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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Author: 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…


  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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