The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel García Márquez

March 24, 2012 at 22:41 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction, Literature, Magic Realism) (, , )


Experimental literature is all very impressive, but seldom is it quite this good. If any readers doubted the abilities of Gabriel García Márquez to stretch himself further than the limits explored in his opuses, to revisit the brave and elaborate narrative structure of One Hundred Years of Solitude, with the constant and overlapping shifts in time and reality, this book will be more than sufficient as an answer. The Patriarch might be dead, to begin with, but Márquez thrusts himself deeply into the old man’s past and tangles himself so far into his life that when his death is reiterated at the end, it comes with a real pang of nostalgia and even surprise.

“…and then he half-opened the bedroom door and peeped into the audience room and saw himself laid out more dead and more decorated than all the dead popes of Christendom, wounded by the horror and the shame of his own body of a military stud lying among the flowers, his face pale with powder, his lips painted, the hard hands of a dauntless young lady crossed over the chest armored with military decorations, the showy dress uniform with the ten pips of general of the universe, a rank someone had invented for him after death, the king-of-spades saber he never used…”

-The Autumn of the Patriarch

The experimental sentence structure must be mentioned, if only to acknowledge its overwhelming success. Some of the sentences in this book stretch on for more than three or four pages, piling on commas (or ignoring them entirely) in a decidedly stream-of-consciousness style that still manages to move the narrative along, and still envelopes the reader in the storyline. Márquez is writing expansively, and probably even showing off a little, but he remains aware of his reader and never bloats his work with self-indulgent piffle.

Otherwise, what can be said? What can be expected? The story is as tragically sweet and delightful as anything else he has written. The focus does go beyond the Patriarch himself, but stays much closer to the one central character than in some of his other books that ostensibly centre around elderly men. Intricate character study, celebration of a villainous and heroic legend, deeply intriguing political commentary and sociological hypothesis, and most importantly, a thrilling and moving story. Its narrative scheme is obviously more pronounced than some of Márquez‘s other books, and has the potential to irritate, but considerably more potential to excite and delight. This book could be recommended to anybody, but certainly to anyone who has already fallen in love with the style of this master author.

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The Sicilian, by Mario Puzo

March 14, 2012 at 14:35 (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Mediocre Books, Thriller) (, , )


It was bold of Mario Puzo to co-opt the mythology of Sicily for the sake of his own Corleone saga. He could be accused of rank opportunism, if he didn’t manage his recast legend so well. The story is something of an origins story for Michael Corleone, but Puzo has the good graces and good sense to know that Michael Corleone could never have been the focus of this book; and he is thus a suitably peripheral character, dancing around the edges of the fictionalised (and suitably romanticised) history. This was obviously a good decision from a storytelling point of view, and it also makes the choice to tell this story at all seem much less cynical.

It would have been more enjoyable as an historical fiction if Puzo’s obsession with his idealised honourable criminal (either as mafiosi or as Guiliani’s bandits) had not so coloured the narrative: and as greedy men and bitter men and foolish men and petty men murder each other with grave faces and noble-sounding words, it is difficult to take much of it very seriously. Puzo might have been writing a substrata of criticism into his work, but it seems infinitely more likely that he truly bought into his own mythology; and in the end, bought into it just a bit too much to write a completely engrossing book.

“Finally the two men and their donkey vanished over a rise in the street, but she kept watching…as if she would never see them again, until they disappeared in the late morning mist around the mountaintop. They were vanishing into the beginning of their myth.”

-The Sicilian

The romance between Guiliani and his matronly lover is sensitively portrayed and seldom grotsequely graphic, although this book would not be by Mario Puzo if it was entirely fresh and clean. The weakest moments (besides the constant and nagging feeling that Puzo is taking the absurd codes of his creatures utterly seriously) tend to be the montage scenes that show the young gangster growing up: but Puzo cannot be blamed for this weakness, as it is a rare writer indeed who can write a blameless training montage. This is not quite a jewel in the rough. It cannot be accurately called a jewel, and nor is it completely buried in the rough. It is a good book, though not the best. And it has flaws, but has not been completely ruined by these flaws.

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Slave Ship, by K. W. Jeter

March 11, 2012 at 00:09 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Mediocre Books, Star Wars Saturday!) (, , , , )


This book can best be described as more so than its predacessor. The rambling and incoherant monologues are lengthier and more abstruse; the economically- and politically-driven plot is twistier and even more needlessly complex; the flashbacks are infinitely longer; the action sequences are more elaborate; the aliens more original; the characters, set-pieces and adventures faster-paced; Dengar and Manaroo are considerably more annoying.

He’s dead, thought Bossk with immense satisfaction. At last. Whatever atoms had constituted the late Boba Fett, they were also drifting disconnected and harmless in space.”

-Slave Ship

If The Mandalorian Armor (sic) was a flawed work, then in this sequel the flaws are certainly deeper. But the redeeming points are also more noticeable, and it seems that Jeter has finally found a unique story that he wants to tell. The fracture of the Guild and the Voss’on’t hunt would make a couple of smashing short stories, and they provide a welcome reprieve from the politicking and monologuing which unfortunately return in spades for this installment.

Is it worth reading? For those who struggle through the first in the series, then yes. It will be neither quick nor easy, nor (ultimately) a good experience. But there is some good storytelling in here, a few ounces of diamonds in the piles of shale. Unfortunately the chief weaknesses are some of the key characters: Dengar, Xixor, Kuat – all are desperately boring and frustratingly two-dimensional. When an entire chapter is spent in a single character’s mind, this is a rather damning verdict. But despite his abject failure with so many of the characters Jeter chose to centre his book around, he does succeed in one thing: providing a dynamic and exciting picture of Boba Fett in his glory days. Perhaps that makes everything okay.

Related review:
The Mandalorian Armor (sic)

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The Spy who Loved Me, by Ian Fleming

March 7, 2012 at 16:47 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Poorly Rated Books, Romantic Fiction, Thriller) (, , , , )


Without personality, without excitement, without style. Tasteless, graceless, morbid and ugly. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to conclude why the film version of this book has absolutely no overlaps with the novel (although it is more difficult to accept that Fleming managed to publish more books after this utter disaster). In a book ostensibly about James Bond, the famous spy does not appear until the second half of the book, and even then is roughly and rudely sketched. He is certainly not the main character in this book, and barely aspires to a supporting role.

A great deal of this book also ends up reading like a torrid and pulpy piece of romantic fiction, with explicit sex and abuse scenes littered lecherously through the pages, and an increasingly uncomfortable feeling that heroes and villains alike are merely different fantasies flitting through the author’s mind.

“All women love semi-rape.”

-The Spy who Loved Me

In short, this is not a spy novel. It is barely a thriller. Its shabby pages are a blend of unmemorable, unlikeable, unsympathetic nonentities; and in this case, that includes the vague and barely-present James Bond himself. Ian Fleming can write well (for all that he is a misogynistic old deviant), but it is not only the banal plot and appalling characters that condemn this book, and it suffers badly from a depressing array of pacing problems, mawkish and scattered dialogue, unimaginative and clichéd description and a host of other problems. This is a truly dreadful book, without anything to recommend itself at all.

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