Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Two recent novels

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything. I have been reading lots of books but haven't taken the time to write anything down so here are a few reviews of some recent novels, both of which came out in 2006.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan is a psychological novel that tells two stories. The first, told in third person, follows two American cousins who are trying to convert a dilapidated European castle into a resort. One of the cousins still harbors feelings of guilt for performing a cruel prank on his older cousin when they were kids. The other story, told in first person, features a man in prison who is taking a creative writing course offered by the prison. He is writing a story about two American cousins converting an old castle into a resort. Of course, the two stories are linked somehow and part of the fun of The Keep is trying to figure out the connection. Is the prisoner simply making up a story and Egan is allowing the reader to follow along, or is this a true story, and if so, how does he know about it? The answer, when it is revealed, is both unexpected and rewarding.

There’s more to The Keep than just narrative trickery, though. The characters are all well-drawn and Egan gives the novel a creepy, gothic atmosphere with vivid descriptions of the decaying castle and a mysterious baroness who still lives there. One of the cousins becomes increasingly paranoid and the reader starts to wonder if he is slowly going insane. The novel climaxes with a claustrophobic set-piece in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the castle. Egan offers insight into how feelings of guilt and fear can consume a person, and how people can display great courage in the face of great danger.

Fans of the TV show The Office will likely enjoy Max Barry’s hilarious satire Company. This sarcastic, funny and quite accurate portrait of the corporate world will make sense to anyone who has ever worked at any kind of job, but particularly to those of us who work for large corporations. The novel’s hero, often referred to only by his last name Jones, takes a job at Zephyr Holdings, located in a nondescript office building in Seattle. He joins the Training Sales department and it isn’t long before he notices that things aren’t quite normal at Zephyr. For one thing, the receptionist is a stunningly gorgeous woman who drives a sports car and never seems to be at her desk. For another, he realizes he doesn’t know what the company does. He soon uncovers a vast conspiracy which completely changes his perception of his job.

Barry is merciless in his send-up of the business world. Everyone from Senior Management to the catering staff is a target for satire. There were numerous laugh-out-loud moments and I often found myself thinking, “so I’m not the only one who notices things like that.” I enjoyed the jokes about ineffectual powerpoint presentations.

1 comment:

ephphatha said...

They both sound good!