I've been a huge fan of David Mitchell since Ghostwritten, and this new book is wonderful. The story of unrequited love between the eponymous Jacob deI've been a huge fan of David Mitchell since Ghostwritten, and this new book is wonderful. The story of unrequited love between the eponymous Jacob de Zoet--a Dutch clerk in Edo-era Japan--and a scarred Japanese midwife, Orito Aibagawa also provides a fascinating window into an interesting time in Japanese history, when the country was essentially closed off to foreignors. All trade was conducted in a designated trading zone, Dejima, and contact between Westerners and Japanese was carefully monitored.
It's not a perfect novel, but it's packed with vitality and interest, and the writing is a dream.
A few quotes that struck me:
"Creation never ceased on the sixth evening, it occurs to the young man [de Zoet:]. Creation unfolds around us, despite us, and through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it 'love.'"
"Rain hisses like swinging snakes and gutters gurgle. Orito watches a vein pulsating in Yayoi's throat. The belly craves foods, she thinks, the tongue craves water, the heart craves love, and the mind craves stories." [that last phrase could be the key to this writer's gift and purpose.:]
Truly excellent and truly different--the suspense novels of Fyfield transcend genre labels, and the author's intelligence and unique outlook shine thrTruly excellent and truly different--the suspense novels of Fyfield transcend genre labels, and the author's intelligence and unique outlook shine through in every richly drawn character and every twist of the compelling plot lines. Her long-running series featuring Helen West is superb, but this book--still unreleased in the U.S.--is a departure, a standalone novel about the aftermath of crime and a lawyer's struggle with her own conscience. Odd but superb....more
"There will be a massive shift of power from West to East in the middle of the 21st century, caused not by wUnfailingly entertaining and interesting.
"There will be a massive shift of power from West to East in the middle of the 21st century, caused not by war or economics but by a subtle alteration in consciousness. The new age of biotechnology will require a highly developed intuition which operates outside of logic, and anyway the internal destruction of Western society will have reached such a pass that most of your resources will be concentrated on managing loonies....The people of SE Asia, who have never been poisoned by logical thought, will find themselves in the driver's seat. It will be like old times, if your timeline stretches back a few thousands years."...more
I reviewed this for Publishers Weekly; here's my unedited review:
In this elegantly written meditation on morality (among many other topics), protagoniI reviewed this for Publishers Weekly; here's my unedited review:
In this elegantly written meditation on morality (among many other topics), protagonist Daniel Kennedy, a biologist specializing in worms, is convinced of that the universe is godless—until the plane carrying him and his partner Nancy to the Galapagos Islands crashes in the ocean. In his desperate scramble to escape the sinking plane, he pushes Nancy out of the way, though returns to rescue her. The primary plot is about how Daniel and Nancy comes to terms with the near-death experience—and Daniel's betrayal, which she cannot forget or forgive. But this ambitious novel interweaves several other narratives: a backstory involving Kennedy's grandfather in World War I (the descriptions of trench warfare are brilliantly evocative), a storyline involving what may be an original manuscript of part of Mahler's "unfinished" symphony, and plotline about the couple's nine-year-old daughter and her teacher Hamdi. There are a lot of balls in the air in this ambitious, thought-provoking book, and Farndale (this is his second novel) can be didactic, but it's a terrific story, well told. ...more
One of the most interesting books I've ever read. An amazing feat in a ton of ways. I found this snippet from an interview with Barker: "[The soldiersOne of the most interesting books I've ever read. An amazing feat in a ton of ways. I found this snippet from an interview with Barker: "[The soldiers] thought they were going off to great adventure, doing this quintessentially masculine thing to fight for their nation and give their lives if need be, and it was all going to be decision-making and courage and manliness. They found themselves squatting in holes in the ground facing an enemy they couldn't see, with death coming at random out of the sky."
Also: "What fiction has to offer is, above, all, characterization. If this makes me an old-fashioned novelist, I don't care. It's that unique, recalcitrant individuality; characters in a novel should never be generalizations, a psychological case history to illustrate common trends, much less sociology. There's no other form of human thinking that emphasizes the unique individual, the unrepeatable event, to the same extent or that, in presenting that character and their dilemma, calls on you both think about the dilemma and feel deeply about the character--which is why fiction is absolutely irreplaceable." ...more
A magnificent tome--more than 1000 pages and every one of them worth reading for all their opinionated, rancorous honesty. True, one has to be an AmisA magnificent tome--more than 1000 pages and every one of them worth reading for all their opinionated, rancorous honesty. True, one has to be an Amis fan (guilty!) to find these letters so fascinating, but even his casual notes are interesting....more
One of my favorite books! I actually read this to review it for the San Francisco Chronicle, and my article is pasted below:
Case Histories By Kate AtkiOne of my favorite books! I actually read this to review it for the San Francisco Chronicle, and my article is pasted below:
Case Histories By Kate Atkinson Little, Brown, 320 pages, $23.95
As any thoughtful reader of mysteries will acknowledge, the resolution of the case accounts for a large part of the pleasure of the genre—the sense that no matter how horrible the crime, no matter how complex the plot, in the end the truth will emerge and the balance will be restored. But Kate Atkinson, in this brilliant and engaging novel, illuminates the lie at the heart of mystery fiction. As a character in one of the “case histories” of her title puts it, “Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.” [ The book opens with the story of the Land family, and in twenty vivid, funny pages, Atkinson etches the characters and dynamics of their troubled clan during a heat wave in Cambridge, England: four young girls, their harried, disappointed (with marriage, with life) mother, and their distant mathematician father. Only the title of the chapter, “Case History No. 1, 1970,” suggests that something more sinister than a comedy of dysfunction is taking place, but in a breathtaking surprise, the youngest and most beloved of the children, Olivia, vanishes in the middle of night along with her favorite stuffed animal, known as the Blue Mouse.
The disappearance of Olivia Land is the first of the four “case histories” (a phrase more suggestive of a psychological profile than a crime) that give the novel its title. The second is the brutal slaying in 1994 of Laura Wyre, an 18-year-old who takes a job in her father’s small law firm before heading off to college. On her very first day at work, a man wearing “a yellow golfing sweater” [ Case History No. 3, which dates back to 1979, concerns a very young mother named Michelle, saddled with a screaming baby and an insensitive husband, trapped on a cottage “in the middle of nowhere.” [ Fast forward to 2004 and one of the more engaging characters in recent fiction: Jackson Brodie, a former policeman, a soon-to-be-divorced husband, the father of precocious eight-year-old Marlee and all-around good guy. He’s also a marginally successful private investigator in Cambridge, functioning as the lens that brings these three disparate cases into a kind of focus—along with one case that is far more personal. Predictably, Jackson’s in a mid-life crisis, but Atkinson renders it with her characteristic wit and economy: “He was at that dangerous age when men suddenly notice that they’re going to die eventually, inevitably, and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it, but that doesn’t stop them from trying, whether it’s shagging anything that moves or listening to early Bruce Springsteen and buying a top-of-the-range motorbike...thus considerably upping their chances of meeting death even earlier than anticipated.” [ Neither of his current cases—tracking a man’s wife for evidence of infidelity and halfheartedly looking for the missing cats of local eccentric Binky Rain—is particularly interesting, but then all three cases land in his lap. Two of the Land sisters, Amelia and Julia, want him to find out why Blue Mouse, the stuffed toy that went missing with their sister Olivia 34 years earlier, is among their recently deceased father’s possessions. Laura Wyre’s father Theo, who has spent the 10 years since her unsolved death obsessing over the case, hires him to find the man in the yellow golfing sweater. And Shirley, sister of Michelle, hires Jackson to find the daughter who was just a baby when Michelle went to prison for the murder of her husband.
It’s not as if all these cases were literally connected (though they are linked in a surprising way), but they are certainly figuratively connected: loss without “closure” (an awful word; as Theo notes to himself, “it sounded so Californian”) [ The pleasures of this novel are many. The narrative arc, while not linear, is powerful enough to satisfy the desire of any genre devotee, but Atkinson’s strength lies in her penetrating characterization and her steely, perceptive insights. Every character comes to life in surprising and deeply human ways, from Theo and his enduring sadness at the loss of his daughter to “the general sense of wretchedness” [ Atkinson goes perhaps too far with the dénouement of this surprising book, providing a kind of deux ex machina ending that gives Jackson and most of the others a new lease on life. But in an era when sophisticated, literary novels are all too often about nothing but existential issues—nihilistic disaffection—Case Histories stands out as a wistful, heartbreaking, and hopeful novel about real disasters. Ultimately, it’s a novel with a deep understanding of the fragility of existence and the will to survive: “What did you do when the worse that could happen to you had already happened—how did you live your life then? You had to hand it to Theo Wyre, just carrying on living required a kind of strength and courage that most people didn’t have.” [
Brilliant. Amazingly good. I should have known, but didn't, that the title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem: "I started Early - Took my Dog - And visiBrilliant. Amazingly good. I should have known, but didn't, that the title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem: "I started Early - Took my Dog - And visited the Sea - The Mermaids in the Basement Came out to look at me -
This is the fourth in the Jackson Brodie series (but to categorize these as a series does not do them justice), and its power and momentum grew as I got deeper and deeper into it. Really a fantastic, wise, and entertaining book....more
I am a great fan of A. N. Wilson -- (HLB, I'm sending you this copy because I know you will like it) -- a quintessentially British writer, learned, wiI am a great fan of A. N. Wilson -- (HLB, I'm sending you this copy because I know you will like it) -- a quintessentially British writer, learned, witty, clever. I've enjoyed all his novels, but especially the Lampitt (sp?) chronicles, of which I think there are five (Wilson's attempt at being Anthony Powell, I suspect).