The Master and Margarita Overview
In one of my earlier blogs today I briefly mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. It is one of my favorite books. I thought about writing a review of it, but truth be told it is a complicated book and I read it several years ago. I searched the internet and found a pretty comprehensive overview of it. What is really great about the above overview is that at the bottom it provides links to even more information about the book. There are some spoilers in this overview, but a book this original, where so much of the magic comes from the world that the author creates, I don’t believe spoilers apply in the way they do to most books.
The book is a complex and fascinating read. It is partially set in Moscow in the 30’s when many people were “disappearing”. It is part fantasy, part political satire, full of dark humor, and at times creates scenes of chilling horror. Any book that features Satan and a talking cat as two of the main characters is not going to be your typical novel. If you love the power of language, poetry, and how words can impart strong images on the imagination, than this is a book that you will love. And although the two authors are very different, I think anyone that likes the dark humor and haunted language of someone like Flannery O’Connor will also love this book. There is really no way that I can do this book justice. It is one of those reads that simply must be experienced in full. A truly unique and captivating read, and an absolute masterpiece of literature.
I have just put up over 900 posts since I started this blog in August of last year. Slowly, but surely, the amount of people coming here has grown. I can’t thank all of you enough for spending time here.
The first thought I have when I write something is, “Why would anyone care?” I can only hope that there is enough people out there that have somewhat similar interests to me. I’m throwing baseballs blindly over a wall and hoping that there are people on the other side to catch them. I have only kept writing in public because of those of you that keep coming back.
Last night I played music in front of what looked like a couple thousand people at a festival in Conroe, Texas. However, I have played plenty of nights where there were maybe five or ten people in the audience. No matter what I try to always play my best. When we read we read alone. How many times have you gone to a movie and been one of the only people in the theater? There is still that chance that that book or movie or album or live performance might connect with someone. I can think of all the times that something connected with me in an important way when there was no one else to experience it. Everyone matters. If you do something and it even reaches even one person it has value. That person’s life has as much value as your own or anyone else’s. A connection with even one other soul has a little bit of magic in it. As long as someone keeps coming back I will keep writing.
Thanks again to all of you that keep coming here. If you would be kind enough to tell other’s of my writing I would be eternally grateful.
In the future when all’s well…
I enjoy Peter Travers movie reviews in Rolling Stone Magazine. However, whenever I see him in person I find him highly annoying. I think Andrew Sullivan is one of the best bloggers there is, that his writing is really thoughtful most of the time, but again in person he can sometimes be grating. There are times when I write some high minded posts, but I’m sure if you hung out with me there are times you would think to yourself that I was one ignorant motherfucker. (And that’s not saying that I don’t occasionally write something that will make you think that as well!)
One of the things that I like about writing is that it slows down the thought process. I think most people are generally more thoughtful in the written word. It is a form of expression that allows at times for the best of ourselves to come out. Often when you are responding to things in the moment there are all kinds of different things at play: There is your body chemistry, which is always a challenge. There is the mind racing about how you are being perceived by the people around you. There is the natural flow of a conversation that often doesn’t allow for deep reflection. Those are just a few of the challenges we face in person to person communication.
Writing, especially longer forms of writing, allow one to slow down and go deep. Someone that may be a neurotic bastard in real life, might be truly thoughtful in writing. They are two different forms of expression and they access different parts of our being. Humans are complicated. The thing that is great about writing or any form of artistic expression is this: Once the neurotic bastard is dead, once the short turbulent complicated lifespan of a human being is over, a good piece of work may live on for a long time, inspiring and doing good, eclipsing all those moments when one wasn’t at their best. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t try to be their best, only that time has a funny way of erasing, or at least sanding down, those human characteristics that we call faults.
For those readers out there, another one of the world’s current great authors, Haruki Murakami, also has a new book out. It’s called Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. My favorite three books of his are probably Kafka On the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I think that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his masterpiece, but Kafka On the Shore is probably the best place to start as it is more accessible.
For anyone that has seen a David Lynch movie, Murakami has the same sense of the uncanny that Lynch has. He has the ability to make the everyday seem strange and haunting.
I spent time in Japan last year and I have been interested in their culture for a long time. After going there I read a little bit about their culture. Because they have stricter rules than us concerning personal interaction they are more comfortable with ambiguity. There is a certain amount of ambiguity and abstraction even built into their language. Often what is meant is inferred by body language and facial expression, instead of being overtly expressed. I’ve commented before that this plays a role in their art. If you watch any movies that are wildly popular in Japan, they will seem much more surreal than our popular entertainment. Anyone that has seen movies like Spirited Away can attest to that. Murakami’s work, although it can be extremely realistic at times, also has many moments of this surrealism as well.
I love art that has a certain dream logic to it, as I often see the world as being dreamlike. If this is something you find yourself drawn to then I highly recommend that you check out Murakami’s work.
I can’t stop thinking about David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks since I read it. I can’t stress enough that if you really like to read, if getting lost in a book is one of your favorite pastimes, then this is a book you should check out. This book is intelligent. It deals with the big themes of our time. It deals in both realism and fantasy with equal skill. However, more than anything it is just a simply wonderful read. This is a book written for people that love books. This was one of those rare times when I felt like my mind and soul were expanded by reading, and at the same time every moment of reading this book was a pleasurable experience. David Mitchell is that rare writer and magician that feeds the heart and mind in equal measures.
I have just finished one of the best books that I have ever read. That book is David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Mitchell is as much a magician as he is an author. He can take you anywhere in time and place, real or imagined, and not only make that world come alive, but keep your attention, making you want to see what happens next.
The book consists of six stories in which all but two are told by different narrators. All of these stories take place in different time periods from 1984 to 2043, although there are flashbacks to much earlier time periods as well. Mitchell can write with complete realism or dive into the world of total fantasy, and he is adept at both styles.
There are writers that can make you think and writers that can spin a yarn, but rarely do the those talents exist in the same writer. Mitchell is one of the few that can write a page turner and make you ponder the larger questions of life.
Mitchell’s earlier masterpiece Cloud Atlas is worth reading as well. However, I know that some people will not make it through Cloud Atlas because I have always seen the book as structured like a mountain. It takes some work getting up the first half as you adapt to the different uses of language and style. Once you get to the mountaintop, you won’t be able to stop reading and the second half is a breeze.
I think there can be a good debate over which book is better, Cloud Atlas or this one. However, I do feel Mitchell was able to keep a lot of the sweeping themes and ideas from Cloud Atlas in this book and actually write something that was more entertaining from the start. After about 20 or 30 pages in I simply could not put this book down. Some people will rate this book lower because it is less of a challenge, and I myself am not sure which book is better, but I actually think a great book does not have to be hard to read. I’m a huge fan of George Orwell because he was able to convey such complex thinking in such simple readable language.
To convey too much of the plot of The Bone Clocks would be to ruin it for those willing to explore its many worlds. This book demonstrates the power of the imagination. It is full of heart and heartbreak. It will make you take a hard look at the world around you and somehow allow you to escape as only the best stories can. Most importantly it is a book full of empathy for us flawed creatures called human beings. This book is for those that are willing to look at the hard truth of the world and at the same time dream of a better one. For anyone that has loved being lost in a book on a rainy day, I can’t recommend any book more highly than this.
I am about three quarters of the way through the new David Mitchell book, The Bone Clocks. Although there is always the possibility that Mitchell won’t land the ending, and the ending of anything matters, so far I can’t help but feel this book is a masterpiece. At different times throughout the journey I was highly engrossed in an extremely realistic description of a journalist in the Iraq War, the life of a serf in Tsarist Russian, a dark comedy featuring a modern writer, and science fiction action scenes that seemed as if they came out of a blockbuster movie. Those are just a few of the different styles and perspectives that Mitchell weaves seamlessly in this book.
Although I can’t claim to know exactly what goes on in Mitchell’s head, I feel that after reading all of his books, except for the small amount of this one to go, that there is a purpose to all of these different styles and characters. I think Mitchell understands that the only tribe that matters is the human race. Most of the time when human beings treat each other poorly, it is because they put their tribe first. That tribe can be a political, religious, or ethnic tribe. It is seeing themselves as being more important than someone else. It is the ability to not be able to imagine oneself in another’s shoes, to feel enough empathy. Mitchell takes us inside the head of many different kinds of people and he does so using many literary techniques.
Again, I want to hold off final judgment until I finish the book, but Mitchell might have just painted a masterpiece. Mitchell uses many of the the same techniques that brought him such acclaim in Cloud Atlas, but if anything this book might actually might be more entertaining from story one. I can’t put it down, and haven’t been able to since I started. Stay tuned for more about this book in the future, but you might want to check it out yourself in the meantime.