review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

marvellous

“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly

review-ish: The Tiger’s wife by Tea obreht

tiger

“When the fight is about unraveling – when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event – there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them.”

If you read Zebra and didn’t get the hype, then this probably isn’t for you. It has a really similar feel to me. Conflict, displacement, ancestry and family connections are all explored. But The Tiger’s Wife has a fantastical/folk-loreish element that I really loved.

The various stories and the jumping between time-periods, as well as the fact that it is set in a fictional village, Gallina, in an unnamed Balkan land, does make for a complex narrative. In fact, some reviewers suggested that it’s the back stories that make up the content of this novel, rather than the actual main plot.

I LOVED the back stories. They were evocative of a holiday to Croatia a few years ago, in terms of the vineyards and coastal regions. Gallina reminded me of the forests around Plitivice lakes. I loved the way the superstitions of the people created these wonderful but sometimes damaging myths around their neighbours lives. I loved that we approach them all through Natalia’s grandfather at different stages in his life.

Side note, I LOVE the typography of the Balkan language (even though WordPress doesn’t have the characters).

Many better reviewers than me have talked about the themes of death and peoples relationship with it, and their reactions to it. I think I very much glossed over this part of the narrative, focusing more on the mythical tales. But upon reflection, I can totally see this point. And it is perhaps these themes that stay with you beyond the end of the book.

This really is an accomplished debut novel and one that I am so glad I discovered in a charity shop in Cardiff. If you’re happy to feel history, rather than learn it, and are willing to let go of reality slightly, then I highly recommend this book. It’s just really beautiful in parts. But I also get why readers might not be able to persist with it.

Further side note, this was one of about 10 books that were bought on the same day, from many international authors. Many of which I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up if it wasn’t for this blog. So I’m grateful to be discovering not just new stories, but new authors as well.

Anyone else got a decent amount of time off for Christmas? I’ve lined up The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende as my Christmas read (Insole Court Book Clubs book for January) and am also dipping into Not All Feminists Wear Pink.

This has to be my favourite time of year for reading!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

windup.png

Translated by Jay Rubin.

“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.”

There are soooooo many quotes that I could pull from this book, so many nuggets of wisdom and joy. This quote doesn’t do it justice but it was short and I thought readers might appreciate a short quote!

I have no idea where to start with this book. I feel like I come away from Murakami’s novels never truly feeling like I have full understood the narrative (its probably because I’m skim reading!) but I sure have enjoyed the journey. I am always gripped, fully absorbed in his bonkers worlds that are vivid and all-consuming. I get peoples struggles, I really do. You’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to let go of any pre-conceptions and dive head-first into it. And sometimes, that is just not what you want.

But there’s so much in this book to get your teeth into. Mystery, history, fantasy and distinct and in-depth character development. I learnt about the Manchurian war, which I knew absolutely nothing about before, whilst also being taken along on a study of a marriage. There are such a huge range of characters that it can be easy to lose track a little bit, but as you start to get lost, Murakami will bring you back with a letter or story.

I love that Toru is an Everyman. He’s unassuming. He likes things to be neat. He’s in his 30’s and a bit lost. It’s our ability to relate to him that makes him so compelling. He’s such an accidental hero.

I’m always a little bit cautious to recommend Murakami to others. They’re usually massive for a start, and his style definitely isn’t for everyone. I would say not to start with Norweigan Wood, as now I can see that it isn’t reflective of his work (Sorry, adult live-in boyfriend, I let ya down there). The three I have read most recently though, Kafka on the Shore, The Hard-Boiled Egg and the End of the World and this gem are much more similar in style. For someone with a limited visual imagination, Murakami is a dream. Genuinely, it is books like this that make me love to read; the sort of books that make you cancel social engagements and go to bed early to enjoy.

Many Goodreads peeps have suggested multiple readings so I definitely think I would come back and give it another go at some point. With re-reading, I wouldn’t rush through it in excitement and might take a bit more of the actual plot in.  I’ll have another crack at Kafka on the Shore as well.

 

Anyone else fan? Any other Murakami recommendations?

Kelly

Review-ish: Cuz by Danielle Allen

cuz

An American Tragedy.

‘Deterrence dehumanizes. It directs at the individual the full hate that society understandably bears toward an aggregate phenomenon.’

This book was another library-lure, when I had no intention of picking up anymore books. The local-to-work library has a ‘new books’ display that seems to get me every time. Although a small book, I can’t say it was a quick read.

I thought that the most powerful parts of this book were when the author was talking about the statistics of the prison system in America, and the sections where she talks about how crime grew in American and its impact on minority communities. These were informative and powerful and were the things that I think drew most people to the book.

But I did struggle with much of the rest of the book. There were glimmers of lovely prose and I absolutely felt the guilt and sadness that she felt about her impact (or lack thereof) on her cousins life. Sometimes it felt a bit ungainly which meant that what should have been powerfully emotional, felt clunky.

I would be really interested to read more around the subject of race in America so please send me recommendations.

Kelly

 

 

Review-ish: The Warmth of the Heart prevents your Body from Rusting by Marie de Hennezel

warmth

Ageing with growing old. Translated by Sue Dyson.

‘The worst is not inevitable. Something within us does not grow old. I shall call it the heart, the capacity to love and to desire, that inextricable, incomprehensible force which keeps the human being alive…’

A little bit of non-fiction to mix things up a bit. This book was bought for me as a gift by my boss as its very much applicable to my job, so I’m aware that I have a special interest. So that’s a bit of background.

I love that someone on Goodreads described this book as ‘very French’. It is wonderfully French. Full of joie de vivre which is the point of it really. Hennezel paints beautifully vivid images of eccentric, smiling Europeans; loving life, laughing and shagging in older age.

It is chock-full of anecdotes from a range of people; academics, researchers, students, nuns, doctors, authors and people living with dementia and their friends and families, with Hennezel’s own thoughts weaving in between. This diverse ranges of voices and experiences creates a really rich tapestry of what ageing can mean for different people.

As much as I think that everyone could take something very important from this book about the way we look at ageing, I am very aware that it’s a big part of my life at the moment and therefore isn’t something that everyone wants to examine. It can be upsetting to think about ageing, but this is a light-hearted approach with a positive message; every person can change the way they think about ageing and can enjoy life until the end.

It’s absolutely the sort of non-fiction that I enjoy. There’s a very human element to it, a bit of a narrative. Its read-able but also you can pick up as and when. I read it over a series of weeks alongside any fiction I happened to be reading. I learnt a long-time ago that I can’t read two fictional books simultaneously. I only have a certain amount of imagination-RAM in my brain box.

I’m only hesitant to recommend this book to others because I know that I have a bias and have read a lot already about ageing. Has anyone else had this experience when recommending non-fiction?

Kelly

Review-ish: The Prince of the Mist by Carlos Ruis Zafón

prince

Originally published in Spain as El Príncipe de la Niebla. This version is translated by Lucia Graves.

“Whenever it poured like this, Max felt as if time was pausing. It was like a cease-fire during which you could stop whatever you were doing and just stand by a window for hours, watching the performance, an endless curtain of tears falling from heaven.”

I originally picked up this book as I loved Shadow of the Wind, which I read on whilst driving through Spain several years ago. I loved the fast-paced nature of his writing and how evocative Shadow was of Barcelona, somewhere I had never visited but now have such a clear image in my mind of.

The Prince of the Mist is Zafón’s debut novel, aimed at younger readers. Like so many of my favourite YA novels, it doesn’t shy away from darker themes. This novel, set during the second world war in an undisclosed location (to me it was reminiscent of a seaside town in my home county of Devon) it touches on the war’s looming presence for many young people. It also carefully and delicately examines the flawed nature of adults, and some of the well-intentioned mistakes they can make in trying to protect children.

The pacing of it may have distracted me from some of the less well-written bits, as many reviewers on Goodreads are suggesting that it isn’t as beautifully written as Shadow but either way, it reads well, with Zafón’s trademark poetry at its heart. According to Wikipedia, Shadow was also translated by Lucia Graves.

I’m not ashamed to say that this book gave me nightmares! The way that the ‘monster’ is described is so chilling, it really got into my psyche. But that isn’t to say that its not suitable for younger readers. I heard a Radio 4 programme this week where authors were talking about writing for children and how you can present really quite scary scenarios as long as you give the reader a glimmer of hope. This programme really got me thinking about some of my favourite YA books and the importance of them in a young readers development.

I have spent a lot of time recently looking for books for my pre-teen sisters; books that I have loved, but also books that offer something a bit different from the boy-meets-girl story-line, or in fact, the boy-saves-girl trope. Clearly all children are different and have different reading ages, as well as differing levels of maturity, but it can be so hard to find guidelines for suitability of books.

I really try to read everything that I give out as presents in advance but its not always possible. Does anyone else enjoy buying books for the young people in their lives? Any advice or recommendations? Would anyone enjoy a post about what I have enjoyed/bought in the past?

Happy reading, people!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Power by Naomi Alderman

power

‘This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.’

Before I start, I wanted to take a moment to note the trauma that many people would have been re-living, re-hashing, and re-imagining this week. It couldn’t be a more appropriate time to discuss this book; with everything happening with the US Supreme Court nomination and the Judiciary Committee. I just wanted to say that I believe her. That I think she is incredibly brave. And that I am angry that this week will mean that many, many people won’t come forward for fear of not being believed.

To men that are our allies, please be seen. Please make your voices heard too. Clearly, its not enough for us to speak up alone anymore.

And to the book. Well. This was exciting. Totally the sort of book that you could read in one-sitting. The sort of book distracts you to the point of leaving your tea to go cold or neglect your children (should you have them). This is the perfect book for a rainy Sunday when you have nothing else to do but get fully engrossed in a book.  I finished it 1 hour into a 4 hour train journey. Annoying. Lesson learnt.

I think that there’s always a danger with a book that examines the subversion of power; that they can rely too heavily on the subversion and the writing suffers, but this stands up as a well-written piece of fiction. Even though it was the perfect book to skim-read….(I cannot break this habit, please tell me how I can be better at this!) so I had to go back through it a bit to remind myself of what I enjoyed about the writing.

The descriptions that each character give of their physical experience with the power were so wonderfully written and all distinct. Each of the four main characters that Alderman focuses on have depth and are well-constructed; saying that, I felt like I could have spent more time with all of them. I so wanted more. Which is a ringing endorsement for the thrilling ride that the book takes you on.

I really loved the introduction chapter and its interrogation of what power is, and its comparison to a tree. It’s powerful (obvs) and gripping and introduces some of the main metaphors used throughout the book.

I’m truly surprised that a book with so much press attention (here’s a Guardian review) written two years ago hasn’t been picked up for a film (that I know of). Its length and intensity mean it is crying out for a film adaptation. I have no doubt that like so many film adaptations it will be terrible…but its such a visually stimulating story. The Washington Post called it ‘our era’s Handmaids Tale’  which is not an unfair description.  In fact, I think that the writing style is actually quite similar. I found myself wandering, if like Handmaids Tale, the things that happen to the men in Atwoods novel are similar to things that have truly happened to women before… but that’s a hard comparison to make within the introduction of a force like the power. This nytimes article is fab actually, and it explains that Atwood was a mentor to Alderman whilst she wrote The Power. 

I would highly recommend this book. It’s a proper page-turner that stays with you, long after you have finished it and a loved-one has pried it out of your cold hands. Go. Enjoy. And then come back and discuss gender politics with me in the comments. Lets be good to each other. 

With love this week,
Kelly