Thursday, 22 June 2017

April 2017 Reviews

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
Candlewick 25/3/14 Hardback
Internship Haul

Since I tried to read one hundred years of solitude I tend to stay away from magical realism. But unlike the unreadable mess that is OHYS the Ava Lavender story is the stuff of true imagination. It's a beautiful story of love, or acceptance and of strange brutality. I was captivated by this book. The madness of the events is smooth and although the characters talk to ghosts or turn into canaries or don't talk at all, I believe that all of the characters have so much human depth.

It's aimed at teenagers and was a fairly quick and easy read. I read it at the start of my holidays and it was perfect for that half asleep reading that might happen on a plane.  It's beautiful for younger readers and capturing imagination, just the sort of thing I would have read at 15 or 16 and loved. I think I could find my self rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of some of the story which is why it only got 3 out of 5.

A Little Life
Hanya Yanagihara
Picador 21/5/15 Kindle

I can sum up this book in one word. Powerful. I finished the last 400 pages at once and spent the whole day in bed to finish it. If you don't cry while reading this book, that would be surprising because it is overwhelming. The Man Booker podcast said that people might find A little life to be a difficult read. I interpreted that as very highfalutin writing, but actually they meant in terms of harrowing story line. It follows the friendship of four friends throughout their lives. But largely focusing on the character of Jude. If you've read Jude the Obscure, or any Hardy novel you'll know its one awful thing after another and I'd say apply the same expectation to this.

It should come with a trigger warning on it for sensitive issues and I did find it quite upsetting. Its a very raw story. Overall, I think it is worth reading the Man booker prize winner. It's long and moving and well written. I'd probably want it to be a couple of chapters shorter, but then you don't get the level of set up that I think was wanted. I found my self skim reading some of it to get to the juicy emotional stuff, which was plentiful. It that way it was a little bit like live plastic surgery, you can't really look away, but the gruesome bits are the best.

The Colour Purple
Alice Walker
1982 Paperback
Mummy's Library

Great book. From the start Walker will have you hooked. There are subtleties in the writing which are genius. at the start the language is halting and colloquial, but but the end there is a confidence in the voice.

I had seen the film before I read the book but I was absolutely carried away with the narrative the loops of which I think are simplified and left unexplored in the film. Plus of course the book goes further into their lives after the climax.

It got my tear of approval, I don't think it is possible to read this book and not cry at some of the most harrowing or uplifting moments. The relationships between Celie and everyone she interacts with are nuanced and detailed and give a real insight into the character's thoughts and opinions. I actually think it is the kind of book I would pick up again.

The Sultan's Organ
John Mole
Fortune 26/4/12 Paperback
Mummy's library

What a fun and interesting little book. An edited almost original manuscript of someone who thought to document their voyage to Istanbul. Complete with misadventures and too much wine eventually the delivery of the organ is made. Actually there wasn't nearly enough focus on the organ itself or people's reactions except that the sultan was pleased. Unfortunately the organ itself was destroyed by the sultan's brother who took an axe to it. Which is a real shame.

The history of this gift is very interesting, but the book doesn't quite do it justice. It is also a shame that none of the original organs by the same maker have been preserved and so there is no comparison to visit in the UK. Luckily I had an interest in the subject having listened to a podcast about the relationship between England and Istanbul in the 18th century. It's a quick easy read (1.5 hrs) but a little too much focus on the voyage rather than the events in Istanbul.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

March 2017 Reviews

The Essex Serpent
Sarah Perry
Serpent's Tail 27/5/16 Hardback

The Christmas book of the year I think, this gem was in all of the bookshop windows and I was lucky enough to be given a copy. It is a beautiful gift edition with gold embossing everywhere. But as beautiful as the book was the writing inside it. Historical fiction, which perfectly captured the climate of medical and anthropological history at the time. Women's emancipation is also in sight, in the age of  Mary Anning and George Elliot and Cora Seagrave, the fictional widow in the story. On a hunt for the mythical Essex serpent she makes friends with the people of Aldwinter.

I was swept away in the tide of descriptive language particularly descriptions of the illness of consumption. This is her second novel, the first being After Me Comes The Flood, an infinitely more difficult read, I found that her writing had come on leaps and bounds but the same skill of weaving an intricate story full of mysterious and eccentric characters remains. But beyond the characters and their lives, there is the wider narrative of the serpent itself. I found my self googling the myths and legends that must have inspired Perry. Her research is evident in the pages and I find myself talking about various little facts I've picked up, only to discover that I read it in The Essex Serpent. A great gift and a good second novel. It can be slightly rambling, as her first book was, and I expect that the writing will be even tighter for her next. I look forward to reading it!

The Vegetarian
Han Kang
Portobello Books 1/1/15 Kindle

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize, and on a personal recommendation, I had to pick this one up. There were so many things I liked about this book. The perceived lack of mental health for the protagonist, guided by culture, and then the very real deterioration. The translation is immaculate and one of the best I've seen in terms of readability. Its hard to describe the book because the plot is an unusual blend of realism and fantasy, but more like talking through someone's imagination.

My absolute favourite section was the middle where the formation of an art work is talked out in the writing. It was sensual and beautiful and so evocative. In fact the whole book is very visual and I had the experience of being able to see everything I was reading. The only reason it's not a five star review is because it devolved into madness. Which I think was the right call for the plot, but it put a distance between me and the protagonist that I was less keen on.

Anil's Ghost
Michael Ondaatje
Vintage 24/4/01 Paperback

Much harder to read then the previous two books, where beauty of language becomes unfollowable. I felt like I was reading a number of disjointed sentences that were beautiful but meant nothing. Eventually things came together in the last 10 pages or so, but I felt no empathy with the characters, and very little interest in the political point that I think was trying to be made.

Perhaps nothing appealed to my interests and that's why I couldn't connect. But the main character was so unlikeable and had so few redeeming qualities. Often in these books you're not meant to like the protagonist. But I think I was meant to. Not a fan of this book at all. But it did not stop me from reading The English Patient. Put it this way, no one has made a film about Anil.