Catch-up time once again. Some shorter thoughts on some recent reads…
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
I read this as a buddy read with Rebecca at Bookish Beck – do go and read her fab post composed mostly from her twitter thoughts chapter by chapter here, so just a few thoughts from me…
I mostly enjoyed Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 2001, but the format I read it in did it no favours. This 636 page paperback novel has sat on my shelf since it was published, so eighteen years or so – back then, I hadn’t quite started wearing reading glasses, and could probably have managed the small print fairly easily: the print size is 8pt I think which depending on the typeface used is readable – but 4th Estate chose Walbaum – which is a Bodoni style font – with quite bold uprights, so it appears small and black on the page and was terrible to read in artificial light – so I mostly read this book in the mornings! Also, it was impossible to read the paperback without creasing the spine – something I hate doing. But enough moaning, I read the whole thing.
It is the story of two teenaged cousins, Sam Clay who lives in Brooklyn, and his cousin Josef Kavalier, who escapes from Czechoslovakia in 1939 accompanying the Prague golem. Josef is an accomplished artist, Sam is a story man – and together they come up with an idea for a comic superhero – The Escapist. Sam’s boss is persuaded to finance the fledging comic – and soon Superman and Batman have a rival…
The novel follows the duo’s trials and tribulations over the years. It has a very boy’s own adventure feel to it. Their superhero, The Escapist specialises in beating up Nazis, and makes Joe and Sam a fortune, but all the time Joe is wishing he could get the rest of his family away from wartorn Europe. In true boys’ own style, the book rather lacks women – there is only one really, Rosa Saks, with whom Joe falls in love. I liked Rosa a lot: she is a different kind of artist.
There was something unmistakably exultant about the mess that Rosa had made. Her bedroom-studio was at once the canvas, journal, museum and midden of her life. She did not “decorate” it; she infiused it.
I wouldn’t say I found this book flabby, Chabon’s writing is too good for that, but it could have been condensed to sub-500 pages, the action is sometimes rather slow. He builds in some great set-pieces, from a bomb hoax in the Empire State Building, to Salvador Dali nearly suffocating in a diver’s outfit (that was true I believe), and Orson Welles makes an appearance. What is great though is the deep friendship between Joe and Sam, which made this a great read (7.5/10).
Source: Own TBR. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of K&C, 4th Estate paperback, 640 pages.
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Olt by Kenneth Gangemi
I can’t remember where I heard about this odd little book – it’s only 54 pages long, but I bought it on someone’s recommendation some time ago. Originally published in 1984, it contains stories from three days in the life of Robert Olt. Although each day is different, Olt is a man of routine – so each story has many similar events: he makes lists, he goes and buys a newspaper and reads all the odd stories, he will go to the zoo or a museum, he will visit or call a friend or someone else and tell a corny joke, he’ll visit the bookstore, he’ll watch programmes about nature which often involve animals mating, he’ll think about girls.
I rather liked spotting all the commonalities between each story. Being a bit of a fact fiend myself, I enjoyed reading the newspaper with him as he goes through the stranger reports. This was an odd little book indeed, but I’m rather glad to have read it. (9/10)
Source: Own TBR. Kenneth Gangemi, Olt , Backinprint.com, 54 pages.
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff
I really wanted to like this debut novel: it’s dystopian and it’s got zombies, it’s also a road trip, refreshingly set in Ireland, it’s also totally dominated by female characters – there is only one male of note in the entire book. I devoured it – it’s a quick and easy read – but I was left feeling hungry because not a lot really happens during most of the book.
Twelve-year-old Orpen has been raised on a skrake-free island off the west coast of Ireland, living there with her mother and Maeve. It’s been an idyllic childhood, growing food, learning to read, and most importantly learning how to fight, how not to get bitten by the skrake – as the zombies are called. Orpen must always be ready to fight or flee. Her Mam and Maeve make regular hunting and foraging trips onto the mainland, leaving Orpen behind. On one trip, her Mam gets bitten – and Maeve makes Orpen witness the gradual transformation before putting an end to Mam. When Maeve, who is fearsomely fit, is bitten, Orpen decides to seek help and takes Maeve with her in a wheelbarrow together with Danger her dog. She is aiming to locate assistance at the fabled Phoenix City and heads off towards Dublin, with Maeve dipping in and out of consciousness in the barrow whilst the transformation is beginning. On the way she meets and deals with some skrake, but it isn’t until she is closer to Dublin that she meets a small group of other humans – a man, a pregnant woman and a child.
If you went by all the publicity puffs and quotes on the book’s covers, you’d think it was something really new and original, but apart from the female angle, I felt I’d read it all before. Orpen is certainly fit and brave, but I enjoyed hearing about her life on the island more than her life on the road which was rather dull. The most interesting bit came just at the end and was then left up in the air – there may be a sequel, I’d wager. If you’ve not read too many dystopian road trip novels like me – you may enjoy this book. (6.5/10)
Source: Review copy. Sarah Davis-Goff, Last Ones Left Alive, Tinder hardback, 288 pages.