Excerpt: David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Although he's been around for more than ten years now,

(as a published writer that is), and as a celebrated one
since 2004, the year he published Cloud Atlas, i've never
read anything of David Mitchell's.
This situation most likely would not have been changed in the near future, if it weren't for the new vocation i've recently taken upon myself, to read and review new and upcoming novels' excerpts and deliver my verdict upon them. Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a historic novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, where The Dutch East India Company rules large and local and foreign population intermix in vice and corruption, despite a strict prohibition against any contact between locals and 'foreigners' (indeed, dutch clerks are not allowed to learn or speak any japanese, and bringing in bibles or christian artifacts through the local customs is forbidden).

Two excerpts are currently available to read, one from the first chapter, the other from the second

The first excerpt, The House of Kawasemi the concubine, above Nagasaki (subtitled The night night of the fifth month) is taken from Chapter 1 of the book and is set in 18th century Japan where Dutch Dr. Maeno and midwife Orito Aibagawa try to deliver the dead child of Kawasemi, concubine to Uragami Gyokudo, japanese artist.

The delivery is doomed to fail as the child is stillborn, until a moth enters the room and with one flap of its wing - the child is rewarded its life back.

But don't get too attached to the mother and baby as we're swiftly moving on..

The second excerptCaptain Lacy's cabin on the Shenandoah, anchored in Nagasaki harbor (subtitled, Evening of July 20, 1799) finds us on a dutch east indies cargo ship sailing the Nakasaki run on its way to the port of Batavia, now known as Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

On the ship is Jacob de Zoet, a dutiful clerk in charge of 'cleaning the corruption' at his new post, the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, Japan, where "every arrival [...] is a particular death".

Cannily enough, Zoet's first act as 'moral supervisor' is to smuggle his Psalters through local customs.

But he cunningly escapes punishment and we're off to a speed trial where chief elect of the of the trading factory of Dejoma Unico Vorstenbosch sentences the acting-chief of the above-mentioned factory, Daniel Snitker (yes, the titles are endless in the beaurocratic world of the East Indies company) for 'gross dereliction of duty', which basically means romping 'with strumpets in a brothel' whilst the unobserved company warehouses were put to fire by vandals and looters, and we are exposed to the politically and morally corrupt world of the colonial entities invested in the far east.

This goes on, in minute details and a trifle tediousness at times, but it these nuances that make for what the french call 'vraisemblance', without which there could be no 'historic' novel.

VERDICT: BUY (if you're into the whole historic novel scene)


Excerpt: Derek Haines Milo Moon

The Excerpt Reader is all for landing out a hand to fellow Twitter and Facebook followers and helping them out in this cruel literary world. 

Hélas, there comes a point in every blogger's life when truth must prevail over favorism, and the moment has come.  

Derek Haines (Twitter profile avows he is an "Author, Songwriter, Poet, Idiot. Never too old to Rock & Roll and vandalize words and music") is a self-published author whose writing ranges in genres as wide as fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, essays and poetry. 

Just in the last year, he has self-published no less than 5 books but we are warned by the writer himself of more books to come: "Writing now full time, there are always manuscripts in varying stages of development, but one always has top priority and occupies the current project page of my website." 

No doubt Haines has written all these books all for the drawer and mass-published them on a whim in 3 month intervals. 

Be as it may, he is continuing to write in an alarming pace (warning: his next book is still a 'big secret' but i expect it will be released before the year is over, if all goes well in the Haines writing factory).

It isn't clear whether these books have gained any commercial success, but the impressive followers span Haines gas gained on Twitter suggests there is something to be found in his novels.

The reason, readers, for the inhabitual sarcastic tone the Excerpt Reader is using in this post is sadly the quality of writing we must bear from this over-

fruititious (as in 'fruitful', not gay) and prolific writer. 

Haines' latest published novel is Milo Moon, a historical/scientific novel set in post-World War II Switzerland where medical and physiological experimentation on humans is everyday practice and where (anti) heroes Milo Moon and Mary Seaton set out to save the world and unravel the truth. 

As testimony, here's a short excerpt from the novel, which testifies to the literary style Haines employes as well as to the traits of his novel's 'hero':

Being a nobody was Milo's specialty. If he had been average it would have made him happier. But this wasn't to be. His hair was receding, thinning and had a nondescript type of mousy grey color about it [...] At five foot three he made no impression whatsoever, and was well accustomed to being overlooked. [...] no one ever noticed Milo anyway. If anyone had taken the time they would have discovered a very polite, honest and boring young man with a somewhat childish disposition who rarely smiled as there was no reason to it in his mind. 

And this is just the first page..

Reading Haines makes you think again about our age of mass-publishing and the inherent advantages of publishing with a big publishing house, where those efficient editors, sorting the wheat from the chaff as it were, come in handy...

True, The Excerpt Reader has avowed (well, at least to himself) to read a full excerpt before passing any judgement upon a given novel, but having read the first few pages of Milo Moon, i believe the job sufficed (so much so, that a thought has occurred, to devote one's time to reviewing bad books, if only for the humane purposes invested in it, that of warning innocent souls. A suggestion for the blog's name: BadBookReview).

VERDICT: DON'T BUY (Unless you already bought and read all dime store novels out there and are looking for some more..) 


Excerpt: Martin Amis's Experience, A Memoir

I've recently read the first few chapters of Martin Amis's Experience (and abandoned the memoir), so i feel a short review of this book's excerpt is quite in place. 

Amis has recently published his twelfth novel, The Pregnant Widow

The following excerpt is available from the New York Times (for online subscribers only, but it doesn't take more than 1 minute to register)and is taken from the book's first chapter.

The young Amis of Experience's first chapter is a young, poshy and opinionated brat in the process of intellectual and individual 'growing': he's thinking of living on his own but he's still highly dependent on the opinions, as well as allowances, of the 'higher powers'; his father, the author Kingsley Amis, and his second wife, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. 

The general tone and subject matter might not be characteristic of the whole memoir (the narrator in the first chapter is a very young and inexperienced Amis who's going to grow up into a much appraised and successful author) but reading the book's excerpt you get a pretty good idea of what it's going to be like sticking around for the next 400 pages or so, like a guest invited to a party solely for the host's amusement sake, or in order to help clearing the dishes afterwards...

Even considering that this is an autobiography, and that the author is supposed to ponder endlessly upon his favorite subject - himself, there is not too much for the average reader in the first few chapters of Experience

VERDICT: DON'T BUY (unless you're an avid Martin Amis fan..)


Excerpt: Nicole Krauss's Great House

Nicole Krauss is still a 'debutant' writer, though widely celebrated, like her talented fellow-writer husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, largely because of their very skilled writing and unique and stylistic prose.

After her last novel, The History of Love (2005), was met with great critical acclaim and worldwide reader reception (the book is set to be released as a film by Warner Brothers in 2010), the expectations from her third novel, Great House, set to be published this October, are undoubtably abundant.

Until it will be available in bookshops, avid Krauss readers can content themselves with an excerpt, titled The Young Painters, from what is promised to be a "powerful, soaring novel" (Amazon).

The narrator in Painters is a female writer confessing to a 'Judge', as though admitting to a crime.
The act of writing is presented as a 'compensation' for an intrinsic loss in the narrator's life.

First, she writes a short story about a couple of children who were put to death by their own mother (the narrator herself does not have any children of her own, despite confessing: "Though when I was younger I believed I wanted to have a child, I was not surprised to find myself at thirty-five, and then forty, without one". Secondly, she writes a a novel about her recently deceased father: "I [...] took his illness and his suffering, with all its pungent detail, and finally even his death, as an opportunity to write about his life".

This incessant occupation with death is explained as some inexplicable urge to 'understand' or 'explain' something which is unexplainable; or to excerse some nihilistic urge for 'artistic freedom' or "vocation"; to be "free of laws", or of morals.

The general atmosphere in Painters is that of mystery and suspense. An ambiance of noir-fiction prevails, that of decline and crepuscule, where even a child's cry is sounded as a warning, a looming threat.

Krauss's prose is very well crafted, even if at times it seems over-calculated and slightly academic, a trifle 'experimental', however reading The Young Painters brings to mind the best central-european suspense writers, like Stefan Zweig and Franz Kafka.

VERDICT: BUY IT as soon as it comes out.

Excerpt: Bret Easton Ellis' Imperial Bedrooms

I've been debating with myself whether or not i should read Bret Easton Ellis' Imperial Bedrooms for the pastmonth or so, so when i saw this excerpt from the book Idecided I better give it a go before I say Nay or Yay.
I've only ever read 2 of Ellis's novels, American Psycho 
(i still can't decide which is better, the book or 
the film) and Glamorama, so my read into the Bedrooms excerpt 
is a slightly partial one, as i am not that familiar with Ellis's 
array of fictional characters and plot schemes.
Bedrooms's excerpt is taken from the beginning of 
Ellis's last novel and is, in sort, a return to the author's first 
couple of novels, Less than Zero and The Rules of Attraction.

The narrative point of view is that of Clay, once an 18 year old student at Camden College (circa Less than Zero) now disillusioned screenwriter living in L.A.

Given its axis is set in Zero and Attraction, the excerpt constantly refers to the characters and plots described in those novels, so a brief preparation-read will be needed if you're one of those readers who like being in the loop while the book is still held between your fingers.

The prose itself is very fluent, which makes Bedrooms a very easy and enjoyable read (if you're into black humor and morbid insinuations, that is), a good candidate for a short and saucy flight book to replace that Esquire or Vanity Fair copy (the book's 192 pages can easily be read in 2-3 hours if you're a fast reader, or 4-5 if you're slow like me.)

Other that that I don't have too much too say about the book as I fear that the 'slimness' characterizing its excerpt is also apparent in the book itself (more a novella than a novel, really).

You're going to have to make up your mind about this one. Sorry.

VERDICT: BUY IT but only if you're an Ellis enthusiast


Excerpt: Jonathan Franzen's Freedom

Freedom is Jonathan Franzen's long anticipated 4th novel, forthcoming from Barnes & Noble.

The novel is set for publication in September of 2010, however two excerpts (Good Neighbors and Agreeable) have already been released in The New Yorker in the past year.

After the huge success The Corrections was met with (literary controversies and journalistic disputes aside), the great expectations and comparisons are quite inevitable.

The first excerpt, Good Neighbors, chronicles some 15-20 years in the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund (again, the north european heritage) and their son and daughter, Joey and Jessica in St. Paul, Minnesota

The title refers, cornily and sarcastically at once (a trait that could only be attributed to Franzen, it seems) to the strange and at times hypocrite relationships the Berglund's carry on with their neighbors, Carol Monaghan (whose daughter, Connie, carries on a teanage infatuation with the Berglund's son, Joey), and the Paulsens (Seth and Marrie, your average keep-to-themselves-but-constantly-criticize-their-neighbors couple).

As in The Corrections, Franzen's prose in Good Neighbors is very detailed and life-encompassing, and the excerpt could easily be read a short story (though maybe not a very complete and gratifying one.)

The second excerpt, Agreeable, takes the readers back to Patty's adolescence, back in the 1970's. Again, the title is cruelly sarcastic, this time even much more so, given the story recounts Patty's 'agreeableness', which ultimately gets her raped by a fellow student. Indeed, it is this trait/vice which Franzen chooses to the cause for this unfortunate 'incident' as Patty's mother, Joyce, prefers to describe her daughter's rape:

"Being a very agreeable person, however, she went on dates with practically anybody who asked [...] Patty had given Ethan Post a mistaken impression. She was far too agreeable even when she wasn’t drunk. In the pool, she must have been giddy with agreeability. Altogether, there was much to blame herself for."

What other topics will Franzen treat in his new novel? What other eprotagonists will he focus his pointed pen at? I know he's left me curious what he's going to fill the rest of the novel's 550+ pages with...

VERDICT: BUY IT (as soon as it comes out..)