J.K. Rowling, Haruki Murakami (trans. Jay Rubin), Dorothy L. Sayers, Steven Brust

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling: I bet it’s still not safe to post spoilers. What I will say is that The Half-Blood Prince has replaced The Prisoner of Azkaban as my favorite in the series. I’m sure some people will violently disagree with me (especially due to the, er, new romantic relationships introduced in this novel) but I felt that Rowling was finally committing herself to an epic sort of storyline that she’s been flirting with for a while. That is not to say that I don’t have my problems with the book, but at this point one doesn’t expect all that much from Rowling in the first place. Originality, for one, has never been her strength. Nonetheless, there was something compelling about the ending, something that genuinely moved me for the first time in this series. (Rowling has this habit of, er, rushing through the denouement, and The Half-Blood Prince is no exception, but it doesn’t actually bother me this time around.)

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (trans. Jay Rubin): I always thought of Murakami as one of those authors that everyone expects you to read in order to be sufficiently hip in literary circles. Since I’ve never managed to be hip, he wasn’t particularly high on my reading list, until a friend recommended him to me, saying he was—what was the phrase?—”really psycho”. Well, how can you resist a recommendation like that? Norwegian Wood turned out to be (relatively) normal, but nonetheless remarkably satisfying. How to explain it? There are some books that one must read at a certain time, and if there is ever a time in my life to read Norwegian Wood, it ought to be now. The narrator, or rather the remembered self of the narrator, is in college and about to turn twenty; I don’t so much relate to him as find him intensely real. All of the characters are intensely real—I see them in my friends, my classmates, everyone around me—and their various inabilities to understand or adapt are equally as familiar. If one writes in order to capture the experience of a moment or even an epoch, defying the transience of memory and the erosion of time, then one could say that Murakami has successfully written what it is to live these short, uncertain years of college…at least the way I have lived my college years so far. May I say, “essence”, without sounding pretentious? The translation occasionally hiccups, but for the most part, one gets a sense of what seems like sparse yet also vivid language. I am in love with the paragraph that ends the novel:

Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.

I have no idea why these words move me so, but they do.

Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers: I’ve finally met Harriet Vane, and while I still feel our acquaintance as of now is purely formal, I am nevertheless convinced of Wimsey’s love for her. How nice to be so sure that one is in love! I’d like to be cynical and say that it can only occur in books. I liked the way the mystery unraveled here, not so much for any feats of deduction (the crime itself, in both method and perpetrator, wasn’t particularly challenging) but for all the stealth work involved. The secretary (oh dear, what was her name?) learning how to pick locks and opening secret panels, Miss Climpson going undercover as bogus spiritual medium! I would almost say that those two stole the stage from Wimsey. I must say though that I rather like Wimsey in love: he is as nervous as ever, alternately bold and afraid, but a gentleman to the end.

Issola, by Steven Brust: To tell the truth, I found most of this book boring. It didn’t quite follow up on the shocking revelations in Orca (I suppose Steven Brust wanted readers to be able to jump in without having read all the prequels), and there were no new narrative tricks involved other than the usual “breaking the fourth wall” that Brust has mastered with such flair. (I also like Vlad’s constant commentary on his own mental processes, I admit.) The main thread of the plot seems to concern the Jenoine, who are not at all interesting and incredibly hard to visualize to boot. (What on earth are they supposed to look like? I am able to imagine everyone else—gods, Dragaerans, Easterners—but not the Jenoine.) But the ending won me over. This book is aptly titled: its main character turns out to be Lady Teldra, although one doesn’t realize it. As I keep saying, nothing Brust writes is superfluous, and in the end, the book is not about the Jenoine at all, which is why I found it worth reading.

Comments (3)

  1. coffeeshot wrote::

    On Norwegian Wood, check out Birnbaum’s translation of the passage you like:

    “Where was I now?

    I looked up, receiver in hand, and spun around in the phone booth, taking in my surroundings.Where the hell was I? I couldn’t tell. Not a clue. All I could see about me were people, scores of people, all tired of walking about aimlessly. I held onto the line to Midori from there in the middle of nowhere.”

    Which do you prefer? I just finished readig this novel too, see my review here.

    Friday, November 4, 2005 at 04:20 #
  2. admin wrote::

    Interesting! I must admit that I prefer Rubin’s voice to Birnbaum’s, although now I’m wondering if my concept of Toru would end up radically revised if I read the Birnbaum translation. I had particularly liked the phrase “the dead center of this place that was no place”, which I think is more emphatic than “the middle of nowhere”…on the other hand, who knows which is more characteristic of Murakami’s actual style in Japanese?

    Friday, November 4, 2005 at 10:30 #
  3. coffeeshot wrote::

    True, who knows? Unless we pick up Japanese. :) Thanks for your comments on my blog.

    Sunday, November 6, 2005 at 21:00 #