Book Review: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. David’s visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

Published in 1999, John Maxwell Coetzee’s Disgrace was awarded the Booker Prize. Also, four years after the release of what is, arguably, his best known novel, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Continue reading


Book Review: The Woman with the Bouquet by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

In his new collection of stories, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, author of The Most Beautiful Book in the World, probes the paradox that the events that shape our lives are often the stuff of dreams, yet nonetheless true. Humor, tenderness, irony, and exquisite writing have always been the hallmarks of Schmitt’s work. Here, he adds a pinch of philosophy.

In one story, a lovelorn writer seeks refuge in Ostende, a remote and charming town on the North Sea. His host is a solitary and eccentric octogenarian. The fairy-tale setting starts to work its magic and the old woman begins to tell her tale—an extraordinary story of passion. Bewitched by what he hears, the writer can no longer distinguish what is real from what is not, and in the woman’s account he will finally find a response to his own deep-seated grief. Here, as in the other stories in this collection, Schmitt displays the combination of stylishness and insight into the human condition that prompted Kirkus Reviews to write of his tales that they “echo Maupassant’s with their lean narratives, surprise endings, mordant humor and psychological acuity.”

It is said that there’s no creature that does not try to escape reality. There isn’t a living thing endowed with a central nervous system that does not dream. The brain is what is called an exclusion system: its purpose is to decide what information is important and what is not. There is so much information in the world that we’d go mad if we tried to understand it all.

What does this have to do with this collection of short stories?

Well, because the characters in each of the stories have this in common: they want to escape reality, they are looking for a shelter against it. If you ever felt this gnawing sense of fear at the thought that you are simply waiting for life to happen to you, if you daydreamed to the point of it becoming an obsession, then this is the book for you.


Reality cannot be negotiated with, but our imagination can be bargained with; our dreams can show us a world that will never come true.

But that never stopped us from dreaming and wishing our dreams would, somehow, come true.

The Woman with the Bouquet is one of the most intriguing compilations of short stories I have ever read.


Book Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King

Stephen King does love to write big books. The kind of books that make even the most voracious of readers a bit anxious. On the other hand, over the span of hundreds and hundreds of pages, the King creates such a universe that you get immersed into it to such an extent that you become emotionally attached to the characters, the way they think, the way they talk. The story becomes an alternate reality, the characters your friends.

The same thing happens when reading Under the Dome. One of the most interesting novels about the way the human psyche changes when put under pressure, a novel about the crumbling state of the human condition when the rules that keep society into place break apart. Continue reading


Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story

Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most influential writers of this century, passed down a simple list of rules for writing a short story, though I think they can be applied to longer narratives as well.

He did say that Flannery O’Connor broke all his rules except the first and that great writers tend to do that, but I believe his famous eight rules can provide a skeleton to writing fiction.

And I think that this is what’s really important in art. A foundation. Simply by reading or following rules, or by taking creative writing courses, but it’s also crucial for the artist to make his own decisions. The moment rules start feeling like a cage, you should escape. It’s like strolling through a garden and picking the flowers you like. If you absorb too much or if you simply follow rules (someone else is choosing what flowers you should pick), you’ll never develop a style of your own.

In a world of fixed rules, there’s no room for improvement. Or improvisation. Or evolution.

In today’s post, I’m going to analyze Vonnegut’s famous rules, most of which are common sense anyway. So let’s get started. Continue reading


The Great Gatsby

Some of you know that The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. I read it once a year. Like a sort of pilgrimage.

I won’t say The Great Gatsby is the best novel ever written. I don’t think such a thing exists. Instead, I believe there are a few novels out there that are perfect.

My definition of perfect is the following: a story where a balance has been established. There’s nothing to be taken away, nothing to be added. I’d list a number of such stories, like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Anyway, in the end it all comes down to personal taste. And culture, and education, and the type of books you enjoy reading, and a bunch of other stuff. Some people might hate The Great Gatsby for the same reasons I love it.

Now, let’s get to the actual review.

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One word at a time

one_wordWhen asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.’ – Stephen King

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the future. Whether is just a scene from a chapter I have yet to write, or the ending line, or just a few lines of dialogue. That’s magic. That’s power. I know something that no one else knows, and it’s entirely up to me to bring it to life. Continue reading


Fun facts about Russian writers

There was a century or so when Russian literature was represented by fantastic writers the likes of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Gogol. But, you know, genius has the tendency to be eccentric. Continue reading