Healey's 'Elizabeth is Missing' was an entertaining and suspenseful page-turner, though perhaps a little less literary than I expected it to be. The eHealey's 'Elizabeth is Missing' was an entertaining and suspenseful page-turner, though perhaps a little less literary than I expected it to be. The examination of dementia and the toll it takes on sufferers and their families is touching and profound- it also makes for an unusual narrative voice, and the book is worth reading if only for that. It's refreshing to read a book that not only features an elderly protagonist, but gives them first person narration. Senior citizens seem to get neglected and ignored in the face of our cultural bias for youth, so I found Healey's themes around old age, dependence and memory engaging. I might have rated the book more highly if there had been a more consistent development of those themes, and less attention on the mystery plot, but then I suppose that would come at the expense of the pace and suspense....more
A remarkable book in many ways- particularly in terms of the incredibly complex plot and the characterisation of not just the protagonists, but all thA remarkable book in many ways- particularly in terms of the incredibly complex plot and the characterisation of not just the protagonists, but all the players moving across Catton's stage. At first I thought that perhaps the brilliant plot was all there was to this novel, and I admit I struggled a little trying to dig up the themes underpinning the narrative. The conceptual basis of The Luminaries is subtle and easily overshadowed by the detective story- I think I've got a grasp of the key points, ie fortune, fate, manipulation, vengeance, justice etc but I suspect I would need to digest this book for a little longer to feel confident. Although it almost verges on the postmodern, particularly in the latter half, with self referential moments and interesting quirks of narration, the spirit of the novel is decidedly Victorian.
Somewhat disappointingly, I thought there were a few plot points that were left hanging at the end which could have been better resolved.
If you really liked The Luminaries, I recommend you read Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, another excellent pseudo-Victorian mystery with a hint of postmodernism about it....more
I don't often give very low reviews, but this book was frustratingly boring despite the promising concept. Grace Farringdon is a woman ahead of2.5/ 5
I don't often give very low reviews, but this book was frustratingly boring despite the promising concept. Grace Farringdon is a woman ahead of her time- an Edwardian girl desperate to study at university and fascinated by the pioneering explorers (Shakleton, Scott, Mallory etc) pushing the boundaries of the known world. The author uses cuts between the 1900s and 1930s to set up the mystery element of the plot- we know Grace is the only survivor of her four-woman mountaineering expeditions, and that scandal and controversy have made her a recluse. And so the plot must unravel her transition from bold adventurer to unhinged and withdrawn land lady.
The problem is that most of what is unravelled is rather predictable and the characterisation which underpins the 'psychological thriller' element of the story is pretty unsophisticated and weak. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the four deeply conflicting personalities that make up Grace's exploration society are going to spell disaster in the high stakes world of alpine mountaineering. I found the few and relatively short passages that detailed the actual climbs well paced and easy to read, but I really struggled keeping motivated to read through the other 250 odd pages of the story....more
I am somewhat surprised by the low average rating this book has received on this site. I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging pieceI am somewhat surprised by the low average rating this book has received on this site. I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging pieces of contemporary literature I have read in some time. I knew when I read the blurb that The Echo Maker was likely to be well suited to my tastes- familial conflict, a good dose of neuroscience, a bit of a mystery to motor the plot along. What I didn't expect was the depth of discussion Powers enters into on the nature of consciousness and the integrity, or lack thereof, of the self. Powers has managed to capture the fundamental existential crisis that surely comes upon anyone who ventures out into the frontier lands of neurology- the moment, however fleeting, when you are confronted by the incredible intangibility of your own memory, personality and very self. The only thing that stands between you and oblivion is a handful of serotonin and glutamate receptors. For some people, this is little more than abstract theory; for me, depersonalisation is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night, so it's almost revelatory to find a book that so beautifully recreates that feeling of standing at the edge of the void.
I really like that Powers doesn't just leave the reader stranded on the existential plain. Often when writers touch on the bleakness of the human condition they either leave their readers hanging or feel some compulsion to provide platitudes on the human spirit that undermine all the conceptual development of the book thus far. Powers takes a more subtle route: for his protagonists, there is purpose to be had in recognising the immensity and spectacle of the natural world and fighting to preserve if- even it it looks like it might be a losing fight. He parallels the fragile, composite 'Self' and the delicate interconnectedness of ecology with some really wonderful bits of prose and shows there is a eerie comfort in the fact that evolution and life will continue long after the march of humankind has come to a halt.
lf you're ever read a VS Ramachandran or Oliver Sacks book and enjoyed it, then this is for you. Powers has the scientific credentials to handle neuroscience intelligently, but also brings to it an incredible pathos which only fiction can achieve. ...more
At first glance, a murky historical drama/mystery peopled by some truly wacky villains determined to pin all of the world's woes on the Jewish peoplesAt first glance, a murky historical drama/mystery peopled by some truly wacky villains determined to pin all of the world's woes on the Jewish peoples. The plot lines are at times so outrageous as to seem absurd. But of course, this is an Umberto Eco novel, and there is a lot more going on in this story than is immediately obvious.
Firstly, its all meticulously researched and is broadly historically accurate, allowing for artistic streamlining of events and personages. To modern eyes, the blatant discrimination and racial hatred that drives the protagonist and underpins the forged documents at the centre of the plot seem almost ridiculous. But as history shows, they were ideas that became very widely disseminated and lead to millions of deaths through pogroms and the Holocaust. I rather liked that Eco doesnt actually labour this point- in fact, other than a short summary table of events in the appendix, there is no overt discussion of the consequences of 19th century anti-Semitism. It s a wise choice because frankly, its a well covered topic, and the glaring silence on the subject adds to the sinister malice of the protagonist.
The Prague Cemetery also sees Eco return to one of his favourite themes: the absurdities of conspiracy theories of history, only this time he flips many of the ideas presented in Foucault's Pendulum upside down. Instead of critiquing the faulty logic and credulity that inspires conspiracy theories, this time Eco is asking his readers to believe a story that sounds too absurd to be true: that a handful of individuals, though not necessarily working with a single purpose, managed to bring into existence a document that (some decades later) would have a defining impact on European politics in the 20th century. And performing a neat, multilayered trick, Eco's protagonist (echoing Belbo and Casaubon of Foucault's Pendulum) is hard at work falsifying his own Machiavellian historical conspiracy as fast as government secret service reps can buy them up. What starts as a politically expedient falsehood eventually morphs into 'the Truth' via an Orwellian-kind of doublethink.
There are plenty of other clever quirks and symmetries to this novel, as you would expect from Eco, which gives his books that feeling of a many layered intellectual puzzle. The unrepentant, dastardly amoral protagonist will probably leave some readers cold, but the ideas informing The Prague Cemetery are well worth your reading time....more
It seems somewhat paradoxical to label a book both as historical and speculative fiction- but in this case each seems equally relevant. Fatherland isIt seems somewhat paradoxical to label a book both as historical and speculative fiction- but in this case each seems equally relevant. Fatherland is an extensively researched act of imagination that asks what 1960s German society and geopolitics would have looked like if the Allies had lost WW2? Xavier March, SS criminal investigator, general cynic and sufferer of pitbullish tenacity, acts as our window into a Berlin built to Albert Speer's blueprint and the intrigues of a state bureaucracy gone homicidally mad.
What starts as a just another body being fished out of the Havel by our detective protagonist rapidly escalates into an international cover-up of the greatest crime in history. However unlike most crime thrillers, any reader who has even an inkling of historical knowledge already knows where this cover-up leads and which parties were responsible. Rather than being a mystery that leaves you wanting to unfold the facts, this book morphs into a political whistleblowing thriller where the main tension in the plot is all about a lone powerless individual struggling to expose a totalitarian state to the world.
On the whole I found Harris's book a great page turner and hugely informative, in its own fictionalised way. But I did find myself feeling a bit let down by Harris's less than original analysis of the German nation's collective guilt and complicity in the Holocaust. He seems to posit a particularly Teutonic love of authority and the desire to protect one's own loved ones from the power of the state as key reasons so many people allowed themselves to be wilfully blind to the atrocities being carried out around them. Personally, I find these ideas less than compelling and pretty unsatisfactory. But then again- perhaps that is because there never will be satisfactory answers found for this extraordinary, terrible moment in human history....more
**spoiler alert** Although my bookshelf tags are 'gothic', 'supernatural' and 'mystery' The Little Stranger is rather a difficult book to pin down and**spoiler alert** Although my bookshelf tags are 'gothic', 'supernatural' and 'mystery' The Little Stranger is rather a difficult book to pin down and sits across a couple of genres. It's frequently compared to Wilkie Collins, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw or Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca because the plot follows a series of uncanny, eerie events in a manor house fallen into decline. In many ways Water's book seems like a classic psychological suspense ghost story. But there are other genres that occassionally rear their heads that add to the complexity of the book: a sort of Dickensian/ Gaskell-ish interest in British class relations; a Ford Madox Ford-like experiment in unreliable narration; the casting of a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest sort of doubt over the line between sanity and insanity etc.
And while all of these things made for a multilayered read with potentially interesting interpretations, something about the book failed to grab me. It hapened about halfway through the novel- I think I realised I had worked through the various possible explanations for the events at Hundreds Hall, could see three or four potential endings and was essentially just reading to get to the end to see which one would turn out to be the correct one. I think Dr. Faraday's constantly repeated rationalising of the plot killed a bit of the narrative tension for me. However, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by the ambiguity of the ending and I liked the way the characters' doubts and confusions are replicated in the reader's difficulties in locating a final cause for the weird and trgaic events and inability to place the genre of the story. One is left wondering at the end whether they've read a gruesome ghost story, or a unnerving account of psychopathology....more
The Quincunx was a book almost perfectly suited to my interests: I love epic Victorian novels, and my secret guilty pleasure in law school was EnglishThe Quincunx was a book almost perfectly suited to my interests: I love epic Victorian novels, and my secret guilty pleasure in law school was English property law. This book delivers both in spades! Palliser recreates a classic Dickensian saga, complete with grasping money-lenders, ruined governesses, inbred aristocracy and a den of thieves. At the heart of the novel is the labyrinthine mystery of the Huffam inheritance and the five families locked in a bitter struggle to secure their claim on the estate in Chancery.
Even though the book is overtly Victorian in style and format, there are several elements to the writing which make The Quincunx an unexpectedly post-modern read. Palliser’s imitation of the Dickensian style becomes almost tongue-in-cheek and self-referential at times, and there are a couple of marvellous dialogues between characters debating the existence of an ultimate Author of their densely interconnected lives. Palliser also leaves no Victorian trope unturned- there’s kidnappings, asylums, forced marriages, penury, prostitution, grave-robbing, debtors’ prison, tenements and work houses, each meticulously researched. And thus, Palliser’s homage to the Victorians also becomes a rather sly commentary on the melodrama and symmetry of plot so in vogue in the era of the great 19th century novel.
Although I loved this book and found it to be quite a riveting page turner, I realise that’s not going to be the case for all. If you have a working knowledge of Dickens, Eliot, the Bronte sisters, Hardy etc. and appreciate a complex legal mystery you’ll probably get along famously with Palliser’s door-stop. I’d also recommend it for anyone with historical interest in 19th century London- it’s so well researched and I loved the accurate geographical descriptions and comprehensive cross-section of English society.
The Shadow of the Wind is a great page-turning, edge of your seat kind of tale. But it's certainly not all thrill, no substance: it's got beautifullyThe Shadow of the Wind is a great page-turning, edge of your seat kind of tale. But it's certainly not all thrill, no substance: it's got beautifully sketched characters and a lot of insight into human nature which saves Zafon's novel from descending into melodrama.
I really enjoyed the way the city Barcelona itself became very much a character in the story, at times homely and familiar, at times mysterious and dangerous, and very much carrying the physical and psychological scars of years of civil war and Franco's fascist dictatorship. My edition also included a neat map of a recommended walking tour of Barcelona which would take readers through the areas that inspired Zafon. Readers who have travelled to Barcelona will be delighted by the prominent position the city occupies in the novel.
I think there are elements to this book that would appeal to a very broad readership- the plot's got lots of momentum so it's a pretty easy read; the characters are marvelous; lots of suspense, action, a bit of violence and a strong undercurrent of romance should appeal to both sexes. ...more
The Good Soldier is an amazing feat of plot construction. This is the best example of how an unreliable narrator (John Dowell) and fragmentary plot caThe Good Soldier is an amazing feat of plot construction. This is the best example of how an unreliable narrator (John Dowell) and fragmentary plot can be used to reveal intricacies of character that could never be as effectively expressed through simple description. Not only is this brilliantly done, but I was amazed to realise how early a piece of modernist work The Good Soldier is- published in 1915. It must have created quite a stir when it was published as its main interest is the destructive potential of manipulation and infidelity.
It's definitely not a book you should pick up if you're looking for a quick, easy read. The narrator's constant unconscious revisions of plot and characterisation had me flicking back and forth quite a bit and I'll probably need to reread in order to properly digest the complicated tangle of relationships. But the pay off for your hard work is a really thorough examination of the protagonist's psyche and cognitive dissonance. In a paradoxical way, Ford makes his narrative and characteristion wholly unclear in order that Dowell's state of mind be more fully revealed.
When I was starting the book, I was quite annoyed because it seemed like the Dowell had given the game away and spoiled the ending by jumping too far forward in time. However- be not disheartened!- there are two rather excellent plot developments unfolded right at the end which are the real source of dramatic tension in the novel and make for a very poignant conclusion....more