October 2016 Posts

Book Reviews “Map and the Territory” and “Little Red Chairs”

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Houellenbeq"s Map and the Terriory and O'Brien's Little Red Chairs

Houellenbeq”s Map and the Terriory and O’Brien’s Little Red Chairs

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

If you, like myself, are intrigued by the genius, politics and drama in the world of art you won’t want to miss this novel. Set in contemporary French society the novel first appears as a coming of age story of the young artist Jed Martin until Houllebecq arrives on the scene to write the notes for Jed’s upcoming exhibition wherein it becomes a brilliant conversation on art, death, and society.

It is said novelists who place themselves in their work rarely come out alive, but when Houllebecq, who is at times both comic, depressed, acerbic and/or inebriated, agrees to let Jed to paint his portrait, the ensuing dialogue made up of controversial observations and reflections about art and life educate and engage the reader while giving credence as to why Houellenbecq is looked upon as a “tour de force” novelist.


red-chairs“The Little Red Chairs” by Edna O’Brien

“The Little Red Chairs” refers to the six hundred and forty three small red chairs set out on streets of Sarajevo, for the  commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1,425 day sige of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs. These chairs were meant to represent children killed by snipers and artillery fire.

In this her first novel  in ten years, author Edna O’Brien challenges us to explore the capacity human beings have for evil and asks if love, however innocent, can be tolerated.

O’Brien’s novel, however,  is not set it Sarajevo but in Ireland, a place O’Brien says is “a land of shame, of murder, of sacrificed women.”  O’Brien’s heroine, Fidelma McBride, is a women unfulfilled. When she falls under the spell of a mysterious charismatic stranger, giving in to his charms and her own desire. When the truth about the stranger is revealed she is left disgraced and isolated. Her life is shattered. Thus begins her odyssey in search of redemption.

In a NYT Review Joyce Carol Oates explores how O’Brien idealization of a life of service has enriched her fiction, from “Country Girl” to “Little Red Chairs”. They may differ in time and place but they remain true to O’Briens’s central theme.  Thus the odyssey ends when Fidelma gives herself up to the service of others finding her redemption in choosing “not to look at the prison wall of life, but to look up at the sky.”



“Imagine Me Gone”-a can’t put down read

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Mental Illness and Family

Imagine Me Gone

“Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett is a novel about love, loss and the power mental illness has over every aspect of family life. It is poignant, terrifying and sometimes strangely funny. Within moments of closing this book I was in tears remembering life with my brother, a man who couldn’t think straight.

At an early age, unbeknownst to me, he was diagnosed as a sociopath, a person without a conscience. He was handsome, charming, smart and funny. He married, had a child, and lived with our Mother. When she died I inherited him and discovered she had used her life’s savings to keep him out of jail. And then it began: he involved our family in a mind bending fraudulent scheme. When he realized the game was up he signed himself into a hospital swearing he was suicidal. Ten days later he was discharged into the arms of detectives waiting next to his stolen car in the hospital lot. He did time in jail. On his release he went to a men’s shelter. When he called I offered to pay first and last month’s rent for an apartment but said he was never to contact any of us again. He assured me I would hear about him but not from him. A few days later he committed suicide.

Reading this beautifully written novel of how a family survives the turmoil when a member has a broken mind speaks to the universal family experience of having illness in the family and how we cope. To quote Tony Kushner: “It is a magnificent work of art that overwhelmed me and broke my heart”.