Book Review: The Woman with the Bouquet by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

In his new collection of stories, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, author of The Most Beautiful Book in the World, probes the paradox that the events that shape our lives are often the stuff of dreams, yet nonetheless true. Humor, tenderness, irony, and exquisite writing have always been the hallmarks of Schmitt’s work. Here, he adds a pinch of philosophy.

In one story, a lovelorn writer seeks refuge in Ostende, a remote and charming town on the North Sea. His host is a solitary and eccentric octogenarian. The fairy-tale setting starts to work its magic and the old woman begins to tell her tale—an extraordinary story of passion. Bewitched by what he hears, the writer can no longer distinguish what is real from what is not, and in the woman’s account he will finally find a response to his own deep-seated grief. Here, as in the other stories in this collection, Schmitt displays the combination of stylishness and insight into the human condition that prompted Kirkus Reviews to write of his tales that they “echo Maupassant’s with their lean narratives, surprise endings, mordant humor and psychological acuity.”

It is said that there’s no creature that does not try to escape reality. There isn’t a living thing endowed with a central nervous system that does not dream. The brain is what is called an exclusion system: its purpose is to decide what information is important and what is not. There is so much information in the world that we’d go mad if we tried to understand it all.

What does this have to do with this collection of short stories?

Well, because the characters in each of the stories have this in common: they want to escape reality, they are looking for a shelter against it. If you ever felt this gnawing sense of fear at the thought that you are simply waiting for life to happen to you, if you daydreamed to the point of it becoming an obsession, then this is the book for you.

Reality cannot be negotiated with, but our imagination can be bargained with; our dreams can show us a world that will never come true.

But that never stopped us from dreaming and wishing our dreams would, somehow, come true.

The Woman with the Bouquet is one of the most intriguing compilations of short stories I have ever read.

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Book Review: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago

A brilliant skeptic, José Saramago envisions the life of Jesus Christ and the story of his Passion as things of this earth: A child crying, the caress of a woman half asleep, the bleat of a goat, a prayer uttered in the grayish morning light. His idea of the Holy Family reflects the real complexities of any family, and as only Saramago can, he imagines them with tinges of vision, dream, and omen. The result is a deft psychological portrait that moves between poetry and irony, spirituality and irreverence of a savior who is at once the Son of God and a young man. In this provocative, tender novel, the subject of wide critical discussion and wonder, Saramago questions the meaning of God, the foundations of the Church, and human existence itself.

 

Nobel Laureate José Saramago is a titan of literature. The quality, originality, and importance of his writings cannot be denied. yet this might be the most controversial of all his novels.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is the kind of novel that will make a lot of people want to throw stones at him. Maybe.

Yes, Saramago is incredibly ironic all through this story, yes, he’s incredibly sarcastic when it comes to the rules passed down by some divine power. It is the human aspect of Jesus that he describes wonderfully.

Blasphemy?

Maybe. Who knows? Continue reading Book Review: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago

Book Review: Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk

The title is self-explanatory. Chuck Palahniuk, the literary god of transgressive fiction, who kind of forgot how to write great novels somewhere in 2009 with the release of Pygmy, tries to shock the reader even more with a bunch of short stories that should act as some sort of parables somehow… I think.

Don’t get me wrong. Chuck is still one of my favorite writers. There are a bunch of brilliant novels, some fantastic short stories, and I will always be fond of passages that made me laugh out loud or truly ponder over for weeks. But… but…

That’s the word. But. Continue reading Book Review: Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk

Book Review: The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela

Camilo Jose Cela once said, “I’m translated – what can I do about it- in every language, and I have never received an award.” Of course, he was being his usual self, witty and a bit arrogant, because he did receive awards. Virtually every single award he was entitled to: The Nobel Prize, Cervantes, Premio de Principe Asturias, and many more.

A controversial figure, especially during his later years, Cela has never been afraid to experiment with his stories. The Hive, arguably his masterpiece, introduces the reader to Spain during Franco’s regime, to a world rendered with uncanny precision. There are no heroes, no villains, nothing extraordinary happening. It’s just life, and the realism, the mundane is shockingly powerful in this novel. Continue reading Book Review: The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela

Book Review: Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut

From Amazon.com:

In this series of perfectly rendered vignettes, written just as he was starting to find his comic voice, Kurt Vonnegut paints a warm, wise, and funny portrait of life in post–World War II America—a world where squabbling couples, high school geniuses, misfit office workers, and small-town lotharios struggle to adapt to changing technology, moral ambiguity, and unprecedented affluence. 

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the best writers of the last hundred years. Probably better than most of the literary establishment ever gave him credit.

Why? Continue reading Book Review: Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

First of all, I’d say that this book should be read by the open minded, by those who can accept certain views and theories about us that not everyone can stomach. From sexuality to economics to religion and almost everything in between, Sapiens is the kind of book that challenges your beliefs about what it means to be human.

It is a refreshing read. It is quite interesting. And it is well worth a try.

Of course, like I previously said, there are parts in this book that you’ll wish wouldn’t be true. That the society we built for ourselves is far from perfect, far from ideal, and that we are still to understand who we were and how we ended up being who we are now.

Book Review: The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit by Sylvia Plath

A children’s story by Sylvia Plath which was found in manuscript form after her death. Max Nix lives with his mama and papa and six brothers in a small village called Winkelburg. Max longs for a suit – not just a workaday suit, but one for doing everything. One day, a mysterious parcel arrives.

Her journals indicate it was written before the birth of her first child, Frieda, back in 1959, it wasn’t until 1996 that the tale saw the light of day with its first — and only — publication, featuring wonderful illustrations by German graphic designer and artist Rotraut Susanne Berner.

I believe that children’s stories are the most difficult to write. There are children’s stories that are, in essence, philosophical treatises, and adults would have a lot to learn by reading them. Continue reading Book Review: The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit by Sylvia Plath