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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz.

Even better than it was the last time I read it - I read more immigrant narratives than the next person, perhaps, and even amongst the great ones this one stood out - I LOVED it. I loved the nerd jokes, the footnotes, the history (Trujillo & the fuku!!! fuck me), the narration, the fact that this is the plottiest non-plot novel ever: I loved it. I loved the fact that it was about Oscar, but also about Lola & Yunior, Beli & La Inca. (I loved that even though the narrator was a total scumbag, he was a good scumbag, alive to his failings, unreliable in other, more interesting, ways, and that he allowed Junot Diaz to be smart about gender anyway. The bits about Lola and Beli - fuckkk.) I loved the ending that wasn't an ending, the Oscar--, but also the ending that was the ending (The beauty! The beauty!). I can't actually be objective about this book.

As one example, in a book of five hundred examples, of how smart and alive to its smartness this book was:

Hail, Dog of God, was how he welcomed me my first day in Demarest.

Took a week before I figured out what the hell he meant.

God. Domini. Dog. Canis.

Hail, Dominicanis.

Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman.

Reviewing this trilogy together since it's been a while since I read the last two and an age ago since I read the first. I liked it! I preferred The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass to the first because I thought Pullman richened his philosophical and theological (if one can call it that) grasp of his fictional universe in the latter two, whereas in the first I was definitely just going along with it. ♥Lyra & Will♥, obviously, I don't know of any better evocation of first love; the kind of first love it's impossible to have past a certain age, but also as prompted by Mary. I also liked the harpies, the resolution of which probably came as close to my philosophy on life & death as I've seen in fiction ever, and the ending. So. Yeah. ♥

[insert thoughts on "YA writing for adults"]

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith.

The Casual Vacancy I read and liked, then disliked more and more as time went on. I'm not sure why I didn't talk about it on here, actually?Anyway: [livejournal.com profile] littlerhymes has a much better and much more comprehensive review up than anything I could hope to pull out right now. I really liked this novel: as a would-be detective fiction aficionado whose reading taste is stuck in the 30s (Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers represent my main forays into the genre), I find this novel an incredibly clever update on what can be a fairly ossified genre. Much has been said about JKR's take on how these characters cleave across race and class; celebrity and anonymity; her take on exclusion, so on and so forth. As someone used to, like, a particular kind of reductive racism being used to fuel the mechanisms of the detective novel (again: because my tastes in detective fiction are incredibly archaic): so refreshing! Especially since JKR works by delineating archetypes, and then deepening them. Not bad for a white lady.

I loved the London in this novel, too. According to The Guardian, JKR set the novel in London because you could write about London all your life and not exhaust the kinds of narratives there are to be found there? Which a) blows that admittedly tongue-in-cheek Vice feature about "writing a London novel" I read maybe a year ago and keep thinking about/getting annoyed by on and off, out of the water and b) is exactly how I feel about London, too.

One more thing: the fact that the ideal detective novel, in my head, does not really allow for ~philosophical meanderings~ (Dorothy Sayers being the big exception) really puts JKR's prose in the best light here. That's why Harry Potter worked - being similarly plot-heavy, the best thing her sentences could do was to get you from Point A to B - and The Casual Vacancy didn't. JKR has that tendency common to a couple of British novelists (Hilary Mantel at the beginning of her career, Mark Haddon in his TERRIBLE adult novel, Cecilia fucking Ahern in PS. I fucking Love You), where left to her own devices she will come up with clunky, boring prose which somehow makes it past the editors, but here it didn't show very much, or indeed at all. Which leaves her to do what she does best: satire, and the aphoristic sentence:

So it was suicide after all, and after a moment's stunned hiatus, the story gained a weak second wind. They wrote that she was unbalanced, unstable, unsuited to the superstardom her wildness and her beauty had snared; that she had moved among an immoral moneyed class that had corrupted her; that the decadence of her new life had unhinged an already fragile personality. She became a morality tale stiff Schadenfreude, and so many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column.

And then, at last, the frenzy wore itself into staleness, and even the journalists had nothing left to say, but that too much had been said already.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

I enjoyed this! Mostly I find "college novels set in the 1970s/80s" kind of dull (btw, Oscar Wao is the best non-college college novel ever), so, yeah. Also I have a thing about literary novels about love, and how dumb and joyless they tend to be, but this gripped me while I was reading it, so. I enjoyed it better than The Virgin Suicides (although that doesn't say much, I didn't like The Virgin Suicides). I enjoyed Eugenides' meta on the marriage plot, thinly disguised as it was, and I liked the resolution of the actual marriage plot in the book, although part of me kind of wishes that Madeline had had more agency in bringing about its resolution. (Although Madeline is not really a character who embraces an explicit agency, so it kind of makes sense. No, I didn't like Madeline much, but then again I didn't like any of the three main characters much. See what I mean about dumb and joyless?)


What else what else. I'm sure I'm missing a couple of books, but this year's book-keeping records have been distinctly shoddy so that's no surprise. I've finished Culture & Imperialism (while waiting in the queue to submit my visa application, whoo, life is full of moments of situational irony like that), but thoughts on that will have to wait as they're currently fermenting. I am also reading Anna Karenina and enjoying it much more than the last time I attempted it (I was fourteen, there were 500 chapters, and I gave up when Tolstoy wrote his entire chapter on Levin's agricultural habits). Levin is such a dick though!
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July 2014

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