Sunday, February 11, 2007

An Author's style: Recent reading

There are very few authors who have the ability to change their writing style from novel to novel. In most cases, no matter what different story an author tackles, his or her unique style permeates through the story. Sometimes, the style could be a particular narration mode (always using third person) or specific plot elements (dreams, corrupt cop, etc) which make the author's work familiar to returning readers. Those repeating elements are only a drawback if the author has nothing new to say and is simply rehashing their previous work. In the case of the first two books below, elements from the authors earlier novels were clearly evident. But these authors have some much to say and have clearly done their research that those familiar elements end up enhancing the reading experience.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

I first came across a Pamuk book about 7 years ago. Back then, I didn't find his The White Castle very engaging. However, my view changed when I read his pulsating The New Life, a book that brought him much acclaim and introduced most Western readers to Pamuk. 3 books, a Nobel Prize in literature and a political controversy later, Pamuk is well know around the world -- back in December 2006, one could walk into bookstore in New Delhi and find all his 6 English translated works. His works give a mirror into both past and present day Turkey. On top of that, Pamuk is not afraid to tackle political or religious topics either. Which brings me to Snow, a book that is more relevant today than ever. At the core of the novel lies ideas about Islamic vs Western values. The story mostly takes place in Kars, a Turkish town where young girls are committing suicide because they don't want to live a life where they have to remove their headscarves. In the story, a newly passed Turkish law forbides women to wear a headscarf anymore. However, this law leads to much political battle and clash of ideologies. In the middle of this war of ideas, steps Ka, a Turkish poet who has come to Kars for his own personal reasons.

The book is narrated by Ka's friend and manages to balance the political, religious and poetic sides perfectly. Although, I have to admit that at 436 pages, the novel is a bit too long. I wish Pamuk had trimmed 50 pages or so. Still, this is an engaging read.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Poor Toru Okada. He just wants to stay quietly at home, make his pasta, sip some coffee and have the odd beer. But the phone just does not stop ringing. His cat disappears, and then his wife vanishes. Strange women enter into his life and add to his complications. What is an unemployed man to do?
There is a pretty thick novel at 624 pages but in Japan it was originally broken up into 3 seperate books. The English version has all 3 books together which is great because it is easy to get sucked into the wonderful world that Murakami creates. Like his previous books (especially Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), themes of dreams and the underground creep into the work. The third book of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is structured similar to Hard-boiled Wonderland.. which gaves an idea to solving the story's mystery. Also, there are multiple stories and subplots through the book, some of which have a direct relationship with the overall story and some which are just are interesting to read but offer nothing to the overall plot. Like Snow, I do feel again that this book is longer than it should be but that is a problem with most authors.

I have plenty of other Murakami books lying around which I will tackle later in the year.

Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

Normally, I would never have picked up this murder thriller book. But since I had just visited Bangkok, I wanted to read a book which talked about the crazy city's insane underbelly. For pure junk satisfaction, this is a very easy read which combines topics of Thai whores, corrupt Thai cops, reincarnation, CIA, Muslim fundamentalists, Al-Qaeda, Japanese Tattoos, Yakuza into a 320 page book. This was a fun read for me because I enjoyed reading some of the spots I had visited in Bangkok and could relate to some of the author's observances. One of those books that could be easily made into a multiplex thriller. And since the book is packed with cliches found in most thriller genre books, one can have an idea about the nature of the real mystery.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

In North America, this hyped up book is still in hardcover because publishers want to milk as much money from this as they can. However, in Europe and Asia, this book is available in paperback. I duly bought my paperback in London to see what the hype was all about. The book does contain some interesting ideas backed up with solid numbers. For example, the chapters about the economic realities of drug dealers and real estate agents are interesting enough but they are nothing earth-shattering. Even though there were some new things for me in the book, in other cases the book re-affirmed some well known ideas with stats. The book is written to cover a wide audience range (teenagers to adults), so the style is pretty easy going. Overall, I didn't find this book to be that great so I was glad that I only spent money on a paperback version.

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