Guest Reviews

Guest Review: Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

I started reading this book based on a recommendation from my friend, AQ. The title was an immediate attention grabber! Not many books have such ludicrous titles. If nothing else, this book would get mad props from me for just the sheer ridiculousness of the title. And true to form, the title bespoke a lot about the book itself.

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub – Stanislaw Lem

Though I am usually put off by introductions and editor’s notes, the introduction to this book is really a misnomer. The introduction is witty and intelligent in Lem’s imagining of an apocalyptic world bereft of paper, in which it has somehow lost meaning and substance.  Structure exists but devoid of content.

I started reading the book and instantly felt I was pulled into “The Castle” (Kafka) meets “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare” (Chesterton) in a “1984” (Orwell) kind of setting. As with all these books, the effect is surreal and defies any kind of formulaic plot. You are just thrown in media res into a world in which you cannot adhere to the regular norms and conventions of what is sensical and what is absurd.

It is a world not only involving intrigue, conspiracies, agents, double agents but going all the way up to sextuple agents; and that is something one does not get to say/write often. It is a mind-spinning tale written with such vivid details that some of the scenes, such as the one with the professors, are the embodiment of the absurd with the all the underlying senses of meaning and depth.

Even after I had finished the book, it kept resonating with me. The key question I found myself speculating and contemplating was the reason for the protagonist not leaving. It struck me because of what it implied about human nature in its quest for structure and meaning.

Here’s a world in which there is structure, an obscene amount of it actually, yet, with a myriad of schemes and plots in the absence of any real content. The protagonist chooses to cling to structure and the machinations of the absurd, and even propagate it, rather than attempt to use his logical skills in arriving at the conclusion that there simply is no meaning to what is happening inside the building, a reality in which he is has found himself entrenched.

It is as if logical reasoning cannot abide by a lack of meaning. Though logic is essentially a set of rules that contributes to inferences and meaning, it operates independently from actual reality / substance for you can always posit the existence of hairy pink dragons and derive logical conclusions.  However, as gifted as our protagonist may be in questioning and following the rules of logic, yet, he is caught in the loop of trying to derive meaning from the meaningless instead of venturing outside the building to change the paradigm.

He opts for the illusion of meaning instead of seeing if there is actual meaning that can be derived from the “outside.” The possibility of there being no meaning or no content is what drives the protagonist to persist in the bureaucratic intrigue, in the paranoid absurdity of structure.

The protagonist is persistent, but what kind of fortitude, grit, or strength does it take for a person to choose a course in which the realization that no readily available meaning is an actual possibility. How many would actually let go of the illusion to achieve certainty whichever way it turned out.

This book is truly brilliant and I am sure that each reader will take from it something different. Just be ready for a book that defies formulaic plots, for it is nowhere near ordinary. 4 stars

Teneen, the author of this review, has written a previous review (here) for this blog. She is a busy reader, but not a frequent reviewer.

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Guest Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

One of my good friends read my copy of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  They really enjoyed the book and I asked them if they would like to write a few words as a pseudo-guest review for this blog.  Now, they do not have a blog of their own, but I assure you, they are a real person who reads a lot and enjoys good literature and science fiction/fantasy. So, here are their thoughts:

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – M. Barbery; Europa Editions

It has been quite a while since I have read a book like “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”  I say this in the most positive sense. However, this book is not for everyone. It is not a fast action thriller or sci-fi, nor does it abide by the general categorizations that we readers so often encounter.

I digress as I try to classify it; and the novel would probably be placed in general contemporary fiction. Though it is general, there is nothing general or common about it. It has so many layers that throughout my reading it seemed to unveil and disclose a different perspective.

As I tried sifting and synthesizing the different perspectives, I realized that the brilliance of this book lies in the very fact that I could take from it that it was an examination into the meaning of life, or a contemplation of aesthetics and Beauty, or a reflection upon the social and cultural aspects, or a discourse on modern day thought and societal struggles, or a literary extrapolation of different philosophical schools at play, etc.

That being said, I would admit that the style and tempo of the book may not be for everyone or the inevitable ending pointing towards a phenomenological existence. I am guessing that these elements may be a turn-off for many. However, my issue with the book was the lack of clear distinction between the two voices of the main protagonists in the story. I wanted each to come through more as being wholly theirs.

The book is full of witty, funny and insightful sentences, which I found myself contemplating at different times. Some references just creep up on me when I least expect it and it really amazes me how astute and discerning they are.

Whichever way you view or interpret this book, it is truly an enjoyable read. It is worth taking your time with it – be sure to let it sink in! It is a book that deserves to simmer and be savored.