My many and sincere thanks to Ksenia at Glagoslav for my copy of this novel.
I have to say right up front that this year I've beenI loved this book.
My many and sincere thanks to Ksenia at Glagoslav for my copy of this novel.
I have to say right up front that this year I've been introduced to some amazing books from smaller presses, and this is one of them. Set in the Ukrainian SSR in the 1950s, in the town of Chernigov, the story is narrated by police captain Mikhail (Misha) Ivanovich Tsupkoy, who was previously a military intelligence officer until he was demobbed and became an police investigator. The novel is, as he notes, his reminiscence of "a single incident from my long and extensive career," the death of one Lilia Vorobeichik in 1952. A suspect in her murder comes to light very quickly, an actor named Roman Nikolayevich Moiseenko, who eventually confesses to the crime, and then saves himself a court trial by hanging himself in his cell. Case closed? Well, we're only at page eight, so obviously not. As it happens, two events spark Mikhail to continue digging -- his best friend's suicide, and the interference of a certain neighbor of the dead woman who somehow manages to come up with the heretofore undiscovered murder weapon. This woman, dressmaker Polina Lvovna (Laevskaya), turns out to be the proverbial thorn in Misha's side, sowing doubt on his integrity as an investigator to whoever might listen to her, which turns out to be troublesome for our investigator. Also troubling is that everyone involved here has something to hide and that they have their own reasons for holding their secrets and their stories close.
Now, when a novel starts out with a murder, it's easy to understand why it might be labeled as crime fiction, but The Investigator turns out to move well beyond the standard crime tropes to become a serious piece of historical fiction taking the reader beyond the novel's present into its past and back again. It can come across as murky or even a bit frustrating at times, as Tsupkoy travels hither and thither between Ukrainian towns interacting with a complex set of characters over and over again; however, among other things, what seems to come out of this (for me, anyway), is that the people who live here are very much connected to their past histories, to each other, and most especially to the very troubled history of this area, and that it is impossible to separate any one of these elements from the other. I won't say why, but this point becomes very, very clear by the end of the book. There is a LOT of ambiguity here to be examined, and the stories that are eventually revealed are beyond satisfying as far as my own interest as to what drives people to do the things they do. I'll also say that there are some very big surprises to be had that I wasn't at all expecting. Sorry to be so vague, but I don't want to give away a single thing.
Highly, highly recommended -- this is definitely NOT your usual crime novel, for which I am so very grateful. ...more
Well, I stayed up late yet again reading this book, for which, by the way, I owe many, many thanks to the publisher.
Alpine Ballad is, on the face ofWell, I stayed up late yet again reading this book, for which, by the way, I owe many, many thanks to the publisher.
Alpine Ballad is, on the face of it, an historical novel about the flight for freedom made by two prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp somewhere in the Austrian Alps after they'd managed to escape. The novel follows their journey and their hopes as they take uncertain steps toward freedom. And it's very, very good.
Now, I say "on the face of it," because there's way more than just a simple escape going on here. What it actually comes down to in this story is the human cost of war, and one major idea captured here is what Bykau refers to as "Entmenschung," referring to the dehumanizing practices of the Nazis, which he says is "the most dastardly of all evil deeds on earth." We see this idea at work throughout the novel, and it especially comes into play here as Ivan more than once has to make decisions that will require strength of spirit and an examination of his own humanity. Ivan totally understands this concept -- as we're told, once he was put into the camps and had the opportunity to observe what was going with "the underside of Nazism," he comes to realize that "death was not the worst thing that could happen during the war."
How these ideas play out through the novel I will leave to others to discover. The story gives Ivan a chance for reflection in the form of flashbacks, which not only help us to understand who he is as a person, but which also offers a look at life in the USSR in the 1930s, most especially the famines that killed so many people in the Ukraine.
If you read it as just another novel about an escape it will lessen the impact and importance of what the author has to say here -- this is a very serious read, one in which the entire book will give readers a great deal of food for thought.
Very well done, and I do mean very well done. Bravo.
Whether or not people think this book belongs on the Booker Longlist to me is irrelevant -- it isVery well done, and I do mean very well done. Bravo.
Whether or not people think this book belongs on the Booker Longlist to me is irrelevant -- it is a fine novel and without its placement on this list I probably wouldn't have discovered it, which would have been a shame.
There is no doubt that when I go back to look over what I've read this year (why I keep a reading journal), this book will probably be at the top of my favorite books of all categories for 2016. I loved this book. It was so good, in fact, that although I'd decided to read the entire longlist this year, after finishing this one I knew I'd found my winner. How the official judging plays out may be a completely different story, but this would be my hands-down choice for sure, so no point in reading further down the list for me.
The time is 1869, and a young (17) Roddy Macrae of the small remote village of Culduie, Scotland has just killed three members of one family. His family and the other villagers are crofters, ekeing out a harsh, miserable existence, and are always at the mercy of their benefactor "the factor," and his representative in the village, the Constable. Roddy confesses right away, and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he is guilty. But the major question in this novel is "why?" and the story surrounding the murders is revealed slowly via different sources in this book: Roddy's memoir, written "at the behest of [his] advocate," witness statements, police statements, psychological assessments, and other voices that join in to tell the story. However, there's a big catch: from page one on, it becomes very clear that truth and perception are in the eyes of the beholders, and that both may just be slippery and elusive.
I'm really not going to say more than that little bit about the plot, because really, it's a book that should absolutely be experienced on one's own. It's a stunningly superb novel, and aside from offering readers the challenge of trying to piece together what may have actually happened and why, the author has done an excellent job here in bringing us into life in the small, rather claustrophic village of Culduie, mid 19-th century. I'll just note that aside from the mystery of the why, the social, political, religious and class explorations in this novel elevate it to something well beyond anything else I've read this year.
Reading this novel at a slower pace pays dividends, and it is definitely a book to be savored. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I will say that anyone thinking about it would be wise to avoid any reviews or reader posts that give away much more than what's on the back-cover blurb or what I've said here. I'll also say that it is a story that demands active reader participation -- it's a thinking person's novel that really needs close attention, but also one that highly satisfies in the end. Sheesh! It seriously just does not get better than this!!!!
After a shaky start and then a couple of hours of research prompting a restart, this book turned out to be an amazing read. And those of you who markeAfter a shaky start and then a couple of hours of research prompting a restart, this book turned out to be an amazing read. And those of you who marked this book as "fantasy" may be disappointed to discover that it is nothing of the sort. It's a work of historical fiction, narrated by a fictional fifth-century monk during a time of crisis for the early Catholic church. And quite frankly, in light of what's happening in our world today, it is a very timely read. You can read more at my reading journal where i am embarrassed to say I posted the author's last name incorrectly, (ouch) or just continue on here.
The author begins this tale with a first-person narrative revealing that the story that the reader is about to experience had been found in 1997 during an archaeological excavation of ruins to the northwest of the city of Aleppo in Syria; more specifically, a set of scrolls were found that tell the story of an "anonymous monk" who had later given himself the name of Hypa, and who, during a forty-day period of seclusion in the year 431 AD, had written this story. It is an uneasy time in the Christian world -- as Hypa notes, 431 was an "unfortunate year, in which the venerable bishop Nestorius was excommunicated and burnt to death."
While I'm not going to go too much into plot here, the story (aka this novel) handed to us by the anonymous translator of Hypa's chronicle interweaves Hypa's personal account of his journeys, both spiritual and physical, his doubts and "constant uncertainty," along with the known history of the early Catholic church of this period. Hypa writes his narrative urged on by the titular Azazeel, who is best known as the tempter causing Adam and Eve to be exiled forever from the Garden of Eden; he is also, as Hypa comes to understand in a feverish delirium, an inner alter ego, "another me." Hypa's story takes him from childhood, where he first became a victim of Christian intolerance toward nonbelievers, into Alexandria to medical school. It is also in Alexandria under the auspices of Bishop Cyril (called Pope there), who lives by the words of Christ
"Think not I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword,"
that Hypa hears his fellow Christians proposing the most inhumane treatment of Jews and other non-Christians in their zeal to "cleanse the land of the Lord." However, as appalled as he is and while he gets the hypocrisy all around him, one particular event begins to challenge his faith, and he leaves, never to return. From Alexandria he wanders through the Sinai desert, making his way into Jerusalem, where he meets Nestorius; from there he makes his way to the monastery from which he is writing the account of "everything which has happened in my life." It is also a novel that just begs the question of how heresy can exist when truth/orthodoxy seems to be an elusive concept.
To be very honest, I got to about page 112 or so and really wasn't getting much out of this novel. However, I turned back to all of the blurb raves about it at the beginning of the book and decided I must have missed something, so I started it completely over again. First, though, I spent some time doing some research on early Christian history, theological debates etc., to make myself familiar with the Cyril/Nestorius issues as well as Arian and other heresies before returning, this time much more confident. It's not necessary, really, but it's just a personal thing -- I want to know what I'm reading, especially since I was not too familiar with the theological issues at stake here. My point is that it seems to start out slowly but it does pick up, so for Pete's sake, don't apply that silly 50-page rule here, or the best parts of this novel will be lost. I can certainly and without hesitation recommend this book. ...more
Any time anyone writes a novel about Haiti during the 1960s and the reign of Francois Duvalier, aka "Papa Doc," I am going to read it. It was such anAny time anyone writes a novel about Haiti during the 1960s and the reign of Francois Duvalier, aka "Papa Doc," I am going to read it. It was such an horrific time in Haiti's history, where anyone at any time could be accused of anything and sent to prison on trumped-up charges; some of these people were never again to see the light of day. The intelligentsia had it especially bad, but everyone was at risk.
I was so excited to find and to start reading this book, since it's set in Haiti during the reign of Francois Duvalier, aka Papa Doc. As I started to read, I realized that the true focus here is on two brothers who took very different paths in life, their broken relationship and the crises that ultimately bring them together again. They are two men, who, each in his own way, are looking for justice after a series of events tears their families apart and takes them away from the lives they'd built in Port-au-Prince. I got the feel of the period here through the author's descriptions of repression, fear and the presence of Duvalier's Tonton Macoutes -- his personal goon squad who did the dirty work -- out on the streets, as well as the poverty that a large part of the population suffered, and overall, it is a good story that I think ought to be read. What was happening in Haiti is a story that needs to be told as well -- and here we get a tiny slice of what it must have been like to live under a brutal and repressive regime.
On the other hand, for me the story moves way too quickly and things feel very rushed here. I felt that things happened so very fast in this book that the story as a whole just didn't the depth it could have had , and the character development sort of loses a lot of steam as the narrative quickly becomes focused on plot. It's as if the author knew where she wanted to go with this story, but in the hurry to finish, the book ends up falling back too much on plot rather than the characters under study here. And then there are things plotwise that don't necessarily ring true in the telling. I can't really give an example (so as not to spoil), but there were times when I just went "huh?"
It is, however, the author's first novel, and I do think she has a lot of talent so I'll look forward to reading more from her in the future. Slowing down, fleshing out both setting and characters to a much stronger degree, and not relying so much on a whirlwind plot would have made this book much better for me. However, I am very much applauding her choice of topic because I don't think a lot of people are very familiar with this horrific time in Haiti's history, and any novels that bring out even the slightest bit of that time are well worth writing and even more worth reading. ...more
Ronald Wright is the author of ten books, three of which (A Scientific Romance, Henderson's Spear, and this one, TheHere's my thinking on this novel:
Ronald Wright is the author of ten books, three of which (A Scientific Romance, Henderson's Spear, and this one, The Gold Eaters) are fiction. He has traveled extensively and as far as the subject of this novel goes, he is beyond well informed, having written about Peru in his (nonfiction) Cut Stones and Crossroads: A Journey in the Two Worlds of Peru in 1993. Now he's returned with a fictional account of the Spanish conquest of Peru from the point of view of a boy then young man who served as interpreter between the two cultures.
Without going too much into plot, basically this novel came across to me as a sort of coming-of-age story set during the conquest of Peru. The main character is Waman renamed Felipe (who, by the way, is not an Inca). He is only a kid when he decides that he needs to see more of the world and go off on adventures of his own; by the time the book is over, he is a grown man. In the time in between he's been captured, taken to Spain, learned Spanish, returned to Peru, served as interpreter, and has lost contact with his mother and with the childhood companion he thinks about all of the time. As he moves through Peru with his captors, he watches hopelessly as at first smallpox decimates a large proportion of the population and afterwards, the Spaniards take advantage of the situation and move to subjugate the remainder. Although he has a foot in both worlds (conquerors and conquered), as he becomes older, he becomes a conflicted soul, wondering exactly who he is and trying to discover where his loyalties actually lie. Most of this story is revealed through Waman's point of view, although perspective also moves among different characters as the book progresses.
When I was a kid I fell in love with stories about explorers -- then that bubble got burst once I moved past the crap that they feed you in your early school years. Once I realized that the conquistadores were not just explorers but that they decimated indigenous populations and forced them into Catholicism, I lost all romantic notions I might have once entertained about them. In The Gold Eaters, Wright doesn't leave much to the imagination -- there are some pretty despicable scenes in this book depicting the depth and breadth of the cruelty meted out by the Spaniards. There's a lot of action going on here, and that's all well and good, but some of the best parts of this novel for me were watching as the Peruvians (for lack of a better word) try to make sense of what's going on as their lives are completely disrupted by forces well beyond their control. While some of the people had an inkling that this was not going to be a good thing, others who were disgruntled with the reigning Incas made alliances with the Spanish, leaving the door open for Pizarro and his forces to come in and take over. The fact that there had recently been a civil war in the empire also made it possible for the conquest to happen so easily.
My take on this book is this: considering the horrific tale Mr. Wright has to tell here, the novel could have been much more forceful in the telling. It's a compelling story, to be sure, but I found his writing style to be a bit sedate, at least for me. Considering the importance of Felipe's character here, he often comes across as a bit flat (at least I found him to be so). However, as far as I know (although I am definitely not an expert on all things books), The Gold Eaters may just be the first large-scale, fictional epic dealing with the conquest of Peru, so it is most definitely worth the read. It may not be, in my opinion " truly the gold standard to which all fiction — historical and otherwise — should aspire," as noted where ever you turn for info about this book, (originally accredited to Buzzfeed), but it does bring something new to the table.
I didn't love this book as much as others seem to have, so if somebody in the US wants my copy (hardcover, signed), it's yours. Free, I'lllike a 3.6
I didn't love this book as much as others seem to have, so if somebody in the US wants my copy (hardcover, signed), it's yours. Free, I'll pay postage. Someone please give it a home!!!!
Here's part of the blurb: "In her wildly inventive debut novel, Naomi J. Williams reimagines the historical Lapérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France."
I didn't actually choose this book for myself; it was the choice for October from Book Passage's signed first editions club. However, when I read that very same blurb paragraph, I was immediately hooked and into the vacation book bag it went. I have this strange fascination with all things seafaring explorers, and I figured this was going to be great. And for a time, I was well into it. Landfalls begins with a visit to England by a French naval engineer who's come in disguise to pick up needed things for the voyage of two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, both of which are under the command of Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse. The expedition (thankfully there's a great map of Lapérouse's travels in the front of the book) went from 1785 to 1788, at which time no more word was ever heard from le Comte or from anyone else still with him. I say "still with him," because like many other voyages of the time, a number of the explorers/crew on this expedition didn't survive some of the ever-present dangers of contact with other cultures. In real life, according to Wikipedia, Lapérouse vanished from the face of the earth somewhere in "Oceania;" Williams puts his last sighting somewhere in the Solomon Islands.
But back to the book. It is labeled as a novel, but to me it read much more like a collection of vignettes that occur before, during and after the expedition. Once the expedition begins, the author's major focus here is not life on the sea but rather the "landfalls" the ship makes. For example, in Alaska, a young Tlingit girl witnesses her first Europeans and a major tragedy, which she tries to relate from her own cultural point of view; as another example, in Monterey California, the story switches to a series of letters back and forth in which Spanish missionary contact with the French explorers is related. Another episode is related in Concepción, Chile, where Laperouse finds himself in a bit of competition with an expedition member for the wife of his host, wrestling with his conscience because of the wife he'd left behind.
The best chapter in this entire book is "The Report," in which an officer is commanded to produce a report after a horrific tragedy, and as he works his way through it, the reader is made privy to a terrible revelation. Indeed, there are many moments in this book where the reader is right there at some major event, feeling what the characters feel (the scene in Concepción with the hot-air balloons, in Monterey where the good Catholic priests beat their religion into the indigenous people, or a much later scene where the character watches in despair as the hope of rescue disappears on the horizon). Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn't quite do it (as in the scene through the Russian winter), and on the whole, I came away feeling like my job as a reader here was to put a series of disjointed stories together to cohere as a novel which wasn't really my responsibility at all.
Despite my negative niggles though, there is much to enjoy about this book, especially in how Ms. Williams reimagines and interprets an expedition that most people have never heard of. But it's not just the expedition itself that captured my interest. She goes big and bold, for example, in the chapter "Lamanon at Sea," where she imagines a scientist's return to France in the midst of the Terror, offering her readers a look at the sort of society in which Enlightenment ideals have gone wildly astray leading to social and political upheaval of the worst sort. The way she writes this part of the chapter is just unbelievably good and I found myself at various points in this book unable to put it down.
So far readers are loving this book. The Historical Novel Society rates it positively, as does Katherine A. Powers at The Christian Science Monitor. I have to agree that Landfalls is a highly intelligent work; had it not felt so disjointed and jarring and distinctly non-novelish, I probably would have enjoyed it much more than I did. Still, I would most definitely recommend it to anyone who likes quality historical fiction. I will also say that it is very, very obvious that Ms. Williams has spent a LOT of time researching her material, something that the history person inside of me greatly appreciates....more
Right around mid-December, someone in the publishing industry posted his/her list of best crime novels of 2015, and this book walike a 3.75 rounded up
Right around mid-December, someone in the publishing industry posted his/her list of best crime novels of 2015, and this book was on it. I remember thinking that at the time I bought it, it didn't really seem like a crime novel, and I thought the reference on the best-of list was kind of weird, so I plowed through the translated fiction shelves, found it, and decided I needed to read it. The more I read into it, the less it appealed to me as a crime novel and more as a novel of historical fiction. This proves to me that it's highly likely that whoever it was that had it down on his/her idea of the best of crime list probably had no clue what he/she was reading (which is scary when I think about it) -- while there is definitely a crime involved here, it is not at all the central focus of this story. So if you're planning on reading it thinking that it's your next crime-fiction read, don't even go there.
I will say right up front that I really liked this book. Some things detracted from my reading, such as too much in the way of repetition (yes, we know that one of the main characters loved and was highly influenced by Rilke but we don't need to constantly be reminded), and some seriously-obvious contrivances (especially in terms of the crime that frames the story) that prevented me from oozing love over the book. And I know this will sound sort of weird, but here and there while reading I kept saying to myself "this is way too obvious," but then again, that's a me thing. I will also say that once I got used to all of the distractions, I found a really, really good story here.
The novel begins at the end of World War II, as the narrator, Yuichi Watanabe, tells us. At the age of twenty, he is "behind bars" at Fukuoka Prison, having exchanged his "brown guard uniform" for "red prisoner's garb" since the Americans (who have occupied Japan, of course), have "classified" him as "a low-level war criminal," charging him with abusing prisoners. He doesn't deny that he's guilty; au contraire, he knows that yes, he has "yelled at them and beaten them," but he also realizes that part of his guilt was in as he says, "doing nothing." He "didn't prevent the unnecessary deaths of innocent people," he "was silent in the face of the insanity, " and he'd "closed" his "ears to the screams of the innocent." Before the actual story begins, though, Watanabe clues in his readers to the fact that what he's about to say isn't solely about him, but rather
"about the war's destruction of the human race. This story is about both the people who lacked humanity and the purest of men. And it's about a bright star that crossed our dark universe 10,000 years ago...My story is about two people who met at Fukuoka Prison."
And thus begins the novel in full, comprising Watanabe's story, which begins with the horrific murder of a prison guard who was also in charge of censorship duties. Watanabe is tasked with the investigation into Sugiyama's death, but this young man, whose mother repaired and sold books and who developed a deep and abiding love of literature while growing up, is also tasked with Sugiyama's censorship duties, which to him are abhorrent. It is an interesting setup, really, because while the investigation of the crime acts as a frame getting us into the workings of the prison, underneath all of that is the story of the last days of a Korean "resistance" poet named Yun Dong-Ju, (1917-1945) who was arrested supposedly for political activities, but in my opinion ( at least via this book), his only major crime was being Korean. It is also a story about the power of literature to transform even the hardest of souls, about the enduring legacy of literature, about freedom, about different forms of both resistance and oppression, and about the plight of the Koreans under Japanese colonial rule. As Watanabe tells us regarding Yun (but really, speaking for all Koreans), "he was no longer free, but he hadn't ever known how it felt to be free; no Korean was free."
One of the very best things I discovered about this entire book is the author's focus on language. On page 164, Sugiyama notes the following:
"So language wasn't simply a tool to convey meaning. It was the charter of a human being that contained a nation's history..."
As just one example, Koreans were not allowed to use their own names; instead they were required to take Japanese names and in the prison, at least, were punished if they tried to use their real ones. They were also not allowed to write in their native language. Some wonderful scenes occur in the novel around this terrible and oppressive law, but there are many, many others as well that combine language and the concept of resistance to produce some incredible moments here.
Aside from my grievances about the detractors I listed (which obviously are personal to me and may not bother anyone else), I was actually very impressed with this novel, and it really is one of those books that's stuck with me. I read it over the course of two long plane rides and a two-hour layover (I had my nose stuck in it even while eating self-forbidden Tex-Mex in Dallas) and couldn't put it down. It's one I can definitely recommend -- it is a lovely yet horrific portrait of a bygone era, one that is not forgotten and which still resonates I would think, among Koreans. ...more
All the Light We Cannot See is a novel I probably wouldn't have bought when out looking for something new to read, but it was an Indiespensable pick sAll the Light We Cannot See is a novel I probably wouldn't have bought when out looking for something new to read, but it was an Indiespensable pick sent to me by Powells book store. Despite all of the hype it was getting at the time, it's been sitting on my shelves for a long time now unread. However, earlier in the year, a number of people in my book group thought they'd might like to read it, so I took it out, cleaned off the shelf dust and read it, since it's the first book-group read after our summer hiatus. In the meantime, the book won the Pulitzer, so I was, of course, pretty eager to get to it. Once again, I a) am torn in my reaction towards this novel, and b) find that I am once again the proverbial fish swimming upstream against the tide of readers who LOVED this book or thought it was the best novel they'd read all year. There are spoilers below, so proceed at your own risk.
Let's get the positives out first. I think Mr. Doerr is a good writer, although there are a lot of issues around structure and plot points that I have with this book. There were moments where I couldn't help but to get caught up in the story because, well, I love reading about this period in history. Describing the panic, the uncertainty, and the realization of the French people that the Nazis were in their country to stay was very well done, and I especially enjoyed the sections describing the steps taken to safeguard national treasures in the museum of natural history. I felt Doerr was at his very best though when writing the scenes depicting Werner's time in the Hitler Youth academy -- when these scenes cut to another, I couldn't wait to get back to them. My god. I was just floored at how young children were taken into this place -- where "only the purest, only the strongest" would be admitted -- and then taught most brutally that weakness of any sort would not be tolerated. And then, there's the story of Frederick, who refuses to become like everyone else; what happened to him just about had me in tears. To me, if the author had written only about the Hitler Youth academy and the things that happened there combined with Frederick's story, that would have made for beyond-excellent, gut-wrenching reading.
On the other hand, I wasn't too far into the novel before I realized that overall, this is a YA story set in Occupied France. I'm not very fond of YA novels as a general rule, and as the whole book is playing out I'm seeing the movie running through my head with the brightest young stars of today (I don't know who they are since I don't really watch this sort of thing) playing the lead roles of Werner and Marie-Laure. Second, and in one of the most unforgivable aspects of this novel, (view spoiler)[I knew exactly how this story was going to play out, after Marie-Laure's great-uncle Etienne revealed himself as the voice behind the radio broadcasts Werner and Jutta used to listen to as children. Considering that that happens on page 159, there really isn't much left in the way of surprises in this book. (hide spoiler)] Third, I don't get the way the author cut his story timewise. Normally time shifts don't bother me, but this time around I found myself having to go backwards in the novel to remember what happened in what year. It's jagged and extremely disconcerting, but even worse, it makes absolutely NO SENSE.
Yes, yes, I know, it's one of everyone's favorite books, but it definitely wasn't one of mine. I also figure I'll be the only one not going gaga over it at this month's book group meeting, opening myself up to whatever scorn the rest of the women want to heap upon me. Sorry - I just can't help it. ...more
review shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. Ireview shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. I'll even pay postage. ...more
I'm not really sure how to rate this novel. I could go on about how there is a ton of detail here, some of which could have been left out or pared dowI'm not really sure how to rate this novel. I could go on about how there is a ton of detail here, some of which could have been left out or pared down and on how some of the material verges on cliché, but I have to say that for me this time, it was purely about story. I mean, it's not often I read a 500-plus page novel and manage to finish it over the course of a weekend, but Fingersmith is just the sort of book that enables that to happen. And as if the 500-plus pages I'd just read weren't enough, I had to watch the BBC adaptation immediately after finishing it.
Yep - it was all about story this time, and what a story it is! I really can't go into much detail because this is such a twisty novel that to tell would be to spoil. It's so twisty, in fact, that I got to the first major surprise and did a huge gasp nearly making me choke on the almonds I was eating at the time. I remember at the time thinking "that's f***ing brilliant!" but as it turns out, there were more twists to come. The plot is about as nefarious as it gets and quite frankly, while it's not my favorite Waters novel (that's a tie between Tipping the Velvet and The Little Stranger), it had this way of lifting me from where I was back into Victorian England and shutting out the rest of the modern world while taking me there (okay - speaking of cliché, I get that the last part of that sentence was one, but well, it is what it is).
Fingersmith is a page-turning novel done in Victorian style and while the plot is so twisted, it's really the people here that are the main focus. And oh my gosh - Sarah Waters can write people so very well. She can also channel Dickens very nicely in her descriptions of London streets and slums, and I will say that the tv drama captured Lant Street as I pictured it in my head while reading.
Lovely book -- my advice: forget anything critical, go into it just for the story, have fun with it, and stay away from any spoilers. Readers like myself who are very much into older works will love it for the atmosphere; readers like myself who enjoy Sarah Waters' novels will definitely enjoy it for her ability to lift you out of where you are while inside of it. It took long enough, but it's a book I'm very happy I finally took off my shelves and read. ...more
First: if you're thinking a) that this is a book about a group like TAPS or some other paranormal investigation group, or b) that it's a full-on ghostFirst: if you're thinking a) that this is a book about a group like TAPS or some other paranormal investigation group, or b) that it's a full-on ghost story, you may be a little disappointed. However, if you can get past those two obstacles, and you don't mind a little melodrama here and there, you may enjoy it. I absolutely hate giving ratings, but I'll give a 3.8 rounded up to a 4.
The Ghost Hunters is really several stories meshed into one -- first, there is the story of Sarah Grey, a young woman living with her mother who in this book became confidential secretary to Harry Price, the subject of the second story, a "psychical researcher" and debunker of fake mediums during a time when spiritualism was at its heyday. The third story focuses on the "most haunted house in England," Borley Rectory. When I first bought this book I thought I was getting a horror story, and even though it didn't completely turn out that way, I was totally amazed at just how good this book is. While there is a bit of overdo on some parts of the drama, the novel as a whole is highly atmospheric,and there are definitely parts that will send shivers up your spine here and there, and parts that will satisfy any ghost-story lover's craving for a solid ghostly tale.
The narrative is related mainly by Sarah Grey, looking back over her life and career from 1955. Her story begins in 1926, two weeks before she turned 22. Her widowed mother, having lost her husband during the war, is very much into spiritualism, and on this particular day in January, Sarah is reluctantly accompanying her to the gala opening of Harry Price's new laboratory. Sarah disapproves of her mother's interest in mediums and seances, thinking spiritualism to be in "poor taste," and also believing that instead of focusing on the dead, people should be thinking about moving on. The laboratory is paid for by funds from the Society for Psychical Research, "equipped with the necessary scientific equipment," and is a place where "men and women with open minds can test the mediums unhindered by preconceived prejudices." On this night, the two women witness the testing of a medium whose powers seem so real, only to be followed by Price's denunciation of her work as a trick. Price also announces that he does not believe in ghosts, and notes that his "science, psychical research," will leave behind the "cheap mummery of the seance rooms." His comments are objected to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a member of the Society for Psychical Research, famous for his belief in spiritualism, making for an exciting evening. Harry himself is rather at odds with the Society, and makes no bones about his stance on their methods. Eventually, this gala opening turns into a position for Sarah as Price's confidential secretary, as well as his eventual assistant in his debunking activities. It isn't long until Sarah comes across a letter from a Dr. David Chipp, who also attended Harry's lab opening, and who finds that his own experiences are "at odds" with what Harry had to say. The letter goes on to tell about several eerie things that happened to him during a visit at the family home of a colleague and friend, Borley Rectory. Chipp tells Harry that perhaps he should investigate the place for himself. Sarah alerts Price, who is not at all interested, and the matter drops until sometime later when a story is written in the newspaper about Borley Rectory and the experiences of the new tenants of the place. As it turns out, the reporter who wrote the piece, Vernon Wall, is eager for Harry to visit, because he himself had traveled there and witnessed some things that "confounded all reason." With Sarah in tow, Harry meets Wall at the rectory, and what happens during this investigation will have an impact on the remainder of Sarah's life.
While, as I noted earlier, this isn't a horror story per se, there are some spine-tingling moments in this book that aficionados of ghost stories and haunted house stories would love. Mr. Spring details each and every event so well that I got totally immersed in the Borley scenes and didn't want them to end. The author incorporates actual sources into Sarah's account; in fact, to be really honest, since this was the first time I'd ever heard of Borley Rectory, I thought they were all fake until my post-read curiosity got the better of me and I discovered that there really is a place called Borley Rectory, and that there really was a person named Harry Price. The book also provides an atmospheric quality that gets under your skin as you read; whether or not you are in the Rectory, you can't help but wait for that next little jolt of fear to hit. On top of all of this, the author also sets up a running theme of deception and its costs.
When all is said and done, Harry Price turns out to be a character loaded with irony, and the author sets things up so that it isn't up to the last that we discover exactly what that irony entails. The "secret" Sarah carries around with her isn't so earth shattering when revealed, but even with this little bit of drama (a tad bit overdone, imho), she is also an interesting person both with and without Harry Price. There are many side characters who also come to life here -- most notably, the tenants of Borley Rectory, past and present.
Overall, considering I went into this book with the wrong expectations, I really enjoyed it ... just the perfect thing for a windy/stormy night's read. ...more