This topic was continued by floremolla's ROOTs part two.
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Really enjoyed ROOTing last year - rediscovered my love for reading and met lots of lovely people along the way. (2017 thread - https://www.librarything.com/topic/268593)
Trying to be more structured this year, without committing to actual titles, so...
Reading aims for 2018:
60 ROOTs (i.e. owned before 1 January 2018)
At least 10% must be non-fiction
At least 10% must be chunksters over 600 pages
At least 50% must be from the 1001 BYMRBYD list
At least 50% must be female authors
Tackle Infinite Jest, War and Peace or The Forsyte Saga novels
Include a fantasy novel
Track and keep control of acquisitions (hahaha!)
Catalogue my non-fiction I intend to read.
Starting with 162 on the TBR pile but this might rise as non-fiction is added.
Could be making ROOTing difficult for myself with all these rules, but heyho, they can be changed ;)
1. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson 01.01.18 4.5*
2. If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italy Calvino 06.01.18 4.5*
3. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson 11.01.18 4*
4. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro 14.01.18 4*
5. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons 17.01.18 4.5*
6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry 18.01.18 5*
7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami 21.01.18 4.5*
8. What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt 23.01.18 5*
9. Mao II by Don DeLillo 30.01.18 5*
10. The Dry by Jane Harper 31.01.18 4*
11. Leviathan by Paul Auster 04.02.18 4*
12. The Accidental by Ali Smith 06.02.18 4*
13. Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton 08.02.18 4*
14. The Observations by Jane Harris 11.02.18 4*
15. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris 13.02.18 4*
16. The Trick is To Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway 21.02.18 5*
17. Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen 24.02.18 2.5*
18. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 04.03.18 3.5*
19. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro 18.03.18 3.5*
20. Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon 24.03.18 4*
21. Hotel World by Ali Smith 25.03.18 3.5*
22. The Highland Clearances by John Prebble 28.03.18 5*
23. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke 31.03.18 4.5*
1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry paperback 10.01.18
2. Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History by David Christian paperback 16.01.18 (currently reading)
3. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves audiobook 01.02.18
4. A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement by Anthony Powell audiobook 01.02.18
5. Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch paperback 05.02.18
6. Justine by Lawrence Durrell paperback 07.02.18 ✔️5*
7. Invisible Cities by Italy Calvino paperback 07.02.18 ✔️ 3.5*
8. Evelina by Frances Burney paperback 07.02.18
9. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker paperback 07.02.18
10. Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes paperback 07.02.18
11. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson paperback 07.02.18
12. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton paperback 07.02.18
13. Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs paperback 07.02.18
14. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines paperback 07.02.18
15. Winter by Ali Smith hardback 20.01.18
16. The Sorrows of Young Werther by J W Goethe paperback 21.02.18 ✔️3*
17. Silence by Shūsaku Endō paperback 21.02.18
18. The Berlin Novels by Christopher Isherwood paperback 21.02.18
19. Ignorance by Milan Kundera paperback 21.02.18
20. Old Filth by Jane Gardam paperback 09.03.18
21. A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne paperback 09.03.18
22. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy paperback 09.03.18
23. Sweet Caress by William Boyd paperback 09.03.18
24. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson paperback 09.03.18
25. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth paperback 23. 03.18
26. Autumn by Ali Smith hardback 25.03.18
27. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton paperback 28.03.18
28. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison paperback 28.03.18
29. The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis paperback 28.03.18
30. Nora Webster by Colm Toíbín paperback 28.03.18
✔️ = read.
Welcome back, Donna and Happy ROOTing.
I hope those blank spaces will be filled soon.
Welcome back, Donna, looking forward to more epic reviews in 2018!
I hope you have a very happy new year.
>8 si: That's weird, they look ok on my iPad, but I did have some trouble with them duplicating so I'll check on my laptop later - thanks for letting me know.
Yep, it was reverting to one of last year's tickers - sorted now!
>9 floremolla: Uhh, not really. You put the wrong ticker in the tickerthread. Is says 20 books now.
Welcome back and have a great reading year! Good luck with tackling one of those enormous books on your list!
I don't know if it really suits your reading style - possibly not - but when I tackled War and Peace a couple of years ago I did it on an X pages per week basis, to read throughout the year, and then read other books at the same time. It's when I realised that poly-reading really works for me, and also meant that I wasn't disheartened at the thought of 1700 pages still to go! I sped up towards the end as I wanted to know what happened, but for most of the year I just chugged through and it suited me much better and felt like much less of a slog!
It took me about 2-3 weeks to read War and Peace. I went to the net and found a character list and kept it beside me to I could keep each character straight in my mind and who was related to whom and how!
Hi! Good luck w/ your 2018 Goals!
I'll be stopping by to say Hi when I can :)
>2 floremolla: Preventing new ROOTs sprouting by reading the books I acquire during 2018
What a great way to frame it!!!!
Seriously impressed with your chunkster goal. I love their long and deep immersions, but they are intimidating.
>10 connie53: thanks, Connie - I’d copied and pasted, sorted now I hope!
Good luck with all your goals in 2018. Have fun with your ROOTing!
>20 Henrik_Madsen: thanks, Henrik - maybe too ambitious on the female author front because I don't have a huge number of ROOTs by women writers! Will just have to see how it goes. :)
Hi Donna and happy new year of ROOTs!
I love the nonfiction I’ve read by DFW, but have never read any fiction. If you do decide to tackle Infinite Jest, I just might be interested in reading it too.
#1 Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (169 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
Set mainly in 17th century London around the time of the civil war that saw the execution of Charles I and the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan movement - but this is a version of the world where the fantastical happens alongside the everyday.
The 'Dog Woman' can't recall her real name, but as a breeder of boarhounds she has no need of anything more specific, except that she is also foster-mother to a foundling, Jordan, whom she found floating in the Thames as a baby and has raised to be a charming and adventurous young man.
The Dog Woman is a giant with a temper, and a thirst for justice in chaotic times. Jordan is a dreamer and sailor who catches sight of beautiful dancer, Fortunata, and will pursue her to the ends of the earth - even though she does not wish her heart to be captured, because she has a more important task to attend.
This is a little novel of big ideas, illustrated by stories within the main story - an intriguing and delightful exploration of time and space, male and female roles, fairytale and myth - where the twelve dancing princesses of folklore are divorced and disaffected and time is non-linear, offering small glimpses into other worlds and times.
Towards the end, the story steps outside the historical with a leap to the future, where characters identifiable as modern-day incarnations of Dog-Woman and Jordan are eco-warrior and retired naval officer respectively, drawn to each other in a battle to save an endangered ecosystem.
This is an enjoyable trip into the metaphysical where the heroes are not powerful males but women, outsiders and dreamers. A reminder to raise one's head periodically, above the mundane and the everyday, and contemplate the vastness and wonder of the universe.
Hi Donna, I'll try to follow you in 2018.
I also want to squeeze in as many 1,001s as possible this year. I only made it through 2 of those in the last 1 3/4 years, this has to get better. >27 floremolla: this one is not on my shelf (no ROOT), but with 4.5 stars I'll put it on my watchlist.
>28 Deern: Hi Nathalie, nice to see you - there are lots of short books on the 1001 list and Sexing the Cherry is one of them. It was just the right read for me yesterday - a bit of escapism on a stormy day. :)
>27 floremolla: Sigh. Book bullet. Our book club read it in 2000 but to be honest I didn't even buy it. NOW it sounds interesting to me.
Love your goals for this year - good luck! I'm also hoping to finally get to The Forsyte Saga this year. There's a yearlong group read of it planned in the Category Challenge group, so I'm hoping that'll help get me going.
>32 madhatter22: thanks! And thanks for letting me know about the Category Challenge group read of The Forsyth Saga, it would be good to pop in there for encouragement!
Welcome back, and good luck with your ROOTing goals.
Be warned if you decide to go with The Forsyth Saga: I read it - it must be close to 40 years ago now. It was at the top of my book list for a while before I decided to tackle it. After I did, I had to read the next two trilogies that followed it! Part of the reason there are still about 50 books left of my original list is there are so many books on there that are actually multiple books. I thought I had finally gotten through most of those, but then found out there are still several others that I hadn't suspected.
I also read War and Peace even earlier than that - while I was still in high school, I think. I can't remember very much about it now, except for some isolated scenes, but I do remember that once I got into it, I liked it a lot.
Hi >35 LoraShouse: - I will heed your warning! We inherited all three volumes of the TFS from my inlaws - quite intimidating big chunky books so I might look for a cheap/free ebook for convenience. Or listen on audiobook!
Speaking of audiobooks, I've got W&P ready to go when I've finished my current one. The BBC did a lavish adaptation a couple of years ago so I feel I already know the gist of the story and should be able to follow it ok on audio. I hope so anyway!
#2 If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italy Calvino (260 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
It probably wasn't a good idea to tackle this book during a bout of post-festive-season torpor. It's an esoteric journey into books, literature, language, reading and readers, via a twisting and turning narrative that jumps from one book excerpt to another as the story unfolds, alternating with the author/narrator's observations on these subjects. There's also a developing love story.....so, the reader needs to be paying attention to all of the threads if any of it is to make sense.
The book begins with a short introduction where the author addresses the reader directly with observations on books and reading which made me smile - especially the categories of books, including 'books you need to go with other books', 'books that fill you with sudden inexplicable curiosity, not easily justified' and 'books that if you had more than one life you would certainly also read but unfortunately your days are numbered'.
The story then begins with an excerpt from a book called 'If On A Winter's Night A Traveller'. As the reader is reading this book, so too it is being read by an unnamed man referred to by the author as 'The Reader'. We find this out when the book stops abruptly and The Reader finds that the book he was enjoying is incomplete. Returning it to the bookstore he finds the replacement book he's given is not the one he had originally, and what's worse is that it too is incomplete and there are now two incomplete books he'd like to read (are you still with me?).
Also, in the bookstore he meets a young woman, Ludmilla (also referred to by the author as 'The Other Reader') who has had the same problem - they decide to track down the missing book-parts together. So begins a physical journey through the books' publishers, a university literature department and then across continents searching for the rest of the books, and someone who may or may not be their author - only to find more incomplete books and the possibility of a worldwide apocrypha conspiracy.
It's also a theoretical journey as the author uses the opportunity to raise issues about literary authenticity such as whether a book begun in a language that is now dead and then completed by another author, in the language that followed, has integrity or is a counterfeit; the falsity of using computer programmes to finish writing, in his own style, a book started by an author; the commercial phenomenon of authors being paid for product placement in their books...the list could go on and Calvino covers a lot of ground in the spaces between the book excerpts.
The book excerpts themselves, ten in all, variously titled and often suspected of being falsely attributed, imitations or pastiches - all read like bona fide chunks of good quality fiction (and yes, they mostly left this reader wanting to read on). The blurb on my edition suggested these excerpts fitted specific literary genres but I didn't think it was as clear cut as that - each excerpt is only as long as a chapter and it's difficult to get a feel for where the rest of the book would have gone, but in any case Calvino demonstrates remarkable versatility as a writer with excerpts set in different countries, cultures and historical timeframes and with convincing and sympathetic characters.
The love story develops between The Reader and The Other Reader but there always seems to be a third party between them, whether it's Irnerio, the artistic guy who claims he never reads, or the scamming translator Marana, or egomaniac Silas Flannery, the Irish author, whose diary, written while he has writer's block, becomes more sought after than his previously churned out thrillers. These are opportunities for the author to explore the different relationships between reader, text and writer and all the influences that may come between them.
This was quite a demanding read - dense prose, a myriad of ideas and no neat ending - but quite satisfying and thought provoking nonetheless.
>37 floremolla: What a great review, Donna! Sounds like magical realism to me and I run screaming from that genre.....but if anybody could make me read it, you could!
>38 tess_schoolmarm: thanks, Tess! It does tend towards the fantastical in places, and the final excerpt could be magic realism - I'm not a fan either - but there was plenty of other stuff to engage with thankfully!
>37 floremolla: are you still with me?
Yes, the whole way through, lovely review! This is one I keep "saving," expecting to love it. Now, I will get to it the moment I can give proper focus to it.
>37 floremolla: I've had this sitting on my shelf without knowing a thing about it and now I'm looking forward to it even more.
>40 detailmuse: >41 madhatter22: thank you both! I was attracted by the name - thought it would be an atmospheric seasonal read with a bit of a quirky structure - but it really is quite different from anything I've read before. I liked Nabokov's Pale Fire a lot because he challenged the reader to uncover the 'truth' of his protagonist's narrative - Calvino goes further and involves the reader as one of the protagonists - in both cases the authors engage with the reader directly and without condescension, which is refreshing. Hope you enjoy it!
"ROOT prevention," I like that! :) I'm interested in Infinite Jest, too, but I doubt this will be the year. Interested to see what you have to say about it if you tackle it, though.
Good luck with your 2018 ROOTs!
>37 floremolla: Wow! What a great review! I'm definitely intrigued and am putting it on my wishlist!
>37 floremolla: I might have to reread this one day. I loved the first bit and extremely disliked the rest. It wasn't the structure, it was the two main characters I couldn't connect with. Maybe I matured into it in the meantime?
>47 Deern: I didn't engage much with the two main characters either. I put it down to The Reader being male and addressed as such - but they're just devices for creating opportunities to discuss different reader/author/text relationships, so I kind of let it go. Maybe if that had been handled more deftly I would have given it 5* ;)
#3 A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (542 pages)
Yesterday I vented on someone else's thread that I was two-thirds of the way through this book and it had failed to engage me on several levels, namely: that I didn't engage with the characters; I couldn't recall the details of Life After Life, of which this is a spin-off; and that I didn't like how the narrative jumped around from timeframe to timeframe, often foretelling what was to happen in the future. It seemed that every chapter had long rambling digressions off into different timeframes. I said I hoped against hope there still might be "scope for something to actually happen in the last third that will make it all worthwhile" - and what do you know? It did pull itself out of the mediocre and into a more thought-provoking read!
In fact, I wish I'd read the author's endnotes at the beginning. She says she never intended this life of Teddy to tie into any particular one of the lives of his sister Ursula. But she had wanted to write a novel set in WWII and Teddy's life as an RAF bomber pilot provided that opportunity with an already formed character and context. The fact that in Life After Life Teddy doesn't survive the war, is set aside. But there's a twist in the tale that isn't revealed till near the end.
Notwithstanding the fact the book picked up some traction in the last third, I still didn't engage with the characters around Teddy and thought they were a bit 'cardboard cut-out', no real substance to them and the trajectory of their individual stories was predictable and even mundane.
Teddy himself as a character came across as a nice but dull man - a 'bit of a lad' before the war, but 'afterwards' dutiful and blameless, kind, sympathetic, insightful. I didn't like his self-centred daughter but could see that she would have been exasperated being brought up by someone so careful and considered.
His family and friends from before the war had mourned and missed him; the characters who appeared after the war had never existed and Atkinson paints a poignant picture of their existence being sucked out of life.
This isn't the first book I've read where this particular twist in the tale has been used to make the reader stop in their tracks and go "whaaat??" so it didn't feel like a profound revelation for me. However I thought it was a device well used in this war story context. It highlighted the millions of people who never had an 'afterwards' to their experience of war, the loss to the loved ones they left behind, and the spaces left by descendants who would never be born.
This was about a 3.8 rating for me - I thought it could have been more tightly edited and would have benefitted from being a bit more linear in structure - but it rounds up to
>50 Jackie_K: reading them closer together might help, Jackie! I like Kate Atkinson too, but I wonder if I’ve been reading so much lately I’ve grown impatient when stories meander. There’s lots of Atkinson’s typical amusing observation but for some reason even that wasn’t working for me - it’s probably not the book, but me. Maybe I’m in that post festive-season mood-slump that causes an increase in divorces, but I’m taking it out on books instead ;)
It sounds like you read a couple of challenging reads in a row, Donna. Maybe its time for a little light relief?
My husband has The Wind Up Bird Chronicle on his TBR pile (which is considerably smaller than mine! Only a handful of books. Freak). There seems to be quite a buzz about it, although I'm not sure it's really my cup of tea.
Not sure why this quote from The Wind Up Bird Chronicle jumped out at me ;)
“Do you know the story of the monkeys of the shitty island?" I asked Nobory Wataya.
He shook his head, with no sign of interest. "Never heard of it".
"Somewhere, far, far away, there's a shitty island. An island without a name. An island not worth giving a name. A shitty island with shitty shape. On this shitty island grow palm trees that also have shitty shapes. And the palm trees produce coconuts that give off a shitty smell. Shitty monkeys live in the trees, and they love to eat these shitty-smelling coconuts,after which they shit the world's foulest shit. The shit falls on the ground and builds up shitty mounds, making the shitty palm trees that grow on them even shittier. It's an endless cycle."
I drank the rest of my coffee.
"As I sat here looking at you," I continued, " I suddenly remembered the story of this shitty island. What I'm trying to say is this. A certain kind of shittiness, a certain kind of stagnation, a certain kind of darkness, goes on propagating itself by its own power in its own self-contained cycle. And once it passed a certain point, no one can stop it - even if the person himself want to stop it.”
>61 floremolla: Yeah, I have to say there is someone who springs straight to mind...
#4 When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (313 pages)
Just as Ishiguro adopted the PG Wodehouse country house genre with The Remains of The Day, so in this novel he adopts the familiar form of the detective novel, complete with the kind of oddball self-focused protagonist who has difficulty making close relationships. But in typical Ishiguro fashion, all is not as it seems and the detective, first person narrator, Christopher Banks, is almost immediately identifiable as unreliable.
We learn that Christopher had a privileged and sheltered upbringing in Shanghai's International Settlement where his English parents had settled - his father working for a major company whose dealings include opium imports and his mother trying to raise support for opium restriction, having seen the devastating impact of the drug on the Chinese population. The scene is set for conflict.
When Christopher's father disappears, he and his best friend, next door neighbour, Akira, a Japanese boy, spend hours playing detective and this fuels Christopher's ambition to be a famous sleuth. Many years later, the adult Christopher returns to Shanghai - with China and Japan now at war - as a successful detective bent on solving the case of his parents' disappearance and at the same time exposing and vanquishing the evil at the centre of the world's growing disorder, an evil that has its origins in the Far East.
Here the novel moves into a fantastical mode where despite the passage of time, Shanghai society embraces Christopher as a celebrity, makes preparations for a public ceremony of celebration to be held when his parents are found (an absurd assumption after twenty five years) and looks to him to solve its wider problems. Christopher's investigations lead him into peril before the revelations of his parents' fates cause him to question his own beliefs and realise what his obsession has cost him.
This is not the strongest of Ishiguro's novels I've read but through the personal tragedy of Christopher's life it explores the author's familiar themes of unreliable memory, guilt, repression, alienation and the gulf that can exist between parents and children - all of which can be extrapolated to historical national and political events/circumstances. As always his prose is elegant and precise and he avoids a simplistic or unconvincing ending.
>59 Jackie_K: LOL! At least he has a TBR pile! Mine does not. He says I do enough reading for two people.
>59 Jackie_K: >67 detailmuse: >69 rabbitprincess: >70 tess_schoolmarm: just as well - can you imagine having to negotiate for bookshelf space as well as wardrobe space?
>68 tess_schoolmarm: his novels tend to be set in periods of turmoil, usually in the aftermath of WWII, although he doesn't go into much detail about war itself, it's more about the effects of war on his characters, along the themes I mentioned above. I'm aiming to read all of his novels with the two I haven't read The Unconsoled and The Buried Giant in my TBR for reading this year.
A God in Ruins was the first Atkinson book ever that simply didn't work for me.
Love your Wind-Up quote . . . .
>72 sibyx: same here! I've no issue with authors revisiting characters but let's just say I was unable to 'lose myself' in this book because it all felt forced - disappointing because I had been an Atkinson fan.
>73 tess_schoolmarm: lol! You're more than equal to those books and will probably pick up on historical and other references that passed me by. I watched The Remains of The Day film over the holidays - it was a pretty faithful adaptation and really held my interest even though I'd only read the book months before. I'd defy anyone not to be moved by it!
>75 connie53: lol! mine is so set in his newspaper reading routine - 11.30am till 1.30pm daily including the puzzles - he can be quite rude if visitors interrupt, even his relatives who come up from England to spend a few days with us know that he’s not ‘at home to callers’ till after lunch :))
>76 floremolla:. That's a lot longer than Peet spends on the newspaper. Mostly just 15 minutes. And puzzles are my thing. I would like it if he would make puzzles too.
>77 connie53: it's a broadsheet newspaper with separate sports pages and weekend supplements - a 10 minute scan of the headlines is enough for me, it's usually so depressing and politically biased (in my opinion).
I leave the puzzles to my husband, but it can still be quite sociable - especially when neither of us can remember a word or the answer to a general knowledge question no matter how many times it crops up!
#5 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (233 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
This novel is often cited as being a 'wicked satire' on rural English melodramas of the late 19th-early 20th century, which put me off a little as I'm fond of Mary Webb's Precious Bane - though perhaps not so much of Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence whose work is also parodied (I'm more familiar with their writing through film adaptations).
Gibbons had a sharp wit and an eye for comedy - every rural melodrama cliché is rolled out to comic effect in Cold Comfort Farm - family secrets, a reclusive mad aunt, a religious zealot, the farm falling into ruin, the lustful son, the fallen woman with the lovechild...
Into all of this comes Flora Poste, recently orphaned at the age of nineteen (though not too bereft since she was at boarding school and barely saw her parents). Flora is highly educated, an urban and urbane creature, happiest in London, exchanging witty banter and deflecting the interest of tiresome intellectuals who always seem to fall in love with her.
She decides that she will become "a parasite" on some of her relatives for a while as a diversion while she decides what to do with her life (parallels with many novels where the heroine is shunted onto relatives in early womanhood). Of four possibilities she chooses the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in deepest Sussex, because she guesses, from the crudely written letter she receives from her cousin, that there is much in that household that needs to be fixed and tidied up, not least its occupants - and interfering with people's lives is Flora's favourite pastime.
Flora's dialogues with her clueless peasant relatives and the droll descriptions of weather over the bucolic landscape and the labourers at their toil provide rich material for parodying the rural drama genre. Clearly Gibbons, like a lot of us, had only a rudimentary knowledge of farming and rural life, so took every opportunity to invent farming terminology and local dialect - made-up words and phrases like 'mollocking' and 'cowdling a mommet' abound but in context you know exactly what it means.
Some of the comedy is outrageous, such as when old Adam gets tossed in the air by a spirited horse and refuses to let go of the reins, but there are discreet little gems (one of my favourites quips was about Flora's Scottish uncle, and his man, Hoots). Gibbons doesn't reserve her scathing wit for the peasantry either - the hunting County set and London's bohemian intellectuals are targets for her merciless mocking too.
Flora would come across as an arrogant little prig in any other context, with her snobbish contempt for other people's tastes and her conviction that she herself - aided by her handbook 'The Higher Common Sense' - is always right. But at Cold Comfort Farm she is the new broom that sweeps away old resentments and bad habits as she tackles her relatives, one by one, and improves their lives. As the novel comes close to its end, she finally meets her nemesis, Aunt Ada, who has been a tyrant to her family for decades on account of having once seen 'something nasty in the woodshed' when she was a child.
To add to the conceit of parodying other writers' works, the novel is set up as a draft being submitted to a respected author for his opinion with the 'best bits' of purple prose highlighted by asterisks. Published in 1932, it's set at a vague point "in the near future" where people travel by personal plane and can see the people they talk to on the phone on video, yet quaintly they still have servants, go to balls and have their gowns made by a couturier.
This was a light and amusing read that made me wonder whether humorous satire is still being written and, if so, where is it?
>79 floremolla: A BB for me! I have read other good reviews so this must be a winner!
>80 tess_schoolmarm: hope it raises a smile or two :)
>81 detailmuse: thanks, MJ, I’ll wishlist that!
Just received my copy of Maps of Time... yesterday - I chose the paperback over the kindle version because of the illustrations. Aiming to read it in small chunks over the year.
The poly-reading approach was recommended to me by >12 Jackie_K: for War and Peace.I acquired a two part audiobook of W&P from Audible and a free kindle download from Project Gutenburg, so will have those going on and off too, starting next month. Managed to sneak those in before the end of 2017, so they’ll count as ROOTs ;)
>82 floremolla: I use the poly reading method also all the time, and especially for BFB's. With the Gulag Archipelago I even listened to the audio and followed along in my book....worked great for the Russian words to be able to see them and hear them. I think I will try Villette again using that method.
>83 tess_schoolmarm: yes, I can see how that would work well - plus I’d like to have a few ‘quick-read’ fixes in among the longer, heavier tomes - better than getting bogged down with one book for a long period.
>66 floremolla: I read this one late last year and followed up quite immediately with The Unconsoled which is very much like that fantastic part, and quite different from the Ishiguro I knew from all his other novels I'd read earlier. It was a strange experience, I had some strong negative reactions to When We Were Orphans, but liked it a lot for doing this with my mind.
I also like your Wind-Up Bird quote, and don't remember it at all. Sometimes I think I should just reread all my 1,001 books instead of always getting new ones. Might also make sense for Cold Comfort Farm which I read before I ever got to all those rural classical novels, so the satire was lost on me.
#6 Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (301 pages)
Told in first person narrative, this novel follows the story of a young Irish immigrant to America, in the mid-19th century, from his early teenage years to his forties. Not that Thomas McNulty is sure of his age. When the Irish famine wiped out his family back in Sligo the young lad stowed away on a ship, arriving first in Canada then making his way south.
Thomas's account begins with him looking back, trying to find a foothold in his life from which to start his story - for some reason it alights on his contemplation of the burial of a fellow soldier of the US army in the early days of civil war, then his joining up many years earlier to fight in the Indian Wars with his brother-in-arms, John Cole, then further back to tell how he and John Cole met as lads and earned their keep for a few years as 'dancing girls' in a saloon bar. But very quickly the story moves on to battle.
Thomas recounts battles and raids against the Indians, describing the landscape and the battle, but also his feelings - he's not an educated person and the life of a soldier is just one rung above utter privation, but Thomas is astute enough to see the terrible iniquities of the situation, on both sides: the killing of squaws and children as the awful price for the terrorising of settlers by the Indians. He doesn't shirk from responsibility and seems as reliable a narrator as memory allows.
When their commissions come to an end soon after a harrowing raid, Thomas and John Cole make a decision to take an orphaned Souix girl with them, rather than leave her to the fate of winter in the fort with soldiers driven mad by hunger and worse. Over the next two years they make a life for themselves, with the girl, Winona, as their daughter - but around them the winds of civil war are stirring and, unable to make a living otherwise, they join their old army company, leaving Winona in the care of a trusted friend.
This is a brutal and tender novel. Thomas tells the story in his own uneducated words but that doesn't mean there isn't a beauty in the language. He leaves out no harrowing detail of the suffering of war or of the challenges of extremes of weather and, even in peacetime, the constant fear of attack from robbers or people with a grudge against Winona's heritage.
But it's also about the loyalty invoked by the shared terrible experiences, the good people they meet and the yearning for a better life. At heart, this is a love story more than a war story and I won't say more about that, other than it surprised and touched me greatly.
Barry has written a number of novels featuring members of the McNulty family, reflecting their lives and fates over different eras - perhaps they are an 'everyman' for Irish antecedents, telling the story of the Irish diaspora, bit by bit. Definitely a group of books to add to my TBR sooner rather than later.
>66 floremolla: Excellent review! My book club read When We Were Orphans in 2010, my choice. Hardly anybody liked it even a smidge, but we had a great discussion. I liked it but not as much as I thought I would. I haven't wanted to read any more by him even though I have 3 on my shelves.
Great reviews of Cold Comfort Farm and Days Without End.
>87 karenmarie: I really like Ishiguro and only have two of his novels still to read but When We Were Orphans feels off-kilter. I read somewhere that he cut 100 pages from it at the last minute. I wonder if he was under a deadline to deliver a novel to his publisher and had no option but to go with it. In any event he acknowledges it as the weakest of his novels.
>86 floremolla: This is why I love this site -- the exposure to stories and ideas that I'll never get to in full. Except...I've added this to my wishlist :)
>89 detailmuse: it won a major prize in 2016 but passed me by somehow, then I picked it up because I’ve liked a few of Barry’s novels The Secret Scripture and A Long Long Way. Didn’t even know what it was about, started reading it and thought ‘uh-oh this is going to be harrowing’ but then couldn’t put it down. I hope you like it if you read it!
I'm quite tempted by Cold Comfort Farm, although like Deern above I'm not sure I'd fully get all the satire having probably not read the books she is lampooning.
>92 floremolla: Yes I'm sure! And actually, F&S doing FFtMC - you've sold it, onto the wishlist it goes!
#7 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murikami (607 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD BFB Challenge
Toru Okada is an unremarkable unemployed thirty-year-old Japanese man living a mundane life – he cleans and listens to music, cooks dinner for his working wife and ponders his future, for which he has no great ambitions. Things take a strange turn when he starts to receive explicit telephone calls from a breathy-voiced woman and tries to hide them from his wife, Kumiko.
When their cat disappears and Kumiko hires a clairvoyant to find it, Toru is sceptical and determines to find the cat himself. He climbs a fence into a blocked-off alley at the back of their apartment and is attracted to a nearby vacant house, with an unusual bird statue and a dried-up well in the grounds. He also encounters a bold adolescent girl who hangs around the alley and they strike up a friendship, which he also hides from his wife.
When Kumiko suddenly disappears it seems that everyone Toru meets and every strange thing that happens to him, is in some way connected with her disappearance and he must use these as clues to find her. Very soon he is warned off by Kumiko’s brother, Noboru, an intellectual and rising politician, whom he loathes and suspects of dark deeds – this makes him all the more determined to persist.
Initially Toru seems to be surrounded by women - the clairvoyant, Malta and her sister/apprentice, Creta (about whom he has erotic dreams) and May Kasahara, the teenager from the alley, who is obsessed with death. Then he receives a visit from an elderly army Lieutenant, acting as executor for the will of a mutual friend. Gradually he feels he is being pulled towards the well at the vacant house, and so begins a blurring between reality and an ‘alternate world’ where he becomes convinced Kumiko is being held against her will - he must develop the power to move between worlds if he is to save her.
This is a big sprawling novel, where each character has a back-story to tell – each of the stories-within-the-story is more disturbing and harrowing than the next, involving wartime atrocities and personal traumas. There are recurring themes and elements that link to Toru’s present day/real life experiences.
On one hand this novel is about degrees of reality, from dreams to whole other worlds, and on the other it’s an old-fashioned battle between good and evil – Toru and Noboru, the happily-domesticated nice guy and the corporate/political nasty guy, where the former has to fight to save his own corner. All very Murakami with its implied commentary on contemporary Japanese society.
I felt there were some threads from the back-stories that remained untied at the end. Perhaps the answers were there and I’d missed their significance. Or it might be that severe editing of the English translation (authorised edition) which reduced the book’s content by about 25,000 words, has muddied the waters. No matter, it was still a good read/listen.
>95 tess_schoolmarm: thank you, Tess!
>96 Deern: I was surprised how gripping the story was - wish I’d done it as a group read! I would’ve liked to hear others’ thoughts on some questions I had. I’ve found a blog that did a group read so if I’ve time I’d like to read through it - I hate missing anything important ;)
>94 floremolla: Great review. I read TWUBC last year. I think it's my least favorite of the 3 Murakamis I've read (1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore being the other two), but nevertheless was glad I read it.
I participated in the group read in the 75 Book Challenge group last year. Here's the thread: 2017 Group Read of Kafka on the Shore in case you're interested.
#8 What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (367 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
What I Loved covers a twenty five year period in the life of Leo Hertzberg, as his first person narrative begins with memories of the first time he saw an unusual painting in a New York Gallery and found himself confusing the shadow of the painter with his own. Having bought the painting he seeks out the artist, Bill Weschler, and so begins a long friendship, where they, the women in their lives, and eventually their children, become close to the point where their SoHo lofts are separated only by the floor/ceiling.
Leo is an art historian, married to Erica, a lecturer in English. Bill is married to Lucille, a poet reserved to the point of coldness. When the wives become pregnant around the same time the families become closer but Bill and Lucille's marriage is doomed. When she moves away, taking Mark, their son, Leo and Erica - and even their young son Matt - support Bill and quite quickly things settle into a new arrangement when Violet moves in with him.
Over several summers they cement their relationships with shared holidays in New England, where the boys go off to day camp while the parents pursue their various work commitments. Bill creates art, while the others research and write books and papers - for Violet it's hysteria in young women, for Leo its Goya and for Erica it's the characters of Henry James.
As you would expect from people with esoteric interests and philosophical views, they spark off each other's thoughts on diverse subjects some of which become themes throughout the novel - but it's also about their personal relationships and Leo's observations, thoughts and feelings - he loves them all intensely. When first grief strikes their happy set-up, and then worry about the morality of one of the boys, Leo takes it upon himself to try to resolve things.
This is a slowly unfurling novel that charts changes in the families against the background of changes in the art scene, urban regeneration and societal norms. Mental illness features throughout and Leo, a decade older than the others, tries to understand what he sees as links between this and the disintegration of society. The novel's pace moves up a gear in the final third when Leo tries to save what's left of the disintegrating group of people he loves.
Hustvedt successfully accomplishes a gradual change of genre when what starts as a multi-faceted love story slowly transforms into a psychological thriller. Her characters are beautifully drawn and, for me, entirely believable and their love, suppressed desire and grief convincingly portrayed. The bohemian late 70s-early 80s part of the setting appealed enormously to me and although I was keen to get to the end to find out 'what happened', this is a book I'll read again for its many interesting references to philosophy, art and art history.
Just catching up on your updates here. You are making fast progress and I wish you happy reading in February.
#9 Mao II by Don DeLillo (242 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
Published in 1991, it's disconcerting to realise that despite being set in the 1980s, there's a very contemporary feel to this novel, and even a sort of prescience.
The main protagonist, Bill Gray has published only two books in his career as an author but his reclusive lifestyle and failure to publish anything for two decades have made him a cultural icon with a cult following. When Brita Nilsson, a photographer who only shoots writers, succeeds in persuading him to sit for her, their interest in each other piques. But Brita is also carrying a message from Bill's editor.
Bill's personal assistant Scott, and the latter's partner Karen, make up the other couple of this novel's foursome of protagonists. Bill is the light around which the others flutter, regarding him as some kind of genius, but although his latest novel has been finished for years - he just can't stop tinkering with it, and won't let it go until it's perfect. He is the epitome of the tortured artist, estranged even from his own children.
Having allowed himself to be photographed by Brita, Bill begins to contemplate a gradual foray back into society (maybe even as Brita's lover) and responds to a strange request from his editor, Charlie - to get involved in trying to release a Swiss poet who is being held hostage in Lebanon by Maoist terrorists. Charlie is motivated by potential publicity more than any ethical reason but Bill relents and together they set off into dangerous territory while Scott and Karen, unaware of all this, panic about Bill's disappearance.
Mao II explores some familiar DeLillo themes. The opening chapter-but-not-a-chapter could be a short story in its own right reminiscent of the opening of Underworld - both feature large crowd scenes in a baseball stadium with what's happening on the field and the descriptions of, and dialogue between, onlookers setting an authentic scene. In Mao II the focus is on the awesome power of crowds, the herd instinct that makes them act as one - and the new crowds, those created by cult leaders picking off the vulnerable and disaffected or the super-rich land-buyers creating a sea of homeless and dispossessed.
There's the geo-political aspect of how what happens elsewhere in the world impacts on America and there's the role of artists in world events - in Mao II these conflate into questions about the relative power of terrorism versus art in influencing the masses.
Much of what the novel is about is revealed in dialogue between characters. The characterisation itself was great - four very complex characters and I didn't particularly like any of them - curmudgeonly Bill when his editor suggests printing his novel on acid-free paper:
"I'd just as soon have my books rot when I do. Why should they outlive me? They're the reason I'm dying before my time"
Scott as Bill's acolyte and obsessive PA, stoking Bill's fear that his new novel will not be good enough and will undermine his previous work. Karen, damaged by her experience with a cult and fearful for the world but convinced 'The Master' is coming to save it. Brita, whose life is all surface, hiding loneliness and uncertainty, demonstrating something more like nihilism than heroism in venturing to photograph a rising terrorist leader.
Mao II is a caustic reminder of how far back we (western society) go with terrorism and suspicion relating to ethnic groups in the Middle East, reacting to super-power interference in their economies and cultures. What's prescient in this novel is that the twin towers of the World Trade centre loom large as icons, symbols of the very things the terrorists (and artists) oppose.
DeLillo also mirrors the Beirut destroyed by bombs with New York's urban disintegration. Social alienation is the breeding ground for terrorism - and for the terrorists, it's terrorism, not art, that effects change: the world is desperately waiting for someone to tell them what to do and they are developing their Maoist-influenced ideas for mass domination. Powerful and thought-provoking.
>105 floremolla: I see what you mean, especially Tackle Infinite Jest, War and Peace or The Forsyte Saga novels. Yikes!!! Glad to see you stated ~or~ instead of ~and~. Just finishing one of those would be a big accomplishment!
>107 Lisa805: In 2016 there was a BBC series of War and Peace - I had watched it but remembered very little about it. Started listening to W&P on audio recently and couldn't make head nor tail of who was who. I watched the series again (on Netflix) and now - only 1/10th of the way in to the book - I can even spot where the adaptation has changed or omitted characters and incidents.
Also, despite knowing how it all ends, I'm really into it now I know who's who and what they're talking about! I'm alternating with an ebook edition downloaded from Project Gutenberg that seems to be exactly the same as the audiobook. It'll still probably take me a couple of months to finish as I plan to keep reading other ROOTs but it's really not as taxing as I feared it would be!
>108 floremolla: I did not see the TV adaptation of War and Peace--and I also could not figure out who was who, so I went online and printed off a chart---it worked for me!
>109 tess_schoolmarm: lol! Once you get past the names the rest is a dawdle. :)
#10 The Dry by Jane Harper (401 pages)
Set in a small rural community in contemporary Australia, The Dry follows main protagonist Aaron Falk, returning after twenty years absence to attend the funeral of his former school friend Luke Hadler. Feelings run high in the town because Luke's wife and small son have been shot to death and farmer Luke appears to have committed suicide. A two year drought has put all the local farms under severe financial hardship and it seems that Luke had buckled under pressure.
Falk, a federal police officer specialising in financial crime is reluctant to get involved but when the local policeman points out some discrepancies in the case, he agrees to give it a few days. Unfortunately Falk himself had left town all those years ago under suspicion of being involved in the death of a friend and he soon finds himself targeted by her family in a wave of hate and revenge.
This was a quick read despite its length. Not that it needed editing, the narrative was straightforward and moved along quickly, revealing in flashback different characters' experiences of the events leading up to the current deaths and the death of the girl two decades earlier.
I thought I'd worked out early on who the perp was in the farm deaths but was entirely wrong. I was a bit closer to the mark with the older death. For me that's the pleasure of crime novels - trying to work out whodunnit and being satisfied with a well substantiated reveal at the end. The characters don't have to be lovable or complex, just enough information to make me suspend disbelief, and the story mustn't sag in the middle. This novel ticked all those boxes as a good example of its genre.
January end of month stats:
10/60 ROOTs completed (favourite read was What I Loved)
0/20 Non-ROOTs completed
0 Non-fiction completed but currently reading Non-ROOT Maps of Time (only at page 20 tbh!)
1 chunkster completed
7 from the 1001 list completed
50% female authors read
War and Peace @ 6% (according to Kindle)
2 new acquisitions
No further cataloguing done but a quick recce shows that I probably haven't missed many.
3435 pages read
LT app TBR count stands at 151 (including acquisitions, corrections and books moved to 'currently reading')
No older ROOTs pulled this month so a bit more effort required on that front in February. :))
Donna, you're making fast progress ... some great books and excellent reviews!
Thanks MJ - once I set a goal I like to charge at it, full on, to give myself some leeway down the line #lifeskills ;)
>37 floremolla: My husband somehow has this book on his shelves - and has done since we first met. I don't think he's read it and I'm sure he would happily get rid of it (I assume it was a gift from a past girlfriend who didn't know his reading tastes too well!), but I'm intrigued enough by it to want to try it some day. After reading your excellent and informative review, I think I'll plan my attempt for when I'm likely to be feeling clear-headed!
>112 floremolla: Congratulations on an excellent reading month!
>115 Rebeki: I hope you like it then - I tend to be impressed with authors who find a new way to tell a story or who can convey thought provoking messages in their novels, and this does both!
Thanks for the congrats - I’m excited already about February, I still have lots of good stuff waiting to be read ;)
Your reviews make all of the books you read sound intriguing. I resisted until I read your review of The Dry.
It looks like you had a good reading month, Donna. 6% of War and Peace. You're a better man than I am, Charlie Brown.....
Great progress on your goals so far, it looks like! :) >106 floremolla: may be a BB for me.
#11 Leviathan by Paul Auster (245 pages)
Writer Peter Aaron has heard on the news that a man has blown himself up by the side of the road in Wisconsin. He's also heard that the FBI want to speak to him about the incident and he believes this is because the bomber is an old friend, Ben Sachs.
The novel comprises Peter's testimony, written in anticipation of being asked to give a full account of his knowledge of, and relationship with, Sachs. Peter recounts their history from their first meeting, when they hit it off right away as two young writers, Ben with one successful book behind him but struggling to come up with a second one; Peter still trying to break through. As their lives entwine over the years, Peter goes through marriage, fatherhood and divorce in a fairly 'conventional' mode. Sachs' life takes a curious trajectory after a serious accident, where his marriage too breaks down and a quirk of fate leads him to a violent confrontation from which he never recovers.
Leviathan is peopled with quirky characters, and reflects something of the zeitgeist of the eighties, with world politics, the end of the Cold War and the rise of terrorism as a backdrop. It also deals with themes of failure and the subjective nature of truth.
We learn early in the novel that Sachs is unconventional and has a strong moral belief system (albeit of his own devising) and although these factors cause him to make wrong choices again and again in his desire to do the right thing and make a difference in the world, they also seem authentic to the character (in fact the brilliant promise of his early work, his disaffection, gradual alienation and descent into terrorist activity is a little reminiscent of the real life Unabomber except with Sachs there were no injuries or fatalities).
Despite knowing from the beginning that Sachs had blown himself up I felt disappointed with the ending - I wanted him to be saved, or at least redeemed, especially as it was never his intention to harm people with his bombs, only to blow up statues in a symbolic protest aimed at trying to make the world a better place. It is testament to Auster's characterisation skills that the reader can feel sympathy with such a flawed character and hope for a different ending for him.
I was less satisfied with the 'testimony' premise, i.e., that Peter had evaded the FBI for eight weeks by staying put in his favourite writing location, and had written the book as testimony during that time - it seemed unlikely, and the reference to handing over the pages of the book to the FBI officer at the end made me wince and wonder if the story couldn't have been told just as well without this clunky device.
>123 floremolla: It is testament to Auster's characterisation skills that the reader can feel sympathy with such a flawed character
So true! In Dreamland last year (nonfiction about the opiate epidemic), I marveled that the writer induced sympathy in me for the illegal-gang drug traffickers, alongside outrage for the pharmaceutical-industry "drug traffickers." The industry deserved outrage and, in retrospect, I felt a little manipulated re: the sympathy. Oh the power of words!
In other news, I did acquire New York Trilogy last year and your review prompted me to look at it as a next-up ... but the book designers made my edition off-putting -- a small font and (per Auster's usual) most pages looking like nearly solid blocks of text :(
>124 detailmuse: yes! But at least we know when we're being manipulated!
Auster's prose is very dense, isn't it? I read in short chunks, trying to get a balance between absorbing all the meaning he packs in - and those references to Walden that make me feel I should have read it - and keeping making progress through the pages!
#12 The Accidental by Ali Smith (303 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
The Smart family are holidaying in a cottage in Norfolk during the school summer break, when they are unwittingly gatecrashed by an unusual young woman, calling herself Amber. The parents each think she is there at the invitation of the other.
The book is divided into three main parts: the beginning, the middle and the end, and in each part, the story is told from the points of view of twelve year old Astrid, seventeen year old Magnus, stepfather Michael and mother Eve. The parts are bookended by short chapters told by Amber.
The story is conventional enough: interloper enters middle class dysfunctional family and has an effect on their lives. Astrid is precocious and obsessive, Magnus withdrawn and self-hating, Michael is a serial adulterer/sexual predator with a sense of entitlement, Eve is suffering from angst, not just caused by writers' block while under pressure from her publishers, but also it seems that life in general is just too difficult.
Smith reveals each character's backstory (some of it traumatic) and their developing relationships with Amber, who uses friendship, seduction, fortune-telling and just plain rudeness to bring each one of the Smarts out of their negative states of mind and break down the barriers between them.
Smith doesn't merely tell a story, however, she uses different writing styles, including poetry, to differentiate her characters and there is a large amount of wordplay and riffing (mainly on the subject of cinema). There are also copious observations on societal issues, references to popular culture and the political news of the day (the setting being early 00s this includes the war with Iraq).
Being interested in words, and a near contemporary of Smith's, almost all of it was recognisable and resonated with me - some of it was even highly amusing - but ultimately I felt the story itself suffered a little from having to take a back seat to the pyrotechnics.
>127 karenmarie: thanks Karen - not too bad, I've got an annoying head cold but it's a great excuse for having my feet up with a book :) hope your Tuesday is going well!
Sorry to hear about your cold, Donna. Better stay indoors in the warm with a good book, if the weather forecast for overnight and tomorrow is anything to go by! (when I was driving A to and from her nursery today I must admit I was really really grateful for heated car seats!).
Thanks, Jackie - we have snow lying and it's very chilly but no pressing need to go out this week. Take care if you're driving, I guess it'll be icy!
>126 floremolla: interesting! -- they're all better off after the summer with this interloper?
I do like creative structures but your characterization as pyrotechnics seems well-deserved (and hilarious).
Feel better soon!
>131 detailmuse: let's just say they're all at an impasse and she helps them through. In a way it's a foregone conclusion because Amber is 'Chekhov's gun' in this 'play'.
Thank you for your kind wishes!
Fell off the acquisitions-in-moderation wagon yesterday and acquired nine books in a charity-shopping frenzy. I'd set myself a spending limit otherwise it would have been more. The ROOTs v acquisitions ratio is heading in the wrong direction unless I get some serious reading done this month. But in truth I'm already wondering when I can get back to that shop...
>133 floremolla: Ah, the siren song of the charity shop is irresistible. I know it only too well.
>133 floremolla: I know we're all hopeless, but really, there's nothing like that feeling of an armful of literary bargains, is there?
Get well soon, Donna.
Edit: The touchstone takes me to another book,
#13 Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (281 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
George Harvey Bone is a big man, considered a bit 'soft in the head' by the group he hangs around with - a dissolute bunch of idlers and drinkers that revolves around the stunningly attractive, but horrendously cruel, former actress, Netta. They take advantage of George's kind nature and his adulation of Netta to use and scorn him; Netta herself only tolerates him because she knows he has a football pools win stashed away in the bank and is easily persuaded to pay off her debts and fund the occasional meal in a fancy restaurant.
What they don't know is that every so often something in George's brain goes 'snap', the shutters come down on real life, and he sees everything as though the colour has gone out of it. In this state he has a mission, which is to kill Netta and then get a train to Maidenhead, arriving after dark, where he will then live a quieter happier life.
George remembers nothing of this mission when the strange fog passes with a 'click' into reality, only that he has been 'absent'. But as Netta's treatment of him grows more cruel and he loses faith in the one true friend he had, his brain snaps more and more often...
Hamilton paints a vivid picture of life in London's Earl Court in 1939, of lively restaurants, theatres and cinemas, but also its seedy underbelly of cheap hotels and rented rooms, people who live life on the never-never, around the edges of criminality, prostitution and alcoholism. George's crowd are so far gone they even have no interest in the subject of the increasingly looming war in Europe - although they find the idea of fascism rather exciting - they're really only interested in where the next few shillings are coming from to sustain their lifestyle.
But Hangover Square is more than just a melodramatic thriller about lowlifes, it's a more thoughtful novel than that. It's prefaced with a short definition: "Schizophrenia:...a cleavage of the mental functions, associated with assumption by the affected person of a second personality." Though we now know this statement to be erroneous, Hamilton was clearly exploring the possibilities of such a state in a fictional context.
It's structured so that each of its eleven parts is prefaced with a piece of poetry and/or an extract from Roger's Thesaurus, forewarning of the issues George is about to face and hinting at the timelessness of his oppression. It's to Hamilton's credit that George isn't portrayed as a monster but as a kind-hearted man whose once-harmless 'altered states' are intensified and corrupted by the cruel treatment he receives.
The ending said it all
>139 rabbitprincess: it is, RP. It's near a university so it's full of classics and books on the 1001 BYMRBYD list I've had my eye on! It's not the cheapest second hand book shop but that's because the books are generally in very good condition. I've bought second hand online and been disappointed by the state of my purchase - badly foxed pages, smelling of cigarette smoke...one even had what looked like part of someone's breakfast on the cover.
Putting the new acquisitions on the shelves made me realise I have some fat old ROOTs I probably won't want to keep, so I'm now devoting some of my ROOTing to removing those to make space for (whisper it) acquisitions. ;)
Some great reading and great reviews here. Too many to comment on, really. I do love Cold Comfort Farm however -- a lovely funny book and nobody at all seems to write anything like that now. Very much enjoyed the review of Wind-Up which, as you know, I just read recently.
Yay for book acquisitions, even if your ROOTs v acquisitions ratio is heading the wrong way.
I hope you're feeling better.
>138 floremolla: Another terrific review! You're able to handle dark content more than I am, but I'm glad for the small exposures through you.
>141 MissWatson: let me know if you're ever in the neighbourhood and I'll point you in the direction! ;)
>142 sibyx: thanks! If I was a writer I'd love to have written something like Cold Comfort Farm - there's plenty of satire in other media, I don't know why there's not much currently going on in books. I shall have to investigate.
>143 karenmarie: Hi Karen! I know, there are worse things I could be spending on, right? I'm coughing like a seal but otherwise feel ok. I'm milking it though by lying on the sofa and sighing between coughs ;)
>144 detailmuse: thanks, MJ! I must say I choose my dark content carefully. I know how upsetting I find some books - especially non-fictional accounts or 'based on real events'. If I know it's made up I can think of it as being part of the writer's craft and not take it as seriously!
#14 The Observations by Jane Harris (521 pages)
Set in central Scotland in 1863, Harris's debut novel is narrated by a young girl, Bessy, whose circumstances have found her without a job or accommodation. Setting off from Glasgow to Edinburgh along the Great Road to look for work, she sees a sign for a 'Castle Haivers' and, imagining it to be an ancient fortification, decides to take a look. Instead it turns out to be a large house and farm in urgent need of an all-purpose maid. Bessy jumps at the chance - it is clear she is no maid but she has the wherewithal to learn quickly and tell the mistress what she wants to hear.
The mistress, Arabella Reid, is beautiful, kindly and intelligent. Not only does she see through Bessy's lies immediately but she secretly delves into her past. She also subjects Bessy to a series of bizarre tests, which set the latter to finding out what is going on. What she finds provokes a mild game of revenge but Bessy inadvertently opens a can of worms that exposes secrets, dark deeds and the covering up of the suspicious circumstances of a servant girl's death. Unfortunately for Bessy, as matters at Castle Haivers come to a head, her past also begins to catch up with her and risks her whole future.
This was a quick, light read; a sometimes bawdy romp, narrated by Bessy in her uneducated but exuberant prose, liberally sprinkled with Irish and Scots dialect (from my point of view, as a Scot of Irish descent, it was great to see so many old words and idioms put to use in a novel, and to recognise almost every town and street mentioned).
It becomes clear that Bessy is setting down the story in writing sometime later, to be read by a select group. As a narrator she is scrupulously honest and exposes all aspects of her miserable upbringing and shameful past before coming to Castle Haivers, as well as her own lies and underhand behaviour while she stayed there.
The story rolls along quickly but takes a while to reveal its genre - love story, ghost story, mystery - as it happened it was a little of each and every thread came together well at the end.
#15 Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (605 pages)
In 1888, after her aunt/guardian dies, Harriet Baxter, thirty two and unmarried, decides to have an extended stay in Scotland. Both her late parents were Scots, as is her stepfather. A comfortable inheritance and an annuity ensure Harriet finds nice rooms in Glasgow's salubrious West End and a chance encounter with a young woman, Annie, and her mother in law, Elspeth Gillespie, gives her a purpose over the coming months. Annie's husband Ned is a talented but not yet successful painter. Coincidentally, Harriet realises their paths have crossed once before at an exhibition in London.
A symbiotic relationship develops between Harriet and the somewhat dysfunctional and slightly impoverished Gillespie family - she benefits from their fellowship and they from her practical, and occasionally financial, help. Harriet decides to stay in Scotland indefinitely, dividing her time between visits to the Gillespies, her own rooms around the corner, and a property owned by her stepfather just outside the city. She has her portrait painted by Annie, Ned's wife and becomes more involved with their two small children, the elder of whom, Sybil, has developed disturbing patterns of behaviour. When Sybil returns without her little sister, Rose, after playing outside, Harriet joins the family's frantic search. However, when the child's body turns up some months later, it is Harriet who finds herself in the dock, accused of murder.
The novel is narrated by Harriet in two alternating timeframes - her written account of what happened in Glasgow in 1888 and her current journal in London in 1933. As the two stories progress, 1933 Harriet becomes convinced her companion/maid is not who she claims to be and begins to fear for her life.
This was a cleverly constructed story where the reader is presented with the narrator's version of events and then, hearing the testimonies of the trial, finds themselves going back over what has happened and forming their own opinion. The author has woven a very intricate and involving tale within a well portrayed setting - Victorian Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition, which brought crowds from around the world to the city, to wonder at new inventions. It was also a time of great artistic production and the novel references the real life group of young artists known as The Glasgow Boys.
As in The Observations, the local places and the dialect are pretty accurate and recognisable. There is also a strong female lead protagonist - confident, independent and intelligent. But how far can we trust her? A quick satisfying read despite its length.
Both those last two books sound really good (and great reviews, as usual!). I'm going to hold off on adding them to my wishlist though, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by Mt TBR at the moment!
I already had Gillespie and I on my wish list - reading your review makes me want it more than ever.
>150 Jackie_K: >151 karenmarie: I've had both these books on my shelves for ages and wasn't enticed to read them because the blurb on the back didn't explain enough. In both cases the story unfurled slowly and it wasn't till I was well into it that I saw where it was going - then it became difficult to put down.
One thing that the 'local knowledge' does though is that it can pull you out of the story occasionally. I noticed a misspelling of Argyll Arcade as Argyle Arcade - it's spelled differently from the street it's on (Argyle Street) but you'd only know that as a local!
>152 floremolla: Ooh I'm not sure I'd even have noticed that one, even though I was a local for a while!
To be fair most people wouldn’t notice - I picked it up working in city planning :)
#16 Justine by Lawrence Durrell (223 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD (#1 ROOT Prevention)
An unnamed aspiring writer and poet, looks back on an intense period of his life in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, in the 1930s. Working as a schoolteacher and living a simple life with Melissa, a tubercular Greek prostitute, he meets Justine, a Jewess, and her husband, Nessim, an Arab Moslem. We know at the outset that Melissa has died and the writer is now, several years later, living on an obscure Greek island where he has brought Melissa's daughter, to care for her as his adopted child. But we also learn that although he loved Melissa dearly his 'passion-love' lay with Justine.
The first part of the novel explains how the writer met the other characters and the development of their relationships. He portrays Melissa as beautiful, poor and vulnerable; Justine as beautiful, wild and amoral; Nessim as powerful but diffident, possessive and immensely wealthy. There are also important local characters, who each play a role - businessmen and English diplomats, writers and artists, mirroring something of the demographics of the city's ethnic and social melting pot of the time. The city of Alexandria itself is as much a character as a setting, but this not a paean to the city - it is too complex in its beauty and sordidness, wealth and poverty.
The memoir's subsequent parts reveals the trajectory of the schoolteacher's relationship with Justine, and his somewhat obsessive need to get beneath her surface and understand why she cannot fully give herself to any lover. He obtains a book written about her by her former husband which both describes and psycho-analyses her and he reads this until he know it by heart. He also learns little by little from people who know her of the impoverished background which shaped her, and suggestions of a traumatic assault, and an abandoned child.
Justine is the first part of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, a tetralogy of novels exploring the city through four different protagonists. The writing and structure of Justine are deliberately contrived to give authenticity to the story - the writer explains that he is not writing chronologically, but as thoughts occur. The end pages are portrayed as 'Workpoints' - thoughts and fragments of memory. Despite this however, the arc of the narrative does flow chronologically for the most part, only occasionally reverting to the 'present' on the Greek island, so is easy to follow.
The novel is also notable for its richness of language, and its depth of thought and reflections on the subjects of love and friendship, beautifully expressed. Durrell's powers of description are awe-inspiring, particularly how he 'paints' the landscape and the city in subtle or vibrant colours as befits the mood. And his descriptions of people are masterful - of Scobie, an old sailor:
"...older than the birth of tragedy, younger than the Athenian death. Spawned in the Ark by a chance meeting and mating of the bear and the ostrich..."
This is a densely packed novel for its size and, if you are to fully appreciate its quality, best read slowly - and preferably with a dictionary and classical reference guide to hand.
>155 floremolla: yay for indulging in Root prevention! Another terrific review that exposes me to works I'll likely not get to (except that I'd love to get to Egypt by armchair if not in person). Calls to mind Julian Barnes, probably because I'm in the middle of one by him which, like The Sense of An Ending, is largely poignant reminiscence.
>156 karenmarie: thanks, Karen - not kidding about needing to look up words and references! Sometimes, if a book is very long for instance, I decide not to look up every word, but in this case I wanted to go a bit deeper into it. This is one I’d like to read again, along with its siblings, ideally on a quiet Greek island...
>157 detailmuse: thanks, MJ - I mainly get reading inspiration from fellow LTers or from ‘best books’ lists, but yes, some I know I’m not likely to ever read! I picked this one up cheap in a charity shop - it’s also on the 1001 list and that’s how it got onto the root prevention programme!
I started to read it on St Valentine’s Day because, well, romance - but it’s as much about infidelity so maybe it wasn’t the best choice! I’d dearly love to see the Nile and Egyptian sites of antiquity but for now, like you, it’ll be armchair travel only. (I have been to Jordan though and visited Petra, so can’t really complain...)
I love Julian Barnes! He writes similarly with intelligence, wit and the kind of knowledge that comes from a classical education - and also has the ability to elicit strong feelings. I’ve got three of his to look forward to this year! :)
I've got The Noise of Time on my TBR. I don't think I've ever read any Julian Barnes before. It was a gift (from my wishlist) a year or two ago.
>160 floremolla: Oh you probably will - it currently has a 1/398 chance of being the next book out for me!
#17 (ROOT #16) The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway (236 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
27 year old Joy Stone is beset by mental health issues following the deaths of her mother and her lover. Her story is related mainly through her internal monologue and flashbacks to her lover's sudden death. From the outset it is clear that this is a woman in the extremes of grief and stress but determinedly struggling on and trying to appear 'normal' as she goes through the motions of holding down two jobs, two homes, socialising and medical appointments. Then when she goes home she cleans manically, and she avoids food in favour of coffee. She drinks gin until she passes out and awakes to blood and broken glass.
There are several remarkable things about this book. Firstly, the insight into conditions like anorexia, bulimia, obsessive compulsiveness, and self-harm - as the novel progresses the reader begins to understand a little of Joy's need for control over her environment and her need to expel what she's eaten even though the health consequences are becoming obvious. The irony that the self harm occurs when she's drunk so much she can no longer feel.
Secondly there's the apparent failure of the medical profession to see through her subterfuge until things reach a crisis - although to be fair this is Joy's understanding of the situation and later it appears they probably did have an idea of what was really going on, but the wheels of mental health support moved slowly.
As Joy's story unfolds we learn of the stresses in her life, from unhappy childhood, through previous relationships, the purchase of a cottage that turned toxic with mould. Things had clearly been building up for years. Joy is a drama teacher, intelligent and well read, and so has a great deal of insight into her own condition but lacks the vital 'trick' to getting well - she's sceptical of the medical profession's ability to help.
Thirdly, that the book is such an easy and engaging read despite the harrowing subjects. The narrative is in small chunks, mainly inner monologue, Joy's lists of things to do and useful sayings, flashbacks in italics, dialogues between Joy and medics or friends, magazine extracts (Dear Kathy....and, HAVE THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!) and little words that appear to have slid off the page. What I wasn't expecting, and where I think Galloway really triumphed, was the dry wit that runs through the entire book, making the unpalatable easier to digest and even raising a surprising number of wry smiles.
Coincidentally this is another novel set nearly on my own doorstep, just an hour west towards the coast, so Joy's life (the council estate, the bus stop, the bookies) had an authenticity about it that really resonated with me. Five stars and unexpectedly my favourite read of the year so far.
#18 The Sorrows of Young Werther by J W Goethe (165 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD (#2 ROOT Prevention)
Young artist Werther is delighted to be away from home and study and out in the world to follow his own destiny. He admires views and meets charming, though poor, people along the way. When he hears of the village of Wahlheim, situated on a hill with views across the valley, he decides to base himself there for a while.
When he is invited to a ball out in the country by an acquaintance he meets a beautiful young woman, Charlotte S., and is captivated by her looks and gentle manner. He learns that Charlotte - known as Lotte - is betrothed but Albert, her fiancé, is away on business. Werther takes the opportunity to get to know Lotte better and inevitably falls in love.
Sadly for Werther, Lotte loves him as a brother and has no intention of giving up her fiancé - nonetheless she continues to allow, and perhaps even encourage, Werther's adoration. As the date of Lotte and Albert's wedding draws near, Werther takes himself off to pastures new, trying to avoid the heartache he knows will ensue, but he underestimates just how much his love has turned to obsession and embarks on a road to tragedy.
This was Goethe's first novel, written when he was 24, and apparently based on his own romantic experiences. It was one of the most important Sturm und Drang novels - a romantic art movement that espoused high passions and feverish expression as a reaction to a prevailing culture of rationalism.
Structured as an epistolary novel (the letters being all from Werther to his friend Wilhelm) The Sorrows of Young Werther depicts a young man experiencing the most extremes of emotion, from almost manic happiness to suicidal despair; the language is full of allusion to the dramatic forces of nature - storms and torrents abound - and reference to noble ancient heroes who died for love.
I liked some of Werther's philosophical observations on life when he was in good spirits but found his musings during his unhappiness wearisome, especially as it seemed that every good thing he encountered during his happier days had turned base and despicable - even Lotte didn't seem quite as charmingly innocent.
The novel was a sensation in its day, and revered for long afterward apparently, but seems terribly overblown by current standards.
>164 rabbitprincess: lol, very good - thanks for that!
I sympathise with the 'please get to the part where...' because I knew that's what was coming.
#19 Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen (351 pages)
Brothers Daniel and Rory are the tail end of an aristocratic English family that is trying to make ends meet while their country home is disintegrating around them. Maggie is an American journalist tasked with making a film about the dying out of the English aristocracy following the abolition of hereditary peers in the House of Lords. She crosses paths with Rory who is running a Stately Locations business, selling time at stately homes to film crews and tourists, to raise income for impoverished gentry.
Maggie and Rory grate on one another from the outset as their cultures clash and Rory's loyalty to his class is piqued by Maggie's determination to expose the seedy underbelly of the outdated aristocracy.
Narrated alternately from Maggie and Daniel's points of view, the novel sees a gradual thawing of relations between Maggie and Rory until the former stumbles upon a scandalous secret. The secret just happens to relate to Rory's grandfather and could ruin their already struggling family forever.
Romantic comedy is not a literary genre I usually indulge in, and that's unlikely to change as a result of reading this book. I found the characters unsympathetic and lacking in depth; the humour was hackneyed and/or crass. It was all very predictable. Still, I read it and now it's in the TBD pile (to be donated) as someone else might enjoy it more.
#20 Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (165 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD (#3 ROOT Prevention)
55 prose poems to 55 imaginary cities, arranged in blocks - thus: 10, then seven x 5, then 10 - each block 'book-ended' with an imaginary discussion between Marco Polo (merchant, explorer, writer and son of Venice, b 1254, d 1324) and Kublai Khan (fifth Khagan of the Mongol Empire, reigning from 1260 to 1294).
Polo is one of many emissaries Khan has sent to the four corners of his empire to survey and report back to him what he has seen. The discussions form a 'frame' for the otherwise plotless novel, during the course of which Polo, having no common language at first with Khan, progresses from play-acting and pointing at objects, to being able to communicate with him expertly, to the extent that they can have existential discussions.
The 55 poems however do not reflect this progression of communication - they are fully formed and distinguished by each being given a woman's name and an individual identity, and each being categorised according to one of the following themes:
Cities & Memory
Cities & Desire
Cities & Signs
Cities and Eyes
Cities and Names
Cities and the Dead
The themes are set out in palindromic form so that they rotate around the 27th poem, the city of Baucis. (Source Wikipedia)
The contents of the poems reflect the many facets of cities and this is where Calvino's imagination comes into its own - the city comprises not just buildings, or people, but history and dreams and abstract notions of loss and grace and serendipity. Polo/Calvino's cities are often mirrored with physical and emotional versions of themselves, within or beside themselves or reflected in other cities. Khan eventually suspects there is only one city, and its Polo's city of Venice.
The poems fall clearly within the category of postmodern writing - they're intellectual, artistic, complex, diverse, challenging traditional concepts of history, knowledge, and reality itself (to paraphrase a definition from the Poetry Foundation).
Sometimes the language and imagery are beautiful:
"...Mariana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all glass like aquarium where shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the medusa-shaped chandeliers."
"...Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy."
"There are twenty-six of us lodged in my room: to shift my feet I have to disturb those crouching on the floor, I force my way among the knees of those seated on the chest of drawers and the elbows of those taking turns leaning on the bed: all very polite people, luckily."
"...no matter how far you go from the city (Penthesiliea), will you only pass from one limbo to another, never managing to leave it?"
But what does it all mean?! I think (she said, dodging the question) that it has a myriad of meanings and inferences, some obvious (e.g. commonality and differences), and some more obscure, which can best be divined over time, by revisiting and contemplating the cities/poems individually. And maybe reading some relevant critical essays to really get at the nub. So, 3.5 stars for now but could be revised upward with further reading.
February end of month stats:
17/60 ROOTs completed (including 4 old ROOTs) -favourite read was The Trick is to Keep Breathing
3/20 Non-ROOTs completed
0 Non-fiction completed but currently reading Non-ROOT Maps of Time (still at 20 pages - had to reread those as I'd forgotten what I'd read)
1 chunkster completed (2 for 2018)
6 from the 1001 list completed (13 for 2018)
50% female authors read
War and Peace @ 32% (according to Kindle)
Fantasy - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell @ page 157 of 1006
17 new acquisitions
No further cataloguing done except corrections and new additions
3095 pages read (6530 for 2018)
LT app TBR count stands at 162 (up 11 from January)
>170 Jackie_K: I knew I was in trouble with Invisible Cities when I had to look at what other people had written about it! Couldn't seem to formulate anything other than random abstract ideas - but I guess that's post-modernism for the uninitiated 8-)
No pressing need to go out fortunately but I'm hoping for some normality tomorrow before I go stir crazy - I had minor surgery on my foot last Thursday and have mostly been confined to home since then. Can't get a boot on over the ridiculously large crepe bandage and I'm guessing a bin bag and crutches in snow would be a bad idea. Hope you're enjoying your snow day with A and made it to the library!
>168 floremolla: Yay, you finished it, congrats! :)
There's something about Calvino's books - and I know they're great, they're just not for me - that makes most of my memories of them vanish while still reading and leaves me just with the uncomfortable feeling of all the effort. My brain has a "Calvino gap"!
And something of a Goethe gap as well, though with his novels I remember more of the plots. Werther at least is short enough and has an original ending...
So many other great reviews! Totally agree on The Accidental and Gillespie and I. Now Hangover Square sounds like one that wants to be read soon! But first I'll have to read another ROOT this month.
>171 floremolla: we cross-posted - sending good wishes, hoping your foot will heal quickly!
>168 floremolla: I've had If on a Winter's Night... since 2010 (moved it up in the TBRs after you read it earlier this year) and "won't let myself" acquire Invisible Cities until I read the former. From your review, I think I'll browse the Wikipedia entries for Polo and Khan ... and then just open IC and see what develops?? An optimistic plan would be to get to IC during poetry month in April.
Quick healing for your foot!
>171 floremolla: No library for us, sadly. Too much snow in the way! Luckily we have books and central heating, and are using them both!!
Best wishes for your recuperation. The snow will be a colossal pain in the nether regions if you can't move about easily :(
>175 detailmuse: yes, knowing a bit more about Polo and Khan might help! I think it might be useful to read up on postmodern poetry too. And also, in the same way you probably wouldn't read a normal book of poems one after the other, without stopping to think about them, it might be worth reading only one poem or block of poems at a time and letting them sink in.
Wish we'd had a group read now, it's good to share thoughts on these more, ahem...'demanding' tomes.
>176 Jackie_K: yes, looks like Scotland just decided it may as well shut down for the rest of the week - roll on Monday! Oh wait, rain...
I think there was some sort of mix-up and you got Canada weather by accident! That's some proper snow coverage! Feel free to send it back ;)
>178 rabbitprincess: lol! If only! It's become a major distraction - our town Facebook page is strangely compelling just now - pictures of huge snow drifts and lots of jokes about running out of bread and milk. I enjoyed this Winnie the Pooh one:
"Where are we going Piglet?" asked Pooh.
"We need to get supplies," said Piglet. "For the snow."
"Ah," said Pooh, nodding in understanding. "Things like bread, and milk, and snow shovels, and cat litter even though we don't have a cat, because it's meant to be good in Icy Conditions."
Piglet did a little laugh, and a sort of leap, and caught a few snowflakes on the tip of his tongue. "No," said Piglet. "No, those aren't the sort of snow supplies we need at all. What we need are family sized bags of chocolate buttons, and chips with dips, and a freezer full of stuffed crust pizzas, and all of the red wine that we can possibly carry, so that when we get snowed in we won't mind it even slightly. THOSE are snow supplies."
All of a sudden, Pooh thought that the snow didn't seem quite so wet, nor the air so cold, and actually, getting snowed in with Piglet and their snow supplies really didn't sound such a terrible thing after all. "Oh Piglet," said Pooh. "I really do think you are a Very Wise Animal."
>179 floremolla: I saw that Pooh & Piglet meme on facebook too. In my case, comfort supplies have primarily been fresh bread (no sliced bread available at Lidl, deliveries hadn't got through) and cheese, as I've given up booze for Lent. Apparently the thaw's on the way, although it doesn't look much different out there today to the last 2 days, and we've not bothered leaving the house. I think tomorrow I will have a go at clearing the steps and path down to the front gate, and maybe start to think about digging the car out of the snow, to try and help the thaw along a bit.
>181 Jackie_K: sounds like a plan! Glad you've got supplies. We're a small rural town with one 'A' road and even it was closed for a while with drifting snow, so supermarket shelves are wiped out here - it's like The End Of Days!
Fortunately I have a freezer full of homemade stuff, a breadmaker and am happy with soya or almond milk. And no small children to consider!
...And still the snow is falling - very fine and swirly, but the thaw is in sight. Just need to clear a path to get the bins out tonight. And the milkman has messaged to say he'll deliver in the morning. Life goes on!
>182 floremolla: It's been bonkers, hasn't it? Lidl was crazy on Friday, even busier than Christmas. They didn't have enough baskets for everyone, so a few people were getting a bit ratty, although mostly we stayed good-humoured, and we even talked to each other in the checkout queue!
Pete has made another loaf of bread (we don't have a breadmaker because he's so good at making it, although I'd quite like one as that would be the only way I would make bread) so we're fine for that, and hopefully there'll be more milk in Lidl by the time we need it. We normally do our big supermarket weekly shop on a Sunday, but that's not going to happen today as we still can't get out of our street, so we'll be relying on Lidl for a bit longer. I think we have enough stuff to be going on with, just running out of a few luxuries but nothing too drastic.
I'm amazed A isn't bouncing off the walls. She's not actually been out of the house since our walk on Wednesday! She's been quite happy playing games and reading books, and thank goodness for CBeebies! I think the council are trying to clear roads and paths to schools so hopefully nursery will be open tomorrow.
We've got very fine swirly snow falling here too. Enough already!
#21 Bel Canto by Ann Patchet (318 pages)
The blurb captures the novel quite nicely for once:
"Kidnappers storm an international gathering hosted by a poor Latin American country to promote foreign trade. Unfortunately their intended target, the President, has stayed at home to watch his favourite soap. The takeover settles into a siege, bringing together an unlikely assortment of hostages, including a beautiful American opera diva, a Japanese CEO who is her biggest fan, and his unassuming translator, Gen. Two couples, complete opposites, fall in love, and a horrific imprisonment is transformed into an unexpected heaven on earth."
The President staying home to watch his favourite soap signals the wry humour that pervades the novel. Ann Patchett has crafted this tale well by throwing her characters into an unusual and highly tense situation and then letting the personalities of the main protagonists shine through, many of them through the prism of their own cultures. As time slips by and they all begin to live each hour as if it were their last, the boundaries between captors and captives become blurred. Relationships are made, knowledge and skills are shared and the outside world fades in their memories.
The siege situation allows Patchett to explore various elements of human nature: the power of music to move and to sooth people; the power of communication, verbal and non-verbal (in the kingdom of the monoglots, the polyglot is king); the capacity for regret and a wish to start life over; and how relinquishing control and being freed of the demands of normal daily life can loosen one's grip on reality.
As siege mentality and a kind of multi-dimensional Stockholm syndrome seep in, some of the characters begin to fear the prospect of an end to their idyll.
I've got Bel Canto lined up for one of the monthly challenges later this year, and from what everyone is saying I should avoid the epilogue. The thing is, because everyone is so very firm about how poor the epilogue is compared to the rest of the book, I'm now really curious to read it!
>187 Jackie_K: It doesn't absolutely ruin it. Maybe just take a break between the end of the body of the book to let it soak in and then read the epilogue.
eta: don't be tempted to click the spoiler below unless you've read the book!
>185 floremolla: and all -- for me, too, the epilogue was startling and felt tacked-on. (Perhaps not written well enough or set up well enough?) Still, it was such a conscious decision by the author and is such a point of reaction/discussion that it is a must-read.
>189 detailmuse: I agree, "read the epilogue and keep an open mind" is probably the best advice to would-be readers.
Another spoiler in answer to >189 detailmuse: so look away now >187 Jackie_K:
However, in our small town there are at least two instances of couples breaking up because of affairs and the jilted pair getting together. One only worked for a few years but the other is going strong. Probably something about shared experiences which makes that happen. Of course we can say the same about the couple in the epilogue!
I went to re-read the epilogue but discovered I'd finally donated the book in 2016 :( So I tried to find Patchett's comments about it and saw versions of this in a couple interviews:
It sounds not only intentional but fundamental! But while she needed it to conceive the novel, she didn't make readers need it. And by the way, it didn't go! -- it just moved to the other end!)
>189 detailmuse: >190 floremolla: But but but
With all this discussion, I'm regretting that I didn't make Bel Canto my choice for my RL bookclub.
>191 detailmuse: oh...interesting. I like to see authors play around with structure and can see why she wouldn't want to reveal her hand too early...but the epilogue still leaves me dissatisfied, and not for what happened, but how it's written.
>192 Robertgreaves: I didn't catch on to the narration either!
>193 Robertgreaves: lol, yes, lots to talk about, and you could've played the arias during the refreshments! :)
Well, Donna, minor foot surgeries and snow. I've missed some exciting times! I hope that you're recovering nicely and that you're not housebound from either snow or your foot.
Thanks Karen! Stitches were snipped today - it feels better already. The snow is slowly clearing too, so things are looking up on both fronts. Except that now I've no excuses for inertia...
Hope things are good with you :)
Robert and Donna, I agree: not all in Gen's point of view. What has stayed with me most is
>198 floremolla: They are, thanks for asking! Our daughter is on her second-to-last day home on spring break, and we've been having a great time.
>200 karenmarie: oh, that's nice you can have her for a few days Karen. I love having our daughter here but now she's in the 'world of work' her weekends are precious! However next week we're having a few days together at a nice hotel in St Andrew's - no golf, that would be a colossal waste of VRT (Valuable Reading Time) imo - but we'll have some cocktails, spa treatments, great chats and companionable silence while we read and look at the rain (there's bound to be rain). Hard to beat for good company :)
>201 floremolla: That sounds so lovely! I've only been to St Andrews a couple of times (we have friends who used to live just outside St A's; they're back in England now though so no excuse for a further visit), but thought it was a great place for mooching! Spa and cocktails and reading and chilling sounds perfect! I'd add beach walks into your mix as well :)
>202 Jackie_K: thanks, Jackie - I'm still hobbling as my foot is a bit tender so they'll be short beach walks but I'm really looking forward to our visit. :)
Hi Donna, I've been a neglecting threads for a week or more. No special reason, so nothing to worry about, just laziness from my part. So I read about the snow and about your foot surgery. Hope you feel better. Enjoy the days with your daughter next week. It sounds lovely. I wish I could do that with my daughter when I retire next year.
Hi Connie, nice to see you around again. Thanks, I'm sure I will enjoy my spring break with my daughter - I hope you manage to do the same with yours when you retire!
>201 floremolla: I hope you and your daughter have a wonderful time, Donna!
We had a great time with our daughter, not a single snarl from any of us! As she's growing up, things are smoothing out. She seems happy, which makes us happy.
>206 karenmarie: Good to hear you had a great time, Karen. I think, things are supposed to smooth out as kids grow older. The need to stand up to parents is not there so much anymore. At least that's what I have with my kids.
>207 connie53: Also with our daughter, Connie. She's doing a lot more "adulting" now, as she calls it, and just telling us her decisions instead of asking our opinions. So far so good - she's back in school, and has started some good financial planning with the help of a banker at the institution where we all have checking/investment accounts.
>208 karenmarie: That's a good thing too. Getting the finances in order and seeking help to do so.
I hope I have as good a relationship with my daughter when she's older as you all do with your adult children! I love the idea of going away for a few days with her for a girly trip (I hope she does too when she's that age!). I hope you've had a lovely few days away, Donna, and that you are feeling rested and refreshed (and that your foot is much better).
Hi all, glad you've been keeping my thread warm for me. Just back from a weekend away to a friend's daughter's wedding - lovely barn setting in the Perthshire countryside, with great food and a band that could play anything, from rock to ceilidh. My daughter came with me, so it was another opportunity to spend quality time together. Now need an abstemious week to shed the calories. And to get back into my ROOTs...
#22 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (362 pages)
In rural Britain, in the early Middle Ages*, an elderly couple, Beatrice and Axl, decide to make a journey on foot to a village several days' walk away, to visit their son, whom they haven't seen in years.
Beatrice and Axl both suffer from foggy memories - in fact they'd almost forgotten they had a son, but every so often the mist lifts and by prompting each other's memories they glean enough to remember some details.
Before long on their journey they reach a village where they witness a great commotion. An ogre has stolen a young boy, and a warrior, who happened to be passing through, has retrieved him. Unfortunately the boy has been bitten by the ogre and he must be removed from the village before he is killed, for his village and family believe him to have become infected by demons.
An unlikely grouping of the boy, Edwin, the warrior Wistan, and Beatrice and Axl then slip away together, heading first for a monastery where Beatrice hopes she might get some help from Brother Jonas, a wise old monk, for a pain she has been suffering.
Along the way, they meet Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, and establish that both he and Wistan are on separate missions to kill the same beast, the Querig, which Brother Jonas believes may be responsible for the strange mist that clouds the memories of not just the elderly, but the whole population.
The Buried Giant is described in some quarters as a fantasy novel but Ishiguro has said he intended it as a novel which just happens to have elements commonly found in fantasy. While Arthur might, or more likely might not, have lived, and there certainly weren't ogres and pixies (were there??) the post-Roman and Saxon eras can actually be placed in time although it is an era famously lacking in detailed historical evidence.
Ishiguro has chosen this hazy post-war time to once more make a point about the vagaries of memory when wrong-doing is involved. In this novel it works on two levels: the collective memory of a population recently at war, and the more private memories between partners who have been married a very long time.
There are benefits to 'forgetting' the wrongs that have been done in the name of war and living peacefully with former enemies but there is a cost to that which is the people who carry out atrocities and then rewrite their own histories to make themselves blameless or acting 'for the best' - and old adage that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
Beatrice and Axl want to retrieve their personal memories because they believe their final journey will be with a boatman who will only let them travel together to paradise if they can demonstrate they know and love everything about each other. As an elderly couple they love and support each other and want to spend eternity together - but what if their memory loss is concealing a past betrayal?
This was an undemanding read - Ishiguro's allusions are quite evident and, as usual, there's an ending that makes you pause and think a bit about what just happened. Much as I admire the author I think this story could have been more impactful as a much shorter novella - it felt too drawn out for so few 'messages' being conveyed and I never really engaged with the characters.
Read your review and loved it. This might be just a book for me. I love knights and quests. I'm just wondering what the * means behind 'Middle Ages'?
Hi Donna, what a fun getaway! Enjoyed your review of The Buried Giant -- I grew so uninterested while reading the novel, but am grateful because it was a game-changer in my coming to the realization that no matter how much a book with fantastical elements interests me (or, on a related note, dystopian ones), I just. must. resist.
>211 floremolla: That sounds great! (apart from that word 'abstemious'. I don't like the sound of that!).
>213 connie53: ah, I meant to remove the asterisk. It was to remind me to work out an approximate date in history for the story - it's after the Romans left Britain, and after the introduction of Christianity in 565. King Arthur (had he existed) was reputed to have been active in the late fifth and early sixth century, therefore his nephew Sir Gawain (had he existed) could have lived till mid-to-quite-late sixth century...Gawain is elderly in the novel and Christianity is quite widespread, so I'd guess it is set a couple of decades after 565.
Not sure why I felt I had to work that out!
>214 detailmuse: I'm not a fan of fantasy per se - again, not sure why. Ishiguro was at pains to point out that this novel was merely making use of some fantasy elements to tell the story. He had an interesting discussion with fantasy writer Neil Gaiman on the subject, but I still wasn't comfortable with the inclusion of actual ogres and pixies - I'd hoped they would turn out to metaphoric. In fact I initially suspected the whole story to be like the plot of Lost, i.e.,
I probably need to stop over-thinking what I'm reading!
>215 Jackie_K: worry not, my definition of abstemious is very...um...loose. Anyway, there were Mothers Day chocolates to be tackled.
Hello!! Just dropping by. It has just been TOO long. But I'm happy to see you're doing so well with your ROOTing! Life for me has been a bit crazy these past couple months, but maybe in the couple months to come, it'll calm down ;)
Hi Aletheia! Lovely to see you around again - I'll head on over to your thread and catch up with the chaos! ;)
#23 Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon (242 pages) 1001 BYMRBYD
Jozef Pronek leaves Sarajevo to visit Chicago in 1992, just as war breaks out in his native Yugoslavia. As he watches the war unfurl from a great distance he must at the same time make his way in a new country. The novel chronicles Pronek's life, from his childhood in Sarajevo to his adventures as an immigrant in America.
Plot is almost superfluous to this novel but that is not a criticism- the narrative crackles with descriptive energy and paints a vibrant picture of Pronek and his world in a series of vignettes, told by different narrators.
The first part of the novel, about his growing up in Yugoslavia - as imagined through the eyes of one of his 'biographer/narrators'- is vividly portrayed and not lacking in intimate detail. (Surprisingly, his childhood is more remarkable for its similarity to growing up anywhere else in Western Europe than for the differences one would expect from a country that was then 'behind the iron curtain' - even western popular culture managed to seep through to young people, although it might be fair to say their parents were still caught in a time warp and viewed Beatles songs with suspicion.)
In the second part, Pronek proceeds to university where he becomes interested in journalism and meets Americans for the first time at a summer school in Ukraine in 1991, where things are brought to a traumatic end with the 'August Coup' as Soviet government officials attempt to seize control from President Gorbachev.
As an adult Pronek is neither admirable nor despicable but is capable of actions on both sides of that spectrum. His urge to make something of himself is what propels him towards America.
Stranded in Chicago at the outbreak of war in his home town, Pronek must establish a life for himself in America and the third part chronicles his attempts to find a job - including some hilarious episodes - and a blossoming romance.
Finally the novel ends with a chapter whose links to the foregoing parts seem tenuous and random but perhaps speak to the whole concept of being a 'Nowhere Man'. Set in Shanghai during the twentieth century it concerns a Captain Pick, a Russian who claims he was an officer of the White Army, as well as spinning many tales about his history and seemingly spying on the Japanese on behalf of the British while living a life of debauchery and theatre acting - an embodiment of a Nowhere Man.
Characters from throughout the novel - and even the author himself- are reinvented in this chapter as historical personages - history repeating itself perhaps. There were also several recurring themes in this novel including Pronek's imagining of bodily injury, a preoccupation with eyes, and multiple identities, but I couldn't tell if, or how, these were significant.
The novel was partly autobiographical - Hemon drew heavily on his own experiences - and Pronek is gradually 'revealed' as the novel progresses but I found the ending a bit dissatisfying. On the positive side, I was interested in the Slavic melting pot that was Sarajevo, the ethnic/cultural links to neighbouring countries and Russia's history of annexing Ukraine.
>221 floremolla: Ooh, a rare fiction BB for me! Excellent review, as ever!
>222 Jackie_K: interestingly it made me want to read some non-fiction about this part of the world!
#24 Hotel World by Ali Smith (238 pages)
This is a novel in five interconnected stories, each one based around a young woman, beginning with a tragic death in a hotel and then centring around the events of one evening in the hotel, a few weeks later.
As usual, Ali Smith creates believable multi-dimensional characters - a young girl on the cusp of life, a young woman who is kind but not in control of her own life, a homeless woman with a smart brain, a shallow journalist, and a grieving girl trying to make sense of her sister's death. Their lives collide in unexpected ways and the hotel setting is seen differently through their unique experiences.
The need for love or acknowledgement motivates them all and, though they are linked by thoughts of death, the message is not so much 'memento mori' as 'remember you must live'. Smith is never sentimental or cloying with these emotions and shows rather than tells her characters' pain. Considering the subject matter, the book didn't feel at all downbeat.
This was one of Smith's earlier novels, published in 2001 and it felt very familiar for her trademark literary style - characters riffing on ideas, making connections between words, experimenting with style, a punctuation-less chapter. As with The Accidental, which I read earlier this year, I found some of the riffing and play on words distracting and found myself wishing she'd just stick with the story, which easily stood up on its own without them.
#25 The Highland Clearances by John Prebble (334 pages) Non-fiction
Between 1790 and 1850 in the Scottish Highlands, a whole society was dispossessed of their homes, and their meagre livings, and dispersed so that landowners could improve the profitably of their land by renting it to Lowland and English sheep graziers.
The Highlanders were a patriarchal tribe with their own culture, language (Scots Gaelic) and way of life quite distinct from the Lowland Scots. Each clan chief looked after his men and their families, thus ensuring he had a ready army at his disposal, for they were constantly at war among themselves.
The chief's 'tacksmen' - usually close family members - were allocated tracts of land, which they sub-let to clansmen. The clansmen grew meagre crops in 'runrigs' (narrow strips of land, allocated in rotation so that everyone had an opportunity to farm the best). They kept 'black cattle' (scrawny forebears of modern cattle) and illicitly distilled their own whisky. They paid only a nominal rent to the tacksmen but they were very much ruled by their clan chief and needed his permission to work or marry.
Inter-clan warfare had abated since the repression of Jacobitism and Highland culture by the ruling classes, following the massacre of Glencoe in 1692 and the failed Jacobite rebellion at Culloden in 1746. Many clan chiefs had themselves become gentrified landowners, rewarded by titles for allegiance to the King during the Jacobite uprising, and over time they became influenced in their thinking by Edinburgh and London society.
Thus the gentrified clan chiefs soon became consumed by the latest ideas relating to 'land as Property' and 'Improvement of land', i.e., increasing potential yield by building roads, bridges and harbours to exploit its natural resources.
There was great demand for mutton and wool in the Lowlands and England, and prospective sheep graziers began to look towards the Highlands. The gentry employed land agents and factors to manage the transition and the tenant families - who had no tenancy rights and were little more than serfs - began to be evicted to make way for sheep.
Landowners saw this as progress - their land could yield ten times the income they'd had from their former tenants, and they were performing a valuable function in feeding the nation. But it was the indecent haste and brutality with which this process was implemented, and the scale of the operation, that turned it into an epic tragedy.
While landowners turned a blind eye, their factors evicted families with little or no notice. They were treated cruelly - not only were their houses and crops destroyed during eviction but the houses were pulled down there and then, the timbers were burned so that they could not be taken away and reused, and people were turned out into storms and snow, no matter their state of health.
They had no legal standing with which to fight back - power and the law was all on the side of the gentry. They were regarded as a lesser species that had to be put to more productive use or removed from the land altogether. Some were given tiny plots of land at the coast and expected to work in herring fishing; some were banished from the county altogether and became wandering beggars. A minority who had money took their chances and emigrated to the colonies. Soon emigration was seen as a convenient way of removing the problem altogether and landowners enforced their tenants to go to the colonies as indentured labour.
Prebble uses eyewitness testimonies, written at the time or much later, to give examples of the terrible privations suffered by families who ended up destitute, and the many who died trying to fight back or through lack of food and shelter. He does not put a total on the number of people who were displaced from across the Highlands and Islands but, as examples, the county of Sutherland lost ten thousand and the isle of Skye lost forty thousand. Huge numbers from a region that had been sparsely inhabited to begin with.
Long after the clearances, many landowners continued to deny culpability and claimed they had done the country a great service and helped families improve their lives. For a while, out of habit, the clansmen continued to demonstrate loyalty to their clan chiefs, causing commentators to doubt claims that the clearances had really been so harsh and inhumane. But when the gentry later tried to raise Highland regiments to fight in the Crimean War they found no takers among the sparse population who were left. Clan loyalty had finally expired.
Prebble makes a compelling case for the culpability of the ruling classes in the decimation of the cultural landscape of the Highlands, in a very readable book which complements the other two parts of his Highland Trilogy, (Glencoe... and Culloden).
>225 floremolla: Excellent review. It's all so very sad, what happened. I've been listening to music from Caberet recently, and "Money makes the world go 'round" just popped into my head again.
More good reading and reviews!
>217 floremolla: over-thinking what I'm reading
I think it's good -- probably from either author confusion or reader dissatisfaction, and leads to making deeper meanings.
>225 floremolla: My heart always breaks when I read about the clearances. I know Highland and island life was no picnic back then, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was all done so cruelly.
Well done on another epic non-fiction read though! I approve :)
Thanks all, for your kind comments. Prebble's Highland trilogy is a bit outdated but I think it's given me a better grasp of some key events in my country's history - events that still influence our politics and national psyche today but didn't merit mention in school lessons.
Onward now to finish Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, fulfilling my personal challenge of reading a fantasy novel this year.
>229 floremolla: didn't merit mention in school lessons
I wasn't familiar with the clearances until your review (which prompted me to a Google). It brings to mind the treatment of Native Americans and the continuing gentrification of urban areas.
>230 detailmuse: exactly, MJ! There's a terrible irony that these Scots were dispossessed of their homes and crops and sent to the colonies to work the land from which Native Americans had been dispossessed. Of course there were plenty of Scots engaged in empire-building too, so as a nation we weren't exactly blameless!
#26 Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (1006 pages) Fantasy
Set in England in the early 19th century at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, this novel charts the rise of two magicians in England - this is an England which has had a long history of practical magic that has all but died out.
First to come forward is Mr Gilbert Norrell, a prim bookish precious chap, who has been studying magic for decades and amassed a library of every book on the subject. Every book. He is invited by a society of magicians in York to demonstrate his magic as they hope to persuade a practical magician to intervene in the War with France, to Britain's advantage. He agrees to work with them only if they themselves give up magic, for his wish is to be England's only magician.
Mr Norrell first demonstrates his skills in a church by bringing the stone statuary to life and is then feted and persuaded to come from his rural home to live in London's Hanover Square. There he meets member of Parliament Sir Walter Pole and his ailing bride-to-be, Emma. When Emma dies suddenly, Mr Norrell invokes a spell to return her to the land of the living. But in doing so he has surreptitiously made a pact with the duplicitous Faeries that will curse Mrs Pole and people close to her.
Meanwhile Jonathan Strange, a much younger man, in love with the pretty Arabella and keen to prove himself to her by adopting a profession, is persuaded by the sinister street-magician, Vinculus, that he is a natural magician and must study the art. Vinculus quotes a foreboding ancient prophesy that nevertheless intrigues Strange sufficiently for him to begin his education. But of course Mr Norrell has all the books....
Can the two magicians work together for the benefit of their country? Can they break the faerie spell that blights Mrs Pole? And when will Strange and Norrell wake up to the malevolent presence of the man with the thistledown hair, who's stealthily interfering in their work and whose enmity seems to go all the way back to the days of the legendarily powerful leader of the Faeries, the Raven King?
This was an entertaining read/audiobook. Clarke writes very well, creating a vivid wintry atmosphere as a backdrop for much of the story - and with a sense of playfulness so that even death and war are not too dispiriting. There are myriad entertaining episodes contained within the main narrative, relating the various adventures of the magicians and secondary characters - and then there are footnotes containing further stories and references to literary works on magic. The footnotes are both a device to suggest the book is an actual history of the two magicians, but it also gives Clarke an opportunity to add some clever observations and witty asides.
As the narrative progresses, several characters succumb to malicious enchantments and tension builds towards the end, as we anticipate their fates.
At 1006 pages it's a long book but Clarke has built an engaging world of charming and eccentric characters that carries the reader along quite effortlessly. Not being a fan of details of wars or battles, I found those parts of the novel set during the Napoleonic Wars slightly less enjoyable, but it is a minor criticism as the rest was so entertaining.
I alternated between the paperback and the audiobook version - the former was so heavy as to be unwieldy; the latter was very good, with Simon Prebble's gentle English voice ideal for narrating a fairytale. But like all the best fairytales there was a little sting in the tail...and a feeling there was maybe more of this story to come.
March end of month stats:
6 ROOTs completed > 23/60 for 2018
My favourite read for enjoyment was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
0 Non-ROOTs completed > 3/20 for 2018
1 Non-fiction completed > 1 for 2018
1 chunkster completed > 3 for 2018
1 from the 1001 list completed > 14 for 2018
1 fantasy novel read (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)
50% female authors read
2500 pages read (9030 for 2018)
War and Peace @ 49% according to Kindle
Maps of Time (still at page 20)
11 new acquisitions > 29 for 2018
LT app TBR count stands at 168 (up 6 from 1 January)
Looks like you're ahead in your ROOTs goal so far this year, Donna. Congrats.
>234 rabbitprincess: Hi RP, yes, like all my best ideas, I nicked it off someone else ;)
>235 karenmarie: thanks, Karen - balancing all my goals is proving tricky and I'm a little behind on the 1001 list, but I like having a bit of structure to my reading. :)
>236 Jackie_K: thanks, Jackie!
>237 detailmuse: thanks MJ - Maps of Time's time will come - I feel like I'll need a clear head and no distractions! I'm looking forward to seeing where it leads :)
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