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review 2017-10-17 20:28
Life after LIfe
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

I have feelings about this book. Predominantly annoyance, because I really did not get this book and the message it tried to convey. I didn´t care about the theme of reincarnation or the philosophical musings that time is like a palimpsest, the only thing I did care about was the end after 600 excruciating pages. My first complaint is that this novel is too long and it could easily have been cut by 200 – 300 pages.

 

As I have said, I don´t get this book. Ursula doesn´t become a better person towards the end of the novel (as a matter of fact she doesn´t know that she is reliving her life, she only has something like a déjà-vu all the time). And the first chapter, in which Ursula shoots Hitler, is a huge led down. I´m honestly not sure what that has been all about. Call me stupid, but I´m not clever enough for this book. Or I simply shut down my brain on page 400, simply because I couldn´t care less for this story.

 

This novel is so bleak and depressing, every new life of Ursula´s was downright horrible. In some of these storylines I was eagerly anticipating for Ursula to kick the bucket. There were two lives in particular I immensely disliked:

 

  • Ursula getting raped, which leads to pregnancy and an abortion, nearly dying of an infection and ultimately being married to an abusive husband, who kills her with an ashtray.
  • Ursula being married to a German, who of course becomes something in huge in the party, which leads to her staying with Hitler in the Alps.
(spoiler show)

 

Even if this book is well-written and an engaging and immersive read, the plot is sentimental and preposterous drivel. Not my kind of book.

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review 2017-10-08 15:58
American War - Omar El Akkad

From the back of the book: 

 

"Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others."

 

Read this book. It's only too possible. 

Besides that, it's written with intelligence and empathy. 

Did I say... read this book!

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review 2017-10-08 14:11
Four stories of the man as a young artist. For lovers of experimental literary fiction and New York.
4 3 2 1 - Paul Auster

Thanks to NetGalley and to Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve been following with interest the Man-Booker Prize this year and realised I had quite a few of the books on my list to be read and decided to try and read in a timely manner and see how my opinion compared to that of the judges. When the shortlist was announced, only one of the books I had read so far had made it, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book I really enjoyed. And then I got the chance to read 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, another one of the novels shortlisted, and I could not resist.

I had read a novel by Paul Auster years back, The Book of Illusions and although I remember I enjoyed it, I had never read another one of his books until now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I had always kept in mind that at some point I should pick up another one of his books but that day hadn’t arrived.

I hadn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading it, other than it had been shortlisted for the Man-Booker, and therefore I was a bit surprised and confused, to begin with.

First, as happens with e-books, I had no idea how long it was. It’s around the 900 pages mark. Second, I didn’t realise it was a fairly experimental novel, or, at least its structure was not standard. The novel starts as if it was going to be a family saga, with the story of a Jewish immigrant arriving in New York, and we follow his story and that of his family for a couple of generations until we get to the birth of a boy, Archibald Ferguson. He doesn’t like his first name that much and for the rest of the novel he is referred to as Ferguson. When things start getting weird is when at some point you become aware that you are reading four different versions of his life. These are narrated in the third person, although always from the point of view of the character, and yes, they are numbered.  So the first chapter (or part), you would have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and then, the next part would be 2.1… and so on. The story (stories) are told chronologically but chopped up into bits. Some of the reviewers have commented that you need to be a member of MENSA to remember and differentiate the various stories, because yes, there are differences (fate seems to play a big part, as sometimes due to incidents that happen to his family, financial difficulties, relationship issues… the story takes a different turn and deviates from the other versions), but these are not huge, and it is difficult to keep in your mind which one of the versions is which one (at times I would have been reading for a while before I could remember how this version was different to the one I had just been reading). Because the differences are not major (yes, in one version he ends up going to a university and in another to a different one, in one he works at a newspaper and in another starts writing books, in one he goes out with a girl and in another they are only friends…), and the characters are pretty much the same in all versions (although sometimes their behaviour is quite different) it makes the stories very similar. Added to that, all versions of the character are also very similar as if the different circumstances were not earth-shattering and had not affected that much the development of his boy (in the debate of nature, nurture, it’s safe to say Auster supports nature). The devil seems to be in the detail, or perhaps the point is that we might strongly believe that there are moments when our decisions could have sent us down one path or a completely different one (Sliding Doors anyone?), but the truth is that of all the infinite possibilities (and that makes me think of a book I read very recently, Do You Realize?) only one is conducive to life as we know it (the Goldilocks theory of life. Neither too hot nor too cold, just right) and our life was meant to be as it if.

Ferguson loves films and is a bit of a film buff (there are lengthy digressions about Laurel & Hardy, the French New Wave, American Films…), he also loves books and writing, and some versions of the story include his translations of French poets, or his own stories (that sometimes end up being exactly the same as the story we are reading, and others are either full stories or fragments of the books he is writing), and sports, mostly baseball, although also basketball.

Towards the end of the book (well, it’s a long book, so let’s say from the time the characters goes to college), we get much more detailed information about politics and historical events in America. There are lengthy descriptions of reactions to the murders of J.F.K, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Black Power Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, the Columbia University demonstrations and student political organisations, and also about New York and Paris (more New York than Paris) in the 1960s and early 70s. Although in one of the versions Ferguson is attending Columbia, he is a reporter and even when he is physically there, he narrates the events as an observer rather than as if he was personally involved. His engagement seems to be intellectual above all, no matter what version of Ferguson we read, although the reasons for his attitude might be different.

I don’t want to end up with a review as long as the book itself, and after checking other reviews of the book, I thought I’d share a couple I particularly liked, so you can have a look.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1909935118?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/paul-austers-novel-of-chance

What I thought the book did very well, in all its versions, was to capture the feelings and the thoughts of a teenager and young man (although, as I’m a woman, I might be completely wrong). Although the emphasis is slightly different in each version, that is fairly consistent and rings true. As a writer and film lover, I enjoyed the comments about books and movies, although these could be frustrating to some readers. I also enjoyed the works in progress of the various Fergusons (some more than others) but this could again be annoying to readers who prefer to follow a story and not wander and float in flights of fancy. I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that the latter part of the book is slowed down even more by the endless description of incidents at Columbia that, no matter the version of the story we read, are analytically reported rather than brought to life.

My main problem with the book is that I did not connect that much with the main character. Considering the amount of time readers get to spend with the different versions of Ferguson, we get to know him, but I did not feel for him. Strangely enough, sometimes I felt more connected to some of the other characters in the story (his mother in some versions, some of his friends, a teacher…) than I did to him. I’m not sure if it was because it all felt very artificial, or because none of the versions completely gelled for me. I admired his intellect but did not connect at an emotional level and I did not care for him. I’m aware that readers who know Auster’s oeuvre better have commented on the biographical similarities with his own life, and I’m aware that he has denied it is (or are) his story. There are, for sure, many points of contact. Some readers have compared it to books that have used a somewhat similar format to tell their stories, but as I haven’t read any, I will not comment on that. The ending, metafictional as was to be expected, will probably satisfy more those who enjoy formal literary experiments than those looking for a good story. I do not think many people will find it surprising, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. The writing is good, sometimes deep and challenging, others more perfunctory. And yes, I still intend to read other Auster’s books in the future.

In sum, a fascinating exercise in writing, that will be of interest primarily to followers of Auster’s career, to those who love experimental literary fiction, particularly those interested also in films, literature, the writing process, sports, and New York. Not a book I’d recommend to those who love dynamic stories with exciting plots, or those who prefer to emotionally engage with characters. Ah, and it requires a reasonable memory and a serious investment of time.

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review 2017-10-07 01:47
Interesting even if it lags occasionally - Lost in the Clouds by R. K. Gold
Lost in the Clouds - R.K. Gold

Neville is quite the ordinary man, neither a saint nor a devil. He’s got some hangups but also some righteous anger. As he drifts in the in-between, he’s guided by a rather blunt, grumpy man. Neville has to face all the things he loved and hated in life and one by one let go so that he can move on to the next stage of existence.

Not much happens in this book. It’s a quiet, personal, and emotionally challenging journey for Neville and us readers are just along for the ride. In this sense, I would compare it to some of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books where the story is all about a character’s personal growth. Honestly, at first I wasn’t too sure where this tale would go but I was hooked on Neville and really wanted to see what he would make of it.

Perhaps half way through the tale we learn more about Tessa, Neville’s older sister, and why he holds such anger towards her. I really liked this scene because it gave me both sides of the larger issues that stood between the two. They both made mistakes and they both had to pay for them.

Neville’s bland wife Catherine wasn’t all the interesting. We only get small snatches of her, seeing how she’s done her best to support Neville emotionally throughout the years. I would have liked more about her because I’m pretty sure she had hobbies or friends or personal tribulations.

A few more minor characters come into play. Dennis is the office parasite. There’s a memory of Neville’s dog Wilbur. There’s also a lovely lady at the office that could be Neville’s friend or his undoing. The cast was pretty small for this book and I think that makes it ideal for a stage play.

There were a few times when the story lagged a little for me. I felt that Neville had made his point but then slid into the Whiny Zone. The first time, this was part of his character but as he did it more and more often, I became a little tired of it.

On a side note, as Neville fades in and out of life throughout this book, he often mentions tingling in his personal bits. Yep. Honestly, after the second time it added a little humor to the tale. Neville’s nethers are tingling again! Perhaps it’s just me or perhaps the author was trying to work in a reference to Neville’s root chakra.

All together, I was entertained throughout the book. The tale has some weight as Neville confronts his own shortcomings and overcomes them. This is a small, quiet tale that left me with some deep thinking to do.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Kyle Tait. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Narration: Kyle Tait was a perfect fit for this book. He was great as Neville, capturing the often subtle emotions of this character. His female voices were also believable and all the character voices were distinct. I especially loved his voice of the grumpy guide that Neville is plagued by as he transitions from the living to the after life.

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review 2017-10-07 01:15
Practical skills from one generation to the next - Trapping Rabbits by John Isaac Jones
Trapping Rabbits - John Isaac Jones

This little piece of historical fiction centers on Billy Johnson. In 1951, he’s just a kid and it’s plowing season. Billy’s dad and two Black farm workers (Rufus & Calvin) are hard at work with the mules when a little rain shower comes along and work is paused. Billy’s dad doesn’t waste the time but instead uses it to teach Billy the useful skill of catching and killing rabbits.

I really liked this part of the story because it’s set on a farm, there are mules (I used to have donkeys and one of them was trained to plow), and there’s some parent-kid bonding going on. In today’s world of industrial meat farms, catching and killing rabbits isn’t a common skill to pass down but I think it’s a useful one to have. The author didn’t hold back on how to capture and kill rabbits, nor did he make the descriptions gruesome. It was simply a useful skill being passed on from one generation to the next.

The story is catapulted into 1975 for the second half of the tale. Billy is a functioning adult with a job and aspirations. In a conversation with a shoestring relative, he’s flung back to that moment in 1951 where his dad taught him about rabbits.

I was intrigued by the second half of this story. It was interesting to see Billy living and working in near-modern world with office buildings and packaged foods. However, the tale ends rather abruptly. I was left wondering what the point was and how Billy was affected by this unexpected trigger in 1975 that brought back 1951. I would have liked just a little more to finish this story out. We don’t know if Billy’s dad is alive in 1975 or not. Perhaps Billy would give him a call or visit his grave or simply toast his memory with a scotch.

In short, the tale started off interesting and gripping. Then there’s the sudden jump in timeline but the story holds promise for interesting times. Then it simply ends abruptly.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: James Kiser was a good fit for this story. He had a kid voice for Billy and then an adult voice for him. There was only 1 female character but Kiser had a believable voice for her. He captured the dramatic bits as well as the in-between moments well.

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