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Numero Zero – Umberto Eco – Quotes

I’d lost all faith in everything, except for the certainty that there’s always someone behind our back wanting to deceive us.

“The whole business of mobile phones can’t last,’ declared Simei. ‘First, they cost a fortune and only a few can afford them. Second, people will soon discover it isn’t so essential to telephone everyone at all times. They’ll lose enjoyment of private, face-to-face conversation, and at the end of them onth they’ll discover their phone bill is running out of control. It’s a fashion that’s going to fizzle out in a year, two at most. Mobile phones, for now, are useful only to adulterous husbands, and perhaps plumbers. But no one else.”

“No,” I said, “these are precisely the expressions readers expect, that’s what newspapers have accustomed them to. Readers understand what’s going on only if you tell them we’re in a no-go situation, the government is forecasting blood and tears, the road is all uphill, the Quirinal Palace is ready for war, Craxi is shooting point-blank, time is pressing, should not be taken for granted, no room for belly-aching, we’re in deep water, or better still we’re in the eye of the storm. Politicians don’t just say or state emphatically – they roar. And the police act with professionalism.”

“Now let me go on with my list. We need to have our cake and eat it, keep our finger on the pulse, take to the field, be in the spotlight, make the best of a bad job. Once out of the tunnel, once the goose is cooked, nothing gets in our way, we keep our eyes peeled, a needle in a haystack, the tide turns, television takes the lion’s share and leaves just the crumbs, we’re getting back on track, listening figures have plummeted, give a strong signal, an ear to the ground, emerging in bad shape, at three hundred and sixty degrees, a nasty thorn in the side, the party’s over…And above all, apologise. The Anglican Church apologises to Darwin, Virginia apologises for the ordeal of slavery, the electricity company apologises for the power cuts, the Canadian government officially apologises to the Inuit people. You mustn’t say the Church has revised its original position on the rotation of the Earth but that the Pope apologises to Galileo.”

 “Darling, we’ll look for a country with no secrets and where everything is done in the open. In Central and South America you’ll find plenty. Nothing’s hidden, you know who belong to which drug cartel, who runs the bands of revolutionaries. You sit in a restaurant, a group of friends passes and introduces you to the man in charge of arms smuggling, all neatly shaved and perfumed, dressed in a starched white shirt that hangs loose from his trousers, the waiters address him reverently with señor here and señor there, and the Chief of the Guardia Civil goes across to pay his respects. They are countries that hold no mysteries, everything is done in the open, the police demand to be bribed as a matter of right, the government and the underworld coexist by constitutional decree, the banks make their living through money laundering, and you’ll be in trouble if you don’t have other money of doubtful provenance, they’ll cancel your residency permit. And they kill, but only each other, they leave tourists in peace.”

Maia has restored my peace of mind, my self-confidence, or at least my calm distrust of the world around me.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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Numero Zero – Umberto Eco

It has been a while since I read anything by Umberto Eco, so I decided to give it a shot.

The main character, Colonna, is an unsuccessful writer who became a translator. One day in 1992 his friend offers him a well paid job – he is supposed to be an assistant editor in a newspaper where his friend is chief editor already, the tricky part is the newspaper is just starting and it will never be published; second part of Colonna’s task is to ghost write a book for his friend about being a chief editor of a newspaper that will never be published.

I promise you there is an explanation in the book why it all makes sense, also this one is the simple storyline. While at the paper Colonna meets Braggadocio, a journalist obsessed with conspiracy theories. Over the course of the book Braggadocio shares his findings with Colonna, who listens politely nodding his head. Braggadocio believes that Mussolini was not killed in 1945, that it was his double who was executed, because CIA deemed that Il Duce may still be useful in fighting communists in the future. From there Braggadocio explains every post-war disaster and act of terrorism in Italy with his conspiracy theory blaming intelligence agencies and the Catholic Church. Those parts of the book are a bit taxing for non-Italian reader, I had to read a lot on the side to know more about the events mentioned by Braggadocio. Colonna treats all this as entertainment, until a body is found.

Another interesting part of the book are the discussions on how to create a good newspaper, what is the role of news, what language should be used to best manipulate readers. The journalists involved don’t even try to remain objective. It is proper applied cynicism.

Yet another aspect is the way Eco describes Milan, it is a tender and loving portrait of a city, by someone who lived there for a long time.

As always with Eco he is using his knowledge to construct ridiculous but undeniable conspiracy theories, showing off and making fun of them at the same time. The entire book serves as a formal construct for discussion about power, corruption, lies and perception of reality. It is difficult to warm up to the characters, because they’re just props used in an intellectual exercise. It is quite enjoyable, though Foucault’s Pendulum was way better.

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This is book #12 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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Blackout – Ragnar Jonasson

I rarely write reviews of crime fiction that I read. Not because I don’t like it (I wouldn’t read it then), but because for me reading crime fiction is my form of relax after more challenging books. Sometimes though a book is so good it needs to be shared. I did it before with fantastic books of Pierre Lemaitre and more than once with Jo Nesbo, because if you’re going to read crime fiction it better be good😉

I read Snowblind few months ago, I think I got it on one of the Kindle Daily Deals, it sat on my reader for a while, but finally I got to it. I read it, loved it and was lucky because it was the first book in the series (I was not that lucky with Harry Hole, starting in the middle of the series and then going both directions). Recently when I was in Waterstones I saw Blackout and thought ‘why not?’ I haven’t read crime in a while and this one could be good stuff. I got lucky again, as this is the second book in the series (I forgot to check that in the bookstore).

Ari Thor still lives in Siglufjörður, fighting his claustrophobia and getting on with his personal life he managed to completely mess up. One day a body of a man beaten to death is found, the investigation begins, but it’s not just the police investigating. A young reporter travels north form Reykjavík to investigate on her own. The story has multiple sub-plots, characters are well developed and the social context is realistic and detailed. There are many motives for the murder, so suspects multiply, but all involved are also distracted by problems in their personal life, decisions they have to make, mistakes they’ve made in the past, the guilt, the anger…

That’s how a good crime fiction looks like!

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This is book #11 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

Keeping an Eye Open – Julian Barnes – Visual Quotes

One of the things Barnes mentioned in his book was whether there is any point in describing and discussing art (the old words vs pictures as a method of communicating emotions). I already used words in my review, so now I decided to share with you one picture of each artist mentioned by Barnes.

What pictures would you pick to describe your mood today? Join me and make your own artsy post🙂

 

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Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art – Julian Barnes

It does what it says on the tin, the book is a collection of essays on art. Most of them have been published before and they were written over several years, which makes it surprising that this book feels as coherent as it does.

I started reading this book when all the bad news was just too much and I couldn’t focus on fiction. I usually use literature as my escape, but f I need something stronger then art is my thing. Also this book being a collection of essays, rather than a continuous narrative was exactly what I needed.

Each essay is devoted to one painter and they are organized chronologically, so we start with Géricault and  finish with Howard Hodgkin. The usual start point for Barnes is one of the artist’s paintings, form there he goes on to add more details about their life and personality, or about the history of the painting. This often leas him to the most interesting part for me – the general considerations about art.

The essay form allows Barnes to avoid the rigor of academic writing about art, he is free to roam, express his opinions, joke and not know things and he’s using this freedom in the best way possible, the essays are thoughtful but also entertaining. He tries to decode the creative process and decisions the painters made from the final work of art. Invites us to imagine alternative solutions for some of them, so we can understand why the painting in its final form looks the way it does – a result of many decisions taken along the way.

He analyses how we interact with art, how tiresome the blockbuster exhibitions can be, how curators manipulate us when putting together an exhibition. He wonders if it is important for us to know what kind of person the painter was to understand their art, for example is it important to know if Degas hated women or not for us to appreciate his art? I also realized that once we know something there is no way to unknow it, it will always impact the way we look at art.

Barnes writes in an entertaining way, throwing in juicy anecdotes, also as he gets closer to modern art he does no hesitate to let his opinions show, which is great, because art is personal and the fact that something is in a museum does not make it great by default, as viewers we have to remain critical and form our own opinions.

I enjoyed this book a lot and would have probably enjoyed it more in paper form, able to see the paintings in colour without googling them.

Here is the list of artists mentioned in the essays: Géricault, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Degas, Redon, Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Braque, Magritte, Oldenburg, Freud, Hodgkin.

I’m also planning a ‘visual quotes’ post with one piece that I liked by each of the artists, so keep an eye open for that. (…I know it’s an awful pun.)

 

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This is book #10 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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Not Working – Lisa Owens

Claire quits her job to figure out what she wants to do in life. She has some savings and very supportive boyfriend. It seems like a dream come true to finally have all the time needed to understand oneself and find the perfect job.

As can be expected it all goes south almost immediately. Claire instead of discovering her new self struggles to get anything done. She watches TED talks, does countless quizzes, but really has no idea how to go about finding her vocation or anything that would interest her at all. Soon she slides further down to days spent in pj’s and next on is the booze. Her boyfriend is incredibly patient, her mother not so much and gradually her life is so different from the lives of her friends that it is difficult to keep the connection.

The tone of the book reminded me a bit the Bridget Jones’s Diary – desperate, failing all the time, a bit drunk, but also funny. Probably not the most ambitious book of the year, but not painful to read.

It made me think about how much our self confidence is related to being active. How people have this need to be needed, to have a purpose. How quickly we feel worthless if other people, our work, the world doesn’t need us or just simply leaves us in peace. It’s almost as if we mean something only in relation to other people and their needs and expectations.

On one hand we all probably have this picture of a perfect life in our minds, who we would become if only we had the time to get on with it, on the other here is a reason why it has not happened yet. It is difficult to get motivated if something needs to be done only for me; people easily do things for others, go out of their way for their family, friends, work – other people. But to motivate ourselves to get something done only for us is not easy. Like cooking a meal for one person, no one wants to go to the effort of preparing a proper meal if it’s going to be eaten only by them, we’d usually just settle for something quick and simple, I think it works like this with other things too. It my sound a bit wrong but I think we all need to be more selfish, not in the meaning of not caring about other people, but in the meaning of caring about ourselves, making the effort to make ourselves happy. It is hard work, as this book definitely describes.

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This is book #7 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.

Thanks to Picador for providing me a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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Hot Milk – Deborah Levy

Unlike The Black Dahlia this was a perfect book for suntanning. Don’t get me wrong it is not one of those quick and easy beach reads, it just takes place in the summer in Spain, so it instantly made me click with the story when I read it on the beach.

Sophia and her mother Rose are in Almeria, but they are not on vacation. Rose for years had problems walking and Sophia remortgaged her apartment to come to the clinic of dr Gomez looking for treatment, when everything else failed..only it is not so sure if Rose actually wants to be healthy. Sophia is 25, at home she works as a barista and lives above the coffee shop, she started and abandoned a PhD in anthropology. She never really built her own life, because she spends it investigating her mother elusive disease and catering to her every need. Rose terrorizes Sophia with her illness, using it as a tool to keep her close.

As dr Gomez excludes one cause after another we see Rose resisting the treatment and challenging Gomez. He doesn ot give up easily, first of all he makes Rose stop taking any medication, then forces mother and daughter to separate. This and the new environment and people around her seems to share Sophia out of her stupor and toxic attachment to her mother. She has time to focus on herself, something she’s not used to. On one hand Sophia wants to be free form her mother, on the other on her own free will she is always there to serve her a glass of ‘never the right kind of water’.

The stay in Almeria puts their relationship and dependency under strain, not only because the ‘treatment’ Rose is undergoing, but also because Sophia meets people, opens up and starts to also think about herself. Rose is busy fighting her battle with Gomez, but she notices the change and doesn’t want to let go. At some point Sophie gets stung by a jellyfish, gets entangled in the burning tentacles, just like she and her mother are entangled in their toxic relationship, it does them no good, but it is the only thing they know so both are scared to let go.

Sophia also visits her father in Greece, only to discover he completely rebuilt his life and there is no space for her anymore. Not only for her but also for any memories of her or her mother. Sophia’s father took to extreme what she cannot do at all – thinking an caring about himself. He sees no reason to sacrifice himself for others, why should he?

I found the way Levy portrays the toxic relationship very interesting, it is not a case of one person wanting to break free, they both hold each other hostage. Rose doesn’t want to be alone, but neither does Sophia and the relationship with her mother is the only one she knows. She uses her mother as a shield form the world and growing up, from taking responsibility for herself.

The book is written in a very dreamy way, a bit like waking up from a nap on a hot day, everything seems to be a bit out of focus and vibrates. The heat brings a sense of unreality, the sun is blinding. And I must admit the climax is very cathartic, which is something I often feel in theater, sometimes in the cinema, but not very often in books.

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This is book #6 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books, I’m just not reviewing them in order.

Thanks to Penguin Book (UK) for providing me a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

P.S. I wrote the review before the longlist for Man Booker Prize was announced, but I’m very happy Hot Milk is on the list.