Saturday, September 27, 2008

Book Review: The Great Gatzby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is widely recognised as one the of the finest pieces of American literature. It is a narrative about high-living people in the "Roaring Twenties" and in particular the tale of a rich man obsessed with another man's wife: Jay Gatsby.

The way this novel is written is similar to "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad in that it is one man's narrative about another man, one who is mysterious and draws others towards him. Gatsby and all the other characters are rather wasteful, idle people who continually gather for meaningless parties and other social meetings, none of whom, it turns out, are real friends.

The author does a good job of portraying this meaningless decadence and one-dimensional personalities of the age but this is perhaps the downfall of the book; creating unlikeable and one-dimensional characters to highlight disapproval for this type of person unltimately creates an unlikeable and one-dimensional story.

Whilst the language used here is of the times and both eloquent and politically incorrect by today's standards, the author matches the attitude of the characters with his writing style - skilfull indeed but when these people are rather languid and uninteresting this is not a great storytelling style to adopt in my opinion.

However, it is true that the messages in this tale are quite clear (money cannot buy everything, substance over appearances, don't live in the past) and as such this is more than just a story of the calamaties resulting from self-centred attitudes and there is an interesting, if rather brief, ending.

The Great Gatsby is a novel which has meaning and nice language but the style is rather dull in my opinion. It is recommended as an example of American literature, but the reader may find, like me, that this genre leaves them distinctly under-impressed. More the Rather-average Gatsby than Great.

Score: 6/10

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: 1000 by Gavin Robertson

1000 is the story of how a couple of corrupt members of a corrupt system find their lives unravelling. Between them Simon Northcott and Buddy Martial have a brilliant scheme which hacks into the Foreign Exchange markets and extracts money in seconds. Unfortunately there scheme does not go undetected and they find themselves in a tough situation.

The premise behind this novel is reasonably interesting but the mechanics of it is so complicated that the author does not even attempt to explain properly what it involves, leaving the reader rather poorly informed as to what is really going on. Likewise, the structure of the novel is such that it takes four or five chapters before one is really aware of what these men do, and the beginning of the book is largely devoted to reconstrucing a rather hackneyed back story for the main characters.

At times the book picks up pace and threatens to be a bona fide thriller, but the writing style is so undeveloped one feels that the book was written by a teenager. The dialogue is utterly unoriginal and quite boring at times and like so many pulp-fiction thrillers, there is a litany of undeveloped, incidental characters that it is difficult to feel anything for.

Worst of all is the name "1000" that is given to one of the characters, Kay Nocta, supposedly a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. An utterly contrived and ridiculous name for a character and book.

Despite its failings I found myself turning the pages towards the end despite having to force myself through large parts of the book. Having reached the ending, it was quite uninspiring and totally predictable.

I picked up this book in the bargain section of a second-hand bookshop; something which says a lot about its quality. Those who feel like a little light reading may find this readable but don't expect much in the way of style or characters.

Score: 3/10

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: The Story of Zahra by Hanan Al-Shaykh

The Story of Zahra is Hanan Al-Shaykh's novel about the life of a young woman dealing with her madness in war-torn Lebanon. She is sent to visit a relative in Africa as a rest cure but after electro shock therapy she is worse than ever and returns to Beirut in the peak of the fighting.

Some interesting themes are touched upon in this book particularly how people deal with living in a war zone but the central theme of mental illness is rather poorly dealt with in my opinion. The subplot of madness seems to have been created to excuse the writer's inability to write in anything other than a disjointed style and many of the portrayals of madness appeared very cliched to me. In the Story of Zahra, none of the other characters are developed to any degree and this makes it bewildering as to why Zahra reacts to them in the way she does and what exactly fuels her mental state.

Whilst at times Zahra's story begins to become interesting these intervals do not last long before irrelevant flashbacks are recounted in rambling style. Unfortunately, rather than eliciting a sympathy for the plight of a young Arabic woman, the author contrives to create a quite unlikeable character whose hysteria becomes irritating and her demise that finishes the story is as welcome as it is predictable.

Those readers that like plot-driven novels will find nothing here to interest them although those who appreciate a deeper look at characters may find something to interest them - although they may find they dislike the character they discover.

Score: 4/10