July 2015 Media Round-up (Books)

july2015books


Hannibal, Thomas Harris

Review(ish):

I enjoyed the first 90% of this and then FUCKING HATED the last 10%, which I think was more or less the general reaction when it was first released.

The Good:

  • Clarice Starling vs. institutional sexism
  • Clarice and Ardelia’s friendship, which is one of the (many) things that makes the TERRIBLE ending ring false
  • Basically everything Barney does, but especially Barney and Margot being bodybuilding bros
  • Reading all of these passages, both dialogue and narration, that have appeared on NBC’s Hannibal in different contexts1. I kind of wish that I had notated all of these moments with the episode number in which they appear and who says what to whom when I started reading, because it’s truly fascinating and a good counter-argument/fuck-you to all of the people who claim that adaptations and remakes show a lack of creativity. I assume this analogy has been made before, but you can sort of think of NBC’s Hannibal as Bryan Fuller sampling/remixing/rapping over the various Harris books and movie adaptations.

The Bad:

  • Hinting at Hannibal’s traumatic backstory (which is more fully explored in Hannibal Rising, I guess). It worked for Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, because we were probably supposed to find ourselves empathizing with him in the same way that Will is (without excusing the whole serial killing thing, of course), but the main appeal of Hannibal Lecter is that he’s just unapologetically, almost gleefully, evil, right? And that loses its charm when you try to make him more human. I also think it’s one of those things like showing the actual portrait of Dorian Gray in TV/movie adaptations—like, you think you want to see it because it’s going to be totally fucked up and awesome. But any actual physical realization of the portrait just can’t possibly live up to the hype and will probably come across as cheesy or at least, not fucked up enough to justify the characters’ reactions to it. Not showing the portrait at all always seems like the wiser choice to me, as it implies that it’s just so fucked up that you couldn’t possibly even imagine how it looks. So I get the desire, as a fan, to understand why Hannibal Lecter is the way he is, but I think it’s ultimately more effective to keep it a mystery.

The Worst:

  • The Clarice/Hannibal romance. Ugh. UGHHHH. But okay, let’s try to be somewhat more articulate about why this is The Worst when we do ship Will/Hannibal in the TV show, which recycles a lot of the elements of the Clarice/Hannibal romance. The age difference is maybe the biggest factor: Clarice is 30ish to Hannibal’s over 60 in the books, and she almost definitely has an Electra complex, which makes me super uncomfortable; Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, on the other hand, are currently 40 and 49 respectively, which is like…not a huge gap at that point in life. The drugging and brainwashing aspect is upsetting, but a valid storytelling choice, since Hannibal Lecter is, you know, NOT A GOOD DUDE. The problem is then the implication that Clarice breaks through Hannibal’s brainwashing and still chooses to be with him, because it doesn’t feel true to what we’ve learned about her so far as a character. She values Taste and is frustrated with the FBI, but it doesn’t feel like she’s been through quite enough shit to suddenly be cool with committing to a lifetime outside of the law, going to operas and eating people. TV!Will, on the other hand, has been through so much shit that you do basically buy him being like, “fuck this, I’m going to sail to Europe to run away with Hannibal,” and even then, he can’t bring himself to actually follow through.

Selected quote:

Starling was coming back to herself a little. She knew she was weary of something. Maybe it was tackiness, worse than tackiness, stylelessness maybe. An indifference to things that please the eye. Maybe she was hungry for some style. Even snuff-queen style was better than nothing, it was a statement, whether you wanted to hear it or not.


Generation A, Douglas Coupland

Review(ish):

Man, this book. Coupland manages to capture so many feelings that I’ve been trying and failing to articulate for the past few years to the point where it was at times a little unsettling to read because it just felt too True. Also, and this may be a larger theme to Coupland’s works, he deals with the relationship between social isolation and technology in the modern age without quite descending into the technophobic Smartphones Are Ruining Society fear-mongering of, say, Gary Shteyngart.

Selected quote:

“Craig, the hardest things in the world are being unique and having your life be a story. In the old days, it was much easier, but our modern fame-driven culture, with its real-time 24-7 marinade of electronic information, demands a lot from modern citizens, and poses great obstacles to narrative. Truly modern citizens are both charismatic and can only respond to other people with charisma. To survive, people need to become self-branding charisma robots. Yet, ironically, society mocks and punishes people who aspire to that state. I really wouldn’t be surprised if your friends were making fun of you behind your back, Craig.”

“Really?”

“Really. So, in a nutshell, given the current media composition of the world, you’re pretty much doomed to being uninteresting and storyless.”

“But I can blog my life! I could turn it into a story that way!”

“Blogs? Sorry, but all those blogs and vlogs or whatever’s out there—they just make being unique harder. The more truths you spill out, the more generic you become.”


Life after God, Douglas Coupland

Review(ish):

Not super into short stories, and I don’t think any of the individual stories were very memorable, but as a whole, they did a good job of conveying a certain ambience (fuck, our lives are empty and we’re getting older and we’re going to die without ever having found any meaning or purpose) and, like Generation A, had a lot of passages that I Felt Deeply.

Selected quote:

Other thoughts: sometimes I wonder if it is too late to feel the same things that other people seem to be feeling. Sometimes I want to go up to people and say to them, “What is it you are feeling that I am not? Please—that’s all I want to know.”

Perhaps you think I simply need to fall in love and that maybe I’ve just never met the right person. Or perhaps I’ve just never figured out exactly what it was I wanted to do with life while the clock ticked away. Whatever.


Dead Babies, Martin Amis

Review(ish):

Some funny scenes and excellent language, but I maybe no longer find copious drug use and debauchery inherently fascinating? And it doesn’t have much going for it besides that, although according to Wikipedia, it’s “a parody of Agatha Christie’s country-house mysteries” which uh…totally did not register because I have read zero Agatha Christie.

Selected quote:

Now they were all moving to no effect—just moving, just switching things off and switching things on, just picking things up and putting things down and picking things up and stroking the cat and counting the mugs and fighting for air. It seemed that everything they did had already been done and done, and that everything they thought had already been thought and thought, and that this would never end. Excuse me, said panic to each of them in turn. They had no mouth and they had to scream.


Persona, Genevieve Valentine

Review(ish):

Not a fan, but it’s hard to pinpoint why; there’s nothing obviously wrong with this book and there are in fact a lot of things2 that I should be really pleased about, and yet…it just reads as so bland.

Part of this may be a lack of world-building—Valentine sets up the concept of this near-future world where there’s basically a UN of hot young people whom the public treats like celebrities, but mostly uses it as a backdrop for the main assassination plot. Perhaps focusing more on how this world functions in normal conditions would have made the action feel less generic and lent more weight to the assassination attempt—I think we never get a good enough sense of the characters’ motivations or the political situation to really give a shit about who orchestrated the assassination and why.

Plus, the main female protagonist, Suyana, never felt as interesting or novel to me as the author seemed to think she was. I think the Not Your Typical Female Protagonist type (she’s not super friendly or likable! she has a mind of her own! she cares more about serving justice than looking good!) has actually become pretty typical. And the main male protagonist, Daniel, had the potential to be interesting, but we only ever got subtle hints about his backstory because this did not have that sort of gossipy narration that I so enjoy. And I don’t really know what the benefit of Valentine being so withholding about characters’ backstories and motivations was, other than the notion that being enigmatic is Literary or whatever, because I think it ultimately just makes them come across as generic and poorly defined.

It would probably make a good movie, though.

Selected quote:

Nah.


Worst. Person. Ever., Douglas Coupland

Review(ish):

Not a super substantial novel, maybe, but very funny. So let’s go with two selected quotes instead of trying to say anything worthwhile ourselves.

Selected quotes:

As I held the door open, I cast a glance behind me at the main room, which was actually looking okay without most of my defenestrated crap. Those monks might be onto something with minimalism and all that meditating and shit, but fuck monks, I was after pussy.

Christ, this woman really had a massive, pulsating lady boner for me. I needed to start thinking of her as fuckable or I was never going to get out of here. But she had about as much sexual allure for me as Mr. Bean. Why, oh why, did she leave me cold when, to be honest, I’ve even mind-shagged Margaret Thatcher. Well, come on, let’s be totally honest here—who hasn’t? All you need is the right lighting, a nice bottle of Italian red, shovel-loads of ketamine and maybe one of those autoerotic asphyxiation getups Fiona’s clients are always dying in. I mean, I’ve mind-shagged female restroom logos all around the planet. I’ve mind-shagged the boot at the southern tip of Italy on Google Maps. So to not be able to contemplate getting it up for Peggy/Jennifer was cruelty beyond measure, especially as I was technically now her love slave—and who out there hasn’t wanted to be a love slave at some point or other?


Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland

Review(ish):

Similarly to Worst. Person. Ever., I liked this a lot, but didn’t necessarily Feel Deeply about it. The non-linear storytelling makes it super readable, and the characters feel very well-defined because their backstories and experiences are just so specific. And, you know, beauty pageants and Hollywood hold a (somewhat embarrassing and irrational) appeal for us.

Selected quote:

It seemed to John that people in love stopped having the personality they had before love arrived. They morphed into generic “in-love units.” John saw both love and long-term relationships as booby traps that would not only strip him of his identity but would take out the will to continue moving on.


[1] Especially all of the romantic parts where show!Will replaces book!Clarice, because I am shipper garbage. But I mean, this:

He looked up and saw her and his breath stopped in his throat. His hands stopped too, still spread above the keyboard. Harpsichord notes do not carry, and in the sudden quiet of the drawing room, they both heard him take his next breath.

Two drinks waited before the fire. He occupied himself with them. Lillet with a slice of orange. Dr. Lecter handed one to Clarice Starling.

“If I saw you every day, forever, I’d remember this time.” His dark eyes held her whole.

And then this: (here) ^
[2] A thriller set in the near future! With racial diversity! And secret lesbians! And the socio-political implications of fashion! ^

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