Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

“The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel

I’ve read four books by Neal Stephenson.

  • Seveneves
  • Anathem
  • Snow Crash
  • Cryptonomicon

All are LONG. I almost bailed out on Cryptonomicon. Too long, too many characters, etc.  (See my blog entry dated September 27, 2017.)

Stephenson benefitted from having a coauthor on this book (or maybe he found a better and more assertive editor, or maybe he just improved). The story had a more comprehensible narrative course. In the middle, the plot began to wander, but the ending was captivating. And “only” 742 pages!

A recurring theme in D.O.D.O. is language. Protagonist Melisande Stokes is a hardworking graduate student in ancient and classical linguistics when she is recruited by a “shadowy government entity” to translate some very, VERY old manuscripts. Everything about her work is “classified”. Soon she is deeply involved with…time travel and witchcraft!

The authors single out academics and government administrators for scathing parody. If you’ve worked in either of those settings, you may enjoy seeing pomposity punctured.

I haven’t read Nicole Galland, but I’m looking forward to checking out her contemporary and historical fiction.

 

“The Quiet Girl” by Peter Hoeg

Genre: crime fiction, sort of…aka, philosophical thriller (according to Amazon).

This book takes place in Denmark and was translated from Danish.

The plot is confusing, the characters interesting. The girl of the title remains mysterious. Hard to explain why I kept reading, but I did.

I’ve been told the test of “really good literature” is that you want to go right back to the beginning and read again. I re-read the first few chapters. I found that some intriguing elements of character from early chapters were not ever fully developed (psychokinesis?). Too bad. But lots of other good details emerged. Some reviewers refer to the mystical or metaphysical abilities of the hero.

Two other striking aspects of this book are the framework of a circus, and the science of geology. (Sounds crazy? Don’t blame me! I didn’t write it…)

The protagonist has an unusual (supernatural?) sense of hearing and a multidimensional relationship with classical music. He often refers to classical composers or pieces to explain his reaction to people or situations.

I recommend this book to whoever likes a book that slows you down a little. I returned it to the library, but may give it a second shot.

I believe I read the author’s Smila’s Sense of Snow a little before I started blogging in 2013. It was a blockbuster hit  (300 reviews on Amazon, four stars) and was made into a movie. Maybe I should dig out the comments in my old reading journal! If you saw the movie, please fill me in! Thanks.

“The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman

I’m creating a new category for this book, which I read about 15 years ago, long before I had this blog. The category is

ADULT BOOKS THAT TURN OUT WILDLY POPULAR WITH KIDS!

Certainly Mark Salzman’s first book, the nonfiction Iron and Silk, an account of his time in China, was intended for adults. So when I came across his novel The Laughing Sutra, I expected the same. And initially, it was adult fiction. In fact, kind of scary. We witness a murder. But that was just a prologue… As I read on, and got to know the characters, I was amused and entertained, and wondered what my eleven year old son would think.

Hsun-ching and Colonel Sun are an unlikely pair of adventurers. Hsun-ching is a orphan, raised by an quiet, old monk. Colonel Sun is confused, wild, strong and lives for excitement. They join forces to seek a sutra (religious poem) wanted by the old monk.

When these two make it to the USA, the intercultural confusion blossoms into hilarity.

I started reading this book to my 11 year old, but the six year old was also captivated! We cackled our way through to the amazing climax, when Hsun-ching and the Colonel try to re-enter mainland China. (At that time, no one re-entered China. The border guards weren’t ready…) Colonel Sun became part of our family repertoire, like the characters in “Ghostbusters” and other favorites. He was at least as real to us as Superman or Johnny Appleseed. Who wouldn’t want Colonel Sun for a companion? I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you the source of the Colonel’s amazing powers.

So read “The Laughing Sutra”. I also liked Salzman’s next (and entirely entirely different) novel, “The Soloist”. I hope he keeps writing.

So far, I haven’t been able to think of another adult book that worked so well with kids. Any nominations for my new genre? I’m curious.

“Left Bank” by Kate Muir

Another “accidental” read, found in the rented beach house where we spent Thanksgiving. (See December 9, 2014, for a review of the book I found last year.)

  • Genre = “chick” lit.
  • Sub genre = second chances and middle age.
  • Sub sub genre = what’s for dinner?

A fictional look at the lives of rich and sophisticated Parisians. What could be more fun? Lots of details about food and fashion. The book centers around a family. Madame M is an American actress from Texas, just transitioning from film to live stage, doing her best to be more French than a native born Parisian. Her husband thinks he is Jean Paul Sartre. Their seven year old daughter Sabine, raised mostly by hired help, knows her parents are unhappy. In a moment of pique , she “runs away”, and circumstances extend her absence for over 12 hours, enough to scare any parent witless. As the family recovers from this trauma, the adults start to make changes in their lives.

This not-especially-meaty plot is enlivened by a character of considerable mystery, Madame Canovas, the aged and eccentric concierge in the apartment building, who sheltered the “missing” Sabine. A few days later, she jumps to her death from the roof of the building, her secrets dying with her. Was she guilty, delusional or merely eccentric?

By the end of the book, a divorce is functionally complete. Both parents are paying attention to little Sabine, who thrives. But the reason I would refer to this cheerful novel as “chick lit” is that, at the end, Madame M’s career is soaring, while her former husband seems trapped in his intellectual pretensions, and Paris has turned its attention to other philosophers.

Bibiophile Heaven

You know how I complain about finding books? choosing books? Suddenly I am reading TWO novels (unusual for someone who reads more nonfiction than fiction), and each of them contains an element of the supernatural! They are great! I’m seriously considering getting sick – you know, sick enough so I need to stay home on the couch all day with a cup of tea.

I admire an author who can sneak in a whiff of the supernatural without losing touch with the world where I live, which is relatively mundane. Looking back at what I’ve posted about since starting this blog, I find only two books that meet that criterion – A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond (YA fiction, June 27, 2013) and Tea with the Black Dragon by R A MacAvoy (April 20, 2015).

Stay tuned for reviews!