BOOK REVIEW: The Mind Game by Hector Macdonald

This is Macdonald’s first novel and I must say for a novice he did pretty well. The literary style reminds me of the German authors Hermann Hesse and Gunter Grass. The Mind Game is a book written with the sole intention of messing with the reader’s mind.

It documents in rather vengeful detail the perils of a young Oxford undergraduate student (Ben Ashurst) as he is used as a guinea pig in an elaborate experiment designed by a hot-shot scientist on a quest to design an algorithm that detects and manipulates emotions. To make things interesting a hot dame (Cara) is thrown into the plot and given the role of propelling the story forward through her depiction as a mirage Ben is meant to view as reality. The entire book reeks of deception and betrayal. Expectations and paranoia drive the plot to a point of madness. Over and over again it appears Ben continues to lose everything; love, sanity, friends and everything in between.

Unlike Hesse and Grass who made this genre great, The Mind Game falls far short in its attempt at justifying every vector taken in the voyage of the inner workings of the human mind. In other words it is just too ludicrous. I got the feeling of reading a succession of short stories with no happy endings that were pieced together to form an amalgamation of narratives that barely pass as a collective work commonly termed as a ‘a novel’.

It makes for a good beginner’s taste of the larger and most accomplished works of this genre. It was certainly a good effort and not giving its author due credit for this work is just plain malice which I choose not to be a part of.

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BOOK REVIEW: UP AT THE VILLA – W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps it is because he tried to pursue a career in Medicine and fell in love with letters along the way. I can relate with that. His work Up At The Villa  however left me worried about this icon. I found the book heavily disturbing. I was as shocked with the book as the New York editor who commissioned the book. It left me wondering, ‘what on earth was Somerset thinking?”.

The book is about the immoral fling a beautiful and young widow has with a broke refugee who turns out to be mortally mentally unwell. The young man is so distraught with the inevitable after-the-one-night-stand rejection that he takes his own life right in front of his ephemeral lover, using her own gun. What is sad about the whole fiasco is that this was the widow’s first one-one stand in her entire life. It is as if the gods were telling the young lass ‘this is not your thing.’ To make matters more complicated she seeks the aid of a common playboy to cover up her mess. As if this was not enough she is tentatively bethroned to a highly successful but much older English diplomat who has a paedophile-type crush on her. Her chance at financial reprieve is brutally crushed after her confession to the the older suitor. In the end she settles for the roughshod Casanova.

Considering that the book was written in early 20th Century England it is entirely plausible that the novella was met with utter disdain upon its publication. It is highly probable that the book’s reception was somewhat similar to the initial reviews Fifty Shades of Grey received upon its release. Both works are an affront to the timeless values of morality that continue to simmer in the psyche of alert readers who open a book for its intrinsic value and nothing more.

My reading of Up At The Villa left me with a feeling of despair for the future of romance in the 21st Century. If such abhorrent ideas could be conceived and well-received in the ‘innocent’ decades of the 20th Century what hope remains for 21st Century literature? As I endured to the end of the book I kept asking myself, ‘is chivalry really dead?’

BOOK REVIEW: CAKES AND ALE (or The Skeleton in the Cupboard) by W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

This book is a masterpiece. It is a short but powerful amalgamation of every literary technique all writers of great genius exploit to the maximum. Romance (both moral and immoral), humor (both satirical and plain) and tragedy (both ephemeral and evolving) are neatly blended into a fluid tale of what it really means to be an author.

The protagonist, Dr Ashenden, describes his transition from meek teenager to medical student to under-appreciated author. In fact it is difficult to pin-point who the protagonist is. An argument can be made that the narrator of the story (Ashenden) is not in real fact the protagonist but rather Rosie and Ted Driffield combined. Rosie is obviously the epicentre of the romantic aspect of the book – a role she played rather well – while Ted is the oasis of intellectualism which I always find refreshing in a proper book. Intellectualism is actually given in double measure, the other being the wild intellect of the young author Ashenden. Rosie somewhat comes in the middle; she is Ted’s promiscuous wife who Ashenden had an affair with – along with a whole train of other men of course.

Ted’s second wife only plays an auxiliary role in the story. Alroy Kear is a powerful character created by a sound mind fighting against vanity. He is a self-but well-groomed author who takes pains not to offend anyone and an embodiment of what the author obviously hates in other authors of similar nature. I found it interesting that the publication of the book raised a huge furore in the literary world as it was widely viewed as an attack of Thomas Hardy in the form of Ted Driffield. I think the critics were just intimidated by the wit and beauty of the book so much that they felt such a work of art would not come purely from an abstract mind without contemporary influence. I will come to a defense of the author at this point. It is a fact that no book has ever been written from an abstract mind. A story is built on a skeleton formed by experience and knowledge. The skeleton in this masterpiece happens to be that one woman every man has buried in the inner closets of his past and never wants to see. That skeleton is Rosie and she is hidden in a cupboard called Ashenden. Ted and the other authors were just the flesh that covered the beauty of this literary classic.

Cakes and Ale is by far the best literary work of fiction I have read this year. I highly recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: NATURAL CAUSES by MICHAEL PALMER

If you have read any of Michael Palmer’s books and have an aversion to surprises then this book is perfect for you. Just like all the other works by the author the book follows the typical ‘hot-shot doctor who is framed for medical negligence and seeks revenge while falling unexpectedly in love’ plot.

The ‘hot shot’ doctor in this book is Sarah Baldwin a resident in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Medical Center of Boston who also has had impressive alternative medicine training. The hospital at which she works is ridiculed by a local newspaper columnist who has a vendetta against everything the hospital stands for; a blend of scientific and alternative medicine. Three patients die under exactly the same circumstances and the only connection among them is Sarah’s alternative medicine prescriptions. She seeks vengeance and pacification all the while falling in love with her attorney. The ending is as much surprising as it is heart-wrenching.

Michael Palmer, just like his rival Robin Cook, was an accomplished physician who blended his diverse medical knowledge with drama to produce multiple novels which have shaped the course of the medical thriller genre. It is difficult to analyse the author without comparing him with Cook just as it is exacting to review Isaac Asimov without collating his works with those of Arthur C. Clarke . All four however have oftentimes been caught up with the redundancy that bedevils serial writers.Natural Causes bares testimony to that. It is in itself a good thriller provided you have not read any of Palmer’s other books.

BOOK REVIEW: MASTER GEORGIE by BERYL BAINBRIDGE

Beryl Bainbridge is the type of author one comes across and instantly falls in love with. I had never heard of her and my reading ‘Master Georgie’ was an appointment with Fate that I never knew I was late for.

The book is an exposition of unrequited love, debased sexuality and forced patriotism all blended to form an intellectual and emotional masterpiece that stands far above contemporary literary works. It has two protagonists; Dr George Hardy a Surgeon and photography enthusiast and Myrtle the orphan whose age and surname no one really knows for sure. The two’s relationship forms the dynamics of the story and can be best described as the tale of a young girl in love with her adoptive brother who dithers on the brink of homosexuality and alcoholism. The other characters (Dr Potter the irritatingly academic geologist and Pompey Jones the handsome street urchin) serve to cushion the heavy glut of tragedy that oozes from each page.

The literary style is clean and lean. The use of words is so well placed one gets a feeling that the author wrote and re-wrote the book until the English language itself gave in to her whims. Humor is definitely not in short supply in this work of art though it will take the average reader considerable effort to glean from the novel. ‘Master Georgie’ has dispelled my previously drab notion that literature is dead and has been replaced by pulp novels with no depth and inspiration.

It is said Bainbridge herself proclaimed that the book has to be read at least three times for one to fully understand it. Perhaps she was right but to me it will take only half a reading to appreciate its sadistic beauty. I was thoroughly impressed and would recommend it to anyone who truly loves literature for literature’s sake.

BOOK REVIEW: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS – JULES VERNE

Published in 1873 this classic remains relevant. It is a well-researched and somewhat inspiring account of the daring attempt of navigating around the world in no more than 80 days; a feat which was regarded as impossible at the time. This was in fulfillment of a wager Phileas Fogg had committed to with five members of the Reform Club with whom he regularly played a card game called whist.

The man was rightly regarded as a reclusive, enigmatic, eccentric and exacting English gentleman whose fortune no one could account for. He set out on the perilous voyage in the company of his servant, Passepartout, who also happened to be a Frenchman just like the author. The contrast in the characters of the master and the servant betrays the prevailing juxtaposition of the English and the French temperaments. In those days the English were regarded as level-headed, cultured, intelligent, civilized and authoritative people as opposed to the French who were seen as impulsive, emotionally-labile and loud-mouthed. This of course was just another progeny of the English propaganda expounded to pacify their imperialistic conquests.

I read the book with the assistance of a 19th century world map and was thoroughly impressed with the geographical accuracy of Verne’s story. I was also convinced that all means of travel used in the story were indeed available at the time of writing. The voyage was largely partaken with the aid of ships and trains. A fascinating twist was the use of an elephant in ferrying the travelers across a size-able portion of India.

No good story is devoid of an adversary and this came in the form of a detective by the convenient name of Mr Fix who wanted to ‘fix’ Fogg by arresting him for the robbery of the Bank of England. This accusation was of course untrue but it added an interesting suspense in the story. It is almost impossible for the reader not to loathe Mr Fix for his narrow-mindedness which I think is still prevalent in modern detectives as depicted in television and contemporary literature. It is also impossible for one not to be irritated by the stupidity of Passerpartout who at each turn cost his master dearly with his childish shenanigans.

My only criticism of the book is the implausibily of Phileas Fogg’s lack of emotional versatility. It is almost as if the man was a robot!! He was completely devoid of any emotion and his interests were so restricted that I felt at some point Verne was going to shock me with a wild revelation that Fogg was in actual fact a relative of Frankenstein’s monster. Of course Verne redeemed himself by concluding the book with an unlikely romance.

This book is a must-read for all true lovers of literature. FIVE STARS.

BOOK REVIEW: A FAREWELL TO ARMS – ERNEST HEMINGWAY

This is the first book I have read written by Hemingway. I decided to start with this particular piece because it is widely regarded as the one that  put this Nobel Prize winner on the literary map.

Published in 1929 the novel is about an American ‘Tenente’ (tenente being the Italian equivalent of Lieutenant) who endures and absconds the first World War. The title of the book serves as an artistic dual depiction of a soldier’s loss; arms of a woman and fire-arms. The plot is very simple but not so predictable; a soldier falls in love with a woman, loses faith in the war he is fighting and deserts the army to be with his lover.

The literary style is also simple; short sentences, limited vocabulary, short paragraphs and first-person narration. In fact it is Hemingway’s literary style that set him apart from his contemporaries especially James Joyce. Hemingway belonged to the ‘Beat Generation’ who adopted the simplistic prose which was at that time a new genre of literature. James Joyce on the other hand adopted the steam-of-consciousness style which was also revolutionary. It is safe to say most of today’s novelists make use of Hemingway’s literary style.

I could not help but notice the striking resemblance of the book’s protagonist with the author himself. Both served in the Italian army as ambulance drivers, both had an intimate relationship with alcohol and so forth. I have since learnt that this was in fact a conscious pattern which the author followed throughout his career.

I have only one problem with the book; the romance was downright childish. I found the romantic aspect of the book as a nonsensical distraction. The dialogue between the lieutenant and his lover, Catherine, was devoid of any depth or versatility. It sounded like this; ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too’ – over and over and over again and nothing more. In my opinion the book would have been a much better read without the romantic aspect.

In conclusion I would say this is a book written by a respected author which can only pique the interest of those who know more about the author than his work. In other words if this book was to be published today it would just pass under the radar. However if one were to read the book with the preconceived perception of its significance in the history of literature then they would understand why Hemingway is the legend that he is.

MUGABE IS BIG BROTHER – 1984

Long before Big Brother UK, Big Brother Africa, Big Brother here and Big Bother there ever graced (or disgraced…either one applies) our television screens with a revolutionary reality TV concept, Big Brother was in actual fact created in 1949. He (Big Brother of course) was conceived when Eric Arthur Blair (GEORGE ORWELL) had a fling with his typewriter and gave birth to a beautiful piece of literature christened ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.

Big Brother depicted in the novel has eerily similar traits with a modern day dictator. Orwell’s Big Brother controlled every aspect of one’s life especially of members of ‘the Party’. He rose to power through a coup (called ‘the Revolution’) and assassinated all his comrades who also had claim to the throne. He pretty much ignored those who were not members of the Party (‘the proles’) who also happened to constitute the greater majority of his country’s population. Big Brother saw everything, listened to everything and controlled every aspect of member’s life. All crimes were punishable by death and even the word “crime” was controlled. Love, free speech, clothes other than blue overalls and even orgasms were punishable by hanging in the public square as entertainment for kids.

It has long been speculated that Orwell’s portrayal of his Big Brother was heavily borrowed from Adolf Hitler’s persona. Mugabe obviously resembles the Big Brother in George Orwells novel as much as he compares well with the modern day Big Brother and the author of Mein Kempf.

Mein Kempf and Mugabe….I will review that soon.

MY FAVOURITE POEM

The Scholars (William Butler Yeats – 1917)

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.

All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbor knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

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