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.

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.