife; beautiful, breezy and hard-edged. His verse is color of gunmetal and electricity and the texture of anger spilling on a meadow of dashed hope and unearned rewards.

but that’s a level on which I cannot comment, obviously. Also, the names of real companies, and the word “microsoft” used as a common word (as opposed to a company name), gave me a strange sense of estrangement.

Links to better understand this book: (very much needed from my part!)

Read this if: I guess if you want to know about science fiction and cyberpunk, you’ll need to read this.

Counts as: Back to the classics challenge – a translated classic.

Books: the Hunger Games trilogy

Alternate title: why do I keep reading YA when I couldn’t care less about YA characters? (Beware: I am writing this assuming that most of you have read the books and know what they are about, so beware of spoilers!)

The book: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The edition: Scholastic paperback, 454 pages, plus author interview

The good: an interesting premise and a compelling (as in: easy and gripping) style. Makes me want to see where it is all headed to.

The bad: I cannot relate to or care about such a snotty little brat as Katniss, and I found all the arena adventures a bit on the boring side.

Wondering about: why all the Latin (Panem, Avox) and Latin-related culture (all those names, from Caesar to Cato; the chariots and the cornucopia)? And don’t tell me it’s just because of the “panem et circenses” reference.

Team Peeta or Team Gale? It’s not like Gale had any screen time up to this book, so Team Peeta it is (oh, wait, does it mean “who gets the lady”? Then I hope neither of them. They are both too good for such a fate)

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The book: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The edition: Scholastic paperback, 472 pages

The good: an interesting number of twists in the story, and even the arena was more interesting this time around.

The bad: most of the characters. Even Peeta and Gale act silly. And all the oooh- and aaah-ing of Katniss over her feelings — feeling guilty about the people killed in the Games, even though she didn’t really kill almost anybody, and trying to decide who is the boy she loves. I know she’s 17 and acting it, but I can’t stand this kind of thing any longer.

Wondering about: I hope for an explanation of how the Capitol/Districts society came to be. Such an enslaving arrangement only makes sense if the people in control consider themselves different from the rest — if the people in the Capitol were really aliens from another planet — but they aren’t.

Team Peeta or Team Gale? May I say Team Finnick?

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The book: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The edition: Scholastic paperback, 455 pages, plus acknowledgments

The good: I’m afraid I have little to say here, I felt completely let down. Style is still pretty engaging, though.

The bad: I felt let down, because there was much more promise in the first two than this did deliver. There was room for wonderful plot turns and symbols and explanations, but there weren’t. Instead we get horrible things happening (more than I could stand), more teenage geocentricism, a lot of useless and unheeded deaths, and no real explanation.

Wondering about: how could one life happily ever after with a hijacked husband? How could the former tributes (and Katniss among them) agree to have more Games? And also, all the little threads left hanging unexplained, such as: why did birds stop to listen to Katniss’ father? Why did Madge offer Katniss the pin? Why did Cinna want to stir a rebellion? etc. etc. etc.

Team Peeta or Team Gale? No, my man for this book is Boggs. I’m afraid that I’m showing my age here, by preferring the solid, affectionate adult over the overemotional teenagers, but he’s the only positive male figure in the whole book!

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Additional links:

[Old blog rerun] Book: Blindness

I found a way to recover part of my old blog content, so I decided to rerun some posts from that, mainly reviews of books I liked. The following review was part of a post first published in September 2009. (All tagging is new, and I’m afraid I don’t have any means of saving the old blog comments.)

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The book: Blindness, by José Saramago

The edition: Italian translation by Rita Desti

The story: a man in his car, waiting at a traffic light, suddenly finds himself blind. An inexplicable event that turns out to be a just-as-inexplicable, contagious illness. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but inside, anarchy and crime soon prevail. And to no avail: one by one, everybody falls victim to this new disease, the whole city, the nation, who knows, maybe the whole world. Except for a woman, who — inexplicably — remains safe in the middle of it all, and able to bear eyewitness to what happens.

My thoughts: scary. I’m not too much into the philosophical/metaphorical side of it (as in: what does blindness represent, is the woman immune because blindness can only have a meaning if opposed to vision, etc.), but to me this book is a clear, lucid representation of the horrors we can bring upon our race, horrors that we already did experience in human history. It could be colour, it could be ethnicity, it could be a white blindness with no cure, there’s no difference to it: people treating each other as animals, as inferiors, as non-human. Will we ever learn? And again, anarchy, hunger, crime, war: human beings have already been there, and still get back to it every time. For civilized that we think our society to be, we could fall back into it anytime. That’s what scares me when I think of the future. So I found this book scary, good but scary.

What I liked most: Saramago’s convoluted but fluid style, and the translator’s ability to render it. Bravo!

Read this if: if you like dystopian novels, if you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, and if you like convoluted style.

Counts towards: Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Portugal)