THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON by Adam Johnson (First published by Random House, 2012)
This is the story of a survivor who has nothing to live for.
Pak Jun Do is a North Korean John Doe and by all accounts a model citizen of a shitty nation.
Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel illustrates that when living within ideological systems it is too easy to get stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hegemony functions to make any way of life appear to be ‘normal’ and/or beyond reproach.
Johnson asks plenty of loaded questions such as to whether it is nobler to be devoted to the ‘dear leader’ (Kim Jon II) of North Korea than to cling to an often elusive American dream. No middle way is offered. Continue reading
CHRISTINE directed by John Carpenter (USA, 1993)
“I hate Rock’n’Roll!” A good pub quiz question would be to name the movie of a Stephen King novel that ends with this statement.
Here it is in ‘Christine’ a mix of high school melodrama and sub-par horror.
The line is spoken by the movie’s human romantic interest, Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul) as she mistakes music from the ghetto blaster of a passing scrapyard worker for the car radio of the now crushed and cubed 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine.
This car’s theme tune is George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ ‘Bad To The Bone’ and its identity is also defined by a series of rock classics. Bored to the bone would be more accurate.
THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang (Hogarth Books, 2015)
By turns surreal and nightmarish, this is a short but complex novel which is full of secrets.
In very broad terms I would describe it as a book about descending into silence and , quite possibly , incurable madness.
The main character is Yeong-hye who is, by all accounts, an unremarkable woman. In the words of her brother-in-law: “The only thing that was especially unusual about her was that she didn’t eat meat”.
Her husband is beyond himself with a combination of rage and repulsion over his wife’s sudden change in eating habits. Her father turns to violence and attempts to force feed her meat. She tries to kill herself and is eventually institutionalized. She gives the impression that she would be happy to die and/or become a tree. Continue reading
THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers (First published, 1940)
This has to be one of the best titles of all time and is widely regarded as one the great American novels.
It is certainly a remarkable achievement especially considering it is the debut work of a writer who was just 23 years old when it was first published.
Full of worldly wisdom and compassion for life’s underdogs, it suggests that Carson McCullers was writing from her own bitter experiences. Continue reading
ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate, 2014)
"Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever"
This engrossing novel follows the parallel lives of a young German boy (Werner Pffnig) and a young French girl (Marie Laure) caught up in the mayhem and confusion of the second world war.
The novel’s year zero is 1944 and the complex yet brilliant plotted story shifts back and forward in time.
Short chapters give the urgency of a thriller yet patiently piece together the threads that briefly and movingly bring these two blighted lives together.
Doerr unsentimentally shows us how ordinary lives are corrupted by the horror of war.
One of the real strengths of the novel is that our sympathies lie with both of the main characters even though conventionally speaking they are mortal enemies and Werner is alined with the morally depraved Hitler youth. Continue reading