I was too, at first (I judge books by their covers before anything else, all the time). When I saw this novelAre you influenced by the cover as well?
I was too, at first (I judge books by their covers before anything else, all the time). When I saw this novel available for early review from the University of Iowa Press, I was tempted to request it based on the cover alone. But then I backed off, until I started seeing glowing reviews by other early reviewers and decided to take it on.
And, actually, I liked the writing more than I might have expected.
But I was awfully confused for much ofOkay, so I was a bit taken in by the cover.
And, actually, I liked the writing more than I might have expected.
But I was awfully confused for much of the time. Other reviewers have indicated that, despite this being the fourth in a series, it can be appreciated as a stand alone. I'm sure that's true, but I'm also sure I may have been less confused and I certainly would have been more emotionally invested in the protagonist detective, David, if I knew his backstory (i.e. previous three books).
Never Coming Back was just released as Tim Weaver's debut novel in the United States. This always confuses me a bit: sure, it makes sense to release his most recently written and published novel but when it's fourth in a series, I think it makes a a bit more difficult to hook in and engage readers.
Another early reviewer (early for the UK release several months ago), indicated that their confusion about the time switches was somewhat alleviated by the different chapters changing fonts. Unfortunately for me, I had a digital galley and did not have this benefit, so I remained confused at times and somewhat disengaged.
So... I think I'd like to try Tim Weaver again, but to start will the first in this series, so that I can appreciate the protagonist and the series development more than I could while attempting this novel....more
More than twenty years ago, I loved the Griffin and Sabine series. I owned all the books and regularly re-read them for the pleasure of the envelopesMore than twenty years ago, I loved the Griffin and Sabine series. I owned all the books and regularly re-read them for the pleasure of the envelopes and letters contained within.
So for me, it's impossible to experience a book like S. by J.J. Abrams (contained within is Ship of Theseus) without reminiscing about Griffin and Sabine. While that series will certainly always hold a bright spot in my readerly memories, the modern interpretation of an interactive book like that, S./Ship of Theseus is much more sophisticated and technically advanced. While the letters in Griffin and Sabine were a marvel for their time, if you found one just lying around somewhere, even back then, you would quickly be able to determine that it was from something like those books. The range of the printing and quality of the "authentic" letters was limited and easily spotted. Although some wear and tear to the ephemera contained within Ship of Theseus would even better serve the effect, if you found a letter from this book just lying on a sidewalk somewhere, you would very easily perceive it as being a real letter written from one person to another. The effect isn't complete, but it's damn close to being there.
If you haven't heard of this novel, it's not too surprising. If you have, it's probably due to the connection to J.J. Abrams. I've never watched Lost, though I might some day. And to be honest, his oeuvre just hasn't really been on my radar. Basically, I was vaguely aware of him. Which means that when I saw this book (contained within the slipcase of S.) at the bookstore, I bought it completely on impulse, unable to see what was inside the sealed slipcase, but sensing it was something special. I'm typically aware of books often for months before they are released. But had I not stumbled over this one in the bookstore and/or heard subsequent pieces on a couple of NPR programs about it, I'm not sure I would have ever known of it. It's an investment, and it's unlikely to be at your public library. The letters and postcards, yellowed obituary, and map sketched on a very authentic feeling cafe napkin, were difficult for me to contain while I was reading it; stocked in a library, this book would be stripped of its extras in very short order.
Abrams didn't actually write the book. Abrams is said to have conceived of the idea when he saw a battered paperback novel sitting on a bench in an airport (pre-2001), and began developing the idea of such a book as a communication between two people. The actual writing and execution of the book was turned over to Doug Dorst. The presentation of this project is so very well done that it had to have been damn expensive to produce and I cannot help but speculate if it would have ever been completed had it not been connected to Abrams.
Ship of Theseus is a novel written by V.M. Straka in the early 20th century. S. is the marginalia within the book, the contemporary story of an exiled graduate student and an undergraduate using the book to discuss with one another their theories about the mysterious Straka. They write back and forth to each other, and the reader can distinguish between the two characters by handwriting and then between the different times they wrote in the book by ink color and content.
I spent the majority of the book judging whether, if stripped of all the extra physical things, the contemporary story could hold up. For a long time, I thought it could but near the end, I'd definitely changed my mind. This isn't a bad thing; just that if you get ahold of an not-intact copy of the book, you would easily be deprived of some elements. I was also quick to have an early judgement that one or both of the story lines could be lacking due to the novelty of the presentation and also due to the potential desire to appeal to a wide audience.
My final judgement is mixed. Ship of Theseus held more meatiness than I expected (let's just say that if you were squeamish about the button eyes in Coraline, you'll have problems here, too). It was the storyline that actually better held my attention, which I hadn't expected. S. was also more layered (multiple theories and overlapping timelines) than I anticipated. Unfortunately, this element was an unexpected drawback for me. I'm not sure whether the months that it took me to complete this book (primarily due to other commitments, not the book itself) were detrimental to my reading of S., but I became confused and lost the threads about the different theories concerning Straka. If the code-breaker contained within the book was supposed to be utilized, I certainly never figured it out. I also felt that the danger the characters were supposed to be in fell utterly flat.
In rating the book on a five-star system, it's best broken down by its three parts:
Ship of Theseus: 4 stars
S.: 3 stars
Presentation of the physical whole: 5 stars
In all, I loved this experience. When I first brought the book home and my boyfriend saw it, he exclaimed that it reminded him so much of books he read growing up, of library books back in the 1970s (it even has a real dewey-decimal sticker on the spine, which grew progressively ragged as I dragged it around). Whenever he saw me reading it, he would notice the bits and pieces and ask, "Is this really from the book?" The effect is startling and sensual....more
Didn't enjoy this as much as the first Chet & Bernie short but it was a fun, quick read (kind of confused when it was over, it ended so abruptly).Didn't enjoy this as much as the first Chet & Bernie short but it was a fun, quick read (kind of confused when it was over, it ended so abruptly). Includes an excerpt from the new full length Chet & Bernie mystery....more
It is only a factor of my busy life right now that I didn't manage to finish this book until this week, when it's just been released in paperback andIt is only a factor of my busy life right now that I didn't manage to finish this book until this week, when it's just been released in paperback and I'm going to a talk/book signing with the author tonight at my favourite local independent bookstore, The King's English Bookshop.
I bought the hardcover the day it was released, though, and am appropriately shamed that I didn't manage to read it earlier. I'm not going to marvel - as so many reviewers have - at how incredible it is that this book is written by a debut author. I don't like that assumption that debut authors cannot manage such an excellent narrative with their first books.
This story is a fictionalized version of the final months of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last young woman to be publicly beheaded in Iceland, in the early nineteenth century. The story is related in alternating points of view: third person from the family who is forced to harbor Agnes on their farm after her death sentence is handed down but before her execution, third person from the reverend she requests to guide her in her final months, and first person from Agnes herself. The setting is cold and claustrophobic; the writing is intimate, warm, dark, gorgeous:
"Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there, licking the grass flat upon the ground, not caring whether the soil is at a freeze or thaw, for it will freeze and thaw again, and soon your bones, now hot with blood and thick-juicy with marrow, will be dry and brittle and flake and freeze and thaw with the weight of the dirt upon you, and the last moisture of your body will be drawn up to the surface by the grass, and the wind will come and knock it down and push you back against the rocks, or it will scrape you up under its nails and take you out to sea in a wild screaming of snow." (page 302)
"You will be lost. There is no final home, there is no burial, there is only a constant scattering, a thwarted journey that takes you everywhere without offering you a way home, for there is no home, there is only this cold island and your dark self spread thinly upon it until you take up the wind's howl and mimic its loneliness you are not going home you are gone silence will claim you, suck your life down into its black waters and churn out stars that might remember you, but if they do they will not say, they will not say, and if no one will say your name you are forgotten I am forgotten." (page 305)
These selections I've chosen are close to the end of the book and so represent Agnes' thoughts in her very final days; they may come across singularly as rambling and stream-of-consciousness, which isn't necessarily a representation of the whole of the narrative. I chose them because I found them to be some of the most beautiful lines in the book.
I imagined that inherit in this story would be questions and thoughts about capital punishment, and that Agnes' story would be presented as more black and white. And perhaps other readers might see these elements as the primary focus of this narrative but for me, I felt more intensely the roles and lives of women in Iceland during this time (a description that always makes a book sound academically dry and preachy - don't let me make that sound like the case here...), and about the nuances in our actions; some things we do can be seen by all as having the same purpose and intention but each person will walk away with a different moral judgement of that action....more