for a longer look at this novel, feel free to click on over to my online reading journal; otherwise, this is the short version.
The Farm is a multilayered story within a story within a story that is slowly peeled back like the proverbial onion until you reach its core. The opening sequence is a total grabber. The narrator, Daniel, receives a call from his dad Chris telling him that his mom Tilde is sick, that she's been "imagining things -- terrible, terrible things," and that she's been sick all summer. Now she seems to be "suffering from a psychotic episode," and is now voluntarily committed. As Daniel gets ready to make the trip from London to Sweden, his father calls him again to tell him that there's a problem -- Tilde, it seems, is not there; she's evidently convinced the doctors to let her go and now Chris has no clue where she may be. He does inform his son that he is among the people Tilde's been making accusations against, and that "none of what she claims is real." While Chris rings off to check their joint bank account, Daniel gets a call from his mother saying that she'll be landing in London in just two hours and that
"Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police."
From there, Tilde and Daniel sit for hours and hours while she goes through a satchel filled with what she calls evidence of her husband's involvement in a horrible criminal conspiracy. The story she tells reveals much to Daniel about herself and her husband, and by the time the story reaches its conclusion, Daniel comes to realize a lot about himself as well.
The Farm is a twisty novel, one that really plays heavily on reader expectations. The reader, up to a point, takes the same position as Daniel here, that of both judge and jury, having to decide whether or not Tilde's version of things is true and his dad is guilty of terrible crimes, or whether she really does need to be back in a hospital receiving treatment. In the meantime he begins to realize that there are a number of things about his parents he never knew, leading to the idea that maybe we don't know people as well as we think we do.
This is another one of those books where I had to take time to let things come together in my head, but I have to say, I ended up liking it. While there are some spots where the pace seems sort of sluggish, each time Tilde took something out of her satchel things started to heat up again and I was drawn back in and ready for whatever might happen next. The ending comes fast, sort of out of proportion to the big buildup that proceeded it, but it is a bit of a shocker. It also hit home the idea that as much as you may want to ignore the past, sometimes it might be better to confront it. I also felt that since Daniel has such a weight on his shoulders here, he might have shown as much energy throughout the story as he did toward the end, but in the long run, The Farm is a really good summer read that will leave you thinking about those closest to you and the secrets they carry. It's also a heck of a ride.(less)
Moving back and forth in time across an entire century, Everland is the story of two very different groups of explorers in Antarctic...more4.5 rounded way up
Moving back and forth in time across an entire century, Everland is the story of two very different groups of explorers in Antarctica. The first, in 1913, is set in the heyday of British polar exploration; the second, marking the centenary of the first, takes place in 2012. Despite the passage of a full century, unmistakeable and eerie parallels exist between both expeditions.
In March, 1913, the captain of the British ship Kismet dropped the mate and two others off in a dinghy to begin their journey for a short stay at an unmapped island the mate christened Everland. The idea was that while the men, Napps, Millet-Bass, and Dinners, were exploring the island, the rest of the Kismet's crew would be sailing around Cape Athena "for a last geologizing excursion," and would meet back up with the team in just two weeks. The Kismet sails off, but immediately problems set in, beginning with a storm that made the four-hour dinghy journey last about six days; unbeknownst to the three explorers, the Kismet had also suffered in the same storm and had to stop to make repairs. It wasn't until April that the Kismet returned to take the three-man team home, but only one badly-frostbitten, nearly-dead man was found on the island. What happened on that island became the stuff of legend. In fact, one hundred years later, in celebration of another three-person expedition that is about to be launched to Everland from the Antarctic base Aegeus, the film night pick is a 60s "classic" called Everland, a movie the group knows by heart about the 1913 ill-fated venture based on the "famous book" written by the captain of the Kismet. The novel goes back and forth between the two expeditions, chronicling the events during both. The similarities are notable -- the flaring resentments, the tensions, the dangers and ultimately the choices that are made among each team for survival echo across the century.
While both accounts are tension filled and downright distressing in parts, and while there is plenty going on here, the theme running through the book is that that reality is often distorted, replaced to suit various motivations, leaving an altered version of events to following generations as fact and history. In both cases, the stories that emerge comes are products of collaboration and self-serving motivations, while the real truth of both will remain behind forever on Everland. In the meantime, reputations are made, both positive and negative.
This book is in a word, stellar. I've offered only a bare-bones outline, but it's going on my shelf of favorite books of the year. It is a very engrossing read that left me frustrated whenever I had to put it down. Highly recommended.(less)
I'm not giving a star rating here; sometimes books and readers are just not a good fit so I don't think it's fair to assign a subjective number rating...moreI'm not giving a star rating here; sometimes books and readers are just not a good fit so I don't think it's fair to assign a subjective number rating in this case.
Let me just begin by saying that overall, Black Chalk was an okay read that kept me interested throughout the duration, but it also has its flaws, most of which, I'm sure, have to do with the fact that this is the author's first novel. I'll get back to that thought later, but for now, though, here's a little peek inside.
Jolyon Johnson is a first year student at Pitt College, Oxford. He is first befriended by an American student, Chad Mason, who is also new. They meet Jack Thomson, a history student, and end up at the Freshers' Fair, where they scope out a number of student clubs/societies. Chad takes them to the "Game Soc" stall, where he makes a proposal to the Game Soc people for "an entirely original and inventive game," one which grabs their attention.
"Six people, a number of rounds, one each separated by a week. A game of consequences, consequences which must be performed to prevent elimination. These consequences take the form of psychological dares, challenges designed to test how much embarrassment and humiliation the players can stand. Throughout the rounds players who fail to perform their consequences are eliminated until only one is left standing."
The game would be played in total secrecy, the consequences starting out as "humourous dares," and as the rounds progressed, the "consequences would become tougher," although involving nothing illegal or dangerous. The Game Soc. is in, to help with prize money, albeit with a few conditions of their own. Chad, Jack and Jolyon go about recruiting the other three members: Dee, Emilia and Mark. The game begins -- and everything goes along swimmingly, at least at first. Flashing forward to the present, fourteen years later -- Jolyon is now in New York City, a veritable shut-in living in his apartment with all of the windows covered, having to rely on his own mnemonics system to remember what to do each day -- and for him, the final stages of the game that started so long ago are about to begin. The novel is related via journal format, moving back and forth in time. It is in part Jolyon's "confession," but the reader has no clue as to what he means until he/she follows the story back in time.
Frankly speaking, I found the novel to be just okay -- one which, if I had to summarize it in one sentence, I'd call it a story of psychological/head game warfare among a group of people who were once friends, with the author focusing on the lasting effects of the game's consequences. I felt that this idea made for an interesting and different premise, to be sure. The modern-day scenes relating to Jolyon as a recluse were also good and got me interested in how he came to be that way; my attention was also grabbed by the idea of the last days of the game being at hand some fourteen years after it had started. At that point I had no idea a) what the game entailed, b) what Jolyon may have done that prompted his "confession," and c) why the end of the game might be cause for Jolyon to be so concerned. Great set of hooks, actually, and frankly it was the task of figuring this all out via the events of the past that held the bulk of my interest.
I'm of two minds here. First, in some areas, this book proves that old axiom that less is more. As just one example, I think that the author spent way too much time on extraneous things about the group's college years (what they drank, what drugs they took, etc.), as if he had to convince his readers that these people were indeed college students. Throughout the book there were (imho)just too many details that detracted from the a) main thrust and b) the initial dark and mysterious atmosphere of the novel. On the other hand, the opposite is also true -- in other areas, I was left hanging with a lot of unanswered questions, most especially re the Game Soc. It's this freaky, shadowy group without which the game would have never come to pass, but there's only a small bit of explanation as to who they are, not enough to really explain their presence, or why they do this sort of thing (as in what's in it for them), let alone their sustained interest some fourteen years later. And then, after so much time invested in getting to the circumstances behind the initial enigmas presented in the first chapters, when the final "showdown" came along, I found it to be on the anti-climactic side and the ending somewhat abrupt. Plus, when all is explained, the final reveal is sprinkled with a few cliché thriller elements on the side that I'd already figured out very early on.
What I see overall is an intriguing premise and what could have been a very dark and satisfying novel had the author been maybe a little more experienced in terms of writing. I also have to say that while maybe it fell short of my own personal expectations, obviously this is just my opinion. I'm also not here to be purposefully negative -- this is Mr. Yates' first book and yes, he made some mistakes here, but I think if he tries again, he'll be much more aware of the pitfalls. I'd certainly give him another try.(less)
4.5 stars, rounded to 5. I don't often do this, but this book is just amazing.
Frankly, I hadn't even finished this novel yet and I was just floored...more4.5 stars, rounded to 5. I don't often do this, but this book is just amazing.
Frankly, I hadn't even finished this novel yet and I was just floored at how very good it is. This book is painful, yes. Sad, yes, but there are parts sometimes where you can't help but laugh. I also think that especially here in the US, as the debate about the sad state of mental health care in this country is going on, the book is a very timely read. It is also engaging to the point where you may have trouble putting it down. As usual, you can stick with the shorter version below (okay, maybe not so short after all) or you can travel over to my reading journal and read the longer one.
Matt Homes is a 19-year-old schizophrenic who is not only struggling with his own illness, but long-held grief and guilt as well. Writing is his own form of therapy, and as he notes "This is my life ... the only thing I have any control over in my entire world is the way I choose to tell this story." And the author, entirely through Matt's eyes, has written a story that not only has a ring of honesty about it, but also might possibly open up your mind a bit to what it might be like to suffer from a debilitating mental illness, with or without medication. I defy anyone not to be even the least bit moved by this novel.
Matt begins his story ten years earlier with a family vacation, where something goes terribly wrong. Four people -- Matt, his parents, and his brother Simon -- arrive at Ocean Cove Holiday Park, and only three go home. As Matt says of Simon at the outset, "in a couple of pages he'll be dead." The narrative moves through Matt's story before Simon dies, to returning home after his death and the onset of Matt's illness, to his time in a psychiatric ward, to living on his own, and finally, to exactly how Simon died ten years ago. Through it all, Matt's grief and guilt travel with him as he tries to come to terms with both, all while trying to cope with his schizophrenia.
What's so great about this novel is how the author can keep a strain of humor going even while revealing just how much confusion and pain Matt is caught up in as his illness progresses. There are also very realistic moments as Matt starts talking about how repetitive life is on the ward, and the "difference between living and existing."
And then there are the well-imagined characters: Matt's mother and father, both trying hard to carry on after Simon's death and supporting Matt through the onset and progression of illness. There is one scene that I absolutely loved where Matt is escorted to his flat where earlier, his dad had been "quietly painting over the madness" Matt had "covered the walls with." Matt turns on the light and notices that his father had left him a message, "the first and only time my dad has ever graffitied on a wall." His dad had written a note that he never realized Matt would see that said
"We'll beat this thing mon ami. We'll beat this thing together."
Definitely a tear-jerker moment for me. The other characters are also well drawn, impeccably described through Matt's eyes: Nanny Noo, the grandmother who also has a brother with schizophrenia, whose heart must be broken, as Matt notes, "to know that I was next"; Jacob, Matt's best friend who can take care of an ailing mother but for whom Matt's illness is too much to handle; there are also the nurses, staff and patients at the hospital.
I'll say right now that this book is one I'll never forget. It's that good (less)
**spoiler alert** To put it rather bluntly, this book is not very popular among fans of Diane Setterfield's previous novel, The Thirteenth Tale, who I...more**spoiler alert** To put it rather bluntly, this book is not very popular among fans of Diane Setterfield's previous novel, The Thirteenth Tale, who I suppose wanted something more along the same lines in her new novel, Bellman and Black and didn't get it. I sort of feel like one of the lone holdouts -- I actually liked this book. Then again, I went into it without any expectations: even though I also liked The Thirteenth Tale, I wasn't expecting this one to be a carbon copy. I still don't understand why people come unglued when a particular favorite author goes off in a different way than in previous books -- as I've said so many times, it's very unfair and limiting to the writer when readers tend to expect the same thing over and over again.
Set in the Victorian era, as a boy of ten, William Bellman, his cousin Charles and their friend Luke were hanging out on a summer day, and Will tells the others he can hit a bird that was in a tree "half a field away." He had fashioned a perfect slingshot, picked the perfect stone, and launched it, hitting a black bird against all odds. The other boys were impressed; Will was "sick at heart, proud, abashed, guilty." On his way home he glances back to where the bird had fallen and notices a congregation of rooks, all looking in his direction, and he also thinks he sees a boy dressed all in black. He's obviously haunted by what he's done, and while he spends a half week in bed with a fever, he starts to apply what the author calls "his ten year old genius and power" to "forgetting." William's adult life starts out promising -- he is helping his uncle at the family's textile mill and comes up with a number of measures to make the mill more productive and lucrative. He falls in love, marries just the right woman, and has beautiful children -- the perfect life, one others are either envious or proud of. Yet, it's not long until he is faced with several deaths, and at each funeral, he thinks he sees a man all dressed in black. William throws himself into his work rather than deal with his grief; when tragedy strikes and he loses of all of his family members but one, he makes a "deal" with the man in black for the recovery of his dying daughter. William then moves to London and branches out into a new career with death as its centerpiece, and again applies his magical touch, throwing himself body and soul into his work, making it a successful enterprise. And all along he's waiting for "Mr. Black" to return and collect what he's owed.
If you look at the title of this book on Goodreads it is Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story (which is btw, NOT the title on the hardcover copy I bought) and somehow word has gotten out that it is just that, a ghost story. If you read it very carefully, though (and without wrecking the story for others who might wish to read it), you have to make up your own mind -- in some ways, it reminded me very much of Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, which also requires that the reader really examine the "supernatural" events that occur. What I see here is a study of a man who has excelled in forgetting, keeping his grief buried, and who has tried to carry on while unable or unwilling to mourn the tragedies of his life just to function. Seen in that light, this very much character-based story really works for me, explaining a lot of the ambiguities that follow throughout the novel. I will say that while the book is highly atmospheric, William's character may seem to some readers to come off as flat. He is anything but -- his drive, his inner thoughts and his actions all point to a man in a great amount of pain. It's all in how you read it.
Lots of readers have commented on "lack of plot," but again, this is a character-driven novel so the interest lies in trying to fathom what's going on inside of William. I really don't get why people are so negative in their comments about this novel -- I found it highly unsettling and mysterious, haunting, but at the same time the horror here is completely on the subtle side until right at the end when all is made known. Frankly, I couldn't put it down. So what I didn't exactly care about were the rooks-eye scenes; while I get why they were there, they were often a little distracting. Otherwise, it's one I can definitely recommend, and one I'm definitely going to revisit. (less)