I liked the writing a lot. Whiny, drunk adolescents are not my preferred protagonists. I am not a Holden Caulfield fan. But, for reasons mysterious toI liked the writing a lot. Whiny, drunk adolescents are not my preferred protagonists. I am not a Holden Caulfield fan. But, for reasons mysterious to me, and besides the very good (most of the time, and sometimes shockingly so) writing, I didn't want to put the book down. And yet I was unmoved. I wanted to know what would happen though I wasn't invested in the characters not did it feel like the magical worlds were real. It was all play, clever play, well wrought....more
This is the first book in many years that I wanted to read again as soon as I finished it. The language! It is so very beautiful. I thought, again, hoThis is the first book in many years that I wanted to read again as soon as I finished it. The language! It is so very beautiful. I thought, again, how we aren't done with the world wars, no matter how much has been written, because the trauma is so large, it is still rumbling through the generations. This one is about a blind girl in France and a German boy from a mining town who has a talent for radio. But what it's really about is expressing human experience in language that reminds me why we read and why we write: a picture is not worth a thousand words, not when the words convey sound, smell, taste, touch, and the needs of the human heart. I borrowed it from the library. I have to get my own copy....more
An Israeli politician, who is a former Soviet dissident and gulag survivor, encounters the informant who denounced him some 40 years earlier. I knew fAn Israeli politician, who is a former Soviet dissident and gulag survivor, encounters the informant who denounced him some 40 years earlier. I knew from the first page that I was in the hands of a thoroughly competent writer in the best sense: I could relax and lose myself in the story, knowing I wouldn't be tossed out by a false note. From beginning to end, it was a gem, and I cried at the end, just bawled, even though the narrator's politics aren't mine. That is more than competence, that is enviable craftsmanship....more
The first half of J is Jacobson at his most brilliant, cutting, sardonic. The subject under consideration is familiar territory for him: antisemitismThe first half of J is Jacobson at his most brilliant, cutting, sardonic. The subject under consideration is familiar territory for him: antisemitism and the veneer of civility under which murderous and violent sentiments lurk, ever ready to burst forth in the right circumstances. Nowhere, no one immune. The second half of the book didn't entirely persuade me as to the reasons and consequences for violence in this near-future, near-British dystopia, and I'm dying to talk about it with an intelligent reader. I intend to make my husband read it for that purpose! It's the sort of book that should provoke a lively and interesting, if fiery, discussion in a book club. ...more
The powerful memoir of a German infantry soldier during WW2, A Stranger to Myself was written in 1944 a few months before the author died, drawn fromThe powerful memoir of a German infantry soldier during WW2, A Stranger to Myself was written in 1944 a few months before the author died, drawn from his detailed journals written at the Front. Because of that, it has an immediacy that other books, with their post-war hindsight, lack. This isn't a who-what-when of battles, but the profound emotional and spiritual impact of war on a young man on the ground, speaking to the experience of the unspeakable. German war memoirs are far fewer than those of the allies. Even this one wasn't published until a few years ago: Reese's mother was unable to find a publisher during her lifetime. I am very glad for ebooks in this case: I wouldn't be able to find it in paper. But I was able to download it and in a weekend, I'd finished it. I am still thinking about it. ...more
This is a memoir about life as an immigrant child from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, a subject that I've become very interested in becauseThis is a memoir about life as an immigrant child from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, a subject that I've become very interested in because of this memoir. I rated this a four (though I am against ratings really) because the first part, about Shteyngart's childhood, is fantastic. Had it stayed that way, I would be raving about it, had it not been that good, I wouldn't bother adding it to my books.
The writing about his childhood is hilarious, biting, vivid. I was really struck by how little was different in the Soviet Union, by way of material life, in the 1970s from 1930s Poland (my parents' memories). His parents even treated his asthma with cupping (in Yiddish bankes): heating small glass vessels to create a vacuum which are then put on the ailing person's back, thereby sucking up the skin to suck up the vapours or something. My grandmother was a specialist in "laying bankes" in the pre-ww2 years.
The next part of the story, his years of being stoned and drunk in high school and university were pages I got through for the sake of the first part, and because even there his writing was good enough to keep me going, even if I was disappointed that as I went there was just more of the same.
The last part of the memoir covers his return to Russia with his parents, and that felt to me inhibited and truncated, abruptly so. His parents are still alive, and I had the feeling that there was a lot more to say, and that if he were to write his memoirs when he was older, it would be more satisfying to read, both because of maturity and freedom.
He was on the jury of the Giller Prize, the year that Web of Angels wasn't listed, and, oddly enough, reading this memoir was a relief. I could see why my novel wouldn't be his cup of tea. Too bad The Singing Fire wasn't up in 2012--I think that would have been more in his line. But after all this time, the sting has gone out of it thanks to Little Failure. So for that alone, it should get four stars!...more
A book people seem to love or hate. I did laugh out loud. It's a tall tale, not my favorite genre usually. But I was thoroughly entertained and amusedA book people seem to love or hate. I did laugh out loud. It's a tall tale, not my favorite genre usually. But I was thoroughly entertained and amused by both the front and back stories. It was a great romp. A sort of Swedish Candide. I keep recommending it to people who may or may not thank me for that....more
This is one of those books that people seem to love or hate. I was captured from the first page. If I could I would give it four and a half stars onlyThis is one of those books that people seem to love or hate. I was captured from the first page. If I could I would give it four and a half stars only because there were two scenes that I found a bit over the top. But its portrayal of young women in the military, the boredom and the effect of violence and brutality as well as racism on the young people of Israel was gripping and funny. I look forward to the author's next book....more
To start with, I love short books. This one is a small gem. It is not so much about the holocaust or even Sherlock Holmes as it is about old age, reasTo start with, I love short books. This one is a small gem. It is not so much about the holocaust or even Sherlock Holmes as it is about old age, reason, sorrow and madness. But it is still great fun and so wonderfully written I read passages aloud. The ornateness fits the subject. I admit my favorite chapter was written from the parrot's point of view....more
You Are My Only is a gorgeously written YA novel. That's the first thing I want you to know about it. The second thing is that I couldn't put it downYou Are My Only is a gorgeously written YA novel. That's the first thing I want you to know about it. The second thing is that I couldn't put it down. I read it in a day, ignoring my children. My older daughter, age 13, curious about my absorption, examined the cover and picked up the book to see what it was all about. That is the beauty of a paper book.
You Are My Only is told from two perspectives in alternating chapters. First there is Sophie, age fourteen, who has had a fugitive life being precipitously moved about by the woman she knows as her mother, who is always in a state of mystifyingly oppressive fear. Then there is Emmy, a young mom whose life and sanity were broken by the abduction of her baby, unnamed, but clearly Sophie.
But Emmy and Sophie both find love and comfort from the kind actions of strangers who enter their lives. Emmy is helped first and last by Arlen, an unprepossessing man, unsuccessful in material goods but large of heart. Her relationship with an anorexic young woman in a psychiatric hospital is also one of tenderness and mutual support.
Sophie finds courage, love, meaning and a way to better her life when she moves next door to a very different made family from the one her "fake mother" (as my daughter M called her) made. Joey, about her age, was adopted by his father's stepsister and her partner, Helen and Cloris, an artistic, nurturing and accepting couple, who are strong even in the face of evident sorrow.
This is not a sensationalistic treatment of a subject that could easily be sensationalized and sentimental. I noticed a couple of disappointed reviews on Amazon by readers who expected that sort of treatment. The other reviews, the 5 star ones, loved what I did about this book: the beauty of the language, the tenderness of the characterizations, the love and hope and kindness that come to lift up a life even in dire situations and so to change them forever for good.
A taste (p 1):
My house is a storybook house. A huff-and-a-puff-and-they'll-blow-it-down house. The roof is soft; it's tumbled. There are bushes growing tall past the sills. A single sprouted tree leans in from high above the cracked slate path, torpedoing acorns to the ground.
Another (p 36):
He has taken off his jacket and given it to me, laid it across my knees like a blanket. He has kept his arm across my shoulder, and I don't mind him, not really. I don't mind how he gives me room to tell my Baby stories, how he lets things be--no questions.
I pre-ordered You Are My Only and it arrived at my house the day after the release date. I read it as soon as I could and I recommend you do too!
My favourite lines (p 235):
"We're a sight," I say, and then we're laughing, as if nothing was ever wrong or ever could be, as if we engineered goodness. As if we have that power.
I read this book for for the Slaves of Golconda bookclub. Written in 1930, it is narrated by the midlist writer William Ashenden.
As a young man in theI read this book for for the Slaves of Golconda bookclub. Written in 1930, it is narrated by the midlist writer William Ashenden.
As a young man in the 1890's, Ashenden knew the British literary icon, Edward Driffield (ostensibly based on Thomas Hardy, which Maugham denied). At that time Driffield was a little known working class writer married to Rosie, an earthy sexually promiscuous woman. Later in life, Driffield rose to fame and acclaim and a second wife. Now, after Driffield's death and being, himself, in middle-age, Ashenden has been approached by Alroy Kear to get the inside scoop on Driffield's life before his iconship was established.
Alroy Kear is a best-selling author and sychophant, who, in cahoots with Driffield's second wife wants to produce an autobiography suitable to the elevated and refined status of an icon.
I loved this book for its satirical take on the literary scene, which I found just as relevant in 2011 as in 1930:
I read The Craft of Fiction by Mr Percy Lubbock, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Henry James; after that I read Aspects of the Novel by Mr E M Forster, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Mr E M Forster; then I read The Structure of the Novel by Mr Edwin Muir, from which I learned nothing at all.
The character of Rosie, Driffield's first wife, is a weakness of the novel, being rather flat. She is unremittingly sexual and cheerful. But I find that generally Maugham is less successful portraying men's attractions to women than to other men, and that may be because he was primarily gay with a few ambivalent (and I have to wonder if somewhat forced) relationships with women in his life. These were brief and concurrent with his longstanding relationships with men: Maugham lived with his first partner for 30 years until his partner's death, and then with his second for the remaining 20 years of Maugham's life.
However for his time (1930), Rosie was a remarkable and disturbing character because of her happy sexual appetite and the lack of authorial criticism for it. The stock character of "the whore with a heart of gold" was supposed to realize her unworthiness and sacrifice herself for the hero. Instead Rosie outlives everyone and is entirely contented with herself.
What I loved about this book was its satirical portrayal of class and the literary scene. The sly cutting comments that Ashenden makes about Kear and his success made me laugh out loud. The conflict of class was vivid and so was the hilarious and yet sad manipulation of Driffield first by his patroness and then by his second wife to make him appear refined to the middle-class who read his books.
Poor Driffield rebelled in the only way he could, refusing to bathe at all in the last years of his life, and hiding out in the local pub as long as anyone would let him. But they didn't let him much--and that's the whole point. He wrote his best books while married to Rosie, everyone acknowledges that, and yet at the same time everyone around him believes that Rosie wasn't good enough for him. They're all virtuou and wants to make him so. And all he really wants to make him happy are cakes and ale. Rosie was the only one that got that.
The title of the novel comes from Twelfth Night. Sir Toby Belch (who would have been a pal to Driffield) says:
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
Cakes and Ale was reputedly Maugham's favourite of all his books, and I can understand that. This was such a fun read for me, as a writer, especially as I read it just when I was re-entering the publishing process and anticipating the public literary scene that he criticizes.
From the description, Mercy is a paperback edition (under different title) of The Keeper of Lost Causes, which is set to be issued in hardcover in AugFrom the description, Mercy is a paperback edition (under different title) of The Keeper of Lost Causes, which is set to be issued in hardcover in August. I loved it--full review is here. ...more
Let me start by saying that this is a book of crime fiction that made me cry. I expect suspense in crime fiction, and Jussie Adler-Olsen delivered (myLet me start by saying that this is a book of crime fiction that made me cry. I expect suspense in crime fiction, and Jussie Adler-Olsen delivered (my children looked at me as I was reading the last 100 pages saying over and over, “I can’t stand it! Does she get rescued or not?”). I wouldn’t even be surprised at the kind of tears that come from emotional manipulation. (I cry over telephone commercials.) But it was genuine, tender, true human feeling that had me weeping.
Jussi Adler-Olsen, the Danish author of The Keeper Lost Causes, is one of the best loved and best sold Nordic authors of crime fiction. In Denmark last year, one million of his novels were sold. That’s right–last year–in a country with population 5.5 million. He’s also a bestseller in Germany and Austria, rather larger countries.
I’m sure he’s going to be here as well. I’m impressed and now also excited that his work is being translated into English, this novel the first of what I’m sure will be many, coming out August, 2011.
I’m gratified that I got an advanced reader’s copy so that I can tout his abilities not only in this genre but plainly and simply as a writer. The major characters are brilliantly conceived as an investigating duo. Carl Morck is a grumpy, slovenly detective whose flaws had previously been overlooked if not forgiven by his colleagues because of his effectiveness. However, ever since an investigation gone wrong, where one team member died and another was paralyzed, Morck has been indifferent and depressed and annoying.
The deputy chief comes up with a brainstorm: promote Morck up and down simultaneously. He is to be put in charge of a new department, Department Q, which will handle cold cases that, for political reasons, need to be seen to be still active. Nobody expects him to actually do anything in his new office down in the basement. And he is just as happy with that situation.
His new assistant, however, is not. The mysterious Assad, a refugee from the Middle-East, brings Morck back to life with his strong coffee, irrepressible spirit, keenness of mind and unusual connections. The pair of them are irresistible as partners.
The case they investigate concerns the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a rising politician, young, beautiful, intelligent, who has been missing and presumed dead for five years. The novel follows 2 interwoven strands: the present day police investigation, and the sequence of events from Merete’s point of view from prior to her disappearance onward.
It’s expertly done. At nearly 500 pages, the book didn’t feel long at all. I read it over a weekend, unwilling to put it down. And as the strands came closer and closer together in time, the suspense was almost unbearable. But more to the point, the novel isn’t just driven forward by a desire to know what happens. The journey is just as gripping. The full cast of characters and their interactions with Morck and Assad are engaging, written with humour and compassion. Here’s a small sample from the beginning of the partnership:
“Do you have a driver’s license?” he asked Assad, hoping that Marcus Jacobsen had forgotten to take that detail into account. If so, the whole question of the man’s employment could be taken up for discussion again.
“I have driven a taxi and a car and a truck and a T-55 tank and also a T-62 and armoured cars and motorcycles with and without sidecars.”
That was when Carl suggested that for the next couple of hours Assad should sit quietly in his chair and read some of the books on the shelf behind him. He turned around and grabbed the nearest volume, which he handed to his assistant. Handbook for Crime Technicians by Police Detective A. Haslund. Sure, why not? “Pay attention to the sentence structure while you’re reading, Assad. It can teach you a lot. Have your read much in Danish?”
“I have read all the newspapers and also the constitution and everything else.”
“Everything else?” said Carl. This wasn’t going to be easy. “So do you like solving Sudoku puzzles?” he asked, handing Assad the magazine.
If only you were here in person, I’d make tea and talk much more about this book, but as a second best option, I recommend you pre-order it. ...more