Author Miriam Toews has enjoyed modest success in her home country of Canada. Of Mennonite tradition (see sidebar) and hailing from rural Manitoba, ma...moreAuthor Miriam Toews has enjoyed modest success in her home country of Canada. Of Mennonite tradition (see sidebar) and hailing from rural Manitoba, many of Toews's novels explore this way of life. She won the 2004 Governor General's Award for Fiction for A Complicated Kindness, and she was awarded the 2008 Writer's Trust Fiction Prize for her novel, The Flying Troutmans. All this to say, Toews has writerly chops.
Irma Voth came about when, in 2006, she was approached to star in a film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. He was taken with her photograph - seen on the jacket of her novel, A Complicated Kindness - and felt she would be perfect to play the role of a Mennonite wife living in northern Mexico, trapped in a troubled marriage. Toews studied film at university but had never acted and, initially, thought Reygadas was a bit nuts. She ignored his emails for a long time but relented when he posited that being in his film "...will give [her] something to write about." (Silent Light, the resulting movie was an independent darling in 2008 and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival that same year.)
And write about it she did. Miriam Toews has a wonderful and minimalist style, and in Irma Voth she explores some familiar themes - a young woman's longing for freedom, getting by on wits alone, and a road trip. She has a great ability to take readers into amazing places that are a little bit strange but a whole lot inviting, and because of her incredible skills, I was very eager to dive into her new novel.
Irma Voth revolves around a simple question posed by our protagonist: "How do I behave in this world without following the directions of my father, my husband, or God?" For a young woman raised within strict, old-order Mennonite beliefs, it is a disturbing question - one that unmoors Irma but also helps to ground her. At the beginning of the story, Irma has been disowned by her very strict and rigid father for secretly marrying a man who is outside of the Mennonite faith. While still residing in a separate house on her father's property, Irma and her husband, Jorge, struggle to communicate and make a go of their new marriage. This attempt is made all the more difficult as Jorge frequently absents himself from home for long periods of time.
Metaphorically, Irma is a widow and orphan at the age of nineteen, even though her family and husband exist. Her mother is portrayed as having two main functions - making babies and being subservient to her husband. Her sister Aggie, at only thirteen-years-old, is strong-willed, and more vocal and rebellious than Irma, though Irma does take her opportunities where she can find them. It is this relationship, the one between sisters, that Toews really explores. The level of maturity and capability of both girls is astounding. There is a resilience and hopefulness in Irma and Aggie that will make you cheer for them as they try to improve their lot in life.
Toews writes honestly and with humour, and her balanced style makes her work accessible to readers. We are given a beautiful literary story that becomes much more real with her interjections of observational wit. Her narrative never seems forced, instead it feels as though you are listening to a friend relay a tale.(less)
Jo Nesbø is excellent in this genre. The novel was great escapist reading and was not predictable until very late in the story. Nesbø knows how to kee...moreJo Nesbø is excellent in this genre. The novel was great escapist reading and was not predictable until very late in the story. Nesbø knows how to keep readers guessing with intricate storytelling and interesting characters.(less)
i just posted this comment in a group and thought it sounded about how i wanted my review to sound...so i am just copying it over here now.
i spend a l...morei just posted this comment in a group and thought it sounded about how i wanted my review to sound...so i am just copying it over here now.
i spend a lot of time questioning the reliability of first-person narratives. but with Cataract City, it was quite a different experience.
i finished the novel last night and while the book was okay, i think i am being harder on it because it's a finalist for the giller prize. the judges are: Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood and Esi Edugyan. that's a serious panel of judges to impress. i felt like i was too aware of the writing the whole way through the read and, i am about to say something really stupid now, it felt like an MFA project. (this is stupid for me to say because i have no idea what this means, really. other than in my mind it's a bit show-offy or tries to push the envelope...just for the sake of pushing the envelope. like, a 'look how clever i am'-type thing. also...i wasn't feeling the authenticity of the story, most of the time.)
i didn't end up feeling manipulated and there were parts of the story i liked a lot...but as a whole...i couldn't get past the writing and just enjoy the story. there were also little editing issues all the way through. i was reading a tree-book and didn't mark it up...but there was one spot where the same phrase was repeated within three (brief) sentences. and then the intro to the story (the first two sentences) were repeated nearly verbatim later in the book. what's up with that?)
also -- would a person who has done hard time (hard time, contemporary era, north american maximum security prison) really call the police 'the fuzz'?
as well...i am feeling slightly uncomfortable that the native characters included in this novel were all caricatures. now, i do recognize that there were a lot of caricatures being portrayed, given the way davidson addressed the city of niagara falls, but i did feel disappointed in how the native characters were portrayed. though Joseph Boyden blurbed the novel...so, there's that... :/ #confused(less)
From Books in Canada: "With his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini has written a story on par with his widely...more***Spoiler Alert***
From Books in Canada: "With his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini has written a story on par with his widely acclaimed first novel, The Kite Runner. As a counterpoint to the male point of view in his debut tale, his equally cinematic second novel focuses on female perspectives in war-torn Afghanistan, where domestic violence runs parallel to international warfare.
The novel’s title comes from a poem composed by Saeb-e-Tabrizi, a 17th-century Persian poet who gave the following description of Kabul, where most of the novel is set: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, / Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” If these romantic lines present the idyllic side of the city, the truth shatters any illusions, for Kabul is transformed into a place of violence-by the Soviet invasion, the factional warlords, and later the Taliban. Midway through the novel, a rocket destroys the house of Laila, one of the central characters, and kills her parents: “A big burning chunk of wood whipped by. So did a thousand shards of glass, and it seemed to Laila that she could see each individual one flying all around her, flipping slowly end over end, the sunlight catching in each. Tiny, beautiful rainbows.”
This dramatic and melodramatic passage typifies the strengths and weaknesses of A Thousand Splendid Suns: on the one hand, a single piece of wood whips by, signalling the beatings Laila will endure at the hands of her brutal husband and her unhappy fate; on the other hand, the improbable count of shards highlights Hosseini’s descriptive powers and narrative pacing. In that split second of total devastation, how likely are those “tiny, beautiful rainbows”? Does trauma permit such aesthetic epiphanies? As Laila strikes the wall and crashes to the ground, she sees her father’s torso with “the tip of a red bridge poking through thick fog.” Her father had worn this shirt with a picture of San Francisco on it as a sign of hope for future departure to freedom near the sea. A Thousand Splendid Suns is filled with such crises and climaxes, and Hosseini’s narrative twists and turns create similar emotional responses in his readers.
The novel begins with Mariam, the other centre of consciousness: “Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.” Harami, we soon find out, means bastard. As such, she is an outcast, but in addition, she “belongs” to a society where families are dismembered and where women are second-class citizens at the mercy of cruel husbands, brothers, or fathers. Hosseini’s occasionally clipped prose-“It happened on a Thursday”-alternates with longer descriptive sentences to create a satisfying rhythm that propels the narrative. In preparation for her father’s arrival, Mariam takes down her mother’s heirloom Chinese tea set. “Nana cherished each blue-and-white porcelain piece, the graceful curve of the pot’s spout, the hand-painted finches and chrysanthemums, the dragon on the sugar bowl, meant to ward off evil.” Grace and symmetry are not meant to last: “It was this last piece that slipped from Mariam’s fingers, that fell to the wooden floorboards of the kolba and ! shattered.” The shattering of this misplaced artefact foreshadows the shattering of lives throughout the rest of the novel.
Mariam’s kolba is a hut of exile outside of Heart where she and her mother live, provided for by Jalil, her wealthy father who already has legitimate children with his three wives. Out of shame, her mother commits suicide and Jalil arranges for Mariam’s marriage to Rasheed, who takes her to his house in Kabul, where her troubles multiply. Forced to wear a burqa outdoors, inside the house she endures her husband’s loathsome lust: “A few moments later, he pushed back the blanket and left the room, leaving her with the impression of the pain down below, to look at the frozen stars in the sky and a cloud that draped the face of the moon like a wedding veil.” Hosseini’s pathetic fallacies and similes are palpable and formulaic. Mariam eventually becomes pregnant, but miscarries while visiting a hamam or bathhouse. Once she loses the baby, Rasheed reacts by forcing her to eat pebbles, a form of stoning. “Then he was gone, leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragment! s of two broken molars.”
The narrative shifts abruptly to Laila’s life in “Part Two.” Laila falls in love with Tariq who has lost a leg to a Soviet landmine. Leaving for Pakistan, Tariq is unaware that Laila is pregnant with his baby, Aziza. Mariam saves Laila after her family is blown apart, and in “Part Three” the chapters alternate between the two women. As their lives become more closely intertwined, the narrative itself becomes tighter and more satisfying. Once Laila (falsely) learns that Tariq and his family have been killed before reaching Pakistan, she has to decide what to do about her unwanted pregnancy, so she agrees to become Rasheed’s second wife, much to Mariam’s consternation. However, once Aziza is born, Mariam and Laila become reconciled, realising that they have much in common. They both share a contempt for Rasheed who regularly beats them. Despite the overwhelming cruelty, Laila eventually gives birth to Zalmai, a son for Rasheed who dotes on him while showing contempt for Aziza.! During one of Rasheed’s brutal attacks on his two wives, Mariam is forced to save their lives by killing him. Like some maimed deus ex machina, Tariq returns to Kabul to claim his earlier love for Laila. To clear the way for Laila’s future with Tariq, Mariam confesses to her crime and is executed. At points in the novel, Hosseini alludes to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea: the parallels between Hemingway’s sharks eating the captured fish, and the destruction of Afghan society are all too clear. At an orphanage, where Rasheed had forced Laila to abandon her, Aziza learns “about fractures and powerful collisions deep down and how sometimes all we see on the surface is a slight tremor.” Hosseini portrays the region’s earthquakes at various levels and he structures his chapters melodramatically with tremors at the ends and beginnings of many of them. In their hillside retreat in Pakistan, the surviving family finds some comfort after all the calamities. “Laila likes Murree’s cool, foggy morning and its dazzling twilights, the dark brilliance of the sky at night; the green of the pines and the soft brown of the squirrels darting up and down the sturdy tree trunks.” This refuge offers a stark contrast to the bullet-ridden buildings in war-torn Kabul, yet in the end, her city of origin reclaims Laila, who is determined to begin anew amidst the rubble. Amidst the bursting radiance of a thousand suns, she will rebuild her family.
Somewhere between Auden’s “ironic points of light” and One Thousand and One Nights, A Thousand Splendid Suns offers glimmers of hope in an otherwise eclipsed landscape, ravaged by a succession of regimes and male domination. Through the burqa darkly, Hosseini lifts the veil towards a brighter future." I rate this nove 4.5 stars.(less)
Writer Lynn Coady sort of sums this novel up perfectly, with her back cover blurb: "The ever-shifting fault lines between the sex lives and sexual obj...moreWriter Lynn Coady sort of sums this novel up perfectly, with her back cover blurb: "The ever-shifting fault lines between the sex lives and sexual objectification of teenaged girls are traversed with all the artful nuance and precision of the ballet itself...a gripping and unflinching novel."
This is Shabas' first novel and it is mostly tight. The first few chapters were overly detail-laden - every bit of minutiae, "I folded the paper back into the envelope" sort of stuff, is noted. This took away momentum very early on but by about page 60...it was worked out and the action and details being written about help propel the story forward.
This novel is fairly dark and twisty. I spent a lot of time in this world so can identify completely and while I felt a lot of the story was well handled, at moments, it felt like a characterization in a spooferific and clichéd way. Hence, the dreaded 3-star rating.
Shabas definitely has talent and I look forward to her next book. She is a bold writer.(less)
I loved the first two-thirds of the novel. I found Cleave's ability to give voice to a young, female, Nigerian character...more
I rate this book as 3.5 stars.
I loved the first two-thirds of the novel. I found Cleave's ability to give voice to a young, female, Nigerian character quite remarkable. I felt the idea for the story to be very original. I was so eager to follow wherever the tale was taking me. Towards the end, (I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't read it) the author uses a plot device that I just cannot reconcile. I know why he did it, but it does not fit with what I feel the character would have done. The story certainly makes you think about the atrocities endured by so many people in some developing nations.
There was/is a lot of hype for this book and I am always wary of books that are elevated in status. The description on the book jacket is a bit irritating ("We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it..."), although I'm sure it has been marketing gold! If you can get past these two elements, I do think the book is worth reading and that Cleave has created a memorable character in .(less)
somehow i thought this would be a good idea/ somehow i got sucked into a vampire romance.
so...it's summer, it was a 4-day long weekend and i t...moresigh!
somehow i thought this would be a good idea/ somehow i got sucked into a vampire romance.
so...it's summer, it was a 4-day long weekend and i thought this would be a good, fun, light summer read. penguin gave me the arc, telling me it was great! i had no idea it was a vampire romance. (because my head is up my arse where this genre is concerned.) so there i was: on an island, at a cottage, no other book to be had. i read it. now i am concerned because book #2 comes out this month and book #3 next year. i am worried i have been hypnotized and will have to find out what happens. ummm. shit!
it was meta...so it did have that going for it and some parts of it i didn't actually hate. but...COME ON!
there's this matrix on wikipedia. i am sure you have seen it. the matrix makes me sigh and amuses me. it'...morejohn, john, john!! you suck me in. every time!
there's this matrix on wikipedia. i am sure you have seen it. the matrix makes me sigh and amuses me. it's a conundrum.
near the end of the book, I felt like you were ticking boxes. giving readers a list of socially important things to mull. i don't take issue with the issues...they are important and need to be written about so that tolerance and acceptance become the norms...i take issue with the fact this device (is that what it was?) interrupted the flow of the story and yanked me out of my irving induced haze of literary delight. it was like being smacked in the face with a big fish. possibly a frozen big fish.
that cost you one-star. no. i will not give it back.
Well, every time I attempt a bit of a scifi romp (!!) I end up feeling like I am lacking some fundamental scifi appreciation gene. This book has been...moreWell, every time I attempt a bit of a scifi romp (!!) I end up feeling like I am lacking some fundamental scifi appreciation gene. This book has been translated into English (and a bunch of other languages too) and will be released in late June. The premise is excitingly meta and mildly scifi-y so I really thought it would work for me. It only sort of worked. I think lots of people will love this book though and will be keen for Palma's other works to be translated. Those who make an appearance in this story: H.G. Wells (major player), Bram Stoker, Henry James, Jules Verne, John Merrick (aka The Elephant Man - this was my favourite bit) and Jack the Ripper. the story is trisected and while the 2nd and 3rd sections are mostly seamless, the 1st section felt like (once I had finished the novel) a self-contained piece of writing. I became attached to a character or two and was then wondering when they would reappear?
So, if we could give half-stars here, it would be a 2.5-star read. I think, though, it could be a big summer book.
I wanted to like this book so much, unfortunately I just didn't love it. I enjoyed certain moments, certain sentences but,...moreI rate this book 2.5 Stars.
I wanted to like this book so much, unfortunately I just didn't love it. I enjoyed certain moments, certain sentences but, overall, I found it quite repetitive. I liked the characters and the premise for the story seemed promising however I was never fully engaged or excited about the story. Robinson's style and prose were clean and beautiful, that's for sure.(less)
Wow, JCO! I just hardly know what to say here. The honesty and openness with your emotions and feelings is raw. Painful. Dark. And repetitive. I ached...moreWow, JCO! I just hardly know what to say here. The honesty and openness with your emotions and feelings is raw. Painful. Dark. And repetitive. I ached for you, I really did but the method you used for telling this story grated. This third person "the widow" device was bizarre and, for me, detracted from the flow and feeling. Also, I was mostly creeped out that you still refer to your (deceased) father as "Daddy". Maybe this wasn't a good time for me to read this memoir of your, as I seem to be nit-picky about the book, questioning. I am glad you got through this time and very happy you seem to be surrounded by wonderful friends. Friends can make all the difference.(less)
This book is a peculiarity. At once a compelling novel-style piece of work, yet also a minutely detailed reconstruction of the murders of four members...moreThis book is a peculiarity. At once a compelling novel-style piece of work, yet also a minutely detailed reconstruction of the murders of four members of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.
I was somewhat familiar with this book, as well as its subject but had held off from reading it for years. I think I had built it up to be much gorier than it was, in actuality. While certainly some details were difficult, Capote's style manages to arouse, if not empathy and compassion for the two men convicted of the crime, at least a gnawing need to get to the root of "Why?".
Some details are tricky to believe. Conversations, particularly between Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, were so meticulous in their depth and detail I wonder how this was fully possible and/or realistic. Wikipedia notes
"Despite the book's billing as a factual "True Crime" account, critics have challenged the authenticity of the book, arguing that Capote changed facts to suit his story, added scenes which never occurred, and re-created dialogue. Capote relied entirely on memorization when talking to subjects in the book, and did not use a tape recorder or take any written notes; this alone may have contributed to several inaccuracies in the book."
And some details, while mentioned several times, are never answered. For example, on the day of her murder Nancy Clutter kept smelling cigarette smoke. The source of the odour was never divulged. Her father, Herb Cuttler, was a staunch Methodist and disapproved of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Also, Nancy Clutter observed her father had been out of sorts for the three weeks leading up to the murders. Again, this is never explained to the reader.
When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the original non-fiction novel. Overall, the study of the lives and personalities of Smith and Hickock are compelling studies and the specific slice of the small town and people of the American Mid-West, from 1959 to 1965, were fleshed out so fully.(less)
This book is very well done. The structure is unique - it's a novel but reads almost like connected short stories as, beyond the first section, each f...moreThis book is very well done. The structure is unique - it's a novel but reads almost like connected short stories as, beyond the first section, each following section offers a different character's perspective. The book deals with a few heavy subject matters and certainly will not be to everyone's taste. In fact, I think this is one of those books that people will either love or hate - no in between. I feel that Livesey writes very well about love, marriage, fidelity and trust. and has created a strong novel that makes you think.(less)