Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Invisible Man by H.D. Wells

I think I read this book for the first time in the 5th grade. The idea intrigued me and I expected it to be a little more spectacular than it really is. Not that it isn’t a good book, but it’s not what a child would expect. It certainly isn’t the comic book version that a child would expect. It’s much too realistic for that. His character, Griffen, an albino scientist, manages to create a process by which he can cause the light to refract off objects in a way which renders the object invisible. Griffen performs this operation on himself before he realizes all the disadvantages to being invisible. Once in that state, he finds that he must either walk around naked, problematic in winter, or he must cover himself from head to toe all of the time, which is nigh on impossible. He can no longer stay in his home nor hold down a job due to this and is forced to wander the countryside looking for the means to get by, by either honest or mostly dishonest means. After creating havoc in one small town, he moves on and finds an old friend, who might have been able to help him. However, by this time, Griffen is already half mad and has begun to plan to create a reign of terror, with which he sees no moral problem. Kemp, his friend, decides he needs to be stopped and eventually succeeds.

Wells must have put quite a lot of thought into what it would be like to be invisible before writing this book. He brings up things like the dirty feet and eating food, which would remain visible as long as it was undigested, that I wouldn’t have thought of. Although he could have carried it all a bit further than he did by pointing out that dirt clinging to the feet alone would have made the feet, or the outline thereof, visible.

Still, he manages to make the situation real and bring home the terrible loneliness that being invisible would cause. The only question I have at the end of the book is if Griffen really did go mad from being invisible or was he already mad by the time he created the process. He frankly didn’t seem very stable from the beginning and I think that being invisible just tipped him over the edge.

Interesting read.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Anna Karenina

I’ve re-named this book Gone With the Windski in my mind. It probably sounds quite odd, but it’s because Anna so strongly reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara. Both women are caught up in situations which neither suit their wants, needs, nor temperaments, yet they cannot escape due to the social restrictions placed upon them. However, both women are very selfish and manipulative and for the large part, bring their own misery down upon themselves by either going about things the wrong way, or trying to make their surroundings bend to their wants. Instead of making the best of their situations as they are and looking for happiness where they would have a chance of finding it, they look for it where they want to find it, and that is what ultimately brings about their own destruction. Granted, Scarlet is neither completely destroyed nor does she capitulate at the end of the book, but she did lose everything she was striving for and will have to start all over again. Anna, on the other hand, watches as she destroys her own life and not being able to face reality, completes her own, and her lover Vronski’s, destruction.

Anna Karenina does have another interesting facet: Kitty. Kitty is the antithesis of Anna. She shows the reader what Anna should have been and how Anna should have acted. Not having gotten what she wanted, Kitty was able to regain her life by looking towards things she should want and which were attainable instead of reaching out for things she could and would never have. It’s quite interesting the way that Tolstoy plays the two women’s stories against each other. Their lives are intertwined by the people they know, yet they go two completely different ways which almost seem to mirror each other the way that a picture negative mirrors a picture. They are the same, yet completely different.

I suppose that reader is meant to sympathize with Anna, but I can’t. I find her horribly arrogant, selfish and manipulative to the point in which these traits overshadow any of her good points. The only thing I do sympathize with is that she was damned by her own nature. I doubt she could have changed had she wanted to, so ultimately, there was really nothing she could do about it. Still, that doesn’t make me like her any better. Every time she made another choice, all I could think was “stupid woman”. The things she chose were so obviously wrong that she was either stupid or blind. Either way, it made no difference. She chose the wrong things and had to pay for her decisions in the end.

Tolstoy also managed to wind in two other themes into his story. The first is the Russian nobility of the nineteenth century. They glimpse Tolstoy gives of them makes them seem to be some of the most extravagant, decadent and thoughtless people in the world. Viewing them with the knowledge of what happens in Russia during the following century, it becomes easier to see why communism seemed appealing to many of the Russian people. An overthrow of the system must have seemed the best way to eradicate the Russian people of the ultimately destructive element of their nobility; seeing as how the nobles controlled politics at the time, there really way no other way. The second is philosophy. Tolstoy introduces Levin, Kitty’s future husband, at the beginning of the book. Levin epitomizes the Russian spirit of the 19th century with his depressing and dark outlook on life. Always trying to make sense of the world as he saw it, Levin goes through many different phases of both personal and political philosophy, changing it according to the people he meets and the experiences he has. Again though, like Kitty, Levin doesn’t try and strive for things beyond his reach, but eventually realizes that to be truly happy, he must reach for things that are attainable and be happy with what he has. On the whole, both his and Kitty’s stories are what make this an uplifting novel.

All in all it was a good read. It’s the first Russian classic I’ve ever managed to get through. Up until now the Russians have always been too heavy for my taste. Anna Karenina is a lighter, although not totally frivolous novel, and I can recommend it to anyone.

Monday, 8 September 2008


This book was originally entitled Sanctum and was changed to Deception for the American market. After having read it, this is one of the few times when I think the name change was warranted. Deception wound its way through the entire book from all sides. Nothing was as it seemed and the viewpoint of the reader changed almost page by page as new information was revealed.

Lachlan Harriott’s wife was convicted of the brutal murder of a serial killer and his wife. Lachlan, who loves his wife deeply, is shocked and devastated at the conviction and sets out to provide all of the information possible to sway the case in their favour at an appeal. He doesn’t seem to realize that the only person who believes an appeal will ever take place is he. However, the very act of trying to prove that his wife is completely innocent sends him on a roller coaster ride of emotions very nearly ending in his own destruction. From the beginning, the reader has the feeling that Lachlan is deluding himself, which the evidence he begins to find seems to support. It isn’t long before he begins to realize that there is more to the whole situation than his wife being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, the story line isn’t a classic one. Mina creates unforeseeable twists and turns of a plot which has already happened as the story unfolds. Lachlan uncovers both intentional and unintentional deception on just about every level during his investigation and the resulting emotional turmoil very nearly destroys his own soul as he tries to untangle the strands of the story and make sense of them.

He eventually does untangle them, but the outcome is surprising and the results equally so. It’s a demonstration of how love can easily turn to hate and hate to love, how humans can deceive themselves as a form of self-protection and how well that protection works unless and until cracks appear in the shell. Once those cracks are there, breakdown isn’t far away and the resulting pain can be almost unbearable.

All in all a good read. It’s a good depiction of the realistic dark side of human nature.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

I’m afraid this has ceased to be in order of my reading, but I can’t blog as fast as I read, so I tend to forget what I’ve reviewed and what I haven’t.

This one was a curiously simple, but interesting read. Christopher John Francis Boone is a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who finds the body of his neighbour’s dog with a pitchfork through it. He sets out to find the culprit, but his search is more a manner of revealing his mind and thought processes to the reader during a particularly difficult time in his life. As mentioned, the book is fairly simple to read, but the simplicity almost seems to be there to hide difficult concepts Christopher isn’t yet ready to deal with. It’s as though he is arriving at obvious and necessary conclusions by the roundabout route of searching for the dog’s killer. He can’t look at life directly, so he does it in a way which allows him time to come to terms with a problem almost before he realizes what the problem actually is.

I get the feeling the book itself only touches on the many problems of living life with Asperger’s. I imagine that it would be much more difficult for all parties in long term reality than it was in this short tale. Christopher seems to find ways to deal with things, but sometimes his coping mechanisms cause the people around him to experience the same stress he is experiencing, only caused by his reactions to what most people would consider normal. It’s almost like he’s caught up in a vicious circle over which he has little control. Having said that, left to himself he has an astounding ability to deal with things that not many people with a less challenging life would not have. He can overcome obstacles if left to do it in his own way, as unconventional as those ways may be, like when he hides in the luggage rack on the way to London. He arrives in London in relative comfort despite acting in a manner which most people would consider unusual at best and inhuman at worst. Stuffing a child in a luggage rack would seem like mistreatment under normal circumstances, yet Christopher is happier that way than he would have been in a first class carriage. All in all it’s a strange world to consider, from a non-Asperger’s point of view. It’s odd to think how differently one person can view things from another, which is why this book seems to turn the world upside down and leaves you wondering who is actually normal.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Anne of Green Gables

I’ve just read several books in the series and they are just as enjoyable now as they were when I read them years ago. I suppose form an adults point of view, you have less sympathy with Anne and more with Marilla, but the stories are cute just the same. The books themselves are the kind of wholesome books I would recommend for any child. Yes, they are old-fashioned, but I can’t help but feeling that if children were still brought up that way, that society would be a better place. Of course, the books themselves are fairly idyllic and certainly don’t reflect the reality of the time everywhere in the world, but they do present an ideal which gives the reader something to strive for instead of presenting them with a bleak picture of the way it really was/is as so often happens today. I suppose they are the Leave it to Beaver of an earlier era, although they don’t have quite the same contrived feeling.

Anyway, they’re cute books and I can recommend them to anyone as a good, simple read.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

This is another one of those books that leaves me lost for words. The whole story and the feelings it arouses are so complex that it’s impossible to say it’s a great book or horrible or disturbing. It’s really all of those combined. It is a good book. It’s extremely well written. It must be or it wouldn’t be so incredibly provoking.

The books itself is a dramatization of the brutal murders of 4 members of a quiet and respectable Kansas family which took place in 1959. Capote starts out by describing the family members and their last day on earth, which creates an eerie atmosphere. He forces you to like the family, because it’s just impossible not to like them, even though you know what is to come and you’re desperately trying to distance yourself from them in order to soften the blow when it does happen. He then goes on to tell the tale of the town after the murders, the tale of the FBI and other law officers who are looking for the killers and the tale of the murderers themselves. The result is an odd mixture of understanding for the town and it’s inhabitants, wanting the FBI to find the killers despite the difficulties they face and an odd sort of sympathy with at least one of the two men who cold bloodedly killed the family.

The murders cause an understandable mistrust amongst the town’s inhabitants because they all assume there must be a reason for the murders other than simply robbery. Mr. Clutter was well known as a man in the town and everyone knew he didn’t carry cash, so robbery couldn’t have been a motive. Therefore it must have been something else and it must, or at least might, be someone who knew him well and committed the crimes for a personal reason. However, while they are busy mistrusting each other, they also show an incredible amount of compassion for the FBI agents, the journalists and even the unknown murderers. The people who live there are so nice to the bone that they are incapable of feeling hate even though evil has invaded them in such a horrendous manner. Even once the killers are captured, they show an incredible amount of compassion, understanding and kindness for them. Most of the town are even against dealing out the death penalty on the grounds that such a penalty would leave the killers too little time to reflect, repent and come to God before their deaths. That amount of compassion and understanding is incredible, especially as seen from this day and age where there is precious little of it, at least on that level, less.

Interspersed with the town’s tale is the story of the two killers, both before and after the crime. He creates an odd view of them by showing them going about their lives. They seem to be more or less regular guys who aren’t really notable in anyway, except on the odd occasion and even then only if you’re looking for it. He tells about their childhoods and teenage years and how their characters developed into men who are capable of murder. As the story continues, the reader is more or less forced to continually reconsider their opinion of the men. In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter how sorry you felt for them or not, both were mentally disturbed in one manner or another and even if you are against the death penalty, there wasn’t much choice according to Kansas law at the time. They either got life with the possibility of parole or the death penalty. Since neither of the two should ever have been let loose in public again, the death penalty was really the only sensible option in regards to the public good.

Frankly, I was glad to finish the book. The death of the family made me infinitely sad and the conflict the book caused between my sense of the death penalty being basically wrong, but the knowledge that these men were truly dangerous and had to be kept for re-entering society was depressing. I was glad to no longer have to deal with the killers and their psyches and to not have to think about the Clutter family and the unfairness of it all. Still, it was a good book and worth the read.