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Posts tagged ‘fiction’

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.

Colum McCann’s novel “Let the Great World Spin” is set in New York City in 1974. It is a time when the World Trade Center is brand new and a young Frenchman, Phillipe Petit, takes upon himself the challenge of walking a high wire strung between the tops of the two towers. As he performs his feat a crowd of onlookers gathers below watching in awe. The crowd contains people from all walks of NY life. McCann plucks a few people from the crowd and weaves together the stories of some of these different characters.

Each chapter is told from a different first person perspective. Some of the stories are only loosely intertwined and told by characters that we never hear of again. The tales are often gritty and raw, exposing the everyday sufferings of the city’s inhabitants.

If you are the sort of reader that prefers novels told from one perspective with a linear straightforward narrative, this may not be the book for you. I have always been a fan of books that jump around to offer different perspectives so I quite enjoyed reading “Let the Great World Spin“. I found the novel to be well-written and the sort of book that I savoured as I read it. It was definitely a novel that left me thinking about it after I finished reading the last page.

Let the Great World Spin won the National Book Award for 2009. It was also named the best book of 2009 by Amazon.com.

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In the Forest

In the Forest: A Novel In the Forest: A Novel by Edna O’Brien
rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

I’ve read quite a few Irish novels lately. In the Forest is my most recent read that falls into that category. This novel is based on a true story and is a creepy look into the mind of a killer. The killer in question is Michen O’Kane who we first meet as a young 10-year old boy in a small Irish town. Michen had a troubled home life full of domestic abuse and neglect.  Michen becomes known as The Kinderschreck after he steals a gun and shoots it in the general direction of two men.

The Kinderschreck. That’s what the German man called him when he stole the gun. Before that he was Michen, after a saint, and then Mich, his mother’s pet, and then Boy, when he went to the place, and then Child, when Father Damien had him helping with the flowers and the cruets in the sacristy, and then K, short for O’Kane, when his hoodlum times began.

Michen is sent to a juvenile detention center where he is tormented by the older boys and abused by a priest. He spends the next several years in and out of various detention centers and jails. Over time, Michen becomes a very troubled and mentally unstable young man. The residents of his small Irish village try to tolerate him at first but soon enough start to feel terrified of him.

The novel is told with alternating perspectives in each chapter. Some chapters are told from Michen’s point of view, some from his victims and other chapters from the various villagers whose paths Michen crosses. The prose was lyrical and the Michen chapters could be very difficult and disturbing reads at times. His mind became so twisted it was hard to tell what was real and what was dementia.

I recommend this book to those who enjoyed other books that let the reader delve into mind of a killer such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Flann O’Brien’s The Third PolicemanIn the Forest was included on the original list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  I am slowly working my way through that list (I can’t resist tackling to-do lists)  At this rate I hope I don’t die until I am 120.  Must.finish.all.1001.books… 😉

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Slow Man

Slow Man Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sixty-something Paul Rayment is a photographer who is hit by a car one day while out riding his bicycle.  The collision shatters his leg and the doctors amputate it near the knee. Paul refuses a prosthesis. He finds himself feeling hopeless and isolated.

A circumscribed life. What would Socrates say about that? May a life become so circumscribed that it is no longer worth living?  Men come out of prison, out of years of staring at the same blank wall, without gloom taking possession of their souls. What is so special about losing a limb? A giraffe that loses a leg will surely perish; but giraffes do not have the agencies of the modern state, embodied in Mrs. Putts, watching over their welfare.  Why should he not settle for a modestly circumscribed life in a city that is not inhospitable to the frail aged.

 Paul who used to pride himself on his independence now finds himself having to depend on others. Two people he develops relationships with are Marijana, his Croatian nurse, and Elizabeth Costello, an author who mysteriously shows up at his door one day. Paul proclaims his love for Marijana and Elizabeth tries to push him to take a hold of his life and do something.

Slow Man  is the third Coetzee novel that I have read…and that man can write!  All of his novels cause you to think about their central themes long after you put the book down.  Slow Man, like his other novels. has a darker set of  themes: loneliness, isolation from others (both emotional and physical), and hopelessness.  Paul is a stubborn man who refuses to try to rebuild his life…instead he just wallows in his own loneliness and laments over his fate. Paul’s plight caused me to think about making each day count and developping deep meaningful relationships with people. The book also has hints of meta-fiction, which is almost always a plus as far as I am concerned.

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In the Country of Last Things

In the Country of Last Things In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally published back in the mid-1980’s, Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel along the same lines of The Road and Blindness (both of which I loved).  Like those two books, In The Country of Last Things drops the reader into the middle of a “situation” in  that isn’t explicitly explained. We don’t know how things get to be how they are…we join the ride once society as we know it has disappeared.

Anna Blume is in an unnamed city trying to find out what happened to her brother William who was a journalist that was sent to the city to send back dispatches as to what was going on. He was never heard from again. The city is in ruins, its building and its government have collapsed. Anna makes references to how life outside the city is different and better, but we can’t get a clear picture of how different that life is from the one we know. In the city, things are definitey bad. There are suicide cults and everyone is scrounging for food and a place to live.

It is even worse for the ones who fight their hunger. Thinking about food too much can only lead to trouble.  These are the ones who are obsessed, who refuse to give in to the facts. They prowl the streets at all hours, scavenging for morsels, taking enourmous risks for even the smallest crumb.  No matter how much they are able to find, it will never be enough.  they eat without ever filling themselves, tearing into their food with animal haste, their bony fingers picking, their quivering jaws never shut.   Most of it dribbles down their chins, and what they manage to swallow, they usually throw up again in a few minutes.  It is a slow death, as if food were a fire, a madness, burning them up from within. They think they are eating to stay alive, but in the end they are the ones who are eaten.

 In The Country of Last Thingswas a short and engrossing novel.  The tale was character driven as we follow Anna’s descent into hell.  She tries to survive and make a life for herself in this horrid city. Her tale is dark and lonely.    I’ve read a handful of books by Auster and enjoyed them all but this one now ranks amongst my favorites.  Like many of his other works this novel leaves lots of unanswered questions.  It is still haunting me several weeks after finishing it.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed Blindness or The Road.

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The Third Policeman

The Third Policeman The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien


rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bizarre, wacky, mind-trip of a novel. I am still thinking about The Third Policemanseveral weeks later and am only now making an attempt to put my thoughts into words.  For those of you are are extremely irritated by the usage of footnotes in works of fiction (a la Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao), Third Policeman contains clever footnotes on the numerous theories and philosophies of de Selby…so you may not want to pick up this novel.

The Third Policeman is set in Ireland and is narrated by an unnamed man who grew up as an orphan and while at school becomes fascinated with the works of de Selby. He ends up committing a murder while robbing a man. After this event, the plot of the book takes a turn for the weird. The book is riddled with characters with bizarre theories about time, life and bicycles.

I really enjoyed this book but I do tend to enjoy books with a touch of the surreal and a smidge of meta. I can see how this book could be one that some people I know would throw against the wall…but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love reading books that surprise you page after page. The book was clever and original.

 The Third Policemanwas featured in the LOST episode “Orientation”.  Desmond was reading it when the Losties first broke into his HomeSweetHatch.

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Mister Pip

Mister Pip Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones


rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love reading novels where books play an important part in the story. Mister Pip is one such book. As you may guess from the title, the book in question in this tale is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I had to read Great Expectations for a high school literature class and adored it (thank you Mrs. Johnson!).  In fact, I often compare people to Miss Havisham. (so watch out if you wear a ratty old wedding dress because you may be my next victim!).

Mister Pip is narrated by 13-year old Mathilda, who lives on a tropical island that is caught up in a war. The teacher and most of the male villagers have left. The sole remaining white man, Mr. Watts, takes it upon himself to provide the village’s children with an eduction and so begins reading to them from a copy of Great Expectations.  Mathilda quickly becomes utterly fascinated with the novel.

I had never been read to in English before. Nor had the others. We didn’t have books in our homes, and before the blockade our only books had come from Moresby, and those were written in pidgin. When Mr. Watts read to us we fell quiet. It was a new sound in the world. He read slowly so we heard the shape of each word.

Mister Pip is about the power of literature and stories and how they can help us escape the issues we face in our everyday life and how they can influence the way we interact with the world. The very fact that Mr. Watts reads Great Expectations to the villagers ends up having a profound impact on their lives.

This was the first book by Lloyd Jones that I have read. I found it engaging and charming.  It wasn’t as much of a light-hearted read  as I had initially thought it would be based on the synopsis I read, but I enjoyed the take on how a work of literature could so strongly influence the main character Mathilda’s life.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Book Thief or The Shadow of the Wind, both of which are also novels about how books had an effect on a young person’s life during times of war and unrest.

Mister Pip was awarded the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

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Reads: Fieldwork

Fieldwork: A Novel Fieldwork: A Novel by Mischa Berlinski

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I feel as if my job is taking over my life. After reading Fieldwork,a debut novel by Mischa Berlinski, I just have to say that thankfully my job isn’t taking over my life as much as it could. 

 In Fieldwork the fictional protagonist, who just so happens to have the same exact name as the author, is an American free-lance journalist who lives with his girlfriend in Thailand.  He finds out about Martiya van de Leun, an American anthropologist who has recently committed suicide in a Thai prison. She had been serving a 50 year sentence for murdering a member of a local missionary family. Berlinski becomes fascinated with her story and begins to research how she ended up where she did.  She had spent many years living in a Dyalo village in northern Thailand to study their culture. Martiya’s fieldwork becomes her life. She becomes so wrapped up in her work in the Dyalo village that she forgets how to live her previous life.

Fieldwork read like a mix of a mystery novel and literary fiction. At its heart the book is about storytelling…the story our lives tell. Berlinski works to uncover as many facts about Martiya’s life as possible in order to construct her story.  the narrative jumps back and forth through time to give the details of the different characters lives. The resultant novel is powerful, gripping, and tragic. As we learn more about Martiya we begin to wish her life would turn out better even though we know that it ends with her killing herself in prison.

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