Thursday, June 28, 2007

The third of three books

With Theft, by Peter Carey, being the first, and Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolaño, being the second, and the connections between the lot of them, the nature of art or reality, being tenuous.

The third: The Helmet of Horror, by Victor Pelevin.

I'm... inadequate. Simply inadequate. To describe, let alone to explain.

I have been dying to read this book. I can't believe it took me as long as it did to get around to doing so, but here we are (and the paperback release is just around the corner).

I read Homo Zapiens some years back. About a copywriter for an ad agency in a newly consumerist Russia. Being somewhat familiar with both the workings of ad agencies and of newly consumerist Eastern European countries, and on the basis of some glowing review I read, I hunted down a copy. It didn't quite live up to expectations — it lived up to something else entirely. Imagine Hunter S Thompson dealing with Russian mobsters. I believe I fell into a coma (vodka-induced?) about two-thirds of the way through, so I don't know how it ends.

So, The Helmet. For starters, it's part of Canongate's Myths series. Author, title, premise: cool. I'm unable to formulate, to put into words, to... See, there's the Minotaur. Well, no. Not at first. There's a chatroom, with 8 (I think) distinct participants, probably. With archetypal usernames, and personalities to match. Although, the point is raised that there's no way to know who produces the text on the screen, particularly since there's evidence that they are being censored as they type. And they're all being held captive, it is assumed, in the same labyrinth; although, the point is raised that there's no way to confirm where any of them are, that the parts they see are indeed parts of the same whole. There are assumptions and betrayals.

So Ariadne starts a thread, about a dream she had, featuring the Minotaur, and some dwarves. And maybe the Minotaur's wearing a helmet, or maybe he is the helmet, or maybe we're all wearing the helmet. There's a really interesting discussion about programming videogames — "External technologies affect what we see; internal technologies affect what we think." Maybe life itself is the labyrinth. There's a cathedral with mysterious inscriptions; some mirrors. And it seems the helmet of horror is located within one of its own parts. The Minotaur's a kind of god, only he doesn't exist. Maybe.

I'm really at a loss. I don't know what to say. Mostly I just wanted an excuse to post this photo of Victor Pelevin. I think he'd be really interesting, in a creepy kind of way, at a party. Damn, I miss those sorts of parties.

Review (with links to many other reviews).

Monday, June 25, 2007

The second of three books

Right. So where was I?

The first book was Peter Carey's Theft. Which was pretty good.

2. Roberto Bolaño. Everybody's talking about Bolaño these days. Everybody's talking about Savage Detectives. I haven't read it. I have no idea how similar it is to Last Evenings on Earth. Which I did read. And which I loved.

If you haven't already, do check out the bits I excerpted previously:

From "Enrique Martin."
From "Dentist."

Last Evenings is short stories. I'm not much for short stories in general. Maybe it's time I stopped saying that, seeing as how most short stories I encounter turn out to be quite enjoyable. Still I don't generally search them out of my own accord. I should just get over it. But, whatever.

Where was I? Last Evenings. Left me breathless, and aching, and puzzled, and sad — all in a good way. In awe.

I'm reminded very much of Paul Auster, in particular The New York Trilogy and The Red Notebook. There's not much to The Red Notebook — it's filled with anecdotes, mere sketches; it doesn't have much by way of "literary" quality except for being a bunch of neat little stories. But within them are the kernels of all the other stories. It strikes me that Bolaño's stories are grown from such a notebook.

Chance, or destiny. Mysterious phonecalls. Encounters pregnant with meaning. Or not. The question of coincidence. The connections, the causal relations we draw in the active observation of our own life.

The style, too: clipped, telegraphic, to the point. Mostly. At times there's something a little more circumlocutory, a little more European, a little more like Calvino. With lovely, heart-poundingly philosophical digressions.

I'm not sure that the bits I excerpted are a representative sampling of Last Evenings (let alone Bolaño's work as a whole), nor that they adequately demonstrate any point I might be trying to make above.

But Last Evenings on Earth is beautiful, and I'm very keen to read more by Roberto Bolaño.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Three books

Which have nothing to do with each other, other than my having read them all recently one after the other, my having desperately wanted to read them, them all coincidentally being review copies, and them each in their way having a little something to say about art and reality and how perception gets caught between, but then, aren't all novels about pretty much just that?

1. Theft, by Peter Carey.
2. Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano.
3. The Helmet of Horror, by Victor Pelevin.

1. I'd in my head constructed marvelous things to say about Theft, but sadly, I didn't write them down as they occurred to me in the shower, so while a few thoughts are still buzzing around my brain, they've lost their context. Still, big ideas these were, and they're not to be dismissed lightly. Like, what's the difference between art and counterfeit art? And how can you tell the difference? The question bothers me tremendously because it seems intention is everything, and there is a difference, but I've always espoused that art, or whatever, should be judged in itself, cold, no backstory. And it troubles me that I'm unable to do this; intent always matters no matter how much I think it shouldn't. And this takes me back some 25 years or so to the day I innocently posed a question during, I dunno, a class discussion of current events or something — the question: what's the difference between thinking you're happy and really truly being happy? Which is juvenile, but dammit, I still don't know the answer and I still want to know the answer. Because there is a difference. But what? What?

I should read more by Peter Carey. My Life as a Fake opened my eyes to the way I read, and I don't know if that's due to Carey's skill as a writer, the way he enfolds and reveals themes, or if it's the themes themselves that get under my skin. Both the books of Carey's I read involve putting one over on the establishment — not exactly an ambition of mine, but it rubs up against the problem of what is really real versus what is perceived to be real, which, I guess, is something I grapple with to some degree or other on a daily basis.

The crux of the book:
How do you know how much to pay if you don't know what it's worth?

Though you might not know it from my rambling here, Theft is the most traditional narrative of the three books I talk about here, like, with a plot, and arguably the best crafted of the lot too, leading you to Big Ideas and being neither too obvious nor too obscure about it.

See thoughts on Theft in all its intricacies at BookPuddle.

Read an excerpt.
Join in the discussion at Reading Matters starting June 30.
Reader's guide.

And now I must go to bed. I'll tell you about Bolano and Pelevin tomorrow.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I make the mistake of going to the post office at lunch. The post office at Ogilvy department store. I don't recall there being a post office at Ogilvy, but seeing as there isn't in fact a post office around the corner where I thought there was one, and seeing as I need to mail a package, and skeptical as I am of the word of my coworker on this matter, I have little time and no better option to try.

The problem with the post office outlet at Ogilvy is that its customers are primarily Ogilvy clientele. They are snooty, long-winded, and with some complex gripe or concern, perhaps justifiable but ultimately boiling down to the point that they deserve satisfaction, that they deserve better, that they are somehow deserving.

So I face a long line of select people, a rare breed (but not so rare as I'd thought) who know this outlet exists and believe it exists solely for them.

The really big problem with the post office at Ogilvy is that it's at Ogilvy. Fourth floor. One must traverse pretty much the whole of the first floor to reach an elevator or escalator. Past the cosmetics counters and all those lovely (expensive) hats and pretty (expensive) scarves and Burberry goods and Hugo Boss shoes (expensive and expensive).

I try for the elevator first but don't hold out much hope. Inexplicably, in all my shopping expeditions at Ogilvy I have the sense that I am completely alone, that I am privileged to be their only customer, but the elevator is always full and always going down, likely for the panini sandwiches, or possibly the toilets. As I expect, there is a crowd waiting; four young, polished, name-tagged women, but their number is in essence doubled, as each grasps a naked mannequin by the waist.

The escalator then. An ascent through temptation. I resist; I have post office business. But once completed, I lose my bearings a little; the wide aisle is temporarily aswirl with more women gripping mannequins. The way down, something breaks loose inside me, opening up a little hell.

I pause between escalator flights. There are shoes everywhere. Lovely, lovely shoes.

I note that many of them bear labels I've never heard of, at prices I shouldn't consider reasonable.

I dart about aimlessly and awkwardly. I tuck one foot behind the other As if a professional might be so easily thrown off! to not notice that my shoes — the ones currently on my feet — are, well, cheap. I am less ostrich, head in the sand, than flamingo — no! more drab, more common: seagull — pulling its leg up into a belly of feathers; less to hide — my embarrassment or my shoes — than to distract from, with odd behaviour.

I've yet to determine my philosophy of shoes: better to have a couple pairs of good, solid, well-constructed, expensive shoes (and here I assume also comfortable) or cheap pairs aplenty aspiring to the latest trend (along with a healthy supply of bandaids)? (I remember one impulsive summer of shoes, cheap plastic in primary colours, feet to match.) I generally compromise, on all elements, and this leaves me unsatisfied.

In Ogilvy I stand on 20 dollars' worth of rope fiber, 3 inches of it, some black canvas running over my toes, the whole contraption secured by ribbon round my ankles. Strangely, I love these shoes. Even as I stand in Ogilvy. I should not betray them.

I've spent most of the last few years behind my desk at home barefoot. When it got cold, I burrowed my feet into a puddle of blanket. When I came to Montreal 5 years ago, I had one good, solid (expensive) pair of shoes. I wore them into the ground. I got by in sneakers and an old pair of sandals while I searched for a replacement. I found them — the exact same shoes; I called out my size, put down my money, and went away with a skip in my step. It took a while for me to notice that they were tight. I wore them when I had to wear nice shoes, but my feet weren't very happy about it. It's taken me years to come to terms with the fact that the weight of pregnancy somewhat flattened my high arches, causing my shoesize to increase.

I got great shoes in Washington last fall. I was overjoyed at the prospect of working in an office, for giving me a reason to wear them. I wore them proudly for a couple weeks. Then suddenly it was summer. My fall styles would not do.

I spend most lunch hours shopping for shoes. Not buying them, mind — mostly looking, hoping, rarely coveting. Since starting this job, I've purchased: 1 pair sandals, Italian, solid, classic, but a little boring, but at 75% off, too good a deal to pass up; 1 pair pointy-toed slingbacks, in cognac, the sling being kind of swooshy, and very sexy, I think; 1 pair beribboned canvas-fiber things, cheap, as noted above.

I look for shoes everywhere now. I've come to recognize coworkers and fellow commuters not by their faces but by their footwear. I try to size up the workplace, both employees and the environment — better to wear $200 flip-flops (I hate flip-flops!) or discount store pumps? In the metro, I no longer try to make out what passengers are reading — I check out what's on their feet.

They are almost none of them perfect. I look for telltale signs — the bump of a blister, the hint of a limp. If only just a little less this, more that — less strappy, more pointed, not so high, less sparkle, more red.

I walk out of Ogilvy, tall on my cheap shoes (but I can wear them only so many hours a day), without having bought anything. I'm searching for the perfect shoe (Why is there not a shoe store called Cinderella?). A shoe that grounds you while letting you float above the world. I deserve a perfect shoe. Or two.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Three things

1. As J-F is attending a conference this week, I've been on daycare detail. The first day of drop-off, I joke with Helena as we approach the stop where we usually part company. "This is your stop, kid. You'll be OK from here, right? Because I'm running late for work. You can negotiate the rest of the way by yourself?" "Nnnnooooo! Mama!" "Well, you're a big girl. Why not?" She considers carefully, and I get an answer I wasn't expecting: "Because I'm too small; I can't reach the buttons." We hurry off on our way, together. At the door of the daycare, I pause to recall the numbers to punch into the security pad that will grant us access. Helena squeezes in and stretches her hand up the wall. "See?!"

2. Work. Can make me roll my eyes, want to tear my hair out, and laugh uncontrollably, sometimes simultaneously. Today, what I was not allowed to edit, fix, change in any way (because it's client-approved, and a transcription besides): "We are lulled into a false sense of complacency."

3. The homebound metro. I stand near the doors; a man seated just next to me is reading the newspaper intently. Out loud. The horoscopes. To no one in particular. I'm not sure anyone else can hear him; I can barely make out the words myself. But his is a deep voice; he produces a noise, a buzz, that makes me tingle with the presence of angels, like I'm riding the bus in the opening scenes of Wings of Desire, hearing the wisdom and banality of all humanity spill forth. Oh, but such a glorious noise! It occurs to me that this, this throbbing whisper, might in part explain my draw to Doctor Who (we are counting the days in this household to the start of season 3), the sound he rides in on — the sound of the universe.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The secret story

He told me all this as we drank tequila in that cheap restaurant in one of the poor suburbs of Irapuato, which, needless to say, didn't have a licence to sell alcoholic beverages. Then he launched into an argument whose principal objective was to discredit art. Cavernas's engravings, I knew, were still hanging in my friend's living room and I had no reason to suspect that he had taken any steps to sell them. When I tried to point out that what had happened between him and Cavernas was an incident in his life story, not an episode in art history, so that it might be used to discredit certain persons, but not artists in general and certainly not art itself, my friend hit the roof.

But that's where art comes from, he said: life stories. Art history comes along only much later. That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression of and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said: What I mean is the secret story.


So now you're wondering what I mean by the secret story? asked my friend. Well, the secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realise. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realise it's a lie.

— from "Dentist," in Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A kind of literary sanctity

A poet can endure anything. Which amounts to saying that a human being can endure anything. Except that it's not true: there are obviously limits to what a human being can endure. Really endure. A poet, on the other hand can endure anything. We grew up with this conviction. The opening assertion is true, but that way lie ruin, madness, and death.

I met Enrique Martin a few months after arriving in Barcelona. He was born in 1953, like me, and he was a poet. He wrote in Castilian and Catalan with results that were fundamentally similar, though formally different. His Castilian poetry was well meaning, affected, and quite often clumsy, without the slightest glimmer of originality. His model (in Castilian) was Miguel Hernandez, a good poet whom, for some reason, bad poets seem to adore (my explanation, though it's probably simplistic, is that Hernandez writes about pain, impelled by pain, and bad poets generally suffer like laboratory animals, especially during their protracted youths.) Enrique's Catalan poetry, by contrast, was about real things and daily life, and only his friends ever read or heard it (although to be perfectly frank, the same is probably true of what he wrote in Castilian; the only difference, in terms of audience, was that he published the Castilian poems in magazines with tiny circulations, seen only, I suspect, by his friends, if at all, while he read the Catalan poems to us in bars or when he came round to visit). Enrique's Catalan, however, was bad (how he managed to write better poems in a language he hadn't mastered than he did in his mother tongue must, I suppose, be numbered among the mysteries of youth). In any case Enrique had a very shaky grasp of the rudiments of Catalan grammar and it has to be said that he wrote badly, whether in Castilian or in Catalan, but I still remember some of his poems with a certain emotion, coloured no doubt by nostalgia for my own youth. Enrique wanted to be a poet, and he threw himself into this endeavour with all his energy and willpower. He was tenacious in a blind, uncritical way, like the bad guys in westerns, falling like flies but persevering, determined to take the hero's bullets, and in the end there was something likable about this tenacity; it gave him an aura, a kind of literary sanctity that only young poets and old whores can appreciate.

— from "Enrique Martin," in Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano.

Friday, June 08, 2007


It was a hard morning. At 2PM I stand up for myself. The editorial changes to the online program can wait; give me 15 minutes to grab something to eat, get some air.

Food and air. I deserve to eat and to breathe.

Rather than run down to the cafeteria on the mezzanine level (by which I mean 'take the elevator,' as doors to stairwells set off building-wide alarms, and one is relegated to elevator-taking in matters of having to ascend or descend even one level, though being on the 32nd floor, and having no business with businesses on other levels apart from the food service on the mezzanine, I suppose the point is moot), I determined to run round the corner to Basha, where the tabbouleh has an exquisite tang and the pita is fresh.

"You smiling."

"I'm smiling now," as he paper-bagged my order and I prepared to pay.

"What you do?"

I cock my head.

"For job. What you do for job?"

I tell him.

"No good. You leave your job. You teach course for the lady how to smile all day."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why you should read Patrick Hamilton

The Patrick Hamilton revival, in the Boston Globe:

Hamilton's novels are filled with drinking, murder, madness, unrequited passion, loneliness, casual cruelty, the anomie of modern society, dismal, drenching weather, and humor — the words "black comedy" spring to mind. The two I've read are imbued with a decidedly noirish sensibility. Still, Hamilton has been compared with both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen — strange bedfellows, if I may put it so indelicately, and neither exactly the first name in noir. But there is truth there: Hamilton's characters, like Dickens's, are almost surreal products of the distorting forces of their society: They are the peculiar spawn of the modern age, sometimes predators, sometimes unhardy shoots of humanity deprived of sun, their promise stifled. And both writers see kindness as the highest virtue. As for his similarity to Austen: His portrayal of how manners and social relationships are integral to identity are akin to hers, as is the wickedness with which he dissects social situations. And, while we're at it, I, personally, would like to compare him with Barbara Pym in his bleak, biting wit and interest in the rotten deal given to quietly decent people of reduced means.

Katherine A Powers takes a particular look at 2 relatively recent reissues (that I myself read not so long ago): Hangover Square — "It makes personal an atmosphere of deluded, cheap relief, of irresolution; and conveys all the crumminess of the sense of escape bought by a couple of stiff ones at mid day." — and The Slaves of Solitude — "I enjoyed every page of this novel, and have never had the pleasure of seeing the panoply of loneliness and depression employed to such brilliant comic effect."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Following the road to nowhere

Before Oprah and her minions, and Cormac McCarthy himself, sway me to the contrary, I just have to say, for the record: I did not care so much for The Road. I just don't see what the big deal is.

There's nothing to this book beyond mood, of which there's plenty, all of it stark and oppressive. I've got nothing against mood, or dark moods — some books are all about mood, and I'm all for that. Just like some books are all about plot, or character, or language.

But I wouldn't say The Road is a stylistic triumph either. Mood is primary here, and often at the expense of language. McCarthy's prose is often laughable.

"The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."

"Standing with his suitcase like an orphan waiting for the bus."

More than one metaphor employed "Holocaust victim" or something similar.

I mean, really. Good grief.

The tone is biblical. The story and the scope are small, but McCarthy is tricking us into thinking that what happens here is epic. (It's not.) It’s a story of a man and his son. It’s not about their relationship (the boy is a secondary character entirely). We barely get to know either of them; I’d find it hard to believe they come to know each other. Is there something meant to be more universal here? What is it? "Love triumphs in the face of adversity" — gimme a break.

I've over the last few months read a number of dystopian or postapocalyptic novels (4 of them review copies, coincidentally from the same publisher). I can't help but compare and contrast them a little.

My favourite of the lot was A Canticle for Leibowitz. It suffers from inelegant writing, lack of characterization, less than smooth plotting; but more than any of the others, it is a novel of ideas, which to my mind is what any treatment of a postapocalypse ought to be. An extrapolation of a current crisis framed by a prominent concern. What if.

The Children of Men, similarly, lacked in literariness, but it's relevant to the state of the world now and where it's heading. For all its faults, it provides, still, endless conversation fodder.

The Pesthouse, to my mind, is the best of the lot, with all the elements of idea, language, character, plot, etc in writerly balance. While the nature of the apocalypse is never clear (it's hinted perhaps that this future results from ecological disaster), it's a decent study of survival amid chaos.

But The Road? The Road has little by way of "idea." We don’t know why the world is in the state it is, and I for one could not be made to care.

There are rare glimmers of something interesting, but they're passed by:

He tried to think of something to say but he could not. He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the name of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.

That's it. A small part of a paragraph that grabs me and then vanishes. (Paul Auster covered the idea cited above more fully in The Country of Last Things.)

There are some beautiful bits, cryptic, that hint at mythic, philosophical depths (but they're never realized):

They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he'd seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all sorts of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond.


They talked hardly at all. He coughed all the time and the boy watched him spitting blood, Slumping along. Filthy, ragged,hopeless. He'd stop and lean on the cart and the boy would go on and then stop and look back and he would raise his weeping eyes and see him standing there in the road looking back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle.

The book is at its most interesting when the duo encounter other people. But being that the populace is greatly diminished, we spend most of our time in the grim company of father and son, and a whole lot of nothingness.

Maybe this is the point: the quest for like-minded people amid all the nothingness of our hard daily lives. It's not a postapocalyptic novel at all (and that was the only draw for me; I have no interest for the subjects of McCarthy's other works); it's a small story about a man making his way in the world, trying to make a better life for his son.

Many of the review quotes refer to the love and tenderness between father and son. I didn't see anything more than an ordinary paternal–filial bond.

I found The Road pretentious, and it bored me.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

After After Dark

I am a Murakami virgin. (Gasp!) Or, was, until a couple weeks ago. Oh — apart from a story in the New Yorker I liked (years ago), after which reading I made the mental note to pick me up some Murakami. Which I did, finally.

"Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night."

Reading After Dark, by Haruki Marukami, time did move in its own special way in the middle of the night.

I'm at a loss, really, to tell you much of anything about this book. I loved it while I was in it, but I can't say much of any of it has stayed with me. It felt, somehow, very real, while surreal and hyperreal. The way time moves.

After a quick survey of the interior, our eyes come to rest on a girl sitting by the front window. Why her? Why not someone else? Hard to say. But, for some reason, she attracts our attention — very naturally. She sits at a four-person table, reading a book. Hooded gray parka, blue jeans, yellow sneakers faded from repeated washing. On the back of the chair next to her hangs a varsity jacket. This, too, is far from new. She is probably college freshman age, though an air of high school still clings to her. Hair black, short, and straight. Little makeup, no jewelry. Small, slender face. Black-rimmed glasses. Every now and then, an earnest wrinkle forms between her brows.

She reads with great concentration. Her eyes rarely move from the pages of her book — a thick hardback. A bookstore wrapper hides the title from us. Judging from her intent expression, the book might contain challenging subject matter. Far from skimming, she seems to be biting off and chewing it one line at a time.

On her table is a coffee cup. And an ashtray. Next to the ashtray, a navy blue baseball cap with a Boston Red Sox "B." It might be a little too large for her head. A brown leather shoulder bag rests on the seat next to her. It bulges as if its contents had been thrown in on the spur of the moment. She reaches out at regular intervals and brings the coffee cup to her mouth, but she doesn’t appear to be enjoying the flavor. She drinks because she has a cup of coffee in front of her: that is her role as a customer. At odd moments, she puts a cigarette between her lips and lights it with a plastic lighter. She narrows her eyes, releases an easy puff of smoke into the air, puts the cigarette into the ashtray, and then, as if to soothe an approaching headache, she strokes her temples with her fingertips.

The music playing at low volume is "Go Away Little Girl" by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. No one is listening, of course. Many different kinds of people are taking meals and drinking coffee in this late-night Denny’s, but she is the only female there alone. She raises her face from her book now and then to glance at her watch, but she seems dissatisfied with the slow passage of time. Not that she appears to be waiting for anyone: she doesn’t look around the restaurant or train her eyes on the front door. She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping for the time to pass a little faster. Needless to say, dawn will not be here for hours.

She breaks off her reading and looks outside. From this second-story window she can look down on the busy street. Even at a time like this, the street is bright enough and filled with people coming and going—people with places to go and people with no place to go; people with a purpose and people with no purpose; people trying to hold time back and people trying to urge it forward. After a long, steady look at this jumbled street scene, she holds her breath for a moment and turns her eyes once again toward her book. She reaches for her coffee cup. Puffed no more than two or three times, her cigarette turns into a perfectly formed column of ash in the ashtray.

There was nothing grand in the story, but the mood of it was exquisite — like jazz after midnight. And that, sometimes, this time, is enough.

Perhaps because weird but not weird — real — things are happening in my life.

The ending was weak, but the more it goes, the more I recognize that the resolutions to the surreal or hyperreal situations life puts before me are equally generally anticlimactic and vaguely dissatisfying. You process certain moments, certain meetings, certain conversations, within a context of intensity (for some reason; why some moments and not others?) — everything is deep and meaningful; connections and significances abound. And then they dissolve.

I'd asked around a little before embarking on this book whether it was a good starting point into Murakami's work. First thoughts were that it was as good as any, but time is dulling people's initial impressions — apparently it pales in comparison to his other books. While After Dark didn't blow my mind, it's a good enough starting point in that it I'm looking forward to exploring more Murakami.


Lessing at Hay

See the Guardian and BBC:
But asked by a member of the audience if it was men who waged war, she replied: "I have not noticed that women, when they get to be prime ministers are particularly peaceful."

On the contrary she said some of the worst crimes had been committed by women.

She said: "We like to think we are motherly and kind and that we are not going to go to war, but it's not true, is it?"