Archive for December, 2012

Tim Lott – The Seymour Tapes

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

If I would describe The Seymour Tapes (2005) by Tim Lott it would be a contemporary fiction novel on the making of a non-fiction novel in which the reader gets all the essentials of non-fiction novel and much more. Just this unusual setup makes this novel a fascinating read. Lott presents his novel as a documentary with himself in the role of the writer. Instead of getting the actual documentary, the reader gets it in a different format. Like in a making-of he decides what we read and when we do so. This of course to get the right effect, but also to create variation between the so-called documentary parts and the making-of parts. With this he keeps control over the perspective of the reader. You don’t know more than what he is giving away. As the novel progresses this allows for twists and surprises even as some things that are to come are disclosed during the story. Even so these disclosures allow the reader to pay more attention to scenes to come, so I would call it quite an effective method, for a change.

The unique structure is not without its flaws. Certain developments, especially those outside of the documentary, are a bit too much made convenient for the plot. The balance between the two setting is precarious. Is the reader been given wrong impressions or is it just for effect? The hiding of information is one of the reasons why I finished the novel not wholly satisfied.

Speaking of satisfaction: The events of the documentary are rather to the contrary as they depict tragic and disturbing events. Most striking is that Lott presents his characters absolutely natural and very recognizable. Their motives and peculiarities are nowhere that strange or far from real life. As a whole the characterization is one of the very strong elements of this novel. Lott keeps things simple and down to earth. The events could happen anywhere. They will give the reader plenty to think about. It certainly had been a while since I read a psychological novel that hit my own feelings at some levels and that questions one’s behavior that many people these days have become quite familiar with.

The Seymour Tapes is a stunning novel, very accessible and recognizable with a unique structure that will keep the reader hooked while the content is actually somewhat creepy. It is not a perfect novel, but impressive enough as it will be able to hit some marks in the years to come. Especially in these times it has timeless elements, even though it contains very contemporary elements. Recommended.

 

James P. Othmer – The Futurist

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

The Futurist (2006) by James P. Othmer tells about an activity that I did not know one could make a successful full time job of. The Futurist, despite its title, is very much a contemporary novel while each chapter contains a summary of past details of the main character’s life. It is actually quite contemporary because it sets actions, settings and behavior within the specific timeframe the story takes place. Only six years old, certain aspects already feel outdated, although one could argue it depicts the vibe and character of the time it is set in so that decades from now the reader will have a good picture of those times.

The narrative of the story follows the titular futurist, which provides a nice focus, as the reader mainly knows what he does, although Othmer does give away some slips now and then to heighten the tension and anticipation of the reader. The main character is a peculiar person who had led an unusual life. It’s rather impossible to identify with him, so the only thing the reader can do is enjoy the quirks and enjoy the exploration of the main character’s life. One could draw an analogy with Forrest Gump, although the futurist is rather an opposite. So he is amusing while also somewhat sad.

The plot itself develops quickly as the main character encounters a wide range of characters and strange situations. The situations provide memorable scenes which echo the style of Tarantino and co. where the conversations are a-typical and the expected scenes develop differently then what you might expect. These scenes are certainly funny and quite entertaining. Although I was not laughing, I found myself grinning often.

The story revolves around the futurist undergoing a change and the question if this is a greater change or not. Othmer adds in a few thriller elements to spicy it up and put some real pressure on the main character. In between Othmer adds in a greater message for the reader. To me that message was of lesser interest as I have read similar messages before. Other readers might be enlightened by the insights he provides.

The Futurist is quite entertaining and a quick read. I enjoyed it much and would not have minded it lasting longer. It is fairly well balanced and easily accessible as there are many ways to view the story. Recommended.

 

Ashok K. Banker – Siege Of Mithila

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Siege Of Mithila (2003) is the second novel of Ashok K. Banker‘s modern rendition of the Ramayana, an epic poem of Hindu mythology. The novel is a direct continuation of the first novel, Prins Of Ayodhya, and with me reading the second novel straight after it, there was no feeling of transition. His prose was easy to read and as usual interspersed with Indian terms, although there were much less new ones, making it easier for the reader to keep track of everything.

The pace of the plot remains somewhat slow, although there is plenty of story. Banker does not hang on to one or a limited number of points of view, but uses any that he sees fit to use. This provides variation in the narrative although it also means giving each central character some extensive showtime so that not that much happens actually. The many points of view has the negative effect that Banker has limited time to explore certain characters. After their introduction in the first books the familiar characters did not get more depth. Of course Banker is limited in some sense by epic poem the story is based on. He can give the characters more depth by the interpretation of the poem, but by going further he risks making them different as he explores new areas.

As I have not read the Ramayana I can only guess at what Banker adds of his own and where he follows the poem more strictly. My attempts to do so have been somewhat hard. There are certain developments and scenes in the story that do not seem to fit that well into the flow of story. I can only assume that Banker is trying to stick as true as possible to the poem and is bound by the scenes and events that take place at certain points. In some he has more freedom, which results a more solid narrative, while in others he seems unable to find the right balance. It didn’t happen very often and it were the only times that I was not much satisfied with the plot development. The downside of sticking to the poem as strictly as possible is that certain plot developments seem silly or shaky as the characters do not behave as they should, based on how they have been presented before that. My conclusion thus is that the weaknesses in the story are not Banker’s but from the original poem itself that gives problems to render in a modern rendition.

The whole setting in ancient India and the different cultural aspects that as a Western reader I’m unfamiliar with do provide a refreshing, original and sometimes fascinating read. Siege Of Mithila is not as good as the first novel, but still a fine read with plenty of enjoyable scenes and moments.