Eilis Lacey, unable to find unemployment in Ireland in the 1950s, immigrates to America under the sponsorship of Father Flood. In New York Ci...more3.5 Stars
Eilis Lacey, unable to find unemployment in Ireland in the 1950s, immigrates to America under the sponsorship of Father Flood. In New York City, Eilis builds a new life, but when a family tragedy occurs she returns to Ireland where she must decide her fate and her future.
The strength of Colm Tóibín’s “Brooklyn” is his gift for storytelling. He made me feel like I was tucked up with a mug of steaming tea, listening to someone spin a yarn about an ancestor. The details of the time period, and of Ireland and New York City, are exquisite and paint such a vivid word picture that it was almost more like watching a film than reading a novel.
Because of the masterful storytelling, I was willing to forgive Tóibín for the very simplistic writing style. The sentences are short and to-the-point and he uses no literary devices. But I do begrudge him for never making me really fall in love with Eilis. He often tells rather than shows; for example, he told me Eilis cried but I never felt her pain. Also, she’s a very indecisive young woman who just lets things happen to her rather than choosing any actions of her own. And in the end, when she’s backed herself into a corner and is forced to make a choice, I thought she handled the situation very badly.
I enjoyed reading “Brooklyn” but it’s not one that I’ll ever re-read, nor is it a book that I’ll enthusiastically recommend to others. (less)
Shena Mackay is an author whom I have been curious about for awhile. She has been writing for five decades (beginning in 1968 and most recently in 200...moreShena Mackay is an author whom I have been curious about for awhile. She has been writing for five decades (beginning in 1968 and most recently in 2008) and her books have been nominated for three prestigious prizes - the Booker, the Costa, and the Orange. Yet for all that, she doesn’t seem to be an author that many people read though it certainly seems she’s worthy of attention. So, I’ve decided to read her oeuvre beginning with “The Orchard on Fire” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996.
“The Orchard on Fire” is set in Kent in the 1950s, and chronicles one summer in the life of a young girl named April. The story expounds on her friendship with another girl, Ruby, and her unpleasant interactions with an elderly man, Mr. Greenidge.
All the adjectives that mean I will love a book can be applied to the writing style in “The Orchard on Fire” - evocative, lyrical, vivid, lush, poetic, emotive. It is, quite simply, a beautiful written story that drew me immediately into April’s world in the English countryside in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, the plot casts a dark shadow over the pleasant idyll created by the writing quality. Mr. Greenidge is a creepy old man, and he does to April exactly what you fear a creepy old man might do. The author handles this with sensitivity and subtlety, which I appreciated, but it’s one of those storylines I’d prefer to avoid all together.
“The Orchard on Fire” is, for the most part, a fantastic book; I just wish the plot had been a bit different. (less)
The plot: Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, an island off the coast of Japan, in 1799. He has agreed to work here for five ye...moreThe plot: Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, an island off the coast of Japan, in 1799. He has agreed to work here for five years as a scribe in order to obtain a blessing of marriage from the father of Anna, a Holland girl with whom he is in love. While in Dejima, however, Jacob meets and falls in love with Orito, a Japanese girl who is studying to be a midwife.
More plot: embezzlement, kidnapping, a sinister shrine, an earthquake, potions and poisons, a secret scroll and a talismanic Psalter, a typhoon, and a naval battle.
Also included: observations on culture, language barriers, political machinations, diagrams, information on 18th century Japanese medicine, and musings on religion and faith.
My thoughts: David Mitchell lured me right into this book with vivid descriptions, complex characters, and non-stop action. His storytelling is masterful, the dialogue is superb, and there are many passages that are quite simply writing perfection. However, there were times when the book just seemed too big. There were extraneous details that could have been excluded, and sometimes the plot twists grew wearisome. It felt like Mitchell was trying too hard to say too much. “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is well-written and quite enjoyable, but a bit of editorial tightening could have made it an even better book. (less)
David Mitchell is a GENIUS. That's one of my primary thoughts about Cloud Atlas.
But Mitchell never gets in his own way. So often in experimental/postm...moreDavid Mitchell is a GENIUS. That's one of my primary thoughts about Cloud Atlas.
But Mitchell never gets in his own way. So often in experimental/postmodern literature, the author seems to be center stage throughout the whole book, demanding to be noticed and congratulated for their cleverness. I never felt that way when reading Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas is constructed of six vignettes. Half of each story is told and then the book moves on to the next story, and when each has been revealed, the second portion of each story is told in reverse order. Each vignette is written in a very distinctive style, in diverse time periods, with strong characterizations and plot, and Mitchell does this very very well.
What really blew my mind, though, was how each of the vignettes were linked - little pieces of other character's lives are intricately woven into other stories. This interconnectedness - how everyone and everything is somehow part of something else - is the overarching theme of Cloud Atlas. There are smaller themes that each story has in common as well...betrayal, redemption, hope, loyalty. And there is a very subtle commentary on the evolution of mankind, how communication changes but basic human personality traits remain constant.
The construction is brilliant, the storytelling superb, the message profound...all in all Cloud Atlas was a solid 5 Star book for me.
And I'm very curious to see how all of this will work in the movie adaptation which is scheduled to open in theaters in October. It looks like a fabulous film!(less)
“A Cupboard Full of Coats” is a book about domestic violence that focuses more on thoughts and actions than plot. What do you do and think and say whe...more“A Cupboard Full of Coats” is a book about domestic violence that focuses more on thoughts and actions than plot. What do you do and think and say when your best friend is an abuser? What do you do and think and say when your mother is the abused? And what do you do with all the secrets and the pain that still linger many years later?
Domestic violence is not an original topic; it has been covered in many books and movies. But Edwards has taken the ordinary and made it extraordinary. There is much about the book that is wonderful. The characters are complex and utterly believable. It is richly atmospheric with the culture and dialect of both the West Indies and East London. And perhaps what is most remarkable is the structure the author uses.
The story slips back and forth in time, with nothing in the past or in the present quite making sense, but slowly unraveling, slowly revealing, until it is fully told. It is mysterious and tense and laden with emotion. And when the author explains the cupboard full of coats of the title, it is rich with symbolism and heartbreakingly perfect.
Amazingly, “A Cupboard Full of Coats” is the author’s debut novel. She is a remarkable talent and wholly deserving of the Booker nomination.
(view spoiler)[(This isn't exactly a spoiler, but will make the most sense after you've read the book.) I'm surprised that no other reviews have commented on the symbolism of the names of the characters, which I thought was clever and added another level of richness to the story. Jinx = a person (or thing) that brings bad luck. Lemon = bittersweet. Berris is a bit of a stretch, but it could be seen as a variation on Barry, which means spear. Red = the colour of redemption. Benjamin = In the Bible, Rachel calls her son "Benoni" meaning "son of my sorrow" but his father names him Benjamin. And most beautiful of all is Joy (captial J), who remains nameless throughout the novel...until Jinx discovers joy (lowercase J). (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
3.5 Stars. But because GR doesn't allow half stars, I rounded up to 4.
Orange Prize 2006 SL; Whitbread/Costa Winner 2005; Man Booker Prize 2005 SL; 10...more3.5 Stars. But because GR doesn't allow half stars, I rounded up to 4.
Orange Prize 2006 SL; Whitbread/Costa Winner 2005; Man Booker Prize 2005 SL; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list
Two words: Bizarre. Brilliant.
A family - 12 year old Astrid, 17 year old Magnus, their mother Eve, and their step-father Michael - is spending the summer in a rented house. A woman - Amber - shows up at the house, and because everyone in the family assumes she is there in relation to someone else, she stays for several weeks and insinuates herself into their lives.
What is truly stellar about this book is how it is constructed. It is divided into three parts - The Beginning, The Middle, and The End - and each part is then further divided into four parts, each told from the viewpoint of one of the family members. And it is all told in a delightful stream-of-consciousness style (or, more accurately, free indirect style). I was amazed and amused at the author's ability to convey these "brain ramblings" and to capture each character's unique voice and personality. And each chapter begins in the middle of a sentence, as though you've caught the narrator in the middle of a thought. There is even one part, told from Michael's viewpoint, that is written in sonnet form.
Amber is "the accidental" of the book's title. In music, an accidental, indicated by a sharp or flat notation added to a note, raises or lowers the tone from it's normal pitch. Amber, through her interaction with each of the family members, takes them out of their "normal" ways of thinking and interacting, and alters them in a way which could be seen as "better" (raising the tone) or "worse" (lowering the tone).
Ultimately, the book is about brokenness, which Amber, in her own special way, reveals to each of them. As Magnus thinks to himself one night when the family is having dinner, "Everybody at this table is in broken pieces which won’t go together, pieces which are nothing to do with each other, like they all come from different jigsaws, all muddled together into the one box by some assistant who couldn’t care less in a charity shop or wherever the place is that old jigsaws go to die."
The question the book asks is whether a broken family can be repaired, or if they must accept that they are simply individual pieces that each belong to a different whole.
"The Accidental" is cerebral and not an easy read, but it is certainly unique and worthwhile. Ali Smith is a remarkably talented author who deserves the many accolades this book received. (less)