Tomas is a respected surgeon and intellectual, defying monogamy he is having affairs with countless women whilst his faithful wife Tereza needs to ho...more Tomas is a respected surgeon and intellectual, defying monogamy he is having affairs with countless women whilst his faithful wife Tereza needs to hold his hand to sleep at night. After striking up an affair with the artist Sabina, herself having an affair with Franz, Tomas finds himself simultaneously in love with two women and wondering just how that is possible. Examining life, love, and politics The Unbearable Lightness of Being uncovers these four overlapping lives as they struggle with life in Soviet Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 70s: the secret police knowing your most intimate details is a given.
For me, this was one of those books which everybody tells you to read immediately and yet for some reason it’s taken me until now to actually read it. I didn’t really know what to expect: the title doesn’t really give away much of the plot. It is a wonderful prose which jumps around between characters, narrators, time periods, and view-points.
As much as I enjoyed reading the book I did find that I enjoyed it best when I read it at a much slower pace than I am used to (did anyone else find this?). I think that this is a novel which you have to be in the mood for. It isn’t a particularly light topic, despite what the title suggests, but don’t let that put you off. It is split up into a series of short and sharp chapters: short enough to keep you engaged and deep enough to make you question something you took for granted – and that, in my opinion, is bloody good writing.
Just when you think this is a novel about thinking, about deep philosophical notions, there will be a jolt back to reality as the characters encounter the problems of being an independent thinker in Communist Czechoslovakia. As Tomas wrestles between the sheets of each of his lovers he pens a letter to a new literary magazine; it is published in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section, heavily edited and hidden away. Yet the repercussions this letter has on Tomas’ life is staggering: the dilemmas he is faced with, years after having written the letter, asked to disown it several times, his life is shaped by something which so many of us take for granted.
In essence: you should read this book, but don’t force yourself to enjoy it if you don’t, leave it, go off and read something else and come back to it years later even and try and try again. Eventually you will read it at the right time and it will be absolutely magical; any other time and it will be disastrous.(less)
The Fault in our Stars tells the story of Hazel, who aged 13 is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has a 'miracle' prescription of a drug which altho...moreThe Fault in our Stars tells the story of Hazel, who aged 13 is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has a 'miracle' prescription of a drug which although it won't cure her will allow her to keep living a bit longer. She leads a sheltered life, choosing to stay at home reading, rather than going out and making friends. She considers herself a 'grenade'. It would be more considerate for her to stay home and only upset her parents when she eventually dies than to upset more people. That is - until she meets Augustus 'Gus', who shows her that she is worth the pain felt when you lose her because of all the good gained when you know her. It is a story about cancer: its losses, hardships, and the love it allows Hazel and Augustus to gain.
I have seen so many snippets of it posted everywhere on the internet and it has been sitting on my 'to-read' list for some time now. I found myself moved by the story: the characters and their struggle with a devastating disease was sensitively portrayed. This was a book about cancer ignoring the cliches. Unlike A Walk to Remember these patients have symptoms which are immediately noticeable: Hazel carries an oxygen tank with her, Augustus has a slight limp as he lost his battle with cancer. There is no promise of a happy 'we're all cured!' ending. They know that their time is limited: the question is how will they spend their time, and they choose to spend it falling in love.
My only problem with the book was that they seemed to be living inside of a cancer bubble: wherein their close friends have a tragic involvement with the illness and those who does not have cancer are heartless and self absorbed. There's a sense that the endless people who write their names on a facebook wall to share their condolences do not deserve to be sad: they're all faceless names, who disappeared shortly after they left school. Whilst I know this wasn't necessarily the focus of the story - I felt like this could have been a good opportunity to show how devastating it can be for the community when a child suffers from cancer. That community was confined to the hospital, a cancer support group, and their immediate families in this novel, and it just felt a bit too insular. Especially when the outsiders are negatively portrayed. (less)
With a nomination for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a place on the New York Times’ “Notable books of 2012” list you would be forgiven for thinking...moreWith a nomination for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a place on the New York Times’ “Notable books of 2012” list you would be forgiven for thinking that How Should A Person Be? must have exclusively 5* reviews under its belt. On the contrary it's a divisive book with no mediocre reviews: it’s either wonderful or dreadful, and nothing in-between.
Sheila, a twenty-something playwright, has been commissioned to write a feminist play. Except that she can’t. Still recovering from her recent divorce, she leaps into intense relationships: her first female best -friend Margaux, and Israel, the most beautiful man in the city. She finds herself unable to write about characters anymore and instead uses her real life relationships as inspiration. Transcripts of conversations, emails, letters, and anecdotes replace the play she is commissioned to write and instead form the book you are reading as Sheila searches for the answer to the question which has plagued her life: how should a person be?
In choosing to write with a mixture of transcripts, emails, and prose the line between a self-conscious fiction and reality becomes increasingly blurred. These are real people whom Heti has written about; Margaux, her best friend, is Margaux Williamson – a Toronto based artist. The truthful quality of the book, however, does not derive from the characters being real people, but rather from the subject matter. We are lucky enough to be living in an era which allows women to write openly and honestly about their experiences of being a woman; something which Heti has longed for since her youth.
Aged sixteen Heti, inspired by Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, began making zines; she wanted her writing to directly contradict the cookie-cutter stories in teen magazines at the time, to prove that “We CAN be political, we CAN be intelligent and edgy and emotional without the requisite angst, etc.” Heti met with a publicist at Random House and began work on a book which would collect the writing from girls all over North America; it was rejected by her publishers, Heti says because it was too risqué, as a lot of the submissions dealt with sexual violence which the girls had encountered. This would prove to be an invaluable experience for Heti, however, as she feels she would not have been able to write How Should A Person Be? without reading about the sex relations, feminism, and body image issues which those girls had experienced.
The cover, unsurprisingly, features a quote from Girls creator Lena Dunham, who calls the book an “amazing meta-fiction”; presumably because reviewers repeatedly liken it to Dunham’s creation. There are similarities, of course, Hannah is trying to be a writer just like Sheila; they’re both narcissistic and generally not particularly likeable characters as such. But for me it’s more like a reality TV programme as your curiosity overwhelms you, you feel the need to keep reading this thoughtfully engendered reality. The words you read might be fake but the people are all real. (less)
Rites is the debut novel of phD student Sophie Coloumbeau; the first winner of Route Publishing’s “Next Great Novelist award” it tells the story of f...more Rites is the debut novel of phD student Sophie Coloumbeau; the first winner of Route Publishing’s “Next Great Novelist award” it tells the story of four catholic teenagers growing up together and deciding to make a pact. A pact to lose their virginity. A pact which goes terribly wrong. The likes of Philip Pullman has described the book as “Terrific. A story that’s intriguing, puzzling, and entirely gripping.”
The story is told in retrospect. Each of the four, now grown up, looks back on the events of that evening and gives their account of what happened as though they were speaking to an outsider; telling the story to somebody who wasn’t there – the reader. There is occasional input from the teenagers parents or bystanders but the narrative is focused on the friends: two boys and two girls, Day, Rachel, Nick, and Lizzie how their relationships changed so dramatically when Lizzie may, or may not, have changed her mind about the pact. Did she or didn’t she say ‘No.’
The novel is anything but a black and white event of an evening. The cover is the perfect analogy; different coloured threads spanning the whole book, sometimes crossing over, but largely going in different directions. This is a collection of people’s opinions, looking back many years later, at an event which wasn’t easy to define at the time, let alone when you’re trying to remember. In what could have been a particularly uncomfortable story to tell; Coloumbeau tells it perfectly – or should I say imperfectly. The reader doesn’t know who to believe, who to like, what actually happened, each version of events is slightly different from the last – from the cause of some bruises to the colour of their favourite ice lollies. The reader can take nothing for certain.
Although the novel is primarily about one evening’s events – the lead up and aftermath, it doesn’t get boring, as each character tells their side, and the smallest discrepancy in their testament highlights the lack of narrative. There isn’t anybody telling you who to believe, who to like, as each chapter is short and snappy – not allowing you to get too attached to one character or version of events before you hear the next one. She manages to both have teenagers and adults conveyed through the same voice. These are adults looking back on their teenage self and yet the same problems still annoy them. The slightest change in allegiance, the flakiness of the young characters can have devastating effects which can be felt immediately at the time as much as when they’re older and looking back at the situation. All of which makes me agree wholeheartedly with Philip Pullman's description of the novel as 'intriguing, puzzling, and entirely gripping.'(less)
Why do I love her so much? Quite simply because she's hilarious. She makes excellent observations, which make you laugh, and at the same time consider...moreWhy do I love her so much? Quite simply because she's hilarious. She makes excellent observations, which make you laugh, and at the same time consider often serious topics from a new light. You learn something, you feel entertained. What's not to love?
She also interviews celebs a lot. Including a now super-famous interview with Lady Gaga in Berlin which culminated in them all going off to a sex club in Berlin, dancing the night away, and Lady Gaga doing a wee in front of her (she was then able to put an end of the 'Gaga's a Man' rumours which were circulating at the time).
Not every column is mind blowingly refreshing writing - but the majority, in my opinion, is. And if you in anyway enjoyed "How To Be A Woman" I dare say you'll enjoy Caitlin's new collection as well. It's not as good as HTBAW (it takes far too long to type out the title each time, I'm sorry) - these are only short comment pieces often of around 500-1000 words range. But it is definitely worth a read.(less)
There is magnificent details of the everyday, the town they live in, the secondary characters are three-dimensional, you know these people, you could...more There is magnificent details of the everyday, the town they live in, the secondary characters are three-dimensional, you know these people, you could close your eyes and instantly be transported there and be in the action with them, with Woolpy's writing. Yet this is paired with a clever mastery of the traumatic childhood of Ginger, the subtle details describing an abused child's upbringing, and her adjustment into the new household.
Foster parenting isn't easy, and not every family which fosters is a perfect cookie-cutter family, Edward and Sam aren't angels, they have pasts of their own, it is not a fairytale relationship - it is a realistic portrayal of the give and take of adult relationships. This isn't exaggerated though, the characters have an edge of realism which is refreshing, and this combined with the fantastically delicate descriptions of their surroundings, their day-to-day life make Raising Wild Ginger such an enjoyable read.
Emotional, touching, it may just make you cry (it certainly made me cry!). It is a refreshing read on the difficult and often overlooked subject of foster caring. And in my opinion not to be missed! (less)
I really enjoyed certain elements of the novel: the historical, fact-based nature was fascincating to me, that it was based on real people, real event...moreI really enjoyed certain elements of the novel: the historical, fact-based nature was fascincating to me, that it was based on real people, real events. There was a very human element to the novel and the characters were 3 dimensional.
I did not, however, enjoy the ending - I felt that Funder attempted to tie up all the loose ends and provide a ridiculous amount of information which considering the novel is supposed to be narrated by Toller and Ruth there is a natural limit on the facts and events which they can detail, which I feel would have only added to the richness of the novel, the uncertainty over the events which just didn't need to be detailed in blow-by-blow accounts. I thought the novel really just tried too hard and let down the rest of the novel.
Otherwise it is a well written, and thought provoking novel which I would recommend.(less)
Natalie meets the love of her life on the streets of Paris, having grown up in the same town, it seemed like fate when they bumped into each other, go...moreNatalie meets the love of her life on the streets of Paris, having grown up in the same town, it seemed like fate when they bumped into each other, got married without a fuss, settled down to happy years of marriage together, until one day, Francois is killed in an accident. And her life, and love, are not whole any more. She throws herself into her work, rejecting advances from a boss who only hired her because he was attracted to her, she instead falls in love with a quirky nobody of the office who is the eccentric and bumbling to her chic beauty.
It isn't a complicated plot, it's quite simple, but each chapter of prose is punctuated by a snippet of 'real life' information about the characters. Natalie would get a train, and the details of her journey are listed, or the pages in the novel she was reading, the characters in the play. It's this sort of intimate details which add thickness and a reality to the plot which is missing in similar novels. You can see how real life events mirror the books we are reading or the seemingly 'random' choices which we make.
The prose itself is beautifully written. I believe that the subject matter: love, is something many have attempted to write about and failed. But Foenkinos takes a new perspective - his writing is delicate, intricate, and refreshing. You dive into the characters thoughts, musings, passions, emotions and then contrast this with the real-life mundane details as I said before, of the train which they caught or the newspaper article they were reading.
Ultimately, it's a charming read, full of intricacies and a touching storyline, you really do feel for the characters. I loved every second of reading it! (less)
I was a bit disappointed by the final instalment - at times it felt like the author just had to do *something* with the storyline and characters rathe...moreI was a bit disappointed by the final instalment - at times it felt like the author just had to do *something* with the storyline and characters rather than actually planning it, if that makes sense? After a while all of what was supposed to be *twists* became a bit predictable. That said there were still some very good parts, some strong twists, and strong imagery - it just wasn't as good as the others in the series, which was a shame. That said, you can hardly read the other two and *not* read 'Mockingjay'!
Not sure what I'm going to read next.... if anything can fill the Hunger Games void in my life! Sob!(less)
I enjoy being the last person to discover something amazing. I couldn't put my kindle down and kept turning the page before I had processed the last w...moreI enjoy being the last person to discover something amazing. I couldn't put my kindle down and kept turning the page before I had processed the last word just to find out what happened next! Awesome, awesome story!(less)
This isn't an easy book to read. I gasped much more than I would have liked. In an interview Portia said that she didn't want to use a ghost writer bu...moreThis isn't an easy book to read. I gasped much more than I would have liked. In an interview Portia said that she didn't want to use a ghost writer but instead wanted to painfully live through every word because she wanted the story to be told from the point-of-view of the sick person. It really is like stepping inside of an eating disorder - of understanding the thought process behind her actions, the events leading up to them, and thankfully the happy ending - a stable weight, no more yo-yo dieting.
It's one of those books which I think, sadly, is so prevalent in our society. Understanding that complex relationship we've all developed with food. Having a better understanding of the thought processes behind these problems, I believe, can help us deal with them. Portia's family and friends continually told her that she was 'too thin', a concept she couldn't understand, it was a compliment, surely? How could anyone be too thin?! So many people, I am sure, have already been helped by this book - even if you've never experienced an eating disorder personally, most of us know someone who has. Ultimately this book has a very powerful, personal, and potent message - and I can't recommend it enough. (less)