75. The Fires of Heaven 

Hello (from Stockholm)! Five volumes into the Wheel of Time series and I find myself a little overwhelmed by the volume of things I feel I should be paying attention to. As I am sure I have entioned before, this is a complex series that is an epic fantasy marathon. The Fires of Heaven was a long read for me, but not because of the content. It seems to have pulled away from some of the other problems with the earlier novels and very like the Shadow Rising, it’s another novel that does a good job in establishing this series outside of the trilogy format. It had been a little while between my visits to Jordan’s world so I felt some duty to give it a bit of time and breathing space. 

There are a few twists in this novel, a bit more character development but a few of the characters are completely absent! This is a new move for Jordan, instead of sacrificing the narrative of the novel and spreading it a little too thinnly across all of our favourites he has given priority to solid plot lines. I felt this novel was a little more complete than the last one, a few things about the Shadow Rising seemed a little rushed as a few of those plots were tied up a little too neatly. But! Lik all long series this one develops! 

The Fires of Heaven – Robert Jordan

Some have said that this novel again highlights some of Jordan’s more annoying tendencies to repeat the same line of approach, certain behavioural ticks become annoying after a while. Rand sometimes seems petulant, some of the women obsess over men and generally nobody seems to be able to talk to the opposite gender without preconceived ideas of who and what gender does. But this novel goes a little further than that and also brings into play some cultural behaviour within female circles that are judged and deemed ‘improper’ in polite and conservative society by those such as Nynaeve. I find much of the talk of ‘correcting’ one another between female groups with violent behaviours charming or particularly thrilling to read. It also becomes tiresome to read how often men are presumed ‘stupid’ and ‘block-headed’ even when they have the best of intentions. 

Rand, Mat, Moraine, Egwene: Some of the high points of the novel surround Rand who is in pursuit of a rival claiming his position. This Shaido warrior, Couladin, ravages through the land burning people in the streets to provoke Rand and presumably because he believes it is his right. There is a lot of conflict and slaughter in this novel in a way that we haven’t really encountered before in the series. Rand is a little mystic, a little untouchable and he is taking charge of things with a no nonsense approach. He is also suffering memories that belong to his past lives bleeding into his own thoughts. Couladin is one of the smaller threats in the novel that seems to hold a pivotal position but is dealt with relatively quickly, it may be considered by some as a little anticlimactic. 

Rand seems to have Moraine at his beck and call, as she has surrendered to his stubbornness at last in an effort to try to help him. Mat is struggling with being close to Rand, in between rolling the dice in his head and gambling with his luck. But he is also struggling with some inner conflict from his past lives and in effect leads troops in battle with experiences informing his actions that dont belong to him. He seems a little small in this novel and seems to be in attendance to give perspective on the ground in battle. But! Although Mat’s part in this novel is small, it is impressive and has great value. 

There are clan stresses and the questions of alliances and cultural differences, but some of this unravelling can feel a little woolly and a bit like wading through mud to get to battles. I think book six will probably rectify a lot of this ‘setting up’ and living of pieces on the board. 

Meanwhile, Nyvene, Elayne, Thom and Juilin are in disguise and fleeing civil war. This is a harder novel for Nyvene, she is beginning to learn that she is no longer entitled to lord over and bully the fellow women in the novel, and she almost gets killed by a Forsaken in the dream world. They spend much of the novel flitting between disguises and almost being discovered until they stumble upon a circus troop. At this point they run into one of Elayne’s brothers who is set on sending her home against her wishes, and they seek the help of a mad Prophet, leaving destruction in their wake. (Of course, who doesn’t leave without a little drama?)

Elsewhere, the White Tower has split and the Foresaken are preparing to trap Rand and Siuan is adjusting to her new identity and the Queen, yes you hear me correctly, THE QUEEN HAS RUN AWAY! 

Generally this is a complicated book on Jordan’s part, there is so much going on that it is a difficult novel to read quickly. The subplots are interesting and there are a few inevitable plot points which I won’t spoil. But yes, totally saw that coming *rolls eyes at Rand*. 

It is difficult to sell something that has such a well established history, but again I implore you, little epic fantasy fan who is reading this post, to get your thumb out of your ass and get your head into the Wheel of Time. Don’t waste anymore time, do it now, do it quickly, do it, do it, do it. For all of it’s flaws, you will not be disappointed. 

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74. Post Office 

Picking up a cult classic is always a little bit of apprehensive for me. I had read a little of Bukowski’s poetry before reading this novel, one in particular kept me creatively driven through difficult circumstances. But from what I’d been told about Bukowski’s writing and reputation I expected machista, bold gritty machismo writing with a good helping of the lewd, depressing realism that comes from a cynic. I was pretty bang on if I do say so myself. (But don’t let that put you off)

Someone once told me this was a funny book. But I don’t agree. The protagonist Henry Chinaski is a chocolate teapot person. His biggest commitments are to alcoholism, gambling, and finding places to put his cock. He comes across depressed and downtrodden and seems to run on superficial quick fixes rather than addressing the real unhappiness in his life.

Post Office – Charles Bukowski

The actual Post Office is continually in the background, a monolithic structure that seems to be the only tangible thing in Chinaski’s life. But it breathes tainted air in the background, it fills the novel with dread by the end. The rest of Chinaski’s time is a blur that sometimes seems as mediocre and mundane as his job. Chinaski is an ordinary man, who flits from woman to woman and discovers his terrible capacity for grief when one of his ex’s dies. This is really a quite depressing novel when you take a glance at it from afar but close up it is more of a frank untucking of a shirt while the narrative wobbles drunkenly on a bar stool. It sways a little, it’s probably dribbling into an empty glass, but it certainly isn’t pretending that it isn’t drunk.

At the start of the novel Chinaski hears that the Post Office are throwing jobs at people and finds himself as a substitute mailman quicker than he can blink. His days are a little unbelievably, a little outrageous, like a comic he dodges dogs, butts heads with his petty boss and pursues horny housewives. Away from work he boozes with his girlfriend Betty but after two years delivering mail he packs it all into gamble at the races.

This first part of the novel still seems to have some sort of vague optimism. But that begins to change when another woman comes along and he gets married. Joyce is from a well-moneyed background but insists on them working and proving that they are self sufficient. Reluctantly Chinaski agrees and goes back to the Post Office as a Clerk and stays there for the next twelve years and from there everything seems to spiral downwards.

Bukowski’s writing is direct and casual, sometimes dry and tense but generally it can be described as abrasive. Often I wondered if I could light a match from the printed pages, as this novel sometimes seemed the antithesis of the deeply sensitive and touching. Because of that at times I felt it seemed a little two dimensional, a little too much surface without much underneath. But this is a novel that I think is supposed to hold you at arms length while it barks the story at you (well lubricated with spittle). It is a novel that wants to fight with you, it wants to argue it’s point and more than anything it tries to refuse your empathy.

I have been thinking about this novel for a while and I’m not entirely sure if I like it. Post Office has a brilliant advantage of being Bukowski’s semi autobiographical account of his life at the Post Office as a college drop out. Mostly it doesn’t feel elegant or fabricated to the point that outrageous details sometimes seemed dulled. Perhaps this is because the novel cuts quite close to the nerve of a working class life, that anything outrageous is tarnished and a little lost.

The mundanity and sometimes desperation was a little bit too relatable at times, certain moods, certain power trips, certain procedural nonsense seemed to be the bulk of what I related to in this novel. This is a common man in an ordinary job and the longer he stays within his sense of stasis, the more broken he seems to become. Perhaps this is the part of the novel I could find enjoyment in. If Henry is a chocolate teapot, the tea tray he spends most of his time sitting on is a stark and a desperate reality that anyone living pay check to pay check can potentially find themselves in. It doesn’t read like cathartic writing, but it does read as something cruelly honest that isn’t hiding it’s ugly side.

It reads easy enough, but on the hole I’m not altogether convinced by the Post Office. It strikes me as a novel that you either love or hate but I’m not sure where I fall. I think I need another Bukowski novel to make up my mind.