Have you ever picked up a book and then wanted to cancel all your plans just so you can spend time reading? It is a nice feeling and one that I experiHave you ever picked up a book and then wanted to cancel all your plans just so you can spend time reading? It is a nice feeling and one that I experienced with Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission. I know this not an experience you would want to have all the time, but I am sure my wife was happy to spend more time playing Dragon Age. However, I think it is a rare treat to be so captivated by a book that everything else needs to be placed on hold. I have been wanting to read Houellebecq for a very long time and now that I have experienced his writing, I am upset that I waited so long.
Submission takes place in the near future, 2022 to be exact. France is about to hold their presidential election and two candidates are looking to be the favourites. The next leader could be Marine Le Pen of the Front National party or Muhammed Ben Abbes of the emerging Muslim Fraternity. Turning the political debate into one of Nationalism or the embrace of a new party with religious ties. The nationalist believe France should be for the French, while the Muslim Fraternity would be a big shift in France’s culture. For starters, it would be the first non-Catholic religious party to gain power, not to mention the impact this will have on the country, both religious and culturally speaking.
At the heart of this novel is François, a middle-aged academic who feels like his life is slowly disintegrating into nothing. His lifelong obsession with the ideas and works of nineteenth-century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (best known for his novel À rebours, published in English as Against Nature or Against the Grain) has gotten him nowhere. He is alone and even more concerning to him; his sex drive has diminished completely. While the political backdrop makes for a very interesting novel, Submission looks at the ideas of isolation, love, change and faith.
Michel Houellebecq has been the centre of a bit of controversy, he has a tendency to say things that offend and comes across as vulgar; he’s been accused of being a nihilist, misogynist, cynical and Islamophobic. This is often the persona Houellebecq puts forward in interviews, but it is worth remembering he is a satirist and the persona they put on is not necessarily a true reflection of their actual personality. Michel Houellebecq often writes about controversial topics in order to get people to think about the topic. Atomised (known as The Elementary Particles in America) in 1998 took on cloning and Platform (2001) was on sexual tourism as well as having Islamic themes. In fact, if you look at all his novels, he often explores sex (cloning), tourism (or art) and religion. Even went as far as to have Houellebecq charged in 2002 with racial hatred towards Islam but he was later acquitted by the court.
The novel Submission was published on the 7th January 2015, that day Michel Houellebecq was on the front of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. On this day brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo with assault rifles and sadly killed 11 people and injuring a further 11. This sad event was not a result of Houellebecq being on the cover but rather a macabre coincidence.
I never felt that Michel Houellebecq’s Submission was anti-Islamic, or hate filled in anyway. I did think this was dangerous writing, I suspect the author is an arsehole, but still think this novel is exploring an important topic. Houellebecq has a great ability to make the reader think about life, religion, and philosophy. I had such an enjoyable experience with this book I went and picked up another one of his novels right away.
Detective Inspector John Rebus is back following the case in Knots and Crosses; this time he finds himself on a case that that may have supernatural eDetective Inspector John Rebus is back following the case in Knots and Crosses; this time he finds himself on a case that that may have supernatural elements to it. The body of a drug addict is found in a squat, in between two burnt down candles and a pentagram painted on the wall next to it. While most people were quick to discard this of a heroin overdose, Rebus is determined to investigate to find the true circumstances surrounding this death. What transpires is something far more sinister than a simple overdoes, is it murder? Or even worst, is it a conspiracy?
One thing that I really enjoyed about Knots and Crosses was the way Ian Rankin took on a different approach to the crime genre. The crime took a back seat in the story and the novel spent most of the time developing characters and building the backstory that will set up the rest of the series. I understand that Hide and Seek would not be able to continue developing John Rebus as a character the same way Knots and Crosses but I still expected more. I knew Rankin could write a crime novel that was not formulaic or unoriginal, but Hide and Seek was not on the same level as the first book in the series.
It has been come out that Hide and Seek was Ian Rankin’s attempt in presenting a modern take on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A story that fascinates Rankin; he has even filmed a documentary (Ian Rankin Investigates Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) exploring the origins of this classic from fellow Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. There are a few nods to the classic found in this book from ‘Hide’ in the title of the novel and the private member’s club known as the Hyde club.
Ian Rankin found himself in the middle of a scandal when a case featuring similarities to the novel became apparent. This scandal was mentioned in parliament and two lawyers opened an investigation into Rankin to determine if there was any connection. While any allegations made towards Ian Rankin turned out to be false, this real life scandal gave this book some extra attention in the public eye.
I was very disappointed with Hide and Seek and will continue my search for a new crime series. I have very particular taste, but mostly I want a series that is dark, gritty, original and does not feel like a ‘crime of the week’ situation; is this too much to ask for? I thought Inspector Rebus may have been a good series to explore, but this novel convinced me otherwise. Not sure if the next book (Tooth and Nail) is any good but I do not think I will be finding out.
Lisa Benz is a thirty-something American living in Switzerland with her new husband. While he is off working as a banker, she is alone to look after tLisa Benz is a thirty-something American living in Switzerland with her new husband. While he is off working as a banker, she is alone to look after the kids; she cannot do much else because she has yet to learn German. Lisa wants to be the perfect mother and wife but she is unhappy and alone. Hausfrau is the punchy debut novel from poet Jill Alexander Essbaum.
If you look at Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Goodreads profile, you will see that she is obsessed with many things, including puns, sex, God and words. These kind of obsessions lead her to become a poet; her collections of poetry often feature religious and erotic imagery within them. I have heard mixed reviews of Hausfrau in the past, but when I heard her on the Literary Disco podcast, I knew I had to check it out. I think Essbaum’s love for putting words in the right way helped to release a strong debut novel.
The novel follows the life of Lisa Benz, who is unhappy and alone, which leads her to make some bad decisions. Hausfrau is a typical domestic novel exploring one person’s unhappiness in their marriage. However this book still feels fresh and different to the others, not just because it is the wife who is making terrible choices. I found Jill Alexander Essbaum took an interesting take on the importance of communication and the idea that a marriage should be a partnership. She explores the breakdown of the marriage and makes it obvious the root causes.
I really enjoyed Hausfrau and it was nice to see a destructive female character for a change; it always feels like the husband is the one that ruins everything. Jill Alexander Essbaum really knows how to write and I am very interested in trying her poetry, especially her erotic religious poetry. I think Essbaum will be an author to take notice of in the future and I eagerly await her next novel.
The books by Gromov, obscure and forgotten propaganda author from the Soviet era, have gained a bit of cult following. However this is not your normalThe books by Gromov, obscure and forgotten propaganda author from the Soviet era, have gained a bit of cult following. However this is not your normal fandom and his book are unlike anything you will ever read. These books have the ability to magically transform anyone; make the weak strong, the cowardly brave. Small groups have formed to protect these supernatural book with their leader given the title The Librarian. War breaks out between these libraries in desperate attempts to seize any copies of Gromov’s books they may have. The Librarian tells the story of Alexei, a loser who unexpectedly stumbles across one of Gromov’s books that changes his life forever.
This dystopian world created by Mikhail Elizarov is an obvious allegory for the Soviet Union, however it is something to be expected in post-Soviet literature. However Elizarov explores some interesting themes as well, in particular an idea of ‘blind faith’ in politics. The Librarian looks at the way people will thoughtlessly adopt a political system in which they are forced to inhabit. The author has a lot to say on the Soviet system and, like other Russian authors (in Soviet and post-Soviet literature), he adopts a satirical method to explore these ideas.
Alternatively, you could look at The Librarian from the perspective of the power of books. The entire novel is about people reading these books and gaining power, knowledge, and so on. This is the true power of books; as readers, we educate ourselves and learn empathy, and also get different political, historical or cultural points of view. While we might not gain the same amount of power as the people in this novel, we do gain power.
I found this book extremely interesting and I was engrossed the entire way through it. It is violent and could be a little too hard for some to handle but there is something worth exploring here. The Librarian won the Russian Booker Prize in 2008; this is very similar to the Man Booker Prize but for Russian novels. I had not heard too much about the Russian Booker Prize previously but I am now very interested. As a fan of Russian lit, I will keep an eye out for books translated into English so I can continue to explore more post-Soviet literature.
Three German soldiers set off early one morning through the frozen Polish country side to search for Jews. If they are successful they will be able toThree German soldiers set off early one morning through the frozen Polish country side to search for Jews. If they are successful they will be able to do it again, if not they will have to go back to their job as executioners. Having found a man hiding in the woods they settle in an old abandoned house to warm up and share a meal. Tensions increase when an outspoken Polish man joins them to escape the cold. A Meal in Winter is a highly emotional French novella that is worth checking out.
It is hard to talk about this book, it is a very emotional book. It is the type of book that will rip out your heart, punch you a few times in the face and then end abruptly. Leaving you emotionally and physically drained and having to think about all the themes. I love A Meal in Winter because it really explores so many interesting ideas and themes and leaves you thinking well after finishing it.
This is such a quick read and explores the idea of following orders and issues of mortality. The Jewish man has done nothing wrong and these Nazi soldiers know this, but if they take him back as a prisoner then they might be able to go out searching again. Is it better to hunt or kill, both will end the same for the Jew, but which one would make you feel better about your actions?
I truly love what Hubert Mingarelli did with such a small book like A Meal in Winter. I have not been able to stop thinking about the book since I finished it. I love when a piece of literature leaves me contemplating about life and philosophical questions that I had not considered before. A Meal in Winter did just that and I think this short hundred page novella will stick with me for many years to come.
In the mid-90s, Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of a special anti-crime unit. He made headlines when he accidently shot a ten year oldIn the mid-90s, Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of a special anti-crime unit. He made headlines when he accidently shot a ten year old boy, emotionally scarring Billy and damaging his career. Eighteen years later, Billy has finally become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch. The Whites follows the life as Billy Graves as he gets a 4:00 am slashing of a man at Penn Station. However The Whites is much more than a police procedural, rather it covers the life of the people in working the night watch.
Harry Brandt is a pseudonym of crime writer Richard Price who has been acclaimed for his books, like Clockers. He adopted the pseudonym so he could explore his writing in a new direction. However, I have heard that the writing style turned out to be very similar to his other stuff. I have not read anything by Richard Price, but hearing it is similar I hope to pick up Clockers in the future.
What I think stands The Whites apart from a typical police procedural is the fact that Richard Price focuses mainly on the character development. I love exploring the lives of people working in a similar field and how the people are effected in different ways. Sure, Billy Graves is the primary focus and there is a great deal to do with the crime but Price really did a good job of not making this a typical crime novel.
The Whites is a fascinating read and the style of book I look for in police procedurals. The novel even made the Tournament of Books list, but I do not expect it to make it too far. It was a wonderful book but not something I would consider high literature. If you have some recommendations of other books similar to this, please let me know.
Lawrence Block is a hard working pulp crime novelist, best known for his hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr andLawrence Block is a hard working pulp crime novelist, best known for his hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man John Keller. Hit Man is the first book in the Keller series, combining a collection of short stories to develop this character. This is an interesting technique and Block’s short story book One Night Stands and Lost Weekends remains one of my favourite crime collections. He manages to pack the same punch of a normal pulp novel into a stripped down story.
I enjoy Lawrence Block’s style; it is nice to know someone is trying to keep the pulp crime genre alive. However Hit Man is more of a thriller series, which develops the complexities of this character with short intervals for an assassination. I like the way the stories interlock as a way to introduce John Keller, I have never seen this technique and think it worked well. Having said that, I think this is a fun book but I am not sure if I will continue the series. I am looking for something darker and do not think the Keller series will give me what I desire.
One morning in January 2006, the body of a female insurance saleswoman, Yoshino was found dead on Mitsue Pass. A young construction worker, Yuichi isOne morning in January 2006, the body of a female insurance saleswoman, Yoshino was found dead on Mitsue Pass. A young construction worker, Yuichi is arrested for her murder. Shifting perspectives, Villain tells the story of the events leading up to Yoshino’s murder and the aftermaths.
Kosaku Yoshida is often considered as one of Japan’s best crime writers and as a fan of Japanese Lit, I knew I had to check one of his books out. However I was a little disappointed; the story was interesting but I was not a fan of the execution. I thought it builds up the suspense, then shifts perspective; which felt like it kept stopping and starting and that just felt too clunky. Yoshida explores the idea of alienation, which seems to be a common theme in Japanese fiction. This worked well, however this was not enough to redeem the novel for me.