AlisonY's leap year literary loitering - Part II
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2016 Reading Track
1. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim - read (4 stars)
2. A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knaussgaard - read (5 stars)
3. Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback - read (4 stars)
4. The Uncannily Strange and Brief Life of Amedeo Modigliani by Velibor Colic - read (3 stars)
5. Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi - read (4.5 stars)
6. Atonement by Ian McEwan - read (3.5 stars)
7. Post Office by Charles Bukowski - read (4 stars)
8. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster - read (2.5 stars)
9 & 10. Basic Bech: Bech: A Book, Bech is Back by John Updike - read (3 stars)
11. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski - read (3.5 stars)
12. Tess of the D'Urbervillles by Thomas Hardy - read (5 stars)
13. The Housekeeper + The Professor by Yoko Ogawa - read (3.5 stars)
14. The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth - read (4 stars)
15. The Steppe and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov - read (4 stars)
16. American Rust by Philipp Meyer - read (4.5 stars)
17. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin - read (4.5 stars)
18. Everything is Nice by Jane Bowles - read (4 stars)
19 Loving, Living, Party Going by Henry Green - read (3 stars)
20. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - read (5 stars)
21. The Warden by Anthony Trollope - read (3.5 stars)
22. Small Wars by Sadie Jones - read (5 stars)
23. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - read (4 stars)
24. Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell - read (4.5 stars)
25. The Dinner by Herman Koch - read (3 stars)
26. Getting the Little Blighters to Eat by Claire Potter - read (4 stars)
27. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan - read (4.5 stars)
28. Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull - read (4 stars)
29. Brief Lives by Anita Brookner - read (4 stars)
30. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut - read (4 stars)
31. A Widow for One Year by John Irving - read (4.5 stars)
32.The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones - read (3.5 stars)
33. Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates - read (4 stars)
34. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy - read (4 stars)
13. Review - The Housekeeper + the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
This book has me torn. On the one hand it is a beautiful story about purity, goodness and friendship - a housekeeper takes a job cleaning for an ex-maths professor whose memory is limited to 80 minutes, and Ogawa wonderfully portrays the warmth of their friendship against the odds of having to meet again for the first time every morning.
The selflessness and caring nature of the housekeeper is very moving, and the Japanese culture of respect for the elderly is very evident - I'm not sure that such a premise for a book would work in a western setting where most people are too busy to have the patience and devotion to duty that the housekeeper demonstrates.
That being said, I had two negative issues with this book. Firstly, there are two threads of baseball and mathematics running through the book, neither of which I have any significant interest in. I normally love these kind of connecting webs in books, but they just went on a bit at times, and I found myself skipping whole paragraphs in places as a result.
Secondly, whilst this book definitely succeeded in developing its characters wonderfully, their polite friendship wasn't quite enough to tug on my heartstrings, and as a result the book fell a little flat overall. I did enjoy reading it, and the pages turned easily enough, but I have a feeling I will forget it fairly quickly.
3.5 stars - quiet and sensitive but a little underwhelming.
>2 AlisonY: I liked that book when I read it last year, though I do have a love of maths (but no interest at all in baseball.) I found it was just a nice pleasant read rather than something I'm going to remember for years or keep going back to, but I was happy to have read it.
>4 AlisonY: I liked it too - just not enough to push it into the 'loved it' zone.
>2 AlisonY: Oh, that sounds a bit less interesting than I hoped, based on the storyline. I often like books on Japanese culture, but I don't think I will read this one any time soon.
I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your review of Tess of the d'Urbervilles on your previous thread.
>8 cabegley: thanks a lot, Chris. It was such a great read - think I'll have to squeeze another Hardy in before the year is out.
Don't you just love it when a load of library orders all come in. Great bunch of next up books to get stuck into:
>14 AlisonY: I do love it, but that many at one time would be more than I could handle. Too much pressure to read them all before the due date. :)
>15 NanaCC: they allow you to renew them a few times in our library system without charge, and each renewal period is 3 weeks, so you can keep them for a fair wee while which is great.
>16 AlisonY: with our library it depends upon the book. Anything that other people are waiting for is limited to two weeks and no renewal. Others are more lenient.
>2 AlisonY: I did enjoy reading it, and the pages turned easily enough, but I have a feeling I will forget it fairly quickly.
True, true and true for me too.
>14 AlisonY: Looking forward to your comments on American Rust. I don't seem to be finishing any books lately but that's one I'd like to break the pattern with.
Alison - I'm just not putting my time into LT lately, but I enjoyed catching up with your threads, especially your review of Tess. This came up in a book on Stonehenge I read awhile back...I have a copy of Tess but haven't read it yet (I'll avoid any cover blurbs. )
>19 dchaikin: thanks Dan. Yes - Stonehenge makes a dramatic appearance in Tess. Hope you get a chance to read it one day.
>20 janeajones: I've actually started The Almost Nearly Perfect People, as I gave The People's Act of Love 90 pages but just couldn't get into it. I think I got the BB from you for the Michael Booth book - I remember enjoying reading the review on your thread. So far so good.
Yay for stacks of library books, brought home and ready for the reading. I've had a copy of American Rust for awhile, living in my tbr. My father borrowed it and loved it, saying that it reminded him strongly of his childhood, spent in Pittsburgh.
>22 RidgewayGirl: looking forward to American Rust. I saw somewhere that it has echoes of Kent Haruf's writing - will be great if that is the case.
>23 Caroline_McElwee: I can't remember why I put The Orchardist on my wish list pile - probably a BB from someone on Club Read. Looking forward to reading it too.
14. Review - The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth
Nordic culture seems to have infiltrated our homes in a steady way over the past 10-15 years in particular (well, for the UK anyway). Scandi style interiors are everywhere, and I'm not just talking about Ikea and the twilight world of giving up 3 hours of your life to walk around every inch of a store that you only went into for a storage box. Nordic crime noir and woolly jumpers are ubiquitous (and for some reason seem to go hand-in-hand). And then there are the jollies that my kids teachers go on every year to learn from an education system that's supposedly head and shoulders above the rest of the world's.
So my interest in those intriguing people of the north was already piqued. Geographically they're relatively close neighbours to us, yet we don't generally holiday there in the numbers we do to, say, Italy or France, so there's a certain mystique to them. And then there's my newfound crush on Karl Ove Knausgaard. You get the idea.
Michael Booth is a Brit living in Denmark (married to a Dane), who has travelled extensively around all 5 Nordic countries. In this fascinating book he attempts to look under the rug of each country, so to speak, challenging each country's view of itself and their views of each other, all with a massive dollop of humour. It is laugh out loud hilarious in places. Commenting on the irony of Alfred Nobel setting up a peace prize after inventing dynamite which slaughtered of millions of people, he comments "...it is akin to King Herod sponsoring a beautiful baby competition".
In a nutshell (and I apologise to anyone Nordic reading this summary), I've learnt that Swedes are obsessed with following rules and being modern; Norwegians like dressing up in bizarre national dress, are well off and are quite happy to live far away from their nearest neighbour; Finns like alcohol, saunas, and aren't big on small talk; Icelanders are slightly feral and believe in elves; Danes are excessively into joining clubs and socialising and hate boasters.
All in all a funny, interesting read. I drop half a star or so as the section on Sweden got a little more political and a little less humorous, but generally I was glued to the page and this will definitely serve to further enhance my next Knausgaard read. Thanks to janeajones for the bb.
4 stars - humorous and informative.
>26 AnnieMod: it's a great read. My comments are a bit tongue-in-cheek - as well as the fun stuff, Booth packs this book with a lot of fascinating information about the political and social aspects of the 5 countries.
Just catching up with your thread. American Rust is a great choice! I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
>25 AlisonY: I already had this on my wishlist, but you reminded me of it. I traveled in Scandinavia briefly in grad school and was really intrigued by it.
I think the Almost Nearly Perfect People was on my wishlist, but I feel that your excellent review was enough. I would like to visit all those Nordic countries one day though. Interesting that they are trendy in your parts. Here in Canada, I find people nearly forget they exist (much like the rest of the world pretty much forgets us. Not necessarily a bad thing.)
>30 janemarieprice: I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it.
>31 Nickelini: interesting that the Scandi momentum hasn't yet reached Canada. Scandinavian interiors are just gorgeous and very fashionable here. Very simple clean lines, lots of pale woods, grey and white palettes, metals, and the odd iconic chair thrown in here and there. I'm definitely a fan.
> yeah, that style is in here too, but we don't call it Scandinavian. Here it's called "mid-century modern." I think the term Scandi-interiors conjures up too many memories of the 1970s when this was last in style (Teak!).
>33 Nickelini: lol, I can understand. That's exactly how my parents feel about the revival of a lot of interior styles.
I love this photo, taken on the day Sweden swapped over from driving on the left to the right.
15. Review - The Steppe and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov was an interesting character. A medical doctor, he described medicine as his lawful wife and literature as his mistress, making his literary name in play writing and short stories. Although he died at a young age in his 40s, he had a most civilised death, enjoying a full glass of champagne before setting the glass down, turning over and dying.
Chekhov was highly recommended in Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer book (which is amazing if you haven't read it) for his skilful prose. In a letter to his brother (also a writer, though less successfully) he outlined the 6 principles of good short story writing:
1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature;
2. Total objectivity;
3. Truthful descriptions of persons and objects;
4. Extreme brevity;
5. Audacity and originality (flee the stereotype);
So on to the stories. This was a book of 9 stories, of which The Steppe is the most famous. It was more of a novella, chronicling the thoughts and experiences of a young boy making a long journey in a chaise across the steppe to go to school for the first time. The writing in this story was eloquent and richly descriptive, evoking the sights, sounds and characters so vividly . At times I felt it was going on for too long, but it's the kind of writing were you have to make yourself put the book down for a while if you're not in the mood for really savouring and appreciating the writing.
The other stories were much shorter, and I actually enjoyed those more than The Steppe. Many of them were extremely amusing, with either total buffoons of characters or a good dollop of black humour. Others were very emotional but with the lightest of touch. All, without exception, were highly original and very readable.
4 stars - an enjoyable masterclass in short story writing
This is a picture of Chekhov in his prime. Definitely way hotter than Tolstoy...
>38 AlisonY: I borrowed it from the library, Rebecca, and several times now I've wished I've had a copy to hand at home when I've read from authors she recommended. Think I'll have to order myself a copy one of these days - it's so informative.
>39 kidzdoc: thank you Daryl. Hope you enjoy your Chekhov stint in the summer. I enjoyed this set of stories - he's a great storyteller.
16. Review - American Rust by Philipp Meyer
This was, quite simply, a damn good read. The pace was set right from the start, and had me turning the pages anxiously right until the last.
It's hard to say much about this book without spoiling the plot. With a backdrop of the antithesis of the American Dream, this novel has the pace of a thriller but the heart of something much deeper. An incredibly well developed cast of characters take their turn to narrate following a life-changing event that is pulling them all down but ultimately setting them all the ultimate test of love and loyalty.
Thanks to OscarWilde87 for the book bullet - this will be one of my favourites of the year.
4.5 stars - pure reading pleasure.
>41 AlisonY: O yes, I remember that one well. Black. The antitheses of the American Dream - well said!
>36 AlisonY: Chekov deserves his status as the best short story writer ever, and here he looks a little like Edward Norton. Whether or not he's hotter than Tolstoy depends entirely on one's tastes in whisker stylings.
And American Rust is on my tbr. My father grabbed it soon after I'd brought it home and loved it. He said it reminded him of his own childhood. I'll have to read it soon.
>41 AlisonY: I'm glad you enjoyed this Alison, as I have it, and its sequel in the pile.
Francine P. was my advisor in my MFA writing program--a riveting teacher as you might imagine-- so you can just know I have that complete set of Chekhov and I have read almost all of them. Her classes at the bi-annual sessions were magnificent, form the core of the book, in fact . He truly is one of the greatest short story writers, although I would put Turgenev right up there with him. It is my view that writing a good and original short story is far more difficult than writing a good novel.
I got totally distracted reading these comments! I really came here to say that I read your review of Knausgaard 2 recently and loved it!
>48 Caroline_McElwee: will be adding that to my wish list for sure.
>49 sibyx:, >50 sibyx: what an epic teacher to have had. And I totally agree with you that I think a good short story is much more difficult than a novel when it's so hard to set the right pace for a shorter number of paces.
Thanks for the Knausgaard comment - I think I might try and order Book 3 in time to bring it on holiday at the end of June.
17. Review - The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
I can't believe I've been lucky enough to read two first novels on the trot which have been so brilliantly executed.
Set in the early 1900s, Talmadge has lived a simple, solitary existence for decades as an orchardist in a rural stretch of NW America until two pregnant children start appearing at his homestead looking for food. What ensues is a highly emotive story of broken lives and a paternal love that forever seeks to protect.
This book is fabulously drawn out, with plenty of surprise twists and turns, good pace and razor sharp settings. The backdrop of the peaceful orchard in the upper valley worked superbly - as a reader you felt like you were coming home every time the book switched back to it. Most of all, the characters are incredibly vivid, and Talmadge in particular is just wonderful - I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and hug him tightly for his selflessness, his steadfastness and his unconditional love.
It's hard to say much more about The Orchardist without spoiling it as there are plenty of plot surprises that should be kept that way. Suffice to say it stirred me enough to bring tears to my eyes.
4.5 stars - another belter.
Catching up. Enjoyed your Checkov comments and your terrific review of The Almost Nearly Perfect People - you make me almost want to read that. There was a time I really wanted to read American Rust, then I forgot all about it, now you (and OW) have me wanting to read it again. I've never heard of Amanda Coplin, noting.
>57 dchaikin: thanks Dan. Making slower progress with my reading this year, but hanging in there.
>52 AlisonY: Your review made me so interested in that book, so I went to add it to my wishlist only to see it was already there. Not sure where I heard of it earlier, but obviously I need to track down a copy.
>52 AlisonY: I can't remember where I came across it either! I have a feeling someone in Club Read must have written a compelling review of it at some point over the last year. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it.
>41 AlisonY: Glad you liked it. I'm so bad with catching up on threads at the moment, so it took me a while to get here again. Sorry!
>64 VivienneR: thanks Vivienne. Everything is Nice is very interesting - I'm just making slow progress as work is very busy at the moment, but I hope to review in a week or so.
18. Review - Everything is Nice by Jane Bowles
Although not as well known as her famous contemporaries of the era, Jane Bowles' writing has been critically acclaimed long after her death. Compared with the likes of Katherine Mansfield, she left only a small writing legacy - one novel (Two Serious Ladies), one play (In the Summer House) and a handful of stories. This collection gathers together a number of her stories, parts of Two Serious Ladies, the play and six letters written by Jane, and I picked it up on the back of yet another recommendation from Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer book.
I enjoyed this book - it was very different to anything else I've read in a while, both because of the different types of writing elements within it and also because of Bowles' unique voice and the settings of her stories. Equally fascinating was learning more about Bowles' own life from the book - an American, she spent 3 years in hospital in Europe after a fall from a horse, and in her early 20s married Paul Bowles, a composer and writer (friends with Tennessee Williams). Despite both pursuing mainly same-sex relationships for the rest of their lives and often living in different parts of the world, they retained a strong and lasting bond together. Jane lived much of her life in Tangiers, where she was in a long relationship with a local market trader who was accused by Paul on a couple of occasions of using witchcraft against Jane and bringing on the serious illnesses which blighted the later years of her life and prevented her from writing.
Jane Bowles was the classic tortured writer, who never thought her work good enough and who fell into long spells of depression and alcoholism. She was once quoted as saying she'd never having had a day's happiness in her life. This theme of melancholy is certainly prevalent in many of her characters, but she was also a very original writer, full of surprises and creativity, who set many of her stories in exotic locations inspired by her own travels.
This is a book of writing to be admired and enjoyed in small bursts. Some of the stories were better than others, but many have stuck in my mind and were thoroughly enjoyable as you were never quite sure what direction they were going to take next. The play I enjoyed much more than I expected to, and the letters from Jane to Paul and various publishing friends gave a fascinating glimpse into her life. She was eccentric and no doubt hard work to be around, but then weren't most of the writing greats?
This article is worth reading for more information on Jane Bowles:
4 stars - it struggled to keep my attention in places, but overall was an interesting read and it's impossible not to finish totally fascinated by the enigma that was Jane Bowles.
>67 NanaCC: Thanks Colleen. I get the impression she's one of the writers' writers. There were certainly plenty of plaudits inside the jacket cover.
Yes, and a writer's wife too, married to Paul Bowles. If I'm not mistaken, his novel The Sheltering Sky was a fictionalisation of part of their lives. A fine film with John Malkovitch and Debra Winger was made of the novel in the late 80s/90s.
>69 Caroline_McElwee: sounds interesting. I don't know much about Paul Bowles, except what I learnt in this book. Must check that film out.
My 6 year old daughter has just moved on to reading children's novels and has become an overnight bookworm. So delighted to have a pal to go trawling the secondhand book shops with now! Came away with a few despite telling myself I could easily order them from the library:
And also looking forward to this one from the library:
I read Two Serious Ladies when under Francine's aegis in my writing program . . . What I think is so special about Bowles is her pursuit of writing more than clean, clear prose as a vehicle for a story, but writing that IS the story, integral to it, inseparable, thus a real modernist. V. Woolf, Christina Stead, Jean Rhys immediately come to mind. She is perhaps less known?
>72 sibyx: I could not have captured it that eloquently but you are spot on. It's a shame she is not so well known - her writing deserves to be more widely read.
19. Review - Loving by Henry Green
This novel frustrated me. On the one hand, I really enjoyed Green's writing and the setting - it was very much Downton Abbey-esque, so much so that I did wonder if Julian Fellowes got some major inspiration from Green. It was also very readable and very easy to get into.
BUT..... it just didn't really go anywhere. There was very little plot to speak of, which is fine if you are able to get lost in the heart and soul of the characters, but although the characters were interesting somehow I didn't get drawn into them enough.
There are 2 other novels in this particular edition, and I'm sure I'd like them well enough, but life's too short and I feel I need to move on to a page-turner.
3 stars - with a more developed plot this would have been an easy 4 stars, but alas....
The cover's nice though. I do have it somewhere in an older edition. Frustrating though Alison. I do quite like plotless books from time to time, but the writing, characters and tone have to be really good.
I agree about the lovely cover. I'll save this one for when I'm feeling plotless.
>74 AlisonY: I finished the other two as well and what they have in common is that you arrive in the middle of some peoples lives, and leave them at some point again without really becoming much wiser.
I like that because it is original and a bit like real life, but you are right, they leave you clueless as well.
>74 AlisonY:, >78 Simone2: I looked for the book at Amazon and Kobo, and was just about to comment that Alison's cover is that of a collection of three novels. Unfortunately e-books frequently have boring covers or no cover at all, even when they are the counterpart of a paper book with a beautiful one.
Anyway, this sounds like exactly the sort of book I would enjoy. Wishlisted.
My impression is that Henry Green is one of those (modernist?) writers whose focus was so writerly - trying to capture a "something" about how people are and how they talk and interact, so story is, alas, secondary . . . I think I knew that already when I was reading him, so I had no expectations in that regard, which helped.
>78 Simone2:, >80 sibyx: he definitely captured brilliantly the particular moments in people's lives within the house, and I really loved his writing. I think because I loved his writing style I felt frustrated, as there were some great plot lines hinted at and I would have loved to see them played out. I understand that's exactly what he was trying to achieve, but somehow I feel a bit cheated out of what could have been.
>79 FlorenceArt: I hope you enjoy it Florence. I am sure I would have enjoyed the other two books, but I feel in the mood for a read I can really get lost in for a while.
>82 Lunarreader: I'm about halfway through as I'm really busy with work and have very little time to read, but I'm absolutely loving it so far. Hopefully review to come in a week or so.
20. Review - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
In this ultimate US saga about families and relationships, Franzen plays with the concept of how, despite the freedom and choices available to us in a western democracy, human frailty still comes to the fore. We don't always use that freedom wisely; spoilt by it, we often choose those most selfish paths which ultimately lead to the demise of our own happiness.
Although a fairly long read (a few pages off 600), I loved this novel from the first page to the last, probably even more than I loved The Corrections which was a favourite read from last year. It worked because of its length, not in spite of it; Franzen was able to develop the relationships over periods of years, such that we could see the gradual fraying taking hold, and understand the complexities which led to certain decisions being made.
There is a lot of dialogue in this novel, which can be difficult to get right, yet Franzen totally nails it. He allows the reader to see his characters from all sides, intermingling their virtues with their flaws and capturing the essence of what it is to be human.
A large part of the novel is relayed to us in the form of a main character's manuscript written at her therapists instigation, and whilst some of the musings and memories couldn't have logically worked if you really thought about it, I loved the story too much to care.
5 stars - I have a serious book hangover this morning.
I've been kean to see your review Alison. I haven't read this book yet, although I read the one before, I think it goes on the list.
I went to hear William Styron speak, about 18 months before he died, and asked him who he thought might be 'the Styron of the future'. After accusing me of pushing him in the river without a float, he thought on it, and said he liked what Franzen was doing.
>87 Caroline_McElwee: I know Franzen isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love the big literary American family epics that he captures so well.
It's ridiculous that I haven't read any Styron yet. I will have to at least read Sophie's Choice someday soon. Amazing that you got to hear him talk - that would have been incredible.
Very special for me Alison, and he signed my well read copy of Sophie's Choice, it is heartbreaking, but one of my favourite books, wonderful writing, great characters, and life at its extreme (worst and best).
Glad to read your review of Freedom. And glad you liked it. I liked it as well but was not so enthousiastic. Maybe some of the sparkling dialogues got lost in the translation into Dutch. And maybe we see family live different here in Europe.
What i also liked is indeed the big period that goes by in the book which gives you the chance to follow the evolution in characters.
For me it was also kind of a manifesto against fracking and pro environment conservation. And that was where i got a little bit into trouble with the book: the link between the different themes in the book are not always evident for the reader.
On the other hand the author depicts brilliantly the family and friends interaction, certainly when not all is as rosy as one would like to think at first glance.
I liked The Corrections more than I liked Freedom, but I liked both of those quite a bit, and for the same reason you mentioned, about how there's something so satisfying about a book that takes its time and goes ahead and takes 600 or 800 pages to tell the story.
That said, I haven't wanted to read Purity at all.
I'm so glad you like Franzen, I come across people who literally foam at the mouth because they dislike him so but I do like him. I think I liked The Corrections slightly better, but thought this was a more mature book.
Forgive me if I was stating the obvious about Green! It's been too long for me to remember anything about the plot and lack of follow through.
The Touchstones now rely on some bizarre algorithm -- More like the spelling one that helps you write texts, that goes by some "most frequently used" yet ultimately amazingly random pattern. It's very annoying. I hate having to go in and choose the correct book every time I use the brackets on certain books.
>94 sibyx: I definitely love Franzen too. And no apology needed about Green - you were spot on. For me I just wanted something a bit more from Loving. Maybe it was the period the book was set in - I felt the upstairs/downstairs scenario could have carried a great plot. Perhaps I have been watching too much Downton Abbey.
>95 Simone2: I haven't read Purity yet. I have a feeling that it might not be as good as The Corrections or Freedom, but that's pure conjecture.
>96 Caroline_McElwee: I find that although Franzen's characters are all very flawed they are ultimately quite human. I ended up taking a few of them to my heart by the end of Freedom.
>98 arubabookwoman: I've never quite understood the extreme Franzen dislike either, as I think he handles family dynamics and characters brilliantly. Some people feel they can hear too much of his own voice in his characters, but it works for me whatever it is he's doing.
21. Review - The Warden by Anthony Trollope
I fear this review may put me on the LT naughty step, but I didn't love this anywhere near as much as expected. When it eventually got going it became interesting enough, but for a short novel boy it took it's time. Perhaps it was the clerical setting that I found a little dull until I reached the actual cusp of the tale. Anyway, I felt like I was plodding through this novel for much of it, and actively looking forward to reaching the end so I could get on to my next book.
3.5 stars - ultimately a clever tale of consequences, but the diocese setting wasn't for me.
22. Review - Small Wars by Sadie Jones
I can't remember whose review it was now, but someone on CR recently reviewed a Sadie Jones novel and it reminded me how much I enjoyed The Outcast and I decided to order Small Wars in from the library as part of my holiday reading.
I loved this novel from beginning to end, and sped through the near 500 pages in 24 hours. Everything about it was terrific - the unusual setting of the Greek Cypriot unrest against British occupation in Cyprus, the subtle tension built up around the military action and the ensuing psychological fallout, and the pinpoint observations of the slow rot setting into what had been a perfect marriage.
Jones is an amazing writer: her prose is so descriptive and her plots so cleverly executed I almost forget I'm reading at all.
A perfect holiday read spoilt only by the terrible cover which makes me think of mass market romance books.
5 stars - practically perfect.
Oh, I thought I'd read all of Sadie Jones's novels, so glad there's another to read!
As for Franzen, I loved The Corrections and liked Freedom (as well as an early book of personal essays) and think he had the potential to be one of our great writers. Then I read that unfortunate interview in which he comes across as entitled, whiney and oddly out of touch and it gave me the impression that his best writing was behind him. The reviews of Purity that I have read have not changed that impression.
>104 Simone2: it's an enjoyable page-turner. I couldn't put it down.
>105 RidgewayGirl: I think Small Wars was her next novel after The Outcast. What did you think of her other books?
Re. Franzen, the reviews on Amazon of Purity haven't got me dashing for it either, but never say never. I quite fancy The Discomfort Zone and How to be Alone. I think he's written another few too that have fallen below the radar.
I practically foamed at the mouth when I saw an offer on one of those deal sites for 10 secondhand books for €15. Naturally I NEED another 10 books. I went through my wish list and have come away with the following beauties:
Taylor, Andrew / The American Boy
Murdoch, Iris / The Sea, The Sea
Koch, Herman / The Dinner
Irving, John / A Widow for One Year
Yates, Richard / Young Hearts Crying
Brookner, Anita / Brief Lives
Bielenberg, Christabel / The Past is Myself
Gawande, Atul / Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
O'Neill, Heather / Lullabies For Little Criminals
Jones, Sadie / The Uninvited Guests
108> Great haul. I highly recommend Lullabies for Little Criminals, and Murdoch's book is very interesting.
The Dinner is one of those books that stayed on my mind for a while, in an unsettling sort of way. Let us know what you think when you get to it.
>115 PeggyDean: will do. The synopsis of that one has me very intrigued.
>117 ursula: hmmm - I'm even more intrigued now... From what I understand it's about how you would react as a parent to your child committing a terrible crime?
>118 AlisonY: -- Just go read it. And then tell us what you think. I love talking about this book.
>121 AlisonY: They are not. It really is best to know as little as possible about the book before you read it. Start with that one of all the new books you just received and you'll know what we mean!
>122 Simone2: it's definitely next up once I finish Out Stealing Horses and Mrs Bridge from the library.
I've had hardly any time to read these past 2 weeks between work, decorating, kids being off school and chatting instead of reading on my commute. Really enjoying Out Stealing Horses - need to just get back into some reading slots.
23. Review - Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
I think this is a book that deserves to be savoured rather than dipping in and out of it over too long a period like I did. I enjoyed the beautiful writing and the slow, quiet pace of the book which would normally tick all my 'book love' boxes, but somehow it didn't grab me as much as it seems to have grabbed everyone else.
I definitely think this is partly attributable to reading it during a particularly busy and distracted few weeks. Days elapsed in between snatched readings, and I think I lost something from my reading experience as a result.
Essentially this is a tale of a man in his 60s who has taken himself off to a cabin in a semi-remote part of Norway to live out the rest of his days in peace and simplicity away from the emotional pressures of family and life in general. His nearest neighbour turns out to randomly be an acquaintance from his childhood, which stirs up many long stored away memories, some idyllic, others difficult.
I enjoyed the chapters returning to his childhood, but felt that a few potentially gripping story threads fell a little flat in the end. I appreciate that the author was deliberately wanting to leave some loose ends, but it felt a little like getting engrossed in a newspaper article only to find the concluding page is missing.
There were interesting emotions and feelings at play, but these were written in a male Men-Are-From-Mars-don't-dwell-on-your-emotions-too-much kind of way, and as a result I didn't empathise with the main protagonist as much as I could have done.
4 stars - worth a read, but by the end of the year I feel I'll have forgotten much about it.
Seems like a fair commentary. I think it's the kind of book that either catches you early or doesn't. Not sure about that actually.
You know, based on your WAYRN post I came over expecting you to trash it, but actually it seems like you liked it a bit.
>125 AlisonY: I thought I would love it, but somehow I am doubting again because of your review - even while you give it 4 stars.
>127 Simone2: you probably will. It seems I am alone in thinking it was good but not terrific.
>125 AlisonY: Excellent review! I have this on my wishlist, but will not rush out to get it. I've lived in a couple of semi-remote places and although it would be interesting to compare experiences, the "Men-Are-From-Mars-don't-dwell-on-your-emotions-too-much" style doesn't attract me.
Very fine review of the Pettersen - I had much the same reaction all around, including some let-down at the end.
24. Review - Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell
This little book is so, so clever I can't stop thinking about it.
On the surface it seems straightforwardly simple - a series of short vignettes about the daily minutiae of Mrs Bridge's life, peppered with subtle specks of black humour.
Mrs Bridge is the quintessential wealthy suburban housewife during the pre-war period. In vignettes of not more than 2 or 3 pages long, we are a fly on the wall of her daily struggle against the minor insignificances which dominate her everyday being, such as her son using the guest towels, her struggle to parallel park the impressive Lincoln her husband bought her, the new washer woman who doesn't take the hint about sitting in the back of the car. At first all seem trivial, amusing, delicately clever observances on human behaviour.
For example, this quote reminded me very much of my co-founder at work who puts in 100 hour weeks:
(Talking about Mrs Bridge's husband) The family saw very little of him. It was not unusual for an entire week to pass without any of the children seeing him. On Sunday morning they would come downstairs and he might be at the breakfast table; he greeted them pleasantly and they responded differentially, and a little wistfully because they missed him. Sensing this, he would redouble his efforts at the office in order to give them everything they wanted.
Many times I got to the end of a vignette thinking "ohhh, that was clever" as Connell deftly dealt another ironic blow or observation.
On their own, the vignettes were cleverly enjoyable parodies. For the first while I enjoyed them well enough, but thought to myself that I wouldn't be desperately rushing to read anything further by Evan S. Connell. However, less than halfway through the mist cleared and I realised that he was a master in disguise. A pattern started to form from the seemingly unimportant snapshots of Mrs Bridge's life, and a novel began to emerge as all the pieces fell into place.
Mrs Bridge is a sadly familiar tale of a privileged wife whose only job is to raise her children and attend luncheons, and who finds herself totally at sea as she loses them to adulthood. She is a desperate people pleaser, yet the harder she tries to please people the less they respect her.
Evan S. Connell so eloquently succeeds in 'show' rather than 'tell'. It's a short novel, yet by the end you have a lump in your throat at the unjust realism of a life that has passed her by, of a wife, a mother and a friend who is loved yet overlooked at the same time.
4.5 stars - achingly subtle in its execution yet hugely impacting. I'll be thinking about this book for some time to come.
Just to add that if you like Richard Yates style of writing I think you'll enjoy Mrs Bridge.
>136 RidgewayGirl:, >137 VivienneR: it's surprisingly good. But probably you have to enjoy that mundane suburban type of backdrop to really love it.
>138 Simone2: Mr Bridge will definitely be on the list. Poor Mrs Bridge was such a conformist - she worried far too much about what other people think. I haven't read Nora Webster yet - I loved Brooklyn so will have to get to that one soon too.
>134 AlisonY: Great review of Mrs. Bridge, you've really got me interested in it now. I'd never heard of it until recently. Another one for the list!
>141 valkyrdeath: I think Simone gave me the BB on Mrs Bridge. Was a new one to me too until I'd read her review.
>146 sibyx: I thought the parallel parking vignette was a subtly genius observation too.
Also enjoyed the story where she and her husband go out to dinner with the couple to the country club and the pompous old gent keeps disagreeing with everything Mrs Bridge says just because he has to be right about everything, however insignificant. I know a man just like that, so it did make me smile as I read it.
25. Review - The Dinner by Herman Koch
There was an interesting thought behind this book, but it didn't really do it for me. The writing was OK - quite spare, straight prose - but the characters were all hugely unlikeable (albeit purposely so, but still...). There are many books with hugely flawed characters that I love (like Rabbit Angstrom, or many of Franzen's characters) because there is still some endearing frailty about them, but I just found nothing likeable in the characters in this novel, so it was hard to fall for the book itself.
I also quickly grew tired of the setting of the dinner itself in the restaurant. It became very repetitive, and I was willing them to finish the bloody dinner and move on to some new scenery.
All in all, although quite an interesting concept, I wasn't as gripped as I expected to be, and much of that was because I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters in the family.
3 stars - the meat was juicy, but the vegetables accompanying it weren't too my taste.
>149 AlisonY: You're right, the characters are all terrible people. I went in to that book knowing nothing. What I really liked about it was how the main character seemed normal and rather relatable-to in in the beginning and then by the ending, just so repulsive. I thought that was really well done. I didn't like Summer House with Swimming Pool as much because the main character is so obviously vile right from the beginning. Still, I like it too and really look forward to Koch's new book coming in the next year.
>149 AlisonY: your reaction is kind of how I have pictured mine would likely be. I think I'll pass, even though I might be missing something.
>149 AlisonY: Aw, I'm sorry you didn't like it. I thought it was interesting for the way the characters mutated as you found out more, and also for the commentary on Dutch society's veneer of tolerance.
>150 Nickelini: Agreed on both Summer House with Swimming Pool and looking forward to his next book!
>149 AlisonY: Your review reminds me of why I didn't read it earlier. Upon release it was a big hit here in the Netherlands, but many people reacted just like you did. That's why I didn't read it earlier. Then I came upon it during my holidays and was pleasantly surprised (mainly due to what >150 Nickelini: says about the main character being so nice in the beginning).
However, I can relate to your review completely.
>150 Nickelini:, >152 ursula:, >153 Simone2: I cannot disagree with any of your points on the character development - that was really well done. If I was rating the book on merit I probably would have given it 4 stars, but I'm the kind of reader who likes to fall for the characters in a book, so my rating reflects that.
In the first half of the book in particular I really felt the restaurant scenes got dragged out, though - it became repetitive (although that improved greatly in the second half).
>151 dchaikin: it is still an enjoyable read, Dan - just for me it wasn't up there with other books I've enjoyed much more this year.
>155 VivienneR: it's one of those books where I think you can very much appreciate what people do and don't like about it, if you know what I mean.
26. Review - Getting the Little Blighters to Eat: Change Your Children from Fussy Eaters into Foodies by Claire Potter
So I'm not sure why the Touchstones are working on neither author nor title, but here goes anyway.
This was a book I'd asked my library to buy many moons ago, and by the time they ordered it I'd forgotten where I'd come across it first. It's a very quick read (two short bus journeys started and finished it) containing 30 rules from an NHS specialist paediatric dietician on how to get kids to eat well.
I'm fairly lucky that both my kids eat a good selection of healthy food, but they've both reached an age where anything new is immediately determined to be "yuck" before they'd even seen it, never mind tasted it.
I didn't find anything startlingly new in this book, but I'm glad I read it nonetheless as it recalibrated me on a few things that have got lost along the way over the years. For example, it talks about how everyone has favourite and just-OK foods, but as a parent you can fall into the trap of serving the loved foods most often so that eventually the just-OK foods stop being offered up at all. That has definitely happened in my house, to the extent that they now refuse a few things that once they would have eaten for me.
In general this short little book just gave me a kick up the backside that I needed - working full time it can be difficult to be the perfect mummy, and things have slipped a bit on the food side in my house lately. The following weekend after reading this my 6 year old daughter sat going through recipe books with me and wrote down new recipes she'd like to try, and we've had fun serving a few of them up. She's definitely tried a lot of new things in the past 2 weeks alone. My 9 year old is proving to be more resistant, but I'm quietly leaving some "new" things on the side of his plate consistently, and we had a small win with some cucumber being demolished the other day so progress is definitely being made.
All in all this was a useful wee book for me to speed through. I liked that it wasn't judgemental - I have a Real Food Revolution kids' recipe book which makes me feel like I'm Failure Parent #1 if I let my kids so much as sniff sugar and don't make EVERYTHING they eat from scratch. I'm more of a real world parent - an 80/20 approach suits me just fine.
4 stars - gave me a quick retune which was all that I wanted from it.
I like the picky eaters book just for the title! At least sometimes a less picky younger child can sort of embarrass the older picky eater into trying new things. Or being sent off to boarding school worked well enough for me! I got my seven year old nephew to try something the other day by saying he wasn't hardcore enough to try a spicy thing. He is such a slow grazer even with stuff he likes it drives me a bit batty.
>158 mabith: yep, nice title. She has another one called 'How to Keep the Little Blighters Busy'.
Boarding school - eek. Always think that must be very tough for kids.
27. Review - Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
This book scared the bejesus out of me!
I love a lot of what McEwan writes, and didn't know anything about this book before I started into it. I didn't even read the blurb on the cover, and I'm so glad I didn't as everything was a delicious surprise. It's the type of book where I don't think it's fair to even hint at what it's about. He makes it seem so real it's downright alarming.
Suffice to say this is a fantastic psychological thriller, and I couldn't help but regularly marvel at how good the writing was. McEwan is fabulous at taking a small, fateful occurrence from a seemingly normal day and letting it snowball it into something positively heart-wrenching. He's the book equivalent of the movie 'Sliding Doors' - what if the character hadn't decided to go here that day, or what if they hadn't said those words at that time.
I loved it. McEwan at his best, which is great as I felt a little bit lukewarm about Atonement. Anyone have any recommendations for my next McEwan? I loved The Cement Garden and On Chesil Beach.
4.5 stars - Gripping, gripping, gripping. I dropped half a star as it got slightly far-fetched at one stage, but loved it nonetheless.
I loved Enduring Love too, although I don't remember much of it. I also loved Atonement. Of the ones you haven't read, I really liked Saturday, The Children Act, The Comfort of Strangers, and Amsterdam, even though I really don't remember that last one. Sweet Tooth was okay but not great, and I didn't understand Black Dogs and The Child in Time. Maybe you can read that last one and explain it to me.
>161 Nickelini: plenty of recommendations there to get stuck into. Thanks!
>159 AlisonY: My was high school grades only, so it was really more freedom than most of us would have had at home. Lights out there was actually later than my bedtime at home when I was 14 (my mom now claims she didn't care if I slept just wanted a bit of time for herself, yet always checked and noticed when I was reading by flashlight no matter how sneaky I was).
I agree with your take on Enduring Love. It really grips right from the start. What follows after the balloon tragedy is so totally unexpected.
>163 mabith: sounds like you had a pretty positive experience of boarding school. My school had a boarding department (although I was a day pupil), and I remember the teenage boarders seemed to really relish their freedom. For kids going at the age of 7 or 8 I think that's pretty tough.
>164 baswood: yep - he really did properly build up the dramatic tension. So many books try to but you end up caring little about what happens by the time they get to the point. I feel like I need to re-read parts of this book to focus on what exactly McEwan does to make his writing work so well. There was a part when he was describing the protagonist trying really hard to stifle laughter at a time when laughing would have been a really bad idea, and he described it so perfectly I found myself getting the giggles along with the character as I was reading.
Enduring Love was the first book by McEwan that I read. Bits of it are still stuck in my mind and it might be time for a reread. The picture he drew of that marriage was so vivid.
Ooh, Enduring Love sounds good. I haven't read it yet, but fortunately I already own it.
>164 baswood: The balloon accident was so unexpected.
I never could quite believe the rest of the story since it started with such a weird, weird incident. I mean, the scenario could have been set up following a car accident or a bike accident, so why a balloon accident?
>166 RidgewayGirl: >168 Caroline_McElwee: I think it's my favourite IM book so far too, although I also did really enjoy The Cement Garden and On Chesil Beach.
>167 kidzdoc: I think you might like it - I found it incredibly realistic.
>169 ELiz_M: but would it have been so terrifying if it had been a regular car accident? The hairs were standing up on my neck as I read through the balloon accident - I could so vividly imagine each second they were going through.
I just read up online about the first appendix. Again, total genius. Mucho respect for McEwan.
Catching up. I've never warmed to McEwan, but I keep trying.
The food book sounds very useful - esp the idea of having one's child go through a cookbook. Brilliant! That might even be useful with a twenty year old such as we have in and out now. In the old days we had a "one bite won't kill you" policy (amazing how kids respond to humor and common sense) and every now and then something would be a hit. We were very careful never to say "I told you so" when she did admit she liked something. I suspect we got the idea from a Berenstain Bear kids book. Not sure if you have those . . .?
>165 AlisonY: True! I'm not sure how any parent managed to do that. I mean, stroppy teens it's one thing but they're so much fun at 6, 7, 8!
>176 Caroline_McElwee: That's cool. (I wouldn't have known who he even was in the 1980s).
28. Review - Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
I'm part of a start up that's very disruptive within it's market (or at least planning to be), therefore this book appealed as a bible on how to build a culture that promotes innovative and creative thinking.
Ed Catmull was a co-founder of Pixar and is president of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. His success, he believes, is down to his ability to effectively manage the company's singularly most important asset - its employees. If this book is an accurate account of what it's like to work at Pixar (and from it's success we have to assume that something's working phenomenally well there), then this is a man who has excelled on that front.
I took a lot of lessons away from this book, from alternative meeting styles to how to most encourage creative output. Catmull believes strongly in empowering employees, giving people the opportunity to do the job you hired them to do and to put forward their ideas. It sounds so simple, yet many companies fail miserably at putting trust in the people they employ. Candor is another critical element at Pixar - again, not so easy to get people to speak candidly, but hugely impacting on the organisation's success when they do.
I didn't know prior to reading this book that Steve Jobs had owned the company and been involved with it for several decades. Although he wasn't involved on a daily basis, it's fair to say that his genius insight touched Pixar in many ways, and Catmull interestingly showed a much warmer, humane side to Jobs that other biographies on him have been loathe to offer a glimpse into.
Overall, this is a great business book to learn from, not just for creative industries but for any company. However, it was about a third longer than it needed to be, and I started to get bored of reading it after a while. After a long day at work, in places it started to feel like more work such was the level of detail he got immersed in.
4 stars - half a star dropped for excessive content, but many stars for the lessons taken away from it.
That sounds like a fascinating book Alison. It's such a frustration to see how little companies trust their employees, or even value them half the time, let alone enable them.
>180 Caroline_McElwee: it was very refreshing, Caroline. I used to work for a big global company that liked to think it did all these things, but in reality most of its attempts at operating the company from the ground up were short-lived whims. I was only empowered to do what other people wanted me to do, never to be creative myself.
I think it's fantastic that Pixar refuse to ever let themselves go down that one-way street.
>179 AlisonY: Sounds like an excellent book. Talented people should get credit where/when it"s due. Steve Jobs was brilliant yet some people love to condemn him - and Apple. It was annoying that after he died there was so much criticism written about him. The company I worked for did an atrocious job of recognizing when employees were really good at something. I'd be interested in finding out more about what they could have done. I have wondered if it is a human trait to ignore or slight those who are better.
>183 AlisonY: I have wondered if it is a human trait to ignore or slight those who are better
I think it is, Vivienne. Ed Catmull knew Steve Jobs for 26 years and said that in the last 20 he had significantly mellowed. He was definitely someone who was outspoken and challenging, but if the other person gave a good argument he was more than happy to go with their suggestion over his. The biographies definitely prefer to vilify him completely.
One insightful point Catmull makes is that he always hires people who are smarter than him to build the best team. I think it is human nature for many managers to fear the person beneath them is more capable and to clip their wings accordingly.
I agree, Creativity, Inc could definitely have been cut down a bit. I'm glad you largely enjoyed it! His candor about their mistakes and successes (and about being candid!) was so refreshing.
>185 AlisonY: yep, definitely a good read. I do feel that it was told with some bias, though, as if they solved all their internal problems. I can't believe there's not still some corridor bitching, unless it's androids they're hiring!
Hard to say! I think that workers of pretty much every field are so accustomed to being treated like children and continually disrespected in large or small ways that halfway decent management practices seem like a gift from above.
>187 VivienneR: interesting how it would work on an audiobook. Might actually work better than print, but expect could become a little hard going after a while just because the book is too long.
I listened to audio edition and found it very well done, I don't think there was anything annoying about the reader. At not quite 13 hours it's a pretty medium length audiobook, fairly standard for popular non-fiction. The wonderful first third or so of the book carries you through.
29. Review - Brief Lives by Anita Brookner
Yet again there is no question as to the brilliancy of Brookner's writing, but this book was both highly readable and yet difficult to read because of it's subject matter. In Brief Lives, Brookner examines loneliness - the loneliness of a marriage bereft of emotion, and of widowhood with no remaining family, true friendships or romantic companionship without conditions.
Threading the story together is the relationship between Fay, the protagonist, and Julia, a has-been performer and former beauty who was married to Fay's husband's business partner. Theirs is a sad relationship that endures for decades, despite no real friendship or liking of each other, their main bond being a shared loneliness that neither would ever admit to.
I enjoyed this book as the emotion was so raw and heart tugging, yet at the same time it was a melancholy read and certainly not one to pick up when you're feeling anything less than glass half full about life. It captures so realistically the utter sadness of being full of vitality yet having no one to properly share one's life with, and the compromising and undeserving friendships and relationships that such crushing loneliness forces a person to endure and be grateful for.
4 stars - missing the light touches of Hotel du Lac but brilliantly observant.
>190 AlisonY: Sounds like a book I'd enjoy, despite the heaviness of the subject. Thanks for the review.
30. Review - In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
Recovering from a stomach bug has had a silver lining today - rare uninterrupted reading time that has enabled me to start and finish a book in the same day. Now that hasn't happened in a while!
This is the third Galgut novel I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed The Good Doctor but was disappointed by The Imposter, so this was a pleasing return to form. In a Strange Room feels like three separate novellas all connected by the thread of the narrator's travelling wanderlust. There is some unusual prose construction at work, with Galgut swapping between first and third person narration, sometimes in the same paragraph. At first this feels confusing, but as the novel develops it somehow works in an interesting way, with the narrator juxtaposing himself between being in the middle of the action in the first person and observing from afar as a distant memory in the third person.
This is a novel of place more than plot, of edgy travels and the transience of relationships formed with other travellers, intense in their brevity, all-consuming at the time yet ultimately destined to become relegated to distant memories. The sense of place in Africa and India in particular was particularly well evoked, less on the basis of landscapes but more from a successful imparting of the feel of being in a foreign place, the heady mix of the thrill and danger of the unknown, and the strange intensity of human bonds formed which could never survive on home soil. Each of the three sections has it's own sub-plot, with the narrator taking on the role of follower, lover and guardian in each. Sharing his own Christian name, the narrator is clearly more than a touch autobiographical, which only adds to the mystery.
There's a clever sense of the foreboding to Galgut's writing - if it was a film there would be constant sinister music playing in the background, and that chill works very well, turning me into a slightly nervous reader cautiously turning the pages. It's an odd thing - his plots aren't really driven to a climax, yet he manages to keep me feeling slightly displaced and jittery throughout.
4 stars - an interesting and surprising writer.
>192 AlisonY: Interesting. I had never heard of him. I'll have to look him up - and his novels.
>195 Simone2: he's a South African writer, Simone. Short-listed for the Man Booker prize a couple of times in the last 10 years or so.
>196 AlisonY: Really? I have been into the Booker Prize for a few years now, but somehow completely missed him. I'll change that!
Just catching up, Alison. You've done some great reading, and, as usual, have added a couple of books to my list.
>199 NanaCC: I wonder whether our lists will ever begin to decrease? :)
31. Review - A Widow for One Year by John Irving
I've finally finished another book - yay!
This was my first John Irving novel, and whilst I strongly suspect he's another Marmite kind of author in the realm of Jonathan Franzen (at least for this book), personally I've found a new favourite author.
It's no doubt terribly maudlin of me, but I just can't resist a dysfunctional family saga. A Widow for One Year begins with a couple in The Hamptons whose teenage boys had been killed in an accident five years earlier, and as the novel unfolds and time moves on it examines the ripple effect of that tragedy on the couple, their young daughter and some other key players who come into contact with the family.
Despite the backdrop of the family tragedy, this is not a depressive book. There is a lot of black comedy woven throughout the book, with strong characters and an intricate plot. Perhaps at times it wandered a little bit, so for that I'm dropping half a star, but in all a read I enjoyed very much.
4.5 stars - a rollicking good read.
I read A Widow for One Year some while ago, and remember enjoying it a lot Alison. A hook sticks in my memory.
>201 AlisonY: This was my first John Irving novel
I was afraid to read John Irving, fearing that I might actually enjoy him, but a long spell of forced inactivity started me on that path. A Widow for One Year was one of the first and I really did enjoy it, to my dismay and surprise. I think Last Night in Twisted River would have to be my favourite to date, although Until I Find You was also up there, not so much for the plot, as for all those great seaports which feature in it.
A Widow for One Year was made into a film A Door in the Floor, but only the first half of the book was used.
>201 AlisonY: Well, if you're into dysfunctional families, John Irving is the master! He has written some great, great books and personally I think Widow for one Year was not even the best. Try A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Ciderhouse Rules or The World According to Garp; you'll laugh, cry, not be able to stop reading and blown away!
Last Night in Twisted River I haven't read yet but I have also heard that it is many people's favourite.
>204 Simone2: excellent! I'm so pleased to have found my way to Irving at long last, and how brilliant that there is even better to come. My goldfish memory for films and books is a blessing at times, as I've watched The Ciderhouse Rules but can only remember something about a children's home and that Jake Gyllenhaal was in it, so could happily get stuck into it without any spoilers.
33. Review - The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
This, Jones' third novel, has a period setting centred around a remote English country house where the owners and some guests have gathered to celebrate a member of the family's birthday. Tension underpins the celebrations as the family are on the brink of losing the family home, and the day descends into further disarray and dark confusion when a large group of strangers arrive at the house following a railway crash on a nearby branch line.
This was a bit of a frustrating Sadie Jones' book. The first three-quarters were true to her usual form - there was a sense of foreboding and mystery which kept me hooked, and whilst her writing may not be high literature it is eminently readable. Easy comfort reading I would call it. However, the last quarter of the book, when all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, verged on the ridiculous. I was sure she was leading the mystery to a satisfyingly ominous conclusion, but the turn it took was so far-fetched it was like sticking a pin in the balloon of tension. All the build up was spoilt by the silliness of the climax, and to ruin it further she squeezed in some improbable romances at the 11th hour which just felt like very amateur story telling. This is not Mills & Boon - it wasn't necessary.
Harsh as this review sounds, however, I did enjoy most of the book, and it was just the kind of easy read I needed to get me back into the reading groove.
3.5 stars - a slip of form for Sadie Jones. There was a great start and middle but an expectedly poor ending.
>208 AlisonY: I've been trying to get to that one. "The kind of easy read I needed" describes me perfectly these days, so despite your 3.5 stars, you haven't scared me off.
>209 Nickelini: it's still worth a read. It probably won't be the best book you read all year, and you will no doubt roll your eyes a few times at the end, but Sadie Jones definitely writes good easy reading books that you can zip through easily.
34. Review - Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates
It's taken me so long to read this book I have to remind myself what the first part of it was about. However, that is a reflection of my lack of head space at the moment rather than the book.
This was classic Yates - fractured lives and relationships coupled with superb writing. His subject matters are often similar to Updike's, but I feel there is always a little more redemption in his characters, and they tend to be a victim of circumstances more than their own weak morals as so many of Updike's protagonists are.
I don't think it's my favourite Yates', but it was enjoyable nonetheless. A master at work.
4 stars - if only I could learn a tenth of what Yates' achieved in writing. Sigh.
I'm catching up, Alison. Very interested in your Yates review and also in your persistence in the long road to finish this book. Enjoyed your reviews of Jones, Irving, Galgut and Brookner, all of which i'm just now seeing, sadly, for the first time. A rich selection of books.
>212 dchaikin: thanks Dan. I have a lot of reviews to catch up on myself. The Yates book isn't a big one, by the way - it's just my work has been manic so I've had very little reading time lately.
>214 Simone2: not quite as good I'd say, but great writing nonetheless.
Ah! I still have Revolutionary Road sitting on my shelf - must make the time to try some Yates!
35. Review - Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
This Hardy novel tells the tale of Jude, a rural stonemason whose ambition is to better himself through the higher education of Christminster (Oxford), and his tragic love affair with his cousin Sue. Their relationship made for an enthralling read, particularly as it was very modern, daring and unconventional for it's time.
Sue is a fabulously complex heroine who derives both feelings of admiration and frustration in the reader as she stays resolute to her convictions however misplaced, whilst Jude is a typical Hardy protagonist who makes you root for him the whole way through the novel.
Unlike the other two Hardy's I've read to date, this one felt like it took quite a while to get going, and I would say it was only about halfway in that I got properly hooked. For that reason I'm deducting a star, but nonetheless it was a great read and the second half was a definite page-turner. I enjoy that Hardy gives such a real sense of place in rural England through the eyes of the lower and middle classes especially, and he's the grand master of social tragedy.
4 stars - not my favourite Hardy so far, but another wonderful Wessex tale.
I really ought to read another Hardy soon. I've read both The Return of the Native and The Mayor of Casterbridge twice. Jude is on the shelf, but as one of the darker novels, it will wait. I think it will probably be Far from the Madding Crowd, maybe in January/February.
Greetings of the season Alison.
Funny, I was just telling my 16 year old about my scaring experience with Jude the Obscure. Just reading along, la la la, the BAM! In your face, reader! "Done because we are too menny." Agghhhhhhh!
I have some more Hardy in my TBR. Time to dust him off. Great stuff.
I read Tess a looong time ago (high school?) and liked it, and then I read Far from the Madding Crowd this year and really loved it. Definitely looking forward to more Hardy.
Hope you enjoy The Woodlanders it is one of my favourite Hardy novels.
>219 Caroline_McElwee: Happy Christmas to you too Caroline (and to everyone!).
>221 VivienneR: The Mayor of Casterbridge remains my favourite Hardy to date too, Vivienne, but I've only read three of his so I'm hoping my ultimate favourite Hardy is still out there waiting to be read.
>222 Nickelini:, >225 SassyLassy: totally agree - that part of the novel is so harrowing. I'm sure I missed some of what I read in the pages afterwards as I was thinking about it so much.
>223 Simone2:, >224 ursula:, >226 mabith: I've heard such great things about Far From the Madding Crowd from everyone on here. I wonder will it beat The Major of Casterbridge for me? I did love Tess... as well, though.
>227 baswood: fantastic! Sounds like I have at least two fantastic Hardy's still to get to then.
Just dropping by to wish you a Merry Christmas, Alison. I hope Santa brings you lots of books or at least, time to read.
>229 VivienneR: and a Merry Christmas to you too Vivienne! According to the Norad tracker he's going to be here in just over 3 hours, so we'd better get to sleep!
Merry Christmas to all Club Readers from Belfast. May Santa fill your stockings with books a-plenty, and may the New Year be the start to many 5 star reads in 2017.
Merry Christmas to you as well! I love following your reading, and look forward to seeing what you read in 2017!
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