Friday, November 21, 2014

Review - The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

A good book stays with you forever. Unfortunately, sometimes bad books linger in your unconscious as well.

Today I would like to write a review on the book The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (dare ya' to say that five times real fast!). I had been wanting to read it for quite a while, but when I finally got my own copy... You guessed it: me no likey. Of course, what I express here is nothing more than my personal opinions and frustrations.

Have any of you read this novel? Were you able to finish it? Did you enjoy it? My responses to these questions are: I tried. No. Sort of.

What does the novel have to offer? An interesting premise: On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson decides he's had enough of the old people's home he's in and he does just what the title promises--he jumps out the window and (as far as the authorities know) disappears. From here on, he initiates a wild adventure that will, among other things, team him up with an elephant and make him a rich man. As the story progresses, we also learn about his past as an explosives expert, a profession which took him all across the world.


Sounds interesting, doesn't it?

It would be, if the author hadn't gone out of his way to make it BORING.

Let me explain. The novel starts out all right. Karlsson escapes from the old people's home (it's always called just that: "the old people's home." No specific name, no nothing.) and makes his way to the bus station where he encounters a disgruntled youth with bathroom and suitcase problems. In the end, Karlsson gets on a long-distance bus with the young man's suitcase (he just goes ahead and steals it). What's inside? The equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars. What happens next is what you'd expect from any centenarian with nothing to lose:


a cold-blooded killing spree.


(And he doesn't even have a shred of guilt about any one of the deaths. Wanna know why? Because good ol' Allan Karlsson is a freaking psychopath!)

Now, I'm not a prude. I've read my share of adventure, sci-fi and fantasy in which blood is poured over several pages. However, what startles me about The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man is:

1) The deaths are obviously meant to be the humorous parts of the story.
2) None of the characters--not Karlsson, not even the other people who eventually team up with him--seem to care the slightest that they are terminating human lives.

Now, you might shake your head and say "But Nadine, get your adjectives straight! You said the story was boring! What's boring about this?" Let me explain: the author apparently does everything he can to make the would-be adventure/killing spree dull.

Would you like an example? The vast majority of the story is told in reported speech:

     They had a late evening at Bellringer Farm with one and all in very good spirits. Amusing stories were trotted out one after the other. Bosse was a hit when he pulled out the Bible and said that now he would tell them the story of how he, quite involuntaringly, came to read the whole book from beginning to end. Allan wondered what devilish method of torture Bosse had suffered, but that wasn't what lay behind it. No outsider has forced Bosse to do anything, No, [sic] Bosse's own curiosity was responsible .
     -- I'm sure I'll never be that curious, said Allan.
     Julius asked whether Allan could stop interrupting Bosse for once so that they could hear the story, and Allan said he could.

This is a typical sequence taken straight out of the novel (page 237 of my edition--cover image above). The problem with using so much reported speech is that readers can't really get a sense of the characters because we can't hear them. We only hear the narrator--whoever that is--explain a story to us.

There are some rare instances where we readers can delight in morsels of direct speech, but the author can't even get that right... Now, this might actually be a translation error, but the dialogue starts off between quotation marks, and then suddenly shifts to em dashes (the same way dialogue is represented in Spanish). Why the sudden change in punctuation? Where's the sense in that?

If the use and abuse of reported speech weren't enough, the author rams certain character details down our throats so many times that "repetitive" becomes an understatement (Karlsson like to drink, Karlsson doesn't care about politics, Karlsson has no sex drive--I get it already! No need to hammer in the character profile every dozen pages!)

The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man has been compared to Forrest Gump in that the character blithely meets the most important political figures of his era and he's oblivious to the significance of the meetings (because he's not interested in politics! Haha! Do you see the hilarity of it all? Do you? ...You don't? Oh.). However, while Forrest Gump is endearing, Allan Karlsson is a self-centered scoundrel. One thing is for Karlsson to have no interest in religion or politics (the author repeatedly informs us of this--several times in each chapter--in case we ever happen to forget), but it's another thing altogether when that character demonstrates alarming sociopathic tendencies. Once again, let me give you an example:

Karlsson is the type of man who spends months (if not years--my memory fails me now) travelling across the Himalayas with a small group, sharing their food, drink and adventures. He is the type of man who befriends these people and goes on about how he loves them. He is also the type of man who stands by and watches as his friends each take a bullet to the brain and then reacts with a curious "I wonder why my friends always end up dying?" To my disgust, he is also the type of man who then shrugs off all love for his deceased companions and proceeds to make friends with the killers--for his own greedy needy benefit, of course.


I hate Allan Karlsson!

This novel has been sold to us as a heartwarming tale. It has even become a full-length motion picture... But heartwarming it is not. To me, it is the story of a man who doesn't care about anyone other than himself. A man who demands a glass of vodka every two or three pages (and that's supposed to be a "ha ha" moment. "Ha ha! A Swede drinking vodka! Brilliant!"). A man who, the way I see it, has lived much longer than he deserved. Couple that with the repetitive reported speech writing style and you've got a pretty nifty paperweight.

I must admit that so far I haven't been able to finish the novel (I'm a little more than halfway through). Even so, I felt the need to express my frustration in a review. I'll try to complete the novel someday, but I won't make any promises.

What about you? Have you read this novel? If so, what is your opinion?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaNoWriMo Feature: Beth Overmeyer

Today I'm happy to have as a guest Critique Circle's own Bethywoo! She is the author of In a Pickle, the one and only Beth Overmeyer. It's great to have you here!

You can find out more about Beth on her blog: http://bethovermyer.blogspot.com

She's also on Twitter: @Bethyo

You can take it from here, girl!

Is this your first time participating in NaNoWriMo?

This is my fifth (or is it my sixth?) attempt at NaNo. What made me decide to participate this year? It's a good time with great support...and I get to write without the worries of perfection/editing as I go--huzzah! As for tackling yet another year, the excitement never really wears off--for me, at least. I am stoked...probably because it's still week one. Week two = Writing blues.

What's your project?

This year, my main project is called Things Heard in a Graveyard. It's a mainstream novel about a man who inherits several family journals, which he tries to transcribe into readable/saleable prose, whilst his evil great aunt sues for said tomes. The old witch has never shown an interest in her family's grave-digging history. Why now?

My second project is for in case I get stuck. It's called Murder in the Afternoon: A Sweets and Sours Mystery (working title. Very, very WORKING title.) It's a paranormal cozy set in a bar. That's all I'm saying for now.


How are you approaching NaNo? Are you in the midst of a writing frenzy, or do you have a carefully thought-out plan?

For the first project, I have a scene-to-scene outline. For the second project, I'm mostly pantsing it. So I'm a plantser!


Have you learned anything from this experience so far? Is there any advice you would like to share with other NaNoWriMoers?

My advice to all you new WriMos out there: Do NOT edit as you go. In fact, don't read back any farther than one paragraph, and only then if you've lost where you are in the story. And even then, you should probably improvise.


Finally, here's an excerpt from Beth's NaNo project. Enjoy!

Here's a very rough (unedited, unpolished) piece of tripe--I mean prose, all extracted from the mainstream novel:

Chapter One

We take in the breath of mourners,
Shelter it in our chests,
Then release it with a heavy sough.
Their air is alien to us,
So we don’t hold it in long.

Once upon a time, some people died…But before that, they lived, and here is a few of their stories.

My dad grew up in a household of gravediggers. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Some suggest and jest that he was born with a bronze shovel in his hands. But, as the proverbial collective of random strangers say: “You can’t take it with you.”

Pop grew out of the business before he grew out of bowl cuts and really bad bellbottoms. He traded in his shovel and calluses for a suit and a family, of which I am a byproduct. As he lay on his deathbed, I wondered if Pops felt he made the right decision. Of course he made the correct one: The boneyard wouldn’t feed three mouths like it once had, if ever it did.

Speaking of tools…

I’m a writer, and I have my own tools of the trade. Like a gravedigger—a nobody suit that my pop always preached agaisnt—I work primarilty with my hands. And like a digger, my hands can get callused. And, we have nothing else in common except maybe a few stories. I never thought I had a thing in common with this other world, to which my dad once belonged, and to which most of my extended family tree still clung to. And I was okay with that.

But death is a funny thing.

When Pops lay on his deathbed, rasping some curses as I took one of his vein-riddled hands in my own, he stared at me with not too-unfriendly eyes and murmured something that I didn’t catch.

It sounded like, “Rasputin.” And I looked around the room, wondering if Pops was seeing his escort to the other world. It would be appropriately poetic if it were Rasputin. I was certain at that moment that the pair would get on well.

“Who—” Argyle Augustus Bohn cleared his throat and licked his papery lips. “Who are you?”

I’d been warned of this. The last stages of any old timer’s illness can result in a form of dementia, I am told. At this moment, I thought the old man was just looking to spite his only son.

“Who are you?” he repeated, patient as a puppy for a belly rub.

It would’ve been easy to say “Arys. I’m your son. Arys. You know, the kid you raised with Mom? You remember Betty Bohn? She was okay when I wanted to change my name. She didn’t threaten to disinherit me. That angel left me with the devil.”

Excellent, Beth! I can't wait to read more! When are you posting on CC?

Thank you so very much for being a guest on my blog. Stay tuned next week for our final NaNoWriMo guest!

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaNoWriMo Feature: Richard Davnall

Well, it's the second week of NaNoWriMo and I bet everyone is feeling it in their fingers. How's that writing going?

Today's feature is author R.J. Davnall, who you can see in the photo on the right. What? You don't recognize him? He's the author of The Second Realm, an ongoing fantasy serial which you can actually download for FREE at Smashwords! Head on over to his blog and check it out!

You can contact Richard at:

@eatthepen

Blog: itsthefuturestupid.blogspot.com

Richard is also doing something I never saw before: he's live-streaming his NaNoWriMo writing on his own online channel twitch.tv/rjdavnall! That's a NaNo first for me! Now, let's move on to the questions.

Is this your first time participating in NaNoWriMo?

This is my fifth NaNo. I was actually planning to sit this one out and just edit, because I'm in very much the same situation you reported (lots of editing to do, plus more teaching responsibilities than in previous years), but then I ended up with the first week of November off from both my jobs, and a new idea emerged on Thursday morning to make sure I really had no excuse to slack off.

What's your project?

My project is 'The Air Itself'. It started life as a horror story, but it's also a sort of cyberpunk/speculative fiction superhero story. My pitch so far is this:

Jane thought they'd escaped. She didn't know what had happened in that derelict neighbourhood, but it had stopped. They'd survived.

But Amanda lost her phone in the process, and now someone's found it. The messages he sends Jane are strange, as if he thinks he knows her but has the wrong person. And they're getting more insistent, too...

How are you approaching NaNo? Are you in the midst of a writing frenzy, or do you have a carefully thought-out plan?

My approach to NaNo can best be summarised by the friend who once shouted at me 'You need to go and look up the definition of 'month'!' I love the pile-it-all-on-right-now headlong rush of NaNo, and it gives me an excuse, once a year, to devote my every waking moment to a story. The result is that I tend to hit 50k pretty quickly (my record is six days and fourteen hours), then slow down to regular NaNo pace after about a week to wrap the project up. This year I've gone even more mad; I'd love to hit 50k in five days. I think that's about the fastest I can ever hope to work.

Have you learned anything from this experience so far? Is there any advice you would like to share with other NaNoWriMoers?

What I've learned so far is that I think next year I'll take it a bit easier (he said, for the third year in a row). If I can make my 5-day target, I think I can finally take the chip off my shoulder.

As for advice to other WriMos, I'd say that 'week 2' (roughly 12-25k) is the hard part. It's the part where it can really pay dividends to pause, if time allows, and jot a few ideas down, whether it's for characters or events. This is the stage where you're developing from and expanding on your introduction, and planting good seeds at this point will mean never getting stuck for material in the later stages.

The other big piece of advice is that you're only in competition with yourself. Set goals based on what you know of your own ability, not what anyone else is doing.

Finally, here's an excerpt from Richard's current project. Enjoy!

Amanda finished her latest round of photos, looked up, and let out a pleased 'Ooh!' Jane followed her gaze to another narrow side street, barely visible from this angle. She set off, trying to match Amanda's stride and catch up to her at the corner, but the other woman, longer-legged, got there first by a good ten seconds.

She'd found the street she wanted. Arbour Lane, it was called, at least if Jane was making the right head or tail of the battered sign. Its paint was completely gone, leaving only sculpted, mottled rust. Not a long street, but longer than some of the linking alleys they'd walked down this afternoon. The terraces huddled close enough to the road that perspective pinched them together at the far end anyway.

And every one was boarded. Most had the gridded tin, but more than one had bits of corrugated sheet metal instead. There were loose and cracked gutters, trees growing out of chimneys, crumbling paint, crumbling brickwork. Someone had fly-tipped a pile of bin bags on one doorstep.

Halfway along, the steel door-board of one house stood ajar, its mangled catch gaping like a manta ray's mouth.

Thank you for appearing, Richard! Drop me a line and tell me if you completed your five day goal!

If you are also participating in NaNoWriMo 2014 and would like to be featured, follow the instructions on this post.
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