This fulfills half of my African requirement for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. The author was born in Nigeria and the book is about a fourteen-year-old boy who has left his hometown in West Africa to fight behind enemy lines in Burma in WWII.
Category Archives: fiction
Blood and Ice by Robert Masello. Bantam, 2009.
Blood and Ice has everything it needs to be a great thriller; a desolate and isolated setting, a main character with a tragic past, a mystery, a love story and a creepy secret.
The main character, Michael Wilde is a journalist who has traveled to Antarctica both to write a piece for his magazine and to try to get away from his own troubles. He is a strong leading character; likeable and interesting. A few days into his assignment he goes on a polar dive and discovers two bodies frozen deep within a block of ice, a man and woman. Immediately he connects with the woman’s frozen image and becomes protective of the body as it is taken back to the research facility and the ice begins to melt.
The story flips between following Michael and his own flashbacks, and the mysterious couple, their lives during the 1800’s and how they became entombed within the sea. This keeps the reader interested in both of the story lines and prolongs the suspense; but it also seems to slow the pace of the novel.
The writing style is full of cliches and flowery descriptions; Masello seems to be suffering from an excess of adjectives. Even though the novel was partly set in the 1800’s, there is still no excuse for the use of the word ‘bosom’. Perhaps that is my own personal aversion from reading too many overwrought romance novels in my youth, it is impossible to read that word without picturing a heroine clasping something. In any case, you don’t pick up a book like this for the depth of the prose, you read it because you can’t put it down. And at that it generally succeeds. Even though it was predictable, it was still captivating enough to keep the pages turning late into the night. However, the first two thirds of the novel are a lot stronger than the remainder. Once the secrets have been revealed the plot loses its focus and heads towards an incredibly far fetched and unsatisfying ending. But, as a whole, it was worth reading.
The first book that I have read and reviewed for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge is ‘Kitchen’ by Banana Yoshimoto. It was translated from Japanese to English by Megan Backus. To read my review, please to go my Examiner article.
For a link to my quick article, recapping the events of CBC Radio One’s literary battle so far, please click here.
Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow. Random House, 2009.
What would cause two brothers to fill their home with over 100 tons of refuse and clutter?
Doctorow has based his latest novel on two brothers who were notorious recluses in Harlem, New York City. It was widely publicized in 1947 when the Collyers were found dead in their brownstone underneath heaps of newspapers and debris. A quick google image search will come up with photographs of the crumbling home with stacks of garbage rising to the ceiling. Even today, the term ‘Collyer’s mansion‘ is used by many fire departments to describe a home is dangerous and a fire hazard due to hoarding. How do two brothers end up living in such conditions? Why had they shut themselves off from the outside world? Why did they hoard so many items, including no less than fourteen pianos?
It is easy to see why Doctorow felt compelled to write about these men and try to answer some of these questions.
Although based on their actual lives, Homer and Langley, is a work of fiction. Doctorow creates his own characters out of the real people and develops plot out of these characters. He extends their lives; has them become gurus to a group of hippies. Doctorow adds auxiliary characters that move in and out of the Collyer mansion while the brothers themselves remain stationary. One can imagine that the lives of the real brothers were even more isolated and tragic.
Doctorow is able to delve into the forces that make people withdraw from society. The reader almost understands why Langley is compelled to collect and hoard such a variety of items. But you still find yourself wanting to yell at these characters, to tell them not to hide from the world. As a reader you become frustrated and unsure if Doctorow has done this purposefully, or if this is a fault in the novel. It seems that he has not gone deeply enough into their movitations and reasoning.
Perhaps part of this frustration comes from the fact that the narrating brother is blind. The reader feels as if they have to be missing part of the picture, seeing the brother’s lives through unseeing eyes. It becomes stifling, but maybe this is part of the brilliance of Doctorow’s writing; how else would a blind man surrounded by towers of newspaper feel?
In the end, Homer and Langley is a good, short read. The ending of the book captures the horror that many people must have felt in 1947, when the brothers’ bodies were discovered. It is not Doctorow’s best work, but it is worth reading. Partly because it is based on such a sad true story, these characters within will resonate with the reader long after the book is finished.
For more about the real Collyers, click here.
To go to my review on the Examiner.com site, please click here.