Kafka, Rowling, Lem

It’s been a busy morning so far. In the gym by seven, where I perfected my exercise-while-you-sleep routine and listened to the Engadget podcast, as well as some New German Wave, which, laughably, I think will prepare me for the German conversations due next week, as I travel to Dortmund with my girlfriend. Between now and bedtime I’ll need to mark at least two postgraduate scripts (coupla hours each), continue editing on Proper Job, remember some changes to Flashback that occurred while I was sleeping in the gym, do some housework, and think about a synopsis I’ve been asked to put together for a publisher.

So I’ll need to be brief with this post, but there are few bits of literary news to flag up. Via The Elegant Variation (named after a Fowler article), I had a look as this Canadian article that reports on the large crowd that gathered for the funeral of Polish author Stanislaw Lem. Lem was a curious figure, to be sure, but there is no doubt that his novel Solaris (filmed twice) represents one of the greatest science fiction works of the twentieth century. I’m not sure I’d class it, if pressed, as a great novel full stop, but I have never read a book that captures the alienness of extraterrestrials with the fluency and wonder of Lem – even though he hated the English translation, if memory serves. Those who haven’t read Lem might regard him as a little obscure, but find yourself a copy of Solaris forthwith. It’s worth it.

And so to a story about his Exchequerness, Dr Gordon Brown. It seems that he knows how to big up a book, and to do so he has recruited big names including Al Gore, Nelson Mandela and – bizarrely – J. K. Rowling to rewrite introductions to the various sections of his new book, which is a collection of speeches. As booktrade.info observes,

The sales record set last year by the sixth Harry Potter novel, which sold an unprecedented 2m copies in 24 hours, looks safe.

Finally, over at the feisty Literary Saloon, news comes that Haruki Murakami has won the Franz Kafke Prize, awarded by the Czech Franz Kafka Society each Spring. Winners of this award have, in the past two years, gone on to win the Nobel, so will the Kafka magic work for Murakami? Who knows. This guy is held in high regard, but I’ve only read one of his works: Kafka by the Shore. For the first half of the book, I thought the guy was a genius; for the second half, I thought he was a cheat. At the end, I was ambivalent. I don’t like a writer who doesn’t deliver at the level of the story (though, of course, he might have delivered in a way I didn’t understand). Two words: Chekhov’s gun. By the way, if you haven’t read Kafka, don’t be put off by the literary laurels. Kafka is an extraordinary writer who can make the often unhappy marriage of tone and theme work seamlessly, as in Stokes’s translation of ‘The Trial’ (though ‘The Process’ would be a better title).

OK, gotta go. The gerbils – Coffee and Erich – have gone quiet. I think they might be hatching another escape attempt through the floor of the Soil Biome.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

3 thoughts on “Kafka, Rowling, Lem”

  1. It may be a bit of a cop-out, but Murakami has a way of transcending critical faculties. His style (or his translators’ styles) and content are pretty basic, almost to the point of banality. But he manages somehow to create a mood and an atmosphere like few other writers I know. I’d compare his work to the music of Radiohead, which can sound (objectively) like annoying clatter with sixth-form lyrics scattered on top, but (instictively) it works. Thom Yorke is, unsurprisingly, a Murakami fan.

    If you can be bothered to persist with him, I’d suggest The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (big and sprawly) or, maybe better, the underrated South Of The Border, West Of The Sun (small and sad – rather like a Wong Kar Wei film). Kafka was a return to form after the tiresome Sputnik Sweetheart, but it’s hardly him at his best.

    Good site, btw. Will return.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tim. I have a feeling that there’s something about Murakami that I’ve missed and, since one of my favourite authors (David Mitchell) is a Marukami fan, I’ll probably pick up another one at some point. South of the Border sounds interesting…

    Cheers,
    In

  3. Unfortunately, I am not that big of a fan. Was rather disenchanted after reading his Wind-Up Bird Chronicles earlier this year, and had just posted a criticism on his Elephant Vanishes that you might be interested in.

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