Sunday, December 09, 2007

What I read this past week

(Whittling my way through the stack.)

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks.
Hmm. Didn't like it much. It's not exactly "Rubbish!" but nor would I name it one of my "top 100 novels of the century." There's some humour in it, the kind that makes you chuckle uncomfortably. It's unsettling, not least because you have to rely on a narrator that seems not entirely credible. Frank in his childhood killed a few kids, but it was just a stage he was going through. But Frank's boastful, and he exaggerates, and he's prone to melodrama of a macabre kind. So we don't know. So many things are left unexplained — the questions, of course, drove me forward. But. Hmm. Surprise ending, yes. The ending makes the journey worthwhile, though it only raises more questions, but it finally places the whole of the book in a context by which to ask and consider the right questions.

Right. I'm not convincing anyone to read this book, am I? It's not without merit. It's weird and kind of creepy (to its credit), and I would recommend it if you have a thing for exploring gender roles and social experiments (of the 'let's raise the kid by homeschooling/by extreme indulgence or the opposite/by dumping the responsibility on distant relatives' kind, kind of).

The Mustache, by Emmanuel Carrère.
Neat. Great premise: A guy shaves his mustache, the one he's worn forever, and no one notices, not his wife, friends, or colleagues, so he figures they're playing an elaborate joke, but his wife's insistence leads him to think she must be crazy, or that he's crazy, and his whole sense of self — his whole life — unravels.

I liked the movie better. The focus is a little different: you spend the book inside the husband's head, but in the movie you watch the disconnect in a married relationship. The acting is superb: silent glances convey pages of 'he knows she knows he thinks she's thinking...' (And the soundtrack featuring Philip Glass's Violin Concerto is perfectly hypnotic.) But the book has a better ending, that he's "appeased by the certitude that now it was over, everything was back in place."

1 comment:

John Self said...

I enjoyed The Wasp Factory a lot when I read it, which frighteningly is about 16 years ago now. I also rated Banks's other early novels, Walking on Glass and The Bridge, though I am kind of afraid of going back to them now in case the memories are stronger than the experience.

Certainly it would be widely acknowledged that the quality of Banks's writing, at least his non-SF stuff, has declined dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s, so much so that a once essential author for me has become someone whose new books I never even pick up in the shops.