Monday, 21 July 2014

Not Books V


TV Shows-

 The Simpsons- Season Two (1990-1991) & The Simpsons- Season Three (1991-1992)

My soon-to-be-epic trawl through quite probably the best television show of all time continues very happily. The jump from seasons one to two was noticeable; the animation noticably improved in quality (though the colouring is still a little duller than later seasons) and the tone shifts, as the show mostly abandons the extreme, depressive blues of the first season (where Lisa was a manic depressive and Homer decided to tie a rock around his leg and jump off a bridge). I can only presume that was mandated by Fox in light of the show's obvious popularity. Nevertheless, as we all know The Simpsons moved on with a flourish, coming up with more imaginative episodes and popularising dozens of new characters.

My favourite episode from season two is the classic Bart the Daredevil, most famous for the scene where Homer accidentally tries to jump Springfield gorge, though it's a tough call between that and Treehouse of Horror. I love Treehouse of Horror episodes. Moving on to season three and things kept on rolling,  with episodes getting funnier and even more well-plotted. Every episode is fantastic and there are numerous classics, such as Treehouse of Horror II, Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington and Flaming Moe's to mention just a few (the latter being my favourite, if I had a gun to my head).

True Detective (2013)

I head about this show's solid reputation and had to check it out, and it delivered massively. The consensus I see generally online and that I agree with is that the first few episodes are a little slow but allow Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey's amazing performances to shape two very memorable characters. Then when the plot events really start kicking in it's a bit of a roller-coaster towards the great conclusion. I think the slightly slow start where I wasn't too sure what to make of the very first episode was really down to my familiarity with more typical episodic detective show formats- like Luther, for example, where a crime is solved over the course of only one or two episodes. True Detective avoided the trap of stretching events into an inaccessible maze of clues and suspects by concentrating on the lives of the two protagonists, making me feel very emotionally invested in them. This combined with great writing and even greater performances had me binge-watching the second half of the series.

At it's heart the first season of True Detective is a fairly traditional buddy cop story, surrounded by a measured southern gothic style. It features one maverick detective and his more grounded partner, and, by the end, hits all the expected cliches of the genre in the most dramatic ways possible. I'm eagerly awaiting details of season two and its entirely new set of characters and location.

Films-

 The Lego Movie (2013)

Joining the ranks of everybody else in the world, I saw and really enjoyed The Lego Movie. I'm a harsh critic of CGI kids features like the kind churned out by Dreamworks, but The Lego Movie was genuinely funny from start to finish, helped largely in part by the smart use of various famous lego licenses, Batman in particular. I liked the Orwellian theme (book references!) to the plot, as even though there's nothing completely original about this movie the context of it makes it seem fresh and energetic. Other than that there's not much I have to say about it, aside from related to the revelatory live action scenes that turns the film into a piece of meta-fiction. Personally I didn't like it because it seemed so forced and, to me, unnecessary, but then this film wasn't made for people my age.

DoA: Dead or Alive (2006)

I don't think I've ever played a single edition of the Dead or Alive 3-D fighting video game series upon which this film is based on, but I was a big fan of another fighting series also adapted into a film. The original Mortal Kombat (1995) film had all the ingredients of being awful but somehow turned into a B-movie classic (well, by my definition), and over the years I'd heard from plenty of people that DoA was very similar, so I had to watch it.

The fighting tournament plot is as wafer thin as Mortal Kombat was, but the key to the film is how endearing (or accurately satirical) the characters are, and these didn't match up to that despite a good effort. Most of the acting is completely diabolical, and the script is all over the place, but there's a weird sort of stream of consciousness feel to everything that's happening that made it a bit fascinating to me. The fight scenes are fun, if not serious, and the characters are kind of likable. Plus Kevin Nash is in it, which was enough to make me rate it full stop. 

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

When I first saw this in the cinema, I was thoroughly disappointed, so I never saw it since. Then my recent run of classic TV Simpsons gave me this stupid sense of optimism that it might not be that bad; no, The Simpsons Movie was actually worse this time. Sure it looks great, like any such feature film should, but that was literally it for me. The jokes were unfunny, the characterisation was completely and utterly random, and it felt completely disconnected from The Simpsons that I know and love. Here's an analogy, you know how the first Land Before Time was a genuine animated children's classic, and every one of the sequels was a soulless Satan-produced piece of exploitative crap? This was like that but in reverse. I would try and make this review longer but I just don't care about that movie.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Though I haven't got around to seeing the newer Joss Wheedon version of Shakespeare's famous comedy, I did find the time to re-watch the Kenneth Brannagh version, for the first time since an English class in college far too many years ago. While I'm admittedly not really a Shakespeare fan (or of theater in general), being forced to study Much Ado About Nothing made me quite enjoy it, as did seeing this movie. Brannagh assembled an intriguing selection of name actors to perform in this colourful, relatively big budget movie. Some of them are superb; Brannagh himself and his then-wife Emma Thompson as quarreling would-be lovers Beatrice and Bennedick are completely sublime throughout, and are key to the whole movie in engaging a contemporary audience through their heartfelt renditions of the unedited playscript.

Denzil Washington is very good as Don Jon, as are Richard Briers and Brian Blessed (a UK national treasure). Less impressive are emotionless robot Keanu Reeves, Michal Keaton (Constable Dogberry on crystal meth), and future House co-star Robert Sean Leonard, whose teary-eyed speeches and emotional ranting is amazingly bad. Still, for me the good performances outweighed the bad, and ultimately manage to pull off what's really quite a silly plot without becoming boring.

Video Games-

 Pokemon Emerald (2004)

I very much enjoyed the first two generations of Pokemon games, Red/Blue and Gold/Silver, back in the day, so it was only natural that it took me literally ten years to get around to playing one of the next games in the series. I suppose a lot of that was down to reluctance to commit myself to a game sure to massively suck up all my free time as its predecessors did, especially with the addition of another hundred (I think, research is overrated) new Pokemon to capture in tiny balls and force to brutally attack each other. In the end it was watching some Pokemon anime that put me back in the mood to explore the Pokemon universe. despite the massive threat to my personal life.

The most notable immediate change is the graphical upgrade, taking advantage of the Game Boy Advance's superior hardware to provide a much more colourful cartoon world. It's nothing breathtaking (especially now in 2014) but it was a pleasure to experience the classic gameplay in a much clearer way. Unfortunately I kind of hit a wall shortly after starting, where I was so unimpressed by the few new low-level ground Pokemon available to catch early on that I nearly lost interest altogether. I understand that every Pokemon game requires the player to go out and establish a really low-level team to start with, but developers Game Freak could've alleviated the pain somewhat by making more of the previous generation Pokemon more prevalent, and this includes the Pokemon that enemy trainers use- I got very quickly sick of having to kill Poochyenas, for example.

I pushed on a built a much better team, and the game began to open up a little more. The gameplay in general is mostly exactly the same; travel through wild areas to capture Pokemon, make them fight over and over and over and over and over again, then use them to beat enemy trainers and gym leaders, who'll inevitably give you helpful rewards that let you progress to the next town. I became heavily addicted and spent far too much time leveling up my chosen Pokemon until I finally beat the Elite Four and won the Pokemon league, something which really would've been harder if the game hadn't let me find a Master Ball (catch anything first time if you didn't know) and let me face a level 70 legendary Pokemon two thirds into it.

Still, it was lots of addictive fun. I had to force myself to stop playing after completing the main quest, for the sake of my personal life. Long gone are the days where I'd sit with my classic Game Boy for hours at a time trying to get every Pokemon on my team to level 100, thank god.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Phillip Pullman- Grimm Tales

Grimm Tales
Penguin Classics

Phillip Pullman
2012

“The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put robin redbreast in a cage.”

I have the greatest respect for Phillip Pullman, almost entirely thanks to the brilliance of his YA fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials (my favourite trilogy of any), and so anything new by the author is an instant must read. The aforementioned trilogy built Pullman's reputation as a man who revels in incorporating aspects of classic literature (particularly romanticism such as the poetry of William Blake, or Paradise Lost) to shock and captivate his contemporary audience, which is why I was so intrigued by his last novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ where he endeavored to reshape the origins of Christianity itself. Unfortunately for me and, it seems, most other critics, that book ended up as a bit of a mess; self-absorbed, meandering, and not particularly interesting. Pullman's next project (and I use that word specifically, since this definitely isn't a novel) was a very similar proposition, only this time avoiding the multilayered controversy of Jesus for a different kind of human belief system; fairy tales.
 
Grimm Tales for Young and Old, to give it its full title, was a project offered to Pullman by book publishers Pelican, one that he simply couldn't resist; the opportunity to rewrite (or, as Pullman himself puts it, 'curate') a new edition of the definitive piece of children's literature, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm's Grimm's Fairy Tales. As Pullman explains in the entertaining introduction, his task consisted of first picking a selection of favourite and most relevant stories from the original Grimm collections, then comparing and contrasting each one to similar archetypes published across world literature, and finally writing the purest version of the tale possible. Pullman's stated goal was to deconstruct the elements of each fairy tale, tidy up some of the messier, nonsensical plot details, and put it back all together in such a manner as to embrace the basic, most important features of the genre, and that's exactly what he does.

As a result, Phillip Pullman fans (including myself) likely can't help but feel a little disappointed that his Grimm Tales aren't quite what they could have been; in an ideal world this would be Pullman using his own imagination to take these stories in wild directions and it would've been fabulous etc., but that's not what he was trying to do. There are fifty different Grimm's tales, each of them curtly narrated in a traditional style that's only occasionally betrayed by the author's personality. They're all by nature short, and of varying degrees of interest and fame. After each one Pullman gives a paragraph or two of his thoughts about the story structure and morality aspects. Initially I attempted to read through the book as I would any novel, but after two hundred pages (roughly half way) my tolerance for fairy tales fell to basically nothing, and I had to put it down and read something else (which led to The Country of Last Things). When I resumed it, it became a struggle to pay attention to the later tales, such was their apparant repetition and general demeanor.

At the crux of it is this; despite having Phillip Pullman's name in big letters on the cover, and despite it being entirely written by Phillip Pullman, Grimm Tales is a perfuntory rewrite that essentially looks nice on your bookshelf without offering much of its own substance; if a reader wants to read the classic Grimm's stories then the originals are not hard to come by, and there's just nowhere near enough original input from Pullman to justify buying it to enjoy his writing. It's probably quite a nifty reference tool, but beyond that doesn't offer much more as a vanity project. In its defence I was amused by some of the stories thanks to the well-constructed prose, but it wasn't enough for me to enjoy the experience overall. Having said that, I'll probably keep it since it looks nice on my bookshelf.\

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Paul Auster- In the Country of Last Things

In the Country of Last Things
Faber & Faber

Paul Auster
1987


"The closer you come to the end, the more there is to say. The end is only imaginery, a destination you invent to keep yourself going, but a point comes when you realize you will never get there. You might have to stop, but that is only because you have run out of time. You stop, but that does not mean you have come to the end."

I had great expectations coming in to this very distinctive early Paul Auster novel, since like most people on the Internet I love a good piece of dystopian post-apocalyptic end-of-days fiction. In the Country of Last Things is an incredibly bleak story full of misery and death, set in a world with just the right balance of mystery and detail. Auster's heroin,, Anna, narrates in the form of a letter where she tells the story of her attempt to find her brother William in the decaying metropolis of an unnamed city. In this world society has crumbled as the earth has turned on the human race, with food and energy resources rapidly diminishing countless are dead, as the survivors desperately cling on to some semblance of civilisation. From the very first pages it was clear that Auster's dedication to establishing the tone of this world meant that his usual style of prose would also change.
 
I breezed through the book across a couple of days, captivated by this dying, polluted world, and aided by the familiarity I have with good dystopian survival horror narratives. I think it's clear that Auster was writing a form of genre fiction here. He made his name writing on the surface a form of genre fiction with The New York Trilogy (most specifically the first part; City of Glass) where he created a detective story with all the usual trimmings only viewed through a kaleidoscope. Only it was more than that somehow, a unique, mind-bending experience that reveled in messing with the familiar. I mention all this because In  the Country of Last Things, for better or worse, is not a genre-defying post-modern mindfuck, but is *simply* an excellent normal piece of genre fiction. I suppose I find that slightly disappointing thanks to my expectations of the author, to be honest.

Auster being Auster, there was no way that certain examples of his favourite literary themes wouldn't feature. As always Auster is fixated on the concept of identity, which in the book is under threat on a ubiquitous scale as the human race in the eyes of Anna seem to constantly be losing theirs. The title of the book itself refers to this, the 'last things' representing the final resting place of human culture. At one point in the book Anna is aghast when a man she meets has never heard of an airplane. In a more general sense, concepts such as charity and friendship are dying out in the face of pure despair, The term is cliche, but I found it to be very, very Orwellian altogether, with the main difference between this and Nineteen Eighty Four being the infirmity of the crumbling society. It has the same kind of hopelessness occasionally very slightly permeated by a drop of optimism.

Ultimately though, after having time to ponder it it's impossible for me not to conclude that In the Country of Last Things doesn't have the same depth that I've come to expect from Auster. It's streamlined, minimised prose does firmly establish it in its genre and I really did care to find out Anna's fate, but the lack of detail left me feeling unfulfilled upon the conclusion. Auster usually revels in exploring his ideas and creations from unexpected perspectives, offering stories-within-stories that melt into each other to create one undefinable whole, and I love how the ideas linger in my mind afterwards. I simply didn't get that with this book; it's very good for what it is but it's not really that much more complicated than The Road, for example. There's lots of edginess that gave me the feeling that this was a young author determined to follow his debut impact with something equally anti-cultural, but I think it was quickly proven by his next book Moon Palace that his real legacy would come from focusing on what obviously came naturally to him.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

R.K. Narayan- The Guide

The Guide
Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics

R.K. Narayan
1958

"He got down from his pedestal; that was the first step to take. That seat had acquired a glamour, and as long as he occupied it people would not listen to him as to an ordinary mortal. He now saw the enormity of his own creation. He had created a giant with his puny self, a throne of authority with that slab of stone."

I've been thinking a lot recently about my own personal reading landscape, and of other people's in general. I try to visualise it as some sort of weird amorphous blob, growing larger and murkier each time I successfully add something new to its context; recently that's been a case of examining the familiar by trying to fully complete reading the bibliographies of some of my favourite authors. Auster is the most common of late, and in my look at Moon Palace I halfheartedly looked at the concept of increased fulfillment based on familiarity and the mostly safe exploration found when sticking to a particular author. I've really enjoyed reading lots of Auster and Terry Pratchett recently and I definitely appreciate being able to sharpen my understanding of their work, but sometimes it can be more interesting looking at something new. Reading R.K. Narayan's The Guide was my attempt to take a quick break from indulging in the comfortable favourites by tackling a novel exploring a culture and emanating froma time that I'm only marginally familiar with.

Published only ten years after Britain gave India back its independence, The Guide is a prime example of classic post-colonial literature, as a work of fiction encapsulating a rapidly changing time and place where two old and established cultures merged to create an initially strange amalgam. My only experiences with Southeast Asian literature come from the genetically very English Rudyard Kipling (I read the two standards, The Jungle Book and Kim many years ago) and other Western interpretations (Orwell's Burmese Days comes to mind), so The Guide was a new experience that felt, to me at least, somewhat more legitimate in a way. Handily, R.K. Narayan wrote his fiction directly in English, giving me a first-hand version of the world he was presenting. Yay for post-colonialism.

R.K. Narayan
I was a little apprehensive beforehand that I might struggle to connect with literature from such a mostly different culture (in terms of their classical literature), but I found The Guide to be a superb story, brilliantly controlled and paced by an author with a superb knowledge of story-structure, in a manner that couldn't help but make me think of the greats of eighteenth century English literature (Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley, curiously)- regularly switching from the past to the present of Raju, the central character, and switching from omnipresent narration to first person in doing so, all putting Raju's tribulations into context. At the start of the book Narayan introduces Raju as a corrupt tour guide in the fictional city of Malgudi who has just been released from a two-year prison sentence, and is then mistaken for a Ghandi-like spiritual leader by a local simpleton named Velen. Having established the set-up, Narayan switches between the present, where Raju begins to reluctantly accept his unexpected new life, and the past, as Raju narrates to Velen the story of how he ended up in prison.

Raju's account of his past fills the bulk of the book (which is a short novel at roughly only 200 pages), and is an engaging human drama where Raju the corrupt guide falls in love with a married woman named Rosie, and dedicates himself to fulfilling her dream of becoming a famous dancer. I found Raju to be a compelling character thanks to Narayan's flowing portrayal of his determination, anger and craftiness. Narayan's prose is not overly complicated or flowery, but strikes a careful balance between relatable drama and a fable-like tone that both compares and contrasts with Raju's spiritual rebirth to give the prose a gravitas that glued my eyes to the page. Ultimately the story narrows into Raju facing the greatest challenge of his life, embracing his new role as spiritual guide, with his secret history creating a deep character on the verge of reaching his own transcendence.

The Guide is a book I'm sure will linger with me, thanks to its powerful, very well-crafted narrative and refined main character. It isn't a book that tries to answer any of life's great mysteries, but instead explores the range of complex experiences and emotions that can shape a person into something unrecognisable to others.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 20- Hogfather

Hogfather
Corgi Press
 Terry Pratchett
1996

Other Terry Pratchett Reviews- The Colour of Magic - The Light Fantastic - Equal Rites - Mort - Sourcery - Wyrd Sisters - Pyramids - Guards! Guards! - Eric - Moving Pictures - Reaper Man - Witches Abroad - Small GodsLords and Ladies - Men At Arms - Soul Music - Interesting Times - Maskerade - Feet of Clay - Raising Steam - A Blink of the Screen - Sky1 Adaptations- Dodger - The Long Earth (w Stephen Baxter)


“Some things are fairly obvious when it's a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe telling you them”

After a break from the Discworld series following my first review of a new installment with Raising Steam, I return to my crawling series of reviews, half-way through the series- unless you count the many, many spin-offs, which I may or may not get around to reviewing some day- it's time to tackle a very strange, ambitious and  curious book that means a lot to this reader on a personal level. Terry Pratchett's twentieth Discworld novel was the very first novel set in that universe that I'd ever read, leading me down a path of hundreds of hours spent reading and re-reading the series. It wasn't the first Pratchett book I'd read, that distinction belongs to Truckers, the first of the classic children's series The Bromeliad Trilogy (to be reviewed on this blog in the year 2053). 

As I've ruminated before, in hindsight it was an awkward choice of Discworld book to begin with, but I did so since it was the newest Pratchett paperback (purchased from the long departed and sorely missed Paperback Exchange bookshop, where I bought the sixth Harry Potter book at midnight because I'm so cool). Hogfather is the fourth book starring Death, although 'starring' is a bit of a misnomer since all of the Death books have a co-star with equal or greater page time, presumably to prevent over-exposure of quite a unique character. The theme of the book, and thus main target of satire, is Christmas, the jolliest season of them all. On the Disc, Christmas is Hogwatch, and Santa is the Hogfather, a magic-fueled anthropomorphic personification who brings children presents on Hogswatchnight. Basing Hogswatch on the old European pagan origins of Christmas was a natural fit for the series, but Pratchett travels further in the exploration of the higher orders of the Discworld universe in the manner of his old writing partner Neil Gaiman.

The problems that drag Pratchett's grim reaper into the messy business of Hogswatch begin when a very off-beat psychopathic assassin named Teatime is hired by a mysterious cloaked bunch calling themselves the Auditors of Reality, specifically to kill a being many would assume unkillable. Putting his ingenious mind to the task, Teatime actually manages to make the Hogfather disappear (his method involves the tooth fairy), leaving a round-shaped hole, quickly sort-of filled by the very, very thin figure of one Mr. Death. It's from here that the story begins to unfold, with the involvement of the returning granddaughter of Death, Susan Sto Helit, who has to try and figure out why the magical rules governing reality on the Disc have gone haywire, and why her Grandad is suddenly wearing lots of red.

Pratchett's past Death books have each ventured into high concept fantasy to an extent none of his other characters do, with Mort, Reaper Man and Soul Music all exploring the notion of anthropomorphism powered by magic, while peeling back the curtain very slightly to hint at other even more potent characters than Death woven into the background of this unpredictable universe. In Hogfather, Pratchett brings back the aforementioned Auditors of Reality (who played an important but small role in Reaper Man) and straightforwardly makes them the villains of the piece. These Auditors seemingly have the power to do anything but have to play by unspecified rules, thus resulting in their plan to have Teatime kill the Hogfather. I really like the Auditor characters because they so brilliantly play into the fantasy and satire aspects of Pratchett's writing, with the former as these Gaiman-esque all-powerful all-secretive universal powers but the latter as a not so subtle jab at bureaucracy and bureaucrats in general, leading to some laugh out loud stuff.

There are quite a few characters involved in Hogfather, to the point where it looks like it might fall apart under the weight of so many character arcs, which in addition to those already mentioned include Teatime's gang, The Wizards of Unseen University and Billious the' Oh God' of Hangovers. In places it does become messy, until Pratchett clears the deck just before the end to focus on the meaning of the thing, which is essentially about the right to free will and the power of belief. I do think that the furious pace of new ideas Pratchett throws into the fantasy mix does take the focus away from the key appeal of Death's developing humanisation to fans of the series, and in hindsight I'm surprised but pleased that none of these factors originally put me off from continuing to pursue the Discworld. In regards to the 2006 adaptation broadcast on Sky One (vaguely written about here) I would've guessed that the prior mythology would also unconverted fans off, but the two non-readers I've seen it with both really enjoyed it, so what do I know?

While overall I don't think Hogfather should be considered amongst the author's very best pieces of writing, it is a remarkable achievement in that of an author juggling some very awkward (and in some ways insane) variables and fusing them into a cohesive and very imaginative story. Pratchett stretches the magical limits of his universe to the full, something I always enjoy, to create a thematic widescreen blockbuster that emphasises the darker, creepier aspects of Christmas and fuses them to his organically growing creation. Roughly 14(!) years ago it blew my mind, opening up to new possibilities in fiction I'd never imagined, and crucially helping to shape my own ideas of what good literature should be. It was the start of a personal adventure that hasn't ended yet, with an author who I will always feel grateful to for literally changing my life from then on, for showing me how satire, obviously but brilliantly, can just make everything seem really very funny.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Paul Auster- Moon Palace

Moon Palace
Faber & Faber

Paul Auster
1989


“That was the trouble. The land is too big out there, and after a while it starts to swallow you up. I reached a point when I couldn't take it anymore. All that bloody silence and emptiness. You try to find your bearings in it, but it's too big, the dimensions are too monstrous, and eventually, I don't know how else to put it, eventually it just stops being there. There's no world, no land, no nothing. It comes down to that, Fogg, in the end it's all a figment. The only place you exist is in your head.”

I finished reading Moon Palace four days ago, but it's taken me a while to open up a Wordpad file to try and make sense of the novel I'd just read. My first reaction was to decide that this was one of the best works of fiction I'd ever read, and for a short while the best. Fast-forward to now and I'm leaning away from the latter statement but certainly towards the former, but it's all on a very contextual basis, which is what reading is all about, I suppose. All of our opinions on what makes great literature is shaped by our past reading experiences, and there are so many thousands of worthwhile books of all genres out there that we all follow our own paths, for better or for worse. The shaping of this path and the constant growth of individual context is what keeps me addicted to reading, and also draws me to particular authors who revel in exploring grand themes or obsessions over numerous books. My favourite authors all do this; Orwell, Murakami, Pratchett, Bukowski, Vonnegut, and of course the unique Paul Auster. A polarising figure for some, he has dedicated his writing career to exploring his own obsessions within maze-like neo-noir stories.

Published in 1989, Moon Palace is one of Auster's earlier novels (having already made his name with The New York Trilogy) but since I feel well-acquainted with most of his later work it felt like a perfect culmination of everything he'd been trying to show me so far. Had I read it earlier I know it wouldn't have had the same impact- the same reason why I feel the need to re-read more than a couple of Auster books- and for that reason I absolutely understand why Moon Palace probably isn't for everybody, but for me it was absolutely amazing. In many ways it strikes me that of the Auster bibliography it's most similar to the recently reviewed Book of Illusions, where a lead character on the verge of spiritual and physical death is saved by exposure to knowledge of the past of an enigmatic elder, with that story reflecting the narrator's own character arc in the style of magical realism.

The narrator, the curious MS Fogg, is a simulacra of Auster himself. A young man living and attending college in Brooklyn, his life is a shambles. When his uncle, his only known living relative, passes away (leaving him nothing but his thousand-strong collection of books) MS consciously decides to abandon his fate to the whims of the universe, essentially living in poverty and nearly starving, eventually living homeless in Central Park before being rescued by his only friends. Trying to recover from hitting an absolute low, MS applies for a job as the personal assistant of an old man named Thomas Effing. Effing, I think, is one of Auster's greatest creations, a devious, manipulative and decrepit shadow, whom constantly tests the wits of his new man servant (not too unlike the plot of Mr. Vertigo). When Fogg gains some measure of trust, Effing lets him in on the real job he's there for; to record Effing's own self-written obituary; leading in to another Paul Auster favourite, the story within a story.

For me, the strange tale of Thomas Effing's life is the real meat of the book, putting into context as it does the road that Fogg took to get to this point, while remaining a fascinating tale of its own accord. Drifting into the American frontier, taking in the landscape to present a meandering, dramatic and constantly surreal story that leans on the sense of magical realism without being impossible. In part it feels like a parable mixed in with a folk myth, but it's also dirty and grimy like a downtrodden Western. Effing takes Fogg on a journey leads to further developments in the plot of the book, including the revaluation of who the obituary is for. This leads into another backstory within a story, the details of which I'll refrain from giving aside from to say that eventually all three stories collide to provide a circular truth. I loved the ending, as I said before it made me wonder for a while if that was the best book I'd ever read. It's both tragic and optimistic, with an ethereal sense of destiny surrounding these characters. 

I suppose anyone who might regularly check this blog wouyld get a bit sick of these constant Paul Auster reviews, but right now I'm finding it so very easy to choose his books as my next read, thanks to how much I've been taken by his obsessions that permeate each of his novels. The key is that the details of each story are dramatically unique, taking inspiration from cult stylistic genres to explore the notions of identity and reality by in different compelling ways. Bar the story structure and thematic coincidences, Moon Palace is less of a post-modern work than some of Auster's other work and more of a complex drama. It mesmorised me from start to finish thanks to the strong story and flowing prose, connecting with Auster's bibliography in a way that reminded me why I love the exploratory nature of reading and the places it can take you.