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Category Archives: Fiction

The Sacrifice – Indrajit Garai

sacrificeIn this collection meet:  Guillame, who gives up everything to protect his child; Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and, François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.

Having previously had to decline  this offering due to a mountain of other books needing their reviews done for their respective deadlines, I am appreciative of Estelle for offering me another opportunity to read and talk about these short stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Each of the three stories contained in volume 1 have plenty of themes both on the human and natural side.  The reader will see the price of ‘progress’ and the loss it entails with the destruction of nature – which is neatly countered with the positive effects it has on the characters actions – and the uncertain legacy of what will be left of it for the next generation.

The human consequences on nature run in tandem with the heartache of families struggling; parents aren’t there, money is tight and life grinds away at the soul but there is always hope in each other and what they do have.

It is precisely this humanity that kept me reading, seeing these people going through life, trying to do the right thing.  That’s not to say that the book is preachy in any way, it isn’t, it allows the characters and their circumstances to unfold in an organic way and clearly shows us their thoughts and feelings in a given situation.

Each of the participants are just ordinary folk and that is the beauty of the storytelling,  the reader can instantly connect with them and just go with the story – regardless of setting and circumstance – what they do and who they are doesn’t matter because they are in existing in all their flawed glory.  The titular sacrifice therefore feels more powerful because it is something truly costly to the individual which the reader can appreciate and in terms of seismic impact.  The book excels at showing the ripples made by decisions, whether large or of a more subtle variety. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Summer – Anthony Powell

hammertimeAnthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

Volume 2 contains the second three novels in the sequence: At Lady Molly’s; Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant; The Kindly Ones

Having no other blurb would usually be inadequate for the eager reader but in this instance I’m glad of it.  It would take a talented writer to not only quantify the story of all these collected lives but to tease out a discernible thread within the whirl of time and meeting, both chance and planned.

Sometimes a story is not about the end goal but about the experience, the furthering of this particular encounter is a pleasurable one.  I loved the first omnibus and books four to six better it in a lot of ways but I still prefer the overall consistency of the ‘Spring’ books.

A couple of months since reading the last omnibus, which I loved, I was slightly worried I would lose the thread of some of the characters and their convoluted histories but Powell always allows for that and made it easy to recall them through the narrative.  It may have helped that I read the Spring omnibus straight though, rather than taking my time but with a writer such as Powell, it is doubtful the reader will wish to leave long between novels.

Along the walls frescoes tinted in pastel shades, executed with infinite feebleness of design, appealed to heaven knows what nadir of aesthetic degradation.

It was easy to slip back into that world of gossip and dinner parties framed with plenty of references, to art, literature, and music.  This time it felt more world-weary as Narrator Nick Jenkins takes us into further through all these lives and most notably opens up gradually about more himself, rather than being the detached observer he was in the previous volume. There is a sense of time catching up and of a growing maturity. the zest of the young lessening and life taking its toll in myriad ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/01/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Night Delight

Recently it has been a pleasure to retire to bed at about half nine in the evening for some quality reading time.  Stopping to make a hot chocolate which always gets the reading off right, then leaving it to cool off next to my funky touch lamp before picking up whichever book is currently occupying my imagination.

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Stars and the to be reviewed pile.

The beauty of the lamp accompanying the chosen literature is the intimate setting it creates, beyond the book everything is either obscured by the dark or its impact on the peripheral vision lessened so that the small zone of light contains the reader’s only focus on the many adventures to be undertaken.

The accompanying silence as the night wears on – if you are lucky enough to live away from main roads and such – adds a lot of atmosphere, as it did when I picked up Stephen King’s Desperation, and The Stand where 99% of the word’s population has died (not that this appalling tally seems to be noticed as this is all set in America) and the survivors are left to their almost totally silent world.

The night though is versatile, after extensive reading research throughout the years particularly vivid memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its three sequels, The Rama series, and Solaris which being Sci-Fi come to mind.  It feels right to read the genre at night as it does horror, like the stories of M.R. James, and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, which is the only horror book that I have been genuinely creeped out by. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/01/2017 in Book Memories, Fiction

 

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Satantango – László Krasznahorkai

YouKnowWhenYou'veBeen...In the darkening embers of a Communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian town has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias – long-thought dead – returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst.

Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that might allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon attains a messianic aura as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold.

After reading this I found out there was a seven hour film of the book which is lauded with critical acclaim but after reading this story, I may have to leave it a few months as it is one of those rare pieces that feels like an experience and not just another good read.

Satantango is a strange, yet thoroughly intriguing book set in a closed world, cut off from civilisation only by the limitations of its characters. For those who like dense prose and stream of consciousness writing – each chapter is one long paragraph – you can’t go far wrong than with this.  It’s a challenge but in the best possible way. as the reader is treated to political and religious allegory, veiled from the communist censors at the time by its subtlety.

Despite being less than 300 pages, I felt like I was putting the work into this one, that’s not to say it was a chore because it wasn’t but what it is, is very slowly paced read layered with meaning.  The translator George Szirtes must have had his work cut out not only capturing the essence of the book but also keeping up with all the looping sentence structure that takes a while to get used to.

Set primarily in a slowly decaying farm, this ruin of the communist dream is a dreary, all but forgotten place of perpetual misery where time has stopped and everything is rotting and anything that is meaningful has been lost under the rubble, this is reflected in the characters themselves.  Even in scenes outside of this small collective, there is a narrow and confined feel to the text, the pressing down of an invisible weight. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 12/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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Clay Tongue – Nicholas Conley

claytonguenovFrom the author of the award-winning Pale Highway and the radio play Something in the Nothing comes a short fantasy of love, shyness, and the secrets of human communication.

Katie Mirowitz is a small little girl with an even smaller little voice. She possesses a deep love for her grandfather, who suffers from aphasia after a bad stroke cuts loose the part of his brain that processes verbal language. When Katie uncovers a miraculous secret inside the pages of her grandfather’s old journal, as well as an ancient key, she goes out into the woods in search of answers — hoping to uncover a mythical being that, if it exists, may just have the ability to grant wishes.

Author, blogger and all round good chap Nicholas Conley is at it again with another fine offering which, although short is an excellent read and well worth some of your currency.

The succinct nature of such works as this always leaves a challenge for the hard done to reviewer but nevertheless the workout is good after the Christmas binge.  The cover is a wonderful piece of art and gives nothing away, only what the imagination speculates on.  More of this type of book presentation would certainly be a more pleasing state of affairs for all readers and casual observers alike.

The first chapter is a genuinely moving entrance into the life of a young girl Katie, who is trying to understand her grandfathers sudden change after a stroke.  Her lack of comprehension is a challenge to read but perfectly realised by the author.  This is paralleled by her grandfather’s ingenuity and tenaciousness to overcome the communication problems that aphasia brings.

communication is a big part of this story, coupled with time and its cruel effects. It feels totally believable and I found myself hooked, reading through in one sitting.  There is much scope for self-reflection as well and a reminder to view life through the eyes of a child every so often.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 02/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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The Book of Speculation – Erika Swyler

speculativeOne June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

Having started American Horror Story: Freak Show at the weekend, I was reminded that I needed to write a review for this book.  One which takes me back to a sunny day on Salem Common where I first delved into it, nothing beats reading in a place with a bit of atmosphere.

Browsing the shelves in Barnes and Noble earlier that week, my eye was caught by the cover featuring a lady handling books, which is the high mark of sexiness in my opinion.  Having browsed the blurb and noted the key features, family curse, carnival and old book, I thought I would speculatively pick it up for review, it was only after leaving the shop that I realised it was coincidentally called The Book of Speculation.

Whilst being a familiar theme, the time-worn, ornate book with obscure secrets to decipher never gets any less enticing or mysterious.  Having an old tome as the centre piece is always going to keep book lovers reading and I enjoyed this one, it built slowly and kept my attention with its fantastical and melancholy elements swirling agreeably into one another.

The book is structured with a dual timeline running in alternate chapters as we are first introduced to Simon, a librarian who’s soon becomes caught up in the history of a carnival, his researches into this travelling oddity unfold alongside his own personal life and the ultimate link between them, his sister.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 21/12/2016 in Fiction

 

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Thursbitch – Alan Garner

bitchyHere John Turner was cast away in a heavy snow storm in the night in or about the year 1755.

The print of a woman’s shoe was found by his side in the snow where he lay dead.

This enigmatic memorial stone, high on the bank of a prehistoric Pennine track in Cheshire, is a mystery that lives on in the hill farms today.

John Turner was a packman. With his train of horses he carried salt and silk, travelling distances incomprehensible to his ancient community. In this visionary tale, John brings ideas as well as gifts, which have come, from market town to market town, from places as distant as the campfires of the Silk Road. John Turner’s death in the eighteenth century leaves an emotional charge which, in the twenty-first century, Ian and Sal find affects their relationship, challenging the perceptions they have of themselves and of each other. Thursbitch is rooted in a verifiable place. It is an evocation of the lives and the language of all people who are called to the valley of Thursbitch.

Garner is one of the few authors that I struggle with, after enjoying the magical The Wierdstone of Brasingamen and then being less convinced by some of his other books – Elidor, The Owl Service and Red Shift – I once again found myself hooked by the ancient ways of the author’s evocative scene setting.

This book feels like a culmination of ideas of the three above books that didn’t quite convince me when I initially read them.  With two separate stories, one a character exploration and the other a glorious look into the past with its ancient traditions, with an opening that really sets the scene for the delights to come.

The echoing of time both backwards and forwards is an appropriate plot device, especially as we are fast losing our connection with the land in modern times. Garner creates an atmosphere that lingers with the reader and is infused with the soil and its seemingly mythical properties.  He deals with loss and the changes to what is an insular setting, the titular valley of Thursbitch.

The book is minimal in terms of superfluous detail so as a result is tightly written but less is definitely more in this case.  The lack of plot though is a good thing as it is about the characters and what they do and believe, that is the true focus; its magic, haunting, pagan and the beauty of the countryside.  The book serves as a reminder of the passage of time and that the past traditions and language we formerly used are threatening to be forgotten and lost to new generations.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 28/10/2016 in Fiction

 

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