The only story

My last read is The only story, by Julian Barnes.

Considering that The sense of an ending was a really good book, my expectations were much higher this time from Barnes. Considering this is his latest novel, and all critics highly appraised it, I jumped right into it.

The only story is not the usual story that may send a very strong emotion from start, a story that might make you shed some tears, or the story that might make you stop and start thinking for some time before you continue. This novel is mostly about pain, in different aspects, of loving, or rather, of not knowing how to love.

We two characters from different worlds, but very much alike: Susan and Paul.

Susan is a middle aged woman, wife and mother of two children, who mostly missed her whole life, being stuck in a marriage without fulfillment, and without any joy in her life. The daughters, old enough to purse their own life, and her husband, lonely and distant enough to allow her to do whatever she wants or likes with the time and money at her disposal.

She meets Paul, a young boy, of only 19, who has no idea about life, about love, about expectations or the reality that he lives in. He just started college, living with his parents, and imagining life and love in an absolute and idealistic way.

He finds in Susan a mature woman that does not treat him like a child, and the exact opposite of Veronica from The sense of an ending. He is very much attracted by her independence, her straightforwardness, her lack of “too much talking” or “undecided behavior” which characterizes most girls of that adolescence age.

Paul has the courage, the recklessness and the blindness to go inside the Macleod’s house, basically starts living with them, and begins to interact also with Mr. Macleod, who is too weak or too comfortable to really confront his wife and throw Paul out.

It is not long before this story comes to a natural , or expected resolution: Susan and Paul move together in another town, him abandoning his parents , she, abandoning her husband and her old life.

This should somehow bring happiness for everyone, but it’s not the case. Susan is a mother, an adulteress, a scarlet woman. The social and psychological pressure on her is too great for her to bare. She was a simple girl, did not have many relationships, did not know how to express her feelings, did not know where and how to go. Even at the mature age (50) she still is a little girl in many ways. She cannot find a solution, and perhaps in her way she realizes that her new lover, 30 years younger, cannot and will not be by her side as an old lady forever.

Susan starts drinking, first in a small matter, then reaching the stages of alcoholism. This leads to her brain damaging, dementia and later getting her committed in hospital care.

Paul never manages to get through after his relationship with Susan. He tries with different women, some more or less understanding of his past. All his remaining life he tries to understand what is love, what was wrong with his love, and why his feelings have died, and why Susan has abandoned him, them, and mostly herself.

The sad ending can only tell us that we should live the moment, enjoy while it lasts, and expectations of forever joy, forever happiness are futile.

As Paul finds out, every one has a story. And all stories have a bad ending.

The only story is Paul’s story, not necessarily Susan’s, it’s a sad and compelling story, in some ways similar with The sense of an ending, but with different emotions. Both novels focus on understanding past love, as seen from later age, one of them about the misunderstanding of love goals, and the other about not understanding the pure femininity.

Barnes proves once again that he is a great writer. I am looking forward for his next novels in my queue.

The autumn of the patriarch

I read The autumn of the patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Very originally written, in very long phrases that contain hundreds of words, hardly having any connection sentences, The autumn of the patriarch is an expression, much like poetry, of a nameless dictator from the Americas, who lives and rules for a very very long time, comparable to an eternity.

We are shown what it means for a country to have an absolute ruler, who can dictate everything, starting from TV shows, the weather, who lives or dies, free sexual favors from whoever he feels like, free hundreds of offspring, the feel of unquestionable and unchallenged ultimate power.

Even if the ruler is on one side much less than educated – we can see that he cannot read nor write – on the other side he gets to make country-wide decisions without being questioned, and is seen by his people as the patriarch, the one who can lead them to a better life, even if grinding through his calls makes a lot of people suffer and die.

The patriarch is old, very old, and even if we do not know his age, we get the feeling that he is forever in office, even though we are reminded about his coming to power, however nobody knows how long ago it happened, neither anyone is alive that witnessed the events. The patriarch has the same weird habits, like counting the cows at the imperial palace, having people suffering of leprosy in his palace, checking by himself that all doors are closed, hiding his bee honey, even though him being the supreme leader nobody would steal from him. He can have all the luxury in the world yet he sleeps in a cold dark room, on the floor. We can see a glimpse of treachery paranoia, as he always feels someone is beside him in the room, even if he spends a lot of time and effort to lock all his doors and windows, to make sure he can sleep in safety. Sometimes the fear is not about a specific enemy in person, but maybe death itself.

We can see the patriarch even finds a clone, a man which resembles him physically very well, who is assassinated after many years in which he took his place in public places. The real dictator makes his reappearance after the scam funeral, just to see who his enemies are, and eliminate them. Such things make people think he is immortal and nobody even knows whether he is still alive or dead – television shows older photos and videos, during the years in which he has no mood to appear publicly, but still being alive and leading.

A central point in the novel is his mother, Benedicion Alvarado, which this time has a name. A former prostitute, now a simple woman who lives in the country-side, raising chickens and tending to simple house activities, his mother never realizes what is happening with her son, his power and his position. She still awaits him at home as she would have with a young boy. I can see a bit of mockery from the author regarding the mother pathology, showing that even the dictator has a mother, someone who can dictate to him.

More events that we can see in the book is the patriarch falling in love for a mysterious woman, which is depicted as the complete opposite of modern beauty: hairy, not feminine, boyish even. We see the patriarch falling for this woman who manages to become de facto ruler because of him allowing it, and the same patriarch devastated of pain when Letitia Nazareno is killed among with their child.

Other themes we can understand: enemy killing, hanging, population starvation, turning the dead mother into a saint, foreign politics, selling the sea around the country to the foreigners, physical suffering of the patriarch: born and living with testicle hernia.

We can see in the end that the autumn is not just about an endless regime, but also its real end, when the freeing death finally approaches the patriarch, which gives us the idea that in the end, nobody escapes from it.

The autumn of the patriarch is a strong expression of autocracy, a poem of power and the suffering caused, but also a glimpse into the solitude and unhappiness of power.

Un soir au club

I read Un soir au club by Christian Gailly.

A cute short story, Un soir au club , translated to An evening at the club, presents a man that has been dulled by his late life coming back to his origin, to his youth and his long time hidden desires.

Simon was a famous jazz singer, a piano player, who retired, got married, quitted drinking, and living a life as an electrical engineer. Just that one evening, he finds himself close to the piano again, and his old wishes resurface.

We are presented with the situation where the real character of a man still comes back to the present, even if ten years or more has been dormant. Simon is attracted by the mirage, the power, the feeling of the piano, and starts living again. He drinks again, he feels again, he is alive again. He falls in love again, meets a new woman, who stirs up all his desires that he thought long time lost.

He postpones telling his wife, he wants to spend more time with his new and old life in the same time.

The price to pay however is that his wife dies. I found the fact very much symbolical, even though from my point of view this was unnecessary in the novel and the main point of my dislike. The author could have proved his points even without this futile death.

The price Simon pays is not very much paid by him. He finds a new love, a new hope, a new dream, but the price is paid by his wife who loses her life. I find the solution at least a bit disturbing.

To move further, we are changed from a third perspective, observation, at the start of the story, to a much more personal approach, the storytelling from a first perspective of a presumable good friend of everyone in the book.

Simon, even though he was to blame for the life he used to live, for his suicide attempts, for the drinking, he is given redemption by his wife,  who saves him, bears him a child, and gives him a much better life. And yet, even though this happens, Simon finds his way back to his old life, but still we see him as the good character, the innocent. He cheats on his wife and finds nothing wrong with it. He somehow even blames her for the dull life he is living, and thanks her when she passes away to give him his freedom.

Honestly I did not like Simon’s character too much. Egocentric, cheating, his only qualities are that he avoids lying, and that he is so good in what he does: piano playing.

His new life is starting with his new love, a woman which is much more suited for him: a singer, a bar owner, full of the American spirit.

Simon will live a better life, at the expense of the others.

Un soir au club is a short novel that presents a sometimes very true fact: we cannot change people, we can restrain them, but they will not be happy. Some people are ment to be in some way, and they need to follow their path, and hopefully not destroying other people’s lives.

The Hunger Games

I managed to read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins .

A critical success, The Hunger Games exceeded a little bit my expectations. Even if it’s an easy read, it catches the reader by not being dull, or by refraining on action. Well written, it puts the reader in the skin of the characters.

We have a girl, young lady, Katniss Everdeen, who is much more mature for her age of 16, living in a dark future where she has to take care of her family, working something which is not really fit for her powers: hunting in the woods for wild animals which they can eat or exchange for other goods.

She lives in the most poor districts of a future fictional country, where the biggest attraction are the so called Hunger Games, where 24 children kill each other in the arena. I find everything in the book pleasing and believable,¬† except the fact that the kids have to kill each other in a televised show for the fun of everyone in the country. The author clearly wanted to emphasize on something very painful for the eye, to underline the clear absurdity and pain of such a show. I would expect and think it’s more believable to have full grown men in such a dark spectacle, let alone children.

So the ridiculous of the situation is a bit too much, to see young children of age 12 being killed, is hardly an idea of a good spectacle, most likely in any dark future.

To get past that, we have Katniss, a young girl, who has a role in life to take care of her mother and younger sister, and develops all the skills she can do, at her age, to achieve that. She has a hunting partner, and they bring back home anything they can muster in the wilds.

Katniss is a bit naive, a bit childish, and is not much interested in personal growth. Which is understandable considering her situation, lost father in childhood, and not questioning yet life motifs and reasoning.

She would do anything for her family, and offers herself as a tribute to the Games instead of her younger sister, knowing this most likely means her end. Her noble spirit and self sacrifice are most commendable.

We see her exploring the Capitol, the capital of the fictional realm, where everybody is wealthy, and her preparation for the Games, which is a deadly reality TV show, pretty well pictured, with sponsors, attractions, interviews , depicted very well, but still giving a lot of mock-up impression of the reality shows of today’s media.

At some point it reminds me of Jim Carrey’s movie The Truman show.

Katniss is small, weak, injured, poor, but she can master a bow, and has a natural intelligence. Through her journey in the arena, she finds friends, she finds enemies, she gets hurt, she finds pain, she finds relief, she learns to lie, she learns to pretend, she learns to cry and to withhold.

Together with the boy from her district, they manage to find a solution to win, even if this means defying the Capitol, even if it means killing, even if it means lying and playing the love part for the audience.

I find it very pleasing that The Hunger Games did not turn into a soapy love story between Katniss and her fellow boy tribute Peeta, considering they win together, play the romance for the public, and defy the Capitol to win together.

The depicted pain and sorrow is challenging, and the reality of the hurting is also well described. The bitter feeling is still there, of the remorse, of the ludicrous of the situation. The general feeling is that the children, and poor people, have much more common sense, love, caring, and attention that we would expect, much more than the grown ups themselves, who are much more interested in blood bath than anything else.

We also see the resemblance of the vicious circle in communist regimes, nobody likes it, but everyone praises it, and it’s still going, because nobody has the courage to step up and stop the illusion.

Overall a good read, even although sometimes predictable, The Hunger Games is a success and a pointed finger towards media and the ludicrous of the modern day television.

99 francs

I read another of Beigbeder’s books, after Love lasts three years, this time 99 francs.

In the same sarcastic, sometimes funny style, this time we are put in the world of advertising and money. Last time , the author criticized marriage and love, this time, it’s a different subject, and the arguments are much better put.

We are shown the life of an ad creator, Octave, who works for a big company, and his solely task is to create the perfect commercial for a product, such that everyone’s bank accounts are filled. We get a glimpse of the industry, how it’s seen from the inside: to brainwash people, get their money, manipulate them into believing they want different products. The book is also a big warning for everyone, that the big companies are money driven and will do anything to get their products into your basket.

Because Octave had a success before, he now can do whatever he wants and gets plenty of money from his company. He can afford everything he likes, and starts to live a depraved life, separating from his girlfriend, who is pregnant with him, and only lives by the day with all the pleasures he can find: cocaine, prostitutes, vacations, drink, smoke.

He is put in the situation of having a new clip for a new product, and almost completely messes it up. This brings him into his boss’ attention, who expects more from him. Once pressure settles in, he starts to behave pretty erratic and tries to find solutions, one weirder than the previous. He goes with the team to film the clip for the new product, convincing his company to hire his prostitute friend for starring the video.

The absurd of the situations are both funny and ridiculous: ads companies are being blamed for everything in the world, and the people who run them. The people involved in the creation of the ads, including the characters, are on the last step of humanity, full of misogyny, disrespect, arrogance. They accuse and blame everyone for the consumerist society, for the current pension funds, they even kill an old lady for the fact that she owns shares in a retirement fund.

Octave receives what he deserves, getting jailed for murder complicity. His boss tries to escape the pressure and the situation with the company and fakes his death. His old girlfriend fakes also her death to be with his former boss. His prostitute love abandons him for a rich man who can provide her with all her needs.

Octave realizes he is alone, somehow a broken genius, but full of mistakes, bad approach, and regrets.

The book presents the ad world in a way that perhaps many of us did not know about, and it’s a good read and a good introduction to a 21st century motive, the consumerist society, capital market, and the results of the actions of the people in these new situations.

Son de mar

I read Son de mar by Manuel Vicent. It’s a wonderful story, full of emotion, full of heart, full of feelings and the atmosphere is very unique. The immersion is very well done, and the reader is taken exactly in the time and place where the author wants it to be.

It’s a strange love story, full of symbols, full of myths, about the discovery of love, the discovery of lust, the need for getting close, and the need to get away, to explore, to find, to experience, and the need to return. Based on the legend of Ulises, the story first presents the ending: a drowned couple in the Mediterranean sea, and then goes on with the beginning. The symbols start to appear from the first page: the couple are dressed as a bride and groom, the groom resembles a man who has already died, but somehow he was still alive again. They both return to land dead, after a long story, just to be reunited in death, as they seem to have been united in life.

The story starts from the beginning, with a young and full of fantasy adolescent love, between a young and inexperienced history teacher, and a young girl, a waitress, who at 18 years old, fancies stories, legends and cinema stars. They discover together love, affection with words, physical contact, lust and desire. After a while their life becomes dull, only in a single place, on the Mediterranean coast, until one day, Ulises is lost at sea, presumed dead. Even if their love was never confessed, Martina suffers deeply and greatly, and never finds joy again. Even after years of mourning and a new marriage with a very wealthy man, her joy was still in the years together with her first husband, in their poverty, by the sea, eating fresh fish and serving at the bar.

As in the legend, Ulises returns after ten years of exploring the world, as a new man, experienced, full of new stories, but back to his first love, which he still considers the woman of his life. Martina accepts him, this time as a hidden lover, for her love and affection to him was beyond the facts and the reasons for him dumping her without a word for ten years, with a young son to grow. Even if her life moved on, Martina is still forever connected to him, even without words.

Their hidden life cannot last forever, Martina’s actual husband discovers them, and they run at sea, this time having their boat sunk for good, both of them ending their lives as seen in the beginning of the story.

The book is full of poetry, a Romeo and Juliet story, accepting their sad fate, but this time even if their love was consumed in their own marriage, their happiness was never completed. They were too young to be happy together, and then it was too late, as the strings attached could never be broken free. Somehow the story presents the impossible love, even if it was achievable at first, it was still impossible. Thus, the paradox implied gives the reader a feeling of grief.

The very strong emotions presented are touching, makes us feel to want to enjoy and appreciate the people in our lives, and the time we spend together with the people we love, as the future holds much of the unknown, even if maybe at some points, people have to be separated in order to understand what they mean for one another, and be happy together, in the short or long time they have to share.

Love lasts three years

I have read Love lasts three years, by Frederic Beigbeder. A very short novel , cynical, funny, written in a modern way, Love lasts three years is an argumentative speech over the theorem given by the title.

We see a life experience of a marriage, then adultery, love and divorce, through the eyes of an young man, who jumped to a hard conclusion in his life, that love cannot last longer than three years, and then trying to convince himself with all possible arguments, to support this scenario. A young man falls in love, lives happily with his wife, a year full of passion, a year full of tender, and then a year of boredom, only to fall in love with another person, cheat, and divorce.

As it looks to me, the character of this novel experiences a very strong emotion, passion, that subsides with time, which is somewhat normal, but emphasizes this into his life tragedy. The author wants to underline the fact that too many young people marry too soon, before knowing very well the other person, and more importantly, before knowing themselves. So, circling around the main theme, love and marriage, we find a good example of a person trapped in a marriage without knowing really themselves, and then because of the society norms, finds himself trapped in an forbidden relationship, which affects him deeply , especially because it’s forbidden and elusive. At a more mature age, he finds a mature love, and his evolution in time gets him in a situation which is hard to escape from.

We can pick some few motifs that are highlighted in the book. First, it’s the model of the young man, scared of getting trapped into a marriage. Second, is the young man, who is already trapped into a marriage and wanting to escape. Third, it’s the man who always wants what he cannot have, and gets bored and doesn’t like what he already has, the man who does not appreciate his life. We also have an intellectual who wants to find logic and reasoning in love, feelings and emotions. The character wants to find an explanation, an excuse, for dumping his wife, for getting in love with another woman. So, we have the motif of the trapped intellectual.

In the end we are being given the hope that maybe in some situations love doesn’t really last three years, as the adultery couple manages to get and be together, even if their relationship is not exclusive.

Beigbeder explores an old theme, in a modern fashion, no inhibitions, pure brainstorm, mind exercise, bringing arguments for a big issue of the 21st century: marriage and divorce, the traditional versus modern family, future of the family as the basic cell of the society. Overall an interesting book to read, worth an hour in an airplane flight.

The currents of space

I finished the third volume of the Empire series by Isaac Asimov , after reading Pebble in the sky and The stars, like dust

After being a bit disappointed by the first two books, I did not expect much from The currents of space. A little different from the others, it presents a world of politics, economics, and focuses less on science fiction, although it adds a few new elements, like psychic alteration of the minds using special devices.

We have a man without memory, Rik, who is found on a special planet on the Galaxy, who produces the most valuable economic trait, the kyrt. (Anyone remembers Dune ? This was written before). This man was probed with a psychic device, and forgot even basic things like talk, eating, etc. He is taken into custody by a simple woman, who gets him a simple job at a kyrt factory.

The chain of events starts when Rik begins to remember who he was before, a spatial analyst, and of a huge secret that threatens with the destruction of the planet all together. With the help of a local city mayor, they escape the planet, but they are being caught by another galactic power, the Trantor, as their home planet is under the power of the Sark.

We are presented with politics, with the ruling of the planet, by the Sark lords, who hold the economic dominion over the kyrt export, and with the problems of the ruled, the Florinians, who are kept almost as slaves in kyrt factories.

Our characters are caught and confronted, and from here on, the novel looks very bluntly ended, after a complicated, long and well written intrigue, the conclusion comes very swift. Rik, the spatial analyst remembers about what happened, and Terens the mayor admits to be the culprit and tells about the currents of space who are about to take Florina’s star into a supernova.

The novel did not exceed my expectations, it is another very light read, but I was disappointed in the end even more, as it looks a lot hasted, without a proper folding of the events, like the two previous books. At least the romantic soap opera is not present in this book , which is a plus. A good romance is always nice to have, but not in the fashion presented before.

Light read, with weak characters and weak plot unfolding, The currents of space remains a train newspaper read, probably good for the 1950s but too soft for 2018.

The sense of an ending

I have read The sense of an ending, by Julian Barnes. Having previously read “England, england” from the same author, I did not have high expectations on this book, even if it did win the Booker prize in 2011. I was proven wrong, as The sense of an ending is one of the best reads I had lately.

The novel is a strong first person life story, a complete personal and subjective view of a man’s life, from different perspective: starting from teenage, young man, and old man (grandpa even). We are presented the normal things that preoccupy young intellectual male in the 60s: books, literature, knowledge, interest in opposite sex, and curiosity. We are presented with interactions in school, how young boys would get friends, and what was their opinion on the world and things like: suicide, unwanted pregnancy, virginity, and similar topics.

The storyteller, Tony, has a teenage relationship with a very strange girl, Veronica, a symbol of the eternal feminism that is not comprehensible by man. She has no apparent explanation for anything she does, being totally illogic, pure feminist, without any rationale in actions, and very confusing for a young boy at his first relationship. The image is depicted very well, taking the reader back in time in their young years, getting very personal and close to each of us, throughout our young selves.

We are presented with apparently unconnected events, like Adrian’s suicide, and the breakup with Veronica, which starts a relationship with Adrian, before he committed suicide. We are then taken later into time, nearly 40 years later, to see how our character turned out: met a far simpler woman, precise and very predictable: Margaret, whom he married and had a daughter, but their marriage never lasted. Margaret is the symbol of the best friend woman, who can be a lover, but never in full symbiosis.

The chain of events unfolds with the will from Veronica’s mother, and Adrian’s diary, and with the rebirth of many feelings from Tony regarding Veronica, and their somehow not complete love story. The end is very unpredictable, and somehow makes us very pitiful for Veronica, as she would not have deserved the crude reality that happened to her: her mother seducing her lover and giving birth to a brother to her with her own lover. The end plot twist is somehow a bit painful and dark, and I would have honestly expected something different , as the story unfolded.

The sense of an ending is a life story, marvelously written, taking us back through each stage of our life, making us relive a lot of moments from our youth. It depicts the eternal feminine mystery in a great way, and teenage relationships, but also maturity and the effect of it, and the difference that our initial events make for us, and the fingerprint that we always wear with us , from the persons that truly influenced our life.

A great book, gives a bitter taste in the end, and makes me think a lot, which is something I really appreciate in a book.

A week in December

I have read another book from Sebastian Faulks, after¬†Engleby , this time “A week in December”.

The novel is a strong depiction of early 21st century London, with it’s ups and downs, I would name it even a mosaic of the current society that we live in. We see the life of 7+ characters, apparently very different, but each one of them represents a certain aspect of today’s society, and how it has evolved in the last years.

We have a very powerful financial business man, John Veals, who has sacrificed his life for money, which is the only thing that actually interests him. He has a wife and two children, and offers them everything they desire, except himself, love, and attention. He is focused on doing financial transactions and putting down other companies at his own interest. Here we see some prequel to the 2008 financial crisis that shattered the world economics.

His wife, Vanessa, is the woman who finds accomplishment in expensive and luxurious life, buying, and living on great expense, but alone, failing both as a mother and a wife. Their son, Finn, becomes a marijuana addict, because he has all the money and the world and nobody to guide him, eventually having schizophrenic episodes.

Hassan is a son of an immigrant, who finds comfort in the Quran, and plans to do a terrorist strike on a hospital, plotting with some other young boys who have the same issue: loathe for the current society, for the women’s exposure, for the American expansion through Irak and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, and so on. They deny themselves friendship, love, and science, to become addict and subdued by the Quran verses. In the end, we have hope, as he has a revelation moment, and discovers that not all in life is bound for him to solve by his terrorist attempt, and manages to find out strong feelings , both ways, from a girl that was always around him.

Hassan’s father is an immigrant who did not study much in school, but a very successful businessman, with a good honest business with lemons. He desires to be something that he is not, always appreciating other people’s culture, even if he had no chance nor desire at it. He is bound to meet the Queen to be delivered a British Empire order, and wants to talk to the Queen about his reading, although he can barely read. His attempt at being what he is not isn’t hypocrisy, it;s rather funny actually.

We also have a young lawyer, Gabriel, who is blocked in an old relationship with an older, married woman, and cannot get over it. He has also big problems with money, but prefers to spend his time reading or studying. He falls in love for a young girl, Jenni, who is a London tube driver. Jenni is a simple girl, caring for her brother, living a very simple proletarian life, and her only pleasure in life is to play an alternate reality game. Never acquainted love, she is puzzled by her meet of Gabriel, and perhaps one of the positive sides of the book is their encounter, and the possibility of them forming a deranged couple somehow brings hope and light. Gabriel also has a schizophrenic brother, commited in a mental institution. The illness is recurrent, another sign of 21st century diseases.

Another character is Tranter, a literary critic, who finds himself in loathing of everyone else in his work branch, but being incapable of producing something more valuable.

We have as well a polish footballer, an immigrant, who tries to find a spot in a football team in England, with a Russian girlfriend, who tries to get accustomed to being the girlfriend of an important man, after living a solitude life of posing for adult content.

A week in December is a true mosaic, we have characters from all the classes, with all the problems of life, with dark days, with some hope and some light, and somehow, each of them, has a small piece of us, after all.