Microviews Vol. 35: The Trans-Pacific Longhaul Edition

on Sunday, July 14, 2013
Well, I just made the trip from America back home to Oz. I don't sleep on planes, so here's the fruit of my sleepless schlepp.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Round House shares much with Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird. A young kid (in this case, Joe Coutts) sets about investigating a heinous crime (the rape and attempted murder of his mother) in a deeply divided community (a Native American reservation). Like To Kill A Mockingbird, it is a coming-of-age novel with a heavy conscience. Like To Kill A Mockingbird it is a call to action against systemic injustice; Erdrich examines the jurisdictional impotence of Native law enforcement mechanisms and the patronising conditions under which they operate. Like To Kill A Mockingbird, it builds towards a violent, shocking end. And yet, for all its righteous anger, The Round House just doesn't have the impact (nor, I suspect, the longevity) of Lee's masterpiece.
3.5 Out Of 5 Boo Radleys

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
Simon Van Booy doesn't so much write novels as create beautiful wordscapes with disparate, yet related, narrative threads. The Illusion of Separateness is a cleverly woven tapestry of time and place that unfurls around the brief encounter between a downed British pilot and a lone German soldier during World War 2. With prose that borders on the poetic and a story that will warm and break your heart in equal measure, Van Booy has conjured an unusual yet mesmerising reading experience.
4 Out of 5 English Patients

I Wear The Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman
My first encounter with Chuck Klosterman was his novel The Visible Man. It kind of sucked and I was left scratching my head as to why the Hipstamatic Generation literally worshipped at his feet. Then I got into his non-fiction and, well, I got pretty close to cutting my hair like a Brooklynite and donning a pair of heavy set tortoiseshell-framed glasses. I Wear The Black Hat sees Klosterman veer away from his usual hunting grounds of popular/music culture to look at the concept of villainy, real and imagined, taking in everyone from Andrew Dice Clay to Kim Dotcom to Judas Iscariot. Although it isn't as consistently funny as some of his previous work, there are plenty of great one liners and each section guarantees at least a knowing smirk. The final three chapters buck the trend - Klosterman will have you choking on your over-priced tacos as he riffs on O.J. Simpson, Hitler and his own personal nemesis, Rick Helling. Had I not forced myself to remember the preceding nine chapters I would have given this a perfect score.
4 Out Of 5 Wacky Races

Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter
Another debut novelist throws her hat into the ring with a book about the war on terror. Don't get too excited, though. This is hardly a Yellow Birds or Pink Mist. The story of a mother awaiting news of her son who has gone missing on a critical mission (probably the one to kill Bin Laden), it flits back and forth in time to give a human face to those that fight and the families that anxiously wait back home. It's moderately engaging but feels more like a US Army PR exercise than serious literature.
3 Out Of 5 Navy Seals

Evil And The Mask by Fuminori Nakamura
Nakamura is all about the seedy side of Japanese life. His previous novel, The Thief, was slick, dark and thoroughly enjoyable. Evil And The Mask follows in the same vein but is considerably less successful. The initial premise is pretty cool: Fumihiro Kuki is bred to be a 'cancer' on the world, a destructive force that makes life worse for everyone he meets. It is a role given to one member of each generation in his family. Unfortunately for his father, Fumihiro is good at heart and resists his transformation into fully fledged monster. That said, his form of rebellion would probably make the old man proud: he kills those that threaten the ones he loves. There's lots of ruminating on the nature of evil, the role of individuals in shaping world catastrophes and the immutibility (or otherwise) of identity. On a theoretical level it is interesting, but as a novel it's all a bit far fetched and needlessly soapboxish.
3 Out Of 5 Face/Offs

The End Of The World In Breslau by Marek Krajewski
Weimar-era Germany isn't exactly the setting you'd expect for a successful detective fiction series, nor does a probable Nazi scream crime fiction anti-hero. Kudos to Krajewski then for out-noiring pretty much everyone else in the game with his Insepctor Mock series. This time round, Mock is pitted against a serial killer who is replicating centuries old murders in 1930s Breslau. The chase is good, ol' fashioned crime fiction fun but strip away the turbulent setting and thoroughly unlikeable detective (he's a drunk, wife-bashing, evidence-planting SOB), and what's left is relatively stock standard for the genre.
3.5 Out Of 5 Iron Crosses

Ergo by Jakov Lind
I have no idea what to make of this book. Oddball recluse Wascholder hides away in his house while trying to destroy his arch nemesis Wurz through a series of increasingly absurd schemes. Keeping him company are his obsessive adopted son and a bedridden lodger. Beyond that it's a deep swamp of cacophonous sludge; a La Brea tar pit with the petrified bodies of Beckett, Kafka, Dali and Jarry. That's not a compliment.
2.5 Out Of 5 Blackened Bananas


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