Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review

The other day I purchased a book called The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. I did so after becoming aware of the storm it had set off between the general society of readers (the book has been wildly popular and won the Pulitzer Prize) and the 'guardians of true literature', as represented by those literary critics associated with The NY Times Book Review, the Paris Review, and other august and unimpeachable sources. Popular reviews received the novel with enthusiastic admiration, calling it a rare literary gem in an otherwise drab and redundant market - something that comes along only once in a very long while. The folks in the ivory towers said it was inept, embarrassing and juvenile.


Naturally, having been a literature major at university, I wanted to see for myself.

And so far, though only 100 pages into a 700 page story, I can say this much: I find the prose to be more than competent - in fact, often startling in its excellence, the sort of thing that inspires reluctant envy in wannabe writers. This author has brought a sharp intelligence to her narrative without being intellectually intrusive, and without disturbing the fabric and atmosphere of the story into which she has placed us. It does seem, as some reviews have noted, Dickensian in its completeness, in the fabrication of a world that seems, as long as we are reading, and even when we have left off reading, as real as the world we live in. Tartt has addressed real events, such as the death of a loved one, with an empathetic exactitude that is almost painful,  bringing to us in ringing words what we ourselves have felt but been unable to express. Most importantly, perhaps, Tartt has written a story, something that brings us along, something that we take part in as it unfolds; and this, in my view, is where writing becomes literature. One cannot help but feel, sometimes, that the 'literary establishment' would just as soon remove the story from the work of fiction - how embarrassing, after all, to tell something so common as a story about common people. Thank heavens Ms. Tartt's book is not 'literary' in this sense!

And so, based on 100 pages, my reaction is extremely positive. And I suppose I'll have more to say 600 pages from now.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Transport, Mister?

Upon exiting the airport terminal in Bali, or getting anywhere near the exit, one is immediately assaulted an army of taxi drivers. Each member in this army is equally unwilling to take no for an answer.

"Transport! Transport!"

You explain that a friend is coming to pick you up, but it doesn't matter.

"Where you live? Renon? I know Renon."

"Yes, but my friend will take me."

"No friend. I get you there quick."

One shoulders through multiple interviews as the drivers queue up, though each has surely heard what was said to the driver only seconds before.

"Transport, mister?"

Good grief.


The first thing one notes upon stepping off a  flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur is that he has suddenly reentered the modern world. Four lane freeways rush into the city, spilling their travelers into a neat and orderly street grid criss-crossing beneath the towering skyscrapers. Here is an actual plan for traffic flow, quite unlike the whimsical chaos of Bali roads, which seem to have been shaken well and tossed down rather than planned and arranged. At the sides of these streets are something they call "sidewalks", an ingenious invention which allows for the separation of pedestrians and motor vehicles. These two modes of conveyance intersect with things called "crosswalks". Astounding.

The second thing one notices is that there are very few motorbikes on the road. Gone is the buzzing and darting swarm which, in Bali, flutters along between, beside, behind and before the cars. Why there are so very few motorbikes, I do not know. Are cars cheaper? Are they merely more practical, given the more practical roads? Beats me.