Reviewed by Heidi Boudro
A potpourri of the novels that I read in 2004:
Aura, by Carlos Fuentes (translated by Lysander Kemp), first published in Spanish in 1962, is a disturbing horror novella about the deadly fascination between a young scholar and the eerie young woman who is the companion of an old lady in a mysterious house in a Mexican city. Creepy!
Another classic of post-war Latin American literature, The Lost Steps, originally published in 1953, by Alejo Carpentier (translated by Harriet de Onís) tells the story of a snobbish young Cuban who travels from Manhattan into Venezuela shortly after World War II. The title refers to the Lost Footsteps (not the Lost Staircase) of a trip into the jungle that cannot be retraced. Despite the narrator's sexism, classism, etc., the novel is found by many to be profound. It is a complex novel not easy to dismiss, clearly an important work of literature, and it remains strangely vivid in my mind.
I finally got around to reading Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996), source of the 1999 cult movie of the same name, one of the weirdest and most vivid film experiences I have ever had. The novel likewise is a tour de force of questionable ethics. The central concept--a fight club, a group in which otherwise civilized men beat the crap out of each other--is, interestingly, the least sick element of the novel and film.
In the entertaining satire The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002) by Gary Shteyngart, an intellectual but underachieving young man, who emigrated from Russia to New York City as a boy, is absorbed into the Russian Mafia in a lightly disguised (but very recognizable) Prague (the Paris of the Nineties, as they used to say). The carefully crafted first half of the novel, taking place in Manhattan, manages to be simultaneously realistic and satiric. The second half suffers slightly from the age-old dilemma, How do you satirize Eastern Europe? (Answer: You can't.) However, I enjoyed the novel thoroughly.
I enjoyed J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (2003) so much I read it twice. The fifth book in the series about the famous boy wizard has a serious theme, similar to that of the movie The Deer Hunter (1978), yet presents its theme at a level suitable for children and sustains the light fantasy world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Touching and poignant.
Last and least: Yes, I did read Dan Brown's appallingly badly written non-thriller The Da Vinci Code (2003). For those able to enjoy it on its own terms, be my guest, but don't get me started...
Copyright © 2005 by Heidi Boudro