Microviews Vol.25: Not Too Micro, Definitely View-y.

on Saturday, March 9, 2013
I'm don't know how I managed to read seven books this week (including the Coetzee, reviewed in full yesterday), but here goes:

Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
This playful novella that sees the great Count Dracula hiding out in Mexico is tighter, scarier, smarter and far less shmultzy than Stoker's tedious original. Such a shame that death beat Fuentes to a Nobel Prize. Even his minor dalliances were masterpieces.
4 out of 5 Dripping Fangs

The A26 by Pascal Garnier
Of the three Garniers I have read this year, this is by far the best (and that's saying something!). In The A26 he manages to out-Hitchcock Hitchcock with a tale so dark and twisted that I was generally frightened and repulsed throughout. Freed from the shackles of morality by a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Bernard finally gives in to his murderous desires. And he isn't even the most screwed up person in the novel. His sister, Yolande, is Mrs. Haversham, Irene Wournos and the Wicked Witch of the West rolled into one. Scarred by a romantic act of wartime complicity gone terribly wrong, she stays hidden in her decaying house progressively getting more deranged by the minute. Needless to say, nothing here ends well. This is one disturbingly brilliant little novel!
4.5 Out of 5 Rear Windows

The Neighborhood by Goncarlo M. Tavares
Saramago was so in awe of this guy's talent that he went on record as wanting to punch him in the face. Fair call, I say. The Neighbourhood is the first appearance in English of Tavares's wonderful Misters series, collecting six of the ten novellas thus far written (with another twenty nine apparently in the offing). Each one is a masterstroke of literary ventriloquism, using the style of each of the Misters (Calvino, Walser etc) to explore ideas of time, space, power and existence. The Neighbourhood is a sheer playground of delights and I, for one, can't wait to meets its other inhabitants.
4.5 out of 5 Cosmicomics

How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid returns with a peculiar novel of aspiration and corruption set in contemporary India. Presented as a self-help book, I couldn't get past the structural trickery that was a little too reminiscent of Q & A (aka Slumdog Millionaire) to differentiate it from the slew of better works on the same topic. There are moments that invited righteous indignation and even resigned tenderness, but like the business plan at the book's heart, it was all smoke and mirrors.
2.5 Out of 5 Beautiful Forevers

Digging People Up For Coal by Meredith Fletcher
I've yet to decide whether books I'm forced to read for work/research count but, in the meantime, a promise is a promise. Fascinating history of Yallourn, the SEC's short-lived fiefdom in Gippsland, which was set up to provide electricity to Melbourne. Having never previously given thought to the concept of a 'company town', this book is hauntingly Orwellian.
3 out of 5 Coal Mines

Jerusalam by Goncalo M. Tavares
First English taste of Tavares's other major project, a series of novels known collectively as The Kingdom, shows a much darker, less playful side to this amazing writer. A greatly diverse cast of (mostly unlikeable) characters, linked only by their previous association with the Georg Rosenberg Mental Asylum, find their lives once again on a collision course. A gripping, powerful exploration of the seamier side of humanity that, I suspect, packs an even greater punch when read in conjunction with the other books in the series.
4 out of 5 Cuckoo's Nests


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