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Commentaires écrits par
Alfred J. Kwak

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Doors Open (English Edition)
Doors Open (English Edition)
Prix : EUR 6,49

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Intermezzo, 17 juin 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Doors Open (English Edition) (Format Kindle)
Ian Rankin, Doors Open
Title, Intermezzo
This is a diversion in Rankin’s oeuvre, a crime novel situated in his beloved Edinburgh without Inspector John Rebus. He is absent, resulting in a lighter than usual, carefully-plotted tale in 30+ chapters about an unlikely trio of amateurs planning to commit a perfect crime without victims: stealing masterpieces by Scottish painters from among the National Galleries of Scotland’s vast number of works gathering dust in storage.
The trio consists of a bored, youngish (37) retired software developer, a multimillionaire keen on collecting art, keen on one painting in particular. Next, a soon to retire Head of the Edinburgh College of Art, appalled by museums, banks and other bodies keeping some 90% of their collections hidden from the public eye. The third is a divorced banker wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of his ex and his children for being so boring, hoping to achieve fresh respect, somehow. His role is to assess risks.
When the trio realizes more help is required to bring the plan to fruition, Chib Calloway, uncrowned crime boss in Edinburgh, is enlisted to provide the logistics and extra manpower required… This reader stops here, because from then on lots of dramatic events happen.
Stealing masterpieces is a popular theme in literature and film. A scam/robbery as depicted by Rankin is unrealistic and unlikely to succeed, but his technical skills move the plot on and on. Sadly, many of the actors remain cartoon characters, hard to bond only. Compared with this work the book I read before this one, Julian Barnes early ‘Staring at the Sun’ (1986) was a feast to read with brilliance shining from almost every page. Barnes’ mastery of dialogue and images dwarfs Rankin’s book, which is entertaining at best.
I may have compared apples with pears. I admire the energy invested in writing “Doors Open”, but miss the usual bite.

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
par Patrick deWitt
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 8,40

1 internaute sur 1 a trouvé ce commentaire utile :
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Absurdist but attractive novel, 28 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Sisters Brothers (Broché)
Much enjoyed Patrick deWitt’s debut “Ablutions” for its being written in the accusative and in second person, a feat rarely done. And for of his graphic powers of description of awful things. Many online reviewers disliked his sly, alcoholic barkeeper hero and gave the book poor marks, which was stupid and unfair, like killing the messenger bringing bad news. TSB is told in a more conventional style by Eli, the younger, fatter, kinder and more generous of the Sisters brothers. Eli does have a temper, which explodes when brother Charlie is in danger. And Patrick deWitt’s talent for graphically describing violence, mishap and decay remains formidable.
Early in this novel situated during the 1850s California gold rush, it emerges that Eli’s older brother Charlie is the leader, Eli the follower. They are feared hired killers, now travelling on horseback from Oregon City to gold-crazy California to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, but not before extracting from him his ‘recipe’ related to extracting gold easier.
Being no expert on Western films or novels, I wondered every 50 pages what this book was really about. Why do the brothers on their slow ride to California kill so many people? Why are their conversations so weird and their ambitions so vague (although Eli saves to open a shop one day). Is it a parody of the Western genre: killing your dad, shooting people in the back, pulling the trigger early in a duel? Most importantly, is there a message, a moral hidden in the book? This reader curiosity was persostent about what was on the next page.
Do the brothers find Mr. Warm? Yes, they do. And that is all this reader gives away.
What defines this book of is the tone of Eli’s writing about his love for and his constant mood changes about his smarter (?), brandy-swigging brother Charlie. Eli’s own thoughts, dialogues with Charlie and the description of their dealings with others are at times wishful, poetic, sentimental, ironic, and in the face of danger and death, solemn. Totally intriguing Western novel.

Dead Air
Dead Air
par Iain Banks
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 12,90

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Winter book, 26 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Dead Air (Broché)
‘Dead air’ is radio talk for unwanted silence when on air. The book’s Scots hero Ken Nott (35) never shuts up. He is a radio DJ, rarely lasting a year in earlier jobs for his controversial take on the world. Now he is a true shock jock upsetting listeners from a London commercial radio station just before and after 9/11, 2001. In the quite cinematic first chapters, Ken emerges as an early detractor of the UK going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ken’s dialogues with his best Scottish friend Craig, his black club DJ buddy Ed and his producer Phil (on air and in the pub) are quite ok. So are the excerpts from his phone-in late morning radio show reproduced in many chapters. It shows him as what the French call a ‘râleur’, a contrarian moaner about persons, political parties, countries, religions, etc., but also about the perils of riding a bike in London. He likes to be labeled a militant Liberal and has his own wall of fame with framed first complaints, death threats and other negative job-related trophies. Another aspect of his radio career is his being Scottish, which is highlighted off and on air, to some delight to this reader.
What propels the novel forward is his professed love for his three friends and for the real, female kind. Ken was married once and has been quite opportunistic and successful since. Until he meets beautiful Celia, married to a ruthless crime boss, whose many businesses have almost become mainstream… No more from this reader about their affair, which dominates much of the book.
Weaknesses: (1) Iain Banks, not an economical writer by nature or choice, wrote chapters that are way too long for me; (2) Found Ken not someone to bond when as the story progressed, and (3) Banks’ increasing concern with Ken’s thoughts and fears led me to skip paragraphs or read in a FFW-way the more action-packed second half.
Many fantastic bits cannot undo later tedium. Good winter book.

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories
par Yasunari Kawabata
Edition : Broché

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Eros, sleep, death, 14 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories (Broché)
Eros, sleep and death
The title story of this collection is a careful, sensual description of the visits old man Enuchi (67) pays to a house where men who are no longer men can spend the night—on appointment and against payment—with a girl who has been artificially put into a comatose sleep. Where in the face of their inevitable demise they can find solace next to a warm, naked body in order to surrender themselves more intensely to their memories from the past, when they were still real men, which crop up ever more frequently these last few years. The main house rules: no alcohol, no penetration.
But old Mr. Enuchi is still in denial. In every chapter he asserts he has not yet lost it and conversing with the lady caretaker (the only dialogues in the story) he gently, slyly probes what other rules, read possibilities there are for him. Each time he visits the house he sleeps beside another girl. Their smells stir up long forgotten images and associations in him. So does what he hears (their breathing, the roaring ocean outside, falling flakes of wet snow on quiet nights). Even what old Mr. Enuchi sees, tastes and feels in the darkened causes a flood of memories, musings and conjectures. The house provides two sleeping pills to its guests, but they do not give Mr. Enuchi the deep sleep of his bedfellows and he is resentful of his suffering bad dreams, visions and nightmares. How should such a story end?
In 1968, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first Japanese to win the Nobel prize for literature. This reader finds this book utterly Japanese. It is full of images from this and the nether world, youth and old age, eros and death, beautifully written and paced, but also full of mystery about the Japanese worldview. Some readers may find some of old Mr. Enuchi’s thoughts and actions occasionally distasteful, even shocking. Given its content, this story is an unlikely choice for reading groups.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
par Thomas L. Friedman
Edition : Relié

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Brash but brilliant, 11 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Relié)
This dynamic and intelligent book about globalisation is mainly based on interviews with key CEOs in the US, India and China was first published in 2005. It has no footnotes or references to academic works. It is cleverly composed and reads at times like a thriller. Good journalism always beats applied science re speed and readability. It will take the science community ages to undo the messages contained in this book, if it feels challenged to do so.
This reviewer acquired the book for 1 Euro on Amsterdam’s flee market. What? Is it book already old hat, obsolete? I think not. Friedman’s wonderful description of 10 main historic events (starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989), which have made the world a more level playing field for entrepreneurs than ever before, takes over 200 pages. This section alone should be, and remain a key resource for students of history, policy makers, journalists and entrepreneurs for long.

In his next chapters Friedman predicted how IT would further revolutionize industry, services and entire nations. Many of his prophesies have come true, esp. in China, but not in his beloved India due to myriad legal, infrastructural and other problems. And both powerhouses also suffer from rather high rates of corruption and capital flight. (Friedman could not investigate Russia and its entrepreneurs, whose murky financial dealings help underpin London’s Square Mile and inflate its real estate market).

How much has it aged? The book’s index shows that some key IT companies have not evolved as predicted: in 2005, Google was still small and unlisted. There is no mention of Facebook, Twitter or other key players. Apple had invented the I-Pad, but the I-Phone came later. Skype is mentioned once. Instead, Friedman's text is still full of Firefox, an only recently recovering internet provider. Another unforeseen development is the success in Kenya of banking by telephone, a model for the rest of the world. Real experts can add to the list. But it remains a timely, important and well-written book.

par Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,90

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Chatty collection without much passion or thrill, 8 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Nocturnes (Broché)
This collection of five stories was my introduction to this author, who is reputedly a long distance type, not a sprinter. These stories aim to create stand-alone literary middle- distance works of art. The stories were either written in the early 1990s or more recently, avoiding all mention of modern media or other tell-tale external events. Music is the link between the stories and perhaps also love and the passing of time, as the back cover says.
This reader long hoped the opening story “Crooner”, situated in Venice, would follow in the footsteps of Ian McEwen and Susan Hill, who both contrived in their novels to kill the male spouse of a newly-wed couple there. The story’s object, legendary singer Tony Gardner and his wife Lindy survived their honeymoon in Venice 27 years ago. But during their anniversary, celebrating their deep love and planned career-boosting divorce, no attempt on Tony’s life is made. (Lindy reappears in another story).
I found this collection disappointing for such a successful novelist. Each story is told by a very chatty person in first person singular. Not all are musicians, but all are in various degrees floundering in life and career and are annoyingly ingratiating to whoever they deal with. Time and again I skipped paragraphs and pages to help the end come nearer, without missing anything essential, it seems. And the stories do not lead to startling endings either. Despite his promising choice of narrators, some clever word play between stories and superb writing skills, Kazuo Ishiguro’s collection remains rather bland and longish.

That Smell and Notes from Prison
That Smell and Notes from Prison
par Sonallah Ibrahim
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 14,93

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Seminal novella about Egypt in the 1960s, 8 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : That Smell and Notes from Prison (Broché)
Egypt has from earliest times been a byword for slavery, inequality and injustice. This book is about oppression under Nasser, who ended Egypt’s eternal rule by pharaohs, foreign emperors, sultans and kings in 1952. Whereupon a new type of dynastic rule began. Sonallah Ibrahim (b. 1937; SI)’s debut was confiscated by the authorities shortly after publication in 1966. It was first published in English in Heinemann’s wonderful AWS (African Writers Series) in 1971, translated by Denys Johnson Davies. Who did much to convert the original Arabic version into more a conventional Western-style work, using indentations and other tricks. I own both editions and can affirm that the two versions are quite different.

This new edition has four parts. It begins with a brilliant introduction by the new translator, Robin Creswell (RC), who explains the state of mind of SI when writing the book, its publishing history and how SI spent 1959-1964 in prison in Egypt’s western desert for political reasons, yearning for things to read and pondering how to write in future, aided by smuggled reviews of Western and Soviet literature from Cairo newspapers’ cultural supplements.

The novella is a short work written by a stunned, baffled person, just released from years in prison, now under house arrest, observing and registering what he sees around him, never commenting, never judging, let alone acting. The writing is bleak, which was new to the Arab world.

This harsh and challenging booklet is followed by an introduction to its 1986 edition by the author himself, whose content may surprise some readers. Finally, early on in his introduction, RC prepared readers for the final part of this book, a selection of the prison notes Sonallah Ibrahim managed to smuggle out. They shed more light on his struggle with conventional writing and his search for a new way of picturing life as it is.

I much enjoyed “Beer in the Snooker Club” by Waguih Ghali about 1950s Cairo’s bored young upper class and their hangers-on. This is something else in terms of motive, context and style, but well worth reading too.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town
par Charles Bukowski
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 7,65

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Crude, 19 avril 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (Broché)
Heavy drinking and alcoholism definitely occur in the writing profession and the condition is occasionally described at book length. If so, then in a far more artful manner than by Charles Bukowski (CB; 1920-1994) in this collection of short stories. Earlier in life CB survived a decade-long drinking binge, then sobered up or shifted down his intake, worked jobs, e.g. 14 years in a post office and put his boozing memories on paper, time and again. All CB’s writings saw the light via small underground publishers. He also became a cult hero performing on stage to sympathetic audiences. Forgive me for getting any of this wrong.
Is CB an important writer? In my humble opinion, no, not at all. This collection lacks substance, gravitas, anything approaching art or beauty or wisdom. The stories describe couplings, complacency, boredom, violent incidents and -endings without feelings or a sense of a possible future. They are crude, one-dimensional stories. Not a single one holds a promise of more depth if turned into a novel. But judging from ratings on several sites, CB still has a solid fan base, giving top marks to this book… I disagree.

Consider instead some alternatives: one alcoholic classic is Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano”. More recently, Patrick deWitt’s “Ablutions” and Venedict Jerofejev’s “Trainride to Petrushki” (available in e.g. French and German, not in English). They describe everyday life with booze far more interestingly. Or read Lawrence Block’s novels about his struggling hero Matt Scudder … They all tell great stories, remain focused throughout and end their novels with a bang or a flourish. Bukowski ‘s “dirty realism” is no match to these writers. It is simply inferior.

In the Skin of a Lion
In the Skin of a Lion
par Michael Ondaatje
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 8,81

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A grand, but challenging read, 15 avril 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : In the Skin of a Lion (Broché)
This, only his second novel, is considered by many his masterpiece. This reader is impressed how so much action and drama were compressed into such a small book. MO did so because of a writing style called by many poetic, full of metaphors and symbolism. ‘Total darkness’ is a recurring image in different contexts, so is ‘horizon’. No doubt there are more such images.
This against a background of the immigrants shaping Toronto into a modern city in the 1920s and-30s. Or earlier, in the North, logging in harsh winter conditions. The novel revolves around Patrick Lewis, who falls in love with two actresses, first Sarah, later with her friend Alice. Later key characters are Hana and Caravaggio, who will re-appear in “The English Patient”. It highlights the construction of some of Toronto’s key public works, poor pay and working conditions everywhere and a nascent labour movement. These were harsh years indeed except for the unscrupulous and wealthy.
This is a grand read with echoes of Doctorow, Scott Fitzgerald, “Citizen Kane” and a tribute to Joseph Conrad, who is mentioned on a few occasions. To write this tale in blockbuster style would have required twice as many words and the loss of most of its magic. The characters are passionate but often talk little or not, and remain rather opaque. No talk about their past, nor a clear eye on the future; they live in the here and now. This reader has no antenna for poetry and has probably missed something or other on almost every page, while the dialogues baffled me almost completely.
Finally, what may be the novel’s biggest asset is that it challenges its readers to recreate in their own mind this work as a film. Its many song titles are now on YouTube for readers to add a soundtrack as well. I will soon re-read this book to see what I have missed

Wolves of the Crescent Moon
Wolves of the Crescent Moon
par Yousef Al-mohaimeed
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 13,03

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Hell on Earth, 11 avril 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Wolves of the Crescent Moon (Broché)
Readers may find its first few chapters a bit hard to digest, but once its rhythm and passion is understood, this well -crafted, colourful novel, banned in Saudi Arabia is pure bliss. It does (and does not really) take place during a single sleepless night in a bus terminal in what main protagonist Turad calls hell on earth, the Saudi capital Riyadh. There is little action apart from Turad sitting, walking, eating something in the vicinity of the terminal. Finding an official personal file left accidentally by a bus passenger and making a phone call in the early morning are Turad’s main exertions.
But the novel reflects his roaring stream of thoughts about his own life and that of a number of persons he is or was associated with. Two deserve special mention because they are losers in life, like Turad, who is a Bedouin who robbed caravans in the desert and has since been disowned by his tribe. He has lost his standing, his place in the world. The second character is Tewfik, born Hasan, an elderly eunuch captured as a young boy in Sudan and smuggled into Saudi Arabia as a slave. He lost his parents, his manhood, his land of birth, and when slavery was abolished, the relative security its status provided…
The third person is the person in the official file, Nasir, a foundling whom a state agency provided with a name and fake parentage, which disqualifies him from ever attaining full citizenship, which require deep tribal roots and a family name starting with Al-. But what if he were adopted?
Strange and intriguing, highly re-readable, passionate, occasionally lyrical or furious, the author exposes indifference and hypocrisy in a closed conservative society thriving on exclusion and exploitation. A cry for compassion, not a political manifest. Given its modest size also highly recommended for reading groups/clubs.

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