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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten


Beatles - Lars Saabye Christensen
You know it ain't easy

What is this book about? I can see why most of the reviewers are having trouble. It's got laugh-out-loud slapstick, heartbreaking tragedy, unforgettable characters, ridiculous stereotypes, breathtaking lyricism, flat ultrarealist prose... you see the problem. But one thing's clear. There's a whole lot about the Beatles.

So let me introduce to you

Kim Karlsen is 11 when Love me do comes out. He and his three friends are immediate converts, and identify with John, Paul, George and Ringo. (He's Paul). They see the world through Beatles-shaped glasses. The novel traces their varying fortunes from 1965 to 1972.

Norwegian wood

Like Jan Kjærstad, who's clearly paying homage to Christensen at times, the book is both quintessentially Norwegian and completely universal. Kim is Everyman - to be exact, Everyfuckedupteen - but he also happens to be an Everyman who lives in a specific part of Oslo and assumes you have an intimate knowledge of its geography, history and social structure. You know it makes sense. I mean, look at Dante, right?

Living is easy with eyes closed

Did I say fucked up? I had forgotten quite how fucked up people were in the 60s. So unbelievably blind to what was going on around them, to the most obvious and elementary facts of life. But, at the same time, occasionally so in touch with the most profound things.

Carrying pictures of Chairman Mao

The left-wing politics. Comrades, I warn you that this part is toe-curlingly embarrassing, but he just delivers it with a straight face. You actually can't tell whether he's being ironic or not. An impressive piece of historical reconstruction.

Man, you've been a naughty girl

Love makes you stupid. Kim's in love with both Nina and Cecilie and he can't decide between them. I guess that makes him twice as stupid as most people? Or maybe he's just more upfront about it.

Very strange

There's magical realism too.

All the lonely people

Life is hard. Terrible things happen all the time, when we least expect them. The book is full of helpless, lost people: Dragen, Fred, Uncle Hubert, Jørgen, Kim himself. If you like Hamsun, Christensen is surely his greatest and most faithful disciple.

These are words that go together well

He has a wonderful feeling for the poetry of everyday language. It's like the Beatles (duh) or Huck Finn.

Yeah, yeah, yeah

I know, I say this too often, but the book is untranslatable. Looking at the other reviews, nearly all the Norwegians love it and nearly all the foreigners wonder what the fuss is about. Turning it around, would you expect Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to be any good in Norwegian? But if you have even a passing acquaintance with the language (my own Norwegian isn't great), consider putting it on your list.