Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bookmarks Magazine

Theory of Clouds by Stephane Audeguy
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Bejing Coma by Flora Drew
Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
The Escapement by Jake Lake but start with Mainspring SF
The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace NF
Eaves of Heaven by Andrew X. Pham (wrote Catfish and Mandala) NF
The Forgers Spell by Edward Dolnick NF

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tales of Moonlight and Rain

by Ueda Akinari

“First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque.” Quote from the front flap of the book.

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge and will also post it for the RIP III challenge as it certainly fits. These nine tales of ghosts, demons and spirits range from the mild ghost stories involving civil conversations with entities that just happen to be ghosts to the truly horrific involving tenacious demons and cannibalism. In general my favorite stories in this collection were the more sensational ones but I also really enjoyed one that wasn’t scary at all.

The Carp of My Dreams was simply a lovely story with a hint of the supernatural. A monk likes to paint carp and spends many hours studying them in the lake and painting them. He becomes ill and in his delirium dreams that he is a carp swimming in the lake, or is it a dream? He recovers from that illness and lives a full life. When he knows the end is near he takes all the carp paintings to the lake and releases the carp which swim off the paper and into the lake. It reminded me of something Borges could have written. I didn’t find anything gothic about it but I certainly enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the Reed-Choked House about a peasant that goes off to the capital to attempt to become a merchant but cannot return home because of civil unrest. Six years later he finally returns home and finds his home unchanged and his wife dutifully waiting for him. He awakes the next morning. “Feeling something cold dripping on his face, he opened his eyes, thinking that rain was seeping in: the roof had been torn off by the wind, and he could see the waning moon lingering dimly in the sky. The house had lost its shutters. Reeds and plumed grasses grew tall through gaps in the decaying floorboards, and the morning dew dripped from them, saturating his sleeves. The walls were draped with ivy and arrowroot; the garden buried in creepers - even though fall had not come yet, the house was a wild autumn moor.” He finally realizes that his wife is long dead.

In two other stories the women are not such benign ghosts. In the Kibitsu Cauldron a husband runs off with a prostitute. Instead of waiting for him to return the wife becomes an angry spirit, kills the prostitute and gets revenge on her husband. In A Serpent’s Lust a handsome young man is seduced by a beautiful serpent demon. Although he eventually catches on that she is not a young lady all his attempts to escape her and live a normal life are to no avail. These are two of my favorite stories in the collection but make me wonder a little about the author’s relationship with women.

In the Blue Hood an abbot at a monastery becomes infatuated with a beautiful young servant boy. When the boy becomes ill and dies the abbot is driven mad, becomes a demon and terrorizes the nearby village by digging up graves and eating the corpses. A traveling priest is able to help the village and the abbot attain peace. These are just my favorite tales but I did enjoy all of the them.

The book itself has a lengthy introduction and each story has its own introduction and contains numerous footnotes and endnotes. I found that what worked best for me was to read each story straight through without all the additional material as a simple gothic tale. I don’t think it is necessary to read anything but the tales themselves to enjoy them as stories. Simply because I was interested, I then went back and read it again with all the supplemental information which certainly added another dimension to the work. The supplemental information was exhaustive and while much of it was way more information then a casual reader would need, much of it was really fascinating. For example, the homosexual overtones of the Chrysanthemum Vow totally escaped me until I read the supplemental material. As it has been a long time since I took Japanese history classes in college I had forgotten how important a role Chinese culture played in the development of Japanese culture. I found the comparisons to No theater interesting. I enjoyed the supplemental material but if you want to simply read it as a collection of gothic tales that works too.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

While surfing for scary books I stumbled across a reference to On the Beach by Nevil Shute which, in the serendipitous way of internet surfing that I love, resulted in a list of post-apocalyptic novels that I would like to read.

On the Beach - Nevil Shute
Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank
The Stand - Stephen King
Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven
Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller.

I purchased Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse based upon Carl V's rave review but haven't had a chance to read it yet. My favorite post-apocalyptic novels off the top of my head are Handmaid's Tale, Cloud Atlas and the Road.

So much to read, so little time!

Saturday, September 06, 2008


by Natsuo Kirino

Although this book has been on my wish list for some time I specifically read it for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I have also seen this book on people’s lists for the RIP III challenge so I am going to link it there as well.

This story opens with four women working the night shift in a factory making boxed lunches. When one of them murders her abusive husband the others assist with the disposal of the body. In typical noir fashion, things go from bad to worse as these four desperate and broken women try to cope with the police investigation, a loan shark and another murderer. I don’t normally read crime fiction but I generally like dark stories and boy is this dark, sadistic, brutal and shocking. Although I enjoyed it, it is not for the faint of heart.

I thought it was very well written (and translated) and that the author really captured both her characters and settings very well. It really transported me to the outskirts of Tokyo to the lunch box factory, the night club or the characters' homes. Even though not a single one of the characters is likeable and all have committed despicable acts they were so incredibly real that I cared about them and wanted to find out what happened in their story. You could really feel the desperation that each of these characters experienced. There is certainly an undercurrent of gender conflict in the novel but it never becomes preachy or obtrusive.

The only criticism I have is that the ending was a little odd. The ultimate showdown is told twice from two different perspectives. Although it was interesting to get the two perspectives of the same battle, I think this could have been achieved a little more artfully without a complete second retelling which I felt disrupted the flow of the story. I would also warn that the ending was incredibly brutal and disturbing and I can think of many friends that would not be comfortable reading it.