The Quiet American

by Graham Greene

The Quiet American is one of those books that I would never have picked up on my own volition, but which, when I finally did read, made me wonder why I never did so in the first place. (It was a book club read, so thank you, book club!) It was calm but intense, subtle but loud in its message. And it’s a classic; can anyone go wrong with a classic?

Set in Vietnam during the French-Indochina wars in the 1940s, the titular character in The Quiet American is Alden Pyle, a young undercover agent from the US. Pyle, an idealist, meets Thomas Fowler, a jaded British correspondent in his fifties who’s been covering the war in Vietnam for a couple of years. When Fowler and Pyle first meet, Pyle’s seemingly out-of-place enthusiasm strikes Fowler, and the latter feels it was incumbent upon himself to keep an eye out for Pyle. However, when Pyle lays eyes on Phuong, Fowler’s twenty-year-old Vietnamese lover, he is smitten. Pyle does not conceal his feelings for Phuong, and Fowler, knowing he is unable to marry Phuong because his wife would not give him a divorce, can only grumble and resent.



by W.G. Sebald

One of my good friends introduced me to Austerlitz back in June. We were discussing which book we’d be interested in buddy-reading (read-along) next and he suggested this. He said it was about memory, and identity. As soon as we both had copies, we dived right into it.

Austerlitz is the name of the main character – full name Jacques Austerlitz – whose story is told to an unnamed narrator. The latter meets Austerlitz at the Antwerp Train Station, a total stranger, who then begins to narrate the story of his life – the fragments of it that he could remember. Austerlitz speaks of his childhood, of life as an adopted child of a minister and his wife, of answering to no other name than “Elias” until he goes to school and learns of his true identity, of his ongoing quest to find and reclaim his past and true self.


Reading List 2015: October

All I can offer by way of an excuse for this belated beginning-of-month post is... lack of inspiration. I wish I could say that "real life" got in the way but that is the most used and over-abused excuse in the world (because it wouldn't be real life if it didn't get in the way, huh?). But anyway, here I am, finally getting in the mood to write this down, and so here we go.

Recap of last month's reading list:
  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves - One of the best historical novels I've read thus far. Oh, ancient Roman history! 5/5
  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee - The supposed first draft of the iconic To Kill A Mockingbird. TFG's book of the month. I was underwhelmed. 3/5
  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald - Currently on page 166 of 223. Having problems, quite obviously. 

For the past two or so weeks, my reading has been going at a turtle's pace. After reading I, Claudius, which I finished in more or less a week, I eagerly dived into The Blue Flower. Unfortunately, I'm still reading it, and I'm having issues with its readability. Many times I've mentally promised to finish it on a particular day, but I end up just surfing the net, watching TV series, or sleeping.

Anyway, for this month's books:


Bring Up The Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)

by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up The Bodies takes up where Wolf Hall broke off: Thomas More and John Fisher have been executed, Queen Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary have been exiled in a place somewhere far from London, and Henry has finally married his concubine, Anne. (These details are in the history books so they are not spoilers.) Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s current right-hand man, awaits his master’s next bidding.

This sequel wastes no time getting into the story. This is the point when Anne has given Henry a daughter, but not a son – the heir to the throne – and Henry is getting a little impatient. Anne is not getting any younger either – not as young as she used to, of course, in terms of childbearing – and it was imperative that she be able to give a him a son, or (very likely) lose her head. Literally. It doesn’t help that Henry has set his wandering eyes on plain, quiet little Jane Seymour, of the Seymours of Wolf Hall. When it becomes apparent that Anne can no longer bear Henry’s heir, Henry suddenly realizes that his marriage to Anne is, in fact, bigamous and, therefore, of no legal effect, and Cromwell sets about finding ways to eliminate her so that Henry could be free to marry Jane. Anne herself makes Cromwell’s life easier, what with talk of her adulterous relations and the sudden obtainability of witnesses to attest to her clandestine affairs.

Ah, the plot thickens.


Reading List 2015: September

This is a rather late one for a beginning-of-month post, so forgive the tardiness. I blame real life and the Romans.

Oh, the Romans! But before we get to that, a roundup of last month’s reading list:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Innocence, bigotry, and a lawyer named Atticus Finch. 5/5
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – Got as far as the middle of part 2 when I decided to put it on hold for now. It’s taking a while to get into the writing.
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick – The book club’s science fiction book for the month. 4/5

And for September’s reading list, here they are:


Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

by Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales is a collection of nine short stories that are a combination of funny, witty, clever, and dark. While I am no stranger to Margaret Atwood’s fiction, having previously read The Handmaid’s Tale and Booker winner The Blind Assassin, both of which are worthwhile reads (if you haven’t read them yet – what are you still doing??), this is my first foray into Atwood’s world of short fiction (after Happy Endings, a short story previously featured in The Short Story Station).

Needless to say, I enjoyed each and every tale in this collection, albeit in varying degrees, as there were stories that I liked more than the others. Alphinland, Revenant, and Dark Lady, the first three stories, had interconnected characters; each story featured one of the characters in a love triangle that began (and ended) in the 60’s. Constance, the female protagonist in Alphinland, is the author of a series of fantasy novels set in an imaginary world called Alphinland, which she began writing when she was still living with Gavin, a poet, who is the main protagonist in Revenant. Their love affair was interrupted by the third party in the triangle, Marjorie, who was supposedly Gavin’s muse in his Dark Lady poems, as featured in the story Dark Lady. All of them are now in the twilight of their years, with practically one foot out the door. In fact, I think that's the theme shared in common by these nine tales: an exit – whether from life, a circumstance, or a situation, whether occurring naturally, self-imposed, or forced upon them.