Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Tremor of Forgery

The Tremor of ForgeryThe Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tremor of Forgery is a gently suspenseful story rich in its sun-soaked Tunisian setting and its expat characters, each involved in moral uncertainty about one, possibly two murders, clandestine pro-USA broadcasts to the Soviet Union, a suicide, and a floundering love affair. The main character is an author and he provides details of his own protagonist which suggest comparison to the narrator, or do they? The last few chapters pick up in suspense and the story ends to this reader's satisfaction. "Don't trust her, don't trust her," I kept thinking, anxious for him to see the light. The gay friend upstairs was an important character and revealed the prejudices Highsmith must have been familiar with in 1969; it made me think of Giovanni's Room. The description of the Tunis air terminal delighted me: "The Tunis air terminal presented a confused picture. Vital direction signs vied with aspirin advertisements, the 'Information' desk had no one at it, and several transistors carried by people walking about, warred with louder music from the restaurant's radio on the balcony, absolutely defeating the occasional voice of a female announcer, presumably giving planes' arrival and departure times. Ingham could not even tell if the announcer was speaking in French, Arabic or English." Touted by The New Yorker as "her best novel," I recommend it.

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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Terrace Story

Terrace StoryTerrace Story by Hilary Leichter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Terrace Story was recommended to me by the scintillating reviewer, John Warner https://biblioracle.substack.com/, after I sent him a list of five books I had enjoyed
1. Three
2. The Vulnerables
3. Heroines
4. The Body in Question
5. The Door
I am afraid his algorithm did not work for me although I had never heard of the book which heightened expectations. Alas, the book was not to my taste. The convoluted chronology of the family confused me, made me double back to figure out relationships, and prevented me from relating to any particular character. The author's ventures into fantasy and surrealistic worlds would be a draw to a reader who is attracted to such genres, but I resisted. Yet, if you like an imaginative structure venturing toward post-modernism, here is a well written, slim novel with original contemporary ideas.

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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Library Book

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Library Book is a fascinating and detailed history of the Los Angeles Central City Library, its devastating fire in 1986 and loss of 700,000 items, and comments on the career of librarianship. Chapters are interspersed with the biography of the arson suspect and the culture of the city. But the book, chockablock with facts and book titles from the card catalogue, is not the least bit dull. It's Susan Orlean after all, and she can tell a tale. I had bought the book when it came out in 2018;I was tickled to read it now.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Details

The DetailsThe Details by Ia Genberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Details because it was prize-winning translated fiction and originally written in Swedish. While reading it, I learned it had been chosen for the International Booker Shortlist. A women bed-bound with malarial fever reminisces in four chapters of people influential to her: a couple of intense love affairs, friendships, her parents and children.
"We live so many lives within our lives--smaller lives with people who come and go, friends who disappear, children who grow up--and I never know which of these lives is meant to serve as the frame...That's all there is to the self...traces of the people we rub up against."
It's been described as a quiet book and it is, but filled with wisdom and stories while including numerous references to Swedish authors as well as books which recall relationships in the past. I love a well-written tale with a booklist.

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Alix's Journal

Alix's Journal (French Literature)Alix's Journal by Alix Cléo Roubaud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alix's Journal has a certain addictive quality for me: I was captivated by her reading references to some seventy-odd writers and poets plus music and art, and took notes. Alix Cléo Roubaud was a Canadian living in Paris who kept sad daily journals which talk of insomnia, suicide, depression and her concerns about ailments, drinking, smoking, weight gain and clothes as well as her work as a photographer and her frustrated creativity. She died at the age of thirty-one from a pulmonary-embolism. Examples of journal entries will give an idea:

I read nothing but the TLS.
Every night I fear reading my journal; fear of finding nothing there; or the phrases of an entirely despicable person.me.
impossibility of writing, married to a poet.
The smell of big hotels and deckchairs, when people are having aperitifs: a mixed scent of amber, cigarette smoke, wax polish; and those meats cooking in wine.
Seurat did a good job with Grande Jatte.
48 hour visit from my parents.
I forget more and more.
Beautiful weather.
In playing with God, one loses every round.
--fear of madness. of egocentricity; of everything.
--the moment arrives to put cream on my hands. I wish, intensely, that the scent of mimosa will not die off.
. was it worth all that psychoanalysis to see me melted like butter in the sun and to die of fear.

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Friday, May 24, 2024


KairosKairos by Jenny Erpenbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kairos' International Booker win was no surprise. The book is a significant achievement of original story and translation weaving the "May-December" affair of Hans and Katharina in mid-eighties East Berlin through to the fall of the Wall and the changes to them, their lives and the country. Music accompanies every aspect of their lives together listening to Mozart, Chopin, Bach, in their trysts to avoid his wife, her career moves as a theatre set designer, dalliances and ensuing abuse from him (difficult to read), while political machinations mirror their liaison's end.
"When Katharina walks around in the West, she feels like a bad copy of the people who live there, an imposter, a cheat, liable to be exposed at any moment. With her eyes, which in this other half of the city are a stranger's eyes, she sees how every conceivable need is catered for by some product or other in the shops, the freedom to consume seems like an India rubber wall to her, separating people from any yearnings that might transcend their personal and momentary wishes.
269 Coca-Cola has succeeded, where Marxist philosophy has failed, at uniting the proletarians of all nations under its banner." Kairos is the god of fortunate moments.

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Monday, May 13, 2024

Grief is for People

Grief Is for PeopleGrief Is for People by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sprightly book about grieving and loss, full of snappy lines and trenchant observations, arranged in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief (Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance) although the last is simply Afterward as Crosley never really accepts her loss. Drawn in from the first page by the burglary of her jewelry, as I've had the same happen to me, I admired her chutzpah in pursuing leads to find the missing pieces as well as the hollow feelings, the frustration.
But most of the book describes her friend Russell, who was also her publicist boss at Knopf Vintage, and her grief at losing him: "I am disgusted by the universal truths of grief, by the platitudes. I don't want to make my way through the coming stages..." Her losses left a hole in her heart which "was like a wind tunnel that whistled straight through until dawn."
The end of the book describes New York City in quarantine and any urban dweller can identify with it ("What about the cabdrivers? What about the umbrella guys who manifest at the first drop? What about the theater? What about zoos?..flea markets?") making her feel like her "life had been petrified in ash."
She's a smart, talented writer and I read her book straight through, but, for me, her "trademark wit" interferes with the story.

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