August 13th, 2019



The theme for today seems to be the limitations of expertise, and that carries over to Book Review No. 9, Kurt Schlichter's Wildfire, which is the third of his dystopian novels about a future fracture of the United States into coastal states run (badly) as if by the intersectionality seminar gone nuts and interior states run (less badly) while carrying on continental security responsibilities as if in another world war.

I confess to be less than impressed.  The fire this time is a man-made disaster, one that Tom Clancy used twice (once involving a state actor, the next time a bio-tech company run as if by the environmental studies seminar gone nuts) that requires the cooperation of Kelly Turnbull and the other Tom Clancy hero types and the scared officials of the People's Republic, who take their rewriting of history so seriously that one of the protagonists has no clue who real Nazis are or why contemporary Germans might mourn the loss of the Hofbrauhaus.  It seems like more an opportunity to settle scores with terminally silly Democrats and their enablers in the Academic-Entertainment-Media Complex than a warning to True Believers of all stripes to chill and respect, oh, Constitutional Government and Bourgeois Manners.  And so it goes.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #40: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Number of pages: 512

This is the first in a trilogy of books set in Nigeria and, as I found when I finished it, was written in 1990, which might explain some of the less politically correct language (use of "midget" to describe a little person, for example).

At the start of the book, the narrator Azaro, a young boy, describes his near death experience, which resulted in his parents almost burying him, thinking he was dead. It seems to have resulted in him having the ability to see ghosts, so many of the chapters involve him communicating with spirits that are invisible to all of the other characters. He also apparently has the ability to enter other characters' dreams, and even talk to animals.

The story combines supernatural elements with realistic drama, including the family's domestic situation, much of which portrays Azaro's father as being violent and difficult - initially at least - to like, as he is shown threatening his family, and later on starting fights with other men. The book also introduces politics quite early on, mostly by having politicians canvassing and using threats to try and get people to support their party, although both the main parties seem to be somewhat corrupt.

The other main plot thread involves Azaro working at a bar, run by the enigmatic, and formidable Madame Koto, who also gets involved in the politics. It was hard to tell whether she was meant to be a likeable character, as she was often showing losing her temper with Azaro, and was also said to be a witch.

The supernatural elements mostly involve the spirits trying to get Azaro to come back to the spirit world, which he appears to make frequent visits to, and this is where the book becomes particularly bizarre, with writing that put me in mind of David Lynch, or the writing of George Saunders; for example one of the spirits is described as having his head upside down on his shoulders and a face that is jumbled up. I got the impression that Lewis Carroll was another influence on Ben Okri (at one point, a character fades away until only her smile remains). The book also throws in what I think was meant to be voodoo rituals in some places, mostly through attempts to drive the spirits away.

This book felt quite difficult at times, but I found it strangely compelling; it was certainly an unconventional novel, but I may well read the other two books in the trilogy at one point.

Next book: Looking Good Dead (Peter James)