Book Review – The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Oh my goodness. I have just written about 300 words of intro to this book review, and just managed to loose it all because I went to look up which airport you need to go to if you want to climb Everest! I was in the middle of a pretty good descriptive passage and WHAM, lost the lot. Thanks interweb. Much appreciated.

I will do the cut down, whistle stop version of what I had written to give you a hint of the wonderful whitterings that have been lost to the digital aether:

  • I don’t write reviews and blog posts during the week as my brain is too full of work.
  • Writing is hard.
  • Blogs are not too bad, but I don’t get to edit much. Brain dump, press publish.
  • I want to write a book.
  • That must be hard?
  • A bit like climbing Everest.
  • I will get to the top one day.
  • Thought: How do I manage to get this great piece of writing back on track as a review of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi?
  • I know, I will suggest, using the metaphor of climbing Everest, that I might have travelled to Nepal by plane and therefore needed a good book to read on my pretend trip to the figurative mountain that I might one day climb…

Anyway, it’s bloody well Tribhuwan International Airport. In case you ever need to know!!

**The author of this blog post has now managed to calm down, and normal post content will now resume **

20150209_201833The Periodic Table is a very clever book that winds tales about Primo’s life into the fabric of the table that defined his vocation. Each chapter of the book represents a different element, and they blend together into a more or less coherent chronology of a life defined by chemistry and pulled in every other way by uncontrollable events. The reviews on the front and back of the book suggested a very well written, must read book. I can’t disagree with either of those statements.

I was expecting a much darker book than The Periodic Table actually is: the reviews and blurb suggest that Primo’s experiences of the war are part of the story. They are, they run throughout the book, but are always just out of sight, dark and malevolent; like a murder in the next room. There are one or two footnotes, and one of these states that Primo wrote other books that cover his war experiences in all their hateful detail. Primo’s description of his writing after the war suggest that it was a cathartic expungement of those experiences. A cleansing of as much of his soul as was possible. It must also be said that given Primo’s ability to so descriptively and eloquently describe the events in the Periodic Table, I would expect his other books to be amongst the best of his contemporaries who wrote about what so many went through during those dark times.

This is the first Premo Levi book that I have read, and it hints at a power and and honesty in the written word that is not commonly seen. Primo managed to describe the events in the book in a multifaceted way that conveyed; his experience, the universal truth of all human experience and the emotions of everyone involved with reference to the particular element that was the basis for that chapter and that story. The honesty in the way that Primo writes bought memories of Out of Chingford, but with a much darker story to tell. A soul laid bare: Primo manages to add to this with a prose that is almost poetic in its construction. There were so many individual instances where I could have tweeted a profound sentence that I would have almost serialised the book onto Twitter; I’m pretty sure that would not be allowed?

Even though the backdrop is dark, and events described not usually particularly happy, the book left me with a positive feeling when I read it. I think that there was an optimism to the book, and this emotion becomes all the more effective when employed during dark times. Primo also played with words and created an enjoyable, almost fun prose. I’m realising as I type this review that the book I already really liked was in fact a beautifully balanced juxtaposition of dark and light. Painful times told in a light way with a chemical structure to diffuse, yet set the story in iron.

The Periodic Table on Goodreads

Rating 9/10


Next Book – The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

I find myself slightly on the back foot as I write this hasty next book post. I am really enjoying The Woman in Black, but not more than Out of Chingford. I gave Out of Chingford a 5/5 rating on goodreads, but that will round down to a 9/10 on the final review (well, you can’t give a 10 can you!!) I really like the goodreads rating system BTW. I’m finding myself using that and doubling it for my ratings. Silly I know, but I started rating out of 10 and it would be a pain up the proverbial to change it now! For info, goodreads ratings are, and I paraphrase here:-

  1. Don’t touch it, even with someone else’s!
  2. OK, take it or leave it.
  3. Good Book, I enjoyed reading it.
  4. Great Book, I recommend it and you should really read it if you can.
  5. READ IT! rush out and buy it or you will not be able to breath tomorrow. It is fantastic!

So, Out of Chingford was a really good book. I think I will rate Woman in Black a 4/5, but although I’m not rating it as highly, I cant put it down! I have been reading it while walking along and took the opportunity to read at lunchtime today, both are things I haven’t done for a long time, at least since starting this blog. There is of course the possibility that I subconsciously want to get it over and done with, but I don’t think that is really the case. I am finding that I’m actually goading myself into being scared by it and doing it anyway…


Sorry, just realised that I have digressed. Quick post to announce the next book, then back to the reading!

My next book is The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. I chose it because I didn’t want to dive back into another fantasy or go towards sci-fi at the moment. Something based in reality felt right, maybe because I enjoyed Out of Chingford so much, but I think this is going to be wholly different! When I bought this book I actually thought it was about the periodic table, but on reading the blurb I am really interested to find out about Primo’s life and experiences. I get the feeling that it is going to be a very well written book, written in a slightly quirky style that partly diffuses the hard reality of a life that has seen some great suffering. Partly, but from the short reviews on the cover the book is “brave” and honestly confront and describes the facts of a life partly led in WW2 and the holocaust. Lastly, there is a review on the front cover. It starts “The book it is necessary to read next…” OK, so be it.

Next Book – Love all the People by Bill Hicks and John Lahr

Hello everyone. I am amazed that I have managed to go 2 weeks without blogging! It’s a real shame to say it, but work has properly stopped play recently. I have started travelling to work on the train, and I had been using that time to read, read, read. I have to say that it is a much better use of time than concentrating on driving, or at least it is when you get to read books. I have only read on a few days this week as I have had so much work to get done. But, reading keeps me sane so I have squeezed it in around other things as you do, and that is good. It is quite surprising, given my lack of time, that I have managed to get quite a way through The Sword of Shannara, but I did manage to get through a chunk last weekend. I have to say that I came very close to putting this book down, but now that I am into the buildup to the end I’m glad I didn’t.

Oddly, I have still been doing Twitter quite a bit. I think I identify with the quick nature of the medium, and it is something I can do as I walk from the train or between buildings that reading or blogging or other work can’t get in the way of. Suffice to say, I’m happy when my brain is busy, but I guess that is kinda obvious?

As a side note, I have a massive history of starting a book and stopping half way through. I found this happened with a book I was enjoying as much as one that I wasn’t. I think writing the blog is helping me to get over that particular deficiency. The read, blog cycle means that if I stopped I would have to ‘fess up, and that would be bad. I am bound by my own contract Rule number 5.

Right, time to get to the point. I’m tired, I am not in the mood for getting into the details of work or my mental deficiency regarding staying power (other deficiencies are in existence!) and I want to stare at something and not write. I may read my book, but my eyes are stinging a bit, so I might just shut them?? I haul my sorry A**e to the book case and pick the next book. I don’t want another fantasy as I need to spread them out a bit. I don’t really want a Sci-Fi as I read Altered Carbon and that has me topped up on the future for a while, but then again, I have a more limited array of other fiction. To be honest, that is partly because I read a lot of other stuff before I started the blog…

Got it 🙂 My next book is Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks and John Lahr. That is a bit of mouthful as titles go, so I will have to get creative with the hashtag on Twitter! I don’t usually do autobiographies or biographies, but I have a couple floating about. Bill Hicks was a big part of my formative years, and a chunk of his cynicism and world views rubbed off on me. The back cover uses words like genius, brave, brilliant and right. I don’t disagree with any of them and would probably add a few more that are along the same lines. I think I am going to enjoy reading this book. I also think that my twitter feed will have a few more swear words and some quality quotes when I get to start reading this 🙂

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Now that is done I’m either going to pass out or read a book? WooHoo, it’s the weekend.