The Trial / The Queen's Secret

 The Trial by Franz Kafka

I've never been so glad to finish a book. I don't know how to rate it in a how-much-did-you-like-it sense like GR's 5 star scale. I didn't like it at all, but I do appreciate what it's saying. I'm glad I read it, though it was anything but enjoyable.  

Joseph K. is told there is a court case against him but he is not told what the charges are, what law he has broken. Every effort to find out is futile. He talks to a few people who give him long-winded advice on the best course of action to follow, then tell him their advice will be of no help. They explain that they are merely lower officials of the court and they have no access to higher courts. K will also be denied access to the courts that judge his case and decide his fate. He has no rights. The Courts system is impenetrable, the law infallible.  

Questions go unanswered, but by the time I got to the end I didn't care. I didn't want the answers, I just wanted to get out of the suffocating atmosphere of pretense and contradictions, the madness that is the bureaucracy of a totalitarian government. K's hopes, and the reader's, in the beginning are soon worn down by relentless and senseless explanations that show no path forward or backward. It becomes horrifyingly apparent that there is no way out, there will be no way out, and yet the frail hope that common sense must surely prevail, and help come, survives until the last breath of life itself is given up. Painful to read, unnerving to contemplate.

The Queen's Secret by Karen Harper

Poor writing, repetitive, and sensationalized, with characters that would more accurately be described as caricatures. The dialogue feels contrived, almost theatrical. I wanted to like, or at least respect, the main character but she made herself preposterous with her bragging and repeatedly turning our attention back to her personal concerns from lesser matters like war and human suffering. The Queen, and she never lets you forget she is the Queen, has not just one but several secrets, and she never lets you forget those either. In every chapter she reminds us all about them and wonders endlessly if the King or the Prime Minister or somebody, anybody knows. It was awful. 

The Sense of an Ending, The Iliad, Slaughterhouse-Five

 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I read it too quickly the first time, so I went back and began again, hoping to find answers to lingering questions. There's much to think about here.

The narrator is Tony Webster. The story he's telling is his own history: the friends he had at school, his romance with a girl named Veronica, and later his marriage to Margaret and the birth of their daughter, Lucy.
Fast forward a few decades and Tony receives notice from a legal firm that Veronica's mother has left him an old friend's diary in her will. Tony has no idea how she came to be in possession of  the diary or why she left it to him. Getting answers becomes complicated when he learns that Veronica now has the diary and is not inclined to part with it. As he searches for answers he begins to realize that his memories of the past, the tidy picture of it he has created for himself, may not be completely accurate. It's possible his actions then affected other lives in ways he'd rather not face today.

This psychological drama is tightly written with flawed, messed-up, utterly human characters. I wanted to shake Veronica and yell at Tony, but mostly I just wanted them all to be ok. They would not be. I have to keep reminding myself this is fiction; it's all so vivid that surely it must be somebody's actual story. Do read this one. It's too good to miss.   

The Iliad by Homer

blood and gore,
long Greek names,
women as prizes
in war games, 
fighting and killing, 
crying and dying,
and a lot of useless gods.

Not a fan.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I read this because I thought I should. I left it almost to the end of my Guilt List books because I was dreading it a little bit - how could you not dread a book with such a title - but in the end I got through it and I'm glad to have read it. It isn't a book I can say I liked because the subject matter is horrible, but I can say I appreciated it - the writing and the message. It's about the inevitability of war, the unspeakable damage it does physically and psychologically, and it's ultimate uselessness. Not light reading, but the darkness is alleviated somewhat by the lead character, Billy Pilgrim's, seeming ability to time travel, and his kidnapping by aliens for a trip to the planet of Tralfamadore. It's weird, but it's good.