King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard

Before I read this book all I knew about it was from what others have said about it and that Sean Connery played the main protagonist Allan Quartermain in League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

From what I’ve heard others have said of it, I have heard it been described as ‘dated’ and a work from a different time. Having just read it I can say that this is true to a certain extent it is a book however, that still has some quality to it. When people say it is dated it is because it is written during the time when the British Empire was more active than it is now especially in Africa.

I got a copy from a charity shop with the dust cover falling apart not bad for £1.50.

The story starts with the narration of Allan Quartermain. Quartermain is our main hero of the tale, he is a British adventurer of sorts and knows a thing or two about Southern Africa, hunting and the local indigenous people (we even get to read about Quatermain’s hunting of elephants). He gets hired by an English man to go help find his brother in the mysterious King Solomon’s mines of which little is known. Along the way Quartermain gets help from a number of characters, one of which is an African who has his own reasons for wanting to join the group. Along the way the main group meets an hitherto unknown civilisation.

Criticisms in our modern society can easily be made about how this otherwise unknown society was portrayed by Rider Haggard. They believe Quartermain’s guns to be magic sticks and that they can summon an eclipse because they don’t know how they work as he plays on their superstitions. I would not know for certain but I would heavily doubt such a society would be so superstitious. With the exception of the characters that are clearly the protagonists of the tale, Rider Haggard does not portray African people in a wholly bad light although you could argue that the Anglo Saxon characters are meant to be seen as the betters. I found the protagonist Gagool, the adviser to the king of the newly discovered society to be an intelligent and sinister human being who would do anything to get her way. The character of Umbopa on the other hand is portrayed as a man of great virtue.

This is essentially a boy’s adventure book about going to an unknown land and meeting people who are not like you. It is an exciting book to read and despite being written by the British Rider Haggard, it feels like it was written on a different planet purely because the world of 1885 when it was first published is very different than the world of now. It has its charms and on the face of it I did enjoy but it some of it would definitely not be written in the way it was today. Give it a read, yes it is dated to a certain degree but I would not consider it to be wholly disrespectful which I was worried it may well have been before reading it.

[First published 1885. My edition 1955]

The Castle by Franz Kafka (translated by J.A. Underwood)

Like The Trial, The Castle is the story of an unfortunate K who gets lost in a world of opaque bureaucracy. Unlike The Trial, K has not been punished for a crime he does not know about, instead he has been hired as a land surveyor by an administration at a Castle, who don’t know why they hired him in the first place, K is left puzzling over why he remains at the village by the Castle interacting with the people there.

He has a relationship with a barmaid who he later finds out he has to marry so gets engaged to her, he meets a landlady who is hostile to him. There are many more characters and scenarios K comes across in the story and because he is there by mistake they end up giving him a job in the village anyway. Once K gets to know more about the world he has entered he realises that the people of The Castle are separate from the villagers and look down on them, using the women for example to satisfy their sexual needs.

The Castle by Franz Kafka

As in The Castle like in The Trial you never know an awful lot of what is going on until it is disclosed to you. K certainly does not. What the people of the Castle do exactly is not wholly known. K goes into the world at first with the best intentions but is left scratching his head as he plunges himself into this new society when all he needed to do was leave as soon as he could.

The Castle is famous for being one of Kafka’s unfinished works. For me this actually added to the story making it even more Kafkaesque (I really wanted to avoid saying that but it can’t be helped here). K is stuck in this world now, he likely will not leave. K is like a loud western tourist who shows up in Japan postwar or some other part of the world they know little about and has probably committed cultural faux pas after faux pas without realising it. K instead of taking a step back, ends up getting involved with and having a number of conversations and interactions one after the other, forgetting why he is there in the first place. Already as I type this (and especially when I was reading it) I am aware that I also am falling down the rabbit hole of writing about the conversations and scenarios along with K himself so I will stop there.

To anyone who wishes to read this, I highly recommend a certain degree of patience and to simply plunge into the story along with K and to take a step back after the end of each chapter to go over what you have read. I preferred The Trial by Kafka as the better story but that was purely because I found the story easier to follow, The Castle is intentionally making sure that you get stuck with K about what is going on and in a way that is they beauty of the novel.

[Penguin Classics, reprinted 2000. Fist published in 1926]

An Apology of Sorts.

Firstly I would like to apologise for the fact that I have not been posting much recently, I have had some interesting but not unwelcome change of circumstances out in the real world and have been somewhat on the busy side, I have also been hit with reader’s block to a certain degree and until recently have barely been able to get through a page. Anyway this isn’t a diary about me this is about the books I’ve read. As you might have guessed I have not really had the time to do much reading. I do however have a list set up of the books I would like to get through and post on here (which I will).

Here is my list of books I will be going through, I have already read one of them.

The Castle by Franz Kafka

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Hopscoth by Julio Cortazar

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

and

King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Hagard.

Now I’ve picked The Hour of the Star as it is one of Clarice’s works of which I would naturally like to get through and Kafka because outside The Trial and the odd short stories I have actually not read a lot of his work. Hopscotch because it is known as a piece of work that takes a different route to how a book should be read. I have also picked The Memory Police and King Solomon’s Mines purely because they are from different cultures and worlds to what a working class Welsh man in 2020 is accustomed to.

As much as I like to stretch my horizons when it comes to reading works of certain authors and genres I am fully aware that there are some I have missed completely and some that I focus too much on. I will try to rectify this however, I cannot promise anything and I don’t want to promise something of which I cannot keep.

Eventually I do want to focus on short stories from authors and will write individual posts on individual stories from wider collections and volumes. This is because it would also be quicker for me to get a post out there and will also help when I get the odd bout of reader’s block.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

So far I have been doing write ups on books that I enjoy reading. I’m interested in the world of Scientology and of course Clarice Lispector so I have posts concerning them and I have also written posts on other books I find interesting and I think you should also consider that you may have not been aware of. Which leads me to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. In many respects this is quite a famous book, has had a film adaptation made (albeit which diverted quite a bit from the book). So why am I doing a post on it? Well I think this book is prescient in respect to what it portrays. Fear, ignorance and (though not a virus) bacterial infections that has a massive affect on the world after war and unrest.

I Am Legend.

There are vampires in this story but it isn’t really about vampires, there is elements of science fiction with respect to a future world but this is not really about science fiction. This is more about how we see the world of Richard Neville, he appears to be in the last man alive in world full of vampires. At night they harass him in his fortified house and by day he looks out for food and other supplies and hunts the vampires. We see his loneliness and depression as he remembers his loved ones and plays his music from a different time.

As the story develops he realises that not all the vampires are ruthless killers and are upset with the fact that he is killing their loved ones. He meets one vampire he gets attached to but again it is too late. To him they were the horrible monsters to them he is the bogeyman, he has become a legend.

When I said that this book was prescient I was also referring to the fact that Neville does what he does based on his own experiences not being made aware of the thoughts of the vampires before it’s too late. That ‘not all’ vampires are mindless killers. Just like in the real world, we fear and belittle that which we do not understand. You would only have to look at the insults on social media and that some people only surround themselves with people of the same opinion creating echo chambers and refusing to even consider why some people think in a particular way. If there is anything that I have learnt from I Am Legend is that nobody what you do, you have to try and understand the consequences of your actions. Are you doing the right thing. Try to understand. As stated by a character in the book ‘I know you were just as much forced into your situation and that we were forced in ours’. We need to understand people’s reasons for doing things in order to find a better way.

[Published in 1954, this edition on Kindle by Gollancz 2010]

Ruthless by Ron Miscavige (with Dan Koon)

So far when looking at the Church of Scientology we have looked at the stories of former Scientologists Marc Headley and Jesse Prince with respect to their time with both the organisation and the Sea Org along with the experiences of members of the media, namely John Sweeney and Paulette Cooper. We have also looked at a biography of L Ron Hubbard. There is one particular book however I’ve come across, that stands out purely due to who wrote it.

Ron Miscavige’s story is unique in that he is the father of the current leader of the Church of Scientology the chairman of the board, David Miscavige.

Ruthless by Ron Miscavige. No prizes for guessing who is on the front cover of the book..

Imagine having someone write about their son, despite how powerful, rich or ‘succesful’ they have become, have gone too far a dark path.

Ruthless is as much David’s story as it is Ron’s. This is not the story of someone who grew up with Scientology or was persuaded to join, this is the story of a man looking out for his family and who introduced Scientology to the current leader to it in the first place.

In Ron’s book we learn of his early years in Mount Carmel in Pennsylvania in a working class neighbourhood, raising his family and his time as a Marine a salesman and musician. Ron tells us how with respect to his introduction to Scientology came about in helping with certain ailments and how it helped his son David with his severe asthma. Little would either of them know that this would change their fates from that point.

Ron is brutally honest in not just what he thinks of Scientology but how he thinks of himself. He admits to his shame that he was involved in some domestic violence with his ex-wife, David’s mother and that they were involved in many rows that David undoubtedly would have been made aware of when he grew up, although Ron’s children were given as good an upbringing as he could give them.

David would join the Sea Org and some years later Ron would join himself after they helped him out with some legal incident he had. Ron would see what his son would become.

Throughout the book I sensed a sadness in that the writer’s son would become the man who others has written about in respect to assaulting members of his staff and would stop at nothing to get what he wants and escape from the Sea Org as well as what he would later think of his own father.

As fascinating as it is, this is a tragic story of a father who has lost his son to what is perceived by many out there as a destructive cult. It has clearly broken his heart. Ron is however, grateful for the good things he has, namely his current family and those that have also distanced themselves from Scientology.

I have read a number of books by former Scientologists and it is interesting to see many write about the same time periods from their own perspective. For example there is talk of the flooding that Gold Base had in 1990 that Marc Headley also writes about in his book.

Ruthless is a book about a man who has lost his son to something really dark and sinister. Not only does he seen become something he does not want him to be but there is a sense of frustration that nothing can be done about it.

In spite of everything Ron forgives his son which he states at the end of the book.

[Silvertail Books, 2016]

[I have also added some more links in the comments about Rin Miscavige.]

Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector (Translated by Stefan Tobler)

You will notice with this post that I write a lot about feeling and how I felt as for me it was the best way to describe what I was experiencing.

Agua Viva is a relatively short book, 88 pages long it can easily fit in your pocket. It however, one of the more peculiar of Clarice’s work and in no way a simple read. Unlike her other works which are almost entirely fiction with some semi autobiographical elements included, Agua Viva is a series of thoughts and meditations of Clarice. Agua Viva is definitely a lot more punchier and easier to digest then her works of fiction like the Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark but it is in no way lacking in thought and feeling. It feels like you are walking within Clairice’s mind, it’s like despite passing away in 1977 she somehow comes back to life as soon as you start reading it. It felt like I was going through a literal art exhibition like nothing you would experience before. There is no traditional order to the text. Clarice does meditate on the ‘I’. She also writes with respect to things such as life in general using flowers and cats as a form of metaphor.

I don’t feel like I could do it any justice by dissecting the text and putting my thought upon it (though I do recommend Reading With Clarice Lispector by Helene Cixous) but I can definitely tell you as I have above how I felt and what it made me feel whilst I was reading it. This is one of them texts where I think it would be much easier to pick it up from time to time. When I read it I felt like Clarice was writing to me personally, that the whole text was for me despite how impossible that is.

Again I must apologise as I am typing this being fully aware that I am not giving it the justice it deserves. Agua Viva is not just something to be read but something that is to be experienced. This is another that in the future I would like to do another post. To look at it in the way Helene Cixous or Benjamin Moser has. Despite it being a translation into English there is a feel with the language that it is playing with you, it is testing you in how you interpret it with respect to your own reality.

[In English: Penguin Classics edition published 2014.

In Portuguese: by arrangement with the heirs of Lispector and Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Barcelona. Published in 1973]

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell)

I have been a bit a quiet on here recently when it comes to posting things on here. I only write about what I like and anything I dislike I don’t want to give the time of day on something like this. I have read a couple of books recently that I could not get through so I just gave upon them. My heart goes out to the many students and literary critics who are out there and have no choice but to write about and review books that they would otherwise just stop reading. Fortunately with my blog I do what I want.

Despite not being able to go through a couple of books I struggled with, I have been reading a number of essays and articles of the Chilean writer and critic Alejandro Zambra translated and edited by Megan McDowell who herself writes a forward on how she came across Zambra. This collection of essays is essentially Zambra’s meditations on books, writers, reading and translating. As you would expect it is written from a South American perspective, Zambra writes about other South American writers from my favourite in Clarice Lispector to Roberto Bolano and there are also other names I recognised such as Borges. Zambra also introduces us to a number of new writers I have never come across before. One of them being Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar a book which I would like to look at eventually.

Zambra writes about how the way we consume books is changing with respect to digital media and libraries. One article I found interesting was Erasing the Reader. In this one Zambra writes about being annoyed by someone who put notes in a second hand book that he has been reading and disagrees with the notes and thoughts that have been written. Zambra writes of course from a Chilean perspective and from a different culture to our own, I was interested by the fact that there was a time in Chile where whole books used to be photocopied and people would have such editions because it was cheaper than the expensive books. Zambra also writes about having to read and write about books he does not like which is a worry I try to avoid. I also liked one article I could relate to in that Zambra would always carry a book with him wherever he would go. The only issue I have had with some of the books and writers he talk about is that some but not all do seem to be appear hard to find at least in the English language.

One book he sings the praises of I understand can me a little hard to get hold of sadly.

I found Zambra’s writings to be fascinating in that we read from another perspective that is not necessarily Anglo-American. I fear sometimes that we make the mistake at least in an almost entirely monolingual English world of not being wholly aware of other thoughts and ideas until somebody eventually translates them and I am glad that somebody does so and makes us aware of them (this partly why I have been trying to learn other languages myself even if only at a basic level). To know how people around the world are think and write is incredibly important and Zambra does this beautifully.

[Fitzcarraldo Editions 2018, Kindle edition]

Nadja by Andre Breton (translated by Richard Howard)

[Below is a quick first impression of this book, I will come back to it and write about it in more detail but I’ve thought after just putting it down]

I have never really given much thought to surrealism other than the paintings. I know Breton was one of the founding fathers of the surrealism movement and it that it about a vision of life displayed from our own unconsciousness and dreams (I am aware that this is a simple definition). Which brings us on to Nadja.

Nadja by Andre Breton.

Nadja as you would expect is an interesting book which going on the introduction is somewhat semi-autobiographical. For the first fifty pages or so Andre Breton meditates on what he thinks and his life in general to a point. He starts with ‘Who am I?’ and continues to write about his contemporaries and discussing the theatre. As you would expect the narrative is not anything you would recognise as traditional but is in no way hard to follow. For example Breton writes:

‘Do not expect me to provide an exact account of what I have been permitted to experience in this domain.’

I could be guilty of filling this post with excerpts of the book so I will keep it to a minimum. This is an easily quotable book although I will say I was not too sure where it was going for the first segment of the book as it was not what I expected. I thought it would be about a man’s obsession with someone like with Lolita but it’s nothing like that. This is more of a fascination of thought

As soon as Breton meets Nadja, he his fascinated by the way she presents herself at first meeting her, as well as her responses and thoughts that Breton presents to her to ponder upon. When he asks who she is she responds by saying she is ‘a soul in limbo’ among other thoughts. Once Breton learns more about her however, as with many things Breton’s fascination decreases a little bit. Breton eventually leans that Nadja is mentally ill which may have had an affect on what she thought, he also contemplates Nadja’s way of being with respect to the society she is in. He contemplates on the effect she has had on his life if only for a brief time.

This book has given me a lot to think about and as I write I am already aware that I am not giving the justice it deserves and I have missed going into detail about some points such as how the fascination for Nadja envelopes and if it is love he is feeling or not, but I do like how Breton almost spills out his thoughts and only writes what he deems relevant to the story. I also liked the fact that he put pictures and photographs in the book. It helps when describing Nadja’s drawings Breton is shown.

I think this is another one for me that will need another read as well as learn about the Surrealism movement and how it has influenced our current age.

[First published in the French by Librairie Gallimard 1928, this Englsih translation by Penguin Books 1999]

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I won’t go into too much detail of the plot, see a pic of the paperback below I will show you that much, I will however, write about some of the characters you will meet. I will say I loved this book and I could have written so much more about it, I don’t want to spoil anything for you…. Read the book.

In the beginning we are introduced to our narrator Mary Katherine Blackwood otherwise known as Merricat. She a little bit about herself like you would to a group of people you have met for the first time. We learn that she is an an unreliable narrator though we do get to learn so much more about her.

Merricat for her eighteen years of age appears somewhat childish at first but as we get to know her we realise she is actually quite intelligent and can read people quite well. Merricat knows the history of her respected family, is fully aware of what of the villagers and rival rich families in the local area along with her own family and the scandal that had tarnished them through the eyes of the locals.

As we learn about Merricat we also learn of her older sister Constance and of how at her core is a good person who is the only authority figure Merricat has. She looks after old Uncle Julian and is the defacto head of Blackwood family. The incident years prior has clearly affected her.

Uncle Julian when we are introduced to him tells of the murder of the rest of the family to some guests (one of which was uninvited to the annoyance of Merricat) and reminds them that Constance was acquitted and we later learn his mind is not as focused as it once was.

Paperback of my Penguin Edition with a picture of Shirley Jackson.

Mental health is an underlying issue in this story. Merricat creates her own little world (or rather moon) in her head and has her own unique way of thinking, her older sister Constance, appears to have agoraphobia (a New England Woman who won’t leave the house and liked gardening reminding me of Emily Dickinson) aft er the incident and Uncle Julian who despite being an intelligent man himself, gets easily confused and thinks people around him are who they are not as well as having an obsession with his memoirs and what happened ‘that day’.

We learn more of each character with respect to how they view Cousin Charles. He just suddenly shows up with suspected ulterior motives. Constance sees the good in people and likes Cousin Charles at first, Merricat is distrustful (quite rightly) and goes as far as damaging things in the room he stays in. Uncle Julian despite being confused is also suspicious.

The personality of each character is well displayed in this book especially when you consider that we are seeing this world through Merricat’s eyes only. For its 146 pages, you just get enough information to know what is going on and you want to know more about the story. For example, what was the motive for the murder of the family? Why did Constance not tell us of what she knew back then?

Despite Merricat’s formal introduction we at the end are assured of her love for her sister and her somewhat peculiar way of thinking and that Constance is the true heroine in this story (for me personally at the least).

I liked the way it ended with the conversation between Constance and Merricat which in conclusion defines who they are. Merricat with her dark way of thinking and Constance with her domestic housewife like response to her. Ultimately you are reassured of the love they have for each other.

[Penguin Classics first published 2009 / First Published by Viking Press in 1962 USA]