Elizabeth is Missing

March 17, 2015 at 2:06 pm | Posted in Award Nominated, Elizabeth is Missing, Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Popular Fiction | 2 Comments
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Elizabeth is Missing

Harper Collins 2014

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What a treat Elizabeth is Missing is! Author Emma Healey has weaved a dream in which we move with the main protagonist Maud, an elderly lady who is living with ever encroaching dementia, senility or Alzheimer’s (it’s never quite confirmed which and it’s lack of a label doesn’t seem that important a detail either).

Maud’s children are grown, her husband passed away and Maud has carers who come in daily to assist her. Although they help they also display a significant absence of empathy and respect towards Maud, as do many of the other characters. Where others fail in their due process towards Maud, Maud displays great self-respect by constantly reminding everyone that her friend Elizabeth is missing. No matter how many times people tell her to stop or patronise her she doesn’t stop telling everyone and trying to solve the mystery. She upholds her dignity in her pursuit of the truth against the tidal wave of her dementia and the unhelpfulness of everyone else.

The plot is so cleverly woven like a piece of embroidery, flowing from Maud’s recollections of youth to the current day struggles and binds she finds herself in. Stories are layered on top of each other building a platform of truth, however uncomfortable, upon which the seventy year old mystery of why Elizabeth is missing is revealed. A rewarding and evocative novel that I wish I could read again for the first time.

Emma Healey   The book in haiku: Someone is missing, a memory has been lost, now finally truth.

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The Signature of All Things

February 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert

Bloomsbury 2013

What a wonderful treat ‘The Signature of All Things’ is. I was initially put off buying this book by Elizabeth Gilbert’s fame from the arguably precocious ‘Eat Pray Love’ but thank goodness I suspended my judgement because this novel is truly awesome in every sense of the word. It’s literary, compelling, different and spiritually underscored. It follows the life of Alma Whittaker a girl born at the turn of the century in the 1800’s to a father who has built an import export empire on his own steamy grit, taking no prisoners on the way. Alma is intelligent, diligent but not conventionally good looking and in no way destined for a typical life of a young lady of her time.

Alma develops a lifelong love for botany and a strong business mind under her father’s tutelage which is sometimes welcome and oftentimes forced. Her work takes her to deep questions about evolution which in turn take her on several journeys; emotional, physical, financial and spiritual

I can’t do this book near enough justice with my review. Alma is such a real and complete character, the setting of Philadelphia is such an apt backdrop for this story and every step it takes you on just feels so right and most splendid of all where the story ends is so glorious for professional women.

Elizabeth Gilbert Ted Talk 

Gilbert

The book in haiku: Read, enjoy, wonder, forget how to eat, pray love, renaissance woman

McEwan reigns

November 11, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, The Children Act | 2 Comments
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Ian McEwan ‘The Children Act’, Jonathan Cape 2014

 The childrens act

Ian McEwan is a master storyteller. In his latest novel he brings us on a journey into the moment of a life of a very successful high court judge, Fiona and the personal and legal challenges she simultaneously faces.

McEwan employs his impressive skills of engineering a plot and grinding the wheels of prose to tenderly lament a marriage in peril after thirty years and to bring us on the journey of Fiona’s greatest professional challenge – the case of a seventeen year old Jehovah’s Witness boy who is refusing a lifesaving blood transfusion on the grounds of his religion.

To compare this novel to ‘Solar’ or ‘Saturday’ would be an easy thing to do but not appropriate, for this novel relays something that has provoked McEwan’s sensibilities and interest and perhaps it is this suspect personal feel that distinguishes this novel from his others.

The Guardian, in their review of ‘The Children Act’ observed that McEwan is fascinated with ‘great institutionalized authorities’ in the upper echelons of society – his protagonist in ‘Saturday’ from the esteemed medical profession and in ‘Solar’ a research scientist. Now in ‘The Children Act’ a high court judge. His deluges into Fiona’s personal difficulties however feel more poignant and sit a little less easy than journeys with his previous characters whose theatrical personalities lend themselves to plots of great scope and pace.

What does McEwan feel about Fiona and her situations really? I’m not sure by the end of the novel but I know her view of the world and her vantage point from the legal profession captured his imagination and I felt glad to have been moved by some deeply beautiful prose;

It could be just like that, a poisonous obsession, an addiction drawing him away from home, bending him out of shape, consuming all they had of past and future, as well as present.

Either way unbearable.

Unbearable and fascinating. And irrelevant.’

The Children Act in haiku

Legal vantage points

Logic and closed emotions

Verdicts that flounder

The Secret History Donna Tartt

April 4, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Award winners, Middle Weight Fiction, Popular Fiction, The Secret History | 1 Comment
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secret_history_penguin1

It is understandable how Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ became a long-term bestseller and conquered a place in so many book lovers hearts. The story centered on a group of young bright affluent students at an exclusive Vermont College in the 1980’s roaming wild and burning through money is exceptionally engaging .and compulsively addictive.

The young group is composed of a variety of apparently sympathetic characters Richard who, unlike his peers, is on a scholarship to the exclusive college and is at great pains to conceal his blue-collar roots, twins Camilla and Charles known for their manners and gentle ways, Henry the emergent leader of the group remarkable for his adaptability to changes in circumstance and ability to mix easily with all sorts of people and also Francis and Bunny who enjoy all life has to offer with great self-assurance. What the characters all have in common is that they are all students of the charismatic erudite Professor  Julian  Morrow who teaches them Classics exclusively to a level of detail and reverence far above the academic norm.

Inspired deeply by their passionate teacher a few members of the group perform a Dionysian rite one night (a rite designed to work the worshiper into a state of ecstasy in order to feel the power of the gods through wine, dancing and often sexual expression) but the rite has truly gross consequences for the group which go on to drive the plot to even wilder and darker places and the death of Bunny Corcoran (whose death is revealed to the reader in the first line of the novel). the-rites-of-dionysus

Do not look for redemption, regret or guilty melancholy from this group, as a reader the novel demands that one must think much bigger when it comes to this motley crew and contemplate openly Donna Tartt’s brilliant subtle suggestions that Henry may himself be the devil incarnate and that in this existential world absolutely anything is possible once you have the nerve and stomach for it.

The plot is set in the familiar routines of college life against the rich dripping backdrop of the classical world of Greek and Latin language, prose and poetry. Donna Tartt’s prose is just so accomplished that at times it feels like God himself has lifted the telephone to call you personally and reveal some select mysteries of the world;

‘…there was never any doubt that he (Henry) did not wish to see us in our entirety, or see us, in fact, in anything other that the magnificent roles he had invented for us: genis gratus, corpore glabellus, arte multiscius, et fortuna opulentus – smooth cheeked, soft-skinned, well-educated, and rich. It was his odd blindness, I think, to all problems of a personal nature which made him able at the end to transmute even Bunny’s highly substantive troubles into spiritual ones.’

donna tartt pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

The novel in haiku; murderous thoughts fly, money and nerve conquer all, but it takes just one

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.

 

 

 

Unaffected, funny and very cool

March 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Biography | Leave a comment
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Rhoda Janzen, ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ , Atlantic Books January 2011

I would love to meet Rhoda Janzen. When I finished ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ (which is written with fantastic candidness and panache) I felt like I had been into Rhoda’s life, read her diary, looked at her credit card statements, seen the contents of her fridge, listened in to her phone calls, gone through her wardrobe, looked at her photo albums… and whats worse I want to know more! The more an author lets you in the deeper a reader will want to go into a story. What is even better than her honesty in this story is the fact that as a person and in her writing Rhonda is unaffected and charming and the same can be said for the story itself.

With  fluid humour and light self-deprecation ‘Mennonite in a little Black Dress’ is a super page turner of a book. Rhoda Janzen, a former poet laureate in the University of California, English Lecturer and all round academic, writes her life story so far (she is only forty-three) in this memoir of growing up in and returning to the Mennonite Community in which she was raised. Atlantic Books have been great for quirky accessible human interest stories (‘Cockeyed’ Ryan Knighton, ‘Fortune’s Daughter’s’ Elizabeth Keogh & ‘God is Not Great’ Christopher Hitchens) so it was very easy to make the decision to pick this one up.

Rhoda’s husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man named Bob whom he met on Gay.com. In the same week Rhoda is involved in a terrible car crash. Her physical and emotional injuries send her back home to the Mennonite Community from once she fled where she begins a sabbatical from her lecturing post. Nursing her broken bones and heart Rhoda reflects on her life spent with a bipolar husband who makes insane impulse purchases like a $385 pair of gloves on Rhoda’s credit card she also reflects on the heavy traditions of the Mennonite Community in which she grew up where everything from dancing to convenience food was banned but where love was abundant.

Rhoda’s writing had me sniggering and snorting ungracefully with outbursts of laughter. She is the kind of funny that can only be achieved with candid honesty and an appreciation for the unique problems that simply being human bring.  Many stories are worthy of being told but only a select few make it to the New York Times bestseller list and this book did I think because how much the reader is allowed in. There is nothing more fascinating than reading in delicious detail about someone else’s life decisions, finances and love life.

I highly recommend this wonderful story, it is so uplifting and bright I almost want to fashion a petticoat and bonnet….

Click here to borrow this book from DLR libraries

Haiku; Mennonites flourish, aetheist husband flounders, Rhoda’s true home found.

What to look for in a memoir…

February 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Biography | 1 Comment
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I would as a reader generally shy away from reading memoirs and biographies as often even the most interesting stories are so heavily grounded in narrative they become disengaging. Candia McWilliams memoir ‘What to Look for in Winter’ is movingly different. She sets the narrative of her suffering at the loss of her sight against the often tragic but beguiling story of her life producing a well paced and plotted memoir.

McWilliams was judging the Booker Prize in 2006 when she first began to lose her sight and when we meet her in the book she is Cambridge educated, part of the English aristocracy has been married twice  once to an Earl and emerged out of these relationships with three children and a wicked drinking problem.

I believe in person there is an other worldliness quality about McWilliams and a striking beauty , the same can be said about her writing. Her memoir has a detached tone when describing her experiences which mirrors McWilliams own withdrawal from the world. Throughout her life she gains and loses many things; husbands, homes, health, self respect….she probes each experience with her beautiful literary eye pulling together the sense of her life with the aid of a Cambridge inspired vocabulary.Her strong sense of self is paraded out through confident prose and language, meaning becomes jewelled in language. In one particularly beautiful scene McWilliams daughter asks here why she likes the royal family and her explanation encapsulates the ideology of the royal family with a very clever perspective.

Her experiences at times are physical (the loss and re-gain of her sight, horrific battles with alcohol), at times they are heavily emotional self-destructive, ugly, romantic, poignant but the eye with which McWilliams looks at her own life with is so probing that all these experiences and battles with herself are beautiful because they are self aware.

It is with deep self-awareness this memoir is written and that’s what sets it apart from the others. That and the extraordinary life McWilliams has so far led. One reviewer of McWilliams describes her like ‘a northern princess gazing  out of a cold castle onto icicles and pale eyed wolves’ and this is truly apt.

Haiku: Candia’s language, shiny diamonds in the dark, luminescent life.

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

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