Tag Archives: Catch-22

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood, Waterstones, Book, CanongateThe Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Canongate: paperback published 2006: 196 pages

Murder comes back to haunt you

For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, running a kingdom while her husband is off fighting the Trojan war is not a simple business. As if it isn’t bad enough that he has been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must also bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep more than one hundred lustful, greedy, bloodthirsty suitors at bay… Perhaps not surprising then that it all ends in murder.

Margaret Atwood has given Penelope her own voice so that she can tell her story at last and set the record straight for good.

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AmuletAmulet by Roberto Bolaño

Picador: paperback published 2009: 184 pages

Auxilio Lacouture is trapped. For twelve days she hides alone in a lavatory on the fourth floor of the university. Staring at the floor, she begins a heartfelt and feverish tale: she is the mother of Mexican poetry.

This highly charged first-person semi-hallucinatory novel is a potent stream of consciousness through which the poets of Mexico rage and swirl. Filled with wild, dark literary prophecies, heroic poets, mad poets, artists ‘choked by the brilliance of youth’, Auxilio’s passionate narration – both heart-breaking and lyrical – is suffused with the essence of Bolaño’s art. Continue reading

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Catch-22 is 50!

When I decided that I was going to university to study Creative Writing and become A Writer (in the terribly glamorous film noir sense), I suddenly realised that I had survived most of my educational years without reading many of those deemed as “classics”. By that, I mean Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird and other such modern greats. I was terrified that I might sound like a complete pleb if I turned up knowing nothing about these books (I had images of toffs with leather patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets, smoking pipes and discussing literature in deep-and-meaningful tones). So, that summer, I set out to read them all.

Catcher in the Rye, at the risk of sounding like a heathen, was boring. To Kill a Mockingbird made me cry (I still cry at the film, but that could be because of the massive crush I have on Atticus). But Catch-22… well…

Poppaloo, an infrequent but passionate reader, extolled the virtues of Catch-22 and it was his well-thumbed copy that I took to read (Poppaloo also rates The Life of Garp and Lord of the Flies in his all-time top books, so he has good taste). Forget the first few pages – they will never make sense (about as much sense as A Clockwork Orange is to sane people) – but keep going. I was hooked. It was one of the first books that made me laugh out loud.

This book coined the phrase “catch-22” to describe a no-win, impossible situation. It encapsulated that war-madness from World War II that is so hard to describe with humour, and yet Heller seemed to succeed. Almost a story about nothing, our protagonist Yossarian is increasingly loveable and cowardly and brave in equal measure as you read on. There is a little Yossarian in all of us, I feel.

And now it’s 50 years old. Happy birthday Yossarian. Congratulations Josef Heller, for creating a modern classic.

And the best bit? Waterstones have a 50th anniversary edition. It’s £18.99, but it is hardback, with blue-rimmed pages and a beautiful cover (see above). I want it, just to have it sat on the bookshelf next to Poppaloo’s battered, silver copy. Just to show how good this book actually is.

If you haven’t read it – go now. Forget the other “modern classics” (especially Catcher in the Rye), you’ll just need this one.

Oh… and I was strangely disappointed to arrive at university and find no toffs, tweed jackets or pipe-smokers…

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