Thursday, February 26, 2009

The battle of the bricks

Or actually there really is no battle. 

Brick number 1, or the 'bad brick'

I have owned Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts for quite a while now, and have been wading through it at an uncommonly slow pace. It just seems that every time I pick it up it keeps getting worse. I am on page 200-something and the book is more than 900 pages. This might just be one of the very few books I will let go and happily never look back (unless I decide for some reason to read my own blog).

So what gives? Well, what some people refer to as 'one line philosophical nuggets' in this text drive me up the wall with their utter dimwittedness, or with the alarming rate at which the characters keep dropping these 'pseudo-philosophical tidbits'. And these are characters that are flat, stereotypical caricatures, the worst of which is the self-aggrandizing narrator - the alter ego of the author. The book is supposedly based on the author's exploits after fleeing the Australian legal system, which just brings everything further down a few billion notches for me. Roberts didn't even make this stuff up. He just churned out an embellished account of what happened in extremely bad prose. Be warned, if you do not like to rant about bad books leave this one on the shelf. 

On Goodreads, a book-enthusiasts' networking site, one reader, Paula, had this to say on Roberts' apparent need to tell instead of showing the reader: 

"Either Roberts doesn't trust his own writing capabilities and has to explain everything, in which case he is a bad author, or he doesn't trust his audience to draw their own conclusions, in which case he is a bad author."

Another reader, Jack, had this brilliant 'nugget' to drop about this 'book':

"It's only use is as a barometer: view anyone who enjoyed this with suspicion." 

As 'judge your neighbor by the books he or she reads' pretty much sums up my personal life philosophy, I could not have said it better myself.

Brick number 2, or the 'best brick ever'

I wonder why I have constantly shied away from Tolstoy's work. I remember reading Anna Karenina as a young girl, but the only thing that seems to have stuck from then is the plot. The reason for this could be that I was reading the book in Finnish, which is never a good idea if an option in any of the major languages is available. Finnish is a tough language, and unfortunately most 'non-Finnish' sentiments aren't easily expressed in this tongue. I know this as I fancied myself a future translator during the first half of my varied university career, also known as 'What will I ever do with my life' - the looong battle with education. None of my then classmates became prose translators and as far as I know none of them are reading books in Finnish, unless they were originally written in that language.

But I digress. I am currently a little under 200 pages into Tolstoy's War and Peace and I can't help but gush. This 1455 page (Signet Classics edition) book (I want to use a grander word. Is there one?) will very likely turn out to be the greatest book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And it is translated from the original Russian, which just adds another mind blowing element to the text. It almost seems as if Tolstoy had in fact been writing in English. The book positively transcends the language barriers and captures the reader, even one who has no real understanding of (or possibly even interest in) 19th century Russia. Oh, gush, gush, and some more gush and glowing words. 

However, the truth with writing about this book is that there really isn't anything to add. This epic is part of the global literary canon and possibly the best novel ever written. The only thing left to say is that I pity the person who does not get the chance to read this book in their lifetime. 

I'm willing to lend out my copy once I'm done, which I suspect won't take that long. So expect a 'day-after-Christmas' post anytime soon, since that is definitely how I will be feeling when I'm done.   

1 comment:

ignominia said...

for another "good" brick try Infinite Jest by the recently "late" David Foster Wallace. 981 pages plus 98 pages of Notes and Errata.