An Infinite Jest Odyssey [1]

The only things I know about this book are through the YouTube videos of Sailing La Vagabonde (Riley is a massive fan of Foster Wallace) and from the film The End of Tour (which I have wrote about – https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-end-of-the-tour-inspiration/).  Cult author David Foster Wallace was an interesting character and so this book is a way into his mind more than anything.  It is a mammoth, clocking in at over 1000 pages and the foreword by Dave Eggers is a warning of how tough it is.  That sounds like the perfect kind of novel to write about, and I’m hoping it works out better than War & Peace did.

Pages 3 – 55

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This book has a unique chapter setup, where they are short, and basically all called the same thing.  Consequently 55 pages may not seem like a lot, but it has felt like a journey already. The text is precise and full of description, making each line incredibly dense with information. However it is still beautifully written, and reminds me of the other great American novels that I have read, such as The Great Gatsby or One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. The narrative is disjointed and confusing, probably purposefully so in a sort of post-modern way.  It appears that Wallace is picking out parts of the story and jumbling them up, and that makes it jarring but enjoyable, in a Pulp Fiction kind of way. From this Wallace presents moments, instead of a series of them, and tells them with an effective comedic tone.  It comes across as him poking fun at the situation whilst also mind-numbing you with exaggerated scientific terms.  I’m pretty much hooked on the book already and I want to read more of it; I’m just not sure if re-telling the plot will ever be possible.  As far as I can tell we are sometime in the near future, and it is a balance of stories between different characters with different problems.  The world is perhaps somewhat breaking and at the centre we have Harold Incandenza, a tennis protege, who is equally conflicted as he is genius.

Wallace is aware of his skill and his use of similes is remarkable.  An example of this would be, on page 5: “My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it”.  Now this is beautifully observant, but shows the uniqueness and oddity of the book.  Wallace constantly drifts off into a bizarre realm, yet keeps his writing poignant and stylistic. The humour and wit is what keeps surprising me, and at the top of page 12 Hal says: “I do things like get in the taxi and say, the libary and step on it”.  I found myself chuckling at this, and this whole chapter is one of the most intriguing.  It is a conversational exchange that is both funny and challenging, leading up to the climax that shows the first themes of loss in the book.  There are some parts of this first 55 pages that I cant’t get my head around, like the technical terms that are completely made up by Wallace.  Despite this, as I’ve said, the characteristics of the writing is brilliant enough to keep me going at this point.

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What I’m loving most about the book is that it is coming together like all my favourite novels, and on top of it has this layer of Wallace individuality.  I would recommend it to anyone who is a lover of fiction, or has studied English Literature, and can understand the intricacies of the storytelling.  Overall I’m thinking about the book a lot, which is exactly what I wanted.

Side-note:  I bought a second hand copy of this book, and when I unwrapped it, a German trivial pursuit card fell out of it.  It is like the start of a great mystery.

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A War & Peace Odyssey [3]

Second edition: https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-war-peace-odyssey-2/

I have given up

Somewhere in the middle of the second part of the novel I realised I wasn’t enjoying it, and not in a necessarily bad way.  I greatly appreciate the books brilliance and it’s certainly an easy read, I just don’t know what I’m getting out of it.  The mountain feels climbed to me, and I’m sitting at the top anxious to go back down.

The truth is, I have a found a new book to agonise over, Infinite Jest.  It feels closer to me and a more intense experience, so expect an Odyssey on that not long after this has posted.

A War & Peace Odyssey [2]

First edition: https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/a-war-peace-odyssey/

Part Two: Pages 112 – 200

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This part is definitely the War part of the novel.  Tolstoy is detailing a battle between the Russian and the French army, as well as the diplomacy that comes with it.  At the centre is Prince Andrei, who was introduced in the first part.  He is an interesting character, as Tolstoy in this chapter clearly outlines his faults, but in the first part he was almost shown as a god from the perspective of Pierre.  This part is gripping in its tales of war, however I found some of it quite disorientating.  Not because it is complex in its language, but due to me noticing Tolstoy’s over indulgence.  Many of the chapters in this part seem to be a back and forth between armies and leaders.  It’s fascinating enough, yet it came across as bloated.  Thankfully, in the closing moments of this part, the pace picked up and the building tension was paid off.

What I’m finding is that this book is an easy read, and I think that is diminishing my ability to read between the lines of the narrative.  It presents itself as Tolstoy enjoying himself as he crafts the story together, rather than anything greatly profound.

A War & Peace Odyssey [1]

Odyssey definition: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.

I’m not going on an Odyssey, I’m reading a book.  War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy is one of the most celebrated novels of all time.  Being the annoying vacuum of culture that I am, I decided I would give it a go.  I use the term Odyssey because the thought of this book is terrifying.  It is 1200 page long story about Russian nobility during the height of Napoleon Bonoparte’s European dominance.  Thankfully, I caught the BBC version of it last year, and it gave me the courage to buy and now read the mammoth novel.  What I’m going to try and do on here is breakdown the book, for my own benefit and also to hopefully show that this book is not scary at all.

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Part One: Pages 1-112

I am so glad I watched the BBC television version before reading this.  It means that I can put names to faces and remembering characters is much easier.  And remembering the characters is key.  It’s key because Tolstoy bounces around between them and of course they all have long Russian names.  Though each character is carefully designed to be recognised when they appear.  For example, Pierre, the most protagonist like is described as overweight and unattractive, as well as been easily noticed by his bold political views. The princes and princesses each have their own traits and this allows Tolstoy to separate their stories from one another.  With that being said, I was surprised by how interwoven the characters are and how close together the situations are.  It seems to flow from one dinner party to the next, making the narrative tight.  However the universe is clearly expansive in its issues as the dialogue between the players is very complex.  They are mostly discussing Napoleons advancements and this opens up conversations about politics during wartime.  It’s as interesting as it is hard to pick apart and so far I’m really enjoying the book.  The first part is a simple read and I’m starting to fall down the rabbit hole of Russian nobility of the early 19th century.

The Movie Doctors & Trainspotting: Book Reviews

I read these two books over about a week and it felt great. Reading books is a great feeling. It is an accomplishment when you finish them.  A race that has been won.  A mountain that has been climbed.  Now I haven’t read War and Peace in a few days but a book about films and a beloved cult novel.  This doesn’t make me less proud of my self.  I have burned through around 800 pages and it has left me extremely content.

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I was gifted The Movie Doctors by my flatmate because he knows how much I admire it’s author’s Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo.  Famously the BBC radio film review team, they are literally the best double act in movies.  If you have never watched/listened to their reviews on Radio 5,  I would highly recommend it.  This book is pretty much non-fiction in its style, with the ‘doctors’ part of it being the foundations of the content.  Essentially, they use illness diagnoses to discuss film.  It is cluttered with movie references and recommendations from Kermode, with a dialogue with Mayo every now and then to keep it grounded.  A must read for film geeks, as the the spectrum of the industry discussed is broad.  Simply read, and put together,  I would push anyone towards this book as I’m sure there’s something in the pages for them.

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I bought Trainspotting in Edinburgh and was surprised by how much I was engulfed by it. The film is very precious to me (reviewed the sequel on here) and I have this rule (that I often break) where I don’t read the original novel of a film that I love.  This is due to me believing that a film can stand on its own, but I succumbed to Scottish pressure and read the legendary piece of fiction.  The short answer is that I loved it.  It now sits nicely in my brain next to the film where it can stay to be a companion to it.  The Scottish style in which it is written so brilliantly by Irvine Welsh is thoroughly entertaining.  It makes the book so readable and the world so easily to fall in to.  Every chapter is full of mental remarks and incidents that are strange but profound.  Alongside the film it is gritty and real but most of all fun to read.  There is a chapter in this book that hit me so hard, and was so unexpectedly gruelling and heart wrenching that I had to take a quick break before carrying on.  Overall, you have to read this book, it is as seminal to me as The Beach was (also reviewed on here) and is timeless as a work of art.

I have bottled down 800 words of pure thrill into two paragraphs so this feels less of an accomplishment.  Next I am going to read War and Peace and hopefully get a certificate when I turn over to the last page.

The Beach – Book Review

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I have called this a review just because of the semantics/titling.  It’s more like a ‘I’ve actually got through a book and fucking loved it’ kind of thing.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I spend in charity shops looking at books thinking I could buy and read every single one of them.  ‘The Beach’ is one that I actually bought; think for 70p.  And to say I’m late to the party with this one would be an understatement, considering it was published 20 years ago and the author (Alex Garland) has gone on to write and now direct many massive films (28 days later, Ex Machina etc). Though I guess a book is for the time that you read it and not the time everyone else did, if that makes sense?  I mean I read Emily Dickinson poems in school 150 years after she penned those bad-boys and thought they were as sexual as the Victorians did.

Anyway I picked it up because I saw Garland’s name, being a fan of his work in film.  And I’ve got to say I’m pretty much in love with the guy after I conquered this book just last night.  It’s a story for the backpackers, which I’m totally not and I profess that any travelling I do is nowhere near Eastern Asia, where the story is set.  To be honest the plot is quite difficult to describe because about half way through the book I was convinced it was about nothing; simply a meandering tale about some gap year tossers looking for a lovely patch of sand.

The events of the narrative crept up on me and the dark characterisation of the voice  of the book (Richard) is slowly unravelled before being thrown in your face by the final third. Minor spoilers here but the imaginary friend plot played a bigger role than I thought it would and becomes the main arc with about 100 pages to go.  And for me these were the weakest points of the novel but it’s honestly brilliant when it picks up the pace towards the end.

Essentially I found that this book was a series of escapism writing, but the sort of escapism I don’t really want.  This is probably why I liked it, a nicely paced travel book suddenly became a real blood and anguish thriller at any moment.  It had the ability to shock me and interest me, though most importantly engage me.  I banged out about 420 pages in a week and it’s inspired me enough to write this, so I must have enjoyed it.

To give it a score would be cheap, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone and now I’m eager to see the film adaptation, that I’ve heard is shit.