Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everything is Illuminated - post III

The dialogue between the character of the limited interpreter and the author keeps this going because what is happening in the present is much more easily accessible than what went on in the past. The scene where they finally find someone who knows of the old Jewish settlement is moving enough to remind you of the kind of emotional power that Foer unleashes in Extremely Loud…

But I have to confess to continuing to struggle with the flow. As a result it is taking a lot longer than normal to get through a book of 275 pages. Determined to finish because on the way there are going to be some funny, moving and clever passages. Just wish at this stage the gaps in between them wasn’t so difficult.
More soon…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Everything is Illuminated - post II

Having started this book I am determined to finish it even if for some reason it doesn’t grab me. On the face of it the story sounds reasonably compelling with the author travelling to the Ukraine to uncover the story of how his family escaped the holocaust.

But the movement back and forth in time is made slightly more difficult by the fact it all feels slightly too over developed. So for instance there are some passages that make you laugh and their humour. Other parts are very well crafted but for some reason it doesn’t flow.

Possibly as the author gets deeper into his mission to uncover the truth and the parallel story of his great-great-great grandmother evolves it will take off a bit more but not yet…

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wolf Hall - post I

It is always with some trepidation you start a whopping great doorstep of a book. It becomes even harder when you have to wade through a character glossary and family trees. The first thoughts are that this is historical and it has something to do with Henry VIII. Beyond that you try to keep an open mind because you want to come to the book fresh.

The opening chapter does help because it takes you straight into a hideous scene of parental abuse that quite simply is not what you expect. A period drama done in the style of Scum. But once you get past that it seems t be about developing the character of Tom Cromwell jumping ahead by a couple of decades to take him into a position of influence in the world alongside Henry’s court.

But what goes up can come down and it appears as you get 50 or so pages in that Cromwell is about to lose some of his position as his mentor Cardinal Wolsey gets on the wrong side of the King.

More to come in a bit…

Sunday, September 27, 2009

bookmark of the week

The plan is for a trip to the British Museum next week where part of the delights will involve purchasing at least one bookmark. This is a mood setter. A simple green bookmark is part of the museum's recycled range of products and meant to promote the ability to make stationary products without having to 'cost the earth'. I don't often go for bright green so despite being reasonably plain it is a colourful addition to the collection.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ballard on the Archive Hour

Although this year is turning into one spent discovering and revelling in the works of JG Ballard he was of course a well known author before my own humble self-discovery. So it was with great pleasure that there was the chance to listen to the archive hour on Radio 4 written and narrated by Will Self and learn a lot more about him.

As he tells various broadcasters at different points in his career he was trying to make people think about the here and now rather than aliens and outer space bringing into fiction the influence of technology and transport that other writers seemed to ignore completely.

It is well worth a listen to:

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Little Stranger - post V

I'm not going to give away the ending to Little Stranger other than to say that even those who argue about the length and the pace cannot surely fail to agree that Waters manages to bring off emotions brilliantly. She works through the problems of love and rebuttal like a skilled dancer kicking back and performing a tango.

What does Faraday really want and who did he really love are the questions that stick with you longer perhaps than the identity of the little stranger. As the new council houses go up and former servant girls wait with their boyfriends at bus stops this is also describing a ghost of a former age. The post war victims of the loss of power and authority for the landed classes are dealt with here in an objective way that doesn't fall into thesympathy trap but neither condemns them.

A very good read but far too simplistic for me to back it as prize winner bearing in mind I've not read any of the other contenders. So with that in mind it's on to Wolf Hall...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Little Stranger - post IV

With Rod gone and the house almost back to normal the story takes a romantic turn. What Waters is brilliant at is describing the moment when the observations and comments of others finally force Faraday to realise he might be falling for Caroline.

But the scenes describing the dinner dance at the hospital feel as if they are happening in real time and the criticism that would be easy to make is that Waters spends too long here.

But the story perhaps takes a different turn with the love blossoming because now Faraday is much more involved. He has a personal stake (Caroline) in the house and his ability to pretend that the strange things happening are still signs of tiredness or somehow cries for help are going to be more difficult to maintain.

The history of the child that died emerges and by now as a reader I’m more than happy to be carried along with a full blown supernatural wave happy to ignore Faraday’s voice of reason and immerse myself in the idea the old house is haunted.

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Little Stranger - post III

Suddenly things start to happen with Roderick tormented by something which after a few incidents spills over into a fire. Faraday makes the mistake of breaking confidence and as a result convinces everyone that Rod is deranged and delusional and has him committed.

The problem is that if Rod was asleep and the fire wasn’t an accident then of course it is not so easy to dismiss.

Reading the story as it unfolds keeps you on your toes because although it is a leisurely read you have to concentrate on what must be clues that are being dropped into at various points.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Litte Stranger - post II

There is a pace to this book that some might think too slow. But what is important is to build up things to the stage where if things do happen in the house then you are more willing to accept the rational, Dr Faraday backed explanation.

As the dog, Gyp, is put down because of biting the little girl from the neighbouring house a depression settles over the bleak house. Roderick is struggling with the finances and becomes increasingly burdened by the estate management.

Faraday the doctor becomes closer to the family by offering to help Roderick with his leg, damaged in the war, but is still very much at arms length both physically and emotionally. Some secrets start to be shared about the money and the damage done since the war but Faraday doesn’t live there, comes and goes weeks apart and is yet to get under the skin of the place.

More tomorrow…

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Little Stranger - post I

You know when you are reading a good book because you put to one side everything else you have been reading and want to stick with it until the end.

That is the way it feels with The Little Stranger which is written in such a well paced way that you are pulled in at a speed that lends itself to creating a feeling of a world that is slowly revolving into a spiral of despair.

As Dr Faraday returns to the mansion where his mother worked that featured in his youth as the big house in the country he finds a family running out of money crushed by the responsibility of running the house and by the past. They feel they have to live up to the pre-war world of wealth with all its trappings.

But Faraday finds the Ayres are no longer what they were with Roderick the son wounded from the war and a virtual recluse who runs the estate along with his sister Caroline who has become a hardy country type destined for spinsterhood. Their mother dwells in the past when times were better and is happy to invite the doctor into their home to help treat her son and provide some link to the outside world as well, through Faraday’s appreciation and memories, also back to her own past.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

bookmark of the week

This is a magnetic bookmark to publicise a recent exhibition at thew Hayward gallery. Although I didn't get into see the exhibition it didn't matter as much as you might think because the dots theme by Yayoi Kusama stretched out onto the South Bank with trees covered in polka dot material. All of the trees were covered in messages penned by Londoners and tourists and I added my own, which was almost immediately lost among the squiggles.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Tenth Man - post I

Graham Greene has such an easy style that although you know there might be some plot developments that make uncomfortable reading you will get round them in the luxury of a smooth fashion. He is in total control and taking you by the hand into his well described world.

Here the book starts slightly differently with a 33 page introduction by Greene explaining that he was working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had to write some film scripts. The Tenth Man was one of the works he produced. He talks about Our Man in Havana and the way he pulls things together from relatively small ideas.

Here the tenth man is a lonely lawyer Louis Chavel who draws a lot to be killed but ends up swapping his fortune for his life. But he then returns to his former home, now lived in by the mother and sister of the man who died in his place, and starts to live under the same roof taking a role as a handyman.

You guess that Chavel would fall in love with the sister of the man he sent to his death and you sense that she will discover. That might make the plot seem simplistic but the craft in the writing makes you stick with it because you never quite know where it will go.

More soon...

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Crystal World - post II

Not only does Ballard manage to describe so effectively a change in the landscape that is gently apocalyptic but takes his lead character into a position of deciding how to react.

Having seen the forest crystalise in front of his eyes and those caught in it suffer a metamorphisis where their skin becomes encrusted in jewels Ransom still feels drawn to the forest. With the discovery that his former mistress has leprosy, which is of course a theme, and then chooses to take her own life by embracing the other deadly form of transformation.

As he stumbles through the private war between the mine owner and the architect Ventress the army withdraws and the individuals left in the affected zone have to make a decision for themselves about fleeing or embracing death. The priest opts for the later and so do some of the locals. But for the main character the pull back to the crystals and that sense of deciding to embrace the crystals is something that takes time. As a reader you are left sharing that indecision until the very end.

As you come to expect from Ballard the writing is tight, the cast selective and the attention to detail, making the whole thing plausible, is there in abundance. Personally I would run. But facing the pull of the strange lights and the impact on the mind who knows?

A review will follow soon...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Impressions: The Life of Monsieur de Moliere

Although this is very much a first impression, simply the introduction and the author's first chapter, it is worth blogging about. If you want to know why Bulgakov is such a delight to read then look at the way he starts a biography of Moliere. He could opt for the dry details of the background of his mother and father and their location and class status. he could opt for a 19th century style used by most of his famous Russian contemporary writers and start even further back with great grandfathers.

Instead he starts with a midwife who is picking up a freshly born Moliere and informs this startled woman in a two-way dialogue that the baby she is holding in her arms is destined to be more famous than the Sun king and one of the most admired and mimicked playwrights of all time. She is shocked but listens as Bulgakov informs her, and his reader, just how important and deserving the babe in her arms is of the labours he has spent on the rest of the book.

More soon...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Everything is Illuminated - post II

One of the challenges as a reader is not just to get with the rewinding of time but also to try and work out the narrative voice. It seems to be coming from the translator Alex who is charged with taking Foer to trace his family story.

But in between there are parts of the historical family tree story that are clearly being told by Foer. This divided voice creates the chance for humour and for the author to have a pop at himself ands some of the Jewish stereotypes.

But this is not just about providing different views of the story but also because Foer is playing with language and drawing out the prospect and possibilities of some deliberate misunderstanding.

More soon...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crystal World - post I

In some respects this book reminds you of both Conrad's Journey into the Heart of Darkness and Greene's novels set in colonial jungles. But this has a more sinister edge. You know that not all is as it seems and as Sanders gets closer to meeting his former mistress in the jungles of a former French colony the silence, mistrust and strange behaviour starts to creep into the narrative.

What is happening finally becomes clear as the jungle starts to demonstrate the effects of crystallisation. Sanders is a leprosy specialist and in turn nature seems diseased and suffering from the impact of some strange process. The natural conclusion to draw is that the local diamond mines have somehow infected the landscape but as Sanders gets closer to the source of the outbreak something different is happening and it has the ability to change everything in its path.

Crystal skinned crocodiles try to break through crystallised streams past glittering trees. Plus this is also happening in the swamps of Florida and somewhere in Russia. Sitting on Sanders shoulder you go into the heart of the jungle and some of the mysteries start to unfold.

More soon...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Going to change things a bit...

As you might have noticed if you visit this blog it is meant to be a daily reading journal with the occasional review. But increasingly because of time constraints and the distractions and delights of things like Twitter the time given to this blog has reduced.

As a result I'm now thinking of just posting the reviews and cutting out the daily journal bit reducing the number of posts but hopefully improving the quality. I will try one more time to catch up on all the days I should have posted and then if it starts to slide again will move to this revised approach.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

bookmark of the week

I am yet to get inside the Fan Museum in Greenwich after driving past it a hundred or so times. However a friend did pop in and came out armed with this leather bookmark and tales of a wondrous collection of fans from all over the world. Plans are in place to go and visit and who knows it might be a chance to acquire a bookmark in another colour.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

book review - A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle

The book that introduces the most well known fictional detective is very much a story in two halves. The first is imaginative seizing you and taking you into a world where Sherlock Holmes is working in almost complete isolation trying out his detecting techniques.

Watson seeks him out as a flat mate and Holmes eventually brings the doctor into his world showing him the cases he works with. The case of A Study in Scarlet is one that has foxed the detectives from Scotland Yard but not one beyond Holmes. Like a great magician he keeps most of his secrets up his sleeve until the end.

But before you get to the end you get a long winded account of the background and explanation for the murderer’s actions. This drags a bit as the action switches from the crowded streets of London to the early days of the Mormons and the case of a man and his daughter hounded out of the community.

In a way a lot of that material could have been produced in a much more concise way and it does lose the rhythm and at points the interest of the reader. Of course the reason is that the reasoning of Holmes has to be shown to be so complete and thorough that all of the details come to bear at the conclusion of the story.

As a ripping yarn the first half hits the spot but the second is something that sadly undermines that experience. But as an introduction to one of the greatest literary characters it is impossible not to be drawn in by Holmes. His intelligence, which borders on arrogance, is so reassuring that you never once doubt that he knows what he is doing.

It is that trust in Holmes that is established from the start that probably makes him so well liked. Despite his quirky character you are completely on his side and want to read more of his adventures. No doubt the style of writing in bit-parts for a magazine helped build that page turning desire but it is also down to Conan Doyle’s ability that it works as well as it does.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Drought - post IV

The book jumps on again and it has been a decade since the drought began. Ransom is holed up with his ex wife and in conflict with the main camp of survivors. He knows that staying by the sea is a doomed enterprise and he manages to reassemble the original party and head back the 100 miles to the city.

On the way they are greeted with fires, destruction and dust. As they get closer the small cast of freakish characters that Ballard had left in the town are still there fighting and squabbling over water.

Ransom seems happy to slide into an existence of doing nothing but waiting for the end as the days and weeks drift by. Even when the people he is staying with start to fight with themselves he seems unable to take decisive action.

It is only close to presumably the end, with all water gone, that he decides to leave, walk off and head out on his own. It is at that point of course at the moment when he faces the biggest challenge of finding himself, or at least rediscovering himself, that the drought ends.

A review will follow soon…

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Drought - post III

The book flips forward to bring the reader into a world post the break down of law and order. The army has gone and the majority of people have died and disappeared as the drought takes hold.

The salt that is produced when the sea is treated blocks the beach and drives the water miles away from the coast.

The party of original escapees lead by Ransom breaks up and heads in different directions all obsessed with the single ambition to find water and survive.

Ransom, like most of Ballard’s leading characters, seems to be in a daze struggling to really recalibrate to changed circumstances. You always sense that he is superior in intellect to most of those around him but in sense of surviving he seems to be doing no better.

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Everything is Illuminated - post I

If there is one thing that immediately strikes you about the writing of Jonathan Safran Foer it is the language.

He is challenging the reader from the first sentence with sentences that are constructed in a way that not only imparts a foreign origin but also some wicked humour. That is at work here as an introduction is voiced by A Ukrainian student who was tasked with helping Foer track down the story of his family’s past.

It is all a fiction of course but it is done well enough to allow you to suspend your judgment and willingly get sucked into the story. That story goes straight from that introduction into the distant past with a Jewish settlement in Poland and tales of dead tradesmen and adopted children. Clearly the mysteries that the modern day American is coming to solve have deep roots…

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Drought - post II

“The man gazed at Ransom with his calm eyes. ‘Sit here and wait’. He gestured around at the camp. ‘This won’t last forever. Already most of these people have only a day’s water left. Sooner or later they’ll break out. My guess is that by the time they reach the water they’ll be thinned out enough for Ethel and me to have all we want.’”

After reading a few Ballard you discover there are certain points in the narrative where things can go one way or the other. As the water runs out Ransom appears to be quite happy staying in the town doing nothing. He keeps telling everyone he will leave but you never quite believe him.

So when the moment comes for him to leave it feels almost unreal with you wondering if he has fully committed to the full implications of the long journey South to the coast.

Again you half wonder if he will stay but the burning city, marauding gangs of fishermen and zoo animals wandering the streets have made that perhaps not a real option.

Once he reaches the coast with a motley band of people he has picked up and dragged out of the city the true horror of the mass of people waiting for water hits them. The sea, covered in a film of chemicals that stop it from evaporating normally, is blockaded by the army and a sense of restlessness is beginning to take over.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Drought - post I

Carrying on with the JG Ballard theme picked up The Drought. In a way the first reaction is to view it as the opposite of Drowned World with a collection of characters struggling to cope with no water.

The lake is running out of water, returning to mud flats and caked earth and in the midst of it is Ransom a man who like some many of Ballard’s characters seems to be lost. His wife has left him and as the world falls apart he seems to be happy spending time in solitude working out how he can reconnect with it.

Already though there is the tension that seems to be another theme of Ballard’s work where people have to make choices. Do you stay and face what is potentially a death sentence or do you follow the herd and chase the water at the coast? How Ransom answers that question is presumably going to be how the book unfolds.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, September 06, 2009

bookmark of the week

Have to confess I am not sure about this. have a suspicion it was purchased on a holiday to Italy a few years ago but can't be sure. It must have had a ribbon at some point but that is now missing. Great picture and a bookmark that will certainly be used having now been discovered hiding on a dusty bookshelf.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

book review - The Turn of the Screw - Henry James

"If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children?"

The first comment that is unavoidable when describing the experience of reading Henry James is the language. On telling a book loving colleague about my pleasure at getting the paperback free with The Times he commented that he had always found it impossible to get on with James.

It is funny how one comment, it hardly takes anything at all, will stick in your mind and influence your experience of how you approach a book. So it was with no surprise that the construction of the language was an obstacle.

but, and it's a but worth sticking with, underneath there is a good little ghost story waiting to be discovered. As a bunch of friends sit round the fire side enjoying a ghost story or two one of their number promises to top it all with an account from a governess of her time looking after two children in a remote and bleak country house.

The children seem to be as good as gold but there is something odd about them. Miles the boy has been expelled from school yet he appears to be an angel. The little girl also appears to be keeping secrets. Then strange things start happening and the old man servant Quint appears and then the former governess Miss Jessel.

The governess is convinced that the children are somehow connected with the appearance of the ghosts and goes out of her way to prove it. She is believed and supported by the house keeper who seems to go along with it. Her willingness to agree with what could sound like a proprosterous idea indicates that the children are a problem and have been for a while.

More sightings of Quint and Jessel are seen and the governess seems convinced that they mean to do the children harm. She brings things to a head. But she fails to understand the depth to which the children and the spirits have become intertwined and by breaking that bond she breaks their life.

get past the language and the stilted way the characters express themselves and it is possible to feel the fear that Jame's first readers must have felt in the scenes where the governess sees the ghosts and the climatic moment when Quint is perring through the window.

Friday, September 04, 2009

book review - The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster

The New York Trilogy is one of those books that could best be described as patchy. Split into three parts in some ways it could best be described as a modern attempt to lovingly take apart and reassemble the detective fiction genre.

The first story City of Glass tells of the descent into madness of a writer who willingly takes on the role of a private investigator for a bit of excitement. But he is quickly out of his depth and ends up losing the case, the client and his own mind. Everyone seems to be leading double lives with the main character Daniel Quinn using false names and identities.

Even the name of the private detective, Paul Auster, is a red herring because he confesses to not being anything of the sort. Then there is the subject of the case Peter Stillman who has apparently been a victim of parental abuse by a father who is just about to come out of prison. His release and apparent death threats are what necessitates the appointment of Quinn to watch the father. He watches him and engages him in disguised conversation but reveals so much that the old man commits suicide. But the focus then switches back to Stillman. Who is he and what does he want? Living as a tramp Quinn only manages to enter the apartment where he was first hired months after it has been vacated and there is slowly loses touch with reality.

Language, identity and what is or is not reality are all key here. A great deal of time is spent expounding on about the tower of Babel and the power of language. That even risks losing the reader as it appears that after weeks of effort it is actually an irrelevance.

But the theme of uncertainty, with the detective themselves being open to being a victim, is carried on in the second story Ghosts. Here a private eye named Blue who has been trained by Brown is hired by White to watch Black. The use of names as colours only goes so far and before long that device is easily forgotten. Instead what becomes clear is that the lives of Blue and Black are becoming completely entangled and White is the dangerous presence.

Blue loses himself in Black’s life – a pretty boring life – and eventually the detective breaks the chains and ends up taking his frustration out on Black. Again themes of identity, secrecy and the potential for madness are all here.

Finally the most modern feeling story, with Ghosts having a 1950s feel, the Locked Room is a play on a classic detective story device. Usually the dead body lies behind the locked room and the detective spends the rest of the story trying to establish who killed the victim. Here however the figure behind the locked room is alive and potentially has the power to destroy the life of the main character. Two school friends lose touch and one is surprised to find his old friend was a literary talent. Helping bring his work to market he also falls in love and marries his friend’s wife.

Everyone assumes the old school friend Fanshawe is dead but a meeting talking through a locked door reveals he is alive and quite conscious of the decisions he has made to isolate himself.

Again you feel this is about identity with the author handing over his life to a ‘better man’ as he looks to concentrate on some sort of penance for past actions.

After closing the last page you don’t feel a sense of satisfaction. If anything you wonder if themes like the red notebook that pops up in the stories and other echoes are there to trip you up. The feeling of being stupid is not a pleasant one and although certain sections did entertain the overall experience is a mixed one.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

book review - High Rise - JG Ballard

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

There is something horrendously real about High Rise. Perhaps it is because the sort of place that Ballard was describing with some sort of prophetic vision now dominates the skyline of the capital. The large tower blocks that are meant to be worlds in themselves with pools, gyms and essential supplies are now the sorts of places that litter the banks of the Thames and docklands. It was perhaps with Docklands firmly in mind that I pictured the events described in this disturbing book unfold.

If you had to recommend a starting place to anyone wanting to find out what Ballard was all about then this would be a very good one.

It encapsulates all that he was writing about. What would happen to normal people when their lives were pushed into some sort of cauldron? How would it look as society breaks down? He works with a canvas of a 40 storey tower block. But within the block there are different strata of society split by their height from the ground, with those at the top being the richest and most influential. The main character Dr Laing is based on the 25th floor providing a balanced view of the slide into chaos.

Once things start to fall apart the world of the high rise becomes sealed off and the move into violence, cannibalism and complete barbarity I not too long following. What Ballard manages to do is make it all seem relatively believable. It is of course looking at life in a mirror that is warped but it never becomes too strange to make it seem as if it could never happen.

It is that sense that given the right conditions that this sort of thing might happen, which is the key. Ballard takes relatively innocuous objects like lifts, car parking spaces and balcony views and turns them into something dangerous and significant. There are clearly losers in the collapse of social order in the high rise but it is hard to see who the victors are. By the end those who stay in the building have entered into some collective madness that would make it hard to claw back from.

But where Ballard is particularly chilling is in the idea that what you assume is happening in an isolated pocket of madness could in fact be a scenario being played out across the world. Some of his other books do make things a worldwide phenomenon like the drought but here it is the sense that no one really knows what is happening in or outside the high rise that is so disconcerting.

As an introduction to Ballard’s particular themes of the influence on social order of man made technology this is a very good starting point that cannot be recommended highly enough. It is a story with a start, middle and an end but the haunting images of the high rise play out in your mind long after you have finished the book.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

book review - Dreams from the Endz - Faiza Guene

In the second book by Faiza Guene, Dreams from the Endz, the main difference from her opening work, which you notice from the start, is a different tone of voice. There is more assurance here. You would expect that perhaps from someone who saw her first book become a bestseller. But equally it could have gone the other way and she could have frozen.

The story revolves around Ahleme, who is 24, hence the more mature voice. She lives with her brother Foued who is facing expulsion from school and potentially a life of crime connected with drugs. But his big sister is there to save him, even if she cannot always save herself. Connecting them both is a father who is struggling after an industrial accident.

Ahleme shuns the choices of some friends to seize a man to provide security and structure to their lives and instead sets out not only to find personal satisfaction but also to answer some of the big questions. Just as with the first book Just like Tomorrow these big questions focus on just what options there are open to an immigrant living in a sink estate in the French capital.

The people that populate Guene’s stories are caught in a no-man’s land where they are following some of the traditions from a culture they have left behind in a country that has not accepted them. The result is a sort of blindness that means these people are unseen and unwanted by almost every side.

But what Guene shows again with the spunky and intelligent main character of Ahleme is that those that are easily ignored and seen as immigrant failures can be quite the opposite. It is not just the French and the Algerians making judgments but of course what Ahleme finds out as she interacts with not just her own generation but the one below through her brother, is that the immigrant society is quite capable of dividing itself.

Those divisions can reinforce the racism from outside and the alienation that those struggling to breathe in the estate feel. It is also interesting when again they travel back to Algeria and rediscover a land where although it is not the same as France in some respects it is better. In Algeria the rough edges around Foued are smoothed out and the support for the brain damaged father is much more in evidence.

The trip back to Algeria, along with the gang slang in Paris, provokes a glossary at the back of the book. I tended not to bother reading is as the majority of words were self explanatory in their context. The use of slang is obviously something real from the streets but glossaries are dangerous things because they can switch a reader off.

But of course that only highlights the main problem which is the consequences of no longer being part of that community. Guene writes with wit and a voice that is so clearly that of someone not prepared to accept second best. It comes through in her books and as I saw when she spoke at the World Literature Weekend it comes through in her personality.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

book review - Just Like Tomorroe - Faiza Guene

One of the delights of the LRB weekend world literature festival earlier this summer was the appearance of Faiza Guene. You half expected someone who had penned a best seller at the age of 17 to wander in and dominate the proceedings with s sulky and spoilt air. What arrived was a woman, now in her mid twenties, who was full of opinions, insights and inspiration for anyone who has ever thought that breaking into the world of literature was an impossibility.

Her first book has the feeling of being written by a 17 year old in terms of the issues it deals with concerned with teenage love and the question of sorting out a life and a career. What makes Just Like Tomorrow interesting for a man who has long since left his teenage years behind him (myself as a reader) is the world the story is set in.

Guene takes you in to a world of immigrants living in the Parisian slums. Doria lives with her mum, who barely speaks French and works in the down at heel Formula 1 motel. The mother and daughter are seen by their relatives in Algeria as being in a luxurious position but it doesn’t feel like that for Doria. Side stepping the pitfalls of immigrant poverty are described with great humour but there is a serious message underneath.

The way that Doria interacts with social workers, the drug dealers on the estate and her career advisors indicates that for those less determined and more vulnerable life really would close in on them. On top of that going home is no escape because there women are treated as second rate citizens and the horizons are even more limited than in France.

In terms of giving a voice to someone from a world that most of us would never experience and a life that most of us would never live this is a book that manages to slip under the radar and leave you pondering some large questions.

The only criticism that could be leveled against it is perhaps the length with it feeling short and perhaps the idea that love can change the world is done in a slightly too obvious way. But those are minor criticisms really and overall perhaps the main feeling you get on closing the last chapter is one of respect for someone who really did come from that background and used her own talents to escape and do better.