Red Pill

Choosing Red Pill by Hari Kunzru was a big mistake on part. The reviews for his previous novel were outstanding, how could I not like it?

‘Exquisitely attuned’ 
‘Electrifying, subversive and wildly original’ 
‘A book that everyone should be reading right now’ 
 ‘Haunting, doom-drenched, genuinely and viscerally disturbing…’ 

The only one of those quotes that applies to Red Pill is “doom-drenched”

Red Pill is about an academic writer who has lost his motivation to write while experiencing an existential crisis. He is awarded a grant to spend 3 months residency at a cultural foundation in Wannsee near Berlin where things go from bad to worse. I don’t know where the story might have gone as I gave up after dragging myself through about a quarter of the book.

Maybe I missed out, but I found Red Pill to be a slow paced, overly wordy, self indulgent dirge. This is literary fiction at its absolute worst.

1/5

The Liar’s Dictionary

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams is very very wordy. If you love words you may well love this novel about the creation of a dictionary, I didn’t, I gave up before the 3rd chapter.

For me, this was too wordy, too self indulgent and trying too hard to be clever. That said lot’s of critics have been very impressed and it will probably turn out to be a cult novel which will mean that I have to pick it up and give it a second try!

Girl Woman Other

Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo was the joint winner of the Booker prize in 2019. I thought I ought to read it even though it didn’t appear to be my kind of book.

Half way through the first chapter I knew I’d made a mistake. The first character introduced is a black lesbian feminist theatre director (reorder those however you wish), I didn’t think I was going to get to the end of this novel, Booker or not. But I did and I’m glad that I did.

Girl Woman Other is a series of sketches of women who are all interconnected. It gradually unfolds in a narrative which comes full circle at the end. It’s elegant and held my interest but overall it’s not very rewarding and I can’t see why it won the Booker.

3.5/5

Judas

Judas by Amos Oz is set in Jerusalem in the winter of 1959. Shmuel is an idealistic left wing student who drops out of college and takes a job as a companion to Gershom Ward, an elderly invalided intellectual. As the novel unfolds Shmuel becomes obsessed with Atalia, Gershom’s widowed daughter-in-law and her late husband and father.

At one level this is a story of a young man’s fascination with an older woman and the gradual unfolding of tangled family relationships. At another level it provides an interesting insight into the debates within the zionist movement before independence in 1948 and the political tensions in the subsequent period, I don’t know how historically accurate the book is but Oz provides a thought provoking glimpse of alternative possibilities. A third strand to Judas is Shmuel’s stalled PhD thesis on Jewish attitudes to Jesus and the character and role of Judas in Jesus’ betrayal. If the Israeli politics and Judas strands are meant to be linked, the connection passed me by.

I found Judas to be a tiresome and unrewarding read, I struggled to empathise with any of the characters, I’d rather read history than search for glimpses in the narrative and by the end I didn’t care how the plot finished I just wanted it to be over. This was 2 star material slightly redeemed by the interesting historical bits.

2.5/5

A Horse Walks into a Bar

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman is an uncomfortable read to say the least.

Dovaleh (David) is an ageing stand up comic performing in a poorly attended bar in Netanyah in Israel. Instead of telling the jokes that the audience had expected they are exposed to the detail of his personal tragedy and some formative events from his childhood years. Several of the audience members turn out to be old friends who had been invited to this performance at whom the personal pain is partly directed.

This is one of several books by Israeli authors focussed on the the early life stories of the children of Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel before 1948. The parents were scarred by the events they experienced and then had to adapt to making a new life in a new country, the children struggled to balance integration in the evolving Israeli society with their loyalty to their parents. Dovaleh is one of these kids.

This is a profoundly disturbing read, I felt like a voyeur who was compelled to watch someone’s melt down and unable to turn away. I can’t say that I enjoyed it but I didn’t want to put it down until I had finished it. The end was a little flat but perhaps after the emotional rollercoaster ride that was a relief rather than a disappointment.

A Horse Walks into a Bar won the Man Booker Prize for 2017

4/5

Kingdom of Twilight

Kingdom of Twilight by Steven Uhly is a massive novel that starts with the assassination of a young SS officer in Poland and traces the consequences for the various participants over the next 4 decades, ranging from Poland to Germany to Israel.

When I started this I thought that it was unbearably grim and looking down at the corner of my Kindle I saw that I had over 10 hours of reading ahead of me. I almost gave up, I’m so glad that I didn’t. Instead I dug in and read the whole thing in 2 or 3 big sessions over a weekend, it is mesmerising.

I thought I knew a fair bit about the challenges that holocaust survivors faced after the war but Kingdom of Twilight opened my eyes to how much the survivors suffered again in their efforts to find resettlement and new lives outside of Germany. Uhly is a German author and this is not a Nazi bashing novel, it is a story of how far people will go to to survive, the challenges of facing the past and the extent to which those in power will elevate pragmatism and politics over humanity. In the end it is a wonderfully uplifting book which I could not have predicted when I started.

I know my European Jewish background makes me slightly biased but I thought this was a fantastic read, thought provoking, tense and mysterious.

This is a must read and the first time in ages that I have wanted to give a novel 5/5!