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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Half of a Yellow Sun and the chapter that kills it

At the end of chapter 4, Odenigbo’s mother comes visit. She arrives whilst he’s absent, and meets Olanna. A village woman, she looks upon Olanna with suspicion and hostility—what good is a woman who goes to university and gets a degree overseas? Olanna has her son under control. She was not breastfed by her own mother. She is an abnormal woman—a witch. She must leave Odenigbo alone. 
Being insulted, Olanna leaves and returns to her own flat. Ugwu the houseboy witnesses it all, and tells his master. 
This is the beginning of chapter 5: 
“Olanna looked at Odenigbo through the glass for a while before she opened the door. She closed her eyes as he walked in, as if doing so would deny her the pleasure that the scent of his Old Spice always brought. He was dressed for tennis in the white shorts she had often teased him were too tight around his buttocks.” 
Note that in this chapter, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie focuses on Olanna’s point of view. Do you think that is how she would think in that situation? 
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Now look at these lines: 
“[Olanna] watched [Ugwu] go back to the kitchen, thinking of what she had said. Nothing can divide us. Of course Odenigbo’s mother’s medicine from the dibia—indeed, all supernatural fetishes—meant nothing to her, but she worried again about her future with Odenigbo. She wanted certainty. She longed for a sign, a rainbow, to signify security. Still she was relieved to ease back into her life, their life, of teaching and tennis and friends that filled the living room. Because they came in the late evenings, she was surprised to hear the doorbell ring 1 afternoon, a week later, when Odenigbo was still at a lecture. It was Richard.” 
I wonder if I’m being nit-picking, but there are 3 different things in this paragraph—Olanna’s feeling of uncertainty regarding her relationship with Odenigbo, her relief as things are back to normal after his mother’s gone, and Richard’s surprise visit. It feels strange to condense them in 1 paragraph, especially the transition from the 2nd to the 3rd thing. 
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“Odenigbo’s mother’s visit had ripped a hole in her safe mesh of feathers, startled her, snatched something away from her. She felt 1 step away from where she should be. She felt as if she had left her pearls lying loose for too long and it was time to gather them and guard them more carefully. The thought came to her slowly. She wanted to have Odenigbo’s child.” 
I shall not comment on the prose in that paragraph. The narrator goes on to tell us that they never discussed children, once Olanna mentioned it and he said “to bring a child into this unjust world was an act of a blasé bourgeoisie”. 
Now, at the end of chapter 5, 1 morning Odenigbo wakes up Olanna “by taking her finger in his mouth”, and all of a sudden suggests that they have a child. 
“Olanna had wanted to give the scent of his mother’s visit some time to diffuse before telling him she wanted to have a child, and yet here he was, voicing her own desire before she could. She looked at him in wonder. This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.” 
And that kills it. 
I’ve decided to stop reading Half of a Yellow Sun.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God


(still from the film) 


The 5th documentary film I’ve watched this year about paedophilia/ child sexual abuse, and the 2nd one about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. 
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God details the 1st known protest against clerical sex abuse in the US, by 4 deaf men, exposing Lawrence Murphy, the priest that abused them in the 1960s at St. John School for the Deaf. Similar to Deliver Us from Evil, the film starts from the cases of 1 priest and expands to the whole Catholic sex abuse cases in the US and around the world, and “the policy” in the Catholic Church and in the Vatican to keep it quiet. What they usually do when there are accusations against a priest is that they cover it up, then transfer the priest to another church or monastery, where he continues to have priesthood and to have access to children, without either the new church/ monastery or the local authorities knowing. That means that Oliver O’Grady (in Deliver Us from Evil) and Lawrence Murphy (in Mea Maxima Culpa) and lots of other priests can continue molesting and raping children over decades, and never get punished. 
The film is chilling and haunting, because Murphy abused deaf kids, yes, deaf kids, and picked the vulnerable ones whose parents didn’t know sign language and who couldn’t tell anyone. The Church chose the priest over the disabled, vulnerable and helpless children. Not only so, it’s Murphy’s self-defence that is truly infuriating. In Deliver Us from Evil, Oliver O’Grady talks about his paedophilia and the molestations. Mea Maxima Culpa can’t feature Murphy, who was dead, but includes a few lines he wrote to defend himself and justify his own actions—it’s cruel, hypocritical, shameless and infuriating. 
 And yet this is an inspiring and powerful film. It’s 4 deaf men that broke the silence.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Richard Churchill in Half of a Yellow Sun

After more than 60 pages, I now think I’ve got more into the story of Half of a Yellow Sun.
A convenient way to speak of the characters of Half of a Yellow Sun is to place at the centre of the novel the twin sisters Olanna and Kainene. Olanna is the beautiful one, “illogically beautiful”, gentle, charming, almost perfect, and interested in politics. Kainene is the skinny and ugly one, independent, proud, haughty, mysterious and enchanting.
Olanna is in a relationship with Odenigbo—the professor, the nationalist, the proud black/ Nigerian/ Igbo man, the radical of the book. Working for Odenigbo is Ugwu, a docile, ignorant houseboy that is 1 of the important characters.
Kainene is involved with Richard Churchill—a white journalist who comes to Nigeria because of his interest in Igbo art. 
Other characters are connected to either or both of Olanna and Kainene. But we can speak of them some other time (if I want to).
The 1 thing that bothers me right now is Richard. He must be the weakest man I’ve encountered in literature. As a writer, he hasn’t produced anything; he wanders around, confused and uncertain about himself. At parties he feels out of place; with people he is awkward and tries to be funny, in vain (preparing a joke and using it on different people). He’s also weak as a man. Before being enamoured with Kainene, he’s with Susan, a racist, condescending and trivial-minded woman. He never seems to speak up and lets Susan boss him around—like she wants him to move in with her so he does, though he doesn’t want to, or she wants him to go to parties that he doesn’t enjoy and talk to people that he has no interest in, so he does. The only “rebellion” is when he breaks up with her because of Kainene. 
Even in bed, Richard isn’t adequate. He often has problems and cannot quite satisfy Kainene. 
Worst of all, he is weak, unable to stand up for anything, and unable to defend his woman and their relationship when someone insults Kainene right in front of him. He stands there, helpless, like a loser. 
I don’t understand what Kainene sees in him.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Author questions: now answered

Questions from 6/1/2017

My at-the-top-of-my-head answers: 
1/ Who are your favourite writers?
Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Melville, Nabokov, Flaubert, Emily Bronte, Gogol... 
2/ Who were your favourite writers when you were a teenager? Which of them do you still like?
Late teens: Haruki Murakami, Elfriede Jelinek, Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Isabel Allende, Patrick Suskind, Toni Morrison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Phạm Thị Hoài, George Orwell, etc. 
Early teens: Charlotte Bronte, Marc Levy, Guillaume Musso, Aziz Nesin, Nguyễn Nhật Ánh, Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần, Paulo Coelho, etc. 
I still like: Kafka, probably Fitzgerald, Salinger, Marquez, Orwell and Toni Morrison, whom I haven't read for some time. I have complex feelings about Charlotte Bronte. 
3/ Which writers have most influenced you?
Tolstoy, Nabokov, Jane Austen. 
4/ Which writers do you wish had not influenced you?
Can't think of anyone. 
5/ Which writers are you embarrassed you used to like?
Dan Brown and Marc Levy. 
6/ Which writers did you not expect to like, but did? 
Jane Austen. 
7/ Which writers do you think you will still read, and like, for the rest of your life?
Tolstoy definitely. Perhaps Jane Austen and Nabokov. Not sure about Melville but Moby Dick will always have a special place in my heart. 
8/ Who are your favourite prose stylists? Or your favourite writers on the sentence level?
Melville, Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Robert Louis Stevenson.
9/ Who are your favourite writers of characters?
Tolstoy and Nabokov. George Eliot, but her moralising narrator should be out of the way. Also Jane Austen but she's different. 
10/ Which writers, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?
Chekhov and Turgenev. Perhaps Fitzgerald. 
11/ Which writers, alive or dead, would you like to know personally? And think you could be friends with?
Nabokov, Emily Bronte, Chekhov, Salinger... Dostoyevsky and Gogol because they're nutters. Jane Austen I wouldn't have dared to meet. I don't think I could have been friends with any of them. 
12/ Do you personally know any published author?
Vietnamese: Phạm Thị Hoài and Vũ Thư Hiên. Foreign: Matthew Selwyn. I don't count Viet Thanh Nguyen (author of The Sympathizer) though he's on my facebook friend list. 
13/ Which writers do you like/ admire but generally avoid, for some reason?
Nabokov and Melville, because they're geniuses and I'm not always up for a challenge. Flaubert, because of his misanthropy and pessimism. George Eliot, because of her moralism. Henry James, because of his lengthy sentences, his rambles. Dostoyevsky, because obviously. 
14/ Which writers do you like as critics/ essayists but not as novelists?
Virginia Woolf. 
15/ Which writers have changed you as a reader?
Tolstoy and Nabokov. 
16/ Who do you think are overrated?
Murakami, Kundera, John Green. 
17/ Who do you think are underrated and should be more widely read?
Salinger's short stories. I don't know. But Tolstoy and Melville would be more widely read. 
18/ Who do you think are the best living writers? 
Can't say. But definitely not Murakami or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 
19/ Which writers do you go to for comfort?
Jane Austen and Lewis Carroll. 
20/ Which writers do you go to for mere amusement?
I only read serious novels because life's short and I'm a slow reader. 
21/ Who are the greatest writers that you don't personally like/ that you just don't warm to?
Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, Henry James. 
22/ Which writers do you hate/ strongly dislike?
Stephenie Meyer and E. L. James. Gayl Jones, E. L. Doctorow, perhaps Joyce Carol Oates. 
23/ Which writers are you prejudiced against?
Hemingway, Knausgård, Naipaul, Ayn Rand, Michel Houellebecq, Bukowski. I also have some prejudices against the author I'm reading- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 
24/ Which writers do you feel you should have read by now?
Now that would be a long list: Nguyễn Du, James Joyce, Proust, Dante, Cervantes, Oscar Wilde... It would be a very very long list. 
25/ Which writers from your country would you recommend to a foreigner?
Vietnam: Nam Cao, Phạm Thị Hoài, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp. But note that I'm an ignoramus as regards to Vietnamese literature. 
26/ Which writers do you recommend to everyone? Every serious reader?
Tolstoy, Melville, Flaubert, Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, Henry James... 
27/ Which writers do you wish you could write like?
I will not answer this question. 
28/ What is your favourite language to read in? 
English. 
29/ Which foreign-language writers make you wish to learn their language in order to read them in the original? 
Russian, because of Tolstoy, Gogol, Leskov, Chekhov... French because of Flaubert. German because of Kafka and Patrick Suskind. 
30/ Who is the best writer you've just discovered recently? 
If recently means 1 year, Melville. More recent, nobody great. 

Half of a Yellow Sun: 1st impression; Ugwu; the individual vs isms

Reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Shall I continue? Perhaps I should, perhaps I will change my mind. My impression at the moment is that the book has the precise problem that worried me when I picked it up—that an author who seems obsessed with gender and/or race (in this case, and) will likely risk letting her social agenda take over and undermine her own literary work. Not only so—what do I see when I read reviews or critiques of Adichie’s works? Nigeria. History. War. Women, men. Feminism. Africans. Race. Igbo. Why do people not speak of literary merit when praising a literary work? 
Take the character Ugwu. Ugwu comes to work for Professor Odenigbo as a houseboy. At the start of the novel, he is 13, uneducated, having finished only 2nd grade, and simple—he on the 1st day keeps some chicken meat in pockets, intending to give his family when someone visits; irons socks; thinks that only evil spirits have grass-coloured eyes; curses that people get diarrhoea; thinks that killing a gecko gives you a stomachache; thinks stew with arigbe (a kind of herb) could soften Master’s heart, etc. In short, he’s a simple, superstitious, ignorant boy. The 1st chapter, though told in the 3rd person, focuses on his point of view.
Now take these lines: 
“Ugwu did not understand most of the sentences in the books, but he made a show of reading them. Nor did he entirely understand the conversations of Master and his friends but listened anyway and heard that the world had to do more about the black people killed in Sharpeville, that the spy plane shot down on Russia served the Americans right, that De Gaulle was being clumsy in Algeria, that the United Nations would never get rid of Tshombe in Katanga…” 
Do you think such a boy would pick up such information? I don’t think so. Adichie wants the information in there, because she wants the readers to know what the professor and his friends talk about, but it’s Ugwu’s point of view in this passage and it’s a weak device. 
But not only so. As I read Half of a Yellow Sun, it doesn’t feel like the political bits are there for world-building and characterisation, but on the contrary, the characters, their thoughts, their conversations… are to serve the author’s ideas. It makes me think of Vasily Grossman, who is praised for his focus on and love for the individual—the individual is, to him and to many great Russian writers such as Tolstoy* and Chekhov and Nabokov, more important than any kind of isms; whereas for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I’m afraid that the issues of race and gender are more important. 
If that’s the case, that would be bad for her as a novelist.



*: Of course, you would argue that Tolstoy isn't a pure artist like Chekhov and Flaubert, who care for no ideologies. Tolstoy seeks to teach. But at his best, the artist triumphs over the preacher, and nobody can create characters as real, complex, self-contradictory and full of life as Tolstoy does. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

4 documentaries about paedophilia/ child sexual abuse

Because I'm a cheery person, within the past month I've watched 4 documentaries about paedophilia/ child sexual abuse. Here are my short reviews: 
1/ Deliver Us from Evil
This is a documentary about Oliver O'Grady, a Catholic priest who molested and raped about 25 children, the youngest being 9 months old, in California in the 1970s-90s. The film is not only about one individual- it then expands to paedophilia and child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and their cover-ups. If you like Spotlight, you'll like Deliver Us from Evil. The difference in their approach is that, whilst the former focuses mostly on the work of the reporters and the scope of the whole thing, the latter explores the life of one individual and his victims and his abuse of their families' trust, and at the same time, shows how many people, including the Bishop, knew about the cases but covered them up and gave O'Grady the chance to rape more and more and more children over decades. It makes you realise how awful it all is if you think about how many O'Gradys there are in the Catholic Church, considering the rule about celibacy and believers' trust in them, and about how many children have been molested or raped by them. 
Powerful and haunting, Deliver Us from Evil is 1 of my top favourite documentaries. 

2/ Capturing the Friedmans
The film is about the investigation of Arnold Friedman and his youngest son Jesse for child sexual abuse, and its impact on the family. It's a fascinating and thought-provoking film about the elusiveness of facts. And yet, the juxtaposition of contrasting stories by different people, over the course of the film, turns out to be little more than a pose of impartiality. Even though I now don't know whether or not Arnold and Jesse Friedman were guilty, the film makes you question the work of the police as well as the testimonies of the students in computer class who accused the Friedmans of raping them. 
The most interesting part of Capturing the Friedmans is the family conflicts. All the 3 sons were with his father part of a gang, excluding their mother Elaine, and that only became more obvious after the accusations began. Most interesting is that the oldest son, David, always stands behind his father as though he's a saint, even though he's a paedophile who confessed to sexually arousing 2 young boys, and speaks of his mother as though she's the root of all problems, without trying to see things from her point of view. 

3/ Louis Theroux: A Place for Paedophiles
As usual, Louis Therous tackles a difficult subject, and as usual, he is calm and polite without appearing sympathetic with sex offenders. These sex offenders, after serving their time in prison, are sent to a hospital to be cured of paedophilia or simply to be removed from society, without a definite time. The film, as the title suggests, is less about the sex offenders than about the place itself. My main problem with the film is that the whole time it raises a question without answering: how do these people cure someone of paedophilia? We see how the tests are done to determine whether or not somebody can be released and go back to society, but don't know how they're supposed to be cured. But perhaps that's the point of the film- the place is just another form of imprisonment. 

4/ Are All Men Paedophiles?
Yes, the film is provocative and meant to grab your attention. No, it's not what you think it's about. 
It's about the difference between paedophilia and hebephilia, the confusion over the concept of paedophile because of the age of consent (18 in the film), history, sexual maturity, paedophilia in ancient Greece and in religion, the paedophilia hysteria and its consequences, exclusive and non-exclusive paedophiles, offending and non-offending paedophiles, female paedophiles and double standards, etc. 
It is interesting, but as a whole, is a confused film, because it touches on too many topics and at the same time is unclear about its message. After watching Are All Men Paedophiles?, I don't know what the director means to say. 
Or I do. He finds teenage girls hot, and wants to lower the age of consent. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reading updates [with an update]

- I've stopped reading Life Is Elsewhere. I enjoyed it very much for a while, the poet's mother's stupidity is exasperating but intriguing and somehow captivating. Then the narrative's broken off and I'm afraid the Xavier chapter ruined it for me, because it had nothing to do with anything but the next part didn't quite answer and at the same time wasn't interesting enough for me to go on to find the connection. I didn't care for Jaromil the protagonist, and above all, didn't care for the author. The cynical, misanthropic tone of the narrator became more and more irritating, like he's full of himself. At some point, I no longer cared for Jaromil's mother. 
Think I've fallen out of love with Milan Kundera. 

- These days I'm very busy. I mean, the whole school year. Easter means no class, doesn't mean holiday. There are too many things to do; life is short, there are too many books to read and too many films to watch, I have no desire to cling to a book that I get little out of.  

- My intention after Effi Briest and The Awakening was to reread Madame Bovary. I still haven't. For a while I read nothing but stuff for the course, and some Kate Chopin. But right now, even though I can, Madame Bovary doesn't seem like a good choice, much as I admire Flaubert. Such a book does no good for me, with my insecurities and mood swings (I'm not going to pretend that a literary work doesn't affect me personally). 

- The plan remains the same that in summer I will have a Life and Fate read-along. Anyone cares to join? For anyone that doesn't know, Life and Fate is called War and Peace of the 20th century, and Vasily Grossman is said to be similar to Tolstoy in many ways- the large scope, the humanity. 
"The novel has over a hundred and fifty characters, and each is patiently individualized, delineated with a journalist’s fidelity to appearances and an artist’s clairvoyance into meaning." 
Sounds like Tolstoy's book. 
"True to its title, “Life and Fate” mixes gritty battlefield descriptions with acute psychological insights, wrenching dilemmas and deep philosophical reflections about the nature of good and evil. It is at once funny, gruesome, tragic, informative, romantic and disconcerting. The central message of horror jars with the simplistic but widely held notion that the war was a black-and-white struggle between beastly Nazis and their valiant adversaries.
For Grossman, the Nazi and Soviet systems and ideologies had far more similarities than differences. Both were directed at crushing the ultimate qualities of kindness and individuality." 
This is 1 of the writers I haven't read that I think I'll like. 

- I tend to have reservations when a writer seems to be obsessed with race and/or gender. However, for several reasons, I'm reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun at the moment. 
Let's see how it goes. 


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If the 2 reviews above still don't persuade you to read Life and Fate, this is a better pitch: 
"By the end of the novel, what you are left with out of the debris of Soviet Communism is something so banal it could be written on a greetings card: the individual, often random act of kindness – an old woman who picks up a stone to hurl at a captured German soldier and, for reasons she will never understand, replaces it with a piece of bread. People are placed in invidious situations, like Shtrum, cornered by Stalin. Few are heroes. But these acts of kindness recur throughout the novel, not in any context other than the spur of the moment. Kindness alleviates some of the horrors of war. In one brief moment a soldier thoughtfully removes a louse from his girl’s army jacket before kissing her.
Like many of my generation, I’d been shaped by ideas; by a number of -isms, socialism and feminism above all. I saw the world in terms of various us and them groupings. After reading Life and Fate they seemed to matter less. Grossman wasn’t advocating Christian saintliness, and was far from perfect in his own life. But if, even in the horror of war, you can alleviate suffering through some extraordinary action (volunteering to go to the gas chamber to hold the hand of a child so he won’t have to die alone), how easy might it be to behave with less anger, cynicism, irritation or sneery dismissiveness? And that’s what I have tried to do. Life and Fate is a daunting undertaking, but for those who finish it the experience is profound. Few novels that set out to change the world succeed; this one merely changed me." 
(Linda Grant) 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Some paradoxical thoughts in Life Is Elsewhere

2 of my blogger friends see nothing in Milan Kundera. 
Me, several years ago, I was interested in his ideas. 
From chapter 9 of Life Is Elsewhere
“… she had realized from the beginning of their intimacy that the painter demanded from her free and astonishing types of erotic expression, that he wanted her to feel entirely free with him, released from everything, from all convention, from all shame, from all inhibition; he liked to say to her ‘I don’t want anything except that you give me your freedom, the totality of your freedom!’ and he wanted at every moment to be convinced of this freedom. Mama had more or less come to understand that such uninhibited behavior was probably something beautiful, but she was all the more afraid that she would never be capable of it. And the harder she tried to know her freedom, the more this freedom became an arduous task, an obligation, something she had to prepare for at home (to consider what word, what desire, what gesture she was going to surprise the painter with to show him her spontaneity), so that she sagged under the imperative of freedom as if under a heavy burden.” 
Today I’m a different person, and a different reader, but that paradox is still interesting. Also interesting is that the painter speaks of freedom but doesn’t allow her freedom of thought. He gives her books, tells her things, wants her to think in a certain way; he wants to reshape her into something else.  
Another paradox, from chapter 10: 
“… She didn’t tell him anything of the kind because such sincerity was contrary to her nature and because she finally wanted again to be herself and she could be herself only in insincerity…” 
This time I’m just going to leave the passages there for you to read and comment on.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Capturing the Friedmans

People writing about this film tend to write about the child sexual abuse charges, the innocence or guilt of Arnold and Jesse Friedman, the questionable work of the police, the hysteria and trial by media, and the conflicts in the family, mostly between Elaine and the men. What I find most interesting, however, is David's perception and representation of his father as something like a saint and his mother as almost a monster, a selfish, manipulative person. 
Arnold Friedman's a paedophile. He may have been wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing his students in computer class, which we don't know for certain, but that doesn't mean he's innocent. He's a paedophile who confessed to molesting some boys. 
Elaine's not great, most of the fights apparently were between her and someone else in the family, and I can see why David resents her for persuading his father and brother to plead guilty. And yet it's striking how he refuses to see things from her perspective, to understand how she felt upon discovering her husband's paedophilia after being with him for years and why she acted the way she did. It's unfair.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Festival of Insignificance

After a long time, I've just got back to Milan Kundera with The Festival of Insignificance. Here are some thoughts: 
Reading "The Festival of Insignificance" now, after a very long time since I touched anything by Kundera, or anything postmodern.
Is it just me or this novel is lacking something, Phan Quỳnh Trâm?
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Phan Quỳnh Trâm This book is very different from Kundera's earlier books like Immortality, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, The Book of Laugher and Forgetting.... It's the mundane, the meaningless, a story without narrative, that is the "meaning" of The Festival of Insignificance". The title speaks for itself. Many readers who were used to the old style could not stand it, but honestly, I like it. Maybe because I read it when I was in the right mental state for it.
Di Nguyen Is it a novel of ideas?
Phan Quỳnh Trâm The idea is there's no idea at all 


The suicide chapter in "The Festival of Insignificance" is so cold and matter-of-fact and seemingly random, it's devoid of humanity.

Finished reading "The Festival of Insignificance".
Lots of interesting bits, but I think it lacks something, Phan Quỳnh Trâm. Not just a coherent narrative, but a sense of wholeness, perhaps? And I feel it lacks life. Or am I too used to Tolstoy and Melville and Jane Austen and that bunch, and not equipped to appreciate postmodernism?
I do enjoy the meditations on the navel, though.
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Di Nguyen Also, the idea of the post-joke age, sadly, fits Western culture today. Everything is serious now. Everything is offensive.
Himadri Chatterjee From certain perspectives, yes. But from certain other perspectives, it's quite the opposite: *nothing* is serious any more - we seem to be drowning in a tide of flippancy and facetiousness. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to engage in discussion on matters that I, at least, consider serious, only for it to end up with "It doesn't matter - it's all a bit of a laugh, innit?"
Himadri Chatterjee And by the way, once you have appreciated "Tolstoy and Melville and Jane Austen and that bunch", what on earth do you want with postmodernism? It's trivial, self-regarding, self-aggrandising shite!
Di Nguyen There are lots of postmodernism folks around here, haha. 
Well several years ago I liked Milan Kundera very much, so now I'm just checking out his latest book.
Himadri Chatterjee In that case, please delete my post above. I pesonally have no regard for postmodernism, but it's not something I'd like to debate right now.
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At the moment, I'm reading another Kundera novel, Life is Elsewhere. It's more coherent than the disjoint The Festival of Insignificance, and it has life, but perhaps for lots of people, it's a more conventional work.