Category Archives: Books

Not really a review of any kind but I’m going to write a few disconnected comments. Here’s the poof that when I don’t actually care about a book I end up reading faster. I read the last 2/3 of this in just a few days, while the first 1/3 I had read a month or two ago before being sidetracked toward JR by Gaddis (that’s just a hint of my erratic patterns).

I had this book years ago, when it was very popular. I read some 50/60 pages, as I usually do, then shelved it. I didn’t like at all the writing, all the characters were caricatures, all the plot was filled with simple tropes, and I did feel an intrusive “wind” in the form of the writer trying to unsubtly push reader’s emotions where he wanted them. It felt artificial and clumsy. But the guy at ofblog loved the stuff and he has a kind of sophisticated taste. I knew this was part of a bigger project of four books, and I’m always curious when an author drives toward some kind of “higher purpose”. This cycle is complete now, in Spanish, in Italian, it looks like the English version isn’t coming until 2018.

So this time I began reading the book with more determination to see it through, the whole first book to have at least a good idea about what it is all about, and what it wants to drive to. For the first 1/3 I found nothing different than the first time. The book failed to engage me, the silly tropes are pervasive. There’s just too much effort making every single character into a quirky, eccentric figure because otherwise they’d be boring and not fitting the pages of a ‘book’. It just feelt an elaborate but ultimately fake and grotesque stage.

But then it started to get good. It didn’t become any different, it didn’t become any more than that, but the recipe started to make sense and work. For the first 1/3 not only I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t figure out why it was so widely appreciated. Reading the rest of the book made me understand more that part. The story becomes a fair bit more dense and complex but, more importantly, it mixes a lot of genres and does it fairly well. It’s good in the sense that it gets engaging and quick to read. “Mystery deepens” is the driving mechanic. There are various “blocks” that are dropped and that build and build, so you want to keep turning the pages. It works because instead of keeping a mystery out of reach until you get to a final revelation, in this case instead the flow of knowledge builds up relentlessly through the whole second half of the book. It’s one huge, constant info-dump. Very dense. But it works and isn’t tiring because it’s all still steeped into intense emotions and the tragic lives of multiple characters all together in a tangle of plot.

All of that is done well. It’s just obvious the incredible amount of work behind the book. The sheer amount of stuff packed in, and the intense tragedy that keeps a reader locked in, driving toward a “surface”. It’s a fun, engaging read and gets you in the center of this whirlpool of characters. But? But, while fun, it isn’t very meaningful to me. One thing is why and how I enjoyed it, another is my opinion now that I’ve finished it. I think it’s all pre-digested stuff. The book is all built around tropes coming from different genres, sprinkled with a gothic, surrealist atmosphere. As I said, it’s well done, but it’s also nothing more than that. It feels to me like the writer really loved these books he read, and wrapped them into this story he built. But I doubt that this mixture he made is anything more than an “homage” to authors he loved to read. Nothing more that this book has to say beyond this sort of nostalgic love.

I’m (binge)watching Twin Peaks for the first time now, sorry for the forced parallel but Twin Peaks shares a somewhat similar intent and I think shows the difference. When the post-modernism works it takes what came before, all the ingredients, but spinning them so everything moves at a different speed, and the result is completely different. To me Twin Peaks is nothing more than parody of soap operas used to make fun of the public who loved them. Public that then proceeds to take it seriously, and so falling completely in the trap. Becoming a laughing stock because Twin Peaks, really, is just trolling. But Twin Peaks also takes *itself* seriously (having a cake and eating it too). Enough to create its own new dimension. Enough to make people forget its derivative-ness, and make believe Twin Peaks STARTED something new. The mix of old tropes creates a whole new level. Knowing the old to make the new. Today Twin Peaks re-emerges, and no one even remembers it was just a parody. Transfiguration.

(and all three of my current interests, The Leftovers, Twin Peaks and The Shadow of the Wind, all three seem to have a central mystery that actually isn’t there at all. Just a lot of clever and less clever misdirection)

The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t seem to emerge from its homage, from its borrowed love for the things past. It loops back, but it closes itself. Its energy is borrowed energy. A shadow of things past that produces no new life. And it matters because its plot and structure would suggest exactly the opposite, and it fails, so radically, at the true heart. This central idea of the book that you can “redeem” a story in the past gone wrong, with a story in the present that goes well. The finale distributing trivial sweet candies to every minor and major character. Characters all used as tools and then discarded through convenient, momentary compassion so that the one adopted by the readers can have his sweeter implied future. It feels to me so hypocritical. To suggest you can clean it all. The world is bleak and full of pain, but hey, there’s a shadow writing hand here taking care of its characters and making sure it all ends in positivity. The new life that the book produces explicitly (metaphorically) just isn’t new life that the book produces for the reader. It’s a book made of ashes. A mix of tropes that is well done, but that produces nothing new or meaningful. A well done mimicry, but I don’t feel is any more than that. And the overall message? It rings hollow and false to me. It doesn’t in ANY way address the tragedy shown. It simply dismisses it through rhetoric, through the fact this is a book, indeed a fake stage where things were pre-arranged to make a point. A point that has no substance or meaning. Theatrics.

Though I wanted to read it also to figure out what the overall cycle of four books would be about, this part eludes me. The first book is complete. There’s really no element of the story that might suggest there’s more to it. It closes even too neatly. I have absolutely no idea how the author plans to wrap this in an overall larger story because it seems it’s already all squished to nothing. And so I don’t really know if I should care to read more, if there’s something that might interest me. In fact, since this book offers nothing in the overall trajectory points to the possibility there’s more substance ahead. Who knows. For the time being I’m content. I’m not rushing to read the next book.

Meaningless mind games, right? Devoid of significance. Nothing but self-indulgence, and for that vast audience out there – the whispering ghosts and their intimations, their suppositions and veiled insults and their so easily bored minds – that audience – they are my witnesses, yes, that sea of murky faces in the pit, for whom my desperate performance, ever seeking to reach out with a human touch, yields nothing but impatience and agitation, the restless waiting for the cue to laugh.

And so the Malazan saga ends… What? This 360k fat tome wasn’t the great finale? You say there are four more, even fatter books (and more)? That’s impossible because the whole world already fits comfortably into this book.

Oh, I’m sorry. It truly took me an insane amount of time to finish this one, and the book’s size, or its ambition, weren’t the cause. I just have an unexplainable compulsive habit that makes me delay the things I’m most invested in. A compulsive desire to accumulate and preserve the best stuff and lock it away in a treasure room for some later ideal time that never comes. And as with all compulsive habits, it takes a great amount of willpower and perseverance to defeat it, at least for a moment. I *have* succeeded a little, I’m up to Malazan #6, after all, and to add to that there’s Forge of Darkness and four novellas. But since reading this one book truly took me forever, it’s harder to gather all the pieces scattered through the months and *years*. I’ll try anyway to gather some thoughts, and then I’ll change the recipe, from now on (well, maybe).

This is Malazan #6, then. It marks the middle point of the overall cycle and its structure reflects it. It seems people’s opinions shift with time, but originally this specific book wasn’t a favorite among Malazan readers. The reason was that it had to gather everything from the previous five books, and not simply in a linear way because there are at least three separate “blocks” of story that until this point had been kept distinct within the confines of one dedicated book to each (more or less). So all five of these preceding volumes have to flow into this one, passing through a kind of choke point. And then readers also didn’t like that this volume doesn’t have a proper conclusion, as instead happened with the preceding ones. The overall impression was that this one was working like a transition, like an impossibly huge chariot that Erikson struggled to set once more in motion, so that it would then keep going for the second half of the series. A sort of typical middle book in a big series, that has to do the heavy lifting to reposition properly all the pieces and gain momentum once more.

But it’s not so rare that these days readers point at this one as their favorite book, instead, or close to the top. And that’s the book I actually read. The objective breadth of the thing indeed defies that of preceding books, but I didn’t notice a struggle. Page by page, right from the beginning, it feels Erikson is simply having fun, and that the movement, despite the load, is a breeze. As if he pushed aside all the pressure of having to lock together these two halves of this giant series and instead was focused on making the best of every scene. In my opinion, it has a vitality that is unprecedented and makes the most of what made the fifth book a different but good one. It’s… the first Malazan book, and the last. Maybe it’s not even a good thing, but I felt as if Erikson gave it all here. It didn’t feel like “let’s do a laborious, meticulous build up”, it felt instead as if Erikson went *all* in, without sparing anything. Who cares if there’s nothing left, this might as well be the last day on earth, give it all you have. Till the last drop.

As with all the greatest things, the context is reflected in content. Erikson knows the pressure of the series. That pressure is higher exactly at the middle point (and then again at the end, I guess). And Malazan pressure is of a kind that cannot be sustained by anyone. But that’s Malazan, the spirit. Going, with a mad grin, against all odds. And that’s why it’s fun. Because Erikson knows there’s no other way, it’s all a gamble. It’s all a leap of faith, invigorating and blissful. The brink of the world. And you cannot take it seriously. It’s important that you don’t take it seriously. This is the spirit of the characters, and the spirit I feel in the writing. It’s fun, it’s lively, it’s inspired. It doesn’t suffer at all for being a middle volume in a big series.

Things were not well. A little stretched, are you, Ammanas? I am not surprised. Cotillion could sympathize, and almost did. Momentarily, before reminding himself that Ammanas had invited most of the risks upon himself. And, by extension, upon me as well.

The paths ahead were narrow, twisted and treacherous. Requiring utmost caution with every measured step.

So be it. After all, we have done this before. And succeeded. Of course, far more was at stake this time. Too much, perhaps.

Writing, as in shadow. What you see is all there is, and the shadow warren is metaphor. A world that constantly shifts. Delicious metafiction!

Emerging from Shadowkeep, he paused to study the landscape beyond. It was in the habit of changing at a moment’s notice, although not when one was actually looking, which, he supposed, was a saving grace.

Concretely speaking, the structure is a mess. But why not? It works. Erikson seems to have recognized that fans liked the third book best, and so decided for a similar recipe. Instead of having a prolonged build-up, leading to a big convergence that ties everything together to blow it up all at once, here one can recognize two “apexes”, one coming relatively early in the book, and another to the end (but is not the end). But these two focus points aren’t actually accelerations that follow slow build up, because the rest of the book has a myriad of big events, high points that are worthy enough of a series finale, in different contexts. Something big is constantly going on. Cities explode, the sky falls. In Malazan it might as well be the routine, but not to say these events are downplayed or lack a relevant heft. It’s all a whirlpool of constant awe.

The structure is STILL a mess and the thing groans and wails under its pressure. You forget about characters, because they might as well disappear for 300 or more pages. They might return, perfectly timed, or maybe their personal journey is over in this book, you don’t know. But you also don’t care, because the attention is on what is present. In the moment. And that’s always fun or spectacular, or intense or troubling. Page by page, I don’t think anything is wasted here. It’s the specular opposite of bloat, it’s a compression of every story, of the whole world.

It might be a problem? It might as well be. This is compressed Malazan. All the things I know about Malazan. You can read around the internet complaints about all the “philosophizing” and I recognize a symptom here. The symptom is that all “big” Malazan themes return, from all the angles, all the different, ambiguous faces. I was joking at the beginning, but it does feel like this book *exhausts* itself. When you zoomed back the view to encompass the whole world there’s nothing left to say or see. This book circumnavigates the Malazan world. There’s nothing left to say, because everything is already contained. Between the lines or in the lines. Every digression is a conclusion. Full stop. Silence.

Rock was bone. Dust was flesh. Water was blood. Residues settled in multitudes, becoming layers, and upon those layers yet more, and on and on until a world was made, until all that death could hold up one’s feet where one stood, and rise to meet every step one took. A solid bed to lie on. So much for the world. Death holds us up. And then there were the breaths that filled, that made the air, the heaving assertions measuring the passing of time, like notches marking the arc of a life, of every life. How many of those breaths were last ones? The final expellation of a beast, an insect, a plant, a human with film covering his or her fading eyes? And so how, how could one draw such air into the lungs? Knowing how filled with death it was, how saturated it was with failure and surrender?

Heboric fought on against the knowledge that the world did not breathe, not any more. No, now, the world drowned.

Malazan triumphs and is most agile under pressure because Malazan already broke all the reasonable rules. This book has “flaws”, but because it refused to comply. You are on board or you aren’t, at this point. Malazan can only be judged in respect to Malazan. You can take different angles of analysis. I did, as usual. But I also realize it doesn’t matter. You’re either on board or you aren’t. Malazan taught me to think. To see the whole range, the breadth of the world.

Is characterization good? I’ve read along the years plenty of complaints about Malazan and characterization. There’s always some validity, but Malazan did change the rules. Here a character can be as well a comedic relief, and not much more. Does this give justice to the character? Nope. It doesn’t feel like a true character, it doesn’t feel true. It’s not perfectly grounded, it’s not perfectly believable, all-around. There’s a fantasy-like floaty-ness, of “let’s pretend”, and plots too neatly aligned for an effect. It betrays that necessary(?) feeling of solidity and meaningfulness. There’s plenty to analyze and criticize if you bring with you your categories and criteria. That matters too, but in the end Malazan refuses to comply. What I noticed is that this book uses characters as walls to bounce a ball. You might think this diminishes those characters, but it’s a way to hold up a wider story. Each bounce creates a contrast. When you move from a scene to another, somewhere else, you notice there’s a thematic link, that these scenes talk to each other, speak to the reader. It’s a ray of light bounced around, transformed in its color and angle. A contrast to show you, the reader. You don’t stay with a character. You go in, step out, plunge back in. It’s a constant, deliberate movement so that instead of *closing* the perspective, it opens another. That’s why I said it taught me to think, because it refuses to stay static and affirm itself. When point of view affirms itself, authority follows. Being inside a character can mean being walled in. Trapped in that manipulation. Malazan gives a feeling of sublimation, of transcendence, because those characters aren’t an end to themselves, but they build toward something more, explicitly, the reader. And this doesn’t feel like a betrayal to those character, it feels the need to find meaning in a world where there’s none. The famous “witness”. The book of the fallen.

The world, Ahlrada Ahn knew, was indifferent to the necessity of preservation. Of histories, of stories layered with meaning and import. It cared nothing for what was forgotten, for memory and knowledge had never been able to halt the endless repetition of wilful stupidity that so bound peoples and civilizations.

Muted, from the streets of the city outside, there rose and fell the sounds of fighting, of dying, a chorus like the accumulated voices of history, of human failure and its echoes reaching them from every place in this world.

There is nothing left to understand. This mad whirlpool holds us all in a grasp that cannot be broken; and you with your spears and battle-masks; you with your tears and soft touch; you with the sardonic grin behind which screams fear and self-hatred; even you who stand aside in silent witness to our catastrophe of dissolution, too numb to act – it is all one. You are all one. We are all one.

We are all one. One ray of light, distorted by perspective. You learn to think not when you close yourself in your point of view. Neither you do when you move within another, to get caged there. You learn when you step back, when you free yourself of those chains. Not to deny point of view, but to breathe deep and face whatever there is. Out of pure self-interest chained by necessity. Reality pushes you there into that unavoidable necessity, a book can make you step back and embrace something larger than your immediate howling needs. You cannot find meaning without creating it.

If Game of Thrones can feel like a brutal survival game where you just cross the names of those who die to see who survives to win what’s left, in Malazan who dies is more important than who survives. Eyes wide open. There’s only legitimate rage against an unjust world, and whatever momentary relief you salvaged. It’s already all fucking lost, all gone. And it’s because it’s all gone that it’s important you remember. That defiant look in the face of the impossibility is the purest Malazan’s soul. That mad challenge of Human versus God. Meaning versus emptiness.

Malazan #6 is easily the best book in the main series, because it builds on what came before and because it keeps delivering as if this were truly the Grand Finale. I’d still somewhat put Forge of Darkness on top, but because of personal preference for the writing and tone. FoD is Malazan, but also different. For this sixth book I was expecting a marathon that was going to validate itself at the end. Or a laborious climb necessary to reach lofty ambitions. I feel it’s the opposite. It constantly renews itself, page after page, line by line, it’s lively, *fun* to read and meaningful.

It also did take me up to book #6 to realize that Fiddler is a bard, and that “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” isn’t actually a book, but a song. (and, with Malazan, it’s never about the revelation, it’s about the implications)

Just a very well written “review”:!

Reading Bottom’s Dream, John E. Woods’s new English translation of Arno Schmidt’s notoriously-untranslatable Zettel’s Traum, is like watching one of these beasts saunter out of the forest and begin munching on a telephone pole: the sheer, jurassic weirdness of the thing scrambles our pathways, making it difficult to do anything except stare. Part of this is simply a matter of size, for at 1,400 folio-sized pages Bottom’s Dream is both long and so physically cumbersome that it’s hard to imagine reading it on anything other than a lectern, or maybe a whale-elephant-turtle pagoda. Inside its cover, the idiosyncratically spelt and punctuated narrative scrolls downward in a trunk with marginal notes protruding like the ribs of a gigantic skeleton. The whole effect seems meant to repel, which is weird, since one of the first impressions we get upon reading Bottom’s Dream is of entering a puzzle or game, something designed to hold our attention. Foreboding in appearance, it responds to its audience as if it had been waiting for us … and then the more we read, the more the labyrinth opens, until soon we recognize it as less a minotaur’s trap than a kind of illustrated manuscript: a “booke” whose intricately embroidered letters are meant not just to be read, but to teach us how to read better.

It’s easy to see how it does so, for when it comes to technique, Bottom’s Dream keeps its gears on the surface. It’s like a gigantic Rube Goldberg machine, bristling with an inventiveness that veers past “smart” to a point between “zany” and “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

In September I ordered my copy of Alan Moore 615k words epic, Jerusalem.

I knew it was coming out from different publishers in US (Liveright) and UK (Knockabout), but I also thought the book itself was going to be pretty much the same. So I simply checked the local Amazon and ordered it as soon it was available, and the copy available was the UK one, that I bought for exactly 29.67 euros.

When I received it I opened it and found the pagination was really, REALLY bad. Both the vertical and horizontal margins were excessively huge, and the text was crammed in a smaller rectangle within the page, using a really tiny and hard to read font, even for one like me who actually dislikes big fonts and prefers smaller ones. And yet, because I had seen the page scans on, I knew the American version didn’t have that problem.

So I wrote: “I REALLY do regret having bought this version to the point I’m considering sending it back so I can get the other one…”

That’s exactly what I did. Amazon refunded me completely the cost of the book, so the only expense was the 4 euros required to send the book back. The problem was that the American version was not available, but I could preorder it for around 18 euros, a price quite a bit lower than what I paid for the UK version. So that’s the reason why I decided to try this option. Not only it looked like the American version was better, but it would also cost me LESS, even including the 4 euros required to send the copy back.

But I had to wait and see if the copy was going to be available at some point. While waiting, thanks to Amazon preorder policies, the price got even lower, going at 17.70 euros.

Interesting notion: the American edition of the book was not available across all Europe, on Amazon (I checked .de and .fr, so Germany and France). This because there must have been some “protection policy” with the distributor, asking Amazon to only sell the UK version in the European market. At this time the American edition is still unavailable in UK (but of course you can get it through other retailers, like Bookdepository).

But at the end of September the American edition was finally available in Germany, and at the end of October/beginning of November it started being available even in France. Finally, a couple of weeks later and it was available in Italy too (now sold for around 25 euros).

And I finally have it in my hands. 29.67 – 4 – 17.70 = 7.97 euros SPARED in the end.

Stubbornly, I prevailed!

But this is not the reason why I’m documenting all this. The fact is that the difference between the two editions is not limited just to an improved pagination. EVERYTHING is improved. It’s a whole different level of quality.

Here’s a breakdown of all the things the American edition does better:

– 90 more pages, so accommodating the text better.
– Plastic coated cover, compared to the paper of the UK edition.
– More solid and heavy hardcover, it’s better built.
– Better binding (but still the average).
– The map printed inside is actually high resolution (and bluish), much better than the poorly scanned version in the UK copy (and reddish).
– The paper is excellent quality, a whole lot improved from the UK edition.
– …you open the book and the difference is amazing. The pagination is worlds apart. The margins are thin and they use a big, extremely readable font that is the polar opposite of the one used in the UK edition. The difference is MASSIVE. You have no idea.

I wish I could post pictures because this an excellent demonstration of how much pagination can make a difference. It would be a textbook. But the page format you can see by yourself on, since they have the scans. What we miss is a picture of a page of the UK edition, since Amazon UK doesn’t usually make the scans. If someone could found one it would be great.

As mentioned in my review of the first book in the trilogy, Wolfhound Century, I had a brief “rant” with Gollancz, the publisher, when the book came out and they decided to split a not-so-big whole story into three smaller volumes. You can see the discussion here:

More precisely:

Author’s intention and desire have no part in this then? Thanks for assuming worst.

You just wanted to assume the publishers were being venal. Because that’s controversial.

And why the assumption this is one novel told in three parts?

So, the book was being split in three not as per request of the publisher with the intention of maximizing sales, but because of “author’s intention and desire”.

But this month it’s the month of the omnibus coming out: Wolfhound Empire. And we have an interview with the writer:

It works much, much better this way. Although I set out to write three separate books, the way they turned out was three sections of one continuous story, so it makes much better artistic and narrative sense to read them together, and regard them as one thing. One epic story. To me it feels like the finished work is whole and together at last. I’m hugely proud of it.

In the end I actually do believe splitting the story in three was indeed how Peter Higgins decided to sell it to the publisher, and then to the public. And now that he gives an interview for the release of the omnibus he just sells the idea that is currently more convenient for him. I’d say I don’t blame the publisher for this.

But we have now an explicit admission by the author himself that the omnibus was always a better format for that kind of story. Better but less convenient. And my assumptions were quite correct, after all.

A quote:

She kinstill hear the song beyonder, but she dizzn’t surey fit’s the when she thawtit was. Detune streems differrant and pseudo the words, doshy slushpects that she’s not herein’ thereal worlds at all. She’s proverbly trancestating the inudibelle and dustant leerics into her roam lingwish, the seam way she daz with reveriething.

It’s anuntellagibble jabberish, off course, nonposed of comsense sillyballs and nutterly devader meanink, though she fonds that she injoyce the squirling museek avid.

Lucy’s dancing in the language,
Shares a marble sandwich
With a Mr. Finnegan from several headstones down
And no more how’s-your-father now.
She’s a cockeyed optimist
Who can’t resist
This final white parade.

She fonds she inJOYCE the squirling museek avid.

I absolutely love this form of wordplay, especially when it tries to be more than form, and playing and adding layers of meaning. Making a line of text multidimensional. It’s only 40 pages. I wish it was longer. My only worry is that it is not used to its full potential, but that’s what I expect specifically from Bottom’s Dream.

And yet, I’m baffled that some readers would skip this delight. She was too intent (witch)hunting for and trying her best to take offense about imaginary transmisogynistic jokes. She eventually filed the book under the “racism, sexism and transphobia” categories.

Why people who fight against prejudices have such an hard time laying down theirs?

I’ve been waiting these two since *checks own blog* well, at least since March. Today they’re both in my hands since Dalkey Archive seems to have an habit of shipping way earlier than release date. It’s also been trickier to get oversea books at a reasonable price but I managed it this time as well, so I’m happy.

This blog post is all about appearances over substance, so it should be meant to be filled with images but, since I’ve jet to join the modern age, I’m still unable to produce pictures of my own and so had to scour the internet, or more specifically twitter to get them. That also required dodging lots of explicit gay porn as apparently “dreaming” of “bottoming” is that kind of thing.

Let’s have those sexy sizes listed here. Starting from the small one, “Jerusalem” by Alan Moore. This one is a standarly shaped hardcover, I like the cover but not much the art, but at least when you look at it it’s big in a standard kind of way, not too daunting if you’re used to big books. Actual interior size is still impressive, though. It falls short of early claims of 1 million words plus, but it’s right on track to qualify for the 600k one. In fact, since it’s available in ebook format as well, I could count precisely and I have a still mind-boggling 615k. I think I’ve yet to read or even own a book this big, my personal previous maximum of books read from beginning to end have been Infinite Jest and Parallel Stories, both around the 550k mark.

I’ve also kept an eye on reviews and this is what I’ve deduced: the book is fairly well received overall, lots of complaints about it being “overwritten” but it’s exactly the norm when paid reviewers have to write an article in record time to maximize exposure. My biggest worry was that the book wasn’t going to be very readable and be instead very esoteric, meaning that even if you put patience in reading it it would still defy comprehension (and enjoyment), making it just dull and frustrating. Instead it seems that even if it’s plenty experimental, weird and also challenging, it’s still within a certain accessibility. It’s is not a book that shoves you away for the sake of literary elitism, or obscurity for obscurity’s sake (and this might even unbelievably apply to the book below).

The more interesting:

The first is a series of walking tours of Northampton, echoing the perambulations of Leopold Bloom in “Ulysses,” undertaken by a number of various characters set in different time periods. This serves to introduce many of the ancestors of Mick and Alma Ward, other significant characters such as Marla the streetwalker and poet Ben Perrit, as well as many ghosts and angels. The history of Northampton is encoded in it’s topography and there are connections that can be drawn throughout the ages.

The middle section of the book chronicles the adventures of four-year-old Mick Warren in the afterlife during the brief time he was dead. He becomes involved with a group of kids who call themselves the Dead Dead Gang. Imagine the Little Rascals as written by a brilliant, philosophical madman with pretensions of explaining the metaphysical mechanisms of the entire universe.

Section three is by far the most challenging. While it appears disjointed at first each of these chapters not only moves the story forward but serves to tie together the many, many threads he has introduced. Mr. Moore writes from different points of view, exploring a variety of styles, some maddeningly experimental. One chapter is written in the form of an epic poem. Another is a crime noir detective story with the main character, who is not what he appears to be, investigating the connections between Northampton and William Blake. There is the script for a stage play which features the ghosts of several poets and thinkers, including Samuel Beckett, which is appropriate given the “Waiting For Godot”-like structure of the play and its meta-commentary on the entire book.

There are the chapters that appear to be overt paeans to Joyce. One is a stream of consciousness flow without punctuation, a la’ Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in “Ulysses.” Another is, without a doubt, the most difficult chapter to read and the one that is most likely to thwart those who try. Earlier in the novel Mr. Moore establishes the idea of the language of the angels: Words that sound like nonsense, but unfold within the mind of the listener to contain layers of meaning and metaphor. This entire chapter is an attempt to capture that experience, composed entirely of a made-up language. It is nonsense poetry spoken by Lucia Joyce (the daughter of James, who spent part of her life in an asylum), that gradually, as it is read, begins to reveal an internal logic and meaning.

I’ve had to decide between UK hardcover by Knockabout or the US Liverlight, in the end the local Amazon decided for me since the US version is still not available for some reason. It’s also available as three paperbacks inside a slipcase but I do my reading comfortably at home, so it’s hardcover for me.

VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT BUY (if you can choose) the UK/Knockabout version of Jerusalem by Alan Moore, buy the US/Liveright. Page format is baaaad. The UK one is 100 pages shorter, 1174 versus 1262 of the American version, that means more text is crammed on a single page. But the worst aspect is that for some absurd reason they also decided to use huge white margins, so you have all the text into a tiny rectangle on the page, and that means it uses a super-tiny font that’s quite hard to read. The US version, looking at the scans on Amazon, seems to have completely fixed that. I REALLY do regret having bought this version to the point I’m considering sending it back so I can get the other one… (though the UK backcover has few more good quotes, whereas the American only has the funny last one)

And, since you are in a mostly fantasy themed blog, maybe you crave a map, here’s a map, taken from the mapper’s own website (and of course included inside the book flappy flaps).

If Jerusalem wanted to be the literary event of the month, if not the year, when it comes to overambitious, oversize book then it needs to reconsider that, as it is completely BLOWN AWAY by the landing of space-time bending Bottom’s Dream by Arno Schmidt, translated by eminent-professor John E. Woods. This one brings the definition of big book back to medieval terms. You aren’t going to read this one in bed or while commuting, even if it would be fun seeing one trying…

This Bottom’s sizes are an impressive: 14×10.8 inches, 1496 pages, 13 pounds. I had already seen all the images I’m linking below, and yet I was still utterly awed when I finally saw the physical book. It’s just an absurd sight, as if one has the feeling that the proportions are all wrong. It simply stands apart from everything else I’ve seen. And then you open it. It’s a thing of beauty. When you hold it you truly realize that the premium price really isn’t premium at all.

(all images have been scoured from the internet, on twitter specifically. I don’t use the original source because they have the habit of disappearing. If you check my twitter I’ve retweeted them all)

“I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was,” says Bottom. “I have had a dream, and I wrote a Big Book about it,” Arno Schmidt might have said. Schmidt’s rare vision is a journey into many literary worlds. First and foremost it is about Edgar Allan Poe, or perhaps it is language itself that plays that lead role; and it is certainly about sex in its many Freudian disguises, but about love as well, whether fragile and unfulfilled or crude and wedded. As befits a dream upon a heath populated by elemental spirits, the shapes and figures are protean, its protagonists suddenly transformed into trees, horses, and demigods. In a single day, from one midsummer dawn to a fiery second, Dan and Franzisca, Wilma and Paul explore the labyrinths of literary creation and of their own dreams and desires.

Since its publication in 1970 Zettel’s Traum/Bottom’s Dream has been regarded as Arno Schimdt’s magnum opus, as the definitive work of a titan of postwar German literature. Readers are now invited to explore its verbally provocative landscape in an English translation by John E. Woods.

Hype seems to have preceded both Jerusalem and Bottom’s Dream. If Jerusalem was given at 1+ million words and had to settle for mere 600k, I had Bottom’s Dream given either at 2+ million or 1+ million. No idea of the actual wordcount, or even how you decide how to COUNT those words. Because those words are typographically weird to even defy a wordcount. And some hype about translation too, since I had read the translator worked on it for more than twenty years. Instead there’s in the book a two page “afterword” by the translator himself, making fun a bit of the style of the book.

For the translator, however, there was really only one strategy available, the same one most readers will at least attempt: Start to finish – damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Well, perhaps »speed« is the wrong word, it did take me some six years (spread over twelve) of labor, an arduous task to be sure – with sporadic moments of either elation or gloom, the latter due mostly to my sense of inadequacy to the task.

Wilma is right, it does take a »fool« to enter fully into this topsy-turvy linguistic world. And so I set on my fool’s cap, and sang and danced, took pratfalls and belly flops – and occasionally, taking a deep breath, I launched into the Neith-time sky to soar with the bats. The judgement as to whether or not I succeeded in capturing at least something of the aesthetic and intellectual enjoyments of the original (that being, after all, the nirvana of every translator), lies with you, the reader.

My fool’s cap has never left my head, I’m ready. Skimming through the pages is really a pleasure because of how playful the layout is. This is a puzzle more than a book. The language used itself is amazing and even if my only way to decode it right now is merely about flavor and form over any amount of meaning (as in answering: why did he write it that way?), I still delight at this (this quote actually removes some weird characters used that I don’t even know how to reproduce with this keyboard):

pag. 213
: – » – « -. (Alone with the kid in the ficket : cave!). – : »FirSt off hold all supercilia quiet : snaring with lids & snatching with slick lips aren’t alloweD here! – Prick ope your ears : When talk turns to Your cares, Y’ immuddytely b’have ‘sif Y’ had just gobbled up ev’ry evil kno’n since the Creation : surely You overestimaiD Your crim’nall abilities.« / (And still She had not raised her beFringl’d lids ?) /

Repeat for the remaining 1500 pages with a text column 50 lines long every page (well, it’s a slimmer one, thought it essentially never breaks, even when it spirals around).

I love it so much I wish I had two copies. One just to keep there and worship as an idol, another to treat badly and scribble all over it…

This is going to be really fun.

…And after writing all this I spotted this link. So perfectly timed for this blog post!

excessively long books are a form of undemocratic dominance that impoverishes the public discourse by reducing the airtime shared among others.

We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire.

(after reading that article fully, though, I have to say it’s not as ridiculous as that quote out of context would suggest)