Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Nominee.   This lovely story is set in 1920s Alaska and I was initially drawn to it because it had been categorised as magical realism which is one of my favourite genres.

This is a well written story about life; its obstacles and miracles, and love.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.  (GoodReads)

It was an enjoyable read and a lovely little escape.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson is a 1984 cyberpunk novel.  It was the first winner of the science fiction ‘triple crown’ when it was awarded the Nebula Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and Hugo Award in the same year.  I came to know about this novel through the All TIME 100 Novels list.neuromancer-by-william-gibson

“There is no way to overstate how radical Gibson’s first and best novel was when it first appeared. He combined a shattered, neon-chased, postmodern cityscape — its inhabitants rendered demi-human by designer drugs, tattoos and rampant surgical body modifications — with his vision of a three-dimensional virtual landscape created by networked computers, through which bad-ass bandit hackers roam like high plains drifters. When one such hacker, Case, gets banned from this “cyberspace” — Gibson was among the first to use the word — he’ll do anything to get back in, including embarking on a near-suicidal cyber-assault on an all but unhackable artificial intelligence. Violent, visceral and visionary (there’s no other word for it), Neuromancer proved, not for the first or last time, that science fiction is more than a mass-market paperback genre, it’s a crucial tool by which an age shaped by and obsessed with technology can understand itself.” (by Lev Grossman)

Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel and is the first book in the Sprawl Trilogy.  Reading this novel I was tossed into a whole new world of vocabulary and it comes as no surprise to me that at the time of publication this novel had what Wikipedia describes as “significant linguistic influence”.  The term ‘cyberspace’ first appeared on the pages of Neuromancer and quickly entered popular culture.  Gibson is also credited with the popularisation of the term ‘ICE’ which Wikipedia defines as “a term used in cyberpunk literature to refer to security programs which protect computerized data from being accessed by hackers”.  While I can say that I knew what ‘cyberspace’ meant I had no clue what ‘ICE’ was, along with many other terms Gibson uses throughout this story.

The world of Neuromancer is as strange and new as the words and Gibson does not stop and fill up the narrative with explanations of either.  You get on, hold tight, and enjoy the ride.  I have to say that I felt throughout that the popular writing advice ‘show, don’t tell’ was perfectly employed here.  You eventually figure it all out as more and more is revealed to you.

This is the first novel of this type that I’ve read before and I really enjoyed it.  It was different, wild, and cool.  It never occurred to me at any point that it was published in 1984 because the story itself is set in some other time where humans and tech are physically and culturally intertwined.  You imagine it to be the future, how far into the future I don’t know.  Gibson doesn’t specify and I liked that he left it to me to imagine for myself.

This novel is still as relevant today as it was to readers in the 80s.  It gives us a glimpse into a possible future that is not only still a viable option but probably a much more easily imagined option to us now.  This is a dark and gritty adventure into AI, cyberspace, and the tech culture of the future.  I really enjoyed it so I recommend it to readers who are into a bit of sci-fi and adventure.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee.  Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.

Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed.  I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote.  This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go.  It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading.  The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro

“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)

However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for.  That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into.  And thank goodness for that.  Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.

As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on.  The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned.  I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you.  It’s what makes this book.  It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.

Never Let Me Go was a good book.  My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it.  Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012.  It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel.  This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.  dog-stars-peter-heller

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.  But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.  (GoodReads)

Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together.  They all offer something different.  Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far.  Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.

In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people.  There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy.  They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.

It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts.  Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure.  Honestly, I barely noticed it.  Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense.  I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus.  Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire the-stranger-by-albert-camusMessud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”

This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it.  I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.

This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation.  There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen.  This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation.  It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.

When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”.  I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.

What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange.  Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be.  He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement.  What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him.  While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person.  How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story.  And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:

“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The title of the book points to this also.  Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger.  I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider.  The context determines which meaning is implied.  The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.

My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:

“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”

This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book.  Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.

I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Eggers’ The Circle was published in 2013 and there was a lot of talk about the book that year.  This story about a young woman who goes to work at a powerful tech company is still pertinent this year, if not more so, given the evolution we’ve seen recently of major tech companies.the-circle-by-dave-eggers

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. (GoodReads)

Eggers gives us a look at the extremes of living in the digital age.  It asks us to think about how our behaviour and relationships change as we increasingly intertwine our lives with digital tech.

Right now we all know people who are avid users of Facebook, for example, who share most of their lives on their timeline as well as people who either choose not to use Facebook as often or at all.  It’s a personal preference and we respect that.  But what if it was mandatory to share your life on the internet for all to see?  What if your right to digital privacy and anonymity was no longer seen as a right and you could no longer opt out of the online sharing frenzy?

This may or may not terrify you depending on your personal preferences.  As The Circle unfolded and I followed Mae’s journey within the company and their requirements, values, and ideas were slowly revealed I felt a strong sense of foreboding.  I felt an overwhelming sense of how it could all go horribly wrong.  I had a feeling, too, that if the circle were to be completed in the real world, as they seek to do in the book, then a great deal of us would feel very violated.

That was just my response though.  From the way the story is written Eggers passes no judgement one way or the other.  I think when you read this book how you feel as it develops will show if, at the end, you are a Mae or a Kalden.  You are either comfortable with The Circle world or not.

I enjoyed reading The Circle and recommend it.  It doesn’t have the ending that you might be expecting as you read it but I thought the actual ending was pretty terrifying, honestly.  A major film adaptation of this book is set to be released in 2017 starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save

Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake was published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is the first of the MaddAddam trilogy.  The novel is described by the author as speculative fiction and in general as a dystopian novel.

This is the second of Atwood’s novels that I’ve read, the first being The Handmaid’s Tale, and while they are very different in storyline they are similar in that they are both unsettling stories about a very plausible end of the world as we know it.  oryx and crake atwood

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. (GoodReads)

The GoodReads blurb describes it as an ‘unforgettable love story’ which I wouldn’t agree with.  This book isn’t about love; it’s about a world of segregation between the haves and have-nots, the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, the obedient and the rebels.  It’s what our world could very seriously resemble if we continue on the path of fixating on living in security complexes, on being young and immortal, and on unscrupulously modifying genetics to solve immediate problems.

It’s a bleak and horrifying world which could easily have turned into a horror story but told through the eyes of down-to-earth Snowman we are able to experience this story as if it were completely normal.  He is the perfect narrator for this story and an unforgettable character.

I enjoy reading Atwood’s books very much and look forward to reading more as well as carrying on the MaddAddam adventure.  I did enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale more but Oryx and Crake did not disappoint and I’m happy to have finally read it.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is the long awaited final novel of The Passage trilogy.  This epic literary journey began with The Passage followed by The Twelve and now, after a 3 year wait (or 4 years if you read The Twelve right when it was published), draws to a close with a final crescendo in The City of Mirrors.city-of-mirrors-by-justin-cronin

In The Passage and The Twelve, Justin Cronin brilliantly imagined the fall of civilization and humanity’s desperate fight to survive. Now all is quiet on the horizon, but does silence promise the nightmare’s end or the second coming of unspeakable darkness? (GoodReads)

As with the previous two novels, The City of Mirrors is a well written novel of great suspense.  It has its own surprises and yet continues the story of our beloved characters.  It continues to be an epic tale of humanity in the face of extinction highlighting the human heart and spirit.

It is one of the best final books I have read.  It neatly and satisfyingly brings to a close a story that will remain a readers’ favourite for a long time to come.  The Passage trilogy really has been one of those great literary journeys that come along very rarely.

What sets this trilogy apart from others in this genre is its magnificent breadth of story which spans many centuries and Cronin’s undeniable writing skill.  To those who have read the previous novels: you will not be disappointed with this final installment.  And to those who have not yet read this trilogy: you are blessed for you will get to read this epic story from beginning to end without pause.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

 

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I closed this book wondering what the hell had happened.  John Updike described it best in his New Yorker review: “Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Kafka on the Shore”, is a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” It is definitely both a page-turner and a mind-bender!

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable kafka on the shore by haruki murakamicharacters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.  As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.” (GoodReads)

Kafka on the Shore was published in 2006 and went on to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Nominee for Longlist (2006), and the PEN Translation Prize (2006), among others.

Murakami tells the stories of the two protagonists, Kafka and Nakata, in alternating chapters building us up to the main event in splendid Murakami fashion.  The way is sprinkled with metaphysical breadcrumbs moving you forward in the story, letting you know something extraordinary occurred and will occur.  It is a fascinating read but like his Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World you don’t get clear cut answers.  You must make sense of the mystery for yourself.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understood everything that went on in the novel when I read the last line.  I felt baffled despite having seen many of the breadcrumb details sprinkled throughout the story come together.  I will have to read it again.  On his official website in response to questions about the book Murakami himself recommends reading the book several times to fully comprehend it.

“I suggest reading the novel more than once. Things should be clearer the second time around. I’ve read it, of course, dozens of times as I rewrote it, and each time I did, slowly but surely the whole started to come into sharper focus. Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”

I enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore and am looking forward to reading 1Q84 which is next according to Jessica’s Book Oblivion post on the best way to read Murakami which I am following.  Having read two of Murakami’s books so far I also recommend reading Hard Boiled Wonderland first before Kafka on the Shore.  Murakami has become a firm favourite of mine for his wonderful blend of the metaphysical and magical realism with ordinary life and people.

Have you read Kafka on the Shore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

Save

Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1984 novel hailed by many as a modern classic.  It is set in the Spring Prague period of 1968  and what the characters in the novel describe as a time of Russian occupation of Prague and the Czech Republic as a whole.the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera

Reading the reviews on GoodReads there seems to be a consensus that the plot and characters in the novel are underdeveloped and that the purpose of this novel is a philosophical one.  I would agree that the plot was lacking but I found the characters and the setting quite interesting.  That’s the part of the book I enjoyed.

What annoyed me was in fact the attempts to make this novel a philosophical one whereby a narrator reflecting on the characters and their circumstances inserted itself into the story and ultimately, for me, just detracted from the parts that made the book enjoyable.  The references to  Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence were boring and out of place.  I think if you’re going to use a novel to expound your philosophical ideas then write the story, plot, and characters so that they show us this idea instead of interrupting it to try to squash the idea into it.

I don’t have anything against the philosophical novel but I really need it to be well woven into the story otherwise you might as well write a non fiction piece.  Show me, don’t tell me.  That’s why I read fiction.

The setting and the characters were definitely unique and I enjoyed the perspective.  On a whole I gave the book 2 stars though because upon reading the last page I just felt it could have been done better.  I would love to hear what others thought of this book so if you’ve read it please share your thoughts.

 

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

Save

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman has been sitting on my TBR list for a good long while and for good reason as it’s won a lot of great awards: Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel (2001), Hugo Award for Best Novel (2002), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2002), Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2002), among others which you can see on GoodReads if you are not yet convinced.american gods by neil gaiman

“Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and a rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own.” (GoodReads)

I’m so glad this book didn’t sink into the oblivion that is the bottom of my TBR list because it is as great as people say it is.  This is the second of Gaiman’s books that I’ve read and I really enjoy his voice and storytelling.  He’s pretty masterful at writing everyday life mixed with fantastical elements and bringing in all together into a highly believable and immensely enjoyable read.

The characters are amazing and the story is full of surprises.  I can’t say much about it specifically without potentially dropping in spoilers for those of you who’ve not read it so I shall remain silent on the details.  Suffice to say that this was a fantastic book which provided me with a few days of fabulous escapism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of urban fantasy and a really well written story.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

Save

Review: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel G Marquez

Like so many people I read this book because it is hailed as a classic of South American literature and the master work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The other draw for me was the magical realism element.  In short, this novel recounts the lives of generations of a founding family of the isolated town of Macondo as well as its weird and wonderful visitors and ongoings.100 years of solitude

While the writing was good enough to keep me going and the character details quite a work of art I can’t say I enjoyed this novel all that much.  I can appreciate the writing and the work that went into creating these living breathing characters but the story was a bit boring and the magical realism element really was not all that present except for the one flying carpet incident.

You feel you should like the book and so throughout my reading I felt like I was really missing something.  I kept thinking; “This is One Hundred Years of Solitude?”  A lot of people mention the repetitive use of slight variations of just three names over generations of the family as annoying and confusing.  I personally didn’t have trouble following the lineage and I came to think that the repetition of the names was a device to show the repeated nature of certain people within the family.  What really did get to me in the end was the rampant incest of the family.  I have no idea what that was supposed to mean.  The book is quite well crafted so you really do think you’ve missed some hidden insight which was the case with the incest element for me.

I didn’t really enjoy One Hundred Years of Solitude but I am certainly not done with Marquez.  He is without doubt a talented writer and I believe it is simply a matter of finding the right novel of his which I endeavour to do.  I’d love to hear what others thought of this book.

 

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

 

Save

Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day published in 1989 is Kazuo Ishiguro’s third novel and the 1989 Man Booker Prize winner.

“A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.
In 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper. Ishiguro’s dazzling novel is a sad and humorous love story, a meditation on the condition of modern man, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change.” (GoodReads)

The novel starts out a bit slowly as you meet Darlington Hall’s long time butler, Stevens, and see his current working situation which he describes as being very different from the remains of the day ishigurodays he served Lord Darlington.  As you join Stevens on his road trip to see Miss Kenton you also join him on a trip back into the past as he recounts his time at Darlington Hall, the events held there, the famous and esteemed people who came to Darlington, and the day to day of a butler at such a highly regarded manor.  As he progresses through the past you begin to get a clear idea of just how different things had been for Stevens and how he is himself coming to grips with this new phase in his own life.

Stevens is a very well spoken man and the diction of the book consistently matches this which I enjoyed.  I felt it was the most important element of character development in this book as it conveys the real extent of how old school Stevens really is.  People describe this book as being part love story but in all honesty I didn’t really feel this way.  My understanding of the themes of this book were about a man coming to grips with moving into a new age, learning to be relevant in this new time with new ways of being.  Indeed Stevens goes on the journey to see Miss Kenton but it is much more about a man who goes on a journey of introspection to gain perspective on his life and sort through his feelings about where he is in his life now and how he will move forward.

Upon arriving at his final destination before his trip back to Darlington, Stevens decides to take in the sea view one late afternoon sitting on a pier bench waiting for the pier lights to be switched on.  Stevens is lost in his own thoughts until a man seated beside him says, “Sea air does you a lot of good.”  As they got to talking Stevens learns this man was a footman in the old days and he confides in him about his feelings of the old days being over and his doubts of what was to come.  To which the man responds:

“You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.”

This is Stevens’ ultimate realisation in the face of all his thoughts, good and bad, about the past.  It is the past and he must decide what to do for the remains of the day.

“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” 

I enjoyed this book because this is a message that will remain relevant for us all no matter the times.  It just so happens that this message is especially well illustrated when placed in the context of a time that really is vastly different from the times we live in today.  A good read.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save

Save

Save

Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha is a short novel written in 1922 by Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse.  Many people agree that Siddhartha is one of those books that people should read in their lifetime.  It’s a spiritual or philosophical story of a man’s journey of self discovery set in the time of Gautama Buddha.  Interestingly, the name Siddhartha is made up of two Sanskrit words;  siddha (achieved) and artha (what was searched for).  Siddhartha, both words together, means “he who has attained his goals” according to The Life of Siddhartha Gautama – the siddhartha hermann hesseBuddha whose name was also Siddhartha before his renunciation.

This is fitting because in the book Siddhartha does in fact achieve his goals but not at all in the ways he expected.

“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.” (GoodReads)

This is a lovely story of how all that we go through, positive and negative, is part of our own journey of self discovery in life and ultimately all good and valuable.  A quote from the book that I liked:

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

A strong message that we all have to experience life and all its offerings for ourselves to truly understand.  It cannot be taught or bought.  You have to go out and experience life for yourself and walk your own journey.

I enjoyed reading it and it has a lyrical feel to it so it’s different from any of the modern books of its kind.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Save

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was nominated for and won multiple awards in 2013.  It is a short fantasy novel and a great read.  The story follows a little boy as a fantastical and unsettling event occurs in his life.The Ocean at the End of the Lane neil gaiman

“Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.” (GoodReads)

Gaiman’s writing is wonderful and the story was really different so I enjoyed this quick read.  I liked that the plot moved along quickly and although I was saddened not to have specific closure on one lovely character at the end it was all part of the charm because, quite simply, life isn’t cut and dry and neither are all endings.  All of Gaiman’s characters were fabulously fleshy.  I’ll definitely be reading more of his novels in the future.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: Euphoria by Lily King

In February this year Euphoria by Lily King was among the NBCC finalists and it interested me enough to make my Feb TBR Chronicles as well.  I got around to reading it this month and I was happily surprised by it.euphoria lily king

Upon initially reading the book blurb I wondered how the novel would play out being a historical novel about anthropologists.  I was interested in the story but there were a number of ways that, in my mind, this subject matter could have gone and it seemed possible to be a complete bore.  But it wasn’t!  It was a truly lovely book about relationships.

“From New England Book Award winner Lily King comes a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ’30s 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 the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.” (GoodReads)

Euphoria is largely about the relationships between the three anthropologists but not exclusively.  There are many people and relationships to explore all of which give us insight into the characters.

It has wonderful depth and is set in a unique environment.  Those of you who have read a few of my other reviews will know I’m a sucker for new places and cultures in my reading.  If that sounds like something you’ll enjoy I highly recommend this book.

The story has its highs and lows and it shows the highs and lows of our humanity.  I really enjoyed this book. It is loosely based on the time American Anthropologist Margaret Mead, her husband Australian Reo Fortune, and the Englishman Gregory Bateson spent together on the Sepik River in New Guinea in the 30s.  This is a great holiday read and I highly recommend it.

 

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

I’ve been meaning to get to Murakami for quite a while now.  I was going to start with 1Q84 but after reading Jessica from Book Oblivion’s post on the best way to read Murakami I took her advice and decided to start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World.  With a title like that you’re not sure what you’re going to get! I was completely absorbed by this book.  I loved every moment of it and it is thus far my favourite read for 2015.  Actually, I’ve added it to my favourite books (of all time) shelf on GoodReads.hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world by haruki murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland was published in 1985 but not for one minute did it feel like it could not have been written last year.  I would describe this book as part scifi and part fantasy but I don’t think putting a label on this book is going to do it any justice because it is many things all at once.  It is a highly enjoyable and clever book set in a time where some things resemble the world we live in and other things do not.   The book alternates between two narratives; one part End of the World and one part Hard-Boiled Wonderland.  There is so much going on in this book with so many wonderful and inventive details.  You’ll be entertained and you’ll be left thinking about it for a while after.

The blurb on GoodReads describes the novel:

‘A narrative particle accelerator that zooms between Wild Turkey Whiskey and Bob Dylan, unicorn skulls and voracious librarians, John Coltrane and Lord Jim. Science fiction, detective story and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one rip-roaring novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the tour de force that expanded Haruki Murakami’s international following. Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.’

None of the characters in the book are named.  A few readers talk about why on GoodReads.  In my opinion, they just don’t need them because they are all so distinct anyway.  That’s a good writer for you.  Also when I finished this book and began mulling it over I realised because of certain elements of this story they can’t have names…I wish I could talk about why I think that but I refuse to ruin this novel for any of you even in the smallest way.  A huge part of the enjoyment of this novel is the discovery of what is going on so if you enjoy detective elements to your reading you’ll enjoy this.

I highly recommend this book! I absolutely loved it! I’d love to hear what you thought of it if you’ve read it.  Next on my Murakami TBR is Kafka on the Shore.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is a great book.  It’s like nothing I’ve read before.  A while back I came across a reading list for ‘The Practise of Fiction’ course at Warwick University which prescribes Díaz’s book Drown as a study for voices.  I haven’t read Drown yet but Oscar Wao was exactly that to me – a study in voices.  His is a The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waostrong and unique voice that I really enjoyed.  All his characters had strong, different voices in the book.  This novel switches between the different characters’ perspectives and stories and they are never introduced – you recognise them from their voices.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about Oscar de Leon and his struggles as a ‘nerdy’ bookworm writer who spends most of his short life a virigin.  It’s a kind of imperfect love story for many of the characters.  But it is also about the ‘fuku’ or curse that hangs over his family members, past & present.  It is set in the US and in the Dominican Republic of the present and the past.  A large part of the book is about the Trujillo era in the Dominican Republic and albeit gruesome it was interesting and well written.  I’ve mentioned in many of my reviews that books which take me to different places and show me different people and ways of being generally score highly with me and this one was definitely one of those.

There is a fair amount of Spanish throughout and a great deal of reference is made to sci fi and fantasy literature.  I enjoyed both.  I enjoy the sci fi and fantasy genre and the references were not lost on me, in fact I thought they brought humour to a story that is in part a dark one.  I also thought the Spanish was great because it lends itself to understanding the characters better, it really added to the story for me.  That said though, I do understand Spanish so how you’ll feel about it if you don’t understand the language I don’t know.  However, you won’t miss out on anything if you don’t so not to worry.  I read some reviews on GoodReads which pointed to the Spanish and the genre references as reasons why they disliked the book and I have to disagree with them.  Díaz has said that he included the Spanish to give English readers a real feel for the immigrant experience and I would agree that it does take you further into the world of Oscar much better than if everything was in English.  Also, Oscar himself is extremely well spoken so when everyone around him in his community is speaking with Spanish colloquialisms and you then hear Oscar’s choice of diction you really get an idea of how he must have been perceived by his own community.  It all worked really well for me.

There are footnotes which I read at the end.  Some people didn’t like this factor either.  I read the story first which does not require footnote reading to enjoy and then read the footnotes after which I found quite interesting.  I recommend reading them after finishing the story or not at all if you’re not interested.

All in all it was a great book and I’m looking forward to more from Díaz.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Review: The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda

I came to know about Zakes Mda and his novels when my sister gave me this book.  It had been one of her setwork books at school and since I had read a different selection of setwork books when I was at school I had asked her to give me her novels at the end of each year.  Zakes Mda is a highly acclaimed South African author and has won both national and international literary prizes.The Madonna of Excelsior

When I looked up this and Mda’s other novels, the one I most wanted to read was not The Madonna of Excelsior but The Heart of Redness which I have yet to get my hands on.  After closing The Madonna of Excelsior, though, I have a very good idea why this book is chosen for students to read.  This story, to me, is the story of South Africans past and present, black, white, and coloured, in the setting of a small Free State town.  It felt both local (the small town of Excelsior) and global (South Africa as a whole) at the same time.  It was uplifting and sad.  It felt allegorical and honest.  The best way to describe how this book left me feeling is to let you read the excerpt from GoodReads of what Neil Gordon of The New York Times Book Review said of the novel:

“A generous, patient, wry and intelligent voice…[that] suggests not just a writer who can seduce us through beautiful language and unfailing humor. We also encounter a writer who has the power to shock and frighten us, to astound and anger and unsettle us…In short, his is a voice for which one should feel not only affection but admiration.”

Yes.  All of those emotions.  Mda is indeed a writer to be admired in my opinion.  His writing is not only beautiful, but honest and unencumbered.  He is a great storyteller.  I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in African literature.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

south africa

KinnaReads 2015 Africa Reading Challenge Review #1

Review: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was published in 2014.  Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

“On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every The Storied Life of A.J. FikryBook Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.  A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.  And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.”

I enjoyed this book.  It’s not earth-shatteringly thought-provoking or anything like that.  It’s just not that kind of book.  It’s a story about people and their imperfect and shifting lives.  It’s a simple love story, tragedy, and whodunnit all rolled into one and yet somehow none of those genres in any pure sense either.  As I normally do when I enjoy a book, I liked the characters.  More specifically I enjoyed how they talked.  The dialogue was awesome and Zevin shows you who all the characters are on the Island through their words.  Each new chapter is introduced by AJ’s short reviews of the books he reads and as the story progresses you see how his focus in life shifts.  It was unique and I liked that element.  It is both a happy and sad story because the book spans quite a few years and as we all know life has its ups and downs.  That’s all I can say really; this is a book about life.  The ups and downs, joy and heart-break, hope and loss.  It was a lovely couple of evenings read.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great