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 June:
Juli Zeh: Spieltrieb (2004)
The Gaming Instinct is a scary and highly fascinating novel.
Game Theory, according to this novel, is based on the necessity of a conflict, of a gameplay, and the necessity to manifest an opponent strong enough to present a challenge. This is Alev’s motivation, and when Ada, who seems to lack empathy alltogether, is drawn into his game, the stakes keep rising higher and higher.
It is hard to remain neutral towards the end, although the subject matter is handled in a very intellect-centered manner from start to finish. But another theory about reading a story states that once your emotional brain starts reacting to and with something you read or experience, it overwhelms your rational brain and it switches off for that moment.
So when a teenage girl allows to film herself having sex with a teacher, empathy with who is supposed to be the victim should be the furthest thing from our minds.
But Zeh has portrayed these children so cunningly that while we strive to understand them, they almost remain analytical subjects, an experiment we are also asked to observe without emotion.
An absolutely brilliant book, but not for the light-hearted reader.
Also: the movie version of this masterpiece is utter shit. Please avoid it.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910)
This is a traditional Fin de Siecle type novel. The diary of a blasé young man living alone in his apartment contains unnerving childhood memories, morbid thoughts, a shallow love story and philosophical aspirations. Malte Laurids Brigge observes the Paris he lives in at the time, analyses himself fastidiously and makes suggestions about the lives of others he sees from his window, or others‘ opinions on him or his status and background.
Since this is Rilke, there is quite the load of emotions and ideas inside the protagonist’s head that can be of value. His thoughts on people living pre-formed lives, stepping into one of four already existing paths of life and on the whole doing nothing, not one original thing of their own is quite wittily put and scarily true.
However, from the middle of the diary it just gets repetitive and the self-obsessedness of the main character is no longer charming in an awkward but merely annoying way.
J. M. G. Le Clézio: Desert (1980)
Clézio’s novels won him a Nobel prize recently, and his Desert is an interesting piece, full of exotic desert landscapes, silent but mystical characters who are supposedly able to perform miracles, and in a sense promising of magical realism in the beginning.
However interesting the main characters may be, and however they may reach their destination, Desert lacks a climactic ending to justify the multifacetedness of his two protagonists.
The main topic of fernweh, the longing to travel, see the world, find a home within whilst feeling like a stranger everywhere, is Camus’esque as many critics have described Clézio. The way towards the end is certainly gripping. But because the finish fails to be what is anticipated, I would read this novel with caution.
It is an enjoyable novel, but not unforgettably amazing.
Herta Müller: Herztier (1994)
(The Land of Green Plums)
I tried reading Atemschaukel by Herta Müller many years ago, as it was given to me as a Christmas present. I soon noticed a missing narrative and pages full of emotional sobbing, cliché next to cliché with no real story to follow. So – and I cannot remember which – I either just put it away to collect dust on my shelf, or I gave it to someone.
Since I am reading the Nobel prize winners in chronological order and have now reached Müller’s year, I decided to look into another novel of hers to give this author another chance, and I must say that the first impression of Herztier was fascinating.
The sparse living conditions of young girls in a dormitory, being constantly monitored and completely stripped of a private life. The story of one young girl looking for love in the tram and suffering loneliness while never being alone, or the notion of a resistance by the teenagers who the story is supposed to be about is, in itself, emotionally investing, highly interesting to read, and suspenseful.
Unfortunately, Müller manages to fill it with oversaturated emotional passages that completely suffocate the narrative itself and leave no space for building a character, an arc, an empathy climax – the fragmented observations come from a narrator, who would logically be able to paint a picture of four determined protagonists whose strong friendship allows them to build resistance to the totalitarian regime in Romania.
If only the writing weren’t so ghastly and sickly with witless grief and emotion, the story itself would be a winner from front to back – however, the way Müller has chosen to compose and write it only worsened my personal opinion of her.
In conclusion, I still would not recommend any of the novels by Herta Müller.
This was my – sadly mediocre – mont of June in books… I have to say I enjoyed May a lot more, but luckily there are a few gems in July’s tbr, which I am already getting into!