My Struggle: Book Review

Karl Ove Knausgaard. Honestly, I’d never heard of him. Until, last year, I started reading about this guy. People were saying that he has been writing the literary accomplishment of the decade/century, apparently. Quite a claim, and somewhat hard to believe. Who wants to read the autobiography of someone you have never heard of? I had my doubts, believe me.

I decided to give it a go, with the first volume of five, “A Death in the Family”. Now I’m not going to keep you waiting. Straight away, I will tell you that I loved this book, as well as every other in the series. The best thing I can say about these books is that I am getting excited again just thinking about my first experience with them.

But, thinking back to that first volume, I really wasn’t sure. As I was reading, and becoming absorbed in the story and in his life, I couldn’t help but feel unsure. Unsure about whether this thing was really that good, it was just too simple. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t, it became philosophical and tragic. There was something about it, I just couldn’t put it down.

And so it continued with the next volumes. Each one captures a different time in his life, but they are not sequential. Events overlap, characters appear, disappear and later re-emerge.

This was definitely one of the greatest reading experiences of my life, but also one of the most uncomfortable. But doesn’t great art always make us feel a little discomfort? I have some similarities to this man, and at times I was close to tears, as it was sometimes a little too close to home. There is something about his style which makes you feel as if you are there, feeling with him and for him.

His struggle is personal, but he reveals himself to his readers. His wounds are bared and open for examination. Family, relationships and his art. All these things are examined, to the bare bones.

And finally, the greatest compliment I can give this series is the sadness I felt when I finished the fifth book. The realisation that, for now, there isn’t another volume to immerse myself in. Hopefully, in the  future, there will be more. For now we have to wait and be patient. But not for too long, please.

Text © Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

La La Land : A Review

Well, it finally happened. A modern musical that I don’t hate. It has taken me a while to get over the soul destroying experience of Mama Mia. But I decided to give La La Land a try, and I am so glad I did.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. When the opening group number began and people started to jump out of their cars, singing in unison on the highway, I felt a nervous tension building inside. This is my problem with musicals, all those strangers wouldn’t get out and talk to each other, so why would they sing? I was so close to walking away then, believing it was just going to be the same old stuff.

The difference between this film and others of the genre can be summed up in one word, subtlety. As the story evolved I got lost in it, and forgot it was a musical at all. It is simply a good story, well told, and well performed. I cared about the characters and felt great empathy for their struggles, both personal and professional. 

What also added to the experience was the atmospheric feeling of nostalgia that was created by the filmmaker. But, again, it was done with a subtlety, and delicateness of touch, which marks the difference between many good and great pieces of art. And, of course, there is the music. A superb blend of classic jazz, I am dredging through my collection as I speak, and original pieces. The score flows with ease throughout the two hour plus running time. 

So, yes, a great film. A great piece of art. And one that can be enjoyed again and again. Congratulations to all involved, I haven’t been so affected my a film in a long time. 

© Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

I love reading to my children at bedtime. From quite an early age I have been reading full length children’s books to them. Sometimes it might take a couple of months to finish a book, as my wife and I normally alternate reading between us, but the children are exposed to both Czech and English literature. I also think it helps to improve their memory and attention span, as they have to remember quite long, and sometimes complicated stories.

We started with some classics, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the first. Then we read some Roald Dahl and recently we have been reading David Walliams. And I have to say I am a big fan. As with Dahl, sometimes his stories can be rude, with a typically British type of humour. For example, don’t be too surprised by the occasional fart joke.

But there is much more to his books than that, they can have a serious side too and often convey important messages. This book, Gangsta Grannie, is about a boy and his relationship with his Grandmother. It is a lovely story about how the boy, who originally thinks his Granny is boring, grows to love here. And it is especially important that he did get to know her, as nobody lives forever.

As you can imagine, there is an uncomfortable moment when you are reading a book to your children which involves death. But, I have to say, it is handled in a very delicate manner and is not dwelt upon. It just happens, people are sad but life goes on. My son, who is older, felt sad that Granny had died but enjoyed the book a great deal. And, maybe, he now understands that it is important to spend time with the people that love him, as they won’t be there forever. Thanks to David Walliams both my children have learnt a little more about life, both the good and the bad. 

© Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish

Joseph Anton (A Memoir) by Salman Rushdie

Where to start with a review of this book? I was a young man at the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and never had anything but sympathy for the author. I have to say, I was totally unaware of the negativity and blame that was attributed to him for the whole situation. It seems inconceivable now that an author could be thought responsible for the issuing of a death sentence against him. How could he possibly be at fault? Surely no one deserves to be killed over words. In my opinion no one deserves to be killed for anything.

This is a memoir, but mainly concentrates on the years of isolation and hiding during the fatwa. But it begins during Salman Rushdie’s formative years, so you get an idea of his family situation and school years. As well as a fast forward through his early professional life. I don’t know about you, but I love reading about creative people’s careers and lives. It can be an invaluable insight. For instance, I had no idea that this author began in advertising and created some very familiar slogans.

But when the success comes, the author has very little time to revel in it. While reading this book, you get an incredible insight into the terror that you would feel, if you were in this situation. But in some ways there is a calmness there, which I think some people mistake for arrogance. I don’t believe this is arrogance, on the author’s part, but bravery. I don’t know if I could handle the situation like he did. While he was protected, his family was not. This must have been excruciating. One of the great insights of this book is the effect of the fatwa on his family. Can you imagine being a young boy and not being allowed to be with your father? And if you were allowed, it would be with police protection and surveillance.

Eventually, as we know, his protection is lifted and some kind of normality resumes. But, before this, the world was shaken by the events of 11th September 2001. This is when the world came to realise what fundamentalism can do to people, and I hope that some people somewhere came to realise what this author had been hiding from.

Overall, I found this book to be a gripping tale of life in hiding. But it also includes many stories of the high and mighty of the literary world. I will certainly be looking for more memoirs of this kind in the future.

© Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish