“Some twenty years after the end of the war with Japan a freighter arrived in Brooklyn with the largest collection of Japanese pornography ever assemb...more“Some twenty years after the end of the war with Japan a freighter arrived in Brooklyn with the largest collection of Japanese pornography ever assembled in a Western tongue.” So begins Quin’s Shanghai Circus, a sprawling, intriguing novel that spans some seven centuries and three continents.
At the center of the story is Quin, a man who was born in Japan, orphaned in Shanghai, and raised in the Bronx. After an encounter with a mysterious stranger in a bar, Quin accompanies his friend Big Gobi—simple of mind but pure of heart—on a journey to Tokyo to meet Big Gobi’s guardian. In Quin’s quest to learn about his parents, he encounters a range of truly bizarre characters with equally bizarre stories to tell—prostitutes, sociopathic policemen, a disillusioned Trotskyite, a diabetic Japanese baron who renounced his wealth and moved to Israel to become a rabbi—that initially seem random and disjointed but that ultimately connect.
This was not an easy book to read. It’s a novel of intrigue, of violence and horror, of love and discovery, and at its heart a novel of friendship and connection. But it’s also disjointed, nonlinear, and confusing—which is not necessarily a criticism; not understanding exactly how the pieces will fit together is what makes a puzzle enjoyable even as it can be frustrating.
Much of the book takes place during World War II in Japan and China, and some of the characters participate in and are affected by the horrors that took place during the Japanese occupation, including those in Nanking. None of this is gratuitous, but it is disturbing.
Quin’s Shanghai Circus was originally published in 1974 to critical acclaim but disappointing sales. This reprint edition is worth reading for the extras alone: a foreword, an introduction, and an essay, “An Editorial Relationship,” all by people who knew Whittemore personally and professionally and who give tremendous insight into his life and his writing.
This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (less)
Benjamin Constable is an outsider. He’s British but lives in Paris, and he has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. Even his friends appea...moreBenjamin Constable is an outsider. He’s British but lives in Paris, and he has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. Even his friends appear to him as strangers. His closest friend is Tomomi Ishikawa, whom everyone calls “Butterfly.” As the story begins, she sends him a letter informing him of her suicide. The end of their relationship becomes its beginning as a series of cryptic clues leads him to her journals, which chronicle a series of deaths—murders?—that may or may not have happened but that tell Butterfly’s story.
This is a book that is full of contradictions. Butterfly seems to be both dead and not dead, and Ben passively accepts the news that Butterfly has died yet doggedly pursues every clue and instruction she sends him. Butterfly’s life is all about death. Benjamin Constable is both the author and a character—so who is the narrator? The line between reality and fantasy is crossed, again and again, in this novel, or maybe it isn’t. I’m not entirely certain. It’s all very confusing, and at the same time compelling; I couldn’t stop reading.
This ARC was furnished by Gallery Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. (less)
"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."
That's how the book begins, and that's pretty...more"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."
That's how the book begins, and that's pretty much all that happens. The rest of the book is trying to make sense of it all.
The writing is very good, but ultimately I didn't much care for this book. I don't like to spend 400 pages this far inside someone's head; ironically, given the book's setting (Montana, Canada), I felt hopelessly claustrophobic.(less)
**spoiler alert** I really wanted to like this book. I'd heard so much about it and hid it away on my "reward" shelf.
This is a book about unpleasant p...more**spoiler alert** I really wanted to like this book. I'd heard so much about it and hid it away on my "reward" shelf.
This is a book about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things. That's really all there is to it. I'm not sure if the plot twists are supposed to come as a surprise to the reader; I saw the first one coming, and after that it was just a matter of thinking, "well, what's the worst thing these people could do to each other?" and that usually turned out to be what happened.
Still, the writing quality is superb, which makes Gone Girl much better than some other books about unpleasant people I've read lately (for example, the last few Scarpetta books). I'm hoping the next book will have characters that I can care more about. The biggest problem I had with this book is that all of the characters are so unlikeable that I didn't care what happened to any of them--they all deserved each other, no matter how things ended up--and it's hard to sustain any tension when that's the case.
For me, the end impression was just average. This is a talented author and I will keep reading her work. (less)
This book felt to me like a failed experiment in playing with structure. I say failed because once you take away the structure, the story itself doesn...moreThis book felt to me like a failed experiment in playing with structure. I say failed because once you take away the structure, the story itself doesn't stand up, which surprises me because Sarah Waters is usually such a good writer.(less)
There was so much hype around this book that my expectations of it were probably way too high. The quality of the writing was good--excellent--but for...moreThere was so much hype around this book that my expectations of it were probably way too high. The quality of the writing was good--excellent--but for whatever reason, the story didn't grab me.
Grace has been married for a matter of weeks when, during a transatlantic crossing, her ship sinks and she finds herself in an overcrowded life boat. It's a fascinating premise, but I never really got a feeling of suspense--perhaps because I knew from the beginning (the prologue) what much of the outcome would be. Grace is indecisive and introspective, which for me didn't always work when she was relating such a harrowing journey. It was as if she'd created a distance between herself and what happened in the lifeboat, and unfortunately that distanced me as a reader to the point where the tension of the story was lost.(less)
I wanted to like this book a little more than I actually did, but it's stil a tremendous read.
The structure is a bit difficult, as it jumps backward a...moreI wanted to like this book a little more than I actually did, but it's stil a tremendous read.
The structure is a bit difficult, as it jumps backward and forward in time and shifts between third person singular and first person plural POV (the latter being very unusual and used to superb effect here), but once you get used to it that ceases to be a problem. The writing style is just fantastic. There's humor laced with irony, and the author walks that fine line: Kim Jong Il is treated as a joke who is also a brutal dictator. Everyone in the book is painfully aware of the consequences of viewing him simply as a buffoon.
The author delves into the consequences of a true democratic people's republic: the loss of privacy, individuality, and ultimately of self. The only Individual allowed to exist, and whose story is known to all, is the Dear Leader. Everyone else is part of the collective. And because everyone else is disposable, who someone is can change in the blink of an eye.
I received this book free as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
It's the narrator's rambling journeys, both physical and mental, through New Yo...moreI received this book free as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
It's the narrator's rambling journeys, both physical and mental, through New York City. The language is gorgeous, and although it took me a long time to read the book, that's what kept me reading. I finished this book because it's too well written for me to give up on, but for someone like me, the structure makes the book a bit difficult. The lack of a plot as such makes this a book I can put down and return to much later--not necessarily a bad thing, but I don't have that sense of urgency that comes with a gripping plot.(less)
I really wanted to like this book, and it was a very good book, but I didn't really like it. As always, Banks's writing is gorgeous. Though the book i...moreI really wanted to like this book, and it was a very good book, but I didn't really like it. As always, Banks's writing is gorgeous. Though the book is written in first person, Liberia was, for me, the central character, primarily because the narrator was so detached from the events she described that I was detached from her. It was quite odd, reading a first-person narrative and feeling so little connection to the narrator. The reading group guide led me to believe I should have gained all these insights into Hannah (the main character), and I just didn't. She seemed like a hollowed-out shell to me, tediously self-aware and analytical but ultimately empty.(less)