....and sometimes watches.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Dai Sijie Anchor 2001 PB 184pp

“The village headman, a man of about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in a hearth that was hollowed out of the floor: he was inspecting my violin.”

I went home from work early again last Friday with a bad headache – but not so bad that I didn’t stop off at my tiny local op-shop. It has only been open a couple of months and have only recently begun stocking books. Although it was a mistake to try to deal with the noise of the little shopping centre it is located in, I did pick up this little gem for 20c – the cover is so beautiful, I would love a print of it on my wall.

I had just enough time for a bath before I would had to pick up the kids and at a slim 184pages, I was able to read all this in my window of opportunity as well.

2 boys, sons of intellectuals are sent to the country side of China to be ‘re-educated’ during the Cultural Revolution. There they discover – no secret from the book’s title - a hidden cache of forbidden Western classics and the beautiful seamstress. It is told in a series of vignettes and is so fine and light that I imagine the recently made movie must involve a lot of beautiful scenery and music and close ups of the lovely Xun Zhou.
It is very sweet but it just ends without any real resolution. I presume this is a comment on life and its pesky way of not providing closure, but I did feel I came down to earth with a bit of bump.

Also a word of warning from this little experience – if you are sick and sooky do not try - through any kind of mistaken thriftiness - to put half of a bath bomb into your bath. Not only will a third of it end up in fragments all over the room, your hair and your toothbrush, but you will only have to get back out of the bath again to put the other half in, when you finally realise that it smells so lovely and you are sick and sooky and so what are these things for if not to make you happy on days like that.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Player of Games

Iain M Banks Orbit 1988 this ed:1997 309pp

“This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just o play a game”

Ian M Banks is one of my favourite SF authors. ‘The Algebraist’ was abit weird but his other novels in this genre are stunning. I had not read this book for a long time and so sneakily purloined it from my visiting sister’s bag (well, swapped it for ‘Pecked to Death by Ducks’) and have really enjoyed revisiting it.

Note to young players – the use of a middle initial in Mr Bank’s name denotes the GOOD books as even though he still writes well, I don’t really like any of the stories that he publishes without this ‘M’. ‘Dead Air’ was frankly crap – I really hated the main character and all that he stood for – I only finished it out of some misguided loyalty. ‘The Business’ is okay – ending abit lame though. The first book by Iain Banks that I ever read – many many years ago - was ‘The Wasp Factory’ – which I remember was very disturbing and upset me greatly at time – and so I have never re-read it.

The ‘m’ however rocks!! Most of the books – as is this one – are set in a universe with the ‘Culture’ as the main society. Imagine fully sentient computers, amazing technology, unlimited wealth and freedom for its citizens and the ability to not grow old, to change gender and to gland all the mind-altering substances that you want – whenever you want. It’s a Utopia, but every once in a while someone suffers ennui and a strange sense of dissatisfaction and then Mr Banks writes a book about them.

The characters are all very engaging and the situations believable. I always develop a bit of a crush of whoever the main character is and always find these books to ‘haunt’ me for along time after I have read them. ‘Consider Phelabas’, ‘Against a Dark Background’ and ‘Inversion’ are so very good and so very sad – not a weepy kind of sad, just a lingering melancholy of the good ending unhappily and the bad ending unluckily kind that sticks to my skin and to my thoughts and won’t leave me alone.

‘Haunting’ is a good word – I always continue to think about these books long after I have finished reading them. A continuing theme that runs through his novels is that of human nature and suffering – similar to that explored more visually in Von Trier’s ‘Dogville’. Are humans inherently bad or is it their circumstances that make them so? Is freedom the answer to all our woes, or does happiness and peace always come down to something internal – however much we search for the external panacea? All this and robots and lasers and spaceships and aliens

Highly Highly recommended - but you can’t borrow mine – I am only just now building up the set again

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