Lena is a transcriptionist. She sits alone in a small room on an upper floor of the Record, a newspaper in New York city, and listens to the recordingLena is a transcriptionist. She sits alone in a small room on an upper floor of the Record, a newspaper in New York city, and listens to the recordings of reporters hour after hour, day after day, in a job that seems...endless and is bordering on obsolescence. One day she encounters a blind woman on the bus and they form a temporary bond that will throw Lena's careful life into a crisis of sorts. From that will grow this very interesting novel.
The Middlemarch passage that the blind woman quoted floats before her eyes, as if she is transcribing for the author and watching the words appear above. "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence." (p 24
And as she sought more information on this woman's death (don't worry, this is not really a spoiler), Lena hears that roar of her own pseudo-life, the newspaper, the reporters around her.
I enjoy Rowland's descriptions of New York and of Lena's experience of New York. Here is the black out in the city.
If white is the color of panic, what is blackness, this blackness? A black blanket thrown over the panic, not snuffing it out, no, not the absence of panic, not here, not now, not anymore. But still it is a soothing darkness, a hot black frost that, for once, allows New Yorkers to spill out onto the streets with a sense of wonder that they can never show in the light. And more thrilling is the notion that there is danger underneath, that they are children walking on the sleeping dragon's back. (p 59)
As Lena seeks out answers for the life of this other woman, she also, increasingly seeks answers in her own life. This is an existential search that I am very happy I witnessed.
This being Rowland's debut, I am very much looking forward to what will follow.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley for the purpose of review....more
Donal Ryan has become an author I plan to watch. He has a unique and powerful voice. In this, his second book, he tells the story of one year in the lDonal Ryan has become an author I plan to watch. He has a unique and powerful voice. In this, his second book, he tells the story of one year in the life of Johnsey Cunliffe. The novel is broken into sections by month, loosely organized by those tasks Johnsey recalls his father performing on the family farm when he was small. But now his father has died and his world has changed and Johnsey, a young man who lacks social graces and is considered somewhat simple by locals, is trying to figure out what his life is to become.
There are givers and takers in his world. It's the time of things actually going well for Ireland but that doesn't always mean well for everyone.Johnsey is caught in the wheelings and dealings and his simplicity is not a help.
As in The Spinning Heart, Ryan uses some lyrical prose in his decriptions of the land and also provides wonderful portraits of various characters who surround Johnsey.
The morning sun was fairly beaming down and all the trees were heavy with green and there was a haze of flies and bugs and butterflies about the land and all he could do was think about how some lives are full to bursting with people and work and sport and children and fun and his own was all empty spaces where those things ought rightly to be, were he the kind of man that could close his fist around opportunity and keep a tight howlt of it rather than shrinking from it and hiding inside his parents' house nearly too scared to even peep out for fear of failure and ridicule. (loc 1409)
This selection reveals a few things---a near stream of consciousness approach and the use of Irish vernacular which wash through the book and which I allowed to flow over me. Something not present here is the often earthy tone of Johnsey's thoughts and speech. While I would assume it is a fairly normal pattern for the young Irish male character Ryan has created, at times it seemed a bit excessive. But I can't allow that to interfere with my overall praise of this novel though some readers might be put off.
This is, ultimately, a very powerful novel and, while I like The Spinning Heart fractionally better, I rate this one at 4 to 4.5*
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ecopy of this book for review....more
This is a contemporary novel that begins at the turn of the new millennium as Fenfang (who may be the author's alter ego of sorts) decides she can noThis is a contemporary novel that begins at the turn of the new millennium as Fenfang (who may be the author's alter ego of sorts) decides she can no longer tolerate the quiet, the boredom, the fields, even her parents and has to leave the countryside for Beijing and her dreams of becoming a scriptwriter or actress. Along with her we see the reality of Beijing under Communism, the crowds, the dirt, the pollution, the poverty, and the very limited expectations for all women.
She tries different strategies and repeatedly loses. She has an American boyfriend and a Chinese boyfriend stalker. She is reported to the police for her improper ways and is lectured as to the correct ways for a young woman to live. None of these things seem to have a lasting impact. Her emotions are curious; at times she is full of sorrow, at times she is amazingly passive---perhaps beaten down by the world around her. Happiness is rare.
Xiaolu Guo allows Fenfang to provide a verbal picture of Beijing near the end of the book.
"This was Beijing. A city that never showed its gentle side. You'd die if you didn't fight with it, and there was no end to the fight. Beijing was a city for Sisyphus ---you could push and push and push, but ultimately that stone was bound to roll back on you." (p 157)
Not a welcoming place to a person of any age, much less a young person with dreams.
Recommended for it's view of a different China, a modern state we don't always see. Also a young person's view as Fenfang was only 17 as the stories begin....more
I found the Fowler's book compelling and I'm glad that I knew very little about it before I began reading. The story became a discovery....I felt likeI found the Fowler's book compelling and I'm glad that I knew very little about it before I began reading. The story became a discovery....I felt like I was along for a very emotional ride. It is a story of a dysfunctional family, of discovery of self, of the role of memory and recovery of childhood memory in adulthood, of loss, all through the eyes of daughter Rosemary. There is humor, pathos, anger, hurt, disappointment, love and hate, all the emotions you would expect to find between human beings within and outside of a family.
Memory isn't linear and family life doesn't seem to be either. Issues of loss, identity, self, etc also mess with the orderly passage of time and life. This non-linear pattern is reflected in the structure of the novel. I think the power of the story would have been eroded with a more standard narrative. We need to be "in" the confusion.
While there are so many more things that I could say about the book, I'd much rather say "read it!" "experience it for yourself." This is unlike any book I've read before as a novel of a family life and reads almost like a memoir.
The more I have thought about and discussed the book, the more I have decided that I need to increase my rating to 5* from my original 4. There is so much in this novel to appreciate.....more