book review: colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the new novel by Haruki Murakami. It was more in the realm of Sputnik Sweetheart or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it was a 1Q84 or Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Really, that’s probably all the review this needs. I love Murakami novels (even the ones I have issues with) and this is very definitely a Murakami novel.

In this one, the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is trying to reconnect with his tight group of friends from when they were young. There’d been five of them and he was the only one who didn’t have a colour in his name. He lost contact when they all abruptly cut him off one day, out of nowhere. Tazaki is pushed into this task by a girlfriend and it involves a lot of reflection and listening to Liszt.

It didn’t get very weird. It echoed the dream responsibilities and other worlds of some of his other books, and there’s speculation about what could have happened and Tazaki’s responsibility for what a nonexistent version of himself was capable of.

I liked it. Not set on fire by it, but Murakami is my comfort reading now, so I’m okay with my brain being set aflame elsewhere.

book review: the gone-away world

Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World is kind of a gonzo post-apocalyptic novel. One of the main characters is, in fact named Gonzo. But it’s also the story of how the world came to be this way, through the use of Go Away bombs that destroyed the world with no pesky fallout. Except for making the planet a place where nightmares become real.

The story starts with the narrator and Gonzo’s company of truckers and general bad-asses being called in to do a job, put out a fire, save the world. There’s a cataloguing of the various kinds of pencil-necks one finds in the world, ranked according to their dangerousness, and the idea that resonates through the book is introduced: being a professional means giving up your personhood to be part of a machine.

Can you see why I liked this one?

But then the first chapter is over and the trucks are rolling towards doom and glory and we drop back to childhood. We learn about being trained to fight ninjas by a daft elderly man, and having lots of sex as a political student, and absurd stupid wars featuring absurd terrible soldiers (and fearsomely brilliant ones) and terror and friendship. It’s awesome. And funny. And there are mimes.

I liked this better than Angelmaker, but that might be because I wasn’t trying to figure out how seriously to take it the whole time. It was the kind of crazy awesome book the world needs more of.

book review: the stress of her regard

Tim Powers’ historical fantasy The Stress of Her Regard is a deeply cool gothic romance of a doctor named Crawford whose bride is killed on their wedding night because he mistakenly wed something inhuman at his bachelor party. He runs from the law, and his now dead wife’s twin sister, who assume he murdered her, but in France he learns that he’s part of a terrible jealous and predatorial family.

Crawford makes his way across the Alps and finds his life interwoven with John Keats, Percy Bysse Shelley and Lord Byron. All of them are tied to these creatures and some are trying to deal with them, while others try to free themselves.

It’s an excellent book, especially because there are so many things the characters try and are successful at, but then they backslide on their victories. It’s a tale of friendship and self-destruction. Because these are the Romantics, everything is done melodramatically, but for grand tragic purposes.

Powers also brings in the ideas of randomness and determinism (a la Last Call, my favourite book by him) and even a bit of quantum physics. I like it a lot and am glad it’s back in print (which is why even though it’s from the 1980s I hadn’t ever read it before).

book review: the boy in the striped pajamas

John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a strange little book. It’s about Bruno, a very naive 9-year-old boy from Berlin whose father is a Nazi commandant transferred to Auschwitz.

Bruno, being nine, thinks life on the other side of the fence from his house must be gobs of fun, what with the pajamas they get to wear. He meets a boy on the other side of the fence and they strike up a friendship, in which Bruno displays his ignorance and privilege. It’s not a terribly realistic story and belongs in the zone of fairy tale, but set in our own monstrous history. Nothing really sounded very German, but did sound very much the way a British person would portray a naive little German boy. It’s like Bruno was Pooh, stuck very far from the Hundred-Acre Wood. I liked it, but if you want a more in-depth German kids in WW2 story read The Book Thief.

book review: preacher (vols. 5-9)

I had always thought I’d read all of Garth Ennis’ Preacher, but it turns out I only had the first four volumes before I went off travelling and got interrupted. I don’t know why I never came back to finish it, except that I thought I had. Anyway. I’ve finished it now and Preacher remains a great comic.

The basic story is that Jesse Custer is a hard-drinking ass-kicking southern preacher who has been given the power of the Word of God and he’s off to track God down for abandoning its creation. He has an Irish vampire buddy named Cassidy and the girl he used to steal cars with, Tulip to help him. There’s an organization called the Grail that is trying to stop him to usher in Armageddon on their terms. It’s a pretty big story.

There’s a lot of backtracking in the story to go back and give us more background on characters, which, by the end turns this huge epic into a couple of guys duking it out on a street in San Antonio. It’s blackly funny and very situated in the 1990s, which is kind of fun to read now (because I am apparently becoming nostalgic in my old age).

book review: please ignore vera dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a book by A.S. King about a pizza-delivering high-school senior named Vera whose best friend Charlie is dead.

The story jumps around in time covering the nine months after he died along with their lives up till then. We learn about how they became friends and how their friendship fell apart, and about saying something when something is wrong. The whole idea of ignoring things and not getting involved to maintain a peaceful zen life gets a pretty good criticism in this book.

What I loved about the book was the shifting in time and perspective. We all know right from the beginning that Charlie dies, but we don’t exactly know how. It’s a good hook and as we learn more about them we want to know how it came to be this way. King did something similar in The Dust of 100 Dogs, where the main character dies in the prologue and the rest of the book is about getting us back to that point. The book is mostly told from Vera’s perspective but there are bits tossed in from her dad’s point of view (he’s a recovered alcoholic whose wife left and changed the spelling of her name so he writes about her as CindySindy, which is kind of heartbreaking), and from the dead boy’s point of view, and from the big pagoda monument that sits on the hill above their town. It’s really well done.

The villains are appropriately high-school insane. I’m very glad I never encountered such a vindictive horrible liar as Jenny Flick, but I completely believe she exists (maybe she got a bit moustache-twirly at the very end, but I wouldn’t put her actions past her).

So yes, a very good YA book.

book review: burnout

Burnout is a comic by Rebecca Donner and Inaki Miranda. It’s about Danni, a teenage girl in a west coast logging town. She and her mom have just moved in with her mom’s new boyfriend and his son Haskell. Danni has a huge crush on Haskell who is a huge tree-spiking environmentalist. There are conflicts about friendship and loyalty and the economy of a logging town. It doesn’t give any answer to what’s best, just what happened. The art is very good black and white indie-ish kind of stuff.