Monday, November 23, 2015

read | The Tsar of Love and Techno

The Tsar of Love and Techno is a short story collection written by Anthony Marra. The stories take place in Russia, ranging from 1937 to 2013, so you see the evolution of the country. Kind of. This is one of those works that serves as a reminder that people aren't all that different from one another, despite varying circumstances. So if you're looking for a Russian historical novel, this isn't it. I was excited to read something set in Russia since I haven't done so often, with the pseudo-exception of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy. But I never felt truly immersed in the setting, maybe because each story is during a different time period. I think it's important to approach this book while keeping in mind that it's a series of stories. The stories are pretty closely linked, involving overlapping characters and generations, so it was easy for me to forget that it wasn't a novel. I've read books with more disjointed perspectives, so calling this a short story collection almost feels like a matter of opinion.
I did enjoy my reading experience and I really liked how the author revealed different aspects of the characters through the different stories. The book is kind of set up with a mix tape theme, and the stories support that perfectly. They feed into each other and are complementary without being too similar. It's strange to say that this is the literary equivalent of a well-formed mix tape, but I think that's pretty much the best way to describe it. And you can't go wrong with this cover. It's gorgeous. I'm tempted to shelve it facing out so I can fully appreciate it a while longer.

3 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

read | The Dinner by Herman Koch

I recently read Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and while it wasn’t a favorite it did make me curious about his other novels. The Dinner, perhaps his most well-known book, was the next one I chose. It’s the story of – surprise – a dinner, with the culmination of events that are told partly through flashback and partly over the course of the meal.

It’s interesting to have read novels by the same author written years apart (this was first published in 2009). Of the two, I prefer The Dinner but I can see how Koch’s plot structuring improved by Summer House with Swimming Pool. Koch writes in Dutch so I’ve only read translations, but the growth is, conveniently, in areas that are unlikely to suffer by changing language.

I found the structure of this novel very interesting. The plot follows the pattern of the meal, where the main course coincides with the rising action and the novel is “polished off” with an aperitif at the end. Paul is continually annoyed by the restaurant staff, who interrupt the flow of conversation to continually over-explain the dabs of food that have been brought out. This annoyance carries over to the reader, as the story is cut off while the courses are described.

I was expecting more of a shock factor from this book, and while it definitely takes some unexpected turns, they’re still believable. I never had a moment that made me put the book down and say “Whoa.” And it works. The characters evolve so gradually that the next step is never a leap. As more of the plot is revealed, qualities I didn’t consciously process become suddenly relevant. I think the most unsettling thing about this book is how easy it is to accept. Its foot-in-the-door approach is disturbingly effective. The blurb on the front says that Gillian Flynn found The Dinner “unputdownable” and I have to agree. I read the book in two sittings, and I would have done so in one if I’d had the time.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.