Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Disgrace' by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace was the first novel I read by JM Coetzee and, at the age of nineteen, was probably one of the first really "grown-up" novels I bothered finishing. It's a fine piece of work, notable throughout for Coetzee's complete control of the story and his utter lack of bombast, even when describing dramatic and traumatic events.The novel deals with the fallout of the early post-apartheid years in South Africa and shows how attempts to even the score in terms of land-rights and crime may well have gone too far in the other direction. Coetzee is sometimes criticised for having a certain cold clinicalness to his writing, but it is precisely these qualities that make Disgrace such a memorable book, deserved winner of the Booker Prize in its year of publishing, and one that is likely to stand the test of time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

'The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts' by Louis de Bernieres

Every now and then you read a book that has little bits of magic in it, be they in the style or the story of it. The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts is a book coated in big, dirty swathes of magic. Whilst being grandiose and intimate at the same time, this tale of love, corruption and cruelty in an unnamed South American state contains both belly-laughs and enough viciousness to make you weep for the world on virtually every page.

When you stop to consider that this was de Bernieres' debut effort you will start to weep for all the writers who never manage to demonstrate an ounce of this man's vision or ambition within their entire careers. If I'd ever gotten around to reading more than one short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I have a feeling that I'd be drawing most favourable comparisons right now.
Minor quibbles (if only because no-one enjoys relentless positivity) are that there are an awful lot of Spanish slang words to get your head around, and an awful lot of characters to follow. But really, these things matter not a whit, as this is one bad-ass muchacho of a book.