I'd wanted to read this for years, hoping it would have a strong sense of place, history and culture. In many ways it does; there is plenty of unforce...moreI'd wanted to read this for years, hoping it would have a strong sense of place, history and culture. In many ways it does; there is plenty of unforced, incidental local detail, and the narrator interjects with comments on the attitudes of society at various points in history (though I don't currently know enough about Denmark to judge how accurate all this is).
Through 4 generations, the characters' lives are suffused with magic-realism. Where it works, it feels like an apt modern mythology - though at times, and especially nearer the end, it becomes silly, repetitive and short on ideas. At times the magic realism was frustrating because I had wanted to read about more typical people - rather than impossible feats and extremes, albeit ones with symbolic significance if you choose to see them that way. However, it meant that the book is an easy read than the sort of social-history in novel form that I expected: things were never dull.
Some lapses are forgivable - after all this is a first novel with a very ambitious concept and often, it works well. (The Danish title translates directly as "The conception / performance* of the twentieth century": it's a history-of and state-of the nation novel.)
This book gave the curious feeling of having had a fantastical dream, yet it also provided a way of learning more about a country.
I'd prefer to give this 4.5 stars as it seems to be let down a bit by the translation, with some odd and clumsy word choices. Nevertheless, the story...moreI'd prefer to give this 4.5 stars as it seems to be let down a bit by the translation, with some odd and clumsy word choices. Nevertheless, the story still flows. It was a little different from expectations, with more events and fewer descriptions of peaceful times spent in nature. Not many books could benefit from being longer or from more description, but this is probably one. Whilst Vatanen drops out of consumerist society, there is very little hippie or political style writing here: he has a lot of adventures which could be thought of as blokeish in a more old fashioned sense, including manual work such as logging and building; fishing; drinking; firefighting and the like. It's an earthy and practical account of escaping to a simpler way of life and - though Vatanen and the hare have many strokes of luck - it's never flowery, hippy-dippy or idealised in the way that recent British "escape to the country" books can be.(less)
Sept 2011 It may have the cutest cover of any book I've read as an adult, be described as a "fairy tale", with a recommendation from Bjork, but this st...moreSept 2011 It may have the cutest cover of any book I've read as an adult, be described as a "fairy tale", with a recommendation from Bjork, but this story is far from twee.
The original Icelandic title is "Skugga-Baldur", also the name of one of the central characters - not a nice man - whom we first meet as he hunts the blue fox. The harshness of that sound, and the use of his name as the title, far better reflects the tale and its brutal environment. This is not "The Snow Goose" featuring a rare fox instead.
Whilst it's very quick to read, I cannot agree with descriptions of this book as light, given that the plot includes abuse and other ill-treatment of people with learning disabilities, and details about animal hunting.
The book contains two nearly-separate stories, of characters in the same community in nineteenth century rural Iceland. They are only woven together in the final pages, and in such a short novella, this feels disjointed and ultimately rushed.
The style is sparse but descriptive, in the manner of a fairy-tale or myth - but I think the book could have benefited from occasional intrusions of a modern authorial voice in commentary, along the lines of "as people did / said in those days".
This is particularly in the case for the wording sometimes used to describe characters who have Down's syndrome. Having worked with people with learning disabilities, I may be more aware of the relevant issues than some, but even translators and publishers who've never worked in other fields should have some knowledge these days, and should think to check. (Likewise the use of "suffering from" on the back cover blurb.)
Given that this book won awards in its native country and that the author is a poet, I wonder if the language of the original was maybe very beautiful, almost overshadowing the book's faults. Whilst it is somewhat lyrical in English, it is not exceptionally so.
June 2014 I've now read all three of Sjon's novels currently available in English, so I had a look back over The Blue Fox to see if my opinion of it would change. The combination of ultimately grim subject matter, plus the sense of distance in the writing, means I never like it for more than a few sentences at a time. Goodness knows I don't insist on books and films always being happy, but this is all awfulness with no substantial connection to any character, and I just want to shut it out - except some descriptions of the landscape. It would be more miserable to re-read in full. (view spoiler)[This time I've more appreciation for the disappearance of the priest and his transformation into a fox "before the days of man". But the deaths of Abba and especially - because we follow her long chase and tricks - of the vixen, are harrowing. There's evidently some ancient lore at work in being changed into a fox by eating one's heart, but to this English animal-lover it felt too much like he'd been given a gift for it, worse than if he was just another Victorian gone home with a valuable fur. (hide spoiler)] And the writing is really not amazing enough to make up for any of this. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Amiable. Philosophical. Kind of similar to Douglas Coupland, but simpler, deeper and more likeable.
Like many of Coupland's characters, the anonymous...moreAmiable. Philosophical. Kind of similar to Douglas Coupland, but simpler, deeper and more likeable.
Like many of Coupland's characters, the anonymous narrator of Naïve.Super is a bright young guy from a comfortable background who sounds mildly depressed and feels that his life lacks meaning and direction.
The most remarkable thing I found in this novel is the lack of ego, and this is where the difference from similar writers is so apparent. Nowhere is there any discussion of status, fame or recognition, whether this be as signifiers of the value of one's life, or as ideas to be shaken off in some modern ascetic journey. The narrator seeks good quality of life and connections with others, not power, money, renown or other personal narcissistic trappings. Given that publishing one's own work tends to have some egotism to it, it's incredibly rare to see fiction written from this point of view, especially from a young author and narrator. It's so amazingly refreshing, and an insight into a different and incredibly appealing normality.
His quest for meaning takes in things such as rediscovery of simple games like bouncing a ball, meditations on the nature and meaning of time prompted by a physics book, compiling lists (about direct experiences - rather than cultural artefacts standing in for them à la Nick Hornby), looking after the neighbours' kid, being talked into visiting New York with his brother, and typing rude words into a library catalogue.
The language and expression is wonderfully simple and clear, such that it's curious to see it juxtaposed with the narrator's feelings of confusion about the world. (I have a Scandinavian friend who is in this respect similar to him, which leads me to wonder if this book is rather representative of a generation.)
There are quite a few indicators of the openness, trust, equality and prosperity in Norwegian society; they're never in-your-face or overtly politicised, they're incidental details of the story and of the narrator's viewpoint. No-one has to worry about anything being suspicious if an unrelated man with benign intentions is looking after a child (something I've also noticed a couple of times in Scandinavian films - no scenes where a grumpy kid cries, leading to a security guard coming over as in every second sitcom here). There are no worries about giving someone's phone number out to a potential love interest. You still make (some) time for annoying friends. Croquet is part of a family scene but clearly devoid of class connotations. And most of all, the narrator's lists of interesting scenes he sees in New York often mention poverty or aggressive behaviour in a way that is non judgemental, yet makes it implicitly apparent that you hardly ever see these things back home and that it doesn't make sense that things have been able to get to this stage.
I found this such a great example of the way in which fiction can at the same time give you something comfortable to identify with, yet really open your mind to different ways of looking at the world.
I really want to read more by Erlend Loe, but unfortunately this is the only one of his books that has been translated into English. So many more books by non-English authors seem to get translated into French and German than into our language... such cultural insularity / arrogance / imperialism is annoying and disappointing. (Then again I don't read any other language well enough to manage a whole novel, so...)(less)
A wonderful book; if only the author had spent longer lighthouse-keeping so there could be sequels. Lovely content, some beautiful turns of phrase, ye...moreA wonderful book; if only the author had spent longer lighthouse-keeping so there could be sequels. Lovely content, some beautiful turns of phrase, yet always real and companionable.
Much of the book is about time spent on the lighthouses on islands off the west coast of Scotland: with other keepers, who recall their motley life-experiences and have eccentric past-times to fill the hours not on duty - and with the beautiful and isolated landscapes which are a source of artistic inspiration, food and anecdotes about strange local animals.
This is also 1973, when Hill was between art-college courses. Before and between the several-week lighthouse shifts we hear the effects of events like Vietnam and Watergate on his and his friends attitude to the world and their life decisions. You can go on holiday to Amsterdam or see several plays at the Edinburgh festival for next to no money - it's a time when student life sounded cheap and easy.
He's a very engaging writer and the book has a sense of youth, freshness and recency, rather than always feeling like the reminscences of a man in late middle age. The names of his student friends and contemporaries, such as Keith and Arthur, are one of the few details that give a sense that these Deadheads and dropouts are, in the present, an older generation who settled down long ago.
It's intriguing to see that 40 years ago, plenty of younger people were also concluding that the world was in a mess and that this for the more pessimistic ones (unlike the author) "erased long-term plans for any kind of future".
Most of all this is a friendly book about interesting times with great characters, in a beautiful and simple environment. Reminiscent of the likes of James Herriot - but better. If only this were a series.(less)
I can't remember when a book last left me with such a sense of undiluted joy. Alex James is clearly one of those people who is extroverted...moreSo.Much.Fun.
I can't remember when a book last left me with such a sense of undiluted joy. Alex James is clearly one of those people who is extroverted, optimistic, spontaneous and naturally lucky, and the tone of the book is infectious. He has enthusiasm and curiosity about pretty much everywhere he goes and everything he does, whilst seeing his 1990s excesses through older, wiser eyes - it's lovely to find such positivity combined with self-awareness and intelligence. It seems that he rarely did stuff or hung out with people because it was supposed to be cool: he unwittingly stumbled across them and genuinely really liked them. This is friendly, funny and often aphoristic writing and it's really nice to see someone uncynically making the most of life, whether it's debauchery or geeking out over science. Heck, I probably don't know enough optimists!
I will definitely be looking out for his newspaper and magazine columns in future and I'll bet this isn't the last time I'll read Bit of a Blur. As one of the cover quotes says, this book is excellent company.
It can make you feel inspired to go to somewhere new, or finally throw yourself into some unusual interest you've pondered. But the slightly dazed simplicity of expression and tangential wit - probably the effects of years of booze and drugs - and the sense of looking back on a younger, wilder past, meant that the book also felt like it was on the right wavelength when I read the first few chapters earlier this year when quite ill, dizzy and without the energy for any projects.
Of course, one of the other reasons the book seems quite so magical is that Blur were *the* band of my teens. This is life on the other side of the stories in NME and Melody Maker, inside the London Britpop scene where we dreamed of hanging out - and the middle chapters are chock full with references that sent a shiver down my spine. (less)
Gives a brilliant, human and succinct insight into an obscure world: that of a family and community living in the transition out of one of the last su...moreGives a brilliant, human and succinct insight into an obscure world: that of a family and community living in the transition out of one of the last subsistence economies of Western Europe, seventy years ago in the Faroe Islands. As a premise that sounds academic, but this book is as easy to follow and as eventful as a soap (an interesting and non-sensationalist one: more Archers than Corrie). The writer was born in the Faroes in 1901 and lived there all his life.
The changing times are illustrated naturally as a part of life, as choices made by local people rather than things imposed from outside by corporations. The account of a whale-hunt which kicks off the story somehow makes it evident that for these people, a practice most of us only know as a barbaric occurrence mentioned periodically in the news, was the local equivalent of strategically hunting a herd of wildebeest or woolly mammoth in other places and times. The hunt sounds ostensibly primitive - but some hunters with injuries or broken spears ask the local authority for compensation afterwards and the meat is distributed by an organised ticketing system: the movement towards the organised Nordic political model is underway.
There is a fascinating co-existence of the older generation's sparse turf-rooved wooden houses where hens are kept in the living room and there are holes in the roof for smoke to escape, alongside their daughters-in law's homes full of items bought from shops on the proceeds of employment in commercial fishing. It's as if history has jumped hundreds of years in one generation, at least when seen through British eyes.
This is a story about a particular time and place in history - but it's also one that is very pertinent now: that of a man trying to do, make and sell whatever he can to pay off a big debt and avoid losing the roof over his head, and all the strokes of luck and setbacks that happen along the way.
"The Old Man..." often seems to be compared to works by Halldor Laxness and George Mackay Brown - books I own but have not yet read. One of the advantages this book has over those longer works is its brevity: the story is balanced in its structure, and can immerse you in another previously unknown world, despite having only 160 very readable pages.(less)
Chosen as something light and easy to read whilst ill, it's actually quite annoying. There is a lot of clumsy exposition, written as if the characters...moreChosen as something light and easy to read whilst ill, it's actually quite annoying. There is a lot of clumsy exposition, written as if the characters were saying it in 2006, about matters that would be involved in the financial crisis in 2008. Ali (the nanny and main character) isn't terribly believable as a 23-year old student ... I get the feeling she's mostly just a vehicle for what the author would do in the situation. The spelling of her name can be confusing to the flow of the story, as it immediately brings to mind a man from an asian background; the version Ally (or just a different name altogether) would have been more fitting.
The characters of the wealthy bankers and their family are not *always* stereotypical, at least, and can sometimes be cartoonishly entertaining. They're more interesting and lively than Ali, certainly.
This book is massive for what it is, at nearly 550 pages. It probably would have been a lot snappier and more entertaining at 250. (less)
First, a caveat. I don't read much crime fiction, nor watch a great deal of it on TV, and this was the first modern crime novel I'd read in over 15 ye...moreFirst, a caveat. I don't read much crime fiction, nor watch a great deal of it on TV, and this was the first modern crime novel I'd read in over 15 years. I came to it because of my interest in Nordic culture; it was on a university Scandinavian Studies reading list that had been posted online, I liked the sound of the character and the story didn't sound too gruesome.
It certainly won on the last count; it was quite old fashioned in not dwelling on gory details and whilst there was always ample suspense and something happening, I never felt nervous (despite reading the first 2/3 of it on trains in winter).
There was an interesting cast of characters, seemingly not stereotyped, but not particularly well fleshed out - but then that works fine because if you're stuck with about a hundred people for a few days, you don't get to know many of them that well.
I really like Hanne Wilhelmsen as a character and her mentions of sometimes being in pain and her frustration at not feeling as sharp as she had in the past struck a great chord with me. It was also rather refreshing as nearly all fictional detectives are so effortless in their powers. A first person narrative by a grumpy misanthrope who is forced to engage with people but approaches this in a mature fashion was also a new one on me as far as fiction is concerned.
She could seem like a political correctness stereotype, being a disabled lesbian in a relationship with a muslim, but to me someone in such a situation could easily be a friend of a friend. So that makes her closer to my world, as well as more original, than the average 50-something whisky swilling divorced male DCI character.
Her placement in the situation seemed uncontrived as she was marooned with the group and this was the first time she'd engaged in investigation since retiring from the police years earlier following injury. But, even considering Norway is a small country, there were rather silly numbers of coincidences in people from the train knowing one another previously. The Agatha Christie style denouement was more hommage than an endeavour towards something approximating realism, and it felt a little disjointed in context.
And - this is probably a translator's error - I would be surprised if someone with a child would ever refer to a baby as "it" after being told what gender it was.
The book left me wanting to read one of the earlier Hanne Wilhelmsen books (this is the most recent one) but they are not yet translated into English.(less)
If you're looking for an action-packed thriller, this isn't it. It's a slow and steady piecing together of a woman's life and death as Erlendur gradua...moreIf you're looking for an action-packed thriller, this isn't it. It's a slow and steady piecing together of a woman's life and death as Erlendur gradually talks to various people who knew her. He also digs around in a couple of old missing person cases and muses on old family issues - the disappearance of his brother when they were both children, and at the behest of his adult daughter, his failed marriage to her mother.
The book was a bit spooky, as the dead woman Maria believed in ghosts, but this isn't a high body count, excessively bloody and dark sort of mystery.
I was in the right mood to read something as rambling as this, but can see why it wouldn't suit everyone. It's not what I would have expected from a best selling detective novel.
I'm sure it's a cliche to compare a Scandinavian crime novel with The Killing, but one of the most appealing things about that series was the rounded picture of the lives of the victim and her family that was drawn. This book has some similarities: in retrospect the book was far more about Maria than about the detective.
However, for some reason there is next to no exploration of Maria's academic work in medieval history - although it's alluded to as being linked to her obsessions with death in her past, and ideas about ghosts and the afterlife. Erlendur is so through in talking to people who knew here even a long time ago - so why not read too? Also, it would have been very interesting to read a few "excerpts"!
Erlendur has some originality in seeming genuinely nicer and more personable than many fictional detectives. However, he conforms to a few too many cliches, even to someone like me who reads and watches few detective stories these days. Nevertheless, the book passed the time and I would consider an Indridason again if I needed some light reading.(less)
A 1980's Icelandic woman, Nina, keeps vigil by the bedside of her dying elderly mother and is surrounded by tales of their rural ancestors and her own...moreA 1980's Icelandic woman, Nina, keeps vigil by the bedside of her dying elderly mother and is surrounded by tales of their rural ancestors and her own earlier life.
It has a dreamlike quality as eras and even the use of first and third person change frequently. This can be frustrating if you want to pin down times and dates and work out what exactly things mean to a person and where stories or memories are coming from.
Paragraph by paragraph, I was sometimes frustrated, yet each time I put the book away I was left with a strong felt sense and mental pictures of the characters' experiences. Just as the cold and materialistic ad agency boss Nina is mysteriously drawn into these nebulous tales of "the lives of those who never achieved anything but survival ... toilers who leave no trace in history" I found myself to have been beguiled despite my nitpicking. The actual experience of reading the book was as interesting as the content.
The writing is powerful and mesmerising. The author is an award winning poet in her native Icelandic - and the translator seems to have been pretty good in conveying the power of her language. I read parts of the book on cold station platforms and in rattly old tin cans of local trains with people talking nearby and no headphones, yet, unlike with most books, I was drawn into the vividness of the story and the annoyances of my surroundings faded out.
I started wishing that this had a little more of the structure you would find in a straightforward family saga (though we do at least have a family tree of first names only, and it eventually becomes possible to give approximate dates and ages to characters), but the book crept up on me to surreptiously make its case to me for the power of a more nebulous, very right-brained form of storytelling. Given that the stories of characters' lives are blended into a sort of Jungian ancestral memory, that was very apt.
I have a feeling that this will benefit from a second reading. At first I really couldn't decide whether to give it four or five stars, but in recalling it hours later, it stands out from other books because its effects are so unusual and haunting.(less)
It's easy to see why Hunger was so innovative, why it is a classic - but I'm sure the book is best read for the first time in your late teens or early...moreIt's easy to see why Hunger was so innovative, why it is a classic - but I'm sure the book is best read for the first time in your late teens or early twenties, and before the arrogant, unsuccessful young writer has become a protagonist cliche after reading countless later novels by other authors.
The overwhelming strength of the book is its unsparing detail in recounting inner thought and experience (in a way not seen in English until James Joyce) and the mundane day to day detail of struggling to survive as a single person in abject poverty, experiencing actual starvation before the days of the welfare state. The latter alone makes it very valuable in illustrating what people could be reduced to.
The translator can probably take some credit for this, but there is such great clarity of expression, in contrast with the narrator's famished ravings and egotism. The book feels modern in style and is very readable; were it not for the historical details, this book would feel as if it were written in and set in the 1950's or 60's, not 120 years ago. This clarity in a first person narration makes the protagonist's glaring lack of self awareness all the more frustrating.
I'm intrigued as to the place of Hunger - a book about obsessive individualistic, arrogant dedication to one's art - as a national classic in a country where the Jante Law is a norm, but have not so far found anything on this topic.
The book has a lot of substance and detail for one of under 200 pages and would be very interesting to study and discuss, but I didn't always find it much fun to read because of the main character's annoying traits.(less)
The events of the synopsis and back cover blurb don't actually take place until the sixth and final chapter. The rest of the novel is the story of the...moreThe events of the synopsis and back cover blurb don't actually take place until the sixth and final chapter. The rest of the novel is the story of the day-to-day life of a tight-knit community where typical characters abound. Much of it wouldn't be out of place on Sunday night television such as "Hamish Macbeth", though there are some more sinister moments.
I'd had the book for about six and a half years before reading it as I was rarely in the mood for what I thought it would be. I was braced for a fairly tough story all the way through. But instead I found something different which I'd long sought: peaceful accounts of day to day work that were involving and very readable (not brain-stretching like David Foster Wallace's chronicles of the mundane). And what's more these are set in a beautiful place. The first 200 pages of the book is calm, entertaining and thoughtful, but with sinister interpolations that stop it being impossibly chocolate box (or maybe shortbread-tin) perfect.
The synopsis no doubt stops the wrong people picking it up, as readers seeking only the initial story would find the ending acutely upsetting and quite out of keeping with what they expected. It certainly isn't fun to read, but things do turn out ok for some characters; it's not a holocaust as I had suspected it would be. It's simply that if you read only the inside of the book with no prior information about its contents, you would expect a story of its type to have a happy ending - but it doesn't.
Just as a few films and TV series have certain scenes or episodes I watch several times a year, whilst the rest of the story isn't so much to my taste, I think I'll be coming back again and again to the first part of Greenvoe as it's vivid evocation of a simple existence to which I often wish I could escape. (less)
I didnt want this book to end. I still want to read another chapter.
It was wonderful to escape at the end of the day into Trond's simple, ordered worl...moreI didnt want this book to end. I still want to read another chapter.
It was wonderful to escape at the end of the day into Trond's simple, ordered world of life just retired deep in the country, with things to get done, few people around and a faithful dog, the wisdom of life collected, and still fit enough to manage.
Whilst his life hasn't been entirely without tragedy and upset, he acknowledges several times that he has essentially been "lucky" and he's unusual among modern literary characters in being pretty psychologically secure. He is quietly self-aware and acknowledges feelings without "wallowing" and then gets on with life in the way that he finds right at the time, and I found him a very good influence.
Other than a couple of episodes, from 1948 and from the Second World War, the book was very restful. Once or twice I imagined how differently some of the family events could be related, for example as a thread on a women's internet forum, and the amount of ranting and wailing that could accompany them. I couldn't call the narrative stoic, as feelings and effects are accounted for, but essentially Trond manages never to be derailed, though some other characters are.
The book was also refreshing in that it does not seek to explain everything: we learn mostly about his eventful coming-of-age summer in 1948 and life in the country in winter 1999. Some other events are mentioned in passing yet the book feels complete as it is. (I would have liked a final chapter set in 1999 - the last one is in 1948 - but it still basically works.)
The book is full of beautiful descriptions of time spent in the natural world, scenes it is easy to imagine oneself escaping into.(less)
And I have been tired of books about the Second World War and the Eastern Bloc these last fifteen years, I nearly always...moreYes, it really is that good.
And I have been tired of books about the Second World War and the Eastern Bloc these last fifteen years, I nearly always avoid fiction where the plot appears to focus on women as victims, and I wasn't keen on the title, sounding as it does like a bulimia memoir from the "Painful Lives" section at WH Smith.
Not only did Purge, within its first few pages of bloody excellent writing, kick squarely through these barriers; by half-way through it even had me wanting to read more about women's experiences in Eastern Europe during the twentieth century - this time as an adult rather than a child and teenager bored beyond tears by family stories and endless documentaries and novels about the era.
Incidentally, Puhdistus, the original Finnish title, is a word that can not only be used of purges like Stalin's, or cleansing oneself after trauma; it also means housework or cleaning.
In the hands of a lesser writer (or translator) this plot would have seemed hackneyed - and a trivialisation of real people's experiences that were similar to those of the characters. But Purge is vivid, very involving and - aside from one or two of the most horrific scenes - incredibly readable, and difficult to put down. Which is quite a feat where there is also such intensity of expression and the characters are often in oppressive environments.
Oksanen is a master of mundane detail: little oddities occur which seem truer than fiction (such as narrowly missing being hit by a car resulting only in a broken fingernail). She can create suspense even when you know what the outcome will be. Her application of the psychology of trauma is impressive throughout the book, especially in matching this with such good writing as a protagonist dissociates during abusive interrogation scenes. Also in creating the character of Aliide, to many a shameful collaborator, but also a triumph of individual survival instinct and adaptation to environment.
The very end of the story surprised me somewhat and got me going over circumstances and motivation with a focus that I would rarely give to fictional characters. These people had become so real that I didn't just accept the words on the page as given.
I ignored several recommendations of this book for months but am now very glad I picked it up. Few 400 page novels leave me wishing for a sequel as I'm finishing them: these are characters I didn't want to part company with.(less)
Polymathic chicklit with a PhD: something I'd been hoping to find for ten years. Some time ago I had concluded it just didn't get published as there w...morePolymathic chicklit with a PhD: something I'd been hoping to find for ten years. Some time ago I had concluded it just didn't get published as there wasn't enough of an audience.
I'd never read Siri Hustvedt before, assuming that her books were yet more run-of-the-mill English-language literary fiction. (The rest of her work does still sound that way to me, TBH.) But a few weeks ago I idly clicked on Amazon reviews for this book, and among the more negative ones, it was criticised by chicklit readers for being too pretentious, and by literary readers for being too superficial. And also, how was it a Summer Without Men if she quoted male writers and philosophers all the time?
This tale of Mia, an academic and poet on a break from her marriage sounded very promising.
We have such chicklit cliches such as a younger, French Other Woman; going back to a former home-town after a relationship breakup; one-sided ranting about the failings of the errant man; a group of schoolgirls who remind the protagonist of her younger days; a book group of elderly ladies reading Jane Austen; characters who - whilst not noted for their wealth - never worry about money.
Alongside such things, standard chicklit often has bright characters who are denoted by brief references to their study or work and the use of a couple of longer words in conversation - but if you'd like to know more about that side of them, you're inevitably disappointed. Not here. Reflections on the ideas of philosophers and poets (and not just the best-known ones) form substantial parts of Mia's thoughts; we have a page-long ponder of affective neuroscience; an obscure set of Goya prints form an apt backdrop to a scene involving bitchy preteens; punning references to the linguistic turn; and the ridiculously hip occurrence of some subversive vintage embroidery... I could go on. I like it when a book gives me a few things I don't know, to look up, but not so many that this interrupts the flow of the story, and this was perfect on that count.
Mia feels very deeply and thinks & knows very deeply too. If she were a real person I would want to be friends with her.
I only had two disappointments with this book. One: it doesn't have chapters.
Two: the lack of references to psychology other than Freud, and that Mia didn't seek to tie up some of the neuroscience musings with her own experiences of a brief breakdown and recovery, or the past aspects of her relationship. Some attachment theory, for instance, would have worked perfectly. I recall a couple of other reviewers saying there was too much self-analysis in this book; I would have liked more, if the narrator accompanied it with reference and theory, as she does so well in some other subject areas.
I loved this book, but I hesitate to give it five stars - at least on here - to stand in my list alongside the likes of Kavalier and Clay and Middlemarch; yet its moments of glaring cliche, alongside its erudition, are what made it work so very well for me as comfort reading.(less)