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Tag Archives: Magical Realism

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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The Fall of the Stone City – Ismail Kadare

Stoney FacedIn September 1943, German soldiers advance on the ancient gates of Gjirokastër, Albania. It is the first step in a carefully planned invasion. But once at the mouth of the city, the troops are taken aback by a surprising act of rebellion that leaves the citizens fearful of a bloody counter-attack.

Soon rumours circulate, in cafes, houses and alleyways, that the Nazi Colonel in command of the German Army was once a school acquaintance of a local dignitary, Doctor Gurameto. In the town square, Colonel von Schwabe greets his former classmate warmly; in return, Doctor Gurameto invites him to dinner. The very next day, the Colonel and his army disappear from the city.

The dinner at Gurameto’s house changes the course of events in twentieth-century Europe. But as the citizens celebrate their hero, a conspiracy surfaces which leads some to place Gurameto – and the stone city – at the heart of a plot to undermine Socialism.

Thanks to Sarah over at Hard Book Habit for bringing this book to my attention and thanks to the well-known chain of bookshops that actually bothered to stock it, rather than just pander to the popular books and terrible novelty things clogging up the entrance that one has to wade through before getting to the good stuff.

World War II is a natural hotbed for history and literature (although perhaps it is reaching saturation point on the latter), yet Albania and its inhabitants aren’t mentioned in anything I have read.  Neighbour Greece has plenty written about it but it is surprising that Albania hasn’t had as much coverage as it makes for an interesting study.  Part of Italy’s empire until their eventual capitulation, taken over by Germany and then under the yoke of communism, there is certainly plenty of scope for exploring the political and human aspects of the conflict.

Mixing fact and fiction Kadare creates a thought-provoking story, filled with satire and darkness where fact and fiction mingle to manufacture confusion and fear at every turn.  From the outset there is a feel of magical realism to the book, slightly reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez but this is layered over with a nightmarish quality that runs through the book, hinted at in the beginning and coming to brutal fruition towards the end. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/05/2016 in Fiction

 

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Leaf – Daishu Ma

LeafHow much power does a single man, let alone a single leaf, have in the industrial world? In this wordless, all-ages graphic novel, our protagonist discovers a leaf that radiates a vibrant light. He returns to a detailed metropolis – depicted in somber grays and blues – and searches for answers. During his quest, he stumbles upon a man who knows what’s really happening in the city’s labyrinthine ducts; a woman who spends her life studying and classifying obsolete flora; and the truth about the ever-dwindling environment. Leaf is a graphically stunning story that unfolds with a dream-like pace.  Shaded in pencil and punctuated by spot colors, drawn in a delicate but concretely realized tonal approach reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, Chinese cartoonist Daishu Ma’s first foray onto American shelves is ultimately a hopeful vision of the coexistence of the urban and natural worlds. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Wandering around Page 45 – Nottingham’s best comic book shop – I came across this intriguing effort and typically curiosity got the better of me and my wallet.  The best bit about this cover (unless you have a foliage fetish) is that there is a leaf-shaped hole allowing us to see the title on the page behind.  I mention this because it made me feel like a kid again being fascinated by a hole in the cover and on the strength of that and my natural curiosity like the man in the book, the sale was already a done deal.

Stories with no words are always thought-provoking beasts, body and facial expressions become more of an art than just an accompanying depiction to underline words.  Whether subtle or blatant each person will, according to their own experiences and thoughts open the story up to unique interpretations of the nuances within the main framework of the tale.

The pencil drawings are wonderfully realised, mixing different sizes and detailing throughout its pages.  The limited use of colour really brings out the features in each illustration and creates a vivid feel of something magical that is taken for granted in real life.  The imagined world is both grounded in reality but also has a distinct fantastical influence so the reader is both familiar but also intrigued by the setting. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/04/2016 in Graphic Novels

 

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Baudolino – Umberto Eco

Baudolino-paperback-coverIt is 1204, and Constantinople is being sacked and burned by the knights of the fourth Crusade. Amid the carnage and confusion Baudolino saves a Byzantine historian and high court official from certain death at the hands of the crusading warriors, and proceeds to tell his own fantastical story.

That isn’t much of a blurb I’ll grant you but this is Umberto Eco’s work and he always writes with a quality lacking in many other authors so it really doesn’t need much in the way of encouragement to pick up.  Nevertheless without giving too much more of the story away I shall endeavour to encourage you to read it anyway.

The book starts with our titular protagonist Baudolino learning to write and quickly establishes he is a serial liar and that that is the key to the book.  The plot is based on a succession of lies framed in a story told to us by an unreliable narrator, despite or perhaps because of this, the reader is drawn in as fantasy and real life collide in a crazy tale of high adventure which may or may not be entirely accurate.

The exploration of how history is written and from what points of view as well as the idea of choosing what to believe is an interesting one explored throughout the text. The idea of both the real and the fantastical living together in religion is one point Eco makes time and again, he grounds this in the ideas of the 12th century, both of faith (and the arguments between various sects) and science.  Like Eco’s earlier work The Name of the Rose, the ideas of the day are thoroughly explored and extremely well researched and really help to give the book an extra immersive quality.  There is plenty here the reader will want to delve into and explore, be it the history or the satire aimed at many authors amongst them Sir John Mandeville, Voltaire and Jonathan Swift as well as the authentic style of the time in regards to listing people and creatures in detail just like the literature then was prone to do.

A lot is crammed into this book there is an ingenious locked room mystery, The Crusades, Prester John and many other fascinating things with which I would do you a disservice to mention here and ruin the discovery for you.  All this makes for a compelling read crammed full of magical ideas and real history but rather than an endless procession of ideas, it is woven into a story that may begin a little slowly but once it gets going can at times become a whirlwind of adventure and enjoyable prose. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/03/2016 in Fiction

 

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The Children’s Book – A. S. Byatt

Children'sBookItAin'tFamous author Olive Wellwood writes a special private book, bound in different colours, for each of her children. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world – but their lives, and those of their rich cousins and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets.

They grow up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, but as the sons rebel against their parents and the girls dream of independent futures, they are unaware that in the darkness ahead they will be betrayed unintentionally by the adults who love them. This is the children’s book.

Why it took me three years to get around to reading this Christmas present I do not know, shame on me should be heaped on me but not in public please.  The Children’s Book is a novel of extravagant language and layered descriptions,a visually rich treat with striking backdrops and a wealth of flawed and intriguing characters, of generations that rise and diminish in the natural order of things.

To begin with the balance between plot and description was a little to skewed to the detail side of things, especially with the book opening in a museum.  Not that I didn’t enjoy that sort of thing but it would have been nice to have a little less so early on when establishing the characters and themes but stick with it as the first part especially is a sumptuous reader’s delight.   The book is superbly researched throughout in all manner of subjects from art to politics and the enquiring mind will revel in all the rabbit trails it will lead them on.

Reality and story are intertwined in all these characters’ lives touching them in various ways, the two live side by side as dualities in the memory and become both the reality and also the made up tale.  Real life brings veiled secrets, betrayals, love, hate, new understandings of the world, the battle of the classes, the struggle of feminists, the advent or war, the quest for a better, fairer society, the realisation the of self and also of the cycle of life; in terms both of generations and the paths that people take and the same roles and mistake made over and again.

The made up world lying closely in tandem brings an intrigue into the mechanisms of art,  the recycling of old ideas bringing forth the new and vibrant adventures.  The stories created are symbols to mirror the real world, yet also to aid that need to escape the very same.  As evidenced at the time the book is set with such magical stories coming out such as Peter Pan, Puck of Pook’s Hill, Five Children and It, Wind in the Willows, The Railway Children, The Secret Garden and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/02/2016 in Fiction

 

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Tolstoy and the Time Tunnel

There was a Tolstoy quote I had in mind for this post which I can’t quite remember yet know it moved me back in the day. when I first read it in War and Peace.  It was about the sunlight shining through the trees and demanded to be read several times before continuing on with that epic story.

After spending plenty of time looking for my copy I wondered how I could fail to find the 1500 page doorstep of a novel, then the inevitable and ultimately fruitless search through a pdf copy actually saw my frustration lessened by the thought that  perhaps it was a good thing not to have the book to hand afterall.

What if it didn’t move me as it once did and that was a distinct possibility, if I didn’t find my actual translation would a different one have the same impact or the precise phrasing anyway?  Suffice to say, it was affecting at the time and I hope it will be so again once I find my book but until then that vague memory still makes me happy.

The point of the quote was to link in with my latest effort of writing which is a celebration of leafy ways which will soon be lost with the Autumnal flavour in the air:

 

The Arch

Passing through light to shadow
A crescent of foliage genuflects to the glory of the day
Changing the sun’s rays to oases of dappled light pools on the earthy stage.

I pause and sit
Enjoying the coolness of this climate controlled conduit.

Contemplating its aspects both seen and suggested
This is no ordinary path but a time tunnel
An admittance to fey that is a journey to distant times
A communal place of thought
A shibboleth of mysticism stretching throughout the vast span of ages.

There is perfect silence
But for the incomprehensible sound of an aeroplane,
Alien to this out of time and yet paradoxically time bound place
Birds of another form take up song.

Nature and peace reside perfectly in this spot.

The world is a dream as the weightlessness of serenity descends
The age-old trees providing a perfect phalanx to the encroaching outside.

I move on
Touched by what was and what will be again…

 

Thanks to Tom for suggesting the word shibboleth.

 
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Posted by on 18/10/2015 in My Writings, Poetry

 

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