Friday, 16 September 2011

Red Plenty - Francis Spufford

Read in Lisboa and London. September 2011.

I first heard about this book on the glorious Little Atoms podcast back in January of this year and it sounded absolutely fascinating. I've been trying to get my hands on it for some months now. Unfortunately there don't seem to be enough copies to go round the London libraries consortium and I've always found every copy on loan or reserved upon checking the catalogue . Finally, after several months of avoiding the temptation,  I bit the bullet and handed over some real money for a copy.

 Would it live up to the hype that I had generated for it in my own head with my brain? Would I regret my emotional and financial investment? Was I really emotionally invested in a book that I heard  about on a podcast?

Well, let's begin by stating the obvious; it is a strange book. It appears to be series of  short stories linked by the idea of the soviet planned economy. Or is it a novel in which the central character is the idea of the soviet planned economy? To be frank I'm not quite sure what it is, and I suppose part of the enjoyment is following where the book leads, unsure if you are heading down a literary blind alley or not.

The structure is episodic and generally chronological. Each chapter gives us a new glimpse into this strange world from a totally different angle than the last. One moment we are accompanying Nikita Krushchev on the maiden transatlantic flight  of a  prototype Tupolev plane, the next we are living it up with Graduate students in Akademgorodok, the leafy science town in Siberia. We even get to explore locations as diverse as a labour ward (in which the women have the joy of childbirth without painkillers) and inside of the lungs cells of a Russian computer scientist!

The structure can be slightly hard work, certainly to the extent that each chapter is so well written that you are sad to leave the characters behind and head somewhere different. But the book is so ambitious in its scope that this is probably just a side effect of trying to embrace such a large subject within less than 500 pages.

Red Plenty is notable for its copious end notes and bibliography, betraying the fact that it can't really be described as a novel in the traditional sense. So much of what you are reading is straight out of reality or is reality twisted to fit within the chapter. The names may have been changed but the events are true (but maybe not is the right order).

I'm aware that I haven't really been able to say what the book is about. Well, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into that much depth so I should probably cut to the chase and give a verdict.

As a read it is pretty darn good, Spufford has a masterful control of  language and he can make something that would appear to be dry seem emotionally rich and poetic. The highlights for me were the sections within the lung cells. the enzymes came alive so much that I was sure I could feel my own cells twitching and abundant with activity. That isn't to say that the history isn't good, it is but I liked the book best when it was being strange and unpredictable.

Probably the most entertaining book about central planning ever. Although it is the only book about central planning that I have ever read so I have no frame of reference.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Statement of Intent.

I created this blog in 2007 because other people had created blogs in 2007 and I didn't want to be left out. I posted two things in 2007, both of which I liked and then I stopped.

I'm not sure if I stopped because life got in the way or because I didn't have anything interesting to post or because I was lazy. It definitely wasn't the third reason, although it probably was the third reason but I don't want to admit it.

In December of 2009 I received a small notebook from my parents in which I was supposed to note each book I read and copy down favourite quotes etc. You know, one of those little pointless human things that help us forget about sex and death for a few minutes.

In March of 2010 I started using the book and I have written in it a couple of lines about each and every book I have read since. I find it enjoyable to think that whenever another book is defeated I get to notch it up and give it a good hard judging. Not that the judging is hard, it is normally a few words about what I have liked about the book.

Now I think it would be a good idea to expand upon my little book and give more thought to the things I read and write them down and send them into the ether...

...where no-one will see them.

Nevertheless, I intend to do this!

I have three rules and they are:

I must read the book in its entirety. If I get sick of it and drop it before finishing it I cannot review it.

I must state the month, year and location in which it was read.

I must not be rude about the book.

I may review books that I have read previously and noted in my notebook providing I follow my rules above.
I have no desire to focus only on newly published books, or classic books, or fiction, or non-fiction. I will read whatever takes my fancy and review it purely on how I felt about it.

If anyone does read this blog they may comment as much as they like. However, I draw the reader's attention to the caveat in the header; you will only find opinion here.

So, now I am sitting comfortably, let me begin...