Thursday, April 08, 2010

Quick Book Reviews

The Third Man Graham Greene
The film certainly has a very memorable screenplay, so I thought it was worth checking out the source material. We have a bit of a quirk here, as the screenplay pre-dated the book – but Greene certainly handled the transition well. Over the years, I’ve run pretty hot and cold with Greene’s work. Some of it is very engaging, while others leave me with a real sense of detachment. To be frank, The Power and the Glory falls into the latter category. Much like the movie, Harry Lime is a spirit moving throughout the story. What I liked about the book is that, while Rollo Martins is certainly interested in getting to the bottom of the mystery, he remains even more morally ambiguous than he did in the movie.

Being There Jerzy Kozinski
Again, I’ve seen the movie but never got around to reading this book (novella?). The only other Kozinski book I’ve read is The Painted Bird, and this one is certainly less intense. I liked it, but it really does feel like a minor work. I can understand how people really enjoyed the satirical look at Washington back in 1971, but it comes off as a bit dated these days. All in all, it seems a bit thin and I actually think things were better fleshed out in Ashby’s film.

Yiddish Policeman’s Union Michael Chabon
Get ready for a little comic book geek heresy. I quite preferred this book to Kavalier & Clay. Like his earlier work, Chabon does an incredible job of establishing a setting. With this book, however, rather than worrying about historical detail – he allows himself to create his own universe. By the end of the book, it is hard to believe that Sitka, Alaska isn’t actually a giant metropolis. To me, K&K meandered a bit too much, and falls apart in the second half. A bit of the same thing occurs in YPU, but Chabon keeps it from unraveling completely and his work developing characters improved immensely as our hero, Meyer Landsman is a wonderfully complex and multi-dimensional character. It is almost as if Chabon was channeling Richler here.

Run - Anne Patchett
This book came highly recommend by my parents. I was immensely underwhelmed. It is lovely and polite, but it is also unbelievably bland. The plot is relatively simple, and I would be surprised if someone could not correctly guess where it was headed. Patchett makes the mistake of hinting at elements of racism and corruption but never addresses them. Her characters are also very wooden, and this leads to a drama-free dramatic novel. I get the sense the Patchett is trying to say something with this book, but she fell far short.

Girl With the Dragon TattooStieg Larsson
While The Third Man is a good book that was commissioned as a screenplay, this feels like a book written with the intention of being optioned for a movie. I have no idea how this one became such a phenomenon. As a mystery, it really isn’t very mysterious. As a thriller, the thrilling moments are few and far between. I felt as it I was treading water, turning page after page. It was overly sensationalistic at times, while coming up short in the suspense department at other times. I also think it is a shame that the title was changed from Men Who Hate Women. This one is certainly about misogyny, if nothing else – I only wish that a bit more substance could have been inserted somewhere into the 800 pages. I won’t be reading the sequels.


Edo Bosnar said...

While I generally hold Greene in high regard as a writer, I've also found that some of his works, even the highly praised ones, left me cold - The Power & the Glory especially, but also Stamboul Train (Orient Express). On the other hand, I really enjoyed The Third Man. If you have the time and inclination, and haven't already read them, I strongly recommend his novels The Heart of the Matter and The Human Factor - these are Greene at his very best in my opinion.
By the way, the only Kozinski book I ever read was The Painted Bird - god, talk about a harrowing literary experience...

Anonymous said...

I love Harry Lime..check out the Lives of Harry Lime (the 3rd Man) old tyme radio shows...very entertaining

Mark said...

I must be the only one who liked The Power and the Glory over The Heart of the Matter. Maybe it's because I never finished The Painted Bird. My hat's off to you for that!

bendat-dot/craig said...

I have always been meaning to get around to reading Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union". I have heard your complaint about Kavalier and Klay before Scott. Also, some have found it a bit too overwrought, dazzled by its own polish. Chabon is a brilliant wordsmith, with a masterful turn of phrase and keen sense of the rhythm of language. I love K&K from beginning to end, though I agree (if this is what you are saying) it did sometimes feel like it was 2 books rather than one, or sought to go in too many directions. These flaws became epic in scope in with myself, and I just fell in love with Chabon's power of words, and sense of character. I've checked out his essays too and they are great (a nice one is on Howard Chaykin) Good reviews Scott!

Scott M said...

yes, the Painted Bird was a tough read. I was maybe 22 or 23 at the time.

Craig - I did indeed like K&K and i don't mean to come across as slagging it, but I was much more engaged in YPU, and I can't say why. You are right Chabon, the man knows how to turn a phrase.

I'll check out those radio shows - always looking for stuff to fill the iPod.