William’s Golding Marathon Man is a work that’s often overlooked in favour of the film that was made of the book – which is unfortunate, for as awesome as Dustin Hoffman is, this book is even better. As with a lot of thriller-based genre fiction, the modern reader will look at this novel and recognise plenty of tropes and mores that have now become commonplace in any kind of novel that thrills and delights people – in fact, it’s easy to mistake these trend-setting devices and methods as clichés when they weren’t at all, but rather setting up much of the further genre. This isn’t to say that Marathon Man is some kind of uber-seminal work that created every single trope and device in the thriller genre, but simply an amazing piece of work that you’re sure to love.
It essentially sets up the story of Thomas Levy, a.k.a Babe, a runner who runs into some real trouble with ex-German soldiers and scientists from World War 2 in a modern-day setting. There is a lot of interplay here between America, Germany and the modern and ancient Jewish community. Goldman clearly expresses these kind of tensions and interactions well, as well as the state of the world post-World War Two and the many things that have been developed and resulted from the end of the war. The impact of World War Two on America and even modern New York is explored at length, as well as ideas about espionage, terrorism, and torture.
The most infamous scene from the book (and movie) is the dental torture scene – something that doesn’t even really have to go behind spoiler alerts, as the term ‘is it safe’ is more than familiar to anyone with a basic, rudimentary knowledge of modern pop culture and media. The descriptions in the book are pretty brutal – I read this book myself when I was going through some dental stuff, and it really wasn’t great to experience. It says something about this book that I was able to continue reading, as the narrative was so enthralling I just couldn’t stop reading.
Take a look at the book – you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how much you love it and how re-readable it is. Especially once the plot points are revealed! This is definitely one of those texts that you can read again with knowledge of how the plot progresses and see all of the little details thrown in there to make you scratch your noggin.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon is a quality read, and one that I’m really glad I had a go reading. It’s an interesting approach to alternative history, or a kind of past-based speculative fiction work. It takes a lot of modern detective tropes and turns them on their head – or at least puts them through a very Judaism-oriented tone process that makes for an interesting and vital read, I’d say. Chabon works wonders with his language, and there’s not much he can’t turn on its head when it comes to hard-boiled detective fiction tropes. The setting in Alaska is also very interesting – seeing a lot of clichés and common knowledge ideas about traditional Jewish neighbourhoods put in this context of Indigenous Aleutian and Alaskan people, as well as the general tone, atmosphere and climate of Alaska. Of course, the book doesn’t entirely take place here, but there’s something to be said for the way that Chabon approaches this different location than one you would expect about a hard-boiled detection fiction novel set in a Jewish neighbourhood (or nation, as the case may be).
If someone took a Chandler novel and totally changed almost everything about the narrative and characters while keeping the original framework and many of the mores that make detective fiction so compelling, you would definitely have this book in your hands. Even if you’re not that interested in detective fiction, it’s very interesting to see what Chabon does with the format. Take a look for yourself – he capably handles all of the aspects of a detective novel you would expect, while maintaining his narrative beautifully and creating some very compelling characters. There’s some Orwell-esque use of a new language as well – lots of contemporary Yiddish terms used to describe things in a detective world, much as older 1950s writers used jive and other kinds of old Beatnik slang to describe items, events and characters.
It’s like looking at detective fiction’s history through an entirely new lens, and something that makes for a very interesting read. There is some clichés here that aren’t really explored to the degree I would like them to be, or things that it would seem like Chabon is just going through the motion with so as to move the story ahead, but there’s nothing really wrong with that – it’s more of a minor nitpick than anything else. Take a look at this novel if you have any interest in genre fiction and see it as the intriguing thing it is.
The final piece of the initial Earthsea trilogy, The Farthest Shore is a worthy and interesting conclusion to Ged’s tale – which his picked up in a later novel, but in terms of the original trilogy, this was the final instalment. It returns to Ged being a main part of the narrative and a main character that participates in the story from almost beginning to end, and introduces the character of Arren as a young man who accompanies Ged throughout an adventure to determine why the world of Earthsea is in the dire state that it is.
Le Guin perhaps embarks on her widest-reaching story yet, with the most bombast and travelling she has described in any work to date. It’s an interesting contrast with the previous piece, which was mostly claustrophobic, insular, dark and an entirely different tone from many of her other works. This is not to say that The Farthest Shore is exactly like A Wizard of Earthsea, but it’s much more oriented towards the adventurous tone of sailing about the world of Earthsea, with all of its dragons and magic. Despite all of this, Le Guin manages to keep The Farthest Shore different from the clichéd approach to swords and sorcery that plagues the great majority of fantasy writing. It’s still refreshing and interesting to read Le Guin’s approach to the idea of a world unlike ours, which still has all of the human narrative that makes fiction interesting.
This book seems like a melding of the two tones found in A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan – there is enough exploration and adventure from the first and darkness and intensity from the second to provide possibly the most interesting and compelling Earthsea adventure yet. Despite the use of two male main characters, there is still an element of femininity to the narrative and characterisation that prevents The Farthest Shore from taking the usual overly intellectual fantasy literature approach to plot, narrative and characterisation.
This work is easily worth a read, and is my personal favourite of the Earthsea trilogy. Its length is perfect, the conclusion is as interesting as anything Le Guin’s written and the tremendous amount of difference in Le Guin’s writing really makes itself known in this work. Definitely worth a look – find yourself a copy and have a read as soon as you can, after you read the previous books!