Sometimes I struggle to find the time and energy to write reviews after I've finished reading a book.
Sometimes it doesn't help that I like to leave them to "settle" — so that I don't rush to judgement in the immediate afterglow — because if I leave them too long months slip by and I find it even harder to write a review.
And sometimes I don't get around to writing one at all (as my reading log will attest).
So, in order to review everything I read, I thought I might occasionally pen a "quickie" — so here's my thoughts on two very different books I read earlier in the year:
I read Yan Lianke's Dream of Ding Village while lying by a pool on the Greek island of Rhodes and I have to say this did not make for a good holiday read — it was far too grim and oppressive to truly enjoy while soaking up the sunshine.
Nevertheless, it's an important story — and one that needs to be told if we are to learn anything about the value of our health, prevention of disease and the importance of proper regulated medical care.
It is set in a village in rural China devastated by the AIDS virus, which has been spread by the unfettered and wholly unregulated business of blood banks. These banks, which are run by blood merchants, pay poor peasants meagre sums for any blood they donate. Sadly, they reuse needles and other equipment, and thereby contaminate donors so that, before too long, an entire village is suffering from "the fever".
This book, which is narrated by the ghost of a dead boy, reminded me of Ma Jian's rather brilliant Beijing Coma, especially in its depiction of a crude and corrupt health care system in which access is dependent not on need but on the ability to pay. It also reveals much about the modern Chinese value system in which everything — including blood — has been commodified in order to make profit.
This is quite an eye-opening, confronting and gruelling read, and definitely not one for the faint-hearted. It was longlisted for the 2011 MAN Asian Literary Prize and shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
I like narrative non-fiction, especially if it is about moral issues or true crime, so James Lasdun's Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked sounded like my cup of tea.
While I can't fault the well written, engaging and effortless prose, I found the entire "story" incredibly frustrating and just a little "icky".
Yes, it's upsetting that this man, a creative writing tutor, was stalked (and continues to be stalked) by a former female pupil, but at the risk of sounding judgemental, I couldn't help but think he had brought a lot of it upon himself. When someone is clearly crazy and obsessive, you don't fuel the craziness and obsessiveness by engaging with that person — you simply can't reason with unreasonable people — but Lasdun seems hellbent throughout the entire sorry episode in scratching the itch and giving this woman exactly what she wants: attention.
I read this book, which publishes many of the stalker's emails in full (and brings Lasdun's own ethics in to question), expecting some kind of resolution to be reached by the end. But despite quite a fast-paced narrative, there's no real resolution here.
There are some interesting tangents — Lasdun writes eloquently and thoughtfully about Middle Eastern politics, his relationship with this father, anti-Semitism and so on — but on the whole Give Me Everything You Have is a frustrating read.