Wednesday, August 27, 2014

CBR6 #6: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This one is technically a cheat because I've read it before, and I even reviewed it back in 2012 for CBR2. But with the talk of an HBO adaptation coming up over at Pajiba, I found myself straining to remember the details so I thought I'd revisit it since I still have it in my handy-dandy first-generation Kindle.

Reading it a second time around sincerely felt like reading it for the first time, in certain parts. Perhaps because it's easier to retain my memory of things I've read from books versus things I've read on electronic devices -- at least according to this recent study done, the latest in many similar studies done before.

Nevertheless, it was good to rediscover bits I've missed before, such as the various different gods and deities that I didn't recognize the first time around. Or to try and catch things I didn't catch before, or didn't fully understand before. Gaiman's American Gods is almost like a puzzle, and I suspect that each time I reread it, I might take away something different.

The plot basically follows Shadow, an ex-convict just newly released from prison and how his life -- which he originally thought was completely planned and ready for him to begin, in a small town with his beloved wife -- is suddenly turned upside down by the discovery that his wife had died in a car crash. Immediately, he meets an old-ish, impish man -- who instructs Shadow to call him Wednesday -- who recruits him as an errand boy for his preparation for The War.

This War is one both sides say is a long time coming, between the old gods -- brought to America in the hearts and minds of hapless travelers, hopeful immigrants and enslaved communities -- and the new, which are more ideals instead of Gods really, in the sense that they are things that the American public now figuratively worships, such as technology or the Internet or the government.

What I remember most about this book is the idea that random places can be "worshiped" by the masses, whether if its a kitschy rest stop sideshow by the freeway or if its a grand tree in the middle of a meadow. A place is given power because of the meaning that people put in to it -- which really brings up Gaiman's questions about religions and gods. These entities or objects or organizations only have power because we give them power. And as someone who's driven through the unbearably flat plains of the Midwest and been thankful for the sight of any old stupid road attraction, I found truth in it. All the driving that Shadow does in this book made me yearn for a roadtrip around the different states.

As usual, not everything is as it seems in this novel. In my first go-around, I said that reading this felt like swimming without googles. My second time reading (and having a pretty crap memory of it) I was less blind, but was also grateful for how unclear and unfinal everything seems. I felt a little more like Shadow did during his journey -- happy to follow along even though there are many questions, and waiting instead for them to be slowly revealed to me.

I'm reading and reviewing for Pajiba's Cannonball Read 6, so part of this review also appears on their website.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CBR6 #5: Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Buckle up, folks, because I'm gonna do this quick and dirty. I took almost a fucking year to finish this book, because I kept putting it down, leaving it for months at a time, picking it up again, realizing that I have to start from the beginning since so much time has passed, putting it down again, rinse, repeat, etc.

Oh, and it's long too. Yea, we can see that by the size of this book, but I mean it in the sense that GRR Martin really does not make these pages the easiest to get through. When I got to the end, I actually couldn't believe it. I had to flip back through the final chapter just to make sure. I also want to say, for the record, that I liked it and I'm glad I read it. But that in no way means that it wasn't overly long.

Anyway, we'll start with Cersei, since this is the first time we see her point of view in these book, and she is one of the most interesting characters to me. I think of her character like an addict -- everything she does is motivated by immediate needs and concerns, not long-term planning, and because of that, her actions actually tend to land her in trouble instead of protect her. She is paranoid, scheming and incapable of differentiating between her friends and enemies. She surrounds herself with yes-men (enablers, if you will) and refuses interventions -- ahem, I mean, sound advice from smarter people like her uncle, Kevan Lannister.

She also lives in the past -- which I suppose many of us do -- because she is plagued with fear that her life will turn out according to Maggy the witch's prophecy -- to be killed by her brother and usurped by younger, hotter queen. Feast of Crows is about her reign and all the missteps she makes along the way to "ensure" her survival.

Meanwhile, her brother, Jamie, is off at Riverrun, trying to get it back from the Blackfish. He has to navigate squabbles between the houses, and is also trying to be an honorable man while repeatedly being called Kingslayer by others. It's also clear that the Red Wedding -- while it turned the tide of war in the favor of the Lannisters -- was actually really fucking bad because now everyone mistrusts everyone, even their allies.

His former compatriot, Brienne, is still looking for Sansa Stark with Pod and Hyle (who Brienne kind of hates because he and his friends had a pool going for whoever could sleep with her) and they are accompanied by this nice, priest-like fellow with a cool dog. Their journey takes them through all the ravaged land that the war has created, and everyone keeps talking about outlaws like they are going to totally appear at the end of the story.

Arya. She's called Cat now, and she sells cockles on the street. She encounters Sam Tarly in his travels with Gilly and Maester Aemon, but she doesn't tell him who she is. (No one in these books tell anyone who they fucking are, yet somehow they keep fucking running into each other.) Arya has to keep saying that she's nobody, but she still knows that she's Arya, House of Stark. We know this, because, once again, we are reminded of this eleventy times. Oh, she's becoming a real sociopath too -- wanna bet how much dissociating herself has to do with it?

Sansa. She has to take care of Robin a lot. And Peytr is, of course, creepy, and says things like, "Now, give me a proper kiss" when she's pretending to be his daughter. I like Sansa, and kind of wish more things happen in her chapters besides Robin-related passages. But whatever, I still like her.

Can't forget Dorne -- everyone in Dorne is rash and passionate and AWESOME. They all talk like they cannot taste the world enough. Anyway, the daughter of Doran (king of Dorne), Arianne, wants Myrcella to become queen, so she plots to take her away from Dorne. But her plot is discovered, and she is imprisoned for days, weeks, who knows. There are a lot of good characters in Dorne actually, but I'm honest-to-god not good at recounting everything that happens here because... length. Just know this: I can't wait to see what the costume department does with the Dorne folk. I want more yellow coat-tunics!!!

Oh, I totally forgot about the Iron Islands, because it was so early in the book, but only mentioned peripherally at the end. So Balon Greyjoy died, so everyone is fighting to become king. His daughter, Asha, obviously believes she deserves it, but Balon's crazy brother who everyone hates wins the kingsmoot (which, by the way, I thought was going to be way more strenuous, but all it consists of is rhetoric and eloquence and promises. So basically, like an American election). There's also a semi-crazy priest guy for the Sea gods who really loves bathing in ice-cold water, and there are endless paragraphs about how he does it everyday. He hates the crazy brother who wins the Kingsmoot too.

Overlying themes in the book? Revenge. Everyone wants revenge. Oh, and there is like a priest in almost every chapter -- some are fake, some are real, most are crazy -- so there's definitely an emerging theme of religions battling it out, either with each other or against anyone who does not believe.

Oh, and Samwell Tarly finally gets laid.

I'm reading and reviewing for Pajiba's Cannonball Read 6, so part of this review also appears on their website. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CBR6 #4: At Last by Edward St. Aubyn

Last year, I read and reviewed the first four novels in The Patrick Melrose series, and it was, without a doubt, some of the most eye-opening books I read last year. At Last is the final book of the series, and finishing it makes me so sad. My friend who introduced these books to me once said, "I am so jealous that you are getting to read these for the first time," and I understand now what she means because I feel so sad that I can never re-read these books for the first time again.

The series chart the life of Patrick Melrose, who starts on in Never Mind as a child who worships his parents but are later disappointed by them. By Mother's Milk, Melrose is married with children and struggling to come to terms his relationship with mother, who has been so absent in his life.

At Last reverts back to the same format that the first three books took (and that Mother's Milk departed from) -- spanning only a short period of time in a pivotal moment of Patrick's life. His mother, a woman who he has an intensely complex feelings towards, had passed away, and the book centers on her funeral and all the people who attend it. It shows how fractured so much of Patrick's life is, how his family is seen, and how he is seen, and the person that he has eventually become.

His father's old friend, Nicholas Pratt, who worships Patrick's cruel father (he passed away in Bad News, the second book), gets the first words in the novel: "Surprised to see me?" And as a reader who's been through the whole series, yea, I was. I was filled with mixed feelings of recognition, derision and glee because Nicholas Pratt represents how Patrick's abusive father was portrayed to the outside world, as an upright and honorable man. He also has a lot of the aristocratic pretensions that Patrick now hates, which is why his appearance is appreciated because it means there is more incisive commentary on how the affluent and entitled live.

Patrick's old friend, Johnny is also present. He is the first one he ever told about his father's abuse, and his point of view serves to show a grown-up, almost psychiatric insight into how the Melrose circle of friends/family work. Patrick's ex-lover, Julia, also attends the funeral, and his interactions with her shows us how he used to see women as an answer to all the questions he wants silenced, and how he's grown as a person.

Finally, there is his family. Mary, his wife (or estranged wife), once again took on a hyper-materal role, a presence that Patrick desperately craves in his life because of his own insistently neglectful mother; his sons serve as fresh eyes into the horrors that Patrick experienced as a child -- experiences he thought ordinary were seen with pity and empathy when he recounted them to his sensitive children; and there is his aunt, his mother's sister, a kleptomaniacal spendthrift who cannot let got of their family's wealthy past.

The beauty of St. Aubyn's writing isn't really in anything that happens; it's in the little revelations that Patrick experiences as he interacts with each person -- nothing is groundbreaking, but they all explain or answer how he has been raised and developed as a person, and in some way, show how far he's come since. The Patrick we see in At Last is still very much the same person, but also, in certain respects, completely different from his grown-up self in Some Hope, or even Mother's Milk (the third and fourth book, respectively.) St. Aubyn's genius lies in the fact that he's able to show how a person can retain certain parts of himself, while also maturing other parts without losing a clear sense that we are reading about the same person. And his writing is pretty fucking brilliant too.

I find writing reviews about these books exceedingly difficult because it's hard to put forth why exactly they are so good and absolutely need to be read, mostly because not a whole lot happens in it. But yes, the Patrick Melrose novels absolutely need to be read.

I'm reading and reviewing for Pajiba's Cannonball Read 6, so part of this review also appears on their website.