News of a Kidnapping, by Gabriel García Márquez

July 27, 2013 at 14:58 (Biography, Book Reviews, Crime and Law Enforcement, Highly Rated Books) (, , , )

NewsOfAKidnapping

7/10

7/10

There are many peculiar things about this book. It is not like Márquez’s fiction. It is too straightforward, too politely arranged and linear. There are too many straight lines and sober summaries. But then, it is unlike so many nonfiction books, as well. Garcia Márquez has no need to trumpet his own particular style or voice over the events he describes (his style has plenty of outlets), and so the narrative is unnervingly raw, without the bluster of a newspaper or the bustling self-importance of a professional writer.

“Maruja and Beatriz stood motionless in front of the closed door, not knowing how to take up their lives again, until they heard the engines in the garage and then the sound fading away in the distance. Only then did they realize that the television and radio had been taken away to keep them from knowing how the night would end.”

-News of a Kidnapping

The author’s attraction towards the macabre and the tragic are one point of resonance in his choice of this particular story to tell. In a sense, this book demonstrates a single side of the magic realism genre that Márquez helped to create: the harrowing story of the kidnapping, with all of its unsavoury boors and capricious thugs, is told with a sense of reverent wonder at the majesty of the hallowed normal. There are no casual treatments of supernatural happenings, but in spite of the real setting there is a subtle and underlying sense that something quite extraordinary might be taking place.

Ultimately, the weakest part of this story is simply the fact that it is not the most interesting of events to read about. A decades-old kidnapping that dominated the headlines of a distant corner of the globe for a matter of months, before coming to a generally unremarkable end will struggle to find a place on a bookshelf crammed with mystical kingdoms and daring exploits. It will even struggle to find a place on a shelf containing only books by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. But there is an appeal in the honesty of the writing. It is a shame that more great writers do not follow this example, and humble themselves into writing stories that neither shake the earth nor shake the reader, but which are worth telling anyway.

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Dune, by Frank Herbert

July 13, 2013 at 15:58 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Science Fiction) (, , , , )

10/10

10/10

DuneThe 200,000-word bulk of Dune is an intimidating mountain to tackle, but the reward is palpable in only the first few pages. An excellent example of the fairytale set  in space, and remarkable in its pacing and its rich attention to detail. Frank Herbert does not allow himself to luxuriate in his own cleverness, the way some writers do when they become enamoured of their creations (even justifiably). He moves lightly and patiently through the immense landscape of Arrakis, and is willing to plant seeds and allow them to grow to maturity in his readers before bringing them to fruition tens of chapters later.

“They were staring out across the sand, the realization in their expressions: there was no returning to Caladan for them…”

-Dune

There are clear moments where it becomes noticeable that he is deliberately hanging Chekhov’s proverbial gun over a mantelpiece; slowly and painstakingly sketching out a scenario and storing it for a hundred pages hence. There are times when Frank Herbert errs on the heavier side of exposition (although generally carried in dialogue which is a delight to read). These moments remind his reader that they are on the cusp of delving into something at once massive and intricate. They are distractions, but are neither heavy enough nor frequent enough to become a constant annoyance. Rather, there are times when the reader will see them as a friendly helping hand halfway up an otherwise forbidding cliff.

“Muad’Dib! Muad’Dib!”

-Dune

Unsurprisingly for a fairytale, Herbert’s characters are familiar things, from the noble father to the rogueish sidekicks; from the prodigious youth to the demoniacal and grotesque villain. Thankfully Herbert is an able enough storyteller to mould real flesh onto these well-used skeletons, and even add some unexpected depth to some. There is some real pleasure in revisiting an old trope in literature, and finding it expertly polished and cleverly deployed. Herbert shines, therefore, not in coming up with something so startlingly original, but in retelling an old story of long ago and far away in a manner so skilled that the reader forgets he knows exactly what is coming; forgets he knows to expect neither treason from the heroes nor contrition from the villains; forgets he is reading hundreds of thousands of words, and a monstrous amount of geographical and historical backstory. Forgets everything, in fact, but Dune.

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