Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read
#2 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 and despite Lee’s expectations it was an immediate success winning the Pulitzer Prize and fans the world over. It has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies. Mockingbird has been prescribed reading for high schools around the world for generations despite campaigns to have it removed from the classroom and attempts to ban the book.
The blurb on the book cover describes it as:
“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it. […] Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.”
Although Lee has said Mockingbird is not autobiographical (but rather an example of how an author “should write about what he knows and write truthfully” wiki) it has many parallels with her life. Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was an attorney not unlike Atticus Finch who in 1919 defended two black men accused of murder. The men were apparently convicted, hanged, and mutilated and Lee’s father never tried a criminal case again. Mr. Lee also worked as the editor and publisher of the Monroeville newspaper. Like fictional Jem, Lee had a four year older brother named Edwin. Scout’s childhood friend Dill was based on Lee’s famous childhood friend Truman Capote who also lived next door to her in the Summers when his mother visited New York. The inspiration for the Radleys came from a family whose house down the street from the Lee’s was always boarded up and whose son got into some legal trouble and was subsequently kept at home for 24 years out of shame. The inspiration for Tom Robinson and his accusal of raping a young white woman is less clear but there was an incident which took place close to Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama where a black man, Walter Lett, was accused of raping a white woman. The story and trial were covered by Lee’s father’s newspaper and Lett was said to have been convicted and sentenced to death. However, there were later letters that claimed Lett had been falsely accused and his sentence was changed to life in prison.
Recently we heard that Harper Lee would have a second novel published. Great news since readers have wondered why Lee never published anything more after Mockingbird. Interestingly Lee has responded to this by saying:
“She found the publicity surrounding “To Kill a Mockingbird” overwhelming and that she had said all she had to say in that single work.”
The new novel, Go Set A Watchmen, was actually written before Mockingbird but the manuscript was thought lost. Alexandra Alter wrote a bit about the new novel in her NYT article:
On Tuesday, Ms. Lee’s publisher announced its plans to release that novel, recently rediscovered, which Ms. Lee completed in the mid-1950s, before she wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The 304-page book, “Go Set a Watchman,” takes place 20 years later in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Ala., and unfolds as Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, the feisty child heroine of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” returns to visit her father. The novel, which is scheduled for release this July, tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter.
Readers and literary folk are thrilled to soon have another novel by Harper Lee to sink their teeth into and I too am interested to see how this new novel will compare. I read To Kill A Mockingbird as my setwork novel at school in Gr. 9 and remember it being one of the novels I most enjoyed at school. The details of what I enjoyed exactly are a bit fuzzy but whenever I think of Mockingbird a particular scene, that I obviously found quite vivid, of a rabid dog coming down the street always comes to mind.
There aren’t all that many reviews of Mockingbird compared with other classics and I have read on my travels through the internet that there has been little analysis of it as well. I’m not sure why that is but I think when you read the novel it becomes very clear why it is considered a classic and little needs to said about the depth and scope of the novel’s themes for you to appreciate them. I completely agree that the novel deals largely with the important theme of what’s right and wrong when the Guardian’s review noted:
To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, and distinguishes it from just following the law. Even the titular quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” is in itself an allegory for this message.
I definitely recommend this book to those who haven’t yet read it.
KinnaReads is hosting the 3rd Africa Reading Challenge and I had such a great time participating last year that I am in again! Mosey on over to Kinna’s blog to check out the guidelines for participating in the challenge and see a whole lot of wonderful recommendations. The challenge is to read 5 books by African authors or about Africa (at least 3 of your choices must be authored by Africans though). There is a wealth of wonderful African literature to get through. Last year I shared my Africa Reading Wishlist (updated and reposted below) which I’ll be continuing to work through. If you decide to join us don’t forget to share the links for your reviews here.
My Africa Reading Wishlist
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Disgrace by J M Coetzee (South Africa)
Waiting for the Barbarians by J M Coetzee (South Africa)
Age of Iron by J M Coetzee (South Africa)
The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda (South Africa)
The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda (South Africa)
The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda (South Africa)
The Imposter by Damon Galgut (South Africa)
In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut (South Africa) 2014#1 Review – In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut
Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
Islands by Dan Sleigh (South Africa)
A Dry White Season by André Brink (South Africa)
Philida by André Brink (South Africa) 2014#2 Review – Philida by Andre Brink
An Instant in the Wind by André Brink (South Africa)
The Famished Road by Ben Okri (Nigeria)
July’s People by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa) 2014 #5 Review – July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith (Zambia)
River God by Wilbur Smith (Zambia)
The Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto (Mozambique)
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (South Africa)
Trackers by Deon Meyer (South Africa)
Dreamforest (Toorbos) by Dalene Matthee (South Africa)
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)
We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe)
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (South Africa)
Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
Akhenaten by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
Graceland by Chris Abani (Nigeria)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (Algeria)
Finding Soutbek by K Jennings (South Africa) 2014#3 Review – Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings Foreign Gods, Inc by Okey Ndibe (Nigeria) 2014 #4 Review – Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)
Some Books I’ve Read I Recommend from South Africa
Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer
Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
7 Days by Deon Meyer
Shades by Maguerite Poland
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (non fiction but an amazing read that I couldn’t leave unmentioned)
Biko: A Biography by Xolela Mangcu
Rabih Alameddine is in the running for the 2014 NBCC prize which is the first good look I took at this book, An Unnecessary Woman. I was completely drawn in by the blurb on GoodReads:
Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s “unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated have never been read—by anyone. After overhearing her neighbors, “the three witches,” discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue. In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. (GoodReads)
There are three main reasons I was drawn to read this book; I love books (‘surrounded by stockpiles of books’ – swoon), I also translate, and I was intrigued to know what made this woman an unnecessary one.
I loved this book. I’ll start by letting you know right off the bat that the plot is a literary one – it’s about a transformation and a huge part of the narrative is stream of consciousness which in the case of this novel is good because Aaliya is incredibly interesting, dynamic, cultured, and extremely well read. She is an introvert without much family and few friends which makes for a lonely life. She lives in her head, in her recollections of Beruit from the past. She lives through literature and often hides behind it. She gives meaning and routine to her life through her translations of her favourite literature and then boxes them up, out of sight, when she’s done with them. She finds much peace in her solitude but keeps people who could be a part of her life shut out. As always I can’t tell you what happens. But what I can tell you is she is worth following and she may well teach you a thing or two. This book is filled with beautifully crafted sentences and wonderful quotes from poets and authors. It is absolutely brimming with references to specific authors and their works which was wonderful, insightful, and had me reaching for a notepad often. I took my time with this book because honestly there are some gems in it. I feel quite smitten with it to be honest. I identified with her – I think Alameddine did a great job in bringing her to life.
This is a book for literature lovers, for introverts, for people who like to read about people overcoming themselves. I highly recommend this beautiful book. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was certainly mine.
Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read
#1 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
Last week’s Friday Book Feature was #26 of the All TIME 100 Novels list and since we are one quarter of the way through that list I’m going to take a break from it and feature books from another great list; the Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read.
The Lord of the Rings is one of the best selling novels ever written. It is a hugely popular high fantasy trilogy published in 1954. After the success of The Hobbit in 1937 Tolkein was persuaded by his publishers to write “a new hobbit” book which he began writing in December 1937. At the time Tolkein had a full time academic position at the Pembroke College, Oxford and writing of Lord of the Rings was slow going. It took him from 1937 to 1949 to write the books on and off. Originally Tolkein planned for The Lord of the Rings to be the first volume of a two volume set with the second being The Silmarillion but his publishers rejected that idea. Instead, they marketed his book as a three volume set. Tolkein’s novel was made up of six books so each of the three volumes contained two books. The original manuscripts, totalling 9250 pages, are now in the JRR Tolkien Collection at the Marquette University. (wikipedia)
The three books that make up the The Lord of the Rings are; The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. They are filled with wonderful characters, beautiful landscapes, and incredible adventures. The trilogy has been widely translated (about 38 languages) and is beloved by readers all over the globe. Fans have been so taken by the world Tolkein created that it has heavily impacted popular culture. Tolkein’s huge success with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has led him to be called the ‘father’ of modern fantasy literature.
Another element that has fascinated readers is the elvish language in Tolkein’s books. Tolkein was a philologist who was influenced by the Welsh language. In his essay, English and Welsh, he said:
“If I may once more refer to my work. The Lord of the Rings, in evidence: the names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.“
Tolkein’s books were not only imbued with the magic of his interest in language but also by his interest in the great Norse Sagas and Old English literature. In fact it may be of interest to Tolkein lovers that back between 1920 and 1926 Tolkein completed a translation of the epic Beowulf from the Old English to Modern English which remained unpublished until 2014. It is entitled Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. The translation is followed by a 200 page commentary which formed the basis of his acclaimed 1936 lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. I have yet to read Beowulf for myself, long since on my TBR, and I’m going to try and get this translation for myself.
Despite the success of The Lord of the Rings there were those that criticised the work. Tolkein was a member of a literary group called the Inklings and even within this group there were critics. Inkling member Hugo Dyson apparently ‘complained loudly at its reading’. However, long time friend and fellow Inkling, C S Lewis said: “here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”
Speaking of hearts, I found this detail so lovely: Tolkein’s wife Edith was apparently the inspiration for the characters Lúthien Tinúviel and Arwen Evenstar. Tolkein is said to often have referred to Edith as “my Lúthien”. The Tale of Beren and Lúthien is the story of the love and adventures of the mortal man Beren and the immortal Elf-maiden Lúthien. In The Lord of the Rings her story is told to Frodo by Aragorn. Wikipedia makes mention of a moment between Tolkein and Edith which inspired him to write the meeting of these fictional characters and their love:
While Tolkien was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock: “We walked in a wood where hemlock was growing, a sea of white flowers.” This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien.
Tolkein and Edith are buried together and below their names on their headstone are the names Beren and Lúthien – a testament to their love!
In Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium, Lúthien was the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. After Beren was captured by the forces of the dark lord Morgoth, Lúthien rode to his rescue upon the talking wolfhound Huan. Ultimately, when Beren was slain in battle against the demonic wolf Carcharoth, Lúthien, like Orpheus, approached the Valar gods and persuaded them to restore her beloved to life. Shortly after his wife’s death, Tolkien wrote the following in a letter to their son Christopher.
“I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire […]”
I have loved Tolkein’s world ever since my dad’s nightly readings of The Hobbit when I was a child. If you have not already, I highly recommend reading these books.
All TIME 100 Best Novels
#26 The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust was published in 1939 and is set in Hollywood during the great depression.
The Day of the Locust is a novel about Hollywood and its corrupting touch, about the American dream turned into a sun-drenched California nightmare. Nathaniel West’s Hollywood is not the glamorous “home of the stars” but a seedy world of little people, some hopeful, some desparing, all twisted by their by their own desires — from the ironically romantic artist narrator to a macho movie cowboy, a middle-aged innocent from America’s heartland, and the hard-as-nails call girl would-be-star whom they all lust after. An unforgettable portrayal of a world that mocks the real and rewards the sham, turns its back on love to plunge into empty sex, and breeds a savage violence that is its own undoing, this novel stands as a classic indictment of all that is most extravagant and uncontrolled in American life. (GoodReads)
It seems that The Day of the Locust tackles the time shown to us in The Great Gatsby except from the perspective of those who were truly impacted by the economic crisis, the other side of the coin, because although I would think those were times of austerity the characters of The Great Gatsby seemed little affected by it financially. The Guardian article, The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West, glamorously grotesque, talks about how we can draw parallels between today’s situation and that of The Day of the Locust and this quote from it describing the novel shows that not all experienced those times as Gatsby and his hanger-oners did:
“Here is a society that has generated its own grotesqueness, through a twofold process of alienation: the pre-crash boom has made strangers of all who didn’t share in the green glow of dollar bills, while the exclusive hierarchy of Hollywood makes outsiders of the rest.”
The original title for this work was apparently The Cheated and that leads you to wonder why choose The Day of the Locust. Probably the most famous reference to the locust comes from the bible when a plague of locusts is sent to Egypt and subsequently destroys their entire food supply. Wikipedia quotes Susan Sanderson’s take on why she thinks the locust is used in the title of this novel:
West’s use of “locust” in his title evokes images of destruction and a land stripped bare of anything green and living. The novel is filled with images of destruction: Tod Hackett’s painting entitled “The Burning of Los Angeles,” his violent fantasies about Faye and the bloody result of the cockfight. A close examination of West’s characters and his selective use of natural images, which include representations of violence and impotence — and which are therefore contrary to popular images linking nature and fertility — reveals that the locust in the title is Tod.
This paints a pretty clear picture of what you can expect from this book. An interesting detail is that one of the characters in this novel is called Homer Simpson, the lonely businessman exploited by leading lady Faye Greener, and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is said to have stated in a number of interviews that he named his most famous character, Homer Simpson, after West’s character. I found that interesting.
Robert, from 101 Books who’s reading his way through the list, wrote about his views on the novel here which I think is well worth reading. He said:
At least in regards to the other books on the list, The Day of the Locust is unique in its setting—1930s Hollywood. The loose story follows the sad lives of an artist named Tod Hackett, a part-time bit actress, part-time prostitute, an angry dwarf, a Mexican cockfighting ringleader, a sad pathetic sack named Homer Simpson, and several other Hollywood outcasts.
You read that correctly. The story does indeed feature an angry dwarf, a cockfighting ring, and a depressing old pervert named Homer Simpson—yes, Homer Simpson.
Nathanael West drops you into the middle of this mess of characters without much context. You stay with them for a little while, and then the story ends and you’re pulled right out again. The novel moves linearly for the most part, but there’s no tightly wound plot here. The Day of the Locust is more of a character study than anything else.
If you’ve read this book let me know what you thought.
All TIME 100 Best Novels
#25 A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
Unlike some of the books on the All TIME 100 list, I had never heard of either A Dance to the Music of Time or Anthony Powell. After spending a bit of time on the internet I’ve come to realise that although a lot of people have not read this work, it is considered a highly important one for the English language.
A Dance to the Music of Time takes its name from a painting by Nicolas Poussin of the same name which he painted between 1634 and 1636 as a commission for Giulio Rospigliosi who later became Pope Clement IX. This painting detail certainly attracted my attention and the wikipedia article on it is worth reading.
“Today it is widely accepted that Dance to the Music of Time was meant to represent the passing of time, and the different stages of life on the rapidly revolving wheel of fortune: poverty, labour, wealth, and pleasure.”
The four figures in the painting are said to represent the four seasons and I wonder if this holds any significance for the literary work A Dance to the Music of Time because although this work is made up of 12 volumes, those 12 volumes are published in 4 books. The four books are entitled A Dance to the Music of Time 1st Movement, 2nd Movement, 3rd Movement, and 4th Movement. Dance (as it seems to be called) was published between 1951 and 1975 and is set in England over a period of 60 years beginning just after WW1 and ending in the 60s.
GoodReads describes the entire series:
“Anthony Powell’s universally acclaimed epic encompasses a four-volume panorama of twentieth century London. Hailed by Time as “brilliant literary comedy as well as a brilliant sketch of the times,” A Dance to the Music of Time opens just after World War I. Amid the fever of the 1920s and the first chill of the 1930s, Nick Jenkins and his friends confront sex, society, business, and art. In the second volume they move to London in a whirl of marriage and adulteries, fashions and frivolities, personal triumphs and failures. These books “provide an unsurpassed picture, at once gay and melancholy, of social and artistic life in Britain between the wars” (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.). The third volume follows Nick into army life and evokes London during the blitz. In the climactic final volume, England has won the war and must now count the losses.”
Wikipedia describes the series as “[…] an often comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid 20th century.” And the few that I have read who have written about this series have highlighted that it is indeed very funny. If you are worried, as I was, that this will read like a load of fodder for the literary intelligentsia we are assured by Tariq Ali in his article, Come Dancing, that it is not. Mr Ali goes on to say that:
“What is on offer in the 12 novels that constitute the Dance […] is not the nuances of class snobbery, but a reflection of the social history of five crucial decades of the last century, beginning with the end of the first world war and ending with the turbulence of the 60s. There is nothing quite like it in English letters.”
What I have picked up on is that in addition to its epic proportions and scale, and its comedic value, it is brimming with wonderful characters that have left many a reader wondering about the inspiration for them. Another quote from Ali’s great article:
“The sequence is also remarkable for its astonishing characterisations. To Charlus in the Proust epic, and Diotima and Ulrich in The Man Without Qualities, must be added Widmerpool and Pamela Flitton from the Dance. The late Lord Longford often claimed that Widmerpool was based on him. And there’s an entry in one of the journals where Powell is at a college reunion at Oxford and runs into Denis Healey. The former Labour deputy leader greets him like a long-lost friend, and inquires: “I’ve always wanted to ask you this: Did you base Widmerpool on Edward Heath?””
My interest has been sufficiently piqued! I would absolutely love to hear from anyone out there who has read any part of A Dance to the Music of Time!
The NBCC finalists for the 2014 publishing year were announced in January and the winner will be announced on 12 March. The list of finalists is an interesting one with all 5 novels looking very enticing.
For your perusal, here are the 5 fiction finalists for 2014:
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Aaliya Sohbi lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, divorced, and childless, Aaliya is her family’s “unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favourite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated have never been read—by anyone. After overhearing her neighbours, “the three witches,” discussing her too-white hair, Aaliya accidentally dyes her hair too blue. In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of a single woman’s reclusive life in the Middle East. (GoodReads)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation. (GoodReads)
Euphoria by Lily King
National best-selling and award-winning author Lily King’s new novel is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists in the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying a tribe on the Sepik River in the Territory of New Guinea with little success. Increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when he encounters the famous and controversial Nell Stone and her wry, mercurial Australian husband Fen. Bankson is enthralled by the magnetic couple whose eager attentions pull him back from the brink of despair. Nell and Fen have their own reasons for befriending Bankson. Emotionally and physically raw from studying the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo tribe, the couple is hungry for a new discovery. But when Bankson leads them to the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and emotional firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control. Ultimately, their groundbreaking work will make history, but not without sacrifice. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is a captivating story of desire, possession and discovery from one of our finest contemporary novelists. (GoodReads)
On Such A Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighbourhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labour colonies. And the members of the labour class—descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China—find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labour settlement.
In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-Rae Lee’s elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in. (GoodReads)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church—the only available shelter from the rain—and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security. Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves. Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award Finalist, Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic. (GoodReads)
Let me start by sharing the blurb of Dark Places with you:
Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars. Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back? She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find. Who did massacre the Day family? (GoodReads)
Last year about this time I finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I really enjoyed that novel just as I have enjoyed Dark Places and for more or less the same reason. Flynn’s characters are wonderfully flawed. I enjoy the honesty in them, the cynicism, even their darkness. Because the truth is we all have a bit of darkness in us in varying degrees. The thing is, the darkness in us is what we tend to try and hide from others, I think. Flynn let’s us in on that by letting us into the heads of her characters and letting them think all those horrible thoughts that we may (or may not) chastise ourselves for and never really say out loud. Nowadays, being politically correct is a big deal. I’m not saying I’m all for being horrible and letting hurtful thoughts spill out of our mouths. On the contrary. But we have our moments and we aren’t always likeable. Neither are Flynn’s characters and I like that.
I don’t necessarily identify with Flynn’s leading ladies sometimes but I do find them very interesting. The major difference between Libby (Dark Places) and Amy (Gone Girl) is that Libby has evolution. She still has some issues at the end but she’s evolved and opened up through her experiences. Amy does a whole lot of horrible stuff and remains, in my opinion, a pretty awful person. But I liked following them both. I think this is down to the way Flynn writes her books. She has a knack of revealing circumstances that help you understand why they are ‘bad’ and sometimes stay that way. That’s a lot like real life for a lot of people, I think.
Gone Girl was such a clever book to me. The way she revealed the story had me guessing until the end. It was one of the better books I’ve read in the crime genre for that aspect. Dark Places didn’t have that aspect – I had a pretty good idea how it went down about three quarters of the way through so I can’t say I found it as good as Gone Girl structurally but it was still a great story. It was entertaining and I enjoyed it to the end.
Flynn is becoming a favourite of mine. An author who you can count on for a good crime read, filled with great characters and good writing. It is a good, entertaining read and I’ll be moving on to the next book of hers I have yet to read – Sharp Objects.
This month I added two books from my Friday Book Feature posts to my TBR. The first one was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve been meaning to read something by Franzen for a really long time and after doing some reading about The Corrections I thought why not start with the novel that made the All TIME 100 Novels list. It’s won some book awards and has enthusiastic reviews so I’m hoping not to be disappointed especially since it is very long. (GoodReads)
The second book from the FBF was The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon has multiple novels on the All TIME 100 Novels list and is included in a few university literature reading lists. This book sounded particularly interesting if not a bit wacky which intrigues the hell out of me. The reviews are a bit polarised so all in all I’m not too sure whether I’ll fall in with those who loved it or not although I do expect it’ll be entertaining. (GoodReads)
The 2015 Etisalat Prize Shortlist was released this month and from it I’ve added Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu to my TBR list. He’s a South African author and I’m hoping for a win for him. The blurb of this novel sounds great and it falls within one of my favourite genres – crime fiction. (GoodReads)
A fellow blogger, FictionFan, really enjoyed the non fiction book What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution by Lawrence Lipking. It takes a look at the scientific revolution of the 17th century going beyond the science and showing the interconnections of science, literature, and philosophy. I’m expecting this to be very thought provoking. (GoodReads)
Another non fiction book that made it onto my TBR list this month I happened upon by chance. I was looking at David Mitchell’s novels on GoodReads and noticed a book he’d done the translation of; The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen year old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida. I am fascinated by the enigma that is Autism and what goes in the minds of these children. This is a memoir which shows how the autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds. I’m looking forward to this one. (GoodReads)
I first noticed Lila by Marilynne Robinson on the NYT best sellers list. It’s been on there a few weeks and the novel has also made the NBCC finalists so I’m intrigued. This novel is, however, the third in the Gilead series so I’ll probably have to start with the first two; Gilead, and then Home both of which are already on my TBR list. (GoodReads)
And finally, my eye returns to a novel long since on my TBR list but which had sunk to the very bottom. A House for Mr. Biswas by V S Naipaul. 101 Books did a post recently, A Fragrant of Forgotten Experience, in which he included an excerpt from the novel. The passage was so beautiful I was newly inspired to read it. (GoodReads)