Lanark - Alasdair Gray
An incredible piece of work. One of those which you think "what sort of person could come up with this?". The book has four parts, two detail the life of an eccentric artist and two describe a journey through the sort of dystopian otherworld you'd expect to find if Orwell and Dali collaborated. Gray doesn't always manage to pull it off, and it's tough reading at times due to the bizarre nature of what he's attempting to describe, but parts are brilliant. Perhaps a little overambitious 7/10.
Italo Calvino - If on a Winter's Night a Traveller
More nonsense, again overambitious and not quite pulling it off. Written in the second person, it starts off talking about how you bought the book you're currently reading. Then it has the first chapter of the actual book. After reading some of the second chapter you realise it's a completely different story, so then it's back to the second person detailing your trip back to the bookshop to return it for the correct book. But it's again a different book altogether! So it goes on, alternating between the reader's quest to get to the bottom of the fake book nonsense and first chapters of ten different books of ten different genres.
It's a great concept and some of the first chapters are great, but I only read it to the end as it was my last English-language book. He's clearly a gifted writer, and I'd give him another shot but... 4/10
Jane Austen - Persuasion
Brilliant. You know how it's going to end from quite early on, but it's excellently written. You already know if this book would interest you, so I'll just say that it's one of her best 9/10.
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
A multi-generational look at a Korean family who spend most of their life in Japan. Spanning the Japanese colonisation and WWII up to the eighties, it's a very useful primer on the lives of Koreans in Japan. Fitting eighty years into 500 pages is a tough task though and you're just getting snippets and deaths of major characters are mentioned in passing. It's quite a mixed story, engaging at times, but the quick pace of time means you don't really care for any of the characters. The central character is by far the least interesting, just a wire form for the more colourful characters to be draped around.
The book got rave reviews and finished top of a few year end lists but I imagine more for the topic than the contents. That said it's a pretty easy, often engaging read. 6/10.
Javier Marias - Thus Bad Begins
A twenty-three year old gets a job assisting a famous Spanish film director, getting entangled with his personal and family life. The main theme of the book is the balance between forgiveness and justice, seen through the twin lenses of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and a wife's deceit. It's a tough book to read at times: hundred word sentences, two page paragraphs and endless analysis of people's actions to the point where one short conversation takes place over three chapters. Marias is clearly a very accomplished writer and it's easy to see why he's touted for the Nobel. At first I thought the book was pretty dire, but by the end I really enjoyed it. Not for everyone, but 8/10
Leo Tolstoy - The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
It's Leo fucking Tolstoy. 10/10
Ryunsuke Akutagawa - Rashomon and Other Stories
A collection of eighteen short stories by the early 20th century Japanese writer. The stories are grouped together, so the tragi-comedies are in one section, the retellings of folk tales are in another, and so on. It is, of course, a mixed bunch. However, the final section consists of his autobiographical stories and these are very good indeed, especially having read the highlights of his life's work beforehand. One of these "The Life of a Stupid Man" is an truly incredible work, almost poetic as he describes 54 scenes from his life. The final story in the book ends mid-story with (something like, I don't have it to hand) "No, this is all too much. I don't have the energy to carry on. Why can't somebody just strangle me in my sleep?" Needless to say, he committed suicide, his last words being "I have a strange sense of unease about the future". 10/10 for the highs, some of the stories are 4/10 quality though.