Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red (2002)

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Title: My Name is Red

Format: E-book

Pages: 335

Series: –

“To avoid disappointment in art, one mustn’t treat is as a career. Despite whatever great artistic sense and talent a man might possess, he ought to seek money and power elsewhere to avoid forsaking his art when he fails to receive proper compensation for his gifts and efforts.”

The Turkish 2006 Nobel Prize Winner in literature, Orhan Pamuk has gained popularity in the West mainly through two books: My Name is Red (first published in 1998) and Snow (first published in 2002), but by that time he was already very well-known – and quite controversial – in Turkey. Pamuk, born in Istanbul in a multicultural family (his grandmother was Circassian), explores in his books the liminal space between cultures and religions, where ideas, aesthetic preferences and beliefs clash and mutually influence one another. In the case of My Name is Red, that exploration is enriched by deeply philosophical musings on the nature and essence of human perception – both of the reality, the outside world, and of the idea and existence of God. The aesthetical angle of the novel, presented through many-voiced conversations on seeing, imagining, painting, change, and style, and on the nature and purpose of art, constitutes a fascinating examination of cultural differences between East and West, Islam and Christianity.

This deeply philosophical essay is deftly hidden in a complex love story, which in turn comes neatly packed into a murder mystery. Taking place in turbulent times, in wintry Istanbul in 1591, My Name is Red offers a kaleidoscopic view of a multitude of diverse, sometimes contrary perspectives; a plethora of unreliable narrators;  tongue-in-cheek play with other literary and artistic works – and  with itself, twisting and turning and changing rules of the game mid-play; instances of breaking the fourth wall, and plenty of other postmodern literary devices – all employed in service of a cavalierly conventional story.

“Doubtless, you too have experienced what I’m about to describe: At times, while walking through the infinite and winding streets of Istanbul, while spooning a bite of vegetable stew into my mouth at a public kitchen or squinting with fixed attention on the curved design of a reed-style border illumination, I feel like I’m living the present as if it were the past. That is, when I’m walking down the street whitewashed with snow, I’ll have the urge to say that I was walking down it.”

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Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas (2003)

Odd Thomas

Author: Dean Koontz

Title: Odd Thomas

Format: Paperback

Pages: 446

Series: Odd Thomas #1

Koontz is a very prolific writer; he wrote over a hundred books and plenty of short stories, and has been a household name for American horror/thriller genre for ages. Somehow I had never been drawn to his work, maybe because I’m no great fan of horror 😉. I did read a King or two, and didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t expect to change my mind for Koontz. But Bookstooge highly recommended both Odd Thomas and Lightning, and patiently kept recommending it, until I finally grabbed the book and read it. And I’m happy that I did, even if I won’t be going back to Odd Thomas’s world anytime soon.

Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short order cook; he lives in a small, sleepy town and his most fervent wish is – for both the town itself and him in it – to remain this way forever. The slightly artificial, allegorical character of the novel, which from a certain perspective can be seen as an inherently old-fashioned yet very modernly, thrillingly written moral fable, is discernible from the first sentences – actually, from the moment when we learn that the name of Odd’s town is Pico Mundo. Small world, indeed.

Odd Thomas is a very likeable character: extremely humble, unprepossessing and caring, self-deprecating, gentle and well-behaved, he is the perfect image of a perfect boy as envisioned by an old-fashioned grandma. You’d all want him as an in-law (if you didn’t know better). Really, with his manners and unending optimism and willingness to selflessly serve others he is a character who’d feel more at ease in 1950s than in our wild 2000s. And that’s also intentional, I wager (well, I would if I were the wagering sort – which I’m not 😉).

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Neal Asher, The Line of Polity (2003)

The Line of Polity

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Line of Polity

Format: Paperback

Pages: 485

Series: Agent Cormac 2

This review was promised in our summary post for 2019, so I actually twisted my right arm with my left to sit down and write it in the middle of sunny summer ;).

Having reviewed both the first installment, Gridlinked, and the third installment, Brass Man, I’m in a bit of a pickle when it comes to choosing the content for this entry. Probably, it would be sufficient to say that The Line of Polity was the book that thoroughly and inevitably sold me on Asher’s Polity universe, and even if I don’t agree with all the political and ideological views of the author, I plan to remain a devoted fan.

Polity is not as pleasant and safe place as Banks’ Culture, nor is it as boring ;). The immense and mind-bogglingly diverse universe (..and I’m sure I could find another -verse fitting here :P) containing Polity, the human society ruled by nearly omniscient AIs, is a wonderful treat for all SF fans. But Asher goes further than just worldbuilding, however impeccable: he creates a world alive – rife with conflict, ambitions, and emotions, not only human, but also AI. And for a series featuring amazing battle sequences, both in the space and on the ground, Asher spends a lot of time considering the sentience. True, his AIs are very human, but reading Polity books I have a feeling they are this way by design, and not simple lack of thought or convenience. After all, they have been created by humans, influenced by the constant contact with humans, and, in a world where alien sentient races are considered more of a myth or a cautionary tale from the past than reality, AIs remain in a direct relation to humans. This relation can morph into a myriad different constellations: a mirror image, a role model, a dependent, spoiled child, a doted-upon prodigy, a master, an apprentice, a pest, a threat, a hobby… Asher deftly shows the variety of responses possible between sentient beings, each of which has something the other doesn’t possess, and subtly incorporates them into his tightly woven narrative.

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Giles Kristian, Lancelot (2018)

Lancelot

Author: Giles Kristian

Title: Lancelot

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 500

I will start with an honest admission, as befits a review of the retelling of Arthurian mythos. Arthurian myths are very important to me – as are Greek and Norse, Slavic and Celtic, Sumerian and Egyptian myths, which all together form a still incredibly significant foundation of European culture. And within the wide realm of Arthurian myths, rooted in Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which in itself was a reworking of earlier tales, I have pledged my allegiance to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I don’t care it’s misogynist. I don’t mind that parts of it are not on par with the rest (I’m looking at you, The Book of Merlyn!). I fully believe it’s the most beautiful and heartfelt retelling of the Arthurian mythos, full of passion – and compassion – and understanding of human nature.

And so I approached Kristian’s recent retelling, Lancelot, with no small amount of trepidation. Armed with a glowing recommendation from Aaron at the Swords and Spectres I hastened to read it, but remembering our previous differences of opinion, O gentle friend, I remained wary. And indeed, it took me some time to warm up to this reimagined Lancelot, from his difficult, heart-breaking childhood to his equally troubled adolescent years on Karrek Loos yn Koos, the island of Lady Nimue. For Kristian spins the story in the one direction that had been relatively less explored before – Lancelot’s past. We see him as a child cruelly and early bereft of childhood, only barely escaping the fate of his family – with an angry hunting bird and a promise of revenge as his sole possessions. We see him as a wild teenager, stubborn and prideful, separate from others and self-unaware to the point of naivety. We see him grow, and learn, and as we do, we begin to see the promise in him, the seed of the future first knight of Britain and the leader of men. We see him triumphant, we see him defeated, but to the end unbroken. What we see most clearly, however, is the unwavering love and loyalty that had become a staple of this paradoxical knight – and in this, Kristian’s retelling is as faithful to the spirit of Arthurian myths as it only could be.

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Robertson Davies, Fifth Business (1970)

Fifth Business

Author: Robertson Davies

Title: Fifth Business

Format: Paperback

Pages: 257

I have become aware of the existence of Robertson Davies and his books solely through the glowing review by Chris from Calmgrove – and I’d like to thank him, because reading Fifth Business was an experience I absolutely wouldn’t want to have missed. As we’re in the middle of Robertson Davies Reading Week organized by Lory over at Emerald City Book Review to commemorate the author’s 106th birthday on 28th August, I thought I’d join the effort and put out there my review as well – for the work of Robertson Davies indeed deserves wide appreciation. And while I endeavor to write a proper review of the novel, be prepared: it will be pervasively whimsical, tangential and digressive, thus reflecting the very nature of Fifth Business.

First, however, the title. Fifth Business, in the words of the author, refers to

“Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement” Hence, “the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business”.

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