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The Captain is out to Lunch and the Sailors have taken over the Ship by Charles Bukowski

“Well, my 71st year has been a hell of a productive year. I have probably written more words this year than in any year of my life.”

 

literature fiend The Captain is out to Lunch and the Sailors have taken over the Ship provides an interesting look  into Charles Bukowski’s personal life.

Most of Bukowski’s novels are written from the perspective of Henry Chinaski – his literary alter ego – which are undoubtedly based on real experiences.

This is a diary – recorded on Bukowski’s computer – which begins in 1991 and ends in 1993 – the year Bukowksi died of leukaemia aged 73.

It’s  great to imagine Bukowski, sitting at his desk night -after-night banging away at his keyboard with dogged determination just to “get the words down.”

Bukowski was always a prolific writer,  but this diary provides a  glimpse into his frustration with the writing process.   On the 20th October 1991, he writes:

“This is one of those nights where there is nothing. Imagine being always like this. Scooped-out. Listless. No light. No dance. Not even any disgust.” (p. 57)

However, In the same entry he writes about his productivity, showing “the block” as a rare occurrence:

“Still, I’ve had a good year. Masses of pages sit in the bookcase behind me. Written since Jan. 18. It’s like a madman was turned loose. No sane man would write that many pages. It’s a sickness.” (p. 57) 

Although most of the entries are filled with the mundane, the diary really highlights the importance of a routine.  For Bukowski is went pretty much like this:

  1. Wake up.
  2. Drive to the Horse Racing.
  3. Write at night while listening to classical music.

BukowskiThe best part of the book  was Bukowski’s  transition from typewriter to computer. The fact that there was to be “No more carbons, no more retyping,” was something Bukowski was excited about. It meant more time to create fresh content.

“This computer that I started using on Jan. 18 has had much to do with [enhanced productivity]. It’s simply easier to get the word down, it transfers more quickly from the brain (or wherever this comes from) to the fingers and from the fingers to the screen where it is immediately visible – crisp and clear” (p. 73)

This passage left me thinking about technology and how easy it is to create a document, edit that document and then print it. Something that is maybe taken for granted by  those of us born in the “computer generation.”

In retrospect, there is also a sad element to this book.  It isn’t clear whether Bukowski knew about his Leukaemia in any of the diary entries, although he is certainly thinking about his own mortality:

“The other day I was thinking about the world without me. There is the world going on doing what it does. And I’m not there. Very odd. Think of the garbage truck coming by and picking up the garbage and I’m not there. Or the newspaper sits in the drive and I’m not there to pick it up. Impossible. ” (P. 107)

The Captain is out to Lunch and the Sailors have taken over the Ship contains pretty much what you’d expect from Charles Bukowski. Lots of talk about drinking and betting and literature and classical music; all of which is delivered in a raw and honest style.

 

What did you think of the diary? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

“The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.”

the-girl-who-loved-tom-gordon-by-stephen-king-L-1mbmQyThe Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a psychological thriller that centres around a nine year old girl – Trisha McFarland – that also has a baseball theme to it.

Yes, you heard that right – a BASEBALL theme.

But relax (those of you who don’t know anything about baseball or hate the sport) because aside from the chapter headings, a fictional player called Tom Gordon and a little bit of radio commentary, this novel is just a good old fashioned ‘girl-gets-lost-in-the-woods-story.’

King informs the reader of this fact in the opening paragraph,

“At o’clock on a morning in early July she was sitting in the back seat of her mother’s Dodge Caravan, wearing her Red Sox batting practice jersey (the one with 36 GORDON on the back) and playing with Mona, her doll. At ten thirty she was lost in the woods.” (p.3)

Trisha, who is on a day out with her mother and brother wanders off the main trail in search of a tree to have a pee… Well you know the rest!

NEVER WANDER OFF THE GODDAMN TRAIL!!!

If you’ve ever been in the woods, then you’ll be familiar with the way it can play tricks on the mind. You may think you are walking in a straight line, but in actual fact you’ve just done a 360 and end up where you started. King captures the characteristics of the forest brilliantly.

The Sounds, The Dark Shadows and The Thing that watches from within:

“The dead trees began to look less and less like trees and more and more like gaunt sentinels standing with their gnarled feet in the still black water. Be seeing faces in them again pretty soon, she thought.” (P.136)

As Trisha struggles through the forest, night after night, the lines between reality and tricks of the mind become blurred. In typical King fashion little voices of doubt begin to creep into Trisha’s consciousness:

“It’s a special thing Trisha – the thing that waits for the lost ones. It lets them wander until they’re good and scared -because fear makes them taste better, it sweetens the flesh – and then it comes for them. You’ll see it. It’ll come out of the trees any minute now. A matter of seconds, really. And when you see its face you’ll go insane.” (p.110)

imgresOn her walkman she can listen to the Red Sox commentary, and seek advice from her favourite player Tom Gordon who materialises as part of her imagination.

Or is it? Can Trisha keep her grip on reality long enough to escape the forest?

These are the questions that kept me reading right to the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed  The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s short with a simple plot and has hardly any characters which makes this an easy read.

Does Trisha make it out? Why not grab a copy, relax, get lost in the woods and find out for yourself.

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

 

 

 

Cujo by Stephen King

c1

“He suddenly understood that THE MAN had made him sick.”

I watched a Stephen King interview once, in which he said that Cujo didn’t turn out the way he wanted. This is the Fourth Stephen King novel reviewed this year on literaturefiend and certainly isn’t one of the best.

There are a number of problems in this novel that constrict the reading experience. Cujo is written as one continuous narrative, which I don’t think worked well at all.

I think the film version of Cujo worked very well. I mean who can forget that image of the huge St Bernard Dog covered in blood!

The main part of the novel – and the best part – focuses on Donna and Tad Trenton (Mother and Son) who become trapped in their old Ford Pinto with Cujo waiting to rip them apart.

These sections of the novel made me feel on edge, and I felt their pain of being trapped in a small space with the unbearable heat from the sun beating down on them.

In fact all the sections of the narrative with Cujo were excellent: the build-up as he gets bitten by the rabid bat, the way Cujo battles to keep the rabies at bay; the fact that Cujo can’t understand why he is feeling so agitated and angry, all add to the compassion I felt towards the dog.

The subplots were very tedious.  The world of Victor Trenton – who co-owns a advertising company – is boring as we’re told about their campaign for ‘Sharp cereals’ or something. This is the reason why Victor leaves his wife and child alone (to go on a business trip), so I can see this as a device from King to make the main plot more plausible but it just went on and on and on and on…

About halfway through I began to skim read the sections that didn’t relate to Cujo. I didn’t loose anything from adopting this method, but it really diluted the reading experience. If the subplots were shorter it would’ve made for a really enjoyable novella, rather than an overworked novel.

The way King portrayed the workings of Cujo’s mind is brilliant. As a reader it makes you feel sorry for Cujo, as he can no longer control the advancement of the rabies virus. King highlights this at the end of the novel when he writes:

“He [Cujo] had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor” (p.420)

cujo2In the ‘Iconic Terror’ editions by Hodder Press, King writes an introduction on each novel and there isn’t one about Cujo.  This is the only novel King – a recovering alcohol and drug addict –  can’t remember writing, and probably one from a period of his life he’d rather forget.

That said, the novel is worth a read, if only for Cujo’s split personality (pre and post rabies) and the unexpected ending.

Section that Stayed 

This section shows how powerful and dangerous Cujo is once the rabies has taken hold:

“With a speed and agility that was terrifying, the big dog changed direction and came at the car. The awkward stagger was gone now, as if it had been nothing but a sly act all along. It was roaring and bellowing rather than barking. Its red eyes burned. It struck the car with a hard, dull crunch and rebounded – with stunned eyes, Donna saw that the side of her door was actually bowed in a bit.” (p. 285)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you. 

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

“Sometimes dead is better”

Wow, Pet Semapet sematarytary by Stephen King really did live up to expectations. It’s scary as hell; personally the film also scared the crap outta me too.

In the introduction King writes:

‘When I’m asked (as I frequently am) what I consider to be the most frightening book I’ve ever written, the answer comes easily and with no hesitation: Pet Sematary.” (p.xi)

In fact the novel nearly wasn’t published, King continues:

“All I know is that Pet Sematary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far” (p. xi)

Luckily for us, King had one book left on his Doubleday deal before he could leave,  and instead of writing something new, he sent them Pet Sematary.  

Now it’s being review by literaturefiend.

The novel follows Dr Louis Creed and family as they move into a new house in the small town of Ludlow. The house is on a main road and it isn’t long before Jud Crandall (a neighbor from across the road) warns the Creeds about the dangers of the passing trucks. Louis – whose father died when he was young – discovers a paternal connection with Jud. The role of the father is to protect, but it is Jud who shows Louis the Micmac burial ground which ultimately leads to the catastrophic events in this novel.

There is a path which leads from the Creed home to the Pet Sematary. This is a  lovely concept, started by the town’s children to bury their beloved pets; the majority of which killed on the road by oncoming trucks. Death is something all children must come to terms with and you really feel their innocence with little devices, such as the misspelled Pet Cemetery sign which has an “S” instead of “C”. Also I loved the handwritten grave markers with little messages from the children:

“TRIXIE, KILT ON THE HIGHWAY SEPT 15, 1968” and “HANNAH THE BEST DOG THAT EVER LIVED 1929-1939” (P. 38)

Things are no different for the young Ellie Creed who takes her first visit to the Pet Sematary (and experience of death) pretty hard. She has a beloved cat named Winston Churchill (or Church for short) who she would like to live forever.

“He’s my cat! He’s not God’s cat! Let God have his own cat! Let God have all the damn old cats He wants, and kill them all! Church is mine!”

When Ellie’s cat is killed by a trucchurchk,  Jud tells Louis about the Micmac burial ground which lies beyond the Pet Sematary.  This is a place of evil, a burial ground that somehow brings what is buried back to life – only when they return, they aren’t the same.

When Church returns King writes:

“The feel of the cat caused Louis to break out in gooseflesh, and he had to clench his teeth grimly to keep from kicking it away. Its furry sides felt somehow too slick, too thick – in a word, loathsome” (p. 162)

You get the idea right?

The book then gets even darker. Think of the horror, chasing your young son who is running towards the road, a speeding truck coming from the opposite direction. King explores this scenario when it happens to Gage Creed (Louis’ son); would you just accept it, or… exhume your sons grave, and bury him in a place where you know he’ll return?

Read it to see how it plays out…

The central theme of this novel focuses on coming to terms with grief and the loss of a loved one. There is Rachel Creed, haunted by the memory of her sister who suffered from spinal meningitis before her death; Pascow,  a young student who is killed by a truck on the main highway to mention a few.

I can see how Pet Sematary scared King, as much of it is based on personal experience. His own child Owen running for that main highway (thankfully King tackled him in time), his daughter’s cat Smucky flattened by a truck (thankfully, not coming back from the dead) and the real  Pet Sematary (thankfully, the burial ground beyond is fiction).

This all happened and I think it shows King’s creativity at its best. He certainly highlights the notion that “sometimes dead is better.”

Section that Stayed

A university student is brought into the campus surgery after being hit by a truck. The finality of this passage stayed with me throughout the whole novel.

“He was a young man, age approximately twenty, and it took Louis less than three seconds to make the only diagnosis that mattered: the young man was going to die. Half of his head was crushed. His neck had been broken. One collarbone jutted from his swelled and twisted right shoulder. From his head, blood and a yellow, pussy fluid seeped sluggishly into the carpet. Louis could see the man’s brain, whitish-gray and pulsing through a shattered section of his skull.”(p.70)

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.  

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck, Cannery RowJohn Steinbeck is a great humanist writer who focuses the majority of his work on the less fortunate members of society, usually in California. His main qualities as a writer lie in the description of landscape and the tender aspects of his character’s. For the above themes, I suggest you check out Of Mice & Men, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.

Cannery Row was published in 1945 and is set in Monterey, California during the great depression. Cannery Row is a waterfront street which had a number of sardine canning factories (the last of which closed in 1978.)

Rather than focus on the workers of these factories – many of whom were out-of-towners – it deals with the colourful inhabitants of ‘The Row’ during the time the canning factories are closed:

“It is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”

At the beginning of the novel Steinbeck writes:

“It’s inhabitants [Cannery Row’s] are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing” (p.5)

A group of men, led by Mack, who have no ambition except to sit around and get drunk and live rent free in an old shed, affectionately called, The Palace Flophouse and Grill. Instead of looking at them in a stereotypical way, Steinbeck has Doc – a well respected marine biologist – describe them in a positive light,

“Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think. […] Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time where people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed.” (p.106)

The local shopkeeper, called Lee Chong who’s store is described as “while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply” (p.7), has a similar air of affection. The people who work at the local whorehouse are all described with similar fondness. This is Steinbeck’s way of showing the reader how reliant the inhabitants are upon each other.

This novel marked a change in his normal style, in the sense that the novel had no real plot. Just a series of chapters highlighting the “real” Cannery row. Aside from human interaction,  Steinbeck talks about nature; particularly about animal life and how it co-exists alongside human life.

“A well-grown gopher took up residence in a thicket of mallow weeds in the vacant lot on Cannery Row[…] It was beautiful in the early morning when he first poked his head out of the burrow. The mallows filtered green light down on him and the first rays of the rising sun shone into his hole and warmed it so that he lay there content and very comfortable” (p.144)

There are many descriptions like this in the novel, but I think it really highlights the way Steinbeck was thinking at this stage in his life. He is deeply pondering man’s place within the eco-system of the natural world.

Overall, Cannery Row is littered with excellent description, heartfelt dialogue and deeply human character’s. It shows an author who is brimming with confidence,  and who has deep compassion towards the poor. On top of that it is a rapid read at 147 pages; this comes well recommended.

What did you think of the novel? As always Literature Fiend would love to hear any discussions points, or suggestions for further reading. Please contact us, or leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.  

 

 

Reading and Re-reading Stephen King in 2016

maxresdefaultIf you’re regular visitor to this blog then you’ll know how much I like Stephen King as a writer. I think he is a master storyteller who’s work will still be messing with the minds of readers way into the future. Recently, after an evening reading and watching interviews with King,  I came to realise that there are so many novel and short stories I’ve yet to read.

I’m ashamed to say that there are the ones like:  Firestarter, Christine and The Eyes of the Dragon that I’ve never heard of.

Not to mention the Dark Tower series.

I just never got around to reading it, not with the plethora of other Literature in the ethos. I think I missed these titles because King has been, and still is a prolific writer; with books splattering the high street before I was born and then consistently since (now I’m 32 by the way)

This idea prompted me to think about the more ‘well know titles.’ You know,  the ones that scared the hell out of you as a child (well, I was a child) like: Pet Sematary, The Shining, Carrie and Cujo.

Or the ones with the unforgettable characters: Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand by Me.

As I was thinking this over, it dawned on me that it was the films that I remembered from my childhood and not the King novels. I mean, I read some of them but the novel slash film blurs into one (FYI, it was called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me was adapted from a short story called: The Body.)

To add insult to injury I read an interview where King said that out of all his novels, Liseys Story was the one he enjoyed most.

Well, this one must’ve slipped my radar too.

Right. This is no good I thought to myself; I’m going to read, or re-read a selection of King novels, as I don’t really know him as a writer. The film adaptations are the ones etched into my memory. Many of which according to King completely ignore the message of his novels.

Being born in 1982, means that I was -6 when Carrie was published. This was the novella that granted King the freedom to write full time. He certainly did that alright:  releasing 54 novels to date, hundreds of short stories and two books on the craft of writing.

So, I’ve been to the second hand bookshops.  I came back with: The Stand, Misery, Liseys Story and IT. 

That’s the story; for the first half of 2016, I’m going to get Kingafied.

 

If you have any suggestions or discussion points then get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

imgresThis novel came to me through the lack of World Literature in translation.

After taking inspiration from the blog, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and my personal link to Lithuania (my wife is from Lithuania) I attempted to find a few titles I’d been recommended. However, I couldn’t find any full works so settled upon this novel.

Much of the history of the Baltic States (especially the war years) isn’t widely known, especially the dreadful treatment by the Soviets in the Second World War. This novel, however, isn’t a work in translation; Sepetys was born in Detroit and continues to live in America.

The story is set in set in 1941 and the majority of the characters are fictionalised but the happenings are based on first-hand accounts and memories from survivors.

“They took me in my nightgown” (p. 3)

It follows Lina and her family as they are forced from their home in Kaunas by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) herded like animals onto cattle carriages – marked ‘Thieves and Prostitutes’ to hide what was going on – and forced on a journey that ends in the harsh climate of Siberia. Their only crime is to be considered anti-Soviet by Stalin, in the sense that they were: Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, musicians and posed a threat to his end goal.

As Lina, a gifted artist, documents the dehumanisation and death of the Prisoners she meets; many of whom will survive and many will perish on her journey. For Lina, the separation from her father is the driving force behind her drawings, hoping that he’ll receive them – wherever he has been taken.

“I saw spruce and pine trees interspersed with farmlands. I looked around, memorizing the landscape to draw it for Papa.” (p.113)

Lina is sentenced to 25 years hard labor. By the time the war ended and the Lithuanian’s returned home (many had been in hard labor for 10-15 years), their houses were occupied by Soviets and consequently the horrific experiences swept under the carpet. Lina’s memories are dug up in 1995 by some construction workers, this shows the fear of those returning from the camps.

“The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954….Though we were committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now speaking of the we have experienced would result in our death” (Epilogue, p. 337)

The lack of material in translation from the Baltic states angered me, as I think the experiences – like the ones documented in this novel – are important. This is a captivating story of love. Love between different families and strangers who are forced together in horrendous circumstances.

I’ve read that this novel is aimed at a YA audience, but I never have and never will categorise novels in this way; I mean, a story is a story right?

Sepetys delivers excellent characters and a captivating narrative; the only gripe I had with the novel is that in one of Lina’s memories, her brother Jonas and his father go to a soccer match together. Having spent a lot of time in Lithuania I’m all too aware of how unpopular Soccer is; it is all about the basketball.

A very unimportant point but I had to mention it.

That said, the novel is very well researched and one that I couldn’t put down for the two days it took me to read the 344 pages.

Section that Stayed

Lina asks: “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

 

If anyone has read any Baltic novels in translation, then please get in touch; I’d love to read and review them. 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

imgresI’ve been thinking about what to write since I finished Tartt’s masterpiece a few weeks ago. An epic work which weighs in at 864 pages, which I really loved reading.

The length of The Goldfinch may put some people off; but the investment is well worth the effort.

Throughout the novel the themes of loss and friendship are dealt with on so many different levels; too many to mention in this short review.

It follows Theo Decker from childhood to adulthood, after the loss of arguably the most important figure in his life – his mother. Theo sort of imprints the memory of his mother onto a painting he steals after a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his mother’s favorite painting, I might add. Worried about what the authorities will say (as Theo ponders coming clean) the painting sparks an obsession, and not just for the protagonist.

It is important to point out that the painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, is a truly remarkable piece of art asimgres you can see from the image on the right. It is said to be one of a dozen surviving works by the Dutch Artist; many of which were lost when his studio was destroyed by the explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine on October 12, 1654. Fabrititus – a pupil of Rembrandt – died in this explosion aged 32.

Tartt’s novel is full of memorable characters, apart from Theo. For me, I really enjoyed the lifelong friendship with Boris – a Ukrainian with so much depth to his personality – and was really touched by their relationship, not to mention their crazy adventures.

In this section of the novel Boris talks to Theo about girls:

“Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.” (p. 667)

And who can forget Hobbie, the furniture restorer who I imagined for some reason to be a blood relative of the BFG; but more than that,  he is a simple character, more than content spending his days in his workshop restoring furniture – I really admired this about him.

The writing style is typically beautiful. However, there is a section in the last third of the book when Theo is contemplating his own mortality and whether he should continue to live. The descriptive quality and somber subject matter is well captured. I mean throughout this section the “Black Mood” was transferred from the page and really affected me to the extent that I had to put the book down on a regular basis; it seemed to suffocate me.

Depression is a theme that is re-visited throughout the novel. In this passage Theo describes the difficulty of living a normal life after tragedy:

“…and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark” (p. 573)

I’m not surprised that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014 and unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t care it was a decade in the making. Tartt openly admits that she’s a slow writer, but the descriptive detail and depth of research really does help to  pack a punch.

And you know what? I’m happy to wait another ten years if I get to read something as well crafted as The Goldfinch again.

See you in 2024 Tartt. It’s a date!

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