Sunday 31 March 2019

Mishima's Sword: Travel's in Search of a Samurai Legend - Christopher Ross (2006)

Rating: Excellent

After reading Yukio Mishima's novel Runaway Horses (1970) I searched my library's catalogue for books about the author and the sole result was Mishima's Sword. It is a curious book indeed; part travelogue, part philosophical rumination, part biographical and part quest. Mishima's Sword is quite a personal book, with Ross revealing intimate details of his life, many of which he relates back to Mishima and his books, or his own interest in martial arts. Whilst the book is not attempting to be a Mishima biography, Ross does examine details about Mishima's life, in particular those related to his final day, which Ross recounts gradually throughout the book until we get the gory details of his last moments at the end of the book. 

Mishima's Sword could easily have been an exercise in futility, an ineffectual miss-mash of themes and styles, however it is very well written and is formatted in short sections that effectively highlight each thematic thread. Mishima's Sword is not the book that will provide all the answers when it comes to understanding Mishima's work, but it does provide an effective dissection of the nature of obsession. Ross talks about some of his various lifelong obsessions, such as using martial arts as a means to purge an inferiority complex brought about by childhood bullying. Then there are the obsessions that Mishima pursued throughout his life that ultimately contributed to his highly orchestrated ritual suicide. The book's denouement provides philosophical insight into such weighty themes as bathos, cathartic release and death. Mishima's Sword is well worth reading if you are in the mood for something totally different, but you'll also learn some things along the way as well, including becoming a expert in Samurai swords, which may well come in handy one day...

Monday 18 March 2019

Little - Edward Carey (2018)

Rating: Admirable

Little is a novel about how a woman born Anna Maria Grosholtz came to be the world renowned Madame Tussaud. The novel traces Grosholtz's life from childhood through to her time in Paris leading up to and including the period in which the French Revolution occurred (1789 - 1799). Little is a peculiar, fascinating and mostly enjoyable novel which exudes Gothic charm. Like most historical fiction there are aspects of the narrative that are present in order to provide a compelling plot, rather than reflect what is definitely known. Either way Tussaud was an intriguing character and Carey succeeds in creating an authentic first person voice for her character. The other main protagonists are impressive too, such as the crepuscular like Philippe Curtius, who taught Tussaud the eccentric art of wax modeling.

There is much to like about Little, including Carey's idiosyncratic illustrations that fill the book with visual cues and sometimes macabre imagery. Carey is a skilled writer with a unique style, however I did end up becoming impatient with the narrative and at times just plain sick of reading it. Little was a book club selection and I often take into consideration the state of my enthusiasm for a novel I would not normally choose to read as I near its last third. If it really holds my attention till the end I tend to rate it higher, therefore whilst I'm sure many readers would justifiably consider Little an excellent read, I'm giving it my equivalent of a three star rating. It could just be that, like many contemporary novels, Little is just simply a bit too long, but don't let that put you off, as the novel is well worth your attention if you are an adventurous reader.