Posts Tagged With: book review

steppenwolf.

“Steppenwolf” is a poetical self-portrait of a man who felt himself to be half-human and half-wolf. This Faust-like and magical story is evidence of Hesse’s searching philosophy and extraordinary sense of humanity as he tells of the humanization of a middle-aged misanthrope. Yet, as the  back of my copy says, this novel can also be seen as a plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of the intellectual hypocrisy of the period. As Hesse himself remarked, “Of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other.”

Keep in mind Hesse’s discontentment and let’s start with a little plot overview: Harry Haller is a reclusive intellectual for whom life holds no joy. He struggles to reconcile the wild primeval wolf and the rational man within himself without surrendering to the bourgeois values he despises. His life changes dramatically when he meets a woman who is his opposite, the carefree and elusive Hermine. The tale of the Steppenwolf culminates in the surreal Magic Theater—For Madmen Only! And there the story comes to an end, a hallucinatory multi-layered climax, as Hermine introduces Harry to the Magic Theatre, which becomes an existential funhouse mirror through which Harry comes face to face with his predicament. Face to face with death. Face to face with the nature of the Steppenwolf.

Now: as you’ve already read in the first paragraph, Hesse believed the novel to be seriously misunderstood. Critic’s riled against the depravity and solemnity in it, where passages on drug-taking and sex where perceived as crude and unnecessary. However, clearly the novel was written in a very different vain. Take the introductory quote, which is taken from the Treatise. Critics fell into the same trap as the Steppenwolf; they disregarded the infinite depth of the character’s, indeed the novel’s, soul.

It is easy to see why the ideas contained in Herman Hesse’s novels had such an impact on Counter-Cultural Psychedelia (CCP.) Timothy Leary wrote of Hesse: “Few writers have chronicled with such dispassionate lucidity and fearless honesty the progress of the soul through states of life.” Indeed Leary saw the chronology of Hesse’s work as a meta-journey in themselves. But what is it in Steppenwolf that CCP owes so much to?

What was misunderstood by critics but grasped by Leary was the potentiality of the protagonist Harry Haller; who in this respect represented a version of the “inner dialogue” that goes on within each and every one of us. We limit ourselves to a course self-definition, a duality in the case of Steppenwolf, when the potential of our being is instead limitless. For CCP this was the literary device of the psychedelic experience. It was the unveiling of our potential experience of existence that was, for Leary, so in tune with not only psychedelic drug use, but counter-culture mentality. Breaking free of the chains that is society’s pre-determined structure; it’s facade dualities. The self-chaining individual for Hesse was the self-chaining society for Leary and both expound the necessity for limitless growth in the individual.

On the back of my copy of Steppenwolf, the blurb says  it is a “plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of intellectual hypocrisy.” With Hesse being one of the literary fathers of CCP it comes as no surprise that these two observations are so easily transferred into socio-political psychedelic philosophy. Where an affirmation of the individual is so often linked to the obliteration of intellectual and social dogma.

Steppenwolf is considered to be a semi-autobiographical work, reflecting the psychological problems Hesse was experiencing at the time of writing. It certainly seems plausible that it is no coincidence they share the initials HH. Also, Steppenwolf is a story told from 3 different perspectives; the reports of a relative of Haller’s landlady, a strange book given to Haller and Haller’s own diaries. The whole story speaks to our duality, that part of us we call “human” and the part the novel describes as “wolf,” or the shadow side we try to hide. But, as the book suggests, we are more than these two limitations. This novel shows more than the importance of finding an equilibrium between the two parts of us, that is the “human” and the “shadow” within. This is a chance to enter and to get lost in a bizarre environment where you may find that other dimension of yourself. This is another opportunity to accept that the world we see isn’t the only reality. That blurring line between what we think we know and what we sense gets less clear. And that is the good news.

I’m not going to give anything away here – not that there are many “spoilers” to concoct out of this novel. Hesse injects a whirl of thoughts and feelings, sometimes painful and possibly autobiographic, from the necessary tragedy of Romanticism to the bewildering transcendence of Eastern mysticism. While the climax may be highly conceptual and perhaps too ambiguous for some, I must say that I ate this book as if it were my last dinner: reverently. To make it short: I found this book quite hard to read, very heavy in places but beautiful in others. It is well worth persevering as the ending is extremely good. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as some, who claim that the book changed their life, it is is nevertheless a rewarding and important piece of modern literature.

Book-quote: “We have to play what is actually in demand, and we have to play it as well and as beautifully and as expressively as ever we can.” (Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse)

You can find an extended plot overview here.

And – for no particular reason at all – this book goes perfectly with this song.

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les liaisons dangereuses: book review.

 

Love, sex, seduction. Of the three, only the last matters. Love is a meaningless word, and sex an ephemeral pleasure, but seduction is an amusing game in which victory means power and the ability to humiliate one’s  opponents and revel with one’s friends. So it is for the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two supremely bored aristocrats during the final years before the French Revolution. Together they concoct a wildly wicked wager: If Valmont can successfully seduce the virtuous wife of a government official (Madame de Tourvel), then Madame Merteuil will sleep with him again. But Madame Merteuil also wants Valmont to seduce the young and innocent former convent schoolgirl, Cécile Volanges, as a way of getting back at  her ex-lover and Cecile’s future husband, Comte de Gercourt. Can he do both? Continue reading

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Sniegoski’s angelology.

It’s the eve of his eighteenth birthday and Aaron is experiencing dreams of a disturbing nature. In the darkly violent and chaotic dreamscape, Aaron is an armor-clad warrior in the midst of a bloody conflict. He can hear the sounds of weapons clanging, the screams of the stricken, the pathetic moans of the dying, and another sound he cannot quite discern. But as he gazes upward, he suddenly understands, watching as hundreds of armored warriors descend on the battlefield from the sky above. It is the sound of wings beating the air unmercifully. The flapping of angels’ wings.

As once I read somewhere, there is actually no place in the Bible where angels are described as beautiful, peaceful guardians hovering protectively over children. The first feature story I wrote involved – among other stuff – some street art guys and a stenciled angel. Since then I started to secretly sneak in every feature story the word “angel”. It was a sort of a hidden trademark. And it was a funny playing, too. Anyway, I don’t love angels as heavenly creatures. I love angels as concept. And I love getting book recommendations from friends because they bring stories I wouldn’t have otherwise known about to my immediate attention. Case and point – I hadn’t heard about Sniegoski’s The Fallen until a blog brought it to mine. The story is about Aaron, who discovers he’s a Nephilim — the child of a mortal woman and an angel (fact of the matter is, biblical is not too far from the truth of things).

As a reader, I haven’t really come across that many stories wherein the hero is of angelic origin. Most of the ones I have and remember reading were from well back in the 90’s, when the trend for angels back then were mostly of guardian-angel ilk. The Fallen is not that. As once I read somewhere, there is actually no place in the Bible where angels are described as beautiful, peaceful guardians hovering protectively over children. What they are described as are Messengers, and the most memorable appearances where they make their appearances are those where the places they go to find themselves dealing with either death or destruction. In the Old Testament, the final plague that God sent was the death to the all the firstborn in houses unmarked by those who knew that the final plague was coming. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s the Prince of Egypt, pay close attention to the light that starts up in the sky and then runs through the city like a mad wind with a mind of its own. Yup, you got it: Angel. Pretty heavy, I know, but I think that’s what drew me into the story most of all. The conflict between Good, Evil and the gray areas found in between is a theme that crops up in a lot of stories. Sniegoski’s The Fallen understands this trope and ties his hero’s story with that of the Fall, when rebel angels took up arms against the All Father, lost in the war and were consequently banished from Heaven.

Perhaps we can say that this is a story about Choice, and Aaron, as the main character, serves as the medium by which we, the readers, find ourselves considering questions like: What is Good? For that matter, what is Evil? Is it as simple as telling black from white, because then, what about the various gradations of gray that lie in-between? Is it possible that something good could end up serving evil as well? If one is good, does that mean they are completely immune to doing evil? Well, don’t look at me. I don’t have the answers — but if you’d like to talk it over a cup of coffee, chocolate or tea, let me know and we’ll set something up.

Sniegoski’s characters are strong, distinct and memorable, and whether they be the (percieved) good guys or the (again, percieved) bad guys there is something in them that makes you — or well, me, as a reader, want to understand more. There is Gabriel the dog, who worms his way into your heart with little to no effort at all, and then Camael, the uptight, former leader of the Powers who develops a rather endearing addiction to french fries. There is Verchiel, current leader of the Powers – devoted to the Creator, singly-focused on ensuring the eradication of every Niphilim in existence as they are a stain in the Almighty’s Plan. There is Vilma Santiago, clearly Aaron’s love-interest, who I have to wonder what role she’ll play given that there are two more books to go. And then there is the Morningstar — yup, that Morningstar. But I won’t elaborate on that. After all, the point of this review is to get you guys to hunt up the books and read as I did.

The Fallen is a read that will have you turning pages and running through chapters until you hit the back cover and either (a) be incredibly glad that you are lucky enough to have the last two books sitting, unopened on your shelf, or (b) you could be like me, going through each and every bookstore in the city, frustrated that all current copies of these books are ridiculously unavailable. I finished the book in two days (not for want of putting it down, but I also have to sleep), and this is not because the writing is complicated, because it is anything but. If you’re a fan of any sort of mythology or books that springboard from mythology, you will definitely enjoy this read. If you aren’t, I am totally willing to take the blame for any interest sparked; And finally, if you’re a fan of strong character-driven writing balanced with a plot that makes you want to guess, this is definitely worth the read.

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all work and no play makes jack a dull boy.

Some people have it, and some people don’t—the shining, the ability to see what others don’t. Jack and Wendy’s five year old son, Danny Torrance, has the shining. But will this be a help or a hindrance at the haunted and desolate Overlook Hotel, where timelines don’t know their place?

Stephen King’s “The Shining” is a scary literary encounter. It’s often regarded as King’s best novel and is big on psychology and suspense. It’s got some great set pieces and is actually a very absorbing study of breakdown and madness, following a writer (Jack Torrance) and his family’s decision to work as winter caretaker in a ski resort hotel cut off by snow over the winter.

As for the style, let us just say that this is an incredibly strong, well-constructed novel, with King using all of the wonderful little literary tools and bricks and mortar fans love him for. Critics believe that the novel will still be read, studied and debated 50 years from now. But don’t wait that long to read it. Yes, it is a horror novel. But, as with most of King’s novels, the true, real horror presented is not of a supernatural nature but made up of things we visit upon ourselves and each other.

P.S. 1: Stanley Kubrick’s fans will be dissappointed: the ending is different to the film.

P.S. 2: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” (a memorable sentence written over and over by Jack Torrance) does not appear in the novel. As I’ve always suspected, it was a Kubrick’s brilliant screenplay twist. To be continued.

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shining.

“We all shine on…” (Instant Karma!, John Lennon)

[...]

- Bravo, zise Hallorann. Scoase un inel cu chei din buzunarul sacoului sau din serj albastru si descuie portbagajul. In timp ce punea valizele inauntru, Danny fu surprins sa-l auda spunand:

- Stralucesti, baiete. Mai mult decat oricare altul pe care l-am intalnit in viata mea. Si implinesc saizeci de ani in ianuarie.

- Hm?

- Ai un talent. Hallorann se intoarse spre el. Intotdeauna am numit talentul asta “stralucire”. Asa ii spunea bunica mea. Si ea il avea.  [...]

- Numai pe mine m-ai cunoscut?, il intreba pe Hallorann.

Bucatarul rase:

- Nu, copile. Dar tu stralucesti cel mai tare.

- Sunt multi din astia ca mine?

- Nu chiar multi. Dar se intampla sa dai peste ei. Sint o gramada de oameni care au un pic de stralucire. Habar nu au. Dar, ca prin minune, cumpara flori cand sotiile lor sunt suparate, reusesc la examene pentru care nu au invatat, isi dau seama cum se simt oamenii pe care-i intalnesc. Am cunoscut vreo cincizeci, saizeci din astia. Dar numai vreo zece, inclusiv bunica-mea, stiau ca stralucesc.

[...]

Va straluci cand va straluci. (Proverb american)

Shining, Stephen King, p. 106-107

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“My God… it’s full of stars!” (“2001: A Space Odyssey” book review)

Daca astepti sa-ti spun despre ce e vorba in romanul asta, astepti degeaba, pentru ca nu obisnuiesc sa fac rezumat. Daca astepti o poveste care sa nu deraieze de la limitele pe care tu le cuantifici ca fiind “normale”, astepti degeaba. Daca astepti de la “2001: A Space Odyssey” sa te dea pe spate, n-o sa te dea. Daca astepti sa gasesti ceea ce americanii numesc a highly literary approach, speri degeaba. Daca astepti sa gasesti personajele clar conturate ale lui Asimov, n-o sa le gasesti.

Si asta pentru ca Arthur C. Clarke nu e recunoscut pentru approach-ul sau pentru talentul literar, cat pentru descrierile incredibil de realiste ale calatoriei in spatiu, pentru viziunea sa optimista asupra viitorului si, desigur, pentru acuratatea previziunilor sale (o chestiune destul de discutabila, dupa parerea mea). Dar, pentru ca trebuie sa-i dau Cezarului ce-i al Cezarului, o sa recunosc ca, in ciuda inadvertentelor stiintifice, descrierile sistemului solar, ale centurii de asteroizi, ale lui Jupiter si Saturn sunt facute, asa cum ar spune un american, with a sense of wonder, ceea ce – la nivel de fictiune – e destul de greu de realizat.

“De ce ar trebui sa citesc cartea astea care n-o sa ma dea pe spate, atunci?”, probabil o sa intrebi tu. Ei bine,  unu la mana, pentru ca Arthur C. Clarke are ceva ce Asimov nu are: o descriere a spatiului si a calatoriilor spatiale careia ii lipseste gravitatea aia artificialo-inutila din alte romane SF. Ochiul sau pentru detaliu, pentru micile “obstacole” care pot cauza probleme intr-un zero-gravity environment, frizeaza genialul, mai ales daca tii cont ca romanul a fost scris intr-o epoca cand zborurile spatiale erau inca in fasa. Ideile lui despre inteligenta artificiala sunt, de asemenea, interesante, iar HAL cel din carte e, in capul meu, cam de-o mie de ori mai infricosator decat HAL din filmul omonim al lui Stanley Kubrick. Pentru ca, se stie, o poveste SF buna nu arata, ci doar sugereaza, lasand restul imaginatiei cititorului. La fel se intampla si in cazul ecranizarilor.

Desi fara stralucirea personajelor clar conturate ale lui Asimov, Clarke are, totusi, un personaj pe care il scoate din anonimat. Dupa parerea unora, tocmai computerul HAL 9000 e cel mai bine conturat “personaj” al cartii. Dupa parerea mea, nu e chiar asa. Clarke lasa multe lucruri nelamurite, unul dintre ele fiind chiar anomalia care il transforma pe HAL din membru al echipajului in ucigas cu sange rece. Detaliul asta, alaturi de finalul cartii – care sta sub semnul intrebarii – constituie – in mod clar – un imperativ pentru a citi si continuarea romanului, pe care, paradoxal, Clarke si-a dat seama ca le-o datoreaza cititorilor dupa nici mai mult si nici mai putin decat… 14 ani.

Lista detaliilor din roman care nu sint conforme realitatii e destul de lunga, dar, in ciuda acestor mici inadvertente de continut, care au fost infirmate in timp, “2001: A Space Odyssey” ramane o dovada clara a incredibilului vizionarism al lui Clarke, vizionarism care face romanul sa se afle la inaltimea reputatiei de “clasic” al  genului. Pentru cunoscatori, romanul explica, de asemenea, multe chestiuni pe care filmul omonim al lui Stanley Kubrick le lasa dinadins sa pluteasca in ambiguitate. Nu cred sa fi existat un singur spectator care sa fi inteles filmul lui Kubrick “din prima”, mai ales finalul, in care, profan vorbind, Kubrick pare a transfigura si a lasa la apa un fel de heavy LSD trip. Nu stiu daca Clarke si Kubrick au facut-o voit, dar nu poti separa filmul de carte: nici Clarke, nici Kubrick nu pot spune ca povestea filmului sau a cartii e suverana, pt. ca ele sint interconectate. Probabil cel mai bun lucru pe care poti sa-l faci e sa vezi intai filmul, apoi sa citesti cartea, dupa care sa vezi filmul din nou.

Finalul e, in opinia mea, destul de slabutz, comparativ cu ideea de la care a pornit Clarke si cu povestea, in general. Motivatia tine, probabil, de faptul ca Arthur Clarke a incercat sa descrie “ceva” in totalitate mistic si situat complet in afara experientei umane. O alta explicatie ar putea tine de faptul ca Arthur Clarke, dupa cum el insusi a afirmat intr-un interviu, “has no idea what Kubrick’s ending meant” (n-a avut habar ce a vrut sa spuna sfarsitul propus de Kubrick). Oricum, ambiguitatea care defineste experienta finala a lui Bowman e una dintre piesele de rezistenta ale romanului. In loc sa explice in detaliu ce i se intampla, Clarke te lasa sa vezi ciudata experienta direct prin ochii astronautului, fara alte comentarii sau explicatii.

Cand Clarke a scris “2001: A Space Odyssey”, dezastrul Challenger se afla abia la 16 ani in viitor. Misiunea Apollo One, in care Gus Grissom, Ed White si Roger Chaffee si-au pierdut viata era la fel de indepartata. Cu toate astea, povestea lui Clarke, asemenea programelor spatiale, ramane o poveste nu despre spatiu si despre cucerirea lui, ci o poveste despre Om si despre ceea ce il face uman: capacitatea de a privi la cer, de a se uimi, de a fi curios si de a nu se poticni in fata niciunui obstacol care intervine intre el si intelegerea incredibilei lumi de deasupra lui. O lume plina de stele.

“My God… it’s full of stars!”, spune Bowman spre finalul romanului. Si e chiar asa. E plin de stele.

In incheiere, ca sa fiu almost funny (dupa cum ne invata Neil French, creative director-ul de la Ogilvy & Mather, ca trebuie sa fii intr-o recenzie), o sa spun ca, daca nu o sa cititi cartea asta din motivele enuntate mai sus, atunci macar s-o cititi din considerentul ca e o experienta cvasi-halucinanta, ca o injectie cu atropina facuta direct in inima sau ca si cand ai asculta The Avalanches – “Frontier Psychiatrist” completely stoned. Diferenta e ca experienta cvasi-halucinanta din “2001: A Space Odyssey” e 100% legala. ; )

PS: I liked a lot what some youtube user wrote down, as a comment: “Ha! This time he got it totally wrong. We don’t ‘communicate’ with each other. We flame, tweet, blog and post.” So true. Isn’t it?

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