“The Rules of Attraction” by Bret Easton Ellis.

11051417

Usually when I watch a film based on a book, I have either already read the book or I am not really inclined to read the book afterwards. ‘The Rules of Attraction’ was the exception to the rule. I remember watching the film years ago and thinking to myself, that the book should be equally as charming with its array of hopeless characters. Mostly, I just wanted to know more about each of them.

Now, having read the book, I can say with absolutely certainty that the film does not stand anywhere close to it. The story is told from the perspectives of a variety of characters, which is really the essence of it, and this aspect was heavily underplayed in the film, since what the book provides is an insight into the same situations by several of the people involved. This is especially important when it comes to the relationships between them, as it becomes obvious that none of the characters see them in quite the same way.

What really lies at the heart of this novel is a nihilistic view of love in our modern times, or rather among privileged students wasting their lives away at university. It’s an endless stream of parties, casual sex, alcohol, drugs and the rare moment of realisation that they actually have no idea what they are doing or what they want to be in life. What is most striking is the absolute hopelessness which Ellis attributes to the idea of love, since every character who is in love with someone, loves the person unrequitedly and is even disdained by the object of their affection. Not only that, but every single love story seems to be based on not even really knowing the person who they are in love with, pointing to the idea that love is merely a fantasy which we allow ourselves to drift into.

The most profound feelings in the book are possessed by an unnamed girl, who is so in love with Sean Bateman, that she kills herself, when she realises that he will never love her back. After her death we see the characters mention it briefly in their reflections, without knowing why she did it, who she even was or in some cases they mock her suicide, essentially rendering her death meaningless and showing the absurdity of her feelings. The same goes for Lauren, who could be called the main character of the book, as her own life revolves around longing for Victor, another student, who has gone abroad to Europe, and she patiently waits for his calls and dreams of their reunion. Only when that happens, Victor does not even know who Lauren is, once again showing how her self-destructive behaviour which stemmed from her longing for him, was completely pointless to begin with.

It’s a book that might leave some in despair, as Ellis indulges in this defeatist portrayal of love and does not shy away from graphic and obscene descriptions of the worst things that may happen in student halls, but it’s a valuable read. It strips away some of the illusions a more naive reader could have about some aspects of life, and instead sobers them up to the prospect that in any given situation one should put themselves first. Which is why at times this book may become frustrating since it’s difficult to accept how little the characters think of their long-term interests and how little they appreciate the opportunities, which they are given in life.

This novel may not be for everyone, as some may find it vulgar and repelling, others just infuriating and not relateable at all. However, I still highly recommend it, since I rushed through it in only a two days, eager to see if any of the characters will have a long-awaited epiphany or if Ellis will sprinkle even a grain of optimism into the final pages. That is for you to find out.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

Advertisements

“Contempt” by Alberto Moravia.

67141.jpg

Nowadays hearing the title ‘Contempt’, it is more likely that one will think of Godard’s film than this book by Moravia. This may be an unfortunate oversight as this short little novel perfectly encompasses the painful end of a relationship, reflecting the thoughts of a man who cannot understand why he is no longer loved. It’s a relatively simple premise and what may seem like a strange execution to some, seemed beautifully done to me.

Ricardo and Emilia have been married for only a few years, but as Ricardo begins his story, the reader already knows that Emilia no longer loves him. Following a first-person narrative the book reveals how Ricardo begins to realise this and then explores his reasons for why it might have happened. Set against a beautiful background, namely Italy, Moravia’s writing is straight-forward and at the same time complex. As Ricardo becomes more and more obsessed about finding out why his wife no longer loves him, his reasoning becomes more and more convoluted, eventually nearing insanity. He is so caught up in his own thoughts and how he should or shouldn’t act, or how other people expect him to act, that he can no longer really embrace reality.

I truly enjoyed this approach of the book taking place largely in Ricardo’s mind. Him over-analysing every situation and him desperately trying to hold on to the ghost of their love is a heartrendingly true depiction of what often tends to happen. I feel like this is the criteria upon which people understand whether they like the book or not – some may feel like he is a possessive lunatic, while others may identify with Ricardo more than they would like to admit. He is by no means a likeable character, quite the opposite, as his ego constantly stands in the way of the reader finding him relateable. Yet his thoughts are interesting to observe, and it may even grant the reader a sense of pleasure to see how Ricardo comes to realise his failures – as he recalls all the incidents which may have changed the way in which Emilia perceives him. What is infuriating is seeing how entitled he feels when it comes to her, since he feels like she almost owes him her life and love, because he, an intellectual, married her and is now slaving away in a job which he doesn’t like to give her an apartment, which she seems to have wanted. This may be the reason why many give the book a bad review, pointing out how sexist the main character is.

What added yet another layer to the plot was the discussion of ‘The Odyssey’ in the context of making a modern film adaptation of it where the modern Odysseus would no longer be a hero, but rather a neurotic man and where the story accidentally seems to mirror Ricardo’s failing marriage. It was an intriguing perspective and was made even more vivid as part of this novel, where we can see Ricardo’s refusal to acknowledge his similarity to this interpretation of the character as another one of his self-deceiving failures.

This book was a real gem and I would highly recommend it to everyone. The story and obsessive descent into a frenzy ensures a riveting read, that is bound to stay with you for a while. I will definitely be picking up something else from Moravia in the near future. It did make me wonder – once again coming across a book that I like so much, that it has earned a place amongst my favourites, I’m starting to realise how difficult it has become to write reviews. I keep choosing books, which I will almost certainly like and so it has become a pattern that all I do is gush over how beautiful the writing is or how compelling the story is. This pattern started to make me feel useless at critiquing and also made me frustrated as I did not know how to find different words for saying the same thing – essentially, that I loved a book. And yet I’ve understood, that perhaps the fact that I am so taken by these books so that I devote a review to just praising them, may be helpful if this clear admiration for a book can inspire at least one person to read it.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

 

“Goya” by Lion Feuchtwanger.

covers_35885

This book pleasantly surprised me from its first few pages. Before reading it, I had assumed that since this was a historical novel simply called ‘Goya’, the book would look at all stages of the painter’s life. However, rather than doing that, Feuchtwanger chose to focus on a specific time in Francisco Goya’s life during which he was already well-known and during which he produced some of his greatest work. I saw this is as an entirely positive approach, since this time period is what interests me the most.

While the book is divided into three parts, it would be easier to say that it actually consists of two. The first part of the book is heavily devoted to his love affair with the Duchess of Alba and how this destructive and yet passionate love inspired his work at the time. Political tensions can be seen simmering in the background, and while Goya is slowly being pulled into them against his will by some of his friends, it does not really impact his life greatly until the second part of the book. The first part is dedicated not only to Goya’s relationship, but it also focuses on relationships between several other key characters, which resulted in an incredibly romantic read. And yet despite all the love scenes and depicted emotions, the novel never once felt too cheap or over-sentimental. Rather, Feuchtwanger ensured that these feelings were meaningful to the way in which Goya’s style of painting progressed. Essentially when he began to see people in a different light, or rather to see their true selves, his paintings began to reflect that as well, so Goya was able to breathe life into his masterpieces.

Having already read Feuchtwanger’s trilogy about Flavius Josephus, I was well aware of his writing skills, but when it came to exploring the deepest corners of Goya’s mind, he succeeded so brilliantly and effortlessly that it just goes to show what true talent is. This is most evident in what I deem the second part of the book, which shows him coping with his deafness and producing Los caprichos, driven both by his fear of madness and an eagerness to show the deplorable state of everything around him (from the people, to the country) which eventually meant that he had taken a political side in the ongoing battle of ideas at the time. Feuchtwanger focused on these etchings, describing Goya’s journey of creating them in great depth, drawing the reader into the loneliness and sadness which the artist felt, making Goya come alive just as the artist had been able to do with his paintings. The book compelled me to look up Goya’s work and examine it more closely, taking into account this insight provided by Feuchtwanger into a strong, determined, complex, passionate and life-loving character. This led to an extremely different experience than just merely looking at a painting with no context to build upon.

The amount of detail put into this novel in order to come to conclusions about Goya’s character and work starting from the intention behind it, his own emotions about a particular piece and finally to the lives of the people he painted, is truly astounding. From the new ideas propelled by the French Revolution to the tyranny of the Spanish Inquisition, these historical events entwined with Goya’s life create a page-turning novel, which is difficult to forget. It’s a shame that Feuchtwanger’s books are not really accessible in English, since I can almost guarantee that every Latvian has at least one book of his at home. If there is a master of the historical novel, he is it. If you do stumble upon a copy of this book in  English, or any other book of his, buy it, as you will definitely not regret it. This novel has earned a place in my favourites list and so I would recommend it to absolutely everyone.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

“The Festival of Insignificance” by Milan Kundera.

25731561

This is the first work by Milan Kundera that I have read and while I was worried that choosing a new work of his, especially one which has had such mixed reviews, was not the wisest choice when it comes to being introduced to an author, I was pleasantly surprised.

The book is far from insignificant as its pages contain a wealth of opinions about existence, individuality, will and humour. It focuses on four men in contemporary Paris, and the reader becomes privy to their thoughts about specific matters. While the reader immediately gets a sense of each character when it comes to their distinct concerns, that is about as far as character development goes in this short book. Intertwined with that, the book tells the story of Stalin and his comrades, specifically Kalinin. To say that nothing much happens would be an understatement as there is no real plot, rather the story takes place within the minds of the characters. As I thoroughly delight in such a premise, it was certainly an aspect which I liked.

The book definitely possesses a healthy dose of humour, while still focusing on serious themes. Kundera rightly shows that the best thing we can do in life, is to simply laugh at the absurdity of things and eventually come to the understanding that we are all ultimately insignificant. In a way it’s a beautiful thought because it means that we can drive away some of the worries that may make us take life too seriously. This is perhaps a reflection which Kundera has come to with age, as the older we get the more we lose the maximalism of our youth and our will to excel, and rather accept our place in life, focusing less on the abstract and more on the concrete.

While there are many interesting thoughts to be found in the book, they are found in the realm of the seemingly meaningless which makes it all the more intriguing. The example of the subplot of Stalin is the most notable, because rather than highlighting Stalin in the story, Kundera focuses on Kalinin, an unremarkable man, but one who has still had his place in history (revealed through the tale of Stalin bullying Kalinin over his problems with his bladder, but eventually naming Kaliningrad after him). This tale is really the key to understanding the book and the extent to which Kundera suggests that the insignificant is really what we should focus on in order to live our lives to the fullest;

“Insignificance, my friend, is the essence of existence. . .,” says Ramon. “We must love insignificance, we must learn to love it . . . in all its obviousness, in all its innocence, in all its beauty. . . . It is the key to wisdom.”

I truly enjoyed this little novel, and so would recommend it to absolutely everyone. I do admit that perhaps some of the more nuanced philosophical aspects may have escaped me slightly, but it did not lessen the impact of the book.

I give this book four out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

 

 

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

17333223

 Picking up another book by Donna Tartt, I knew that I would not be disappointed, but once again I have to admit that this novel exceeded all of my expectations. As I took it off the shelf and immediately started reading it, I forgot to even read the summary on the back, so I was surprised, when I was halfway through the book and actually took a peek, that it hardly matched the story that I had already become so immersed in.

The blurb is as follows; ‘Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and an absent father, miraculously survives a catastrophe that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Theo is tormented by longing for his mother and down the years he clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small and captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld’.

While it sounds like the novel may be riddled with suspense and crime, it hardly is. Rather it is truly about a lost little boy, who has lost the only person who truly loved him and as a result he embarks on a self-destructive journey which destroys any hope he could have in his life. It is a harrowing tale, which was very difficult to read, because of Donna Tartt’s incredible insight into the human mind and the often terrifying world of emotions (for this, the backdrop of Las Vegas with its desert emptiness was the most striking). Not only that, she also manages to make the reader feel anxious along the way, making him feel like he is a part of the book himself. It is near impossible to put into words how beautifully Tartt knows how to focus on details and surroundings, which is what really makes her writing so great.

At times it is deceptively simple, as if truly written as a straightforward memoir by a broken man, who remembers his past, but there are so many layers to it that it can’t be called anything but masterful. I have never been to New York, but the manner in which Tartt wrote about it and the immense amount of detail she put in, makes me feel like I now have (or at least want to go there very soon), and the same goes for Las Vegas. But it was not just the environment which came alive, but also the characters and their knowledge, as she is not afraid to write long passages about aspects of culture whether it would be a painting or a book. When it comes to characters, while Theo himself was already an absolutely mesmerizing character, his friend Boris formed another interesting part of the book with his Russian mannerisms, past and attitude.

Boris’ and Theo’s escapades in Las Vegas of getting drunk and high on whatever they can get do take up a lot of space in the book, and while some say that this is completely unnecessary, for me they were the most compelling. The reason why is because they formed Theo’s future character and were so bleak and disturbing when you imagine 13 year-old boys doing all this to themselves because they feel unloved that it baffles me how someone can say; oh, those little brats, how unappreciative they are of what they have in life. Rather it illustrates the hopelessness of how they felt and the misery, which Theo was thrown into the moment his mother died.

Here I’d like to return to the summary again, as I feel like it is very deceptive. The entire book was strong so that everything made sense and while the flow of it was very slow, it was an exciting read. That being said, when it came to the last two hundred or so pages of the novel which actually focused on the advertised ‘criminal underworld’, things felt rushed and so it lost a little of its charm. Especially as it could be felt how Tartt was trying to pull things together at the end, the weakest of those being Boris’ monologue in Amsterdam, which was very out of character as it was too polished, too serious for him. If these thoughts would have been attributed to Theo it would have worked, but somehow it ruined the realness of the novel which was so poignant up until that moment. As for the painting, which is supposedly the main focus of the novel – the painting is but a tool and not the centrepiece, as it eventually brings the story together at the very end, in order for Theo to understand why everything has happened to him, the way that it has. At some points it even faded into the background where it was easy to forget that such a secret exists.

As my copy was a whopping 864 pages long, this is not a book that everyone will have the patience to finish. Among most reviews the common consensus is that the book is too detailed and drags on in some parts for too many pages, but since these are things I often enjoy, I clearly appreciated it in this novel. Particularly because the amount of research that has gone into writing this is so apparent to the point that it is at times breathtaking. I would recommend this to everyone because it is definitely worth a read, so no wonder it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

 

 

“A Meaningful Life” by L.J. Davis.

3979476

While explaining the plot of this book to a friend, I realized just how overdone and cliché it sounded. Lowell Lake, a man in his thirties, works a regular office job in New York, has a nice wife and a comfortable living situation,  yet realizes that he has never done anything that might be regarded as meaningful. The book explores his crisis through his memories and through the solution which he has found – the renovation of an extremely run-down house in Brooklyn.

The subject matter definitely sounds familiar, but Davis turns the life and fate of Lowell Lake into a marvellously hilarious story. It’s dark, it’s brutal at times, and because of Davis’ writing it is exciting to follow the story. Any book which results in me laughing out loud in a coffee shop full of people is a gem of comedy in my eyes, so I greatly appreciated the humour which was introduced to an otherwise miserable tale.

That being said, the flow of the book changes quite significantly half way through. While the pace is quick at first as Davis builds up Lowell’s character through his memories, from the moment that Lowell purchases the house, the book begins to drag on. Not only that, but Lowell’s character becomes practically unbearable. While he is easy to relate to and understand given that he is just an average man, who has had it easy in life, but is faced with the prospect that he has always been and always will be average, he becomes difficult to pity by the end of the book. His lack of appreciation for everything around him and his inability to see his failures as his own fault, as he tries to blame the system or tries to blame his wife, makes him appear weak and ungrateful.

This is especially crystal clear as the house is not his first attempt to give meaning to his life. The reader is also made aware that upon moving to New York, Lowell decided to dedicate his time to writing a book. With him spending days drunk and hopelessly trying to scribble words on a page without even knowing what he was writing about, the only sacrifices made were by his wife. So when the house comes into the picture years later, it is difficult to see how he could not have learned from his mistake and why he takes his wife for granted once again. As I’m writing this, I understand that this sounds like a rant about Lowell’s character, but his unlikeable nature was what ruined the novel for me when it came to the ending, since I could not care less about him, his choices and the consequences which they would bring, no matter how funny Davis kept the story.

Beyond Lowell’s unsympathetic character, the novel was an interesting read as it exposed the class and racial situation within Brooklyn in the 1960s, and opposed to that had a variety of hilarious situations and episodes that were a pleasure to come across. I understand the premise of this book, I understood Lowell’s obsession with the house, as he wanted to restore it to its grandeur for it to be a symbol of something he could never be, and if he had been a more compassionate character I would have rooted for him. All in all, the book is still worth a read, because my dislike for the main character has obviously influenced my opinion of this book greatly to the point where I’m not sure whether the rating I’m giving it is based on my thoughts on the book or my thoughts on Lowell Lake.

I give this book three out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

 

“The Winter of Our Discontent” by John Steinbeck.

56071

There is a reason why I always finish a book when I start reading it, and this book by John Steinbeck reminded me why. I started this novel back in January and every single time I picked it up, I just did not find myself enjoying it, so I would only read two or so pages. Recently, I decided that I needed to give it a fair chance and so I sat and read it seriously, and to my surprise, I could not put it down.

The novel follows Ethan Hawley, a grocery clerk, whose spirit has become broken by slaving away at a store while he is haunted by the memories of his great and aristocratic ancestors. His family being unsatisfied with their position, with his children constantly asking him when he will become rich, Ethan finally decides to change the course of his life. The only thing of value which Ethan possesses is his honesty and throughout the story we see how it is eaten away at by the influence of those around him and the most primitive need to have wealth and satisfy his own pride.

Steinbeck uses an interesting approach when it comes to narrative, by starting the first two chapters of both parts of the book in the third person and then switching to Ethan’s point of view. This fact greatly contributed to why I enjoyed the book, because the moment when Ethan’s narrative began, I became enraptured by him and this was my reason for loving the book. It was interesting to see the way his mind worked in how he dealt with situations inside his head and then how he acted upon them, because there was a very clear difference as he most often played the part of a fool in real life in order to confuse those around him.

This deliberate manipulation along with his wit and charming nature made him an intriguing character, one which I constantly wanted to know more about. This was also largely due to how well the dialogue was written, because it constantly maintained wonderful rhythm. When it comes to the plot, Steinbeck himself has said that that he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture during the 1950s and 1960s, and this could not be clearer in the book. We see Ethan challenge his own beliefs when he is faced with the prospect of coming into money, whether it would be through a bank robbery or through getting it by deceiving an alcoholic friend, who can be of use to him, and these moral dilemmas make for a fascinating read.

The most interesting and perhaps tragically ironic of them concerns Ethan’s boss and owner of the store Marullo, who has looked upon Ethan suspiciously all the years he has worked there only to finally see him for the honest man he is, when Ethan is already on the way to his moral decline. Saying all that I am saying regarding questions of morality in the book, I feel like I am greatly oversimplifying Steinbeck’s work. The nuances which he adds and his writing in general are anything but simple, which is why I enjoyed this novel so much. No one in the book is inherently good or inherently bad, which is something that eventually provides a moral predicament even for the reader. While the book does have a cheery feel to it, mostly because of Ethan’s personality, it is based on an underlying darkness, which can leave the reader with a feeling of despair in the pit of their stomach when it comes to the ending.

I am beyond glad that I finished this book, because I absolutely loved it and the themes and characters are so universal that this would be a great read for anyone. While Steinbeck failed to impress me with ‘Of Mice and Men’ (I just wasn’t moved by the story, not the writing), this novel has persuaded me to pick up a book by him again in the near future.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

“Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur.

25986827

I think that this may be the first poetry book which I will have the pleasure of reviewing on this blog, which just goes to show that I much prefer to read novels over anything else. After having seen a poem from this book published online (accompanied by its illustration), I was intrigued and could immediately see that I may relate to a lot of the themes from this collection. I was not wrong. Kaur focuses on love, relationships, the pain caused by them and the healing which one has to go through in order to feel good again.

The collection is divided into four chapters – the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The poetry itself is simplistic, one could say almost minimalist, not only in the way it is presented, but also the language which is used. Kaur does not employ incredibly original metaphors or intricate words, which is both the charm and the downfall of her poetry. The reason for the latter is that some poems fail to deliver a strong message and rather resemble overused quotes that you may feel that you have already seen on the internet. That being said, a few of them are truly beautiful, making you reread the poem more than once, as it draws you in.

However, these quality poems are largely outnumbered by underwhelming ones, which are either too cliché or simply fail to impress because the emotion or statement is so obvious that it seems like Kaur has stripped down ideas which so many other poets try to express in eloquent ways in their poetry. It baffles me that this book is a New York Times bestseller, but at the same time it also reflects the literary level which our society, particularly the younger generation, has now embraced.

The most profound chapter of the collection was definitely ‘the hurting’, because it focused on raw emotions and pain in the face of a domineering or menacing father figure and the consequences which that can have later in life. ‘The healing’ ranks as the worst as it was full of supposedly empowering poems, which were essentially just banal and threadbare words, resulting in a near-unreadable chapter.

While I said at the beginning that I related to a lot of what Kaur wrote about, I failed to be moved by the collection in general. I will definitely reread some of the poems from time to time, but for the most part it left me wanting for more complicated writing. I do want to include a poem which I liked, which would also illustrate her style of writing for anyone who might be interested in reading the collection;

emptying out of my mother's belly
was my first act of disappearance
learning to shrink for a family
who likes their daughters invisible
was the second
the art of being empty
is simple
believe them when they say
you are nothing
repeat it to yourself
like a wish
i am nothing
i am nothing
i am nothing
so often
the only reason you know
you're still alive is from the
heaving of your chest

And also to show the change in quality, I’ll include one which I particularly disliked (which honestly I can’t believe was included in the book);

you
are your own
soul mate

I give this book two out of five wine bottles.

 black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

“Mr Palomar” by Italo Calvino.

60106

If your mind needs a rest from everything going on around you, then pick up this book by Calvino. Through the eyes of Mr Palomar, an old and retired man, one can experience the world in a way, which may not seem accessible in an environment of daily stress and worries. Mr Palomar, however, spends his days musing about the minuscule details in life such as the movement of waves in the sea, the way birds sing, the shops he goes to, and beyond the minuscule, about his own existence. I would not call this fiction, although it is classified as that, purely because the atmosphere created is so real and also because the book does not have a plot. It is purely a series of thoughts.

While the observations listed above may sound trivial, Calvino keeps his thoughts concise and intriguing to read. He offers ideas which may not even have occurred to you and in doing so reveals something magical about the world we live in regarding any given situation. Although this book may be easier to understand and relate to if you are an introvert, it would be more beneficial to read if you are not. It may give you an entirely different perception of the small things in your life, that you may have failed to notice if you have not spent enough time by yourself. Being a sublime mix between comic and profound, Palomar’s reflections will not leave you without something meaningful to think over. His way of looking at things is perfectly summarised by this quote;

“Or else, given that there is world that side of the window and world this side, perhaps the “I,” the ego, is simply the window through which the world looks at the world.”

To conclude, if someone is convincing enough to convey how a cheese shop in Paris is similar to a museum (doing so in an elegant but modest language), while at the same time provoking thoughts in the reader as to all the places he visits daily in order to draw comparisons, it can be said that they are a truly great writer. I’ll end with words which really caught my eye;

“A person’s life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones
but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture.”

I give this book four out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi

“The Collected Stories” by Richard Yates.

 

3361111

During a recent conversation I had trouble thinking of American writers who I really like (apart from Fitzgerald, of course). I had completely forgotten Richard Yates. Thankfully, during a book buying frenzy I had bought these stories and they proved successful in reminding me why I loved his writing when I read ‘Revolutionary Road’. All of the stories have a clear theme running through them, which could be summarised as the unhappy and lonely lives of husbands and wives in the 50s and 60s in the American suburbs, with some exceptions. And while on the surface the stories are precisely about that, Yates provides a wealth of insight into the minuscule details of the lives of ordinary people and the reasons for their pettiness. Overall the stories are bound to leave the reader with an overwhelming sense of doom and sadness, which is something I always look for in a book, and a desire to never get married, which is slightly more controversial.

Talking about a collection of stories is always difficult, so just as I have done before, I will discuss my favourite stories; ‘Saying Goodbye to Sally’ and ‘A Convalescent Ego’. The first follows Jack, a young and poor writer, who is commissioned to write a screenplay for an upcoming movie, therefore finds himself in L.A. There he meets a girl called Sally, who he clings to at first because she provides excitement and an insight into the strange world she lives in, making him feel alive again. The novelty quickly wears off and he begins to see the emptiness of her life, the lives of those around her and his own loneliness. Yates illustrates this beautifully with minor quarrels and almost comical situations, which do not diminish the melancholy present throughout the story. The most pertinent aspect being the need to have someone by your side, whether you love them or not, to quench the loneliness we all feel and to forget about the things which bother us in ourselves. For Jack it was Sally, but it could just as well have been anyone else, which is hinted at with one of the other characters of the story Jill – who changes partners constantly, always being unsatisfied with the previous one, yet still needing someone by her side. A beautiful story with painful realisations and a bleak undertone, which made me put down the book for a while, as I needed to think it over.

The second story, ‘A Convalescent Ego’, is about Bill, a man who is home from the hospital, recovering from an operation due to tuberculosis (an illness which appears throughout many of the stories). During a day at home, he clumsily breaks a tea cup while his wife is out shopping and this accident, having followed many similar ones before, leads him to a form of hysteria of trying to make up for his mistake while simultaneously trying to predict his wife’s reaction to all the possible ways he could resolve the issue. Not only were the intricate ways in which he imagined his wife’s responses genius, because creating such scenarios in my mind is something I can relate to a bit too much, but the way Yates revealed so much about Bill himself was exceptional. It becomes clear that Bill despises the fact that the surgery has made him weak, barely a person, as he can’t go to work. This quality has in his eyes stripped him of his masculinity and made him feel pathetic in the eyes of his wife, who in every scenario wins the argument and proves how foolish he has been in his attempts to rectify the situation. I was unsure I liked the ending of the story, but I suppose that following every imagined scenario it could not have ended any other way but with a reaffirmation of his masculinity. Bill’s behaviour towards his wife at the end of the story seems so unexpected yet the reader, having been privy to all his thoughts, should not have expected anything else. It was the outburst of the exasperation which had built up inside him for a long time, despite his inner desire to do well and be kind. It’s almost a reminder that even though we may see some things that we feel as obvious to others and easy to notice by those around us, it’s not always so. These feelings do not necessarily show on the outside and rather than lashing out when it all gets too much, it would be better to remain cool-headed and communicate with others.

I loathe the fact that this review cannot capture the brilliance of Yates’ stories and that I have to resign myself to choosing my favourites in an effort to discuss the book. In fact, I don’t like choosing favourites at all, because when I like a collection as much as I did this one, it almost feels like a betrayal. All of these stories rely on subtleties and a dark sense of quiet and inner unrest, which is almost never resolved, only accepted. The subtle nature of the stories is what I cannot illustrate here, therefore I recommend for everyone to read the book. It is a heartbreaking and emotional collection, which may be hard to get through all at once, but once you do, it will feel like a part of you has been left within the pages and this will make you want to re-read it for years to come.

I give this book five out of five wine bottles.

black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi  black-wine-bottle-hi