No Solace here

October 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction, Solace | Leave a comment
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Belinda McKeon ‘Solace’ Picador 2011

I really like Belinda McKeon, she has written eloquently for the Irish Times for many years, has curated the DLR Poetry Now Festival and I always enjoyed her keen observations and contributions on ‘The View ‘ . I waited in anticipation for the release of her long promised debut novel but am so sorry to report I was so disappointed with  ‘Solace’.

‘Solace’  has a highly unoriginal plot of a thirty year old Irish man cutting ties the family farm to pursue his studies in the capital city where he manges to fall for the daughter of his fathers only enemy from back home with ‘devastating consequences’. The story itself places restraints on the writing, it does not act as a vehicle for any new or innovative message or emotional evocation, family dynamics are well enough documented in McKeon’s prose but are drowned in a narrative that fails its author’s ability  and although the story is tense there is little sense of tension created in the writing.

This is one occasion where I wish I was wrong, this is a light not a literary story with uninspiring narrative progression and slow character development, actually by the novels end I couldn’t see that the main character was changed by any of his experiences at all. If McKeon wanted to evoke life outside the Country’s capital in this story it is a flat attempt whereas Kevin Barry’s short stories ‘There are Little Kingdoms’ evoke  this tenderly.

I am confident of McKeon’s abilities and look forward to future more assured writing. When I expressed my disappointment to family and friends they were very surprised having read luminous reviews in much national media which is correct this debut novel has been in critical reviews very well received however looking deeper into readers reviews online they were in contradiction collectively critical and disappointed with what was poised to be a sparkling debut.

Below are some links to various reviews of Solace to add to this debate.

Good Reads

Independent.ie

Independent.co.uk

Rocksbackpagesblogs.com  

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This is not a dream………..

June 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Sex and Stravinsky | 1 Comment
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Sex and Stravinsky’ Barbara Trapido, Bloomsbury, May 2010

Not unlike Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Barbara Trapido’s new novel is a  story of demented romantic and filial love but unlike Shakespeare’s comedy for Trapido’s characters none of it is a dream.

The choices of two sets of couples are compounded by impulse and coincidence. Caroline a beautiful and brilliant tall Australian falls under the charm of Josh a Jewish South African who both in pursuits of their careers come to live in England. Meanwhile Hattie and Herman make a life for themselves in South Africa unaware of the momentous connection they have with Caroline and Josh.

The story is set between Trapido’s native South Africa and England during the late 1970’s gracing the story with scope and bathed in the historical half-light of South Africa coming out of apartheid. The geography of the two locations allows the idea of serendipity to filter through as the story’s tenant. No matter how far these characters diverge from the paths they were meant to go down fate will find them and realign things to how they should be. This in an oridnary novel could be bland but Trapido is under the wing of Bloomsbury publishers who never publish anything but inventive writing.

Like magic, although Trapido’s novel makes confusing and rapid choices if you believe in her, the incredible becomes completely credible.

 

 

 

A charming and skillful story

April 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Award winners, Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, The Housekeeper and The Professor | 6 Comments

‘The Housekeeper and the

Professor’

Yoko Ogawa April 2009

A brilliant old mathematician lives alone in his run down two roomed house in Japan on his sister-in-law’s property. Due to an accident in 1975 he has lost his power to create new memories. He cannot remember anything for longer than eighty minutes and so still believes it is 1975. But he does remember the mathematics he studied prior to the accident and living in this abstract manner comes to be his saving grace.

A housekeeper is dispatched by her agency to work for the old man taking care of his home and meals. She is a single parent to a young boy and the trio come to share a deep and tender relationship within the limits of the old man’s disability. The tenderness and empathy the housekeeper and her son develop towards the old man quickly surpass the boundaries of their professional relationship with him and as with many a good novel there are consequences to this.

In this beautifully evocative novel empathy finds its place between each of the characters own fragility. The writing allows the plot to develop naturally and the abstract nature of number theory creates another depth to the story. The evocation of Japan and it’s food is very moving as is the story’s natural flow showing Yoko Ogawa’s skill as a writer.

This was originally published in Japan under the title The Professor’s Beloved Equation (博士の愛した数式 and sold four million copies. It is a charming jewel of a read.

Click here to reserve this book from a DLR Library

Haiku; Maths and memories, create a tender novel, all readers it will please

Get caught in Picoult’s web…

November 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment

Jodi Picoult ‘Vanishing Acts’ Rearsby, Clipper, 2006

(x14 CDs, 15hr 30min)


Jodi Picoult is fantastic. She is an author who knows the craft of storytelling instinctively and is a mistress of suspense. She is also an interesting person in her own right.  She studied creative writing at Princeton and has a Masters in Education from Harvard and it wasn’t until she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel in 1992.  For such a young author (she is forty-three) her world view is impressively broad and sensitive.

The seventeen works of fiction she has already produced are impressive psychological explorations of  dark occurences in ordinary people’s lives. Her ordinary characters deal with these extraordinary circumstances with deeply interesting psychological and moral perspectives that have spun many readers into a captivating web.

Jodi Picoult’s ‘Vanishing Acts’ is wonderful to listen to on CD. Delia Hopkins, the central character, is a young woman preparing for her wedding who is a committed and successful missing persons  investigator . Picoult has her leading lady living in New Hampshire where she is close to her father who has raised her since her mother’s death when she was four years old and is a loving mother to her young daughter Sophie.

You will like her…no reader wouldn’t that is maybe why when the County Police come to arrest her father one day for the kidnapping of a young girl called you feel her shock as strongly as she feels it…..

Picoult will not win any awards for her literary writing. Although this sounds unkind it is just one way to measure a work of fiction. What she excels in is showing a story so compellingly crafted and human it commands million of fans and you can’t argue with that.

This story is so enthralling that while listening to it in my car I would fumble to change the CD’s to the detriment of my driving. Get caught up in Picoult’s web and I’ll meet you there!

Haiku; No one ever knows, the secrets a small town holds, holding out for love.

Click here to view this CD on DLR Library Catalogue

Click here to read book club discussion questions for Vanishing Acts.

 

 

‘….lyrical beauty and ethical depth….’

November 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment
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In 1995 Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”. I suddenly remembered this when thinking of ways of describing Anne Tyler’s fiction. Anne’s fiction similarly addresses everyday issues and occurences in the course of her characters lives. Far from being mundane her work addresses the mystic nature of these occurences and the complex and rich emotional situations that compliment them.

Anne is as unassuming as her prose which many reviews of her lately are claiming is responsible for her being lesser known than her contemporaries like John Updike. She has been nominated for the Pulitzer prize twice and has won it once in 1989 for her novel ‘Breathing Lessons’ but the media shy American author from Baltimore hasn’t done a book tour nor given a face to face interview since 1977.

Anne Tyler eighteenth novel ‘Noah’s Compass’ is receiving rave reviews. It is not fair of me to ask what is ‘Noah’s Compass’ about it is much more purposeful to ask what does it address. Other authors write books about the same things as Anne but Anne’s skills as an author explore these ideas in an ethical and deep way using minimal but deftly executed prose. The cover of this book I feel is inappropriate as it suggest a pretty light yarn which is not what she delivers.

‘Noah’s Compass’  addresses the problem of memory loss in older age through the story of Liam Pennywell a sixty year old man who has just lost his teaching post and through an unfortunate incident faces down the onset of memory loss. His life is an ordered and minimalist one. Widowed once and divorced once Liam lives a sparse and often detached life at stages. The distress of his sudden memory loss colours his relations with his family and his outlook on life. He is a man with very little to lose and very little he is able to achieve. Anne’s writing skills explore this intimately and you learn how appropriate the title of the book becomes when you encounter it’s use in the story.

A very fine piece of writing in a very fine body of work from an unsung hero of fiction.

Haiku; A light lit cover, in stark contrast with deftly, executed prose

Click here to view this book on Amazon.co.uk

A wonderful thinly veiled disguise…….

September 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment
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Curtis Sittenfeld, ‘An American Wife’ Random House, August 2009.

This is the best page turner I have read in a very long time. At a whopping 558 pages  Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel ‘American Wife’ is a monster of a story but one that is so enthralling it will have you turning the page every few minutes.  ‘American Wife’ is the fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bush and it seems to be a thinly veiled disguise at that. How this novel made it out of the legal deparment of Random House I have no idea…..

The narrative is carried along by some very important life markers in the leading lady’s youth which I will not spoil by revealing. They are used to perfection in the narrative dynamic as the book progresses over it’s almost 600 pages. A technique some modern literary authors could take note of. ..

‘Alice Blackwell’, the novels leading lady, grows up in a middle class family who are highly moral, well educated, family orientated and good people who are somewhat conservative in their take on life. Alice is the most likeable character full of grace and dignity in her conduct. She trains as a librarian, as we know Laua Bush did, and is liberal and open minded so much so she was a democrat somthinga lot of us did not know.

How does she come to marry her husband the most nortorious Republican of all time? Well this is a romantic love story above all and one that also respects the institution of marriage as something that requires commitment and work. An examination of a private and public life lived simultaneously ‘American Wife’ is a fantastic epic yarn.

Haiku; Behind Presidents, often stand quiet women, step foreward Laura Bush.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.com

The author who disappeared

April 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Posted in Award Nominated, Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | 1 Comment

Clare Morrall ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ Sceptre, February 2010

In February 2003 I was blown away by Clare Morrall’s breakthrough novel ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’. It was a superbly crafted, subtle novel. It told the story of Kitty, a diminutive woman, who lives with a condition called synaesthesia through which she sees her emotions in colour. The mysteries of Kitty’s life, in this wonderful novel, explode in what the author was adept to rightly call astonishing splashes of colour. Seven years on in February 2010 I was sadly underwhelmed by Clare’s latest offering ‘The Man Who Disappeared’. The Man Who Disappeared’ is the story of Felix, a husband who abandons his good middle class family and over the course of an unfortunately mundane plot it is revealed he has disappeared due to his involvement in serious money laundering and is on the run from Interpol. There is nothing to hate or like about any of the characters who are diluted and spread bare over the length of the book. There are none of the simmering emotions Clare is renowned for portraying in her novels, no insights into human behaviour, well used language or wildly escalating scenarios as she has provided for us before. Had this novel been by another author who had not received such critical acclaim I would have enjoyed it for what it is; a good yarn and a well enough structured suspense thriller. But it is Clare Morrall’s legacy that overcasts this novel. Clare Morrall was writing novels for twenty years and had manuscripts rejected by almost every publishing house in Britain before a tiny publisher in Birmingham saw the depth of ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ and published it for the then fifty-two year old author. That year ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ was shortlisted for the Booker prize and Morrall took her place among other literary giants on the shortlist including Margaret Atwood, Monica Ali and D.B.C. Pierre (who went onto win the prize).  My admiration for Morall as an author is undiminished as is my admiration for her contribution to literary processes. Unlike Felix the fair-weather husband, I remain loyal, and look foreword to her future writing which I have no doubt will come.

Haiku; Dissapointment comes, in a novel with a red raincoat on the cover.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.co.uk

If comedy is tragedy…

March 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment

Paul Murray ‘Skippy Dies’ Hamish Hamilton, February 2010

I read an article with Paul Murray in which he said he finds writing difficult at the best of times….I’m afraid that this novel betrays that sentiment entirely Mr Murray!  ‘Skippy Dies’ is exemplary fiction.  It is a whopping novel at six hundred and sixty one pages but the turn of each page reflects fluid and very accomplished storytelling. Bravo to its publisher Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books) who bravely published the novel divided into three separate books (called Hopeland, Heartland and Ghostland) in a beautiful slipcase. Paul Murray’s last novel ‘An Evening of Long Goodbyes’ was published back in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize.

The title of this novel opens the first scene where Skippy, a border at Seabrook College for boys in Dublin, dies in a doughnut eating race with his roommate. ‘Skippy Dies’ hosts a range of characters but the main protagonists are Skippy a very gentle  and quiet boy, his roommate, Ruprecht Van Doren, a grossly overweight genius who is singlehandedly raising the GPA of every other student at Seabrook and their somewhat ill-fated History teacher ‘Howard the Coward’.

Skippy dies is highly accomplished. What makes it different from other fiction books out there? It’s the fact that Murray interweaves and uses to great effect seemingly opposing philosophical, scientific and mythological ideas in the story. He effortlessly fuses the magic of Irish folklore with science as if folklore was a way all along to explain unexplainable scientific theories like ‘M Theory’ and String Theory. He uses cosmology as a way to illustrate the beauty of human endeavours and as an antithesis to human behaviour with a potent and lyrical effect.

There is great comic timing in this novel.  I never saw myself chuckling at the foul mouthed and sex driven antics of school boys but I did frequently and often when reading it. However it’s these same characters that take you to the dark side of life also and you’ll find yourself willingly going there with them.  The twists and turns of their young lives set up a plot with a vast range facilitating the exploration of ideas and many dark subjects such as bereavement, domestic violence, abuse and self harm. These are subjects that cannot be simply touched upon and Murray’s novel commits itself to their investigation through his characters development.

Finishing each book you begin to ask more and more just why Skippy dies….and the answer is just as intricate and fascinating as the title implies. It’s like tripping into the light fantastic with these characters whose life lessons and beginnings of self awareness, which are often so witty, take you to some very dark places.  If comedy is truly tragedy Paul Murray has hit the nail on the head with this novel.

Skippy Dies in Haiku; M and String Theory, sex  schoolboys donught eating, greatly accomplished

Click here to view this book on Amazon.com

For every action there is a supernatural reaction…

February 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment

‘Of Bees and Mist’, Eric Setiawan, Hodder Review 2009

Imagine if your actions had supernatural consequences. Imagine the little fib you told or the gossip you participated in manifested itself in a metaphysical way in your life somehow…it’s a thrilling thought and it’s one way to explain the fiction genre of ‘magic-realism’ into which category Eric Setiawan’s abundant debut novel ‘Of Bee’s and Mist’ falls. This is an epic story of three generations of women. The youngest of whom, Meridia is the central character and what a formidable lead character she is. Her parents are locked in what appears to be a loveless marriage and as a result of this, dark supernatural occurrences take over their daily lives. There are ghosts in the mirrors, curses from fortune tellers cause mayhem, a blue mist descends upon the home physically repelling anyone it chooses from the door, Meridia is visited in her dreams by prophecies and EVERYONE is keeping secrets. Removing the alchemy from this book the story would stand up by itself. There are births, deaths, marriages, new businesses started, old friends lost & found and warring mother in laws. Eric Setiawan has a degree in psychology and is masterful in this novel at depicting the tensions and manipulations that can occur within family units. His imagination is a force in itself fusing unearthly occurrences with daily routines. When life runs smoothly for these families flowers bloom out of season, the sun shines in winter, children become complacent and doting but when the families are feuding with each other swarms of invisible bees thwart them, fortunes are lost, personalities change, people grow hooves in place of feet and others are encased in blocks of ice! This book brought back to my mind Isabelle Allende’s wonderful novel ‘The House of the Spirits’ . I recommend it highly. Eric Setiawan is firmly on my one to watch list.

Haiku; Invisible bees, over three generations, thwart daily lives

Click here to view this book on Amazon.com

Welcome Gil Adamson!

February 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | 4 Comments

Gil Adamson, ‘The Outlander’, Bloomsbury 2009

Do you find sometimes you read the same kind of book? Do you like me sometimes get stuck in a rut with what you read? Are you looking for something out of the ordinary but still a captivatingly good page turner?? Then ‘The Outlander’ is for you! This book is nothing like I have read before. The author, Gil Adamson, is a Toronto based poet whose profession lends itself majestically to this fantastic story. It’s 1903 and the heroine of the novel, Mary, is a young widow who is being hunted through the prairies and Rocky Mountains of Canada. The plot is so simple and hinges on two important facts; 1. She is widowed by her own hand and 2. She is being hunted by her late husband’s brothers. Adamson describes the wilderness, the cold, the hunger and the isolation Mary endures so eloquently you feel as if you are experiencing it yourself. It’s also a super psychological portrait of a woman suffering postpartum psychosis. Reading it broadly it comments on people who live outside society, those who are illiterate, different and out of their time. Reading it literally it comments on the resourcefulness of women, mental health and how sometimes marriages can be very unhappy. It’s got a lot to offer a discerning reader. Adamson’s writing has been likened to that of Cormac McCarthys and I can see why. It’s dark, thrilling and psychological but it’s also lyrical and emotive. If you never make it to the Rockies or rural outback of Canada in your lifetime ‘The Outlander’ will take you there instead.

Haiku; Toronto poet, writes a galloping story, that never slows down

Click here to view this book on Amazon.com

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