January 14th, 2014


Book #2: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 364

In this book, Terry Pratchett provides a time travel story that pays homage (vaguely) to The Terminator (including a very conspicuous reference near the end). The story opens as a standard City Watch novel, as Commander Samuel Vimes is dispatched to arrest a murderer called Carcer, leading to a thrilling chase. However, this unexpectedly ends with a lightning strike that sends both Vimes and Carcer back in time.

In the past, Vimes assumes a new identity after an encounter with the Monks of Time (previously seen in Thief of Time), and joins the Night Watch as a sergeant, where he meets his younger self. However, the young Samuel Vimes isn't exactly cut out to be a member of the watch, so it is up to the older version to train him up. All this time, Vimes is also faced with the prospect of trying to apprehend Carcer and deal with an upcoming revolution.

The opening of this book feels like typical Discworld, with lots of big laughs (the most bizarre moment involves a clock that chimes silences); however, after Vimes is sent back in time, the tone becomes darker and much more serious. There are still laughs, but they are spread a lot more thinly than usual within the book's drama. The story takes advantage of the time travel aspect by including younger versions of Colon and Nobbs, and also features Reg Shoe before he became a zombie; there are a few other self-referential moments that are better appreciated if you are familiar with the Discworld series.

The night watch of this book, are evidently based on the characters of the same name from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and there are some very clever moments, particularly when someone questions if something really is a revolution of the majority of people are rebelling. Overall, I thought this book was enjoyable, though it was difficult going at times, and it felt a bit overlong (it is certainly one of the longer Discworld novels). Overall, it's not a good choice as a first book to read in the series, but it is definitely worth trying if you are a fan.

Next book: A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line (John O'Farrell)
eastern muse

Book 9: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Book 9: A Tale for the Time Being .
Author: Ruth Ozeki, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary. Magical Realism. Literary. Japanese Culture. Ecology. Metafiction.
Other Details: Paperback. 422 pages.

'A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.' - Nao, A Tale for the Time Being.

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace — and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artefacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunch box —possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. - synopsis from author's website.

I found this an incredible reading experience; a novel rich in ideas about history and culture, science and ecology, religion, philosophy and the nature of reality. Once started I quickly appreciated why it was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. It is moving, profound and heart-warming with a sprinkling of subtle humour. Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time features in the plot and having recently read Proust's masterpiece I was able to appreciate how his musings about time informed this novel.

The narrative voice moves between Nao's diary entries and other of the found artefacts and Ruth, a writer living with her husband Oliver on an island off the coast of British Columbia. Ruth Ozeki describes Ruth in the novel as a metaphorical version of herself, sharing her Japanese-American heritage and other aspects of her real life but with less awareness of Zen Buddhism. In another interview she describes the novel as a "fictional memoir".

There is a great deal of Zen Buddhist philosophy and practice in the novel, which is presented in a very accessible way. Reading the novel woke my youthful fascination with Zen Buddhism. There are also ecological themes in the novel, another big draw for me.

It is a novel that I would hope to revisit again and will suggest it as a reading group choice in 2014. I would recommend it to anyone interested in ideas and about the interconnectedness of all things.The novel contains a number of appendixes on various topics, a bibliography and translation footnotes sprinkled through the text.