Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fighting the inner goldfish – book review #1

I have devoured books pretty much since I learnt how to read. When I was in primary school I finished books so quickly my parents actually got suspicious and asked me for synopses before they would fork out the money required to purchase the next Enid Blyton or Astrid Lindgren on my list. Whenever we were holidaying abroad, I would lie comfortably stretched out on the back seat (there are certain advantages to being an only child) of the family car, working through the contents of my little book-suitcase, occasionally looking out of the window and producing enthusiastic grunts if my parents pointed out some architectural highlight of the South of France to their philistine daughter whose thoughts were elsewhere. At some English boarding school or Swedish village, most likely.

The downside of reading a lot is that – at least if you are cursed with goldfish memory like I am – you might be totally immersed in a book and feel very passionately about it but if asked a mere week after you finished it what it was about, your comments tend to be of the rather monosyllabic kind. A year later, it's very likely that I can't even remember having read the book in the first place. It gets worse: I've been known to buy books I already owned AND had in fact read, simply because the cover was different from the copy gathering dust in my book-shelf. In order to at least be able to recommend books if someone asked me I began writing down the authors and titles in October '93. Since then, I have read...let me add it up...1,2,3...485 books. I'm probably boosting statistics by reading other people's share as well. If you find that number impressive, you haven't met favourite-colleague-N. (hereinafter known as FCN, or then maybe not, as this seems to be an acronym for
these guys as googling revealed...). She must have read at least twice the amount in the same period of time and like me deserves key account status at our favourite online bookstore.

In order to aid my own erratic memory, I thought I'd write down a few words on books, right after I've finished them (while my porous brain can still remember what I liked or disliked), beginning with Zadie Smith's On Beauty.

When her much-hyped first novel, White Teeth, came out, I read it, loved it and was looking forward to her next opus only to be very disappointed indeed by The Autograph Man. I could not shake off the feeling that there was this young woman who got lots of praise, cash and rewards for her first hit and therefore felt she had to surpass herself and prove to the world (as if further proof were needed) that she was the embodiment of intellect and could tackle just about any subject. Somehow, she was just trying too hard and I found the book extremely annoying. On Beauty is between those two extremes – an interesting plot but then again reeking of "Hey, look! I might have just turned thirty but I am the authority on anything, philosophy, race, religion, you name it". The story is predominantly set in a (fictitious) American college town and focuses on the relationship between British (white) art historian Howard Belsey and his (black/African American) wife Kiki, their 3 children and how their lives are intertwined with those of Howard's academic antagonist, right-wing Jamaican-born professor Monty Kipps, and his family. Towards the end of the novel Kiki, who has only barely come to terms with Howard's short midlife-crisis-fling with a colleague finds out about another infidelity committed with a member of the Kipps clan and evenutally moves out of the family home, leaving behind her bitter husband. Although Kiki actually is the character the reader can identify with most, she remains oddly one-dimensional. Smith devotes much more attention to the portrayal of her over-ambitious daughter Zora who as a consequence comes across as a much more tangible if decidedly less likeable character. I also did not particularly like the pace of narration – some events are told in elaborate detail while elsewhere the author seems to have pressed the "fast forward" button to push action forward rather bluntly. Verdict: well-written, but definitely not among my favourite "campus novels".

Purchase(s) of the day: Just groceries and cosmetics. (I've already got several compliments for the turquoise jacket, one of yesterday's bargains, which – predictably – I am wearing today.)


Anonymous Simona said...

I just found your blog and you instantly reminded me of Becky from Shopaholic. If you haven't done so yet then I advise you to read Sophie Kinsella's books on her. I belive you will love them :)

12/07/2005 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger onemorehandbag said...

Hi, Simona,
Oh YES, I have read the "Shopaholics" series and loved all the books. Yep, Becky's a soulmate,I wouldn't mind going on a shopping-spree with her...

12/07/2005 03:19:00 PM  

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