Mixed feelings about this one. I liked the idea of it, and the approach taken. Unlike most other apocalyptic novels this one focuses not on societal bMixed feelings about this one. I liked the idea of it, and the approach taken. Unlike most other apocalyptic novels this one focuses not on societal breakdown, but on the fact that most people are well-meaning and in desperate circumstances will help each other to survive -- and not only to survive but to hold onto the best parts of a lost civilisation. Which is an encouraging thought in these days when Western civilisation seems on the verge of collapse (albeit in a less dramatic way).
It's an easy read as well, flowing along nicely and keeping your interest as it flits between Year Twenty and life before the flu struck. The fascination with old artefacts and fragments of memory from before the fall is well conveyed, and it ends with a note of hope (unlike The Road). There are some implausibilities, but my main criticism is the lack of well-developed characters. Most members of the Symphony are ciphers who don't even have names, and we don't see enough of the characters who do seem interesting (Miranda for example, and even Tyler). I wondered what the point of Jeevon was -- he seems only peripherally connected with the story.
I can't end this review without mentioning another post-apocalyptic novel featuring a theatre troupe: Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. I haven't seen any other review mention it, and I wonder if St John Mandel was aware of it? It's a very different kettle of fish of course -- in Hoban's book many generations have passed since the nuclear apocalypse, and he invented his own language for his characters. It's a much more challenging read, but far more rewarding (one of a handful of books that get five stars from me). I want to re-read it now! I also couldn't help being reminded of The Blind Assassin by the device of the science fiction graphic novel used as a metaphor throughout the story....more
This was a present; I had never heard of it, but was glad to find a short, light read after recent monsters. It was OK; the author teaches creative wrThis was a present; I had never heard of it, but was glad to find a short, light read after recent monsters. It was OK; the author teaches creative writing and there did seem to be hints of that: "write in the voice of an eleven-year-old girl". If the whole book had been written in this style, it would have been really irritating, but luckily there are flashback parts of it from the point of view of Indigo's mother. These were very well done, conveying the mental fog of someone in the depths of clinical depression. Overall, a quick read that didn't leave that much of an impression on me; I suspect I'll have forgotten about it in a few months....more
I was a bit daunted when I received this book. 500 pages of densely printed text, few paragraph breaks, no apparent dialogue, translated from IcelandiI was a bit daunted when I received this book. 500 pages of densely printed text, few paragraph breaks, no apparent dialogue, translated from Icelandic. Hmm. I'd never even heard of it; I was only reading it for my book group. And I wasn't that enthused by the first hundred or so pages of salting herrings in cold sheds in Iceland in order to be able to afford shoes. But gradually it grew on me. The long paragraphs tumbled words, feelings, and characters together. There was dialogue, but it was not separated from the rest of the text by any identifying features, such as quotation marks. Yes, annoying, but I got used to it and it fitted with the almost stream-of-consciousness style. Intermittently a short passage describes a piece of art made by Karitas, that somehow manages to convey inspiration and creativity. Above all I began to appreciate the way Baldursdóttir conveyed the texture and detail of rural Icelandic life in the early 20th century. Karitas herself could be an annoying character in her passivity and inability to lift a finger to support herself, but at the same time you can see how the society she lives in stifles her artistic ambitions, and the sacrifices she has to make in order to create. It is a bit baffling though, that Karitas' five years at art school in Copenhagen, when she discovers her artistic muse, are completely skipped over and rarely referred to subsequently.
It might sound a bit depressing, but there's a lot of humour here as well. I enjoyed the scene where Karitas and her friend Pia get drunk on home-made hooch in the cemetery. And the moment when Karitas's husband turns up unannounced after thirteen years of unexplained absence. Stunned silence in the household before the farmer's wife says, "Oh, just as well I made some doughnuts!". Another favourite passage is the one where Karitas and Audur climb Iceland's highest peak. It reminded me irresistibly of Amélie Nothomb's ascent of Mount Fuji.
So in the end, to my surprise, it was a much quicker read than I expected, and I am ready to read the equally long sequel. Note: as far as I know, it hasn't been translated into English....more
This won't win any prizes for literary merit, but that's really not what it's about. It came up on Bookmooch and I thought it would be worth reading.This won't win any prizes for literary merit, but that's really not what it's about. It came up on Bookmooch and I thought it would be worth reading. Kampusch is not unreasonably light on detail about some aspects of her eight years' imprisonment (note to some reviewers: you have no right to criticise her for that). Early in the book I shuddered to think of this ten-year-old girl locked in a tiny, windowless underground space, often in complete darkness -- until I read this I hadn't realised just how small her prison was. And she didn't leave it for six months; the claustrophobia must have been intense.
The book clearly owes a lot to what must have been years of psychotherapy as Kampusch analyses the personality traits and reactions that helped her to survive an almost unimaginable ordeal. When she escaped she'd spent all of her adolescence -- almost half her life -- being manipulated, beaten, starved, and forced to do hard physical work, with Priklopil her only companion. It's hardly surprising that her relationship with him was complicated -- she is harsh about suggestions that she had Stockholm syndrome, and convincing in her argument that accommodating some of Priklopil's demands was key to surviving.
I think the care she received after her escape was far less adequate than I would hope it would be nowadays, now that a number of similar cases have come to light. A terrified, scantily clad and emaciated teenager huddling under a hedge and being yelled at to put her hands up by armed police; followed very soon afterwards by interrogation at the police station. Later she was confined in a psychiatric hospital for a while, despite not being mentally ill; after her isolation, being surrounded by many genuinely disturbed people must have been terribly hard for her. She initially appeared to cope well with freedom, even briefly hosting a TV show, but the effects will surely be lifelong; Priklopil stole the life she might have had....more
I feel I should have loved this book, but somehow I didn't. While fully recognising Ferrante's skill, and the complex picture she paints of life in NaI feel I should have loved this book, but somehow I didn't. While fully recognising Ferrante's skill, and the complex picture she paints of life in Naples slums in the 1950s, I just couldn't get absorbed in it and kept putting it down; it felt too long and repetitive, with too many characters (thank goodness for the list at the front for keeping them straight!). Lila and Elena seem to represent two facets of the same person, two alternative paths for a girl born into poverty. Elena strives to emulate Lila while simultaneously doing everything she can to differentiate herself from Lila and all her neighbours. It conveys a sense of a deep personal struggle on the part of the author. So three stars in recognition of Ferrante's ambitious project, but I won't be reading the rest of the series....more
I must first state that I only read this because it was the choice for my French book group this month -- I'd never heard of it and it's not somethingI must first state that I only read this because it was the choice for my French book group this month -- I'd never heard of it and it's not something I would have chosen if I had. So I was disappointed from the start as I had joined the group hoping to find French authors I would enjoy.
I can't find very much to say which is positive. It starts with a story about Australian Aborigines thousands of years ago, before jumping to Cornwall in the late 18th century, where a poor fisherman's daughter is in love with the local earl (cliché alert!). That's not the only cliché in the book either. When the young scion goes off with Captain Cook, to Tahiti and then Australia, he is gone for three years; by the time he comes back, young sweetheart Susan has been pressured into marrying the local vicar. She raises a family with him and eventually they move to the penal colony which will become Sydney, where life is very harsh and primitive.
Now throw in a hefty dose of melodrama leavened with excessively crude coincidences to push the plot along, a ludicrous court scene, and a completely ridiculous and implausible ending. Unlike with Francis Spufford's Golden Hill, I never felt as if I was immersed in 18th-century society -- it was just a story that happened to be set at that time. Poorly developed characters and clunky prose don't help. I won't be reading the sequel. If anyone at the meeting tomorrow convinces me it has merit, I'll update this....more
When Margaret Forster is good, she's very good (Lady's Maid). But she can also be underwhelming (The Memory Box. This final book falls into the latterWhen Margaret Forster is good, she's very good (Lady's Maid). But she can also be underwhelming (The Memory Box. This final book falls into the latter category I'm afraid. It was OK, but I never really felt involved in Tara/Sarah's life or her dilemma. The best character by far was her neighbour Nancy, beautifully drawn based on Forster's intimate knowledge of north-west England, so the three stars are for her....more
I'd read some positive reviews of this book, so I picked it up from one of those "Buy one, get one half price" tables at the airport, along with the bI'd read some positive reviews of this book, so I picked it up from one of those "Buy one, get one half price" tables at the airport, along with the book I actually wanted. I was ultimately disappointed. Yes, great writing and an amazing evocation of 18th-century New York, but by halfway through the book I was finding excuses to do other things rather than read it. Mr Richard Smith is so obnoxious I could not have any sympathy for the scrapes he found himself in. Quite the opposite in fact; I was longing for him to get his comeuppance, particularly the second time he was arrested. Evidently we are supposed to feel sympathy with him, but it just didn't work for me. Three stars for the quality of the writing and a less than predictable ending, but I'd rather not have spent my time on this....more
I enjoyed this even though it started to get a little bit samey in places. Hunt achieves a good balance between his own experiences and the legacy ofI enjoyed this even though it started to get a little bit samey in places. Hunt achieves a good balance between his own experiences and the legacy of Fermor -- wisely not competing with the latter! Interesting how nowadays couch-surfing and similar internet features can provide bed, board, and local friends nearly everywhere now; it was impressive how many total strangers happily accepted Hunt into their homes and social lives. If you liked Nicholas Crane,s account of his walk across Europe, you'll probably enjoy this....more
You can imagine a book with this title being twee, but it wasn't: a wide range of recollections and meditations, some happy, some less so, by famous aYou can imagine a book with this title being twee, but it wasn't: a wide range of recollections and meditations, some happy, some less so, by famous and less famous. Uneven of course but there is good writing here. It's a good book to pick up and read a bit at a time, as most pieces are only a few pages long....more
I know I read Any Human Heart some years ago, and it was a fictional autobiography, but nothing about it especially stuck in my mind. Sweet Caress felI know I read Any Human Heart some years ago, and it was a fictional autobiography, but nothing about it especially stuck in my mind. Sweet Caress fell into my hands as it was lent to me by someone in my book group who thought I would enjoy it. Boyd seems to specialise in these "autofictions". Yes, I did enjoy this in an easy-reading way, and he did a pretty good job of writing as a woman (even if I belong to the group who don't believe that most women obsessively study and compare their lovers' penises). It's a little like Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet series in that it spans much of the 20th century, but somehow it was much less engaging, perhaps because everything is seen from Amory's viewpoint.
I guess the most striking feature is that it brings home just how much Amory's generation (born 1908) was affected by war throughout the century. Her father returned psychologically damaged from WWI; she loses her brother in WWII as well as experiencing action herself as a photo journalist; her husband is as damaged as her father was by his experiences in WWII, and for good measure Amory goes to Vietnam in 1966 (this section was the one I found the least convincing). The photos were an odd touch, especially as most of them cannot be considered great photos by any means -- Boyd specifically said he didn't pick ones that were "too good". Amory is obviously intended to be a jobbing photographer, not a genius. At the same time, her determination and independence were well conveyed.
There's good writing here and I especially liked the final chapter, but at the same time I kind of wonder what the point is. I could read the autobiography of a real person, such as Martha Gellhorn, and it would be at least as fascinating. ...more
I picked this up at a bookswap. It was OK for dipping into between other things. My favourite story by far was Allan Weisbecker's The Calling, a shortI picked this up at a bookswap. It was OK for dipping into between other things. My favourite story by far was Allan Weisbecker's The Calling, a short, sharp piece about commercial fishermen. I wondered what else he might have written and found from his website that he now seems to be obsessed with loony conspiracy theories, and his writing consists of rambling blog posts. Oh well....more
A dark, magic-realist cross between Cold Comfort Farm and Barbara Pym, revolving around dark goings-on in a Derbyshire village. It's very short and thA dark, magic-realist cross between Cold Comfort Farm and Barbara Pym, revolving around dark goings-on in a Derbyshire village. It's very short and the first two-thirds are delightfully funny. Like CCF, the ending is a bit of a disappointment, focusing on the least interesting character. But it's worth it for the sheer pleasure of Mantel's flights of fancy. Here are the local kids returning from school:
They were few but conspicuous; their maroon school uniform, bought large so that they could grow into them, stood out from their bodies like the dark capes of Crusaders. There was a wary, darting-eyed expression on the faces of the gawky lads of eighteen, their little caps on their heads, satchels like postage stamps slung over their great bony shoulders. Some of the girls carried cake tins, held against their bodies like shields, and others had bags of knitting, from which metal needles poked; the boys carried wood-working tools which they did not trouble to hide. The outriders of the group, grim-faced girls of twelve and thirteen, bore their hockey sticks at a vigilant, offensive angle.
There are smaller pleasures too: "In recent years, her face had fallen softly, like a piece of light cotton folding into a box."...more