Monday, February 27, 2012

1Q84 - Part 1

Yes, I know.  I haven't finished the book.  However it was sold as a trilogy in Japan, so I'm going to review it as a trilogy... in the US.

This is the second Murakami I've read and I'm finding some interesting similarities.  Both are the same style of story; they ask the reader to question reality and push the rules on what is or is not possible.  Both rely on sexual side stories that don't necessarily add to or take away from the story.  And both have young female characters that an adult man lusts for but cannot have.

There are so many layers to Murakami's works that I find it difficult to review.  The translation isn't great.  There are syntax errors and incomplete sentences that break the flow of reading which takes away from the story.  It's hard to fully engulf ones self in a story when it takes time to analyze what the author is trying to say.

The overall concept of the story is phenomenal.  Other reviews were comparing it to Orwell's 1984, which I didn't get at first, but now I see that the characters themselves are comparing their lives to 1984.  And the science fiction side is subtle enough that the reader is pressed for an opinion on if the character is crazy or if these things are really happening.  Is it possible for there to actually be two moons in the sky tonight, or is Aomame going crazy?  

There are a few plot holes - most notably a friendship between Aumame and Ayumi.  I feel like their friendship was forged by the imagination of a 15 year old high school boy who thinks that girls actually have pillow fights in their underwear and practice kissing at slumber parties.  Their entire bond is based on their similarly promiscuous sex lives.  For Aomame, who doesn't have friends or trust people, to bond with another woman so quickly over something so personal is simply unbelievable.

The novel is structured in chapters that pass back and forth between the points of view of two main characters.  The two characters had a class together in elementary school, but have since not seen or spoken to one another.  Their stories are unique and completely separate except that both are being drawn to investigate a secluded religious group for accusations of mistreating young girls and to further understand the meaning of the "Little People".  Do they actually exist in physical form or are they a figure of speech (think "big brother")?

Part one ended in such a way that no questions are answered.  There is no end or conclusion to any of the mysteries presented so far.  It was absolutely meant to be read along with part 2 (and presumably part 3) to the extent that I'm not sure why it was ever published as a trilogy.

I feel like this review is very broken and not at all conclusive, but I think it's a good indicator of how I feel about the book.  There are things I like about it, things I don't like about it, and still many many questions to be answered.  The plot has holes that will never be plugged, and questions that may or may not be answered, and the story seems to be moving in a new direction that I wasn't anticipating.  So what is to come?  We'll find out!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Sociopath Next Door

For my second read in February, I read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

This book was a very different read for me. It was a mix of textbook, case study and a psychologists observations. It takes the term "sociopath" which usually brings to mind cold, calculated and heartless killers and makes you think about the fact that you have likely encountered a sociopath in your everyday life. They aren't just criminals or killers, the majority of them it seems are not, but sociopaths do all have one thing in common: they lack a conscious.

I enjoyed the "case studies" Stout describes in a few of the chapters. She says they are compilations of former patients, people she's read about, etc. They describe the different types of sociopaths that are out there and really get you thinking about people you have known/know. I suspect a few people I have encountered in the past could have been sociopaths after reading this book and I'm going to guess if you read it, you'll be thinking about people you used to know as well.

The only thing about this book that bothered me was it has moments where it is a bit repetitive. I think Stout really wanted to get some stats and information to stick in your mind, which it does, but it gets a bit redundant in places while reading. (You will know what 1 in 25 or 4% and the definition of conscious are for sure when you finish reading. Actually no, you'll know it a quarter of the way through and she'll keep reminding you).

Other than moments of repetitiveness and a few sections that really read like a textbook, the book is interesting overall. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology, who has possibly known a sociopath in the past or wants to know how to spot one in the future or for those who just enjoy reading an informative book on a new topic. I especially enjoyed Chapter 3: When Normal Conscious Sleeps and Chapter 8: The Sociopath Next Door.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

For my first February read, I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The story centers around Katniss Everdeen, who is a sixteen year old girl from District 12 in Panem. After a war in the future, what was once North America is now the nation of Panem, which has been broken up into 12 districts and run by the Capitol. Each year the 12 districts have to send one boy and one girl to the Hunger Games where they will fight to the death on live television.

Katniss is a strong character and this story was enjoyable to read from her perspective. The book is easy to read and quite engrossing so it moves quickly. I found myself really rooting for Katniss and the author does an excellent job of describing the games. You get swallowed up into the story and feel like you are there with her, perhaps even wishing you were able to send her a sponsor gift.

As someone who got kind of hypnotized by Twilight (it did something to my brain and I could NOT put it down until I read all four books) I was afraid to start a trilogy in the teen genre. I found this one to be better written and while not sucking me in like Twilight did (thank goodness) I am looking forward to reading the next book to see what happens to Katniss, Peeta and Prim. I find myself imagining what will happen to them next, which tells me this book is a definite winner.

I think you would especially enjoy this book if you enjoy survivalist stories, strong female characters or imagining what our country could be like in a distant future. While the idea of a world where teenagers fight to the death seems like a long shot, when you think about our world's reality TV obsession and the lust for gore in films it actually seems pretty plausible.

I really recommend reading this book. I'm excited to start book two (Catching Fire), perhaps for one of next months reads.