I received a copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I am at a loss on how best to review this gorgeous pie...moreI received a copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I am at a loss on how best to review this gorgeous piece of writing. It is the easiest 5-star rating I have given this year.
I'll start with the facts, then. 160 pages, 21 chapters. Each chapter is narrated by a different character who is somehow linked to a small town outside of Dublin following the economic crash. The chapters are all written using dialect, but never so much that it is difficult to read or comprehend. The chapters weave together with references overlapping and tying everything together into one cohesive story. I started reading this around 11:30pm and was not able to stop until I had finished it a few hours later. I kept telling myself I would read "just one more chapter'" but then there was a new character to meet and a new mystery to unravel and a new voice to explore.
One of the greatest strengths in this novel is the dialect. The dialect is written so brilliantly that it legitimately feels as though 21 different people narrate the story. I never got lost or confused between the characters because somehow the voices were so distinctly crafted - with little turns of phrase here and there that let you know this is a new person with his own story to tell.
The story itself is also deeply compelling. Although the larger story seems tied to Dell leaving the Dublin area, the immediate plot is more closely linked to the collapse of a construction company in a small unnamed town outside of Dublin. The manager of the company had been illegally not reporting his employees, making it impossible for them to collect unemployment or a legally required pension. The manager skips town, leaving the men who worked for him lost and drifting, but still trying to keep up the picture of machismo and aura of not caring that seems to be the picture of the Irish man (at least in literature). The novel opens with a chapter from the perspective of the company's foreman, Bobby, and the rest of the novel is basically spent unraveling everything we learn in this first chapter.
Every single narrator is somewhat self-absorbed and unreliable, but we still get these beautiful, painful depictions of what they truly think of themselves. There are points where the reader starts to know more than our narrators and you just want to jump into the book and mediate some communication, or give someone a hug, or stop that person from making a terrible decision based on half-truths. You start to feel like you know these people and this town, and it is impossible to walk away.
The story was in turns beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking and unforgettable. I think this will be a work I revisit time and time again, getting something new from it each time. It's cliche to say that it brought to mind Joyce, but what it brought to mind was my discovery of Joyce and the way that beautiful language can be used to communicate painful things.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
By way of full disclosure, as someone...moreNote: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
By way of full disclosure, as someone who loves books, I tend to have a weakness for books about people who also really love books. I also love believable precocious kids and relationships that look real, not perfect. This book ticked off all three of these items for me and is easily one of my favorite reads in awhile.
The book centers around the life of A.J. Fikry, a middle-aged bookseller with a small bookshop on Alice Island. When the story begins his wife has recently passed away and he spends his days and nights mostly alone, generally drinking too much, basically biding his time until he can sell a rare book he owns and retire. And then two things happen - the book is stolen and a child is left in his shop by a mother who wants him to raise her child because she wants her to grow up loving books.
Against all odds, Fikry ends up adopting the child, Maya. Watching his transformation from angry bookseller to doting father was really a favorite part of this novel for me. I also loved Maya's character and felt that while she was precocious, it was also realistic. I remember being a smart, serious, reading child and she rang true to me.
Also great in this book are the other characters that surround Fikry. The townspeople start out somewhat one-sided as we only see them through his eyes, but we eventually catch glimpses of their points of view, and learn things about them that made them really jump off the page for me. His police officer best friend ended up being one of my favorite characters by the end.
I also thought the passage of time was handled well. From chapter to chapter many months or even years would pass, but I never felt left behind. There were some twists and turns, many of which we knew were coming, but as the book itself argues, the novel did not suffer for knowing the twists existed.
But most of all, this book is a love story to books. The characters reference other well-known books frequently and even talk (believably) in book metaphors. Fikry's rant early in this book about the kinds of books he likes to read and will order in his shop was legendary. And I loved how the character himself developed through dropping hints about what he was reading - as his character changed, so too did his reading tastes.
I will certainly be purchasing the finished copy of this novel - it demands to be marked up and quoted and highlighted (sorry, Fikry, but I must). (less)
I went into reading this novel not really knowing anything about it - an impulse grab at the library after some of my favorite authors had recommended...moreI went into reading this novel not really knowing anything about it - an impulse grab at the library after some of my favorite authors had recommended it on their blogs.
Basically this is a novel exploring a man's life not-so-disguised as a self-help novel. It is written in the second person, and we follow the main character from youth to death, in the ups and downs of his life and loves.
In some ways, I am glad I did not know much about this novel going in because I had few expectations. The second person approach threw me at first, but I think it succeeded in helping readers with little connection to the life being described feel more connected, despite the fact that we literally never learn a single character name (something that would normally drive me bonkers, but somehow worked here).
The story had moments of clunkiness that I personally think are almost unavoidable when writing in the second person. The conceit was odd - this "self-help" premise didn't add a ton for me, but maybe I am missing some grand metaphor. But the development of the man's life was interesting, and I liked the way the story was told.
That said, the prose had moments of brilliance as well. One of my favorite bits: "We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.”
All in all, it was an enjoyable read - different from my usual reads, and I am glad I checked it out.(less)
This was such a freaking perfect road trip book that it made me want to get in the car and drive. I want to download all of the songs referenced and r...moreThis was such a freaking perfect road trip book that it made me want to get in the car and drive. I want to download all of the songs referenced and re-read it. I loved the characters, but my only complaint is that I wanted about another 50 pages. There was a big build up and then... book over. I really, REALLY wanted more. Overall, though, I thought this was an excellent book about grief and healing and friendship and is seriously a great read. Highly suggested.(less)
I fell instantly in love with this book. In many ways, it's a love letter to books themselves and anyone who loves reading and who could get lost in a...moreI fell instantly in love with this book. In many ways, it's a love letter to books themselves and anyone who loves reading and who could get lost in a bookstore for hours will love this one. In other ways it's about friendship and in other ways about how we see ourselves and our position in the world. In others, it just a plain good story about people I really want to be friends with. Very highly recommended.(less)
This was sold as funny, and it definitely was. That said, this book earned its fourth star in the poignant moments examining the breakdown of a family...moreThis was sold as funny, and it definitely was. That said, this book earned its fourth star in the poignant moments examining the breakdown of a family and the various results of miscommunication and self delusion. A great, quick read. Highly recommended.(less)
I think this book convinced me that if absolutely none of the characters in a book are likeable, I will likely not enjoy the book. I appreciate it for...moreI think this book convinced me that if absolutely none of the characters in a book are likeable, I will likely not enjoy the book. I appreciate it for its writing and colorful characterizations, but I will not be among the masses who read and re-read this book. Glad to have read it, glad it is over.(less)
This book had a very interesting concept. It introduces us to the main characters, Dexter and Emily, on a July day in the late 1980s as they are gradu...moreThis book had a very interesting concept. It introduces us to the main characters, Dexter and Emily, on a July day in the late 1980s as they are graduating from college. They become lifelong friends and the book checks in on them as they grow and develop over the next 20 or so years - always on this same July day.
The conceit of the novel definitely worked for me. The characterizations were well drawn out, despite only seeing them one day a year (and the author will be forgiven for having so many pivotal events occur on this day; a necessary evil of the choice I suppose). I found Dex and Em both likeable and unlikeable - in other words realistically developed from early 20s to early 40s. And I was certainly not ready to say good-bye when the book ended.
Loved the writing - will be checking out more by this author to be sure.(less)
Wish I could give this one 3.5 stars. So much about it was great - particularly, I thought the male author did a great job of writing from the viewpoi...moreWish I could give this one 3.5 stars. So much about it was great - particularly, I thought the male author did a great job of writing from the viewpoints of two very distinct female characters. That said, the book didn't quite live up to its hype and I kind of hated one of the two characters. But Little Bee was such an interesting and well-written character that I'll bump this up to four stars.(less)