Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! is probably Faulkner’s greatest and most difficult novel covering the rise and fall of the Sutpen dynasty and a great allegory of the rise and fall of the Old South.

The book told through three interconnected narratives tells the life story of Thomas Sutpen. The story simultaneously covers the rise of the Old South. The narratives are not straight forward and present a constant disturbing challenge to the reader (Dyslexics beware!). But if the one does not close the book in despair the rewards are great indeed.

The mood of the storytelling alone is worth the price of admission here. The long flowing sentences are marvels and testaments to Faulker’s skill as a writer. The narrative drive makes reading the book almost like reading an epic Greek tragedy. We get multidimensional views of Sutpens life from several townspeople and also across generations.

Complete this and you would have certainly accomplished something. You don’t so much read this novel as you become lost in it. Jump in get your feet wet and prepare for some of the most intense Southern gothic that you are ever likely to read.

First time readers of Faulkner would probably want to test the water by dipping your toes into As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury first.

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

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Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never let me go is set in the early 1990’s and is a quietly disturbing novel which aims to make us question the ethics of science without ever directly raising the topic.

The narrator of Never Let Me Go is Kathy H., a woman who introduces herself as a “carer” months away from becoming a “donor,” as though we should know what these terms mean. This nearness to ending one stage of her life to entering another causes her to reminisce about Hailsham, the school in the English countryside where she grew up with her two closest friends, Tommy D. and Ruth. The three form an unlikely trio: Ruth is headstrong and imaginative; Tommy has an uncontrollable temper; and Kathy is steady and observant in the subtleties of human behavior. It is this last quality belonging to Kathy H. that sets the tone of the novel. Everything is precisely told in a down to earth voice that never questions the strange terminology and conversations that alert the reader to something more grave lurking under what seems, on the surface, to be an ordinary story about three childhood friends. As the three grow up, they begin to face moments more important than the minor disagreements of childhood.

Ishiguro’s richly textured description of the relationship among the three supplies all the details without confronting the larger issues. As Kathy tells us, the guardians at Hailsham both tell and not tell the students the truth about Hailsham and their lives-exactly what Ishiguro does to the reader. The truth is doled out in steady increments, over the course of the entire novel, requiring the reader to understand what is implied as much as what is told. The frightening side to all this is that the characters never question the course of their lives. No one runs, or questions why they are the ones to make the ultimate sacrifice. One of the most poignant moments comes near the end when Kathy says, “Why should we not have souls?” By this point, it has been apparent to the reader that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are human in every sense of the word, with talents and intelligence and faults and complex emotions, and yet are regarded as both freaks and disposables by the “normals.” For the reader, these characters are anything but expendable.

Enter this alternate world where the past is also the future.

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ By Philip Pullman

“The Greatest Story Ever Told” is what the Christians claim the Bible to be. Pullman in his version of the story “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” makes the point that one can never know what actually happened especially since none of us were not around when this story was made. The story of Jesus Christ is also a story and has not been sufficiently documented to be history, but even if it were to be considered as history per say, Pullman’s point was that history told is not necessarily truth. Truth, he thinks, can be interpreted as history in any way the story teller wants it, as the story travels far and is retold often enough, and is, above all, a good story, people will believe it.

If this book had been published at the time of the inquisition Pullman would be facing a fiery end, fortune favors him.

Pullman puts forward the idea that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to twins, naming one “Jesus” and the other “Christ” and then to say that it was Christ who betrayed Jesus to the Roman governor- Quelle horreur! Blasphemy!

This book is has a little more substance than just that. Pullmans intention of writing this book is not because he was an atheist with the intention of tickling Christians silly by disparaging Jesus Christ, God, and the Biblical account. He narrates many of the essential teachings of Jesus – all taken from the Bible – and laid them in a far more meaningful way than they do coming straight from the Bible. His version of the Lord’s Prayer in the context that he had created is certainly going to moved many Christians and atheists alike.

“‘Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive.”

Slowly and ominously, Pullman spins his version of the life and death of Jesus, explaining the necessity if not the exactitude of miracles in the story of Jesus. If miracles do not happen in real life, they had to be created. And the greatest miracle of all was the Resurrection.

This is not a book proclaiming that the falsity of the story of the Bible, and it is made clear that the book is only a story. Pullman’s is a story that we don’t quite expect; but was the Biblical story of Jesus one that we do? The point that runs through it is that a good story is sill a story. Its success depends on many factors, among them, the faith of people and the desire to believe in miracles. It depends as much on the listener as it does on the storyteller. It depends, in other words, on you.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ By Philip Pullman

Anarchy and old dogs – Colin Cotterill

In 1977 Dr. Buagaew a blind dentist is run over by a Vientiane truck, killing him instantly. Everyone who witnessed the tragedy assumes the late pedestrian obviously owed karmic debt so no tears were shed. As is the case in these types of vehicular deaths, the Laotian National Coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun is directed to perform a cursory review. He and his capable assistant Nurse Dtui assume nothing of their inquiry even when they find an odd anomaly of blank papers on the victim.

Paiboun realizes that the papers contain encoded notes written in invisible ink. He and Dtui with the assistance of his closest comrades Police Officer Phosy and Politburo member Civilai begin to find clues related to the secret writings that to their shock is simply moves in a game of chess that sends the coroner to the city of Pakse where he begins to piece the puzzle together of a plot to overthrow the Communist regime.

Combining humorous eccentric characters like a fortune telling transvestite Auntie Bpoo and the corpse as a practicing blind dentist inside a strong serious investigation, Colin Cotterill continues his great late 1970s Laos mystery series with another excellent entry. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the truck hits the dentist and never slows down until the final confrontation between anarchists and the old dogs like the coroner.

Anarchy and old dogs - Colin Cotterill