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2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004, M) – One might encounter more dead bodies than the title in this sprawling novel about the unsolved serial crimes on women set in a fictional Mexican city based on Ciudad Juárez. One might also think that one would have enough of the author with this tome. On the contrary, one might be compelled to explore his other shorter works or even take on the equally heavy The Savage Detectives, particularly if one has not yet broken down from 2666.
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936, L) – The Sound and the Fury is considered by some as Faulkner’s masterpiece, but some object and view Absalom, Absalom! as the essential Faulkner book instead. Either way, one might need to know what Quentin Compson was doing before spending his last days in Harvard University. More importantly, the rise and fall of the sinisterly enigmatic Thomas Sutpen is a story that will haunt you after reading that last sentence about hating the South.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946, L) – A quintessential novel on American politics, this novel has nothing to do with Humpty Dumpty. Willie Stark’s political life is narrated by his assistant, Jack Burden. From being an idealistic lawyer to a charismatic governor, Stark embraces the world of politics with tools that, guess what, are necessary for him to beat them all, not without making enemies, of course. His life is depicted in parallel with that of Jack’s. Their stories, therefore, are each other’s.
Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires) by Michel Houellebecq (1998, M) – The controversial Houellebecq can actually be popular without having to be controversial. Atomised, The Elementary Particles in some editions, is a delight to read, what with its beautifully constructed sentences, which could as well be a veil for the ugly and gritty stuff that the half-brothers Bruno, a teacher, and Michel, a scientist, meet in their daily lives. Their respective sadness and struggles are intertwined with graphic, very graphic, descriptions of sex here and there.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985, L) – A harrowing read about The Kid who joins a group of scalp hunters traveling around the West and massacring any Native Americans for money and for entertainment. One day, you read about a gang member playing with a child. The next day, that child is dead, scalpless. Or how about a dead tree filled with baby skeletons? Amidst all these images is the intelligent and hairless Judge, who seems to be an immortal representative of violence.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945, L) – Subtitled as the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, it should be interesting to see how sacred and profane go together. There is something theological in this novel but I will not get into that. What I want to get into is this: are Charles and Sebastian merely friends or are they lovers? The former, hailing from the working class, is befriended by the latter, born into a noble family. They take trips together, spend summers at Brideshead Castle, drink all the wine like connoisseurs…
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927, M) – Five people, one bridge. A friar witnesses the collapsing of this bridge somewhere in Peru and the plunging of the five people to their deaths. He goes on to wonder about this event. Who are these people? What were they doing before they crossed the bridge? Did they have to die? Is this an event controlled by the cosmos or is it just some random and inconsequential accident? Big questions from a small book, indeed.
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (1981, M) – I could have easily put Atonement on this list, but seriously, everyone should have already read Atonement before even checking this out. And so I selected this slim novel about a couple, Mary and Colin, who takes a trip to what can be assumed as Venice and meets an accommodating stranger, Robert, who asks them to dine over his house. But what does he want? Why is this stranger’s wife so submissive? And are you ready for a disturbing ending caused by a crazy fetish?
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (1974, H) – I thought this was a dubious choice for Flavorwire’s list of 50 tough books. Upon Gordimer’s death, I immediately read this and realized why it’s on the list. It is not easy to attune yourself to its tone. You read about Mehring’s life: wife and son left him, so-called friends find him so-so, farmhands practically do not need him to manage his farm. These things about the uninteresting life of Mehring makes up only the crest of a powerful and flooding statement of the novel on apartheid.
Darkness at Noon (Sonnenfinsternis) by Arthur Koestler (1940, L) – Rubashov is held as a political prisoner and is tried for treason. The novel is divided into three hearings. With each hearing, the reader is egged to read on to find out if Rubashov will admit the false accusations against him or not. It is a rather suspenseful allegorical novel that brings us to mind the malpractices of Communism.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
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This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).