London, 1922. The city is recovering from WWI. A widow and her spinster daughter takes a young modern couple into their home to make ends meet and toLondon, 1922. The city is recovering from WWI. A widow and her spinster daughter takes a young modern couple into their home to make ends meet and to help them keep their large villa in Champion Hill. Soon, illicit love begins to bloom but not without dire consequences that ripples through both households, the neighbourhood and the entire city.
"The Paying Guests" demonstrates what Sarah Waters does best: create intricate period settings using the most authentic narrating voice, producing a simmering tension throughout the plot while expertly nurturing a gripping mystery; develop some of the most complex and unusual characters in literary history. However, I have mixed feelings about this book.
Despite of all the strengths mentioned above, I must say the plot felt disappointingly flat. What set out to be a psychological drama and a feminist exploration of political themes such as poverty, suffrage and justice was somehow undermined by the romance and sensual discoveries of the characters. It was intriguing and enlightening up to a certain point - and then it just felt overbearing with unimaginative details.
Some reviews have criticised the long onset of the story - I have rather enjoyed the fact that Sarah took her time to describe the atmosphere and physical setting of post WWI London. The pace quickened after 200 pages and it turned into a gripping read with a few plot twists. However, to me the excitement didn't last long. The twists fail to surprise and the ending was akin to a gaping hole in the wall. I finished the book feeling a little confused and generally dissatisfied. I guess because I knew that Sarah Waters could have done so much better and this failing felt a little bit like an affront to me.
Having said that, the details were indeed fascinating. Fos example, I thoroughly enjoyed the book's take on domesticity: Plunged into debt by the death of their father and brothers, the Wray household have had to do the upkeep of their large estate and house without help. The various time consuming chores that had to be done by hand were described in incredible detail. The book also reflects upon domesticity as to how that has impacted the lives of the female characters and, furthermore, the gender equality struggle of the time.
I'd say this book is a 3.5 stars out of 5. In my opinion, it is not her best work given the weak storytelling. I may have taken it a little bit too personally, but I have expected of someone, who is so established. ...more
This is a heart wrenching love story, powerful socio political critique and a poignant reflection on cultural identities meshed masterfully into one.This is a heart wrenching love story, powerful socio political critique and a poignant reflection on cultural identities meshed masterfully into one. This book was a delight to read - the multiple layered were built upon another delicately yet they formed a coherent structure that flowed with ease. I don't know how to precisely describe it but it was the kind of reading experience, where you'd slow down in order to be able to savour the narrative and you'd stop to let the taste of the prose linger on your mind that little longer.
The story takes shape in form of letters and diary entries that have, as a big unorganised bundle, ended in the hands of English Publisher Jonathan Barker and later handed to young translator Iona Kirkpatrick in London. It is up to her to piece the puzzle together: The story opens with a letter signed by Chinese man "Jian" to his absent lover "Mu". Apparently he is a musician, who was at Tiananmen Square in 1989, who is going away but is convinced that he will soon be reunited with her. Through Iona's translation and contemplations is how we make sense of the stories.
It is part detective story, part mystery, and as we sieve through the myriad of materials; some coherent and even poetic while others are undated and partially incomprehensible, we learn a little bit about Jian, Mu, Iona and contemporary China. It is a little bit like watching the painting of a portrait; with each turn of the page is akin to a brush stroke that add a little detail to the painting and gradually the true character of the portrait emerges.
The story touches on challenging themes such as the folly of the protest, the comfort of ignorance as well as cultural disenfranchisement. I was impressed with Guo's ability to not only keep the voices of the multiple narrators distinct, but also her ability to demonstrate their growth and evolution with every new letter or diary entry. You can hear them grow wiser, discontented, disillusioned, enlightened and so on as the story progresses. I have also enjoyed the reflections on Western art and culture from the eyes of the non Western (Ginsberg, Saite) and how they have been refracted into the politics and behaviour of the individual characters.
Having sung all these praises, I do believe that this book is not for everyone. Some readers may be annoyed by what seems like a structure that is anything but coherent. Some may dislike the contemporary prose. Some may be gravely disappointed by what seemed like a dragged ending. But those who don't mind will draw so much reading pleasure out of it. High recommended.
What would it be like if a virus had wiped out 99% of earth's population?
This book is a different take on what may seem like a overworked theme in liWhat would it be like if a virus had wiped out 99% of earth's population?
This book is a different take on what may seem like a overworked theme in literature. The story focuses its lens on themes beyond survival: there is the sense of fatefulness and the longing for the past. The author deftly weaves the immediate and distant aftermath of the apocalyptic outbreak with the time before the cataclysmic outbreak. The book tells its story through multiple characters - no one is really a central figure. Rather, they serve as gateways to characters, subplots, themes; snapshots in time. It is a dystopian future novel that is refreshingly unconventional.
I must confess that it was initially a struggle to warm up to the book. The first quarter of the book felt underwhelming and the subplots rather disjointed. In hindsight, this feeling may have been due to the book's genre. I was prepared to read a typical beginning of a dystopian future fantasy in a post apocalyptic setting, but was instead served with multiple story threads that seemed detached from one another. Initially the weaving of those threads felt coarse and forced but very subtly and gradually the storytelling redeemed itself and the weaving transforms into a poignant story of human connection in times of adversity. I was left with a gaping hole at the end of the book - I could not stop pondering about the questions it raised and simply didn't want it to stop reading about the characters.
The story starts with the death of actor Arthur Leander on stage while playing King Lear. Jeevan Chaudury rushed onstage to revive the actor but in failing to do so, realises his calling to become a paramedic. Kirsten Raymonde, a child actor and fellow cast member, witnessed Arthur Leander fell on stage and struggles to comprehend the tragedy. Miranda Clark, a shipping executive on mission in Malaysia, receives news of Arthur's death and realises the depth of her nostalgia. All this doesn't matter now because suddenly the world is coming to an end.
The book does not explain how and why, only that an extremely virulent strain, a mutation of the swine flu, is sweeping the earth, killing humans in a matter of days. Details of the outbreak and even of the initial survival fades into the background. Yes, "Station Eleven" is ultimately about survival, but survival of a different kind. It is really a story about personal tragedies of the extreme kind and how they have shaped and changed the human psyche.
Take Kirsten Raymonde, for example. The former child actor grew into an adept survivalist. She travels with a pack of musicians and actors, "The Travelling Symphony", through towns and settlements and witnesses the worst of human nature. Yet she harbours this deep longing for the old world and of all the deaths she witnessed and experienced, it is still Arthur Leander's that affected her the most.
We learn a lot about the life of Arthur Leander in this book. He is not simply a window or an entry point into the actual story. His life bears themes that mirrors those in the Aftermath. Or would reveal an essential fact to a plot twist. And sometimes they are simply a prequel to a continuing personal story. I found myself absorbed by all the details in Arthur's life and the setting in his lifetime. They seem familiar yet distant. And this style reverberates through the entire prose. The familiar yet distant.
I also enjoyed how the story uses art and pop culture as both a central theme in the story (art inspires nostalgia, art inspires survival), at the same time, as a metaphor to life (the blurred line between acting and life) and as the stage of some of the subplots (the death of Arthur Leander). The survivors cling to art as an expression of nostalgia of the old world. Moreover, art seems to serve a higher, more aspirational purpose. The process of creating and enjoying art here is shown to spur people on to contemplate and consider higher aspirations that goes beyond the crude effort of surviving. Art is the heartbeat of the Travelling Symphony, it is through art that their lives have interspersed and overlapped. Ultimately, art is what inspires the human connection. Definitely a deserving nominee to the Baileys Women Prize for Fiction. 4 stars out of 5....more
Amazing book. I will never look at bees the same way again. Hailed as "Watership Down" for the Hunger Games generation, this debut is a gripping dystoAmazing book. I will never look at bees the same way again. Hailed as "Watership Down" for the Hunger Games generation, this debut is a gripping dystopian fantasy about the struggle for survival and politics of power in a beehive. The story follows Flora 717, a worker bee of the lowest caste, borne with the task of keeping the hive clean. But her "variation" bestowed her with the ability of speech and sensitivity of scent beyond her birthright. It allowed her to see, feel and do things that none of her kin sisters was ever able or allowed to do. And so she became witness to things that pushed her to commit an act of rebellion that would change the hive forever. The grand narrative may sound familiar; it follows the threads of a classic dystopian novel.
But prepared to be surprised by both the plot twists as well as the narration. Let,s discuss the narrative marvel of this book. The author obviously took creative liberty when it came to the biology bees, but they are incredibly convincing; so much that right from the start, as a reader, I rarely questioned the details and started passing them off as fact. The prose flows beautifully, yet the first person narrative is lodged firmly within the limitations of the worker bee. We get a real sense of the architecture from inside the beehive. Paull made an amazing job creating spatial awareness and in conjuring the scent of vibration of a beehive. The personalities of the bees, of Flora 717 and her sisters were beautifully rendered to be near humanlike, however, not for a single moment have I reimagined the physique of the bees as humans; the vivid description of the lush beauty of the bees completely charmed me, despite of my inherent disgust of insects.
Then there is the plot twist. What a twist! Actually there are a few important twists... With a climax that reverberated strongly all the way through to the finale. I must say I felt the end came a little rushed for the author spent a long time building the momentum leading to climax. Then again, it is perhaps necessary to underline the harsh and swift nature of that change. I won't comment further for fearing that I might spoilt he book. But be prepared to read about a "rebellion" that does not at all resemble the machoistic storyline of dystopian novels that Hollywood so favours. It is a change that is as radical as it is, at the same time, natural. Did I say this was an amazing read? Highly recommended. ...more
**spoiler alert** What a fantastic book. For those looking for a Da Vinci style thriller involving an around-the-world chase littered with art history**spoiler alert** What a fantastic book. For those looking for a Da Vinci style thriller involving an around-the-world chase littered with art history tidbits, this is not it. This excellent piece of literary fiction is a powerful tale about humanity and faith that persevered throughout the bloody history of humankind and how they are forever etched into a beautiful piece of religious artefact. I read this one straight from start to finish in one day as it gripped me instantly.
The story is divided into contemporary sections, told through the lens of Dr Hanna Heath, a book conservator, whose brilliant handling of the Sarajevo Haggadah and investigation of its history opened the way for readers to peek into its past. The past sections follows a reverse chronology to the creation of the book dating all the way back to the 13th century, where historical details are weaved in effortlessly.
Brooks manages to portray a rich tapestry by summoning to life those inhabiting pivotal periods in human history, such as the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany's expansion into Yugoslavia. The large cast is colourful, compelling and human and I like the fact that most of them are smart and strong female characters.
The individual tales are connected to each other in the most delicate--none of that fateful encounter, rather a series of random events that feels like they were mysteriously orchestrated to conjure the outcome that is the survival of the book. In other words: fate. Undoubtedly a popular theme in literary fiction where a lot of authors have attempted and failed. But Brooks delivered, and has done so beautifully. ...more
An instant classic that belongs in your must-read list this year. The book masterfully depicts a difficult topic, namely slavery, and does so in all oAn instant classic that belongs in your must-read list this year. The book masterfully depicts a difficult topic, namely slavery, and does so in all of its harrowing details, while at the same times gracefully explores complex issues around the relationships between slave and master, between family members (parent-child, siblings) and between the indivual and society.
The book also effortlessly weaved in thoughtprovoking discussions of love and loyalty, rights vs duty, gender inequality and moral righteousness. It kept me awake clutching my heart until the very last page. I could not put it down as I could not bear to miss finding out what would happen to the characters next.
Sue Monk Kidd has written a powerful fictionalised account of the life of Sarah Grimké, an abolitionist and a women suffrage activist in 19th century America. The book alternates between Sarah's point of view and the point of view of Hetty "Handful" Grimké, a house slave that Sarah was given as a present for her 11th birthday.
In a nutshell, Sarah is a member of a wealthy family in America's South. Her father is a respected public official, who owns a plantation and, a part of their lifestyle, a horde of plantation and house slaves. Sarah is abhorred by slavery, having witnessed a slave being punished as a young child.
Sarah resisted and rejected slavery whenever she could -- when Handful was presented to her at her 11th birthday, she rejected it outright, wrote a manumission freeing Handful, yet all of her efforts were confined by her duties as a daughter of the Grimké family and as member of the Charleston society, a place known for being staunchly supportive of the status quo.
Handful, too, resisted whenever and wherever she could, as taught by her by her fierce and fearless mother, Charlotte. She snuck out, stole and took liberties whenever it is opportune. She kept her mind free by sewing stories into a quilt. And she never quit dreaming of freedom.
While Sarah's account is imagined based on historical facts of the period and historical evidence of Sarah's life, Handful's character is almost wholly imagined and therefore felt more inspired as the author took liberties in creating Handful's personality and introduces powerful metaphors in her story.
Unlike most iconic stories involving two main characters, the relationship between Sarah and Handful is not one premised on a conflict of personalities. Nor was it an instant bond born out of shared feelings amd experiences. The two could not have been in more different circumstances and despite growing up under the same roof, they were offered contrasting life experiences.
Kidd used the two characters to offer different lenses to examine the same events in the book. The book expanded as a result, both in terms of the story and its literary quality. The personalities gave the narration a lot of colour and deepened the reader's understanding of the contradiction of the era. On one hand slaves are controlled by their masters but on the other, there is a underlying feeling of terror and dependency that defines societies supportive of slavery.
In the end the sisterhood between Sarah and Handful grew naturally after years of shared experiences and eventually culminating in their mutual struggle against slavery. Despite of the strong dose of rightneousness, this book remains one of the most poignant fictional work on the subject and therefore deserves to be listed with the greats, including, dare I say, Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin". ...more
The book takes readers to San Francisco in the broiling summer of 1876. The shaky city is aflame with crime, disease and racial violence, fueled by thThe book takes readers to San Francisco in the broiling summer of 1876. The shaky city is aflame with crime, disease and racial violence, fueled by the most disgusting show of wealth and poverty. A smallpox epidemic rips through the city and the sweltering heat is stoking an impending race riot.
The story revolves around the shotgun murder of cocky cross-dressing frog catcher Jenny Bonnet. What's more fascinating is the fact that Donoghue crafted the story based on true life events; Jenny Bonnet had in fact existed and so did most of the colourful characters in the book!
The murder is suspected to be a botched assassination attempt on Blanche Beunon, French danseuse and occasional prostitute in Chinatown. Blanche sets out to solver the murder-mystery and, at the same time, to retrieve her sickly infant from the hands of her disgruntled ex-trapeze artist lover Arthur Deneve and his hairy companion Ernest Girard. Blanche takes us across the city spilling with the most rambunctious and strangest characters.
The book had all the right ingredients for a saucy and salubrious 19th century whodunnit, but Donoghue took it a step further by exploring the gender issues of the period, including a woman's financial independence and parenthood. The book shed light on some disturbing practices that may or may not be viewed as a necessity to a woman's survival in that grim era.
The plot alternates between the past and present - before and after the murder. At times the transition was seamless, but at times the switch is abrupt and confusing. I had to re-read some of the passages to fully appreciate Donoghue's intention to introduce parallels between the past and present, or to even understand where on the timeline of the murder the passage is situated.
At the heart of the story is the peculiar friendship between Blanche and Jenny. They first met when Jenny ran over Blanche with her gigantic high wheeler - even then Blanche knew "she should have walked away from the jester there and then". Blanche and Jenny could not have been more different to each other and yet their friendship blossomed naturally. However the bond was also the start of the unravelling.
Almost instantly, cracks began to show on Blanche's happy facade - her lover is in fact a blood sucking leech, her glamorous lifestyle is dulled out by the demeaning circumstances of her work and suddenly the care arrangements of her infant seemed suspicious. All these closed doors were suddenly pried open by Jenny's presence and questions.
Blanche is a delightful character - she is a walking contradiction and with every single paragraph she oscillates between the most dignified and intelligent heroine to a nutcase on the verge of a mental breakdown. On the other hand, Jenny is mysterious, and remained mysterious until the end. She is quick witted and sharp tongued and no doubt she seemed ahead of her time, a personification of an enlighten person.
But she can sometimes come across a little too one dimensional to me, whereas Blanche is delightfully multifaceted and, while she makes stupid and irrational decisions, she also experiences personal growth and came out stronger and more mature in the end.
I have also surprisingly taken to the other characters in the book and have even come to appreciate their maliciousness and wickedness. The city is another character I have come to appreciate - it is a living hot-blooded monster breathing down on everyone living on its shaky grounds.
The end, is a twist. It is in fact a MAJOR twist that could have been delivered better. There was a disappointment and feeling of anti climax that came with the crime being solved. I don't want to say more, but dare I say that it had left me feeling rather unsatisfied. Still, Frog Music is a unusually delightful harmony, a fantastic cinematic experience (I had clear ideas as to who I'd cast for the main roles) and a superb read.
I loved this book! Loved it so much that I don't really know where to start with the review. Should I start by telling you about the big twist (impossI loved this book! Loved it so much that I don't really know where to start with the review. Should I start by telling you about the big twist (impossible to review the book without mentioning the big twist, so you can stop reading this review now, if you hate spoilers).. or should I focus on the witty and engaging narrator, the quirky characters and the unconventional "start-from-the-middle" structure?
Karen Joy Fowler tackles on the subject of dysfunctional families head on (a subject American authors seem to love writing about) and takes it to whole different level. Take your ordinary American family in the MIdwest, two parents, two daughters and one son, and replace the daughter with a chimpanzee. Take a moment to digest that. Apparently, this was not that uncommon in the 1970s. If your parents are in behavioural psychology, chances are, they have toyed with the idea of raising chimps as human; some actually did go through with the idea (remember Project Nim?).
At first, the characters seemed like caricature from the point of view of Rosemary "Rosie" Cooke, the daughter that was raised as a "twin" to her chimp sister, Fern. Her parents are academics carrying that air of clearcut logic and overachievement around them; turning life into a big laboratory, where everything and everyone is mentally dissected and analysed. This way of observing, in a way, is imparted to Rosie, but throw in a pinch angst and anguish from growing up differently from everyone else, a sense of longing created from the experience of loss and, finally, curiosity and impulsiveness of youth, and you create a witty and engaging narrator. The fact that she was telling this tale, looking back on her life as an adult, living in the 1990s, makes her voice even sound more compelling to me as a child of the 90s - loved the pop culture references and way of speech as it brought the present scenes very much to life for me.
But I digress, let's go back to the main theme of the book, which seems to be about "stranger intrusion". The book opens with Rosie's college life being upset by the introduction of a stranger into her life: Harlow, chaos impersonated. The first contact with Harlow landed Rosie in jail for public nuisance and from then on, the thread of her carefully woven adult persona that she tried hard to weave in an effort to conceal her past begun to unravel. This is when she started recounting the trauma of growing up with, and subsequently losing, her chimpanzee sister. Fern was taken away from the family after living with them for several years (up until Rosie reached the age of five), and while the reasons remained sketchy until the end of the book, the results of the separation was disastrous not only for Rosie, but for the entire family.
While the story with Harlow was told in a linear manner, Rosie recollections of the past is a little scattered and delivered in glimpses, memories that are more emotive than visual. Through carefully crafted scenes and dialogues, Karen Joy Fowler creates a full picture of loss, sorrow, guilt, longing as well as joy and happiness and ultimately love of Rosie's childhood. The book tells us the incredibly destructive powers that loss have on a family unit and on the individual, and how guilt is manifested in the reaction of the each member of the family. The father takes up drinking, the mother becomes an emotional wreck, the brother an outlaw as he ditches school and joins a radical animal rights group, All the while, Rosie chose to sleep through moments of crises and pretends normalcy.
With each turn of the page, a layer is revealed; the characters become more nuanced and before you know it, you feel like you have known them for years. There is more to the characters than the alcohol that her father swigs down in copious quantities, the depression that causes her mother to give up dinners altogether, the laboratories and animal sanctuaries that her brother blows up. They become your own family. What family hasn't experienced a stranger or new presence coming into their lives and what family hasn't suffered through major loss? I certainly could emphatise with the suffering that each of the characters go through. However, Fowler took it one step further and made us ponder about what happens when you feel like love is taken away from you, and what responsibilities we have to ourselves and each other to make up for that loss. And the lifetime it sometimes takes to find the answer.
I rarely read crime fiction and have only picked up this book as part of a challenge. Many of my GR friends have heaped praises on this debut novel anI rarely read crime fiction and have only picked up this book as part of a challenge. Many of my GR friends have heaped praises on this debut novel and therefore had raised my expectations. But I must say, not only had it lived up to them but "Falling" went above and beyond.
What really stood out for me in this book is the multiple point of views combined with multiple layers in the plot. The result of this stylistic choice is a sense of mystery and wonder that shrouds the story right to the last couple of chapters, where the different strands is masterfully joined together. A lot of the story is internalised, thereby allowing Kavanagh to properly develop the large cast of characters.
Kavanagh does all this with ease: Her prose never felt stunted or staggered. It flows with ease and exhudes confidence and maturity of a seasoned writer. Perhaps her previous profession as a police psychologist had something to with this, but I really thought she provided a glimpse into police life and the psychology of a police investigation that other novels in her genre don't really offer.
All in all, it's a fantastic page turner that picks up the pace with every page turn. Think of a plane falling from the sky. Highly recommended!...more
The Orphan Train is a gripping story which cleverly weaves a relatively unknown part of American history and the contemporary. Borrowing the voices frThe Orphan Train is a gripping story which cleverly weaves a relatively unknown part of American history and the contemporary. Borrowing the voices from different generations, the author has created a an endearing tale of resilience, hope, second chances and intergenerational bond forged over shared experiences. It's a little gem that I'd recommend to everyone.
To keep herself out of juvie, troubled teen Molly Ayer agrees to do 50 hours of community service helping out an elderly widow to clean out her attic. At first, there seems to be nothing in common between Molly, a Penobscot Indian, who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, dresses like a Goth and seems to be inviting trouble the moment she opens her mouth to speak, and Vivian, who made her fortune expanding the department store business she inherited from her parents.
As Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possesion, the story of Vivian's turbulent past as a rider of the so-called orphan train started to unravel and they find themselves forging a bond that helps each other seek answers to some unanswered questions in their lives.
In the beginning, I wasn't crazy about the writing. I am a little bit of a lit fic snob and I place high value in emotive language that expresses nuances of the human nature. But what lacked in language was compensated in the story: The sole revelation that these Orphan trains existed, where some of the abandoned children had been shipped into indentured servitude, tugged at my heartstrings. I got quickly absorbed into the book and couldn't put it down.
After I had finished the book I also realised that the detachment in the narration seemed to serve a dual purpose: Firstly, to make readers aware of the deliberate distance that foster home children tend to develop to their immediate ones in order to protect themselves emotionally. Secondly, and strangely enough, the efficient and sometimes matter-of-fact prose also left the reader a lot of room to emotionally connect with the story and appreciate the bravery of the two strong protagonists.
But most of all, I loved the bit of well-researched history: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Records suggests they actually amounted to the tens of thousands. If you are lucky, you are adopted by a kind and loving family. But in fact many end up in situation of hard labor and servitude.
In this story, Vivian was not one of the lucky ones. She endured a harrowing fate; was put to hard labour and was subjected to other abuses until she got a break and even then it wasn't an instant happy ending. Sounds familiar? It's the classic orphan suffering story and you'd think you've heard it all before. But here is Kline's mark of brilliance: She didn't make it like any other story because the threads that is the social and eocnomic make up of the Depression Era is tighly woven into the fabric of Vivian's story.
The story jumps back and forth between present day Maine and Depression-Era Minnesotta and the author does it seamlessly. Some reviewers have complained about the tediousness of Molly's voice. My only defence to that is the fact that Molly is seventeen years old and you can only mature her so much in her narration or else it would have been unconvincing. I actually really enjoyed Molly's account and wished that there was more of hers. There is an unexpected twist in the story and I thought the author did a great job in bringing the loose ends together in a classic full circle ending. ...more