"You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel."
This was my introduction to the cult of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Parts of the book I loved and other parts made me feel like I was possibly too much of a literal-minded simpleton to be reading Murakami, although I still liked them. I just don't know what to make of this metaphysical, melancholy, techno-magical reality stew.
Have I lost you?
At the simplest level, this is the story of the sometimes intense encounters between a small group of citizens of Tokyo between the hours of midnight and 7am in one of the city's seedier districts-a land of illegal Chinese prostitutes, love hotels and...Denny's. The anchors of the story are two sisters. Mari is a 19 year old student Her sister Eri is a fashion model and is in some kind of enchanted sleep and is possibly having her soul sucked out of her by her television set.
Again I wonder, have I lost you?
Murakami uses the device of the lonely hours of the night to create powerful but fleeting emotional connections between Mari and the people she encounters one night: the manager of the love hotel Alphaville (Godard references are entirely intentional), its employees and a jazz musician who was a school friend of her now slumberous sister. The book is at its best in these sometimes painfully naked but fascinating conversations that leave you wishing you could spend your nights wondering the streets of Tokyo too. If every moment in the book was like the first interaction between Takahashi and Mari where he expounds upon the subtleties of navigating the Denny's menu, this book would have been a home run for me. A discourse on chicken salad has no business being as oddly compelling as this was, and yet there it is. I won't say the more fantastical elements didn't work, I'll just say, again, I don't think I get it.
Still, this is a haunting little book with passages I can't get out of my head (see the beginning of this review.) It left me confused but wanting to experience more of Murakami's spell.(less)
This book is the first of a series featuring PI Jackson Brodie--I did read somewhere this is the best in the series so I hope the others still match t...moreThis book is the first of a series featuring PI Jackson Brodie--I did read somewhere this is the best in the series so I hope the others still match this one's quality. The series is set in Cambridge, England.
The story revolves around Brodie's investigation of three cold murder cases. The mysteries are involving to the end and are wrapped up well. Atkinson's style of writing reminds me of Amy Bloom. If you've read Amy Bloom, you'll know this is a huge compliment. If you haven't (and with all due respect, you should soon), then what I mean by that is Atkinson has great empathy for her characters-both their flaws and their triumphs. This elevates the story well above an airport-style mystery and explores themes of grief and redemption and yet it still manages to be humorous.
My one complaint is I was a little troubled with how one-sided the majority of the female characters were. That is to say, leaving aside minor characters and Brodie's daughter, the women in the story were by and large truly mean-spirited or truly not mentally well. Or both. Consider for example Brodie's ex-wife who is really a nasty sort and no explanation is ever given for her antipathy towards him. I don't want to dissuade anyone from reading this book as it is quite good but reading a story full of saintly men on one side and devil bitches on the other does leave one a bit non-plussed. (less)
I was destined to at least want to like this novel for a few reasons. I'm still high on my Midnight in Paris buzz. Ernest Hemingway's life fascinates...moreI was destined to at least want to like this novel for a few reasons. I'm still high on my Midnight in Paris buzz. Ernest Hemingway's life fascinates me. And it gives me an excuse to listen to my collection of bal musette music. I cannot get enough of French people singing alongside an accordion.
(Just kidding. I don't even need an excuse. The neighbors love me.)
I wouldn't have continued to like this novel though if Paula McLain didn't write so meticulously, as trained poets tend to do, and had she not so almost perfectly captured the voice of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, Ernest's first wife and a love that by many accounts he never really recovered from. The story follows Ernest and Hadley's romance from their first meeting in Chicago in 1920, through their short courtship to their wedding to the eventful years of Paris, Gertrude Stein and Pamplona to their divorce in 1926.
The many literary cameos are dazzling (Stein, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Ford Maddox Ford) but the real attraction is the stalwart Hadley and her story is no less dramatic for knowing how it ends-and for that matter, knowing the fate of endless other marriages when one spouse experiences the first vertiginous rush of fame. In this case, Ernest eventually cheats on Hadley with her friend Pauline Pfeiffer. As angry as I got at Ernest (polyamory? Really Ernest?), McLain avoids making him into a caricature or doing a hatchet job. Pauline Pfeiffer comes across much worse but then again, from what other reading I've done there doesn't seem to be a lot of good to say about her-not only did she parasitically attach herself to the Hemingways and sleep with her supposedly close friend's husband, she later was a supporter of the fascists during the Spanish civil war.
There are a few times when Hadley's voice slips and you can almost see the author peering out from behind her, steering the story Oz-like behind the curtain. But maybe it's a measure of how good the facade is otherwise that I even noticed.
And don't feel badly for Hadley. Her life turned out well and she said in one of her rare interviews that as much as she loved Hemingway, the divorce was surprisingly a relief. His moods, rules and the endless catering that his art required were enervating. (less)