Finished Terrorist by John Updike. Probably the worst book of his that I've read, and the one I liked the most. I'm just not that interested in kitchen-sink stuff, and the big themes here appealed to me more.
It's primarily about 18-year-old Ahmad, who is recruited as a suicide bomber; but also his career counselor the aging, Jewish, Jacob, and has smaller roles from the female characters. The book got very mixed reviews: some very positive, some very negative.
Ahmad follows the pattern of the 7/7 London bombers rather than the September 11 bombers: born locally, from a deprived area though not exceptionally deprived himself, brought up fairly Westernised but becoming religiously devout in adolescence. Some of the reviewers regard this as being absurdly inauthentic, but I thought it rang pretty true: it's never mentioned, but Ahmad seems to be desperately lonely and adrift; clinging desperately to his faith to keep himself afloat. There is a bit of a problem with Ahmad's voice though: he talks in an over-formal English that sounds as if he learnt it as a foreign language. It doesn't make sense unless he's doing it deliberately or unconsciously to segregate himself, but it may just be an authorial failure.
A more definite failure is the plot's reliance on at least two unbelievable coincidences: Jacob`s sister working for Homeland Security, and Ahmad`s High School crush turning up as a prostitute. The satire also gets a bit too much, with a high-school thug named Tylenol because his mother liked the name on the advert.
Apart from those weaknesses though, the book is superb. It has the usual Updike brilliance of observation and writing style, with the characters and surroundings acutely observed. Despite the creaking mechanics, it has a thriller-like tension at the end. It has great, unnaturalistic speeches by the characters as they expound their varying philosophies and fulminate against their opponents. All Updike's books are hard to put down, but without much plot to be curious about it can be hard to pick them up again: not so here where you need to find out what happens next.
It's also a surprisingly terse and short book: the chunky hardback conceals a large, wide-spaced typeface. Well worth reading.
What I'm Reading 2
Finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Good, but not as good as White Teeth: tells about a feud between the families of two academics. Very good in its depictions of the younger members of one of the families, especially the young black middle-class teenager and his desperate attempts to be street. The problem with the professors'-affairs stuff is that it's pretty much mined-out territory: there's nothing exactly wrong with it, but it's hard to see what exactly it adds to the acres of print by Kingsley Amis, Philip Roth, David Lodge, Howard Jacobsen and the rest. The nature-of-beauty discussion doesn't seem particularly deep, though it's interesting the way it's incorporated into the academics' lives. Generally well-observed though: worth reading if you want something to read.
What I'm Watching
Watched the first two episodes of cop show The Wire, which the mediapunditsphere always seems to be going on about. Seems pretty good so far: neatly done, with an excellent depiction of office politics and rivalries within the police force. Doesn't stand that far out from the other gritty cop shows so far though. Didn't have the impact that the start of The Shield's first series did. Will keep watching.
Battlestar Galactica starts again soon: wish I could be more enthusiastic. They took a very bold step of eschewing aliens and inhabited planets, which worked very well for the first two series: keeping things tense and interesting. The problem is it also greatly limits them, and they seem to have run out of plots. I think the New Caprica storyline was about the peak, and it's downhill from here.
Seem to be down to 11st8 after a high of 11st12 after the holidays: was pretty strict the last couple of weeks. Fairly comfortable with that.
|< Yo! HuSi! | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|