Welcome back to the Monthly Reviews series, where I chronologically list last month’s reads, along with a short reflexion and opinion regarding each book.
Here’s what I read in July:
Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending (2011)
This novel seems to be a nostalgic recollection of past events at first, when Tony, a retired man, starts reminiscing about his high school and college years. He tells the story about four boys whose friendship bloomed and who discussed everything from philosophy to sex amongst each other.
While horrible things happen during their time at high school, the boys seem to shake it off and although their friendship is put to the test during college, Tony still maintains contact to Adrian, who was the desired best friend of the group.
The infatuation with Adrian seems to remain front and center, until Tony has a relationship with Veronica, who then connects the two in a most horrendous way until their lives end. Interestingly enough, Tony’s memory about said events seems to be partially accurate and he struggles to recall what actually happened.
The Sense of an Ending is a fascinating story about things that get lost in time, the interpretation of memories and feelings, the morality of taking one’s own life, and the helplessness of a person in love. While I had some issues with the composition, I would still recommend giving it a go if you found the description of interest.
Per Petterson: It’s Fine by Me (1992)
The hardening of a young man due to the conditions in his family, mostly stemming from a violent alcoholic father, is a central topic of Norwegian literature. The collective fight with nature’s moods (Hamsun) or the individualist struggle to escape one’s own mind (Ibsen) has now been shelved in favor of the fight to escape the critical and violent clutches of one’s progenitor.
Petterson’s novels are of this variety as well as Karl Ove Knausgårds, whose sextology My Struggle I am a big fan of. However, Knausgård goes deeper into several existential, philosophical and current topics in regards to art, literature, politics etc.
Petterson focuses on his protagonist, Audun, and his struggles with blending into a new school and escaping the trauma of the emotional and physical assaults of his father towards his mother and himself.
Audun is in a sense a typical youngster, refusing to bend to his teachers‘ rules and seeking his personal freedom. He is, however, also a caring and protective son and a strong-willed person, finding his place in the world.
Petterson’s novel is in a way a coming-of-age-story, but also a sinister tale about escaping and confronting the horrors of one’s past. I’d certainly recommend it.
Stephen King: The Drawing of the Three (1987)
Stephen King’s Dark Tower is a series of eight books, and while the first part, The Gunslinger, is a great exposition to the world Ronald has to survive in and towards the motivation of his great quest, this second novel seemed to me too lengthy already.
From personal preference I don’t lean towards fantasy novels, The Name of the Wind being one of the few fantasy series that really impressed me. Thus, although The Dark Tower was a recommendation from many, I have not yet discovered why it is so amazing.
King’s way of writing, which I first discovered when reading It and have greatly enjoyed in all three novels I’ve read by him so far, is highly intricate and shows a great knowledge – or obsession – with people. His way of dealing with suspense in a chapter-to-chapter sense is very good and his ability to grip the reader’s attention is also uncanny. The individual episodes of Drawing are thought out, his characters are absolutely unique and the way they are all connected in the end is extremely interesting.
However, the tempo of this novel was just too slow for me, and I strongly doubt I will be continuing with The Dark Tower, unless it finds its way into my holiday suitcase somehow.
Until then, my reading priorities lie elsewhere. I am not ready to invest my time into this relationship, but absolutely plan to read King’s other non-fantasy fiction.
Annie Proulx: Barkskins (2016)
The story has a twin core with two sides: first, the plot is split into two narratives which depict the ongoing legacies of two men who travel to America, following the generations in their respective families from 1693 to 2013. Second, both protagonists work in the timber industry, thus showing two kinds of relationships with man’s rule over nature, the effects of deforestation in North America and other countries.
This novel is reminiscent of older French classics, pacing through years of historical developments. Yet, there are no idealisations of man-made architecture or industrial progress – no more than a mention of carriages and, at one point, automobiles, growing cities and changing trade centers, and scientific discoveries; all of those are but footnotes for the real story. Barkskins’ story is all about shining a light onto the annihiliation of nature and its conscequences.
This is a book on the history of nature, so for those who love to get lost on long walks, consider Barkskins a stroll alongside the history of humanity, with all its truths and brutality.
Beyond that lie hidden a fair amount of peaceful moments to linger in the shadow of various majestic and ancient trees in worldwide locations. (The pace remains calm, nevermind the amount of spilled blood at several points in the story.)
Proulx‘ novel is rich and vast both in space and time, but also demands endurance and perseverance. There is a love story, but no happy ending and no hero to root for. Rather, there are very important lessons to be learned.
If that kind of a read is something you are interested in, Barkskins is most definitely the right choice for you.
What were your reading highlights in July? Let me know in the comments below.