Sunday, 19 July 2009

Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Review originally posted on Fbook
An incredible piece of writing. I was intrigued by the author when hearing him on a World Service Radio show saying he took 9 years to write this even though it is quite short. Also the host of the show said it was her favourite work of 2007.

I can see what she meant. Reading it it seems that every word, phrase and image has been thought over and is there for a purpose. Almost like a prose poem. Taking the form of a single character monologue in real time, a young Pakistani addresses a shadowy American (tourist, agent, soldier?) as dusk turns to night.

The format of the monologue is quite Russian but two of my favourite recent Scottish novels also adopt this structure: How late it was how late and Filth.

Ostensibly a narration about disillusionment with the West and human relations in the wake of the 11th September bombings it actually reveals much more. Damaged people, the nature of writing, the instability of finance capital (quite prescient on that one), the nature of hierarchies both past and present are all examined. And in a sense that is just scratching the surface.

The "platypus" (quote from book) form of the novella works to perfection here. The underlying danger, the build up of tension and the ambiguous ending brought to mind other current works of fiction most notably the excellent final episode of the Sopranos.
Only his second work too, impressive

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Iain M Banks : Matter

There is some climax in this book spread over the last two chapters. They put the whole narrative in a real context.
I think context is a central theme here for banks - using the space opera format he can contrast a feudal society functioning on an artificial planet with other civilisations including obviously the Culture. Although the primitive society is aware of the others it simply doesnt care! A bit of a parallel with the arrogance of current societies across the globe.

It's not completely original though the idea of an individual coming from a sleepy society to experience the wider world or universe is a common in sci/fi - fantasy - think of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings or Luke in Star Wars. Here you have three who make the journey - Holse, Ferbin and Analpin

Other positives are the amount of big ideas looked at - interventionism in other wars/societies, the possibilites of complete destruction, the petty rivalries of different communities the nature of hierarchies, the length of time in space Again Banks always does this well in his sci-fi much better than his mainstream work, although I thought he had covered much of this ground in other works
Also as a Culture novel - people not familiar with it - probably would find this one a wee bit difficult as the first taste; it is again on the fringes of the Culture - the edges where they battle and intervene with other rivals.

So overall good - I liked the ending, some of the other civilisations introduced were good. I thought some of the passages set in feudal Sarl dragged a little though arguably I can see why this was done - makes the ending a little more shocking. But I did get the sense some of it was a bit of a retread - there is actually quite a telling interview with Banks at end of paperback where he admits he did go through a period of doubting whether he had the ideas to maintain writing sci-fi. I am not sure how many more of these epic works he will be able to do.