Joyce Carol Oates: Triumph of the Spider Monkey

Considering the incredibly large amount of books that she has published, one would expect the works of Joyce Carol Oates to be mostly bland and streamlined, as easy to consume as they are (presumably) to write. And maybe some of them are, but everything I have read by her so far (a volume of Selected Stories, the novel Childwold and now this novella) have swerved very far from the middle of the road and offered challenging, exciting reading experiences. I’ll likely bump into a dud one day, but that day has not yet arrived.

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Daniel Abraham: The Dagger and the Coin

I caught a bad case of the summer flu recently and as that tends to make somewhat unfocused, I looked around for some light reading that would not require too much attention to get me through the period of sickness. I eventually hit on Daniel Abraham’s Fantasy series The Dagger and the Coin which, as it turned out, did its job quite nicely, keeping me pleasantly distracted from my frequent bouts of coughing and sneezing. And I even got a bit more than I bargained for, as you will find out if you manage to make your way to the end of this overlong post.

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Rachel Aaron: No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished

Whenever a new novel by Rachel Aaron is released, there is a lot of squeeing at Maison Heloise. Things were no different when No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished came out a couple of days ago. This time, however, a bit of grumbling was mixed among the squees as I’d always assumed that The Heartstrikers would be a trilogy only to find out that it will take four or maybe even five volumes until all the mysteries will be revealed. Of course, this also means at least one more novel in the series, so the grumbling was very short-lived in the end.

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Patrick O’Brian: Treason’s Harbour

O’Brian’s writing is often compared to Jane Austen, but I strongly suspect that this is just a widespread reflex to which pretty much anything set in the Regency period is somehow “like Jane Austen.” There is at least some justice to it in this case, in so far as the implied narrator of the Aubrey-Maturin novels is clearly a contemporary and shares not only the conceptions and prejudices of his characters but also their language – as manifest not just in the extensive (and to the reader often exasperating) use of nautical terms but in O’Brians’s general choice of words, the way he constructs long periods, indeed even the very rhythm of his prose is somehow evocative of the late 18th / early 19th century. However, while on one hand the narrator appears completely immersed in the period in which the novels take place, at the same time he is clearly not and writes with a distinct detachment, watching the to-and-fro on both land and sea from a distance, with wry amusement and ever-present irony.

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Wu Jingzi: The Scholars

Depending on who you ask, there are either four or six so-called “Classic” Chinese novels. I strongly doubt that canon formation works any better in China than it does here and that the Eastern Canon is any more reliable than the Western one, so there are likely a considerable number of less famous novels which are at least as good as those four or six – but for someone who has only a very superficial knowledge of China and almost no experience of Chinese literature, those four or six are probably a good place to start.

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J. J. Voskuil: Das Büro 1-4

One of the central conundrums for writers of realistic novels during the second half of the nineteenth century was how to describe boredom in a way that was not boring in itself, how to describe the mind-numbing blandness the ordinary life of the ordinary citizen had become without putting readers to sleep. At the end of the 20th century, J.J. Voskuil’s monumental (over 5,000 pages in seven volumes) novel Het Bureau showed that this was no longer a concern, and that by then it had become entirely possible to describe boredom in an utterly boring way and to not only get away with it, but to even produce a national bestseller.

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