Revival by Stephen King

There is an opinion among Stephen King’s fans that he has become soft and his novels can hardly be classified as horror novels any more. However, in my opinion, it is unjustified. He has become wiser and more insightful, and if it means fewer gory scenes in his novels, this is the compromise I am more than willing to accept. Sometimes the insight into the mind of an individual can stir more trouble and disquietude than the bloodshed of the visual description.
This is exactly what Stephen King did in his latest novel. One can hardly compartmentalize the novel, and many literary tags can be easily applied to it – it is a coming-of-age story that lasts for decades; it is the story of addiction and the price we have to pay for easy solutions. It is also a parable about what is modern faith and how one would define a spiritual person.
I can see how both evangelicals and staunchest atheists could be mad at Stephen King. The reasoning of the second group is easier to pinpoint. Stephen King is using science to show us through the eyes of his character that there is another world after the death that we are not aware of, an ugly world, a world of human privation and misery, a world we can not explain or see from here and now.
The possible condemnation of the opposing group would be more complex and, I am afraid, more poignant. Prior to this novel, the religious people in King’s novels were of two types – either quiet, truly spiritual people, usually Methodists, who actually were loyal to all the doctrines of the religion they aspire to belong to – loving, forgiving, supportive, nonjudgmental – and let us be honest, they were NOT numerous at all. The other group is the group of loud-mouthed evangelicals, who are in facts haters, who used the religion to plant seeds of hatred, alienation, judgment, supremacy, violence, and bigotry (and their name is legion, and personally – rightly so).

This novel offers a much trickier concept of a man of faith. Charles Jacob is originally a loving and supporting man who quickly wins the hearts and minds of his congregation, but the horrendous drama turns him into a non-believer (although his fascination with electromagnetic science always offered this potential). His sermon after the death of his wife and son is the one where many free-thinkers would like to cheer him.

In fact, King was right again, saying that this man was possibly the most indoctrinated ever, and indeed he was. Charles Jacob lived and died with the thought that faith (spiritual or very worldly) is a thing that can turn many ugly things into beautiful ones, but most importantly it can also turn many beautiful things into ugly and self-seeking.
As a secularist and humanist, the power of faith is a mystery to me, but King is unmistakably bashing at the commercial evangelicals whose main religion is money and delusion of others. His main target is TV evangelicals – people who make money duping others by sending false messages of hope.

The character of Charles Jacob is quite complex, whose existence is driven by two opposing forces – help without strings attached and help with strings attached. Sometimes, his desire to see more, to know more, to understand more is so overwhelming that this urge cannot be even stopped by human losses. He is equally a mad scientist and a mad believer. Maybe, Stephen King is telling us that it is one and the same thing. Human lives cannot fall victims to one’s desire to see what is behind this life. Save lives and treat others without ulterior motives of salvation and curiosity seems to be a correct answer, but King is a wise story teller because he knows we would be nowhere without it, even if it is the saddest fact of our existence.

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Fall of Giants by Follett

Fall of Giants by Follett.

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Fall of Giants by Follett

This massive (page-wise) book is the opening novel of the eponymous trilogy. With all the move and hassle of buying a new home, I did not physically read it, but I listened to the Audible audio book. Due to the impossibility of past cross-references, I was not able to page back and verify some information, but the book was easy to follow. This is the case when some drawbacks of the book eventually became its strengths in its audio version.

It is obvious that the book that is so massively popular would not be the high-brow, elegant, and elitist fiction, but it was still very enjoyable. Yes, the characters were often too straightforward and slightly predictable, but there were scores of them, and because of their easy-to-decode nature and theatricality of their features, they were easy to remember, too; it is especially important if you are listening to the audio book.

The plot lines were occasionally too predictable and slightly soap-operish (like in the case with numeral pregnancies), but it was also easy to remember, and it is highly important when there are several plot-lines that intertwine and crisscross the fabric of the text.

On the other hand, Follett allows his characters to be politically active even if I or maybe he does not share the same ideas and beliefs. I am not happy with Fitz’s opinion about the role of women, aristocracy, and democracy, but I still appreciate that Follett lets him be and does not try to change his opinion, neither is he trying to make him truly evil. Surprisingly, despite the slightly formulaic nature of his characters, all of them have redeeming features, and I do not hate any of them. Besides, closer to the end of the novel, even the most straightforward characters become more subtle and complex. Some might say that final chapters is not exactly the place in the novel when and where one develops his or characters, but it is only the first novel of his trilogy, so with the other two in mind, Follett is allowed to take his time to develop his characters and make them more literary complex.

Overall, I do not mind reading the other two books. It is not the special literary treat for the language and literature lovers, but it is likable, entertaining, relatively well researched, and delivers complex political ideas without boring its readers.

P.S. The description of the military episodes is one of the most important achievement of this novel – it is utterly believable, convincing, memorable, touching, realistic, gritty, and very disturbing as any description of war should be.

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HARD TIMES by DICKENS

This is the second novel written by Dickens that I meanly give only three stars. The Dickens chemistry, his verve, and his charisma are not here.

Don’t get me wrong – all the characters are typically his, as well as his pathos, his satire, and his WORDSMITHERY. Despite his typical Dickens features, it was one of the most unlikable novel – the characters were all detached from the me, and their inner world eluded me all the time. Their heartbeats, their desires, and their hopes that his characters usually wear on their sleeves were mysteriously and unfavorably missing.

The novel was cold – some of his characters were unreachable and unrelatable even on the level of rejection. Sometimes one relates to characters by simply hating their guts, and in this novel, I felt absolutely nothing.

I can not even pinpoint the reason of this emotional failure – the language was inventive and the imagery is highly original, the zeitgeist of the small industrial town is perfectly captured, the social issues are burning and their exploration is truly visionary, but the chemistry between this novel and me is nonexistent.

Sorry, Maestro.

Up to a point, it was an expected slack after the powerful and masterful gem of Bleak House. It happens to the best of us :-)

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Invisible by Paul Auster

We are often birds of impulse buying, and a blurb can be a genuine bait for a reader who is willing to spend some money to immerse oneself in the world of thinking, meditation, good story, or send a reader on a journey of profound self discovery. On the other hand, I always wonder why and if any post-modern book needs a plot-driven blurb because – let us be honest here – a plot is a gimmick, a trick, a device to entice people to read an eclectic and often labyrinthine work.
Invisible by Auster is a perfect example of the over-discussed pros and cons of post-modern fiction. It does have a plot, but the mystery at the core of the book is not solved and should never be solved; it has a complex narrative structure, but an unprepared reader could be slightly taken aback and confused, and no one has ever banned or cancelled a good, interesting, dynamic character.
Conversely , in the eternal opposition ‘form vs. meaning’ the former can occasionally win with flying colors, and that is exactly what I witnessed in this novel. Auster skillfully demonstrates that one and the same story told by one and the same person can and will look different if it is presented by different pronouns. The first part, told my Adam Walker, is more relatable and more involving because of the first-person narrator; we implicitly trust this young man and what he is telling just because we are all under the spell of ‘I’.
The second part is more complex in its structure, involving frame stories, the same plot line continues, but the same narrator relies on the present tense that does give an unmistakable feeling of edginess, discomfort, and even an imperative. This is all ‘you’ doing. I am talking, of course, about the second-person narrator with the pronoun ‘you’, quite an orphan in fiction.
The third part features the third-person narrator with syncopated, uneven, telegraph-style writing, fragmented sentences, typical syntactical confusion, and … well, you guessed it … a stream of consciousness.
One could easily think that the book can hardly get even more experimental without sacrificing the plot, but then there is chapter four for you where Auster uses an unreliable diary to tell us the final elements of the story.
The experiment continues not only with the form, but with the meaning as well. A discerning reader can pick up Biblical allusions, elements of different genres – bildungsroman, travelogue, epistolary genre, spy story, thriller, post-colonial literature, and even sensational romance.
Despite the multiplicity of form and a game of genres, the underlying message is clear – the invisible is a big part of our life, and this invisible can be occasionally unearthed, but there layers after layers of other truths or what is truth for other people as we are all mired in the timeless debate of ‘implication vs. inference’. Literature itself is a shining example of this game – an author implies and we readers are free to infer. The truth is out there … An interesting meditation on literature and a compellingly readable example of meta-fiction.

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Les Miserables by V. Hugo

A huge, humongous reading marathon has come to an end. There are hardly enough words and sentences to clearly delineate my impressions. It is the book that can be defined with virtually every literary adjective from the word bank. The book made me cry, made me feel, made me happy, made me euphoric, ecstatic, made me mad, and befuddled me on a number of occasions.

This mammoth book is a political, religious, and social stand, historical fiction, a compendium of lectures, Greek tragedy, Hugo’s commentaries, and an interesting story of rebirth and compassion, self-discovery, and love. Hugo is using a very unusual narrative voice. On one hand, it is a traditional third-person narrator whose story of Jean Valjean, Cosette, and Marius touches the hearts and minds of many readers. On the other hand, it is the voice of a political and historical commentator who often takes forays into the fields of philosophy, history, and even linguistics. It is also the voice of an editor who comments the intents and motives of his main characters. In general, the book is an eclectic and weird combination of a heart-breakingly beautiful story, implacable political and social opinion, and populism.

The spiritual debate is one of the strongest in the novel, and one can see how Hugo is torn between the two parental influences: a devote, nearly mystical Catholic mother and a pragmatic, atheistic father. Of course, he had to placate his reading audience, but one can feel quite unmistakably how behind the curtain of religion, Hugo in fact is relying on kindness and love as universal concepts and NOT religious ones exclusively. Religious values are turned into universal humanistic values, and maybe this is also a part of the long-standing clout of this novel.

The other greatest achievement of this novel is than despite the number of revolutionary battle scenes in the book, the main and most palpitating scenes take place in hearts of its main characters: moral emotional struggles of Jean Valjean and even Javert are on par with Dostoevsky’s passages.

On a side note, Hugo is a master of suspense: there are multiple scenes that are executed and written with the breathtaking precision that makes Hollywood writers envious and keeps readers on the edge of their reading seats. Hugo is also in total and perfect control of the main plotline with not a single character left forgotten, in oblivion, or returned out of nowhere.

As a personal discovery, I believe the novel is also a tragedy a la Grecque: a limited number of people can not escape Fate and meet each other again and again in new circumstances and sometimes under new names. Javert even has his own hamartia (a personal flaw) – Criminal Law is the only guidance book – that eventually, like in any Greek tragedy, leads to his demise, literally in his case.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed the novel and Hugo’s ability to appeal to his readers’ hearts and minds even many years after his death. It equally appeals to history buffs, social reformists, thinkers, intellectual elitists, and romantics who enjoy good story-telling.

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The Kill by Emile Zola

It is one of the earliest novels in the cycle, but it definitely shows the glimpses of author’s talent and Zola’s firm social stand. 
The novel is twofold – it is a story of a young woman’s social and emotional unraveling and the picture of financial and moral corruption of the Parisian upper middle bourgeoisie. 

Zola is brave and audacious even by modern standards – he tackles issues of moral dissipation of the humongous size, sexual near incestual relationship (stepmother and stepson), homosexuality, and even androgyny. His scathing criticism interestingly, but not disruptively, mingles with sensual passages of sexual seduction and pages full of high tension and edginess. Of course, some descriptive passages are beautiful but excessive and slightly tiring, but they do convey the verve of city life, urban existence, and the sense of indulgence. 

Zola’s naturalistic approach allows to chronicle the moral decomposition of the society, and the brunt of this scathing criticism is on Aristide Rougon (Saccard) who can pawn everything, including his wife’s trousseau and her reputation. Another example of the same moral downfall is Sidonie Rougon, who is more than happy to condone the sexual affairs of her sister-in-law if they guarantee her extra profit. 

Renee, whose unraveling becomes more and more obvious by the end of the novel, and who dies young, is a sympathetic victim despite her numerous faults. She is the one who understands her shortcomings and feels betrayed and misplaced while others indulge themselves in dissipation and debauchery. 

Zola’s neutral and naturalistic style makes it hard for some readers 
to relate to the novel emotionally, especially for those who like to form an emotional bond (obviously one-sided) with characters, but it also allows to chronicle the everyday life with the disaffection and fairness of a historian

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