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.

The stars, like dust

I continued my read of Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series with the second novel, The stars, like dust. Compared to Pebble in the sky, this second novel is even more soapy and cinema-oriented. Would probably make a good script for a teenage action movie. In short, my disappointment grown a little bit with this episode.

We have a young student, who develops from a carefree young man to a mature and married man in a couple of weeks, again we have a galaxy wide plot that is revealed, a lot of basic characters that have their fate chosen, but this time, we have a bit more twists and plot changes.

Biron Farrill is our main character, who is manipulated by one of his acquaintances to go to a different planet, to get dragged into a plot against the rulers of the system, the Tyranni. He is being chased by one of their leaders, during which time he falls for the daughter of the head of a planetary system, and for sure, as in soap operas, she falls for him as well. Apparent good characters are eventually revealed to have also evil intentions, but, the straight line of the characters is very well defined from the start. We have a simple girl who refuses an arranged marriage, a crazy science addicted uncle, a soldier, and a father who proves to be much more than what he appeared to be.

The world constructed by Asimov is not as complicated and as evolved as in the first novel, but this time he focuses much more on the twists of the plot. Also, he lefts out character development a lot, and only emphasizes on Biron, who gets all the evolution from zero to a full intelligent grown man able to discover the darkest secrets hidden for years. The one thing which I enjoyed was the reference to the United States Constitution, which again, brings back the motif of involution in the future, which Asimov has been playing in all his novels. Somehow makes us feel a little proud and accomplished in our century, and gives hope for a brighter future, that our current constitutions and liberal concepts can be looked at from a distant future with a bit of awe.

Very theatrical, recommendable for young teenagers, The stars, like dust, is a good train read, but nothing more. Maybe in the 50s was a great success, but today, is a bit obsoleted.

Pebble in the sky

I started reading Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series, starting with his first novel: Pebble in the sky.

A light read, Pebble in the sky is a nice, cute, and soft attempt at science fiction. Having previously read Arthur C. Clarke 2001: A Space Odyssey and other writings (Childhood’s End), I can say that Asimov is less based on facts, less scientific, more soapy, and a bit more commercial – cinema oriented story. Asimov tries to reach to the general audience: people not really framed with science fiction, nor the addicted of the genre, not the fanatics, not the science geeks. That’s why I would call his book  a soft attempt at science fiction. It’s more science oriented and evolved than my older read from H.G. Wells’ The time machine , mostly because of half a century and more of scientific development in the world, but still cannot compare to William Gibson’s writings or Philip K. Dick (see A scanner darkly ). By the way, Gibson is in my read queue.

Getting back to a Pebble in the sky, we can see typical scientific motifs: time traveling, space traveling, wars, interplanetary relations, discovering the past. We can also see usual themes: love, interracial quarrels, war again, leading, subducing, and so on.

Pebble in the sky also makes us a bit fond of our own planet, Earth, as in the book it’s depicted as a radioactive destroyed planet, with a very small population. Earthlings look to be more primitive, and be regarded as a low society by the rest of the galaxy. We find out how this can change, by seeing that Earth was the cradle of civilization, long time ago, when one of the characters used to live (for sure, 1950s, when Asimov wrote the book), a character that is taken thousands of years in the future. And we get a warning from Asimov, that, the human race as we know it, might not survive if we keep playing with nuclear warfare. At some points this is suggested by remarks from the characters, who wonder how it was possible to have nuclear devices without any way of protection or contention.

The main character is an archaeologist who wants to discover a secret truth about planet Earth, trying to battle with his education about the induced ideas of Earthlings’ inferiority. He is caught in a plot that can destroy the Galaxy, together with a man from a very distant past, who was subjected to brain enhancement, a scientist that dedicated his life to brain improvements, and a young girl who falls in admiration and love for his nobleness.

In other words, we have a foreigner that comes to a low society planet, falls in love with an Earth woman, and tries to save the whole Galaxy from extermination by solving a plot against it done by the humanity leaders. Sounds very much like a superhero movie, which is the reason why I say the novel is very soapy. A bit of Pocahontas, a bit of the later Die Hard movies, the book has it all. Except the cinema features presented in the novel, we can see some distinguished features that make Pebble in the Sky a good light read: strong imagination, of a Galatic Empire based on human colonies, space travel, the model of population control by removing unwanted citizens that reach a certain age, and so on. We can also see some more not so obvious themes, like religion/autocracy control, quest for power and domination, fight between good and evil, feelings of superiority and inferiority.

A good train read, for 2018, Pebble in the sky was most likely a very good novel in the 1950s, but today, I can only classify it under classic golden science fiction age, superseded by much greater recent works, but with a humorous and relaxing mood which is still pleasant in this day.

Junky

I have read Junky, by William Burroughs.

The novel is one of the strongest depicted I read lately (maybe ever). It presents all the aspects of heroin addiction and peddling, in a personal but almost cynical way, without hiding anything. Our main character and the first person story teller, starts to be a normal person,  we are presented with a small background, and we are forced to understand how this person can turn into someone else, totally changed, whose life starts to circle around junk, the name they use for the heroin, opium, morphine and derivatives.

Being permanently in the low circles of the city, without much distraction, with a lot of experiments and without having a real goal in life, our character starts his habit by first trying out junk out of curiosity, or just because he had it and did not sell it, or because some of his acquaintances told him he can try it himself. Will, by his name, does not look to have much to do with his time, and is eager to try out new things. He starts with smoking tobacco, weed, trying out homosexuality, and eventually begins using plenty of substances more or less legal to see how they feel.

He starts off to sell junk, buy, spending time with a lot of junk addicts, how at some points he is broke and cannot sustain his habit,.He describes how they were stealing from metro drunkards (lush) to get money to be able to use junk, because just buying and selling was not profitable enough for their personal demand. One of the most strong emotion is depicted when he starts to experience junk sickness: withdrawal symptoms. The feelings are very strong, and the physical pain, which is said to be as worse as it can possibly get.

He is arrested, charged, imprisoned, and multiple times he attempts to get rid of his habit, at some point he even takes a two weeks cure inside a rehabilitation hospital. During his junk experience, he manages to get rid of junk several times, sometimes even for more months in a row, until eventually turning back to junk and being enslaved again.

The story is very sharp, very personal, made of very accurate observations, starting from how they were preparing the junk, how they could not inject it properly, how they were feeling when they could not get the regular shots. The darkness and the horrors of junk addiction and sickness are very real and blunt for the reader.

Junky is a story of the falling, it’s an explanation of how a normal person like you and me, can degrade to the point where to do anything to be able to get the next shot, to get a habit that is solely their purpose in life, even though they could have believed it at the start. It also clears out many things for me at least, that I did not consider previously, and some myths that have less sense after reading Junky. One of them is the addiction: one does not get a habit after one or a few shots, months are needed. Others are that no peddlers want kids as customers, since they spill out everything if questions and have no real money, and that cocaine and other substances do not give a real addiction: junk sickness.

I did previously read A scanner darkly,  but Junky is much stronger in emotion, feeling and personal involvement. My verdict is that it’s a brilliant book for everyone, not just people interested in the subject.

 

A perfect peace

I continued my read of Amos Oz, with the novel A perfect peace.

This time, the author places us in the countryside Israel of the 60s, in a village, settlement type which they call kibbutz. In here, life is a bit different than urban areas, but the novelty of the twentieth century begins to show up.

The main theme of the novel is coping with life in a closed and small community where life is more or less dull or controlled, and the impact of new wave upon it, together with the need for emancipation.

One main character is Jonathan, a child with an uncertain father, from whom everyone has expectancies: to be a good kid, to be a good worker, to be a good husband and a good father. Jonathan has no desire for the life imposed upon him and starts dreaming of a different life, a mirage of a voyage and a free life. He feels imprisoned and unhappy in the kibbutz.

Rimona, Jonathan’s wife is a semi autistic young lady, with a huge pain of miscarriage. She doesn’t realize much what is happening around her, and still imagines that her child is still alive. She desires a child and to live a silent and happy life within herself.

Azaria Ghitlin is the model of the newcomer, the immigrant, for whom the life in the kibbutz is everything desired: a warm home, a lovely and beautiful wife, and the time to discover life’s joy: chess, gardening, a fruitful job as a mechanic, singing the guitar, studying philosophy. Azaria comes to the kibbutz as a total stranger, but his enthusiasm and ability to attract people eventually brings him in the center of the village.

Iolek, Jonathan’s father is the kibbutz’s secretary and incurably ill with a terminal disease he refuses to treat. He has great hopes upon his son, but his life itself has been without much happiness. He doesn’t have many feelings for his wife, whom he considers to be more his companion than his soul-mate. He forgives her adultery with a stranger that might be Jonathan’s father after all, and takes Jonathan as his son without being sure of it. He loves the image and the kibbutz more than his personal life. And expects that his image will stay after his disappearance.

Life in the kibbutz is dull, so Jonathan decides to leave his wife, which gets him exhausted with her care, her calm, her solitude and her distance from him, and his father, who only desires that he takes over the repairing garage, upon which he has no inclination. He leaves the kibbutz eventually to find new world, and the first thing he wants to reach is Petra, the city of stone, in Jordan. He doesn’t reach this point however, but the travel towards it is an initiation path into life. He meets sexual liberation , space, despair, and eventually figures out he has made many mistakes in his life and blames himself for not being up to the expectancy of his parents, his wife and his community. He returns to his home after a year with a baggage of guilt and experience, which makes him a more complete man.

Azaria comes to the kibbutz exactly from an opposite reason: he immigrated from Russia, where he had a very hard life, full of pain and suffering, and sees the kibbutz as the perfect life. He appreciates Jonathan more than anything, as he considers him his best and only friend, and takes Rimona as his own wife before and after Jonathan leaves the village. Even after his return, they live as a family of three, and after that four after Rimona’s and Azaria’s child is born.

As Jonathan is leaving without a trace, this opens up a full exposure of hidden and dark emotions, that make all the characters look very real and human. Iolek is frightened that his son left to his presumable real father that lives in the USA. His dark fears come again true, about this inability to make his wife happy and the reasons that led to her cheating. Hava, his wife, shows her true feelings and accuses Iolek of killing her and their son, that with his lifestyle and his acceptance of the situation he wasted all her life, and that imposing upon his son all the things that he did, he is killing him as well.

All the characters have a dark emotion that they keep it hidden : we can see Shrulik, the next secretary, a man who never married but was in love for 25 years with a woman he idolized, Jonathan about leaving, Hava about her death, Iolek about this image, Azaria about the respect he wanted.

A real good novel about growing up, about being in a place without belonging, about finding the place where you belong, about what you need, and when it’s worth to try to get it, and which sacrifice can be done in order to obtain it, A perfect peace is a wonderful book, more exactly a great character painting.

Amos Oz amazingly depicted his characters here, in which we can all find something in common, something to think and to introspect about ourselves.