“Wolf, Vol. 1: Blood and Magic” by Ales Kot

Wolf, Vol. 1: Blood and Magic(Author: Ales Kot) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Not the worst comic book I have read, but definitely going somewhere down there at the bottom.

Wolf is this annoying guy that we all know, who is always trying to tell a story, but is either too drunk or too high, so he can’t really remember what happened, so he just keeps blurting stuff out without any sense or correlation.

Let me explain it to you: “Oh man, there was this burning guy looking at L.A, and then there were these dead dudes, and the creepy little girl, and the dude was talking to the police, and there was the creepy lady, and also a mind-controlling guy in the bus, and this guy got kidnapped, and there was also that other guy who had… whaddaya call ’em… tentacles on his face, oh and there were also some vampires, and the dude is actually immortal, ya know the one who was burning, but he hadn’t always been immortal, because he was in the war in Afghanistan or somethin’, and there was a chick, but forget about the chick ’cause I never met ‘her. And the little girl was the Antichrist, and her grandma was a ghost, and her dad was that evil dude, but not her dad who raised her, her other dad, but there were also these other evil dudes, and the burnin’ guy stopped burnin’ and killed some people… Ah, shit man, I have no idea what happened.”

wolf-vol-1-1

If what I just did annoyed you, don’t bother with Wolf.

The illustrations themselves were pretty, but I wasn’t a fan of the coloring methods they chose. Almost every page was in a limited palette of colors, specifically chosen for the page, for example only yellows and browns. Which, I think, took away from the story, because it all looks really toned down and the people are more similar than they should be.

Overall, I didn’t hate it, but I have no intention to go on with it. I would be interested to get some closure, but seeing how the first volume offered only questions and not a single answer, I don’t want to go through another volume that does the same.

“Satantango” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Satantango(Author: Laszlo Krasznahorkai) + (Year: 1985) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Hungary)


Review:

I don’t even know what rating to give to this book. Should I rate the style of the book? The ability of the author? How it made me feel? The world it shows? I don’t know the answer to that question, so I’m just giving a rating which is… just. It’s even possible that I will revisit the review and change it.

If you’re wondering why I start this review with such uncertainty, it is because of the book itself. Satantango is undoubtedly one of the most challenging books to classify in any way. It is a snarl of dehumanized humans and vivid bleakness and full emptiness. 

Satantango tells the story of a small Hungarian village at the beginning of a rainy, cold and muddy winter. The characters are in a constant state of suspended development. Their world does not extend beyond the borders of the property they inhabit. Their dreams, passions and motivations have gone out like a candle, and have been replaced by a total confusion, lack of morale and ruled by an “unbearable lightness”.

The people in this novel are tangibly human, with earthly passions and desires which don’t go beyond the physical, but at the same time, they have left the realm of the living and have turned into ghosts in a cold ghost town. Every character is fighting with their own deep, dark and moldy existence. From the doctor who is living in an alcohol daze of his own filth, to a desperate abandoned little girl, so thirsty for attention and love that is willing to cause harm to others and herself, to the gossiping women, the greedy men, the pointlessness and the deep void of them being not quite alive.

The story, told in long, unbroken paragraphs of fractured events, develops from two different main sides, the villagers, all of them intertwined, telling the same story of their sad, miserable life, and Irimias, the mysterious, charming man that they all crave to be, crave to be with, or crave to follow. Irimias is just a small middleman between the ruling power and the peasants, however, in the eyes of the latter, he is a ruler in his own right, a gentleman, a force of nature. They let themselves be enticed and outsmarted by Irimias, and not for any other reason, but because in their eyes, he is alive, where they aren’t.

Krasznahorkai‘s writing in undoubtedly beautiful, but in a very unsettling, and even upsetting way; absurd and confusing. He pays a lot of attention to the small details, the mold in the cracks, the rips in the clothing, the dirt under the nails, while at the same time telling a story which is both simple, and infinitely convoluted. I wouldn’t say that he’s an easy author to read in the slightest. The reader is in a constant state of alertness, because at the same time so much is happening and nothing is happening, so one missed line of text could equal an entire story.

While I did like, and at the same time felt very burdened by this book, I’m not sure I will revisit Krasznahorkai’s novels. One, for sure, is worth reading, but closing yourself in this dark, empty and scary world is not something that I want to volunteer for.

“Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love” by Bill Willingham

Fables, Volume 3: Storybook Love

(Author: Bill Willingham) + (Year: 2004) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Now that I have read this volume, I could actually change the rating I gave to the first two, in comparison.

Storybook Love is a very good collection of stories – it includes all of the characters we know and like, who, while being the power that moves the story, are not the story, and all those that we don’t like, but might very soon.

I really enjoyed having a lot of the characters that weren’t shown nearly as much in the previous volumes, or even the ones, like Prince Charming, that I dislike, but I still like to read about. If the story is good, of course.

I think the “fable” from this volume that I liked the most was Bag O’ Bones, and it’s a perfect example of what I was trying to explain above: I could really care less about Jack Horner before reading this, but after I did, I felt a humorous liking toward his character.

The story about Sleeping Beauty was interesting in terms of how the author reimagined the curse, and how he implemented it into the story.

Obviously, the Snow and Bigby‘s story line was the main arc in the volume, however, to me, that was the least interesting one. First, I really, really disliked Goldilocks in every sense of the word, and second, for some reason, while I find him endearing at times, I can’t warm up to Bigby. He’s too dark and moody and aggressive for my tastes. And when he’s not aggressive, he is usually bragging about his dad, the wind.

I really liked the story about the Barleycorn brides. I would say that the flashbacks are one of the best parts of Fables as a whole. We are all aware that the main story is the one in the present, but considering that there are many different versions of all fables, many fable characters included in Fables, a lot happening all the time, and the readers needing background information about the impending war, it’s great that Willingham is actually providing that information… in the form of fables. It would be impossible to go through all existing fables included in the story, but every little bit adds greatly to the whole, in my opinion.

The only minor issue that I have with Fables is that considering how much action there is, a lot of the characters, especially ones that I like, occasionally fall off the grid. For me, as a reader who is not following the story in a straight line, but reading other books in between, it’s sometimes hard to recall what happened to someone last I saw them, because months might pass until the next time. And while it’s good to have a variety of interesting characters, it also presents a certain degree of a challenge.

The main point is, however, that I feel like Fables is becoming better and better with each volume, so I’m excited!

“The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees(Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Vietnam)


Review:

So what exactly went wrong with this book? As harsh as it might sound, to me, it meant nothing.

It’s like when you have that one friend who’s always trying to say something smart, but they end up speaking a lot, and saying nothing. This is how I felt while reading The Refugees.

At the time I decided to request it on NetGalley, because I was excited to see a book from Vietnamese author, I didn’t quite pay attention to the fact that half of the summary of The Refugees is actually a list of the author’s achievements with his other book, The Sympathizer. That would have been the first red light.

And although I know what the author wanted the readers to see in these stories, it’s one thing for the reader to know the purpose of the author, and another to actually experience the author’s ideas. What bothered me the most about The Refugees was the lack of depth to the characters in the stories, and what’s more, the discrepancy between the title and the actual stories in the book.

In order words, the word “refugees” shows this book in a very sensational way, all the while, telling stories which are usually only mildly connected to being a refugee. The difference in this situation is that the narratives of the majority of the characters in the book are those of immigrants. You can’t really take the story of a man with dementia who mistakes his wife’s name with that of his ex-girlfriend/lover, and put it in a book about refugees, because the lover used to be in a country which the characters left. Not only would this be irrational, but it also makes the stories of people who actually fled under a threat for their lives, both in the past, and in the present, seem a lot more trivial and unimportant.

There were maybe only two stories which I would categorize as ones which could properly be called refugee stories: the family which was “visited” by their dead relative, and the boy who arrived to the United States and went through a cultural shock, specifically with the two gay men he was living with. Those are narratives which do prove the clashes between the world of the people who live a normal, stable life, and the ones who are refugees; both from the point of cultural differences, and of ghosts from the past.

And don’t get me wrong, this entire review is not based on semantics. It’s based on the fact that the author wanted to give a perspective of the lives of the Vietnamese refugees, without having much to start with, and therefore, creating a book the point of which remains unclear.

This is specifically so because as much as I, as a reader, wanted to sympathize with the characters, I didn’t feel a part of their adventure. They were regular people who just happened to be out of their place. This can be applied both to the Vietnamese in America, and, say, the Vietnamese girl who went back to Vietnam for a vacation. And the characters didn’t just feel like puppets, because that would imply that they were a part of a story – they were just there, with not much else to give life and spirit to the story.

“Bad Monkeys” by Matt Ruff

Bad Monkeys(Author: Matt Ruff) + (Year: 2007) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Before starting the book, I skimmed through the Goodreads reviews. Also, my flatmate, who let me borrow the book, she shared the opinion of everyone on Goodreads.

So, I need only but confirm this: This book starts amazing and then falls flat on its sad, miserable face.

The story of Bad Monkeys might not have the most original concept ever, but the thing is, I really liked the basic idea. I wish that it had continued working on that, instead of developing into a weird sci-fi-wanna-be-karate-freakshow.

The story is as follows: Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder. While she’s already in custody, she meets with a psychiatrist and starts retelling her story to him. Jane admits to being a member of the division Bad Monkeys of a secret organization, which deals with assassinating dangerous, evil people. Jane explains in detail her childhood, her integration into the organization, and what lead to her being in custody. While many of the things she says turn out to be the exact truth, many are proven wrong by the official facts her doctor manages to unearth in his investigation. Is Jane really part of an assassin organization? Is she simply crazy?

The thing which drew my attention was the idea behind the organization: it intervenes when a really evil person is set loose and is probably going to cause a lot of damage to society. The basic notion behind this, I would say, is the mistrust toward the justice system. If you asked me about it, I would say that I absolutely don’t believe that criminals get the deserved punishment. As there is no retribution, it’s really hard to believe in justice.

More so, Bad Monkeys puts a very simple question to its readers: If there was an ex-director of a Nazi concentration camp, who caused the death of half a million people, and who’s now 90 years old, and living hidden in the forests of South America, and a guy who has only killed one person, but he has found a lust for violence, and is fairly young, which one would you kill?

I’ll let you answer that for yourselves.

However, no matter how intriguing and thought-provoking this core idea was to me, the book came short on so much more. For starters, the main character, Jane, was so confusing. I, as a reader, had a hard time caring about her as a person, and cared only about her story. She herself was just some side noise around everything that was happening in the story itself. Also, the author made some valid points taken from religion and the Bible, but at some point, there was so much religion and religious remarks and comparisons, that I wasn’t sure where he was going. As a person, who on the surface seemed to lean more on atheism, than on religiousness, he definitely didn’t prove it but his use of Christian allegories.

And, last, but by far not least, the ending of the book was absolutely ludicrous. Somewhere around 1/3 in, the book started getting increasingly ridiculous and messed up. And not in a good way. From a slow, methodical thriller, it turned into a really bad acid trip, which to me was like “Why do I even care?”, which made me read with less and less interest.

I am stubborn. I read the book despite the warnings. Don’t be like me, save yourselves the time. Read something else.