I'm late to the Lafcadio Hearn party, having only read two stories in this collection before picking up this book -- "The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi" and "Yuki-Onna," which have long been personal favorites. There are seventeen actual "Kwaidan" in this book, and then a section by Hearn called "Insect Studies," three compositions that in their own right are definitely worth reading. Ranging from out-and-out creepy ghost stories to monks roaming the countryside where various monsters, demons and other creatures seem to abide, there is never a bad note struck throughout the entire collection.
At seventeen stories, I'm not about to go into each one, but my favorites in this volume are "The Story of Mimi-nashi Hoichi," "Yuki-Onna," "Rukoru-Kubi," and "The Dream of Akinosuke." All are intense, and all are simply excellent.
The stories are short but their length doesn't affect their potency; by virtue of being stories that have been handed down over several centuries, the reader also gets a look at ancient Japan from different angles, from the world of the samurai on down to that of the lowliest peasant. It is a world of constant upheaval in terms of the physical world and also vis a vis the traditional social order. One major exception is "Hi-Mawari," a story that takes place in Wales, obviously penned by Hearn himself. After the kaidan section is finished, the reader moves into Hearn's "Insect Studies," where he dwells on butterflies, mosquitoes and ants. While you might be tempted to skip them, don't. They're absolutely fascinating, drawing on traditional folklore, etc. from Japan and China.
I realize that not everyone is going to admire these stories like I do, but I love all things Japanese and this collection was simply superb. It might just be a good opening into all sorts of kaidan for a novice reader, and there are several works available in English that would make for great follow-up reading.
I absolutely loved this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. ...more
Obviously I haven't read this book yet, but I do have an extra copy, so if anyone would like it, and you're in the US, it's yours! Just be first to leObviously I haven't read this book yet, but I do have an extra copy, so if anyone would like it, and you're in the US, it's yours! Just be first to leave a comment and I'll gladly mail it to you. ...more
for the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girfor the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girl in the Villejuif area of Paris has more than a few people on edge. The murder itself is not an event in this novel, but what happens to the protagonist of this novel, M. Hire, is based on fallout from the fear surrounding the killing. It all begins when the concierge of M. Hire's apartment building spies a bloody towel on his washstand while delivering mail, and she makes the leap that M. Hire must be the murderer, setting this story in motion. From that point on, M. Hire's daily life is scrutinized unceasingly, except at night in the privacy of his apartment, when he watches the beautiful red-haired woman in the apartment across the way. However, everything changes for M. Hire when one night he realizes she is watching him as well.
What will strike anyone who's familiar with Simenon's Maigret series and then reads this novel is the huge difference between the two. The series novels tend to work toward a solution, have a policeman as a main character who cares about some sort of justice and has definite clues to follow. Here, Simenon sort of turns the roman policier on its head, and the result is one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. It is a fine example of his "roman durs" ("tough" novels), much more serious "in tone and intent" than his series novels; it is the term Simenon used "to refer to all those novels that he regarded as his real literary works."
The Engagement is short, but don't let that fool you -- it is a beautiful book that should be (imo) on everyone's reading list. Most especially recommended for people who prefer reading about people over plot. ...more
Since I've finished this novel and won't be reading it again, I'm giving it away. If you live in the US and you want this book (a signed edition, mindSince I've finished this novel and won't be reading it again, I'm giving it away. If you live in the US and you want this book (a signed edition, mind you!) it's yours. Free. I'll pay postage. Just be the first to leave a comment.
Oh dear. I sort of find myself swimming upstream again as far as my take on this novel.
For me, Wolf Winter is a liked it, didn't love it kind of novel -- it's something I probably wouldn't have chosen on my own and I probably wouldn't have even considered reading it except for the fact that it was an Indiespensable selection that just arrived. As far as the historical aspect, it's very well done -- exploring (among other things) the connections between Sweden's king and the church, the king and the people during the ongoing war, and enforced Christianization as opposed to the religious beliefs and practices of indigenous people. The book also paints a portrait of a woman struggling to survive on her own in the middle of a horrible winter in 1717. The sense of place that is evoked through this author's writing is excellent.
On the other hand, it seems like it is yet another book designed to catch as wide a reading audience as possible, incorporating a 14-year old girl who hears and sees things the others don't, a murder mystery, the supernatural, etc. ... I even saw it listed as "Nordic Noir" somewhere. And there's a reference to "fans of Jo Nesbo" on the inside dust jacket cover. Jo Nesbo? -- no way. The obvious comparison, of course, is to Hannah Kent's outstanding Burial Rites, with the most obvious parallel between the two found in how people managed to live in remote areas and survive in unforgiving conditions. They are also both historical novels, and there is a murder in both as well. But clearly, imo, Burial Rites is the better novel.
So here's my bottom line ... it worked for me as an historical novel, but many of the rest of the elements put into this book gave it a "cluttered" sort of feel, which was really distracting. If you can get past all of the extraneous stuff going on here, it is a good historical fiction novel and I'd recommend it as such. ...more
4.75 rounded up Since Penguin sent me a finished copy of this book, if anyone is at all interested in my arc copy, I'll be happy to mail it to you (if4.75 rounded up Since Penguin sent me a finished copy of this book, if anyone is at all interested in my arc copy, I'll be happy to mail it to you (if you're in the US). Just please leave a comment.
This novel begins with a suicide foretold and the revelation that the main (unnamed) character's grandfather was killed quite possibly by an entire village who then may have proceeded to cover up the incident. At first I thought it makes for a great mystery plot, but it surprised me: not long into the novel it launches out into an amazing story, becoming much more a book about connections. The main character here suffers from a strange affliction called prosopagnosia, a condition in which a person cannot recognize faces.
While it does become sort of laggy in places, frankly, I was downright impressed with this author's talent and if his other novels are anywhere close to this good, someone should be translating more of his works. I can't thank Brooke at Penguin enough for asking me if I might be interested in reading this book. It's not one of those books that everyone's going to fall in love with, but I am one of those people who reads to appreciate what's inside someone's head, and this book does that and does it very well.
Just one more thing. Early on in the novel the main character's father advises him to read Borges' short story "The South," and after finishing this novel, I did just that. I advise anyone who is a Borges reader to do the same....more
I'm still playing catch up here -- I actually finished this book about a week ago.
As usual, you can certainly feel free to choose between the longer,I'm still playing catch up here -- I actually finished this book about a week ago.
As usual, you can certainly feel free to choose between the longer, more detailed review at my online reading journal or the shorter version here.
To my intense delight, Erlendur is back -- albeit as a young patrolman on the night shift -- in a prequel to the entire series. On his regular shift one night, young patrolman Erlendur receives a report that takes him to the scene of the drowning of a homeless man who went by the name Hannibal. Since it didn't seem to investigators that there had been any foul play, CID assumed that Hannibal's death was an accident, and the case goes cold. After all, the man was known to be a tramp, CID "had other fish to fry," and basically "no one seemed interested." Erlendur, however, had known Hannibal prior to his death, having crossed paths with him now and then, and just shortly before Hannibal's death, had listened to Hannibal when he'd claimed that someone had set fire to the cellar where he was living. Like everyone else, Erlendur didn't believe him. Now, a year later, while Hannibal is just a name on a file tucked away somewhere in police archives Erlendur can't forget him. Flying under the radar of his superiors, he decides he has to find out what really happened to this lost soul that night. But Hannibal's case is just one of two cold cases Erlendur can't forget. The case of a missing wife from the proverbial other side of the tracks in one of Iceland's better neighborhoods haunts him as well.
For people who have given this book less than a good rating because they found the crimes uninteresting or even boring, well, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, and it's certainly true that people approach books differently -- but if you're judging this book on the basis of the crimes and crime-solving, in my opinion, you may have missed the point.
The very best element of Reykjavik Nights (imho) is not found in the crimes, in the idea that true evil doesn't discriminate between the best and worst neighborhoods in any city, in the social issues, or even in Erlendur's clandestine investigations. It lies with Erlendur Sveinsson himself. Even though he's very young and hasn't yet started on the career path as a detective where he ends up with the dream team of colleagues Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg, the Erlendur whom readers know from the regular series novels is all anchored right here -- the loner, the traditionalist, the seeker of lost souls. Since I know how things are going to turn out for him later, I found myself, for example, actually upset when he started dating future ex-wife Halldora, because well, as everyone knows, that's just not going to turn out well. It hit me while reading this book just how very much I've ended up investing in Erlendur over several years -- that may sound kind of stupid since he's a fictional character, but I suppose it means that Indridason has created a character whose life I actually cared about. To be very blunt, I can't honestly say that about most the characters in most crime fiction novels I read.
I think this book works best for people who've already read the entire series. It's much more simplistic than the other novels, and I'm inclined to believe that the author did that on purpose to keep the focus on Erlendur himself, rather than on the crimes. I appreciated the obviously slower pace for that very reason....more
Once again, Halfon has entranced me with his writing, his travels, and above all, his storytelling. I was especially struck by something that he saidOnce again, Halfon has entranced me with his writing, his travels, and above all, his storytelling. I was especially struck by something that he said here while writing about his grandfather " a story is really many stories," and that "a story grows, changes its skin, does acrobatics on the tightrope of time." This is more or less how he himself writes as he tells of traveling from place to place in an effort to uncover how people (including himself) define/identify themselves. Is it through religion? He is a Guatemalan Jew, but his Orthodox Jewish sister, for example, tells them on a visit home that "as far as she and the Orthodox rabbis and teachers saw it," the rest of the family weren't Jews. Is it through place? His grandfather's siblings all fled Beirut at the beginning of the 20th century, each ending up in a different country. Through experience, memories or history? In the names our parents give us? Through the eyes of others? In the clothes we wear?
The book may only consist of 150+ pages, but it speaks to very big questions. It also speaks to the art of writing. Halfon may be not be the most reliable storyteller, but even there, not all stories are built on absolute truths, a point he very clearly gets across not only in this book, but in his earlier book The Polish Boxer as well. People who are expecting a tidy ending in either book might be a bit disappointed, but Halfon is on a journey, and as he notes,
"all our journeys are really one single journey, with multiple stops and layovers...every journey , any journey, is not linear, and is not circular, and it never ends." (83)
I loved the bird imagery in this book, and that of walls - but even more, I absolutely love the way this man writes. Highly, highly recommended.
my sincere thanks to LT for offering me the chance to read this book, and to Bellevue Literary Press as well. Both of Mr. Halfon's books are truly outstanding. ...more
I can't begin to tell you how much I hate star ratings. They don't really reflect a) how much I enjoy/can't stand a book, and b) they're rather subjecI can't begin to tell you how much I hate star ratings. They don't really reflect a) how much I enjoy/can't stand a book, and b) they're rather subjective at best. But I'll go with a 3.75 here.
The blurb for this novel by Times UK reads "an absorbing psychological thriller," and I'd go along with the "absorbing" part of that statement. Thriller, no. So if that's what you're expecting, forget it. However, getting back to absorbing, that's precisely what it is -- with some very twisty bits along the way. I've done a longer review with a highlightable spoiler section (since I give an opinion on what would have been a better ending) at the crime page of my online reading journal; if you go there, be sure you've read the book before you start highlighting.
here's the gist:
A woman in her 70s returns to her family home after being away for some time in a convalescent hospital. Her physician son, Martin, comes every so often to see her to make sure she's okay; otherwise her only company is her housekeeper, and Elsa Préau has a lot of time on her hands. One Sunday afternoon, she is awakened from her nap by the sound of a swing squeaking and the sounds of children at play. Watching out her window, she notices a little girl and two boys outside playing in their back yard. Watching the Desmoulins children becomes a pastime for Elsa, and she notices the same thing every week: the little girl playing with her younger brother, while the older boy sits still and quietly, "constructing totems with bundled twigs and flat stones" under a weeping birch tree. The more she watches, the more she notices that the older boy has very little interaction with the rest of the family. She also never sees him with the other children when they're out walking with their father. She starts keeping a record of what she sees, along with other observations, in a small moleskin notebook, writing about the dirty condition of the older boy's clothing, his grayish skin, that he only went outside on Sundays, and that he never played with the other two. She's drawn to him not only out of curiosity, but because he has an incredible resemblance to her grandson. In her notebook, she begins to refer to him as "the stone boy." Determined to get to the bottom of things, she starts asking around, only to find out that according to the local school, the social welfare office, and the little girl herself (who has started taking piano lessons from Elsa), that there are only two children living in the house behind Elsa's wall -- that the "stone boy" does not exist. Elsa decides it's time to take matters into her own hands.
I am of two minds about this book. First, I thought it was very well written, especially because the author has constructed a story that plays quite nicely on reader expectations and then proceeds to turn them all on their respective heads. Ms. Loubière also weaves some powerful contemporary issues into the story through Elsa's letters to the mayor and other officials as well as in her notebooks and in the last few pages where all is revealed. I have to admit to being so wrapped up in this story that everything else just sort of fell by the wayside and I accomplished absolutely nothing at all during my day while reading it. But after finishing it, I realized that this book could have had a much better ending that unfortunately I can't reveal without giving away the show (hence the above-mentioned highlightable spoiler section at the reading journal blog).
A book that had me as wrapped up in it as this one did can't help but be good, and I'd definitely recommend it. This is not going to be one of those novels that goes down in the annals of great literature, but it's a great way to while away the hours on a rainy day. It's also an amazing character study much more so than it is a thriller, and the way the writer plays with our heads is simply topnotch, ultimately delivering a one-two punch that will hit you in the gut.
There are very few novels that have ever a) made me squirm while reading them and b) made me feel like I really ought to go and wash my3.75 rounded up
There are very few novels that have ever a) made me squirm while reading them and b) made me feel like I really ought to go and wash my hands each time I set the book down, but this one succeeded in doing both. At the same time, the novel is compelling enough so that I couldn't not pick it up again -- the characters are so repulsive that I just had to keep reading.
If you want plot outline, etc., you can click here to go directly to this entry in my reading journal blog; otherwise, read on for what I think about this book.
Summer House With Swimming Pool leaves the reader to examine the motivations of each and every character in this novel, especially those belonging to Schlosser, who as narrator is the only source for what actually happened. The reader knows from the outset that there's something not quite right with him; as he goes about dispensing his own observations on his world, he interjects the teachings of one of his old university profs whose own bizarre beliefs got him tossed out of the academic world. Parenthood, especially the raising of daughters is a huge theme -- here these young girls are thrust into a space of irresponsible adult behavior that creates an obviously sexually-charged environment. How do parents protect their daughters in this situation? The question of violence and what might set it off in otherwise outwardly "normal" seeming people is also examined. And as noted above, the adults in this novel are pretty repellent -- and one would think that the good doctor would learn something from his experiences, but well, I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not this is the case.
There's always more going on underneath the surface in this novel, and despite its repulsive characters and very difficult material (especially as the parent of a young daughter), I couldn't help but remain mesmerized throughout. It's twisted, disturbing, and definitely not for the squeamish -- and despite all of the uncomfortable squirming in my chair while reading it, it's even sometimes darkly funny. However, it was always compelling me forward. My only criticisms of this novel are a) the ending sort of faltered -- for one thing, the main character just sort of ran out of steam in comparison to the rest of the novel, and for another, considering the tone of the rest of the novel, it just didn't pack as big of a punch as I would have expected; b) the action sort of sags in the middle before it picks up again. Bottom line though: I liked it and would easily recommend it. I probably should have started with Mr. Koch's The Dinner; I'll be pulling that book out here very shortly. And I'll also say that should another one of this author's books be translated and published here, I'll be one of the first people to buy it. ...more