Kath, Tommy and Ruth had a happy childhood at Halisham. They kept themselves healthy and developed their art under the care of their guardians, the meKath, Tommy and Ruth had a happy childhood at Halisham. They kept themselves healthy and developed their art under the care of their guardians, the men and women who were both their tutors and their protectors. But despite their idyllic country home and classical education, the children at Halisham have always known that they’re different from people on the outside. They won’t grow up to be doctors or teachers, they won’t marry or have children. Their paths have been laid out since birth. They will leave Halisham for a few year, then train to become carers. They’ll spend some time driving around the country from one facility to the next, caring for others like themselves. And then they too will begin their donations—four if they’re lucky—and complete by the age of thirty or so.
The story is told through Kath, who has been a carer for twelve years now, a long time but not unprecedented. She’s about to begin her donations and she reflect upon her time at Halisham and her childhood friends, both of whom she cared for herself as they went through their donations. Through her reflections we see the development of these children, their modest hopes for themselves, their accelerated awareness of their place in the world.
Though the concept sounds very sci-fi, the intriguing thing about this book is it hardly reads like it. The topic of donations and the origin of these children is really background noise for a psychological exploration. The story is quiet and emotional, more about their personal connections with one another. It rejects the conventions of the genre—it is not dramatic, action-packed, dire or preachy. But it is raw and intimate. I read an interview with Ishiguro where he addressed this choice and he said he was interested in exploring how people grow up and come to understand mortality and their place in the world, but wanted a condensed time period for this process that we all undergo. We all know on an intellectual level that we’ll die someday. We learn this even when we’re children. And we all accept it. We want more time, but we accept death as a given. It’s not so different for Kath and her friends—they’re just more certain on the timeline.
I will say that if you go into this book with the wrong expectations, you could be disappointed. It’s not a dystopia or a cautionary tale about the boundaries of science and morality. It’s about friendship, love, and personal identity.
To read more of my reviews, visit yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com....more
This book started strong, telling the story of Bit Stone, a boy raised in a commune in upstate New York in the seventies. The character portraits of tThis book started strong, telling the story of Bit Stone, a boy raised in a commune in upstate New York in the seventies. The character portraits of the inhabitants of Arcadia are engrossing and Groff weaves in some really interesting ideas about the power of personal mythology and finding the sublime in nature. But honestly, I was disappointed when the final segment morphed it into a dystopian novel. Arcadia was so fresh and different. It read part historical fiction, part coming of age and part existential examination. It was beautifully sad. And I really have nothing against dystopian novels—it's just that there are so, so many. It's become the genre of our time and this book just didn't need to be a part of that group. Remove that element completely and you still have a fully formed, thoughtful, compelling novel about a little-written-about community, i.e. commune kids. I would have liked the last section to focus more of the effects growing up in Arcadia had on the children who were born there. Their stories became side notes in the end, when I wish they had been the focus. ...more
In a series of nine interlocking short stories, David Mitchell takes us from a terrorist’s hideout in Okinawa to the booth of a late-night radio DJ inIn a series of nine interlocking short stories, David Mitchell takes us from a terrorist’s hideout in Okinawa to the booth of a late-night radio DJ in New York City. Ghostwritten (2001) was his debut novel, but many readers, like myself, will have come to Mitchell through Cloud Atlas, his 2003 best seller. It was surprising to me to take a step back in time and find not only a very similar format to Cloud Atlas, but also some familiar faces. In fact, Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas inform one another in surprising and revealing ways, and I found myself making connections and opening mental doors as the events in Ghostwritten unfolded.
The nine stories in this book seemed to be more solidly connected than those of Cloud Atlas, as each character encounters the next in a fleeting but tangible way and as the book progresses more and more points light up on the metaphorical switchboard and our narrators tend to have greater effects on their counterparts. While Atlas was a journey through time and space, Ghostwritten spans a much shorter period and most of the stories overlap temporally, all the while drawing us east and forward to a terrible catastrophe.
The book begins and ends with extremes (a cultist experiencing the aftermath of a bomb he planted, and a supercomputer searching for the solution to humanity’s tendency toward destruction), but bookended are a few more grounded tales. Each story contains an element of the fantastic, be it a non-corporeal being searching for its origin or an impoverished ghostwriter roped into a gambling competition in a London casino, but also focuses on a simpler human element. Mitchell’s characters are risk takers and make sacrifices for what they want. They share a kind of drive toward something, a conviction in some goal. This brings an intensity to the book and also a feeling of forward movement. I also enjoyed Mitchell’s different meditations on the nature of love—be it the Russian woman involved in an art theft ring to please her gangster boyfriend or the scientist on the run who returns to her ancestral home on Clear Island for a few days with her husband and son before the U.S. government forcibly removes her to a hidden facility in Texas to create a master-weapon.
I do wonder why Ghostwritten hasn’t found as wide an audience as Cloud Atlas when they share so many qualities. His most recent The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was a beautiful focused historical fiction with only a few spotlighted characters, and markedly different from his earlier books (though many have commented that intertextuality is one of his hallmarks and Mitchell claims there are several carryover characters in Autumns, but I appear to have missed them). But for fans of Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten will seem like a meeting with an old friend. It’s shorter and, with more stories, it clips along at a faster pace. You’re sure to enjoy the winks and nods to Mitchell’s other work. And if you’re coming to Mitchell for the first time, this is as good a place to start as any (and I recommend you do).
For more of my reviews, visit yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com...more
Hazel has already gotten her miracle. Two years ago, the doctors seems sure that her thyroid cancer would leave her with only a few months to live. BuHazel has already gotten her miracle. Two years ago, the doctors seems sure that her thyroid cancer would leave her with only a few months to live. But then she started taking an experimental drug and now her expiration date is more of a question mark. Everyone knows it’s coming, but since the drug is untested there’s no way to guess when it might be. Enter Augustus Waters, a new addition to Hazel’s weekly cancer support group. Augustus is on the other side of his battle with bone cancer, but has joined the group in support of his friend Issac, whose eye cancer is about to leave him blind. Hazel finds a kindred soul in Augustus, but knows what she is—a grenade, ready to burst and leave all those who love her wounded. She tries to keep Augustus at arm’s length, but their connection is too strong.
Though Hazel has cancer, this should by no means be considered a “cancer book.” It is a love story, a story about struggle, and, most acutely, a story about how a young person deals with the reality of death. You may cry, but you’ll also laugh, you’ll think, you’ll smile, you’ll feel warm-fuzzies. It’s a deep, rich book that drives you to ponder mortality, family, love, literature and our heroes.
I’m almost through the Green oeuvre now, but TFIOS takes the lead as my favorite. Green’s back up to the emotional resonance he achieved in Looking for Alaska, but the female narrator does him a great service this time around. I saw repeated elements in Alaska and Paper Towns tied to the male voice, in particular the nerdy male narrator idealizing an unattainable female. The first time around it worked for me, but the second time I felt a bit of deja vu. Hazel’s voice retains the poignant honesty of his previous narrators, but feels singular and fresh. And though she’s also in love, this is a very different kind of love than I’ve seen Green tackle before (I haven’t yet read An Abundance of Katherines, so that book must be excluded from my analysis). Though Augustus and Hazel are teenagers, their life experiences age them emotionally and bring an element of the adult to their relationship. And that’s a good thing.
Would I recommend? Most definitely. Green has found a great balance in this book and created a compelling story that goes far, far beyond the confines of what we’ve come to expect from a story about cancer.
P.S. I did not receive a Hanklerfish or a Yeti and I’m very disappointed.
To read more of my reviews, visit yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com...more
**spoiler alert** Here’s something I wish I’d known before reading this book: Travels in the Scriptorium should not be the first Paul Auster you read.**spoiler alert** Here’s something I wish I’d known before reading this book: Travels in the Scriptorium should not be the first Paul Auster you read. (Why didn’t I read a review?!) If I’d done my research rather than impulsively grabbing this off a table because of its quirky cover (a horse! in a room!) I would have known that this is Auster’s thirteenth novel and his most navel-gazing, almost a note to longtime fans. As a newcomer, I didn’t realize that all of the secondary characters were drawn from his previous novels, meaning that the entire book is a send-up to his past work, full of oblique references. Obviously I read the book completely differently than a fan would and, let me tell you, it suffered for it.
The back cover copy made this seem like a classic closed door mystery: a man trapped in a room, having lost his memory, seeking to discover the sinister force that may have imprisoned him. I’ve seen plenty of great films and books that use this as a frame, so I was intrigued. If you want the “a-ha” moment, you literally only have to read the last three paragraphs of the book. That delivery felt thin, like Auster had dashed off those paragraphs, then built a loose story around it. I was left thinking I’d wasted my time, which isn’t a good sign for a book so short that it’s practically a novella. Travels in the Scriptorium felt like a gimmick.
Would I recommend? If you’re a diehard Paul Auster fan, I think you’ll find some fun winks and nods. If you’re a newbie, avoid. There’s not enough substance here to make it worthwhile.
To read more of my reviews, visit my blog at yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com...more
Fresh off the excitement of The Night Circus, which I just couldn’t get out of my mind, I decided to embark on another circus-themed book and was direFresh off the excitement of The Night Circus, which I just couldn’t get out of my mind, I decided to embark on another circus-themed book and was directed to Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, written by Daniel Wallace, most known to me as the author of the wildly imaginative tall tale, Big Fish. Henry Wallace uses his novelty as a black magician to find a job with Jeremiah Musgrove’s Chinese Circus. His race is his greatest selling point in the 1950s rural South. His act…is a disaster.
To hear Henry tell it, he was once an outstanding magician, a man who could make anything happen just by thinking it. But his power and his fortune have declined as he’s travelled the world with a singular purpose: to find Mr. Sebastian aka the devil, the man who taught him to make things disappear and then disappeared with the thing that was most precious to Henry. One night in Alabama, Henry finds himself bound and gagged in the backseat of a pick-up with three white boys with a dangerous agenda. The boys are about to discover something astonishing about Henry, which catapults the reader into a history of Henry’s life, told through the voices of his friends in the circus and finally, though Henry’s own green eyes.
Henry’s story is compelling, but it’s not what you expect. Early in the novel you learn something that changes the entire framework of the novel. I actually saw it coming a bit, and Wallace gets it out in the open fairly early so you won’t build up too many pretenses about what you’re reading, but I still felt a little let down, like I’d signed up to read one story and built expectations around that, only to be told a significantly less original story. In defense of the book, I will say that it had a difficult act to follow in The Night Circus. And though I enjoyed the overall feeling of this book, I never really became fully immersed in another world or drawn in by the voices of the circus freak narrators.
Wallace’s story is a slow build, dipping us in and out of Henry’s life—his relationship with his impoverished father, his development as a magician, his love for an ethereal girl halfway between life and death, and always his quest to confront and destroy the devil. My favorite portion of the story came early on as we witness Henry’s childhood and close relationship with his younger sister. But to me, Mr. Sebastian was one of those in-between books, something I didn’t mind reading but probably wouldn’t pick up again.
Would I recommend? Maybe. I think the book just wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but it could be just the thing for someone with a different set of expectations. Don’t expect any sort of deep commentary on race, because you’ll be let down. But if you’re just looking for a good story, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
To read more of my reviews, visit my blog at yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com...more
Decades ago, eccentric billionaire Oliver Ott suddenly left his empire in America to found an English-language newspaper in Rome. Now, many years lateDecades ago, eccentric billionaire Oliver Ott suddenly left his empire in America to found an English-language newspaper in Rome. Now, many years later, though Ott has passed on and his timid youngest son is now publisher in name only, the paper soldiers on in an increasingly troubled time for the news media. Rachman’s episodic first novel tells the stories of those who make up the news crew, from the editor in chief to the untried stringer, the beleaguered foreign corespondent in Paris to the CFO on her way to report on finances to the board in Atlanta. Though the newsroom serves as a backdrop, the stories often focus on the personal lives of the journalists, many of whom find themselves in as dire straits as their business. The Imperfectionists is alternatively uplifting and heartbreaking.
In college, I worked at a newspaper, and reading The Imperfectionists really brought me back to those days, both the good and the bad. I miss the energy of the newsroom, but also that utter conviction that what you are doing is important, that reporting means something. That ideal absolutely collided with the realities of falling reader rates and struggling ad sales, even at a weekly college newspaper. The threat of the end was present in the classroom as well. What would happen to newspapers? Were they dying? And what would that mean for society if fewer people were paid to research stories, to interview, to hunt out facts, to bring light to buried issues? There’s a protective feeling in the industry, a conviction that newspapers are needed even if they aren’t necessarily wanted. Reading about how the Wall Street Journal was able to compile the September 12, 2001 issue even after evacuating their offices at 9:30 AM gives me chills. Journalists are important, but those of us who feel that way often risk idealizing their struggles. The Imperfectionists has all the urgency of the newsroom, all those feelings of drive and purpose, but also doesn’t glamorize the news business. Its faults are laid bare—the struggling writer so thirsty for a paycheck he concocts a story out of one off-hand remark, the proud copy desk chief who’s devoted his life to compiling the Style Bible, the veteran stringer who is morally reprehensible but somehow always lands the best story. Even the creation story behind Ott’s paper in Rome reveals that lofty goals are less likely motivators than all-too-human emotions. Love, hate, revenge, desire—these are the things that drive Rachman’s characters.
Would I recommend? Yes, especially for those who work in media or have an interest in the past and future of newspapers. Don’t be put off if that doesn’t apply to you though! A good deal of the book takes place outside the newsroom and delves into the personal lives of the characters. In many ways, it’s more a study of human nature than the news business.
To read more of my reviews, visit my blog at yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com...more