Welcome back to the Monthly Reviews series, where I chronologically list last months reads, along with a short reflexion and opinion regarding each book.
Here’s what I read in May:
Doris Lessing: The Fifth Child
Doris Lessing is a Nobel Prize laureate and her more complex books about South Africa are phenomenal. I would certainly recommend her as an Author and her novels The Golden Notebook or Grass is Singing. However, this short story failed to deliver somewhere along the way.
The Fifth Child is a psychological story about two individuals perfect for each other meeting at exactly the right moment, building a wonderful home, having lovely children, and then having that cursed fifth child ruin it all. The build-up is a really well-written love story, the pacing is great as are the character studies – for the adults as well as for the children -, but the somewhere at the supposed climax the story gets lost from the writer.
As can surely happen with such delicate topics it seems she was left a bit clueless as to what to actually do with this complex and highly disturbed individual, so she sort of just let the story build out and the suspense to dissolve.
All in all: up until the last third of the story it’s a satisfying read, but the ending might be disappointing for some. I do recommend those novels I mentioned above.
Heinz Strunk: Der goldene Handschuh
Heinz Strunk is a german television personality, comedian, journalist and then a writer – so all of those aspects are incorporated into what the gist of The Golden Glove actually is. First and foremost it is the story of Fritz Honka, alcoholic and deadbeat, but also just a guy looking to catch a break.
It reminds me of Aronofskys Requiem for a Dream (just talking about the book though): three characters living at the absolute bottom, dreaming about things a regular person considers normal and takes for granted: socialising with the opposite sex, having a source of income, being able to take a holiday from time to time, putting food on the table et cetera.
It certainly creates enough empathy for all of them to be surprised at the fact that they are all psychopaths and have to humiliate, hurt – and in one case, kill – others to feel whole. In addition to that small detail, all of the characters come together in the bar called “To the golden glove”, where everybody is bat shit crazy.
The movie made on the basis of the novel was branded vile and disgusting (source) and lacking in psychological depth – although the brutality rate should be deemed acceptable, since the first dismembering happens within 10 minutes into the movie.
The Golden Glove in its book version is a deep psychological analysis about characters who are in the deepest bottom pit of life, and it shows them as humans with feelings and aspirations. At the same time it shows their pathology and their destruction on other humans. This balance is quite extraordinary and makes for a very, very interesting read. All the novel wants to show and do, it achieves, while also being very well composed and worded. I would certainly recommend this novel.
Patrick Rothfuss: Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear
Rothfuss says in the introduction to the first part of his fantasy trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicles that his father tought him to take his time to do something but to get it right on the first try. He has definitely achieved that with the first two parts of this fantasy trilogy. It almost justifies the ridiculously long wait for part three, which I am eagerly awaiting to hit shelves, hopefully next year.
The Chronicles tell the story of Kvothe whose family is mysteriously killed by the ruthless Chandrian who are as old as time and whose true identity of purpose is unknown to the world. Kvothe sets out to revenge his parents, but to succeed in his endeavor he must first master the art of naming in the Academy, where subjects such as alchemy and sympathy are taught.
In order to succeed, Kvothe survives an unhappy period living as a beggar in a large city, endures constant struggles to maintain his upkeep and fight his enemies (of which there seems to be an endless supply), master the tasks set upon him by his masters, and while doing all of this, educate himself on the matter of the Chandrian. The searh for the name of the wind seems almost subsidiary… until it isn’t.
Kvothes journey through different realms, different societies and his taking on different roles is a web of quests and side quests intricately put together, and although his character development is constant and well-composed, until the second part there are still about ten storylines to complete, and the suspense could not be higher.
This is a coming of age story, an independent and very fascinating mythology, a real which stands on its own but is surely connected to many other fantasy worlds. And, of course, a mysterious and complex love story is in there as well.
Anyone who appreciates a good fantasy series will be enamored by the Kingkiller Chronicles. I could not put either of those books down and would highly recommend reading them.
Gao Xingjian: Soul Mountain
Chinese emigré author Gao Xingjian’s plays are considered to be avantgarde. His novels, however, (I’ve already talked about One Man’s Bible here) are somewhat of a meditation on life, the narrative has no suspense or clear structure, but rather the path is the purpose of it all.
One Man’s Bible was like that, depicting one mans travels and feeling of detachment, and Soul Mountain goes even further in my opinion, since it depicts one man’s travels in search of a lonely mountain top away from civilization.
The protagonist, a writer, has been wrongly diagnosed with lung cancer and since getting his clean diagnosis wants to get in touch with nature and travel to Lingshan mountain. On his way he meets several people from small villages, listens to their stories, meets a female companion, has a tumultuous relationship with her, and stemming from that, reflects on his other encounters with female individuals during his life and his travels.
This novel is meant to be read in small pieces, since as a whole it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You will not find a carefully crafted suspenseful character arc or one developing story to follow, but plenty of reflections on the human condition, on the relationship of man and nature, on the way lovers can exhaust each other, and other rather interesting topics.
In addition to that, there are plenty of random stories and meetings with monks, party officials, village children, venerable elders and people from all walks of life, who as a collective serve the realistic depiction of chinese village life, and how the people think and what they know when they’ve lived their whole life away from the noise of politics and modern influences. It also shows how the party has successfully held its grip on even the smallest part of the country, which is somewhat macabre, and somewhat admirable.
In conclusion, this novel is a higly quotable as One Man’s Bible was, but it is even more a meditation on life than a continuous narrative.
If such a style is not your preference, you will not gain a lot from this book. If it is, however, you are in for a quiet and peaceful treat.
To summarize: May was a great reading month. Although Lessing didn’t impress me as much as I hoped she would, I know her to be great from her other work. Above that, I finally found a fantasy series that captivated me completely, and had some quite moments of reflection with Chinese literature.
A successful book month in almost every aspect!