Thursday, October 23, 2008

Math Level A

Three men, an economist, a logician and a mathematician are on a train to Scotland. They see a brown cow from the window.

Economist: ‘Look, the cows in Scotland are brown.’

Logician: ‘No. There are cows in Scotland of which one, at least, is brown.’

Mathematician: ‘No. There is at least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown.’

And that is why, Christopher, the protagonist narrator of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” loves math. Christopher is a 15 year old English boy, a math prodigy and genius, and a victim of Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild of form of autism.

Suffering from autism, Christopher lives in a world separate from others. His world is characterized by extreme seclusion. He hates crowds and strangers. He cannot be in a closed room with people or he will be sick. He simply cannot understand human emotions. He never allows his parents to touch his hands. He cannot understand any facial expression except “sad” and “happy”. His most beautiful dream is apocalypse. His world is completely abstract. He adores math. He is a math genius, indeed. Math is his looking glass through which the whole world is reflected. Therefore he loves the truth and cannot understand lies. He hates metaphors because there is no math and truth in them, but he likes similes because they are mathematically possible. If he hears a lie he will feel sick.

One night, Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog killed by a garden fork and he decides to find the murderer. Christopher’s Sherlock Holmes’ adventure leads to the dark realities of his own life: that his mother is not dead, and that his father had lied to him because mother left them “to do sex with another man”. Christopher is sick because he has been lied to. He should leave father because father has lied, and it is not possible to live with someone who has lied. “Father might kill him.” So he leaves their small town to find his mum in London. And so the journey begins. To get to his mum, Christopher needs to pass through everything he hates. Crowds, closed spaces full of people, filled with strangers, strangers with different facial expressions. He cannot get it. His mind cannot solve all this not-Math.

The beauty of the novel is Mark Haddon’s striking ability to write about the inner life of someone suffering from autism. Apart from that, Christopher represents any child who has to deal with the implications of living with a single parent.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” is a good read. The prose is easy, and the plot is very absorbing. However one weak point it that Haddon, at one point, forces his way into Christopher’s mind and, in a chapter hardly relevant to the events of the plot or to Christopher’s concerns, announces his being an atheist. Another weak point is lack of one epiphanic ending, which could be very suitable for such a well-writ novel.

My Rating Out of 10:
Mark Haddon; “The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”: 6.5


From now on, I will include some sort of rating (out of 10) for the books that I read. Here, thus, I include the ratings of the previous novels that I reviewed on the blog. Note that the ratings are impressionistic.

Don Delillo; “The Falling Man”: 5.5
Jean Dominique Bauby; “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”: 10
Chuck Palahniuk; “Snuff”: 4.5
Yann Martel; “Life of Pi”: 9.0
Chuck Palahniuk; “The Guts”: 7
Chuck Palahniuk; “Choke”: 8.5
Grahame Greene; “The Quiet American”: 7
Jean Paul Sartre; “Nausea”: 10
Junot Diaz; “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”: 9.5

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Silver Crossing Blue

“The Falling Man” is a post-9/11 novel by Don Delillo, the accomplished American novelist. The Falling Man, originally, is the title of the famous photograph taken by Richard Drew at 9:41 on Sep 11, 2001. The picture, over the years, has become the emblem of the horrors of 9/11 and consequently has inspired several artists.

Don Delillo’s novel, “The Falling Man” does not directly deal with its title. In fact the novel is the story of a number of people, including one of the terrorists, two of the survivors who used to work in the Towers, one survivor’s wife, and a performance artist who plays the Falling Man in different spots in New York in order to shock people.

The focus of “The Falling Man”, however, is on two major characters: Keith, a survivor, and his wife Lianne. Keith is a pathetic and alienated man who escapes the falling Towers and seeing his apartment destroyed, he goes back to his estranged wife, Lianne. Keith’s life, following the attacks, is never like the life before. He leaves his job and starts touring different casinos, playing cards and gambling, putting his life in risk, while having an affair with another survivor, a woman called Florence. Keith, thus, is the real falling man of the novel. Lianne on the other hand, is trying to gradually adapt to the life without the Towers and all, trying to get used to the new life the way it was “before the planes appeared that day, silver crossing blue.”

Searching for a good post-9/11 novel, I found “The Falling Man” as the best yet-to-be written. However after reading it and surfing about other works written on the subject, I found out that the perfect 9/11 work has not been produced yet. As New York Times review points out, Don Delillo’s “The Falling Man” does not deeply depict one true victim, one which a real survivor reading the novel can identify with. Keith is a falling man indeed, but just an ordinary loser we see every day. The character of Keith does not show the immense alienation; one which a devastating tragedy like 9/11 can produce.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


-When you live so far from home, like nine million damn kilometers far, and then the embassy of your own nation in that end-of-the-world does not feel like Home; then what is it the time for?

-It is the time for the last brick of your nation to fall on the last bloody moron who calls himself a 'nationalist.'

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"I must have butterfly hearing"

A Locked-in-syndrome is a rare medical condition in which the patient goes completely paralyzed and yet with an intact functioning of the brain, the patient feels the world just as any else would, but he/she would be unable to move a single limb or utter a sound of any sort. According to the medics, the locked-in-syndrome is "the closest thing to being buried alive".

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is an autobiography by Jean Dominique Bauby, the chief editor of the French magazine Elle, who suffered a stroke in 1995 and was diagnosed with a locked-in-syndrome following a coma. Bauby was left completely paralyzed on a hospital bed for the last two years of his life with his left eye his one and only means of communication with the outside world. And it was this very left eye of his, which reflected one of the best autobiographies you would ever read in your whole life. Yes indeed: with the help of a speech therapist Bauby could write this book by blinks of his left eye and signalling the alphabets.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is the diary of a man who was indeed “buried alive”, and that is why most readers would expect this book to be a dismal elegy of a man who probably wishes to die every second of his vegetable-life. However, it is not so. Not at all. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is the book which makes you appreciate life fully and celebrate its every minute. This book simply makes you want to take in as much of life as possible. Although Jean Dominique Bauby had, very rightfully so, his moments of depression, nostalgia, and unbearable agony, he was at the end of the day so very full of life force.

He narrates the delightful events of his past life in a very nostalgic tone at times “like a story teller exhuming the legends of a lost civilization,” (86) and he is all filled with regret and remorse of why he did not take in as much of life as he could have. He feels “...remorse for lost opportunities... the women we were unable to live, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away.” (94)

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is book that we should read to learn that life is beautiful and worthy of living for, to learn the lesson that we never tend to learn: to appreciate health and happiness. Take your time and read the following passage from the book. This is written by a man who, I think sort of literally, is “buried alive” but does not give up to fly the butterfly of his mind:

In my dreams “I am occasionally a Formula one driver. That mysterious white racer without a brand name, a number, or commercial advertisements is me. Stretched out on my bed – I mean, in my cockpit – I hurl myself into the corners, my head, weighed down by the helmet, wrenched painfully by the gravitational pull. I have also been cast as a soldier in a TV series, turned back the invading Arabs at Poitiers, helped Napoleon to victory, and survived Verdun. Since I have just been wounded in the D-day landings, I cannot swear that I will join the airdrop into Dien Bien Phu. Under the physical therapist’s gaze, I am a Tour de France long shot on the verge of pulling off a record-setting victory. Success soothes my aching muscles. I am a phenomenal downhill skier. I can still hear the roar of the crowd on the slope and the singing of the wind in my ears. I was miles ahead of the favourites. I swear!” (117)

I do recommend this very touching and memorable short autobiography to you, and in the end I would like to dedicate the following lovely two passage from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” to my friends who are reading this review. In the first extract Jean Dominique is glorifying the value of friendship and friends while talking about the letters he receives from his friends regularly:

“.... I hoard all these letters like treasure. One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship. It will keep the vultures at bay.” (84)

“... when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for the wing-beats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out. This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better. I must have butterfly hearing.” (97)

Jean Dominique Bauby died in March 1997, two days after the publication of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly".

Saturday, October 04, 2008

600 dudes... one gal

“Snuff” is the title of the latest novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The main plot is inspired by Annabel Chong. But who is she?

Annabel Chong was born and raised in Singapore. She was a student at Raffles Girls' school and Hwa Chong Junior College before going on to study law in London under a scholarship. At the age of 21, she went on to graduate studies in photography, art, and feminist studies at the University of Southern California (USC), where she excelled academically. Chong went on to graduate work in gender studies at USC and currently works in California as an IT programmer. However what makes this feminist famous and an inspiration for a novel is not her remarkable academic record. Annabel Chong is one the biggest porn stars in the history of American pornography. She became famous for engaging in 251 sex acts with about 70 men over a ten-hour period in January 1995.

Annabel Chong claimed to be a feminist who sought to demonstrate that a female has the right to show off as a man does; that a female has the right to be a “stud” and not a “slut”. However for Palahniuk, Chong’s famous movie was “The top-selling porn video of all time: a feminist history lesson lost on countless willy-wankers.” (96)

Chuck Palahniuk’s “Snuff” hovers around Cassie Wright, the porn queen, and her new world record, engaging 600 men in a porn movie in a period of one day. The novel is narrated by four characters. Actors, Mr. 72; Mr. 137, Mr. 600, and Sheila; Cassie’s secretary.

Palahniuk is a transgressional satirist who has attacked the materialistic consumer culture in America several times in his fiction. “Snuff” is no exception. Palahniuk digs deep into layers of his culture to see what pornography has done to people, ranging from the porn stars themselves to the simple teenage “willy-wankers” who consume the porn products.

“Snuff” is surely not the novel you’d expect from Palahniuk. The novel lacks those brilliant epiphanies which are typical of Palahniuk’s verse. Impressionistically speaking, it is not the sort of novel you’d sit down to finish in one go. However there are elements of pure human emotion, like the reflections of Mr. 600, the veteran actor, when he thinks of his first real love; when he didn’t have to fuck like animals, “porking and banging and slamming,” for the sake of HD porn DVD, “... but more like our skin was having a conversation.” (157). Elsewhere, in the soliloquy of Mr. 72 we get to this dark and ironic reflection: “Anytime you need to watch somebody die, die for real, check out how they get their orgasm at the end of a porn.” (178)

I would like to finish with an impressive extract from “Snuff”. It is a part in which Mr. 173 is thinking about Marilyn Monroe, the celebrated American Hollywood icon and sex symbol. As the background information, you should know that Marilyn Monroe went under the pseudonym “Zelda Zonk” at some occasions. Zelda, according to Wikipedia means “female warrior".

“Lying naked, drugged to escape the pain, buried in ice for hours, gave Monroe the solid stand-up tits and ass she wanted for day’s work ...... Monroe dreamed of being respected, an intellectual like Arthur Miller, a respected Stanislavsky trained actor. A dignified human being. That’s who Monroe would become as she travelled without make up, without designer clothes borrowed from a movie studio, with her famous hair tied under a scarf, hiding behind horn-rimmed reading glasses. It was that plain, intelligent, educated actress who called herself Zelda Zonk. When she booked airplane tickets or registered in hotels. Zelda Zonk. Who read books. Who collected art. That was who Marilyn Monroe, the blonde sex goddess, dreamed of being.” (183)