100 Pages in… The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis [No Spoilers]

Books

The Zone of Interest begins with, “I was no stranger to the flash of lightning;…”  – and, with that, the electric core of Revival does not seem so far away; this is going to be an easy transition, I think to myself.

Books by Martin Amis are, I’m told, generally considered literary fiction – what my Stylistics lecturer back at university would likely refer to as a “beardy” genre, whilst stroking an imaginary beard pensively looking out of the window. Although I am an unseasoned, inexperienced reader (and, while we are on the subject, a total grump, too), I decided not to be put off by all the assumptions and opinions that come carted behind a label like literary fiction and simply dive straight in.

Amis doesn’t waste much time describing locations. It’s an approach to writing I’ve always, in theory, loved, because it places trust in the reader, it allows them to form their own worlds free of laborious descriptions of the grass and the colour of the moss and the types of flowers… or how the damn stock market works (Sebastian Faulks, A Week In December). However, I invariably give up trying to utilise my imagination to this extent; I find it exhausting to the point at which I allow a world of disconnected walls for leaning against, roads running through woods that have no edge and only one type of tree, towns that float unmarked on maps with ever-changing streets and houses. That the characters can interact with all of these objects and places without slipping through a tear in the space-time continuum of the fictional world is simply astounding. But that’s okay, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel – granted, it does feel a little like a hallucinogen taking hold of my mind while I read, but as long as I can remember the basics, that the main character has, for example, blond hair and blues eyes, then I’m perfectly fine…or is it brown?


What follows are a handful of some of my favourite lines from the first one-hundred pages. 

  • Thomsen is loaned a cat to sort out the mouse problem in his house…

It wasn’t long before I learned respect for this skilful and unobtrusive predator. Maksik had a tuxedoed appearance – charcoal suit, perfectly triangular white dickey, white spats. When he dipped low and stretched his front legs, his paws fanned out prettily, like daisies. And every time Agnes scooped him up and took him away with her, Max – having weekended with me – left behind him an established silence.

– p.6

 

  • Thomsen discusses with Hannah Doll, the Kommandant’s wife, the faith of the Doll’s housekeeper, Humilia. 

“And it’s all so simple.” She bent and poured, and we took our seats, Hannah on the quilted sofa, I on a rustic wooden chair. “All she’s got to do is sign a document, and that’s the end of it. She’s free.”
“Mm. Just abjure, as they say.”
“Yes but you know…Humilia couldn’t be more devoted to my two girls. And she’s got a child of her own. A boy of twelve. Who’s in state care. And all she’s got to do is sign a form and she can go and get him. And she doesn’t. She won’t.”
“It’s curious, isn’t it. I’m told they’re meant to like suffering.” And I remembered Boris’s description of a Witness on the flogging post; but I would not be regaling Hannah with it – the way the Witness pleaded for more. “It gratifies their faith.”
“Imagine.”
“They love it.”

p.11

[As a note, the faith is, I assume, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having grown up in this religion – I left many years ago now – I hesitate to fully endorse the idea that they love suffering, and subsequently that one would plead for more. Suffering is, as much as I remember, in their eyes, confirmation of their belief that they are the chosen ones of their god –  so gratifying, perhaps, but not part of some masochistic ritual. I reserve the right to be totally wrong on this matter, by the way.]

 

  • Whilst Thomsen is a grey mix of likeable and detestable, Kommandant Paul Doll rarely strays far from the reader’s unending and total hatred.

Ach, there’s nothing wrong with Hannah that the good old 15 centimetres won’t cure. When, after a final glass or 2 of Martell, I wend my way to the bedroom, she should be suitably prompt in the performance of her spousal duty. If I do encounter any nonsense, I will simply invoke that magic name: Dieter Kruger!
[…]
I see I’d have to brood about this. I’ll sleep in the dressing room, as usual, and tackle Hannah in the morning, 1 of those 1s where you slip beside them whilst they’re all warm and somnolent, and ease up against them and into them. I won’t stand for any hogwash. And then we’ll both be in excellent spirits for our little gathering here at the villa!
   For I am a normal man with normal needs. I am completely normal.

– p.32

  • Szmul, a Sonder, describes a shared trait of his fellow workers.

 At dawn we discuss the extraterritorial nature of the Lager, and everything is back to normal in the bunkroom, we talk, we use each other’s names, we gesticulate, we raise and lower our voices; and I like to think that there is companionship. But something is missing and is always missing; something intrinsic to human interaction has absented itself.
The eyes. When you start out in the detail, you think, ‘It’s me, it’s just me. I keep my head dropped or averted because I don’t want anyone to see my eyes.’ Then after a time you realise that all the Sonders do it: they try to hide their eyes. And who would have guessed how foundationally necessary it is, in human dealings, to see the eyes? But the eyes are the windows to the soul, and when the soul is gone, the eyes too are untenanted.

– p.80

Books worth reading, as recommended by Bill Gates, Susan Cain and more…

Uncategorized

ideas.ted.com

Find repose by exciting the mind. Some of the world’s leading thinkers offer the books that inspired them and their work. Skim the list for your favorite speakers, or get nerdy on a topic you’ve always wanted to know more about. Below find 52 books, recommended by TED speakers.

Creativity

Creative Confidence, by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
Crown Business, 2013
Recommended by: Tim Brown (TED Talk: Designers — think big!)
“‘Creative confidence’ is the creative mindset that goes along with design thinking’s creative skill set.”
See more of Tim Brown’s favorite books.

Creating Minds, by Howard Gardner
Basic Books, 2011
Recommended by: Roselinde Torres (TED Talk: What it takes to be a great leader)
“Gardner’s book was first published more than twenty years ago, but its insights into the creative process — told through the stories of seven remarkable individuals from different fields —…

View original post 3,634 more words

Lightning over a dark horizon - Stephen King's "Revival"

Religion, Music and Drugs in ‘Revival’ by Stephen King

Books

I finished Revival  – and without taking the planned break at page 300 to write a post marking the milestone, whoops. Instead I found myself obsessing over the story and was helpless but to relentlessly tear through the rest of the novel at every available moment. What follows however is not a review, I’m simply not one to be trusted on that front, and so instead I present a discussion of what interests me most about Revival.

spoilers

On Religion

Stephen King is a believer in God. He told Rolling Stone magazine last year, “I choose to believe that God exists, and therefore I can say, ‘God, I can’t do this by myself. Help me not to take a drink today. Help me not to take a drug today.’ And that works fine for me.”

This particular use of belief as a tool for support or strength that King seems to have plays into the novel. Where faith parts with Jamie Morton, drugs and alcohol appear to take over; where faith parts with Charles Jacobs, obsession and amorality. Both are examples of one such supportive crutch being replaced with others. Whilst this may have been the doorway to a novel that battled faith against atheism, I was glad to see King refrain from doing so.

You’re not real!‘ I shouted. ‘You’re not real! It’s all a bunch of tricks! Damn you, Jesus! Damn you, Jesus! Damn you, damn you, damn you, Jesus!

Those words are spoken by our narrator as a young boy marking the end of his belief. I like to believe that King used damn intentionally, a nod to the pervasiveness of adoptive theological language in our everyday tongue, ironically even in the renunciation of faith itself. 

 

On Music and Drugs

I recently spoke to an old friend of Stephen King. He’s a musician from Chicago, who fell into addiction at the same time that King was climbing out of it. Michael McDermott’s music (think Springsteen, Chris Rea, Dylan, etc.) made such an impression on the novelist, in fact, that an essay penned by Stephen now takes pride of place on his website. I mention Michael because I saw him, for better and for worse, in the pages of Revival. Taken in by the rock’n’roll lifestyle, both our narrator and McDermott fell into addiction at a young age and subsequently saw big-time success slip away – and just like Jamie, McDermott is now clean and sober. 

Jamie’s story feels genuine because it echoes much of what Michael has told me in our conversations: the helplessness of addiction, the hypnosis of playing rock’n’roll live, and the longevity of love through it all. Did King draw from his own experiences of addiction and those of his friends then? It seems likely.

“Nobody lives one day at a time like a drug addict. You don’t think yesterday or tomorrow. You just think now, where is it? I was high much of the eighties, and I’m not a very reflective person, so it never crossed my mind that it was an existential thing, or that it was wasteful or anything else. It was just what I was doing that day.”

– Stephen King, Guardian interview, 2000

“I went to jail for it (I was facing 3 to 6 years in prison), that didn’t stop me. Ruined relationships, that didn’t stop me. Became a car thief, that didn’t stop me. Overdosed, that didn’t stop me. […] I would be asked to speak at churches and between services I would be outside in my car, drinking whiskey and snorting cocaine.”

– Michael McDermott, in a forthcoming interview on my Huffington Post UK blog.

“The future was looking brighter. I would score at the fair, find a place to crash – maybe at a local homeless shelter, maybe outside – and tomorrow I’d ride the big gray dog to Shytown. There was a musicians’ exchange there, as there is in most big cities, with players sitting around, telling jokes, swapping gossip, and looking for gigs. For some this wasn’t easy (accordion players, for example), but bands were always looking for competent rhythm guitar players, and I was a smidge more than that. By 1992 I could even play a little lead, if called upon to do so. And if I wasn’t too wrecked.The important thing was to get to Chicago and get a gig before Kelly Van Dorn put out the word that I was unreliable, and the pisshead just might.”

– Jamie Morton, Chapter 5, Revival

 

 

200 Pages in… Revival, by Stephen King [No Spoilers]

Books
This wasn't what I was expecting.

When last we spoke, I broadly told you about the narrative and the themes of the novel – pretty standard stuff, really, but I tried my best to make it interesting. Now, leaving classroom literature discussions behind, I’m another hundred pages in and – if you can find it in your hearts to forgive my slow reading at the moment – I’ll update you on this journey.

At this point in the book it’s difficult for me to discuss anything without giving certain elements away, but I shall try my best not to ruin a single moment for you, nonetheless.

First of all, King’s treatment of time in his narrative has been an exhilarating experience – and not something I remember in any of his other books that I’ve read*. Though I have found myself in brief states of confusion as to when exactly particular events take place in the novel, I’m pretty sure that’s down to me the reader – I often find only a matter of minutes in a busy office to read and so I’m not quite able to pick up where I left off. Why, precisely, I find it such an exciting treatment of the narrative is simple: I didn’t think he could do it, or at least do it successfully. And that’s, perhaps, one of those King techniques that he does so well, layering the surprise, the mystery, the chill. It’s the moment it dawns on you, the reality of the thing that has been only a whisper or a date past by in a diary. King had it planned, he’s conspiring against you and your expectations.

Second, it’s the main character. Sometimes a first person narrator can seem contrived, they appear to have a little too much authorial skill in telling their own life story, as though they are more interested in creating suspense than getting their history down. However, Jamie Morton is one of the successful ones, a believable narrator to his own life. Of course there are points at which, as the reader, you have to employ use of the contract you make with the author, the one that states that you will accept any elements that seem a little unlikely for the narrator to know as long as they don’t threaten the enjoyment or the consistency of the fictional world you’re in. And, I should add, those slightly unlikely elements really do usually need to be there. In other words, I trust a great writer to know exactly what they’re doing – so shut up and fall in love with the story – now, onto the next one hundred pages…

 
 
 
 

*It is a regrettably small list, but I’ll leave it here all the same:

  • Carrie
  • The Stand
  • Bag of Bones
  • Needful Things
  • 11/22/63
  • Mr Mercedes
  • The Long Walk (Richard Bachman)
  • On Writing (Non-fiction, admittedly, but unforgettable)

100 Pages in… Revival, by Stephen King [No Spoilers]

Books

kinghciar1One hundred pages in and I’m reminded of something: Stephen King is effortlessly absorbing. And he is a master craftsman in world-building. So, put those together and you find yourself often in Derry, Castle Rock, Dallas, or Harlow, without so much of a scuff of your feet as you hit the dusty road. After a slightly drab, though ultimately cathartic, stumble through Mr Mercedes, Revival has me hooked again, feeling the heat and smelling the electrified air.

Both in time and space, Revival‘s narrative takes over the steering wheel. In some novels, I find myself making a concerted effort to drive the narrative on with my attention in tact, identifying reasons to be intrigued and indulging in intricacies of language where plot offers only nuances of change. Now, that’s no negative aspect, as far as I’m concerned, because sometimes a story requires less adrenaline, less races of the heart, and more inspection of the finer details – it can often to be the clue to the whole thing being really rather beautiful – but it’s nice to get inside, feel the tug and shove of relentless shifts of time and place, and simply enjoy the ride, however bumpy it may be.

I was bound to love this story, as it turns out. Science, religion, music, sex, drugs and violence – it’s a list to entice most. And although I know there were some mediocre reviews for this book, I sit happily in the knowledge that the experience is subjective to the reader. I relate to the above topics, especially religion and drugs and music, so I’m completely invested in knowing how everything turns out.

My Uh-Oh moment so far? When King’s narrative monkey jumped on the shoulder’s of relative strangers. When that happens, you know something terrible, something utterly awful is going to happen. Well, it did.

And I loved it.