OK, this is not literary; the prose is workmanlike, the dialogue has lines like, "What?" and "Shit!" But then again it's a book about (and intended to create in the reader) disbelief and shock; a complete page-turner. The first half of the book represents the author's meteoric rise in the land of high finance in Russia, as he makes money hand over fist for the clients of his fund (Hermitage). But the wheels come off when he won't buckle under to the corruption (as in a $230 million fraud) that threatens to wipe out his profits; he and his staff are threatened and, finally, his lawyer is taken into jail and tortured to death. At that point, the book changes gears, and it becomes about Browder's fight to have Sergei Magnitsky's story heard and to have it make a difference. There's sort of a happy ending (SPOILER) in that there is some new accountability, in the form of a law signed into law by Barack Obama, to punish the Russians who perpetrated the crimes; this all takes place on an international stage. I had no idea that Putin's law about Americans not being allowed to adopt Russian orphans derived from this tangle. But if even half of what Browder wrote about Russia, the press, the coverups, and the willful denial and disavowal that happens in that country is true, it reads like 1984 on steroids. I read it in two days.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
I'm usually a sucker for anything Victorian, but this one didn't grab me. In fact I'd probably give this closer to 2.5 stars. I guess my lukewarm feeling is because this feels half-mystery novel/half-fantasy ... perhaps partly because nearly every character is half-human/half-monster. We've got a bearded lady with an appendage that sticking out of her chest, the eponymous giant who communicates by writing on a slate (in misspellings) and can survive having swords stuck through him, a human fly, and (SPOILER ALERT) S.T. Coleridge appearing, like Frankenstein's monster, having been stitched up and reanimated by some mysterious green substance, just in time for the apocalyptic scene at the end. Not that Victorian England didn't have its horrors, certainly, but I like my Victorian fictional world to have the feel of the real. But Barnes is a good writer, has a wonderful facility with language, I was often wowed by his turn of phrase. I would certainly give him another shot.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
I read this in one night; it's quick and well-written. A painful and at times heartbreaking story about a family, the members of which leave some crucial things unsaid at important moments. An Asian man and a white woman with children who just don't fit in, in a small midwest town in the 1970s. The most painful moment for me is when the daughter fakes talking to "friends" on the phone, so that her father won't know she doesn't have any--because her being popular is so important to him. The enormous gaps between what the parents think they know about the kids and the truths (and vice versa) are alarming and, in the end, tragic. (I'm not spoiling anything ... you know the daughter dies on page one.)
I'm a sucker for any historical mystery, and this one was just plain fun, sardonic, with good period details and some interesting plot twists. Set in early 1700s London, it's told first-person by a rake, who drinks too much, constantly gets himself in trouble by provoking the wrong people in the worst sections of town, and is in love with a profane and clever owner of a printshop that specializes in porn.
Enjoyed this debut novel, told as a collection of legal memos, emails, lists, legal documents, etc. Yes, I found myself skimming some of the long legal documents that only supported the more accessible cover memos, for example. But I found parts of it touching, much of it wry. There's one primary divorce--an acrimonious one between a high-end doctor and his brilliant, funny wife (who comes off as the Good one, pretty unambiguously) that is largely concerned with the custody of their 11-year-old daughter Jane--but there are quite a few others too, so there's a kaleidoscope effect: Sophie's own parents were divorced; her current boyfriend is actually married and separated and seeking a divorce; the high-end doctor has been divorced before ... plus there are plenty of references to adultery, etc. Reminded me a bit of DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, or I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT. The book covers a serious topic, with a slightly breezy and literary treatment. (No surprise that she's a lawyer and David Denby's better half.)