Gone Girl Vs The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climed out the Window and Disappeared

September 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction | 9 Comments

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Having read both these novels on a recent holiday I was moved to review these stories against each other because when compared one shows the other in a poor superficial light and the other, not only in comparison, is a truly beautiful and well crafted literary story.

Overwhelming consensus currently says ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn is the literary thriller of the year which I disagree with with gusto! Gone Girl is neither literary nor thrilling. The story is based upon a married couple in the thirties who are beautiful, successful and in love. Their world is then rocked by the loss of both their jobs and a radial move from New York City into the countryside where husband Nick cares for his terminally ill mother while attempting to start a new business. When his wife the beautiful Amy disappears Nick is judged as not reacting appropriately and for not being sufficiently upset and therefore catapulted into the role of lead suspect.  What follows is a convoluted and complex story that squirms and turns and becomes grandiose,complicated, stretched thin, malicious and requires a huge amount of suspended disbelief from the reader.

Because Gillian Flynn can logistically explain all the far-fetched components she throws into her novel this does not make it clever. There is good tension and malice in the story as it progresses and a couple of interesting characters, namely Nick and his sister Go, but it is dissatisfying that the plot is catastrophically unconvincing. This novel seems to want to say that we can never really know anyone no matter how close we get. But there literally are thousand of other graceful and evocative expositions of this idea that didn’t feel the need to allude to trashy violence or grandiose plot turns. We can see this idea in some of Jonathan Franzen and Ian McEwan’s works and they understand how to gently awaken this idea in their readers.

one hunded year old manWhen compared again ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’, ‘Gone Girl’  cannot stand up. Jonas Jonasson has told a touching and comic tale of a hundred year old Allen Karlsson who escapes from his nursing home shortly before his hundreth birthday party is due to begin. Going on the run he lets events unfold as they may and engages with all walks of human life and all kinds of adventures allowing his instincts to be his guide; ‘The hundred-year old man had never let himself be irritated by people, even when there was good reason to be, and he was not annoyed by the uncouth manner of this youth. But he couldn’t warm to him either, and that probably played some part in what happened next.’

The story at regular intervals also tells the life story of Allen Karlsson in tandem with the adventures of his hundredth year which reveal Allen’s intrinsic presence at some of the twentieth centuries key moments. Moving, funny, human and interesting this novel delivers all which readers looks for. It promotes the spirit of good literature and storytelling and unlike Gone Girl its artistic merit can support its inclusion of darker scenes.

The books in Haiku; Gone out the window, but the window is open, Jonassons breeze blows.

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The Dinner Herman Koch

August 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Book Club Ideas, Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, The Dinner | 6 Comments

‘The Dinner’ Herman Koch published by Atlantic books

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The international bestseller ‘The Dinner’ is the talk of the town at the moment. An interesting set up of four characters, two brothers one a retired teacher the other a successful politician and their wives, who have come to dinner to discuss their children and a very serious shared problem. Koch is obviously a talented writer who structures his story on the four courses of dinner served to the couples in this very high-end Amsterdam restaurant. It laughs at contemporary cuisine, capricious parenting and upper middle class moonshine and does this well. ‘ I took the check from the saucer and looked at the total. I wont go into all the things you could do with a sum of money like that…And I won’t mention the figure itself, the kind of sum that would make you bust out laughing. Which is precisely what I did.’

Through the main character, Paul Lohaman’s narration it is clear early on there are serious familial tensions and very fundamentally different core value systems at play with each couple; ‘…it is surprising and amazing to behold; how my brother the oaf: the lumpen boor …the easily bored dullard whose eyes start to wander at every subject that doesn’t have to do with him, how this brother of mine on a podium and in the spotlights and on TV literally begins to shine.’

Paul Lohman’s narration reveals very unsettling ideas and opinions and the reader begins to thoroughly dislike this character which is fine. However at an odd pace and before perhaps the novel has earned the right to the story descends into a very dark and nasty place. With violent acts and thoughts pervading and coming through with disturbingly far right and ultra conservative smugness. This Koch does very well and it is satisfying to intensely dislike characters and every step they take. However it feels like Koch is pointing his finger at something both malignant and tangible in society that he really wants us to take note of, that we can feel is there, but he hasn’t gotten to the core of it not like ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ did or how ‘American Psycho’ did.

Perhaps it is because this book is highly readable that is has become such a bestseller. Perhaps in our busy lives we want a novel that points at our serious sociological problems but is easy and quick to digest. If this is true then ‘The Dinner’ delivers however dealing with such large scale issues too superficially in a novel can leave a reader underwhelmed.

Haiku; A criminal act, does not come out of nowhere, what is to be done? Continue Reading The Dinner Herman Koch…

Kate Morton’s ‘The Secret Keeper’ panmacmillan

June 11, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment
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‘Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start if the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster.’

During a party at her family farmhouse, sixteen year old Laurel from her childhood tree house is witness to a criminal act that gives life to Kate Morton’s abundant epic of a novel ‘The Secret Keeper’.

Now a grown woman and revered actress of her time, Laurel and her family reconvene to the family farmhouse for the last time with their beloved dying mother. Returning after so long to her family home in such sad circumstances Laurel is overwhelmed by memories and an urge to solve the secret of what actually happened that day.

Through research as the National Library Laurel’s journeys back in time to London during the blitz where she attempts to piece together a war torn story of friends, lovers, orphans, secrets and personal tragedies all of which have her mother at the heart of them. 

Kate Morton’s story is evocative with a notable tenderness for her female characters and children she describes. Kate’s characters find themselves mixed up together in ways that would never have come about without the war. Her characters share the sorrow of losing loved ones and the hardship of wartime but their differences in personal circumstances and social classes are toxic. 

This novel is dripping in mystery, is full of well conceived characters and has a very well researched backdrop of war time London blitz making it a glorious page turner of a novel.

http://www.katemorton.com/the-secret-keeper/

Haiku: As the bombs drop down, Dorothy and Vivien, drop bombs of their own. Image

 

 

Rules for formulaic fiction

April 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Posted in House Rules, Popular Fiction | 4 Comments
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House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Hodder 2010

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House Rules is Jodi Picoult’s seventeenth novel and the first Jodi Picoult book I have read. The title refers to the rules that govern the home of Emma Hunt and her two sons one of whom Jacob lives with Asperger’s Syndrome;  an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

The plot is quite interesting; Jacob’s social skills tutor is found dead and Jacob’s mother can’t rule out the possibility that Jacob may have killed her due to Jacob’s preoccupation with forensic science and crime scenes. Jacob’s Asperger’s behaviors– not looking people in the eye, yes/no answers and stimulatory tic’s coupled with his kooky hobby make Jacob appear guilty to the police and prosecution team. Emma must summon all her maternal courage and finances to defend Jacob in a trial that tears through their family life and house rules.

The novel has a cast of characters just as you imagine it would need. A handsome and struggling young lawyer, a brave single father town sheriff, a renegade father who left Emma and her sons when Jacob was first diagnosed. Emma is the most thoughtful character in my opinion who shows the rationale and love you would expect of a devoted mother. The novel is driven by hundreds of small chapters of each characters viewpoint which do weave together to show a well plotted driven novel.

Would I read another Jodi Picoult novel? No probably not. If this novel is symptomatic of her other sixteen novels it’s as if I have read them already. Although well researched it felt formulaic. Although quite compelling it felt quite empty. Jodi Picoult’s website however deserves respect, full of reading aids and book club questions it reveres the art of the novel and while her novels may not be to my taste they obviously are to millions of other readers.  Image

House Rules in Haiku: Jacob and Emma, together look for the truth, but can it be found?

Tigers in Red Weather

February 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Popular Fiction | 1 Comment
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Image Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann Picador 2013

Tigers in Red Weather is a family epic starting at the end of World War two which is successfully told from five familial perspectives  culminating in a family portrait which only the reader is privy to. It is such an accomplished and insightful read it is hard to believe that it is a debut novel.

The plot spans two decades beginning with main characters husband and wife team Hughes and Nick who are young newlyweds setting up home after Hughes return from the Navy. We are then introduced to Helena Nick’s cousin with whom she is extremely close. Both women are determined to defy normality and the status quo in their lives at all costs.  Nick’s cousin Helena is preparing to leave for Hollywood and a new life and Nick is determined never to be a bored housewife.

Over two decades the two women’s lives unfold in ways neither of them predicted. Disillusionment sets in and is softened with gin soaked summers spent together with their families in Tiger House where white picket fences and tennis lessons abound. This is also a coming of age story for the women’s two offspring Nick’s daughter Daisy and Helena’s son Ed with a midsummer murder  worked into the plot. By their attempts to defy convention oddly the two women find themselves and the love they crave. Following the five narratives we see the consequences of the two women’s attempts at avoiding conventional life at all costs subverting family life and allowing darkness into their lives.

The story is well plotted, interesting and Klausmann’s writing is meaningful. It is a character driven novel all of whom are well developed and is a very enjoyable picture of a family growing from the early 1950’s to 1970’s dotted with fine and beautifully written insights into human life and love along the way. For regular readers of middle weight fiction this will not disappoint.

Haiku: Tigers all about, where you might not expect them, will create a storm!

When is a book review any use?

November 13, 2012 at 11:29 am | Posted in Book Club Ideas, Literary Academy | 1 Comment
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It seems of late that a lot of reviews of newly released fiction are over enthusiastic and vague leading readers in search of a compelling and original read astray.

Big literary figures comments appear on the backs of new novels celebrating fictional triumphs the like of which we have never seen before but often these claims turn out not to be true.

Clever marketing can lead readers astray and with an explosion of debut authors and a sea of fiction how can we pick a book that suits us?
While choosing a book can always be a risk, especially if the author is new, here is  Sarah’s Books list of ways to reduce this risk!

1. Trust yourself and follow your interests: no matter how attractive a book is or how compelling the marketing drive, if you’re not interested in political crime/vampires/chic lit/historical fiction you will not enjoy the book!

2. Take note of the publisher on the spine of the books you like. A favourite publisher of mine is Bloomsbury I know they are purveyors of fine interesting fiction that suits me.

3. Stick with reviewers that you trust. E.g The Guardian newspaper reviews and Eileen Battersby’s recommendations rarely let me down as I like their taste.

4. Get to know the booksellers in your local bookshop. They will be the most discerning and well read people and can make individual recommendations just for you.

5. If your local bookshop has a blog or does book reviews use them.

It’s Sarah’s Books 2nd anniversary to celebrate here is 2011 in review

January 27, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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  

Michael Ondaajte interview for Mountains to the Sea Festival 2011

September 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | Leave a comment

Michael Ondaatje was interviewed last night as part of the DLR Mountains to the Sea Festival last night by the wonderful Belinda McKeon. His interview  fell on the first night of the festival and what a magical opening launch it was. Belinda introduced Michael describing his writing as achieving an unparralled dream like quality which is very apt. Michael read from his new novel ‘The Cat’s Table’  enchanting the whole audience and proved in the interview to be just as interesting and grounded a person as his books are. Sarahsbooks is looking forward to reading Michael’s new offering and invites reviews from anyone who has read it already!

An Independent Author

August 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Literary Fiction | 2 Comments
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‘Independent People’ Halldor Laxness Vintage Books 1946

I was inspired to read Halldor Laxness’s ‘Independent People ‘ because of its similarity to Rose Tremain’s most wonderful novel ‘The Colour’ which dealt with the mid 19th Century New Zealand gold rush. In ‘The Colour’ the characters pursuit of  dreams of gold become for them in tandem a source of all-consuming hope and madness.

  ‘Independent People ‘ deals with the struggles of early 20th Century Icelandic sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson who pursues a dream for independence above all things in the social reality of  capitalism and materialism of his time. Very like Tremain’s characters  Guðbjartur is stubborn and often brutal in his pursuit of his dream in the middle of which World War 1 breaks out and becomes for Guðbjartur a financial asset as the price and demand for his mutton soars.

After working for eighteen years for a wealthy landowner Guðbjartur earns enough money to buy a piece of land to live off and marries the beautiful but tragic Rosa whom he frequently leaves alone in winter in dogged pursuit of familial independence.

Rich in scope and emotion this is a rewarding novel that earned the author a Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. It’s capitalist and materialist  indictments are balanced by the characters involvement in Icelandic folklore culture in particular the poetry of rural Iceland that survived and blossomed during these times.

Not an easy read but the most rewarding novel’s are often demanding of their readers. As rich and eloquent as a novel should be and its economic theme is  not lost in our current climate.

Click here to view this book in DLR Library Catalogue. 

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