Today is my one year anniversary from when I started this blog and as to mark this event I thought I would just do a light easy one. Not so serious, I have already done a 2020 year review and just over part way into February things still feel relatively the same. My friends and relatives around the world are all fed up with the global pandemic, nothing is wholly uncertain and people’s live have irrevocably changed. On the good side (for me at least) I have probably kept in touch with more people than I ever have.
Anyway, moving on from that , I’ll keep it book related. Having finished reading about The Assassins I have been doing too much reading. There are a couple of books that I’m casually going through, some of which I have read before. Some which are taking me longer than I thought it would take me to read them but I don’t mind picking it up from time to time. This is specifically the case for Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. I am also reading House of Leaves by Danielewski which I have already read before and I’m just jumping through random book on my Ebook (does anyone else do that is that just me?). So that’s about it on the reading front. In case you haven’t noticed I don’t really read the latest thing out there. I like what I like and I might come round at some point to reading that ‘trendy thing’ eventually. More than likely when everyone else has forgotten about it.
Here is one of my personal favourite books. My Dinosaur Adventure.There is only one unique copy of it because it’s one of them children’s adventure books my Grandad gave me for Christmas when I was a boy. It mentions me by name and where I lived at the time. It was about me and my adventures with dinosaurs. I remember showing it to my friends and they said they had their own versions also. I was a little underwhelmed after that but I have kept it none the less.
Do any of you guys like it when authors sign their books? I have a fair few myself. I have two of Ian McKewan’s signed by the man himself with just his name. The same with Andrew Graham Dixon (art critic). In the world of football I have the biographies of Ian Rush and Michael Owen signed and I have have the honour of seeing what Andy McNab’s face after he signed a copy of his book Fortress among others. It is not liked their first edition signed copies of Don Quixote but they are special to me. Also sadly my favourite writers are no longer in the world of the living.
Anyhow, I hope you all making the most of life during this pandemic and reading something interesting. Thanks for reading this far. I don’t know when the next book blog post I’ll make will be but I will lock on to something eventually.
If you ever played the game Assassin’s Creed and its many incarnations or the first Broken Sword game, you will be made aware of the Order of Assassins. They were part of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam which would come into conflict with Sunni Islam ever since there was an argument on succession of who was to lead the Islamic religion. This book by Bernard Lewis goes on to tell about their history and formation.
The Assassins were a group of people who would be responsible for giving us the name ‘assassin’ although there was more to them than that. Bernard Lewis writes about their history and legacy and how they may have influenced modern Islam. Bernard Lewis is of course writing from an American perspective about a world he is not a part of and is seeing from afar. The Assassins were famous around the time of the First Crusade where they would assassinate targeted victims. This was due to the fact that they did not have the numbers to perform open pitched battles with their rivals and more than likely did have anywhere near the budget for such a type of warfare. Even though they have been associated with rivalling the likes of the Templars during the First Crusade, they actually had more conflict with other Islamic organisations before finally being taken down by the Mongol Horde (although it is said that some survived for much longer).
If anything the book reminds us that not everything during the Crusades were as simple as they first seemed. Even though the European forces had their own conflicts and rivalries, so did the Muslim forces. The Sunnis under Saladin for example and the Shias with Assassins around places like Alamut and Masyaf. The Assassins themselves are presented as a fascinating group. We get to read what their contemporaries thought of them. Despite everything that may have been said about them it always appears that they did what they thought they had to do to survive under the circumstances. They never committed mass atrocities but went straight for their intended targets. If they could not do that they would at least make their presence known as was the case with Saladin who without killing him gave him a clear message to stay away. Lewis writes about the myths legends and truths about the Assassins and is a fascinating read especially about a group of people I personally would never have given too much thought about outside of computer games. This book at the least makes you understand why such groups are as they are and what they need to do to have an influence in their own worlds.
[A WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON EBOOK, EBOOK EDITION 2010, FIRST PUBLISHED 1967]
As you may well be aware, not a lot of us are working right now and those of us who do not have the option are finding our one ways of getting by. We’ll get through this and we can’t let this bring us down. I thought therefore I would do a write up with respect to people and characters who are also not working. To see what it is how they are thinking and how they are written.
This is probably not the best way to start such a post but here goes. I both love and hate Haruki Murakami’s work at the same time. I never like the main protagonists, I found Toru in Norwegian Wood unsympathetic, Kafka in Kafka on the Shore to be somewhat irritating. I thought he was an unlikeable Oedipus with an imaginary friend. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the World had a narrator who was a bit of yuppie who also I did not really warm to.
Murakami novels to me at least always had a bit of suburban pretentiousness to them. Murakami drops in that characters listen to classical music, Beethoven and the like. He also makes his characters think about philosophers like Hegel but it is done in such a way that instead of having some meaning to the story it is as if Murakami is saying ‘ooh look at me and the laa di daa things I know’. Also having the lyrics of Danny Boy appear at the end of Hard-Boiled made me cringe for some reason. Don’t even get me started on the necessary violence, Johnny Walker’s prolonged torturing of cats and description of humans being skinned. Murakami cannot write a sex scene without embarrassing himself, just have a read of IQ84..
Having said that and despite the long list of things I hate about Murakami every book of his I have read, I have read cover to cover. I have thought about and contemplated the stories and the plots and the worlds Murakami builds. My favourite of the ones I have read (I haven’t read them all) is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Wind-Up follows the story of Toru a man who has just recently left his job and had become a bit of a house husband and from first impressions not all bodes well for him, his wife who although he loves appears distant, his cat is missing. This start a series of events where he meets a number of fascinating characters and has a number of interesting experiences. Without going in too much detail we read about Toru’s missing cat and later his missing wife. Toru would come across a young girl called May who he would have deep conversations, the psychic Kano sisters who help try to find Toru’s cat and assist him throughout his current thinking. We meet Noboru who is the opposite of Toru, he is obsessed with his work, his brother in law and not really a nice man at least not to Toru. There are a number themes that appear in the book. How we control other people and influence them, how we handle our past. There’s the concept of power, lust and social alienation. Toru himself hides in a hole, contemplating his life and what he has gone through in the story. If there is anything personally for me that I discovered about Toru is that at his core he is a good man. Good people attract to him, bad people even if previously good go further away.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about Toru realising the world around him and what people are and maybe for the first time meets people who are different to him who exist quite literally in his own back yard (where he would discover the wind-up bird).
This is a book about the self, relationship with others realising our own worth. For me this is one of the more tolerable Haruki Murakami novels and if you have never read anything of his before I would highly recommend this one. The themes are interesting and presented well. The characters are fascinating and make up for the fact that when you really think about it, not a lot is going on in terms of adventure.
Note on the English translation, as far as I am aware, the translator Jay Rubin does not include all of the original Japanese original. For better or for worse I do not know but despite that there is still something here to hold on to. That felt personal and that made me contemplate things in my own life.
Now yes I’m aware this isn’t a book. However, I do think having different ways of reading stories can only be a good thing for the most part. This is not the first video game I have looked at, Grim Fandango being the last one. I wanted to write up about a traditional Visual Novel. If you don’t know what they are, they tend to be narrative driven games (hence why I wanted to do a post on them) often but not wholly with a Japanese anime theme to them with the majority of them on the PC. They can cover a number of topics and have a wide array of settings. Choices can be made in them which can affect what ending you get in the story. The one I am going to talk about is not entirely in the tradition of such visual novels but one I wanted to discuss none the less.
Neo Cab is a game available on the Nintendo Switch (of which I played it on) and on the PC (that might depend on the storefront you use) and as described by its publisher Fellow Traveller ( https://fellowtraveller.games/games/neo-cab/ ) is ‘an emotional survival game about gig labour, tech disruption and the experience of being a driver-for-hire.’
Our heroine is Lina a taxi driver (of the Uber variety) in a world where such drivers are slowly disappearing in a world of driverless cars and emerging new technologies. She travels to the city of Los Ojos a futuristic metropolitan city with neon lights to stay with an old friend Savy. We learn that despite their now apparent friendliness to each other they did not end on good terms previously. After just meeting her friend Savy for a brief moment, Savvy has things to do, she says she’ll meet up with Lina later but leaves her with a smart bracelet that can read your emotions displaying what it shows with a certain colour which is called a FeelGrid. Savvy later goes missing leaving with Lina with nowhere to stay while she is in the city only having a taxi and the money she has available to get her by.
Whilst trying to find out what happened to Savy, Lina picks up passengers each with their own stories which can also affect what happens in Lina’s story. We meet Liam a photographer who also is not a local to the city and becomes a friend, an overprotected child, a cult member, a statistician, tourists, a cult member among others. Each night, depending on which passenger we choose to take to their destination we learn more about about them, Lina and Lina’s story as well. With each story and decisions made will have an affect towards the end of the story when we finally find Savy.
Within the story we learn about a powerful big tech corporation known as Capra are trying to push a law banning human driven cars to push their own agenda which of course affects Lina’s livlihood. She has also had run ins with them in the past having been fired by Capra to replace her with a driverless car. Some of the topics of conversations with your passengers will relate to this.
When we finally find Savy towards the end of the story there are multiple endings which will change varying on your emotional state, what conversations you have had previously, what you have said previously and what you intend to do next. What I found good was that it really tested your friendship with Savy and how people are perceived by yourself and others. Is she worth it as a friend? Are you better off with or without her? You the player and reader are key in helping Lina in how she thinks.
I liked how the game made you look at things from different perspectives. We also learn how things are not all as they seem on a first impression. For example there is one passenger we find out is actually a con artist. It is not until we ask questions that Lina finds out why people are as they are. When discussing you relationship with Savy to some of the passengers (they’re called paxs in the NeoCab lingo) that they question the friendship. The game is as much about Lina’s friendship with Savy as it is with her relationship to Capra.
Although the game is story driven there some game related elements. The conversations you have can affect your star rating when each passenger reviews their trip. Not having a 5 star rating will exclude some passengers from wanting to use you for example and the company Lina works for is expected to have a minimum rating to do the job. Picking the right dialogue options therefore is important to get a good rating. You also have a choice of which hotel to stay at which can also affect how Lina is thinking. How we decide what Lina says can affect her emotions that are displayed are on the FeelGrid. Certain option on dialogues can only be selected depending on Lina’s emotions at the time. For examples if she is angry there are some dialogue options we cannot select for her because she is too riled up. There is a certain degree of budget control with getting electricity for your car and what type of hotel you can get but it is not wholly vital to the game.
I think the developers missed a trick in not having a free mode where you can pick up different passengers and control your budgets away from the story. The closest game I can remember similar to this was a side quest in Yakuza 5 where you also have conversations with passengers. The difference in that one was that you could also drive the taxi in an albeit simple road layout
NeoCab for me is a good game in that I was wanting more of it. I wanted to know more about Lina, Savy and the world they inhabit.
I was going to do some extra write ups on the second and third stories from the Innocence of Father Brown [Edit: I have since I have put these as part of my look at the Father Brown Stories] . The Secret Garden and The Queer Feet respectively. The Secret Garden would feature the detective Valentin and The Queer feet would feature Flambeu both from the first story. However, I have decided not to because I suspect I would be covering familiar ground on both. The main point of concern would be that I would be going over some of the main bugbears of mine, them being plot holes and inconsistencies along with that I would include continuity errors also. I can easily buy into a world regardless of how fantastical or absurd the setting may well be. This is the case for sci-fi and fantasy genres for example. If anything however, makes me question why a character would do a particular thing or makes me go ‘as if’ then that’s when I have problems. There are many examples of such. It is worse when I never notice them myself but somebody else brings them to my attention and then I can’t stop but think about them. In some cases you can explain it away with an unreliable narrator (Agatha Chrsitie and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) where as in others you can’t.
The Father Brown story of The Secret Garden sees the head of police Valentin who we meet in The Blue Cross become the criminal. For an intelligent mind like Valentin, it just seems odd that he would commit a murder on his own property, discard part of the body nearby where it could be easily found. What is even more reckless is inviting Father Brown who you already know is of some remarkable intellect to property at the night of the murder and if anything would be able to figure out what is going on. Valentin’s motivations also seem to be a bit much to justify murder in my opinion.
In The Queer Feet, Flambeau tries to steal some silver from some exclusive elite club of snobs in a hotel and Father Brown stops him. I just found it odd that either of the two would know that the silver cutlery of the club exists in the first place.
These are not the worst examples of plot holes or inconsistencies and the stories themselves are still gripping though they are still noticeable to me. You see it in movies as well of course. In Back to the Future 2, old Biff goes back in time to give the almanac to young Biff by stealing the time machine and then going back to his own time as if nothing has happened. I would have thought that would have caused some paradox. Then again the whole concept of time can cause such plot holes depending on how you look at it.
Other examples in literature would be Dr Watson’s war injuries changing location from one story to another in the Sherlock Holmes tales. In the Speckled Band it appears that exotic snakes from hot climates can survive in the mild English climates. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was notorious for such inconsistencies however, he can be forgiven by the fact that despite everything the stories are really about Sherlock as opposed to the stories themselves (with some notable exceptions of course)
I remember reading the otherwise good Rebus novel by Ian Rankin The Resurrection Men and wondering why Siobhan did not get the police to trace the killer’s IP address instead of getting clues about him over Internet conversations. Another one thought it does not bother me as much is why does Frankenstein create such a large man? Would it not have been safer to start small?
I am only referring to books and media I can think of as I type. I believe the greats like the Harry Potter book for example have a number of plot holes and some of Dan Brown’s books are just plot holes from start to finish. Although I must say despite that, he knows how to make people turn a page and so long as a glaring issue is not in the way then that’s all that matters.
I already posted my main 2020 in Review and Looking Ahead to 2021 posts a while ago — only on my new blog (separate post to come) –, but I held back on my 2020 reading statistics until the year was well and truly over. And for all my good intentions when posting my mid-year […]
Valentin, the great French investigator, head of the Paris police is on the trail of the great criminal Flambeu who has eluded capture from the police of three countries, a master of disguise his only distinguishing feature is his tall height. Valentin gets a lead that Flambeau may well be on his way to London to a Eucharistic Congress in London.
Here looks see the start of two great minds of the detective and criminal on a duel on who can out think the other. Like Holmes and Moriarty, Bond and Blofeld. This is nothing like that however, that would be too predictable. No, our real hero is a short round unassuming priest of all people. This priest comes across as some what bumbling and does not appear to be anything like the great Valentin. They meet on their way to London on a train and he politely warns the old priest about telling everyone what expensive things he is bringing to the Conference, a blue cross being the main thing.
Without going into too much detail the detective manages to follow a convenient trail that leads him to track down Flambeau who is with the old priest who suspects Flambeau is on the trail of the blue cross. It is later found out that the priest Father Brown was on to Flambeau. Father Brown tests Flambeau to see if he is a criminal or not whilst in disguise and realises for a priest he had a disappointing grasp of ecclesiastical theology so leaves a trail for the police to come and find them and arrest Flambeau.
Father Brown is similar to the Agatha Christie sleuths Poirot and Marple, appears relativity harmless. He is a man not of action but of realising how others think based (going on this story) what has been told to him in confessions. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who relies on deduction and observation, exhausting all possibilities, Father Brown has his suspicions tests them and draws his conclusions based on psychological and spiritual observations. Where as Sherlock is a man of action who knows his martial arts and can get involved in a bit of rough with Holmes and Lestrade among the others from Scotland Yard, Father Brown is more intellectual and spiritual and will try to achieve his objective. His course is that of good and he can confront those who try to justify their actions by reminding them how it is wrong.
There has been many adaptations of the Father Brown Mysteries. The BBC produced one starring Mark Williams of The Fast Show Fame (you ain’t seen me, right). As great and marvellous as he is as the character I do think he’s a bit tall for the character.
I am a big fan GK Chesterton. I find his life as fascinating as his works and I adore his works The Man Who was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. I recommend you all to give him a look.
[From The Complete Farther Brown Collection, Kindle Edition]
Unlike the previous short stories Asylum Piece is not all in the first person. These are a collection of short chapters that describe the lives of people working and living at the Asylum on the continent. We get to read about how the patients think and how the staff treat them. Asylum Piece is very sympathetic to the patients. It is written of course by someone who has experienced themselves. The characters we meet have the qualities of being compassionate and caring and are being treated by people who have little understanding of what it is they are treating. Only the patients themselves can understand as people send them to the Asylum if anything, to be out of site and out of mind, like a jail. The stories are emotional and thought provoking, Anna Kavan writes in a way that is easy to read and is not unnecessarily convoluted, especially when it comes to describing mental wealth.
In the second chapter our narrator who is not able to think straight remembers she had a friend, a lover or did she? She remembers at the least that this person is in the asylum. We meet the patient Hans, a young man who is not so sure about how unwell he actually is. He has his crushes in the hospital area. What he does not know as we find out is that his letters never get sent by the postmaster, which begs the question if this applies to all the patients.
One tragic story that appears in Asylum Piece is the story of the parents who come to visit their daughter, the mother is concerned naturally and the father relies on the Doctor’s word but they are not permitted to see her, the Doctor just wanting rid of them. The daughter finds out they visited and is upset they never saw.
Within the collection of chapters in Asylum Piece we read more about the patients, some who are frustrated, who get admitted to the hospital by their loved ones. Upset patients and sympathetic staffers. There is another story of a husband coming to visit his wife hoping he will eventually get her out of the asylum only for another patient to know that she will be let down.
The End in Sight and There is no End
The End in Sight is another Kafka like story. The narrator finds out that her demise is due through a formal letter. There is no End suggested to me that regardless if there is an ending or not, the overthinking the Enemy which appeared in her other short stories is something that is only real in the head of the narrator and is always there. Although it may not physically exist the Enemy causes a lot of pain for the narrator. Something that seems to combat the Enemy is the narrator’s love of nature and birds. It seems to put them at ease. The battle may be exhausting but it is something that they have to do.
[Peter Owen LTD ebook edition 2014. Written by Anna Kavan in 1940]
I would like to write more with respect to how mental health is portrayed in literature, to read about how mental health is portrayed. There are many books out there that look at it to a certain degree. I do not know how these are going to be presented by myself and I suspect a bit of myself will come out.
Let me introduce you to if you have not heard of it already to something special. Asylum Piece (and Other Short Stories) by Anna Kavan.
Asylum Piece (and Other Short Stories) is a collection of short stories that interconnect to a certain degree and describes the thoughts and feelings of someone who is suffering from mental health problems along with their time in a mental health clinic an old school asylum. Somewhere in Switzerland in these stories.
Within these collection of stories we read what the narrator thinks, how they thought at the time. It is plainly and beautifully written. The narrator never wholly describes what her mental illnesses are but if you’ve ever experienced them yourself you may well recognise how the narrator is thinking. There is of course the fact that we are only getting the narrator’s side of the story. We do not know what is happening outside of what the narrator tells us.
To anyone who has had problems with respect to your mental health, you will recognise the suffering, the worrying, the overthinking and the low moods. You will be able to recognise not being able to think straight, to see straight, the angers and the frustrations.
Without going in too much detail and repeating the stories again I would like to describe to you what each story shows us. See these as brief summaries about them if you will. I will do a separate post on Asylum Piece and the two short stories that come after it.
The narrator talks about a girl she meets in boarding school who seemed different and somewhat different to the other pupils. Years later the narrator thinks she see the old acquaintance after taking wrong way at a tourist spot and seeing her in what she thinks to be an asylum, recognising her by her unique birthmark she was made aware of in school. After seeing this she is escorted away by guards.
Going Up in the World
Here the narrator tells us about meeting some patrons to ask for help saying she wants to share in their sunshine and warmth, she tells us of how cold and lonely she is in the fog as she goes up to see them living high up in what she sees as the light. Her patrons are reluctant making reference to her past deeds with them but the narrator is desperate, she descends back to the fog, the patrons ungrateful of her modest gift to them. We do not have much detail other than what is given. We are also presented with the darkness and cold when compared to the light and warmth.
The narrator talks about an unknown enemy that wants to do them wrong. This describing what many of us with mental health problems feel. That there is someone out there who hates us, who wants to do us wrong, they win when we feel bad, when we lose our tempers for that is what they want from us. We can feel them inside our thoughts, almost like they are breathing on the back of our necks.
A Changed Situation
This is an interesting short story in that the narrator discusses the house they currently live in before leaving it. A well written mediation on how our environments can affect us. How a space can dominate us (we are learning this now with respect to the current lockdowns, especially in the UK)
The Birds makes reference to that unknown enemy described. It also has a slight nod to Franz Kafka’s The Trial with respect to that they feel victim to some senseless injustice, to a frightening uncertainty. In this story the narrator is fascinated by the birds outside ignoring the environment around her. Within The Birds the narrator analyses their own mental health to some degree.
Airing a Grievance
The narrator is not sure about her official adviser for her condition and the fact that she has to travel. The narrator’s overthinking comes into play and we witness the narrator having to put up with a certain degree of bureaucracy as well as her self doubts.
Just Another Failure
Here we are made aware of the narrator’s relationship with a certain D as well as her overthinking
and mental thoughts come into play. The narrator has a difficulty with living.
In the Summons the narrator meets up with an old friend. Their intentions are not made clear to us at first. We know that they are a close friend and that they are to meet for a date of sorts. The narrator notices R’s ugliness and is made to feel uncomfortable by a waiter. It is later revealed that this is where the narrator is to be taken away by what we would suggest is ‘the men in white coats’ and there is the possibility that R was involved with this. Again, there is the feel of Kafka in this story.
The narrator we would assume is in an asylum. The narrator is thinking over her current situation, as far as she is concerned she has done nothing wrong, as she is not too happy about her situation. She is upset at her loss of freedom acknowledging the fact that she has to put up with it.
An Unpleasant Reminder
To say the reminder is unpleasant is an understatement. A cruel trick is played on our narrator. She is made aware of the mortality of her life and who have control over her whilst she is at the asylum.
Machines In The Head
Anyone out there who have suffered with their mental health would be aware of how it affects them when they are trying to sleep. The narrator’s anxieties take over her in a way that she has trouble controlling it. She is battle with her mind, she is in battle with the machine in her head.
These stories show us a woman who is intelligent and yet at the same time held back by what plagues her mind. She is a good woman and her intentions are honest and true, her hearts in the right place. As stated previously stated we only know her as she is described herself to us. We know that she thinks people are out to get her and to some extent she may well be seem justified which only adds to her paranoia. How the narrator thinks seems wholly justified to her. For example she is repulsed by an ugly waiter despite the fact that he does not appear to have any malicious intent.
These stories are so beautifully yet simply written. The thoughts of the narrator appeared strong in my mind’s eye. The only thing that irked me was that I was able to recognise the frustrations and mental frustrations. I have sensed the enemy coming after me, I have had the sleepless nights and lost all hope. I haven’t (touch wood) had to be committed to a mental health hospital but many people have with varying experiences. Anna Kavan of course was writing in a time when knowledge an attitudes of mental health are different to what they are now (having been written in 1940). Hopefully more will be understood in the future and even out attitudes today may well be seen as dated.
The first in the complete volume of Clarice’s short stories is The Triumph. We start with the type of prose we would come to expect from Clarice:
The clock strikes nine. A loud, sonorous peal, followed by gentle chiming, an echo. Then silence.
In Triumph we wake to Luisa. As we get to read about the detail of what is going at that time with the clock just striking nine we get to read about Luisa’s afternoon before. She is aware of the silence when there would otherwise be noise. The afternoon before, her partner leaves, saying he despises her. We spend the next morning with poor Luisa going over what had happened before and now that the morning is different she sees things in a different light. At first Luisa cannot acknowledge that he is gone only finding a note he has written about mediocrity and some form of frustration. Luisa then realises however, that she is the better person and eventually that her partner will come back.
This first of the short stories leave us wanting to know more about Luisa and her situation. We know that she lived in an isolated area, that her partner Jorge left with his servant and that he used to travel abroad. Could it be that Jorge can no longer go abroad and is now a bit fed up of his current situation? Could it be that he is just a bit of a jerk and was just being mean? Why would Luisa want him back? These are some of the questions that I though after reading this story.
Luisa’s triumph is that she has not let Jorge leaving get to her. She realises it is a perfect day. If anything it is Jorge is the one who has lost. Without knowing the wider facts, she is not at fault and she keep her head held up high. That is always something you should make an ex spouse be aware of. That you are not at loss and Luisa has realised this.