Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Wednesday Review - Oracle Night

This is the second book by Auster that I've read.  I had really enjoyed Mr Vertigo as a teenager and was looking forward to immerse myself in his strange creation. 

The story of Oracle Night is like a Russian doll. We meet Sidney, an author recovering from a near fatal illness.  He hasn't written in months when he finds a Portuguese blue notebook in a small stationary store.  He feels compelled to start writing again.  We then follow the story of Nick Bowen, who's been given the task of editing a recovered manuscript from a deceased famous author.  This story is also outlined.  In short, it's a story about a man writing a story about a man reading a story.  The premise is really interesting. 

However, as Sydney starts writing in the notebook, things start to fall apart in the real world.  Weird things happen to him.  There seems to be something magical about the notebook.  Something prophetic.  The things he writes start influencing his life, in a bad way.

"Thoughts are real," he said. "Words are real.  Everything human is real, and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren't aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment.  Maybe that's what writing is all about, Sid.  Not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future."

This is probably the quote that sums up the book the best.  This really is what Oracle night is about.  As a writer, it really appealed to me.  I like the idea because it reflects one of the beliefs I have about words and their power.

Auster's prose is rich and he seems to favour the rule of three; most descriptions always contain three elements.  His vocabulary is extensive which, combined with the rule of three, contributes to a very vivid and precise depiction of the characters thoughts and moods.  I must confess that I had to consult the dictionary a few times.  Aside from that (which probably only is an issue because I'm not a native English speaker,) the book was fairly easy to read.  

Footnotes.  What can I say?  Auster makes usage of footnotes to add incidental background information about the characters.  Basically, each one of them is a gigantic parenthesis, an explanation of something that does nothing to make the story move forward.  I wouldn't have minded if they had been short, but some of them were three pages long and made for half of the pages, making me go back and forth.  They hindered the flow of the story and annoyed me to the utmost.  I believe the only reason he pulled it off is because he's a famous, establish writer.  If I were to send a manuscript like that to an editor, they wouldn't even bother reading it.

I really liked that Auster set his story in the early eighties.  It was refreshing to read about a world where technology was not yet pervasive.  I think it is a perfect context for the story because it is a time where books (newspaper, magazines, etc) were the only other intellectual distraction, aside from radio and TV, that you could enjoy at home.  It is a world before the Internet and printed words still have a part of mysticism.

The three main characters of the story, Sidney, his wife Grace and their friend John, are well rounded.  However, there are too many others who seem to serve little or no purpose. All the characters Sid creates, completely abandoned mid story, for example, why even bother creating such detailed descriptions if you're only to leave the reader wanting more? Or M.R. Chang, who sells Sid the notebook; he comes back later in the story and takes Sid to an underground brothel, eventually leading to them having a fight.  This could have been entirely skipped.  I do understand that they serve to illustrate the prophetic nature of the notebook, that whatever Sid writes about them, has a direct correlation with what happens in his life after, but I thought it was way too elaborate.  I concede, however, that the pacing was good and that every time I was close to getting bored with one character, Auster skillfully skipped to another one.

Eventually, a few of the loose ends came together but we never get to know for sure what the deal was about the notbook, which was kind of a let down. I was expecting more.

ATUA's verdit: Meh

Monday, 28 January 2013


Hullo peeps!

Here is the writing prompt for this week:

***Writing prompt 118 - Think of an object that describes you. Describe it.***

As always, I invite you to post a link to or the entire answer to the prompt in the comment section!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Talk Back Billy

After a week of absence, here it is, my answer to the prompt.  This one was very difficult for me.  Enjoy!

***Writing prompt 633 - That snappy reply you never had a chance to say ***

There was once, in the middle of nowhere, a village.  It wasn’t a big village, nor was it interesting either.  There were no important roads nearby, nor were there any tourist attractions.  It was plain, boring and far from special.  Why tell its story then?  Because in this tiny village, there lived a man who always needed to be right.  It didn’t matter what you said to him, Talk Back Billy - that was his name- always had the last word.  In fact, anything said after his last utterance was the beginning of a new conversation.  He was witty, something funny but most of the time snappy.  Everyone in the village pitied the woman who would eventually marry him.  To be honest, his only hope was to find a deaf one.  There were none in the village; everyone believed that he would die alone.  It didn’t seem to bother the man one bit.

One day, as most of the villagers had gather at the only restaurant in town, a woman walked in.  She was tall and slender.  No one had ever seen her in these parts.  To tell the truth, these people were weary of newcomers; they didn’t like to see the peace disturbed and so they let Talk Back Billy handle her.  Under their watchful eyes, he walked up to her as the owner was serving her a beer.  Everyone wanted to hear what would be said but the kids were rowdy and the drunks loud.  Afterwards, some of the villagers would boast of actually having heard something when in fact, the whole conversation would forever be clouded in mystery.  One thing is undeniable, something queer happened during that short exchange.

Talk Back Billy spoke first.  The villagers expected the woman to try to say something then be interrupted by the man voluble chatter.  It was not so.  She kept on talking and talking and talking.  She talked so much that the whole crowd finally fell silent, even the children and the drunks.  They all waited for his reply, yet, it never came.  The woman smiled at Talk Back Billy, downed her bear then walked out without even turning around.
As soon as the door closed on her, the whole place exploded with noise.  Everyone wanted to know what had happened, who was this woman who could have the last word.  They questioned the man, again and again, but he refused to answer and soon left the restaurant leaving a trail of gossip.

The story would have died here if something even stranger hadn’t happen afterwards.  From that they on, Talk Back Billy stopped talking back.  Actually he soon stopped talking altogether.  The villagers were bewildered.  They hadn’t enjoyed his ways much, but they liked this new Billy even less.  The poor man started losing weight, his eyes sinking in his skull in dark circle.  His skin turned dry and brittle.  He soon was rechristened Old Man Billy.  The villagers pitied him.  They were also scared of him.

Then, one day, he disappeared. His house was found empty, the inside covered in dust as if no one had lived there for ages.  On one of the wall, the words “Find the word thief” were written in trembling letters.  Billy was never found.  Nor was the woman.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Review Wednesday - The Hunger Games

Let the Hunger Games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favour!

In the ruins of what was once North America, lies the nation of Panem. Composed of 12 districts and ruled by the Capitol, the population is held under strict control. One of those means of control is the Hunger Games, a yearly competition during which each district sends two teenage tribute to fight to the death for the viewing pleasure of the people.  Katniss, a girl from District 12,  volunteers as tribute when her little sister is picked to take part in the bloodbath.  At that very moment, the battle begins.

I decided to read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games because I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.  To make it to the big screen, this book must have had something special.  As a budding author, I was also curious to find the "secret recipe."  Plus, the number of meme I didn't quite get on the net was starting to annoy me.

The book is sold under teen novel and the simplicity of the writing makes it perfect for the target audience.   The prose is clean; the author shows rather than tells and thus, adjectives and adverbs are scant.  Apparently, this is what editors want now but regardless, the author makes it work. It was very easy to see the characters and their actions. Human emotions are well portrayed, realistic and don't feel overdone.  My favourite part of the book was when the tribute were sent to the Capitol.  The clash between District 12's poverty and the Capitol's wealth were vividly described and the different steps of preparation for the games were unexpected and ingenious.  All in all, the book has an excellent pacing; I never felt bored.

Katniss is a believable teenage character and is likable.  I particularly enjoyed the candid relationship she had with her sister but also the more complex one with her mother.  Also, her conflicting emotions towards Gale, a friend from District 12, which are redefined while spending time away from home, are realistic in the sense that they match her personality and the context of the story.  She's far from a giggling love smitten teenager and her reflection matches the maturity of a girl who has had to make a living for he family for many years.   Peeta, the other tribute from District 12, is an interesting character and his abilities in the arena are most surprising when one considers his background as a baker's son; the author makes an etremely original use of cake icing techniques. I wasn't, however, a fan of Peeta; I think this really has more to do with my own preferences than anything else.

The very ending of the book is of course an opening for the following book and I will read the next volume for sure because I want to see how the author will manage to prevent it from becoming a teen romance novel.

On the subject of the ending (spoilers),  some have criticized it because of the characters choosing love over life, making it worth the ultimate sacrifice.  Personally, I didn't see it this way.  Maybe Peeta is blinded by love and decided that Katniss should win because of her family's situation; they would have had much more to lose from her death than his own family.  Then again, the book is written from Katniss' perspective so we can't tell for sure what he thinks.  But for Katniss, I think it's clearly the fear of having to live with someone's blood on her hands that prevents her from killing Peeta.  On first impulse, she grabbed her bow and I think she might have killed him but seeing him unarmed, she had time to think.  Yes, she did kill other kids, but they weren't from her district.  Had Peeta been killed by someone else, it would have been easier for her.  Going back to District 12 after having killed Peeta, who publicly displayed affection for her, might have destroyed her life on many different social and psychological levels.  So long story short, I think her choice was motivated by reasons clearly other than love and that it was the cleverest and even most selfish decision she could have made. Of course, as they ended up not dying, the whole problem eventually solved itself.

ATUA's verdict: Your offering pleases us.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Talking back

Ok, this week's prompt is a bit... weird.  I guess I'll have to think harder about this one.  Not sure what I'll come up with but I'm usually good under pressure.  We'll see!

***Writing prompt 633 - That snappy reply you never had a chance to say ***

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Life is a highway

Dear me, it seems I keep on forgetting to put the prompts online.  I guess it's the whole going back to work trauma thing.  I do intend to change it to Mondays however.  So without further ado, here it is, this week's prompt. Don't forget to post your answers on Sunday!

***Writing prompt 236 - You are stuck on the highway in the world's worst traffic jam for at least two days.  What happens?***

Image source here

Sunday, 6 January 2013

From the inside

Inspiration for this came at the last minute, a flash of genius in a sea of mediocrity.  I hope it will please you, for I'm quite proud of it.  Will you be able to guess who, or what, is our main character?*

***Writing prompt 300 - You wake up with a nameless feeling of dread in your gut, but you can't figure out what it is.  Write down everything that could possibly happen during the day that could be something for you to dread. ***

There is this feeling.  This strange feeling, every time I awake.  I can never name it, really, but it just sits there in my stomach, like a heavy weight.  I fear it will bore a whole in my body, or worse, eat its way to my very soul.

It wasn’t always so.  There was a time when I could just open my eyes and bask in the reddish light and everything was good. Nothing needed be done or thought; floating was all and filled me with mirth. There was a time… Oh, how long ago could it possibly be?  It’s so hard to tell.  But I’m sure… I know… at least I think there was such a time.  I have a fertile mind, but couldn’t possibly have imagined it all, could I? 

It doesn’t matter anyway.  Things are different, now.  This feeling of dread haunts my every waking moment.  Something is impending.  I can’t be wrong about this.  The crimsons walls that once cradled me are closing on me.  At times, it’s as if a strange force is pushing intently, trying to touch me. I cower but there is nowhere to hide.  My home has turned prison and even my imagination fails me; what is my jailer?

My silence has slowly grown from rippling vibrations to noisy tidal waves that besiege me from every angle.  Where there was once only the regular beating of a soft drum, there is now an entire orchestra, playing a cacophonous melody I am forced to hear.  I have tried to stop it, to cover my ears but it surrounds me, it permeates everything.

In distress, I await.  The world is quivering.  I can sense it. The world will soon crumble around me.


*HINT: The title might help you guess ;)