The Sportswriter / Galapagos / Anil’s Ghost

More books, by the way:

Smoke And Mirrors and Angela’s Ashes, both of which I’ve been meaning to buy for the longest time.

A History Of Amnesia (Alfian Sa’at, one of my favourite Singaporean poets)

Ghostwritten (David Mitchell) and Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers) from the Marine Parade library, which is full of books I can’t find in the UCL library and is an exceedingly pleasant place to lose yourself in for a few hours. Or a week.

Had to zip through Anil’s Ghost and Galapagos in order to finish them by their due dates, after taking far too long to get through The Sportswriter due to the fact that it seemed to induce chronic narcolepsy. It’s not that it’s a bad book – the writing had its moments, and some parts were marginally poignant, but it just moved far too slowly and I never found myself able to like or understand the protagonist very much, such as when he suggested to his ex-wife that they go into a room and make passionate love in the house of his friend who’d just committed suicide. She wasn’t keen, and I don’t blame her. Perhaps it’s a very male book.

Galapagos started off feeling like classic Vonnegut, and I was expecting great things, which might have been why I was a little disappointed by the end of it. There were all these fascinating little tidbits of how life was to be on the Galapagos island of Santa Rosalia for his motley crew of apocalypse survivors, and I kept reading in eager anticipation of finding out more, but was never given it. He wraps the book up hastily, and the reader is left to make imaginatory leaps between years on the island. What was daily life like? Who was the first human with flippers? How long did it all take?

I realize that longing for details like that aren’t always what reading Vonnegut is about – a Vonnegut book almost wouldn’t be a Vonnegut book without fistfuls of misleadingly simply expressed ideas, liberally sprinkled across paper and time, with you as reader expected to hunt, gather, and interpret. Given that I loved Slaughterhouse 5, The Sirens Of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, this disappointment in Galapagos is hard for me to justify, since it doesn’t seem a lesser book than these. I guess at the end of it all, I just wanted something it whetted my appetite for but didn’t give me. I still love Kurt, though. He’s given me enough gems, and is allowed to be less than marvellous every now and then.

I enjoyed Anil’s Ghost, mostly because I’ve always liked Michael Ondaatje’s writing style – the introductory passage alone wouldn’t let me go until I’d read it three times – but also because its content appealed to me. Forensics, archaeology, politics, and the tragedies it can bring about; loss, courage and sacrifice, lives of quiet desperation. It’s not anywhere as lyrical, scenic or romantic as The English Patient, but there’s a subtle, unambitious beauty in this book that I found equally (though differently) moving.