Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle [2018] – ★★1/2The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Cover

In his debut novel, Stuart Turton takes an unusual twist on a murder-mystery. The Inception, Groundhog Day-mentality meets The Rules of the Game/Gosford Park setting. In other words, the setting is one grand manor house in the UK with the shooting season underway, and our protagonist Aiden Bishop wakes up each day in a body of one of the guests who was invited to the masquerade at the house to celebrate the arrival of Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of the house owners. Now, the rules are set for Aiden. He cannot escape the house and will have each day repeating itself, waking up in a body of a different guest, unless he solves the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. Each day repeats itself and Evelyn gets murdered. Will Aiden be able to solve her murder and free himself from the never-ending loop? The great things about this book are the brilliant concept, including all the psychology behind it, and enticing setting. However, those who got too excited should also hold their horses. This is because as the novel progresses, it becomes a dull, pretentious and overly confusing read. Continue reading “Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton”

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Death in Venice

venice pictureNothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim. Between them there exists a disquiet, a strained curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally repressed need for recognition and exchange of thoughts – and also, especially, a sort of nervous respect. For one person loves and honours another only as long as he is unable to assess him, and yearning is a result of a lack of knowledge” (Thomas Mann, Death in Venice [1912:41]).

Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

the turn of the screw book cover The Turn of the Screw [1898] – ★★★★

<<This review will contain spoilers>>  

Wasn’t it just a story-book over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream?” [James, Ed. 2004: 33].  

This is a horror novella penned by James in 1898 at the invitation of Robert J. Collier for his magazine. First published as a series, it tells of a hired governess who comes to Bly, a country estate in Essex, to supervise two children, Miles and Flora. The children are orphans under the responsibility of their uncle who, in turn, does not have much time to spend with them and resides in London. The young governess willingly assumes her responsibilities, being totally delighted to be in charge of two beautiful, lovely and well-behaved children in such grand estate. However, Bly soon opens its horrors to the governess and she becomes aware that there are at least two ghosts in the house that haunt the children. The Turn of the Screw is now infamous for its multiple story interpretations and all kinds of meanings that can be read into the text. Nevertheless, whether one reads the story as a straightforward ghost tale or as a more complex psychological study of one nanny losing her mind, it is still a scary and intriguing read, which leaves much to think about and discuss upon finishing.  Continue reading “Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James”

Botticelli: The Calumny of Apelles

Apelles CalumnyIt seems that every allegorical painting opens some door to deeper truth. The Calumny of Appelles  was painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1494 from the description of a lost painting by Apelles, a Greek painter, who lived in the 4th century BC. Now, the painting resides in the Uffizi in Florence, and does not stop to amaze gallery visitors with its beauty and metaphorical insight. In the centre of this painting is an innocent man on the floor who is being dragged to King Midas on the throne who has to decide on his fate. Calumny (Slander), in blue and white, is dragging the man by his hair, while Perfidy (Deceit) and Fraud are behind her, arranging her hair. A man dressed in black, holding Calumny’s hand, is Rancour (Envy) who is stretching his hand to the King. The old woman in black is Remorse, who glances at the naked Truth, a young woman who points to the sky. The lady is naked because, like the man on the floor, she has nothing to hide, and she urges the others to consider higher values in life. By pointing at heaven, she also gives a sign to others that a fair judgement is reserved for all after their deaths. However, King Midas, who has to pass a judgement on the innocent man, has his eyes downcast, not seeing the picture fully and clearly in front of him. He is guided by Ignorance and Suspicion, the two ladies on each side of him, who whisper in his donkey ears their suggestions on the course of action to take.

Classics Book Tag

Being a voracious reader of classics, I have decided to give this tag a go. I first saw the tag on Supernova Writes, but the original creator is It’s a Books World

The Master and MargaritaI. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like: 

This is hard because I like most classics. I guess I did not particularly like Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I do not consider it too overhyped, but I simply did not enjoy it, be it the story or the style, and I really did try since I read it at least twice. Perhaps, some doses of magical realism do not agree with me at all.

II. Favourite time period to read about:

I am not picky and I enjoy novels set from ancient history to modern times. If I have to choose, I will go for the 19th century or early 20th century-set novels. There is just something fascinating about this period, and the earliest novels of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle are the best detective stories in the world.  Continue reading “Classics Book Tag”

Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries Book Cover The Luminaries [2013] – ★★★★1/2

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” (T. S. Eliot).

What is the most intelligent, complicated and intricately-designed novel of this century? Eleanor Catton wrote it in 2013 and titled it The Luminaries. The winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2013, The Luminaries is a multi-layered tour-de-force, running about 820 pages, that tells the story of mysterious events, including a disappearance and a possible murder, taking place in a gold-mining town of Hokitika, New Zealand, in 1865 and 1866. To tell her story, Catton employs astrological charts, planetary positions and planetary relationships vis-à-vis zodiac constellations, thereby twelve leading male characters in her novel correspond to twelve zodiac signs, such as Scorpio or Sagittarius, and other characters relate to planets, such as Venus or Mercury. These characters’ interactions with each other take a complicated turn and, as we find out more about some eerie coincidences, undoubtedly influenced by astral positions, the mystery deepens and we uncover hidden relations, start to doubt our prior perceptions and come full circle to glimpse at the real truth. As Te Rau Tauwhare explains the origin of the word “Hokitika” to Balfour, “Understand it like this.Around. And then back again, beginning” [Catton, 2013: 106]. Beautifully-written and cleverly-construed, this rich in detail/description novel may be difficult for the reader to get into at first, but the book proves hugely rewarding and could really be called a modern classic.  Continue reading “Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton”

Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko Book Cover Pachinko [2017] – ★★★★

“The Japanese could think what they wanted about them, but none of it would matter if they survived and succeeded” [Min Jin Lee, 2017: 117]. 

Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko had a long road to publication, almost thirty years, being first conceived as an idea by the author in 1989. The story spans four generations, and tells of Korean immigrants who come to Japan to seek a better life in 1933. This family then faces all manner of hardship, including poverty and discrimination, in the new country. For example, we follow Sunja, a daughter of a cleft-lipped, club-footed man, who takes her chance to marry a missionary, Isak, and goes to Japan to give birth there to her son, whose father, Hansu, remains a powerful man in Korea. In Japan, she meets her brother-in-law and his wife, and their life to survive begins. This emotional novel is a real page-turner and this is so not only because of its fascinating story set in a particularly turbulent time period. Pachinko is sustained by its vivid characters whose resilience in times of hardship is somehow both admirable and chilling. The characters’ determination to survive and succeed in conditions which are designed to make them fail will not leave the reader uninvolved.  Continue reading “Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee”

The Art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Water     Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the portraits painted by Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who was born in Milan in 1527. During his lifetime, he became famous for creating a number of bizarre, thought-provoking paintings showing people composed of fruit, vegetables (plus other inanimate objects), as well plants and animals. The left painting is titled “Water”, showing a person composed of marine animals, while the right painting is called “Fire”, being another life force, showing a person composed of fire paraphernalia. They form part of the collection of four paintings titled “The Four Elements”, commissioned by Maximilian II, and were supposed to represent “chaos brought into harmony”.    Continue reading “The Art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo”

10 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books

In Praise of ShadowsI. In Praise of Shadows [1933] by Junichiro Tanizaki  

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki first wrote his essay In Praise of Shadows in 1933, demonstrating how the Japanese penchant for darkness and imperfection not only has a right to be, but should be appreciated since its eerie beauty can be distilled. From the charm of lacquerware illuminated by candles to toilet meditation, Tanizaki touches on many aspects of the Japanese society slowly vanishing to make his point that there is a certain delight to be found for those not afraid to crouch in darkness and for those who are open to experience the imperfect.    

QuietII. Quiet [2012] by Susan Cain  

Susan Cain’s Quiet is revolutionary in some profound way, and for the first time ever introverts can feel good about being themselves. In her book, Cain not only dispels some of the myths about introversion, such as that introverts are shy, but also points out that introversion and leadership are not antonyms, and, in fact, introverts can take better decision because of the time and research they put in beforehand. This is just one of the chapters in this amazing book designed to free introverts from their mental prisons, enabling them to take their rightful place in the world “that does not stop talking”.  Continue reading “10 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books”

Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills Book Cover A Pale View of Hills [1982] – ★★1/2 

<<This review may contain spoilers>>

Kazuo Ishiguro’s debut novel is quite a puzzle. In the story, we first meet Etsuko, a middle-aged woman from Japan who is now residing in the English countryside, while her younger daughter Niki lives in London. As Niki comes from London to visit her mother, Etsuko starts to reminisce about her previous life in Nagasaki, Japan. We eventually start to guess that Etsuko’s memory of the suicide of her older daughter Keiko in England is somehow linked to Etsuko’s recollections of her friendship with a strange woman Sachiko and her daughter Mariko at the time that she lived in Nagasaki. This short novel is an easy and, at times, intriguing read, with Ishiguro sometimes making insightful points about Japanese culture and the effect of the passage of time on his characters. However, it seems that this subtle novel also asks too much from its reader. If there was a mystery somewhere in the novel’s midst, then it was not sufficiently elaborated upon or given sufficient space to breathe for the reader to really care; and, if there was no real mystery, then the point of the novel is partly lost. Ishiguro seems to have wrapped his story in too many layers of subtlety, thereby forcing his readers to make a giant leap forward in terms of imagination so that they finally decide to start unwrapping the unwrappable. It is unlikely that there will be a satisfactory meaning or explanation found by the novel’s end. Besides, while the reader may want to delve into possible interpretations of what he or she has just read, there is also the possibility that the interest will be lost half-way through.  Continue reading “Review: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro”

The Obscure Cities

Calvani and The Desert of Somonites, showing the Time Portal – Images from L’Archiviste [1987], an album by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters, which is also part of their series Les Cites obscures. In the album, the archivist tries to demystify the nature and existence of the Obscure Cities.

Harry Potter Tag

I noticed this tag on the Ever-the-Crafter blog, and I have decided to give it a go.

  • What house are you in?

It is predictable, but I am in Gryffindor, the house that values bravery and loyalty. I guess my natural instinct is to go for Slytherin, since I am attracted to everything unknown, and do not mind dark cold basement corridors, but, like Harry Potter himself, I guess I would have chosen Gryffindor, even if Slytherin also feels natural to me. When I went through a selection procedure for the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in North American, I was placed in the Wampus house. 

  • What is your patronus?

It will be some celestial she-wolf; she is a bit of a loner, but very protective of the ones she loves.  Continue reading “Harry Potter Tag”

Leave Her To Heaven

Leave Her to Heaven Book Cover“White he watched her, exotic words drifted across the mirror of his mind as summer clouds drift across the sky…He thought of myrrh and frankincense and potpourri – or was it patchouli? and of nameless mysterious fragrances; of sloes, and of clusters of purple grapes, each richly full of blood-red juices which spilled when you crushed them between your teeth(1944: 22, Williams) (Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams was published 74 years ago today).

10 Great Novels set in New York, NY

The Bonfire of the VanitiesI. The Bonfire of the Vanities [1987] by Tom Wolfe 

Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed novel is set in New York as it tells of a high-flying bond trader Sherman McCoy and his eventual fall from the societal ladder when he is involved in a hit-and-run accident alongside his strikingly-beautiful lover Maria. We get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the New York’s privileged, while also mull over the lives of the disadvantaged living in the Bronx and those on the media outlets’ outskirts desperate to make a big story whatever it takes. Though, in terms of plot, it probably takes cues from both The Great Gatsby [1925] and the Spanish film Death of a Cyclist [1955], Wolfe’s novel is still a pure joy to read: witty, bitter-sweet and engrossing. One of the chapters is titled The Masque of the Red Death, so there is plenty of nuance and hidden irony.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's Cover BookII. Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1958] by Truman Capote 

What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets” (2001: 36, Capote). Capote’s novella is short, and both sweet and melancholy in a way. It is about Holly Golightly, a stylish, vivacious young woman, living and enjoying life in Manhattan, not even wanting to think of her past, while men who admire her continue to speculate and probe into her mysteries and the secrets to her success. It is an easy read, but no less fascinating for it.  Continue reading “10 Great Novels set in New York, NY”

Coffee Book Tag

Since I love coffee – I usually drink espresso in the morning, I thought I would do this fun tag, the creator of which now escapes many people, but I saw it first on this site.

I. Black coffee: a book that was hard to get into, but has a lot of die-hard fans

I have always thought that books by J.R.R. Tolkien have this quality. It is not very easy to get into the world of Tolkien and accept everything unquestionably. I think there are no ambivalent opinions on the books. There are people who do not read them and there are those who are passionate about the story-line and also followed every film. 

II. Peppermint mocha: a book that gets popular around the holiday season

I think Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is worth a read. It is entertaining enough, and, for the lovers of detective stories – it may be a “must-read” come festive season.  Continue reading “Coffee Book Tag”

Greek Mythology Book Tag

Flip That Page has created the Greek Mythology Book Tag, and since this is a popular type of posts on wordpress.com, I also thought I would give it a go. I also slightly re-worked the original tag framework. 

  • Zeus (Jupiter): God of the Sky and Thunder / King of the Gods

The Revolutionary Road PosterFavourite book: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates 

Richard Yates has created a fascinating, heart-breaking account of one couple – the Wheelers who simply want “to live” by deciding to go Paris and settle there permanently, breaking from the culture of conformity that pervaded the 1950s US. This marvellous novel is beautiful, a bit traumatic, but always moving. 

  • Poseidon (Neptune): God of the Seas and Earthquakes

The Remains of the Day Book CoverBook that drowned you in feels: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 

There is something emotional, evanescent and indeterminate about Kazuo Ishiguro novels, but The Remains of the Day has got to be one of his most moving novels. While reading this novel, one cannot but feel about the whole situation of opportunities lost and never recovered, and think deeply about the nature of duty, responsibilities and how the tiniest and most mundane details/attention can sometimes mean the world to some people, and everything should be seen in its context.  Continue reading “Greek Mythology Book Tag”

10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines

I. Albert Camus – The Stranger [1942]

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” [1984: 9, Camus/translation]. “You could never change your life…[and] that in any case one life was as good as another and…I wasn’t at all dissatisfied with mine here” [1984: 44, Camus/translation]. 

II. José Saramago – The Cave [2000] 

Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognising and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt” [2002: 254, Saramago/translation]. “What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners, They are just like us” [Plato, The Republic, Book VII].  Continue reading “10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines”

The Ladder of Knowledge

In man, various faculties of knowledge – sensory perception, the imagination, reason and deep insight – correspond to the tiered arrangement of the macrocosm. The last rung is the direct comprehension of the divine word in meditation. The ladder extends no further, because God himself cannot be comprehended” (R. Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi, Vol. II, Oppenheim, 1619).