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At Horizon’s End – Chris Sarantopoulos

The Man Who Fed On Tears always knows whose time it is to pluck from the world of the living. His existence is one of a symbiosis between his need for the tears and woe he causes to those closest to the deceased, and the natural order of life and death to which he is bound. He never questions himself or his actions and has never made a mistake. Until now.

Stella is a four-year-old girl who misses her mommy and wants to see her again. She doesn’t yet understand the concept of loss, so when she sees close family members crying, she tries to stay cheerful and optimistic. After all, Mommy said they’d see each other again when the time comes At Horizon’s End. So if they’ll meet again, why is everyone crying?

Short stories are always challenging to review, especially ones of exceedingly short length, such as At Horizon’s End.  However having been sent a preview copy, I was willing to take the task on so shouldn’t complain about the challenge.

The story is a poignant dealing with, and understanding of grief, essentially from three sides; four-year old Stella, her family (to a lesser extent as they are mostly in the background) and Death, who is having something of a wobble in his understanding of the impact of the job.

The touching, simple and sparse narrative switches between these two main characters, offsetting a child’s innocence and moving way of looking at things with something more timeless and harsh in death who, is humanised to good effect.  The split narrative works well and fleshes out the scene to good effect.

This is a story of love, a short, sharp piece of prose which I really did enjoy.  The conclusion is strong and raises some interesting speculations which adds to the overall story.  It’s a lovely piece of writing, it won’t take you long to finish but if you are anything like this reader you will think on it for a good time after.

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Posted by on 31/07/2017 in Fiction

 

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Free Books, Good Home

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It is always a pleasure to welcome a new book into the fold and I have two to show that have recently been added to the collective.  The first, The Lyons Orphanage, arrived today generously and promptly sent by author Charlie King only yesterday and a few weeks ago Liz was kind enough to send me The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson.

Both of which look like being fascinating reads, the first a mystery novel set in an orphanage and the other about companionship over a long winter in a small hamlet.  Both promise lost souls in different ways, as ever you shall have reviews on them both.

For those of you wondering about my lack of posts of late and also the shortness of these two latest, fear not normal service of travel posts and reviews will resume shortly as will my ability to visit all your blogs.  Until then, here are the respective blurbs. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/06/2017 in Blogging, Lists/Ephemera

 

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

Continuing the chronicles of life experience via narrator Nicholas Jenkins, this spoiler free review focuses on books seven to nine of the series: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, and The Military Philosophers.

Obligatory warning to those people who feel it necessary to pick up a series at the half way point for reasons only known to them: whilst not spoiling anything of these or previous books, if you do like what you read, start with the Spring books as the Autumn omnibus will be pretty impenetrable at this point to newcomers, who will lack the sense of nuance created in previous volumes.

This third mini trilogy in greater narrative is another 720 page tome which is a joy to spend time with.  By now its obvious that I love this masterwork otherwise I wouldn’t still be endeavouring to carry on but the more I engage with the characters, the richer the books become.  As with the previous books the reader is in for a treat, discovering and rediscovering characters full of wit, eccentricity and intricacy.

Another phase of life begins anew for Jenkins et al. and the effects of the war lead to some unexpected changes in familiar personalities, whilst exploring the impact of some exiting characters.  The impact of the second world war is far-reaching not just in geographical and emotional ways but also to the shaking up of social class structure.  This book is one of acute change on all sides.

In this modern world of ours where everybody wants to talk (or shout) about themselves, it is refreshing to find a narrator who reveals little of himself throughout the books and focuses on what is going on around him. Whilst he retains the same detachedness that has seen him through school to this point there is now, more than ever, a justifiable sense of experienced world-weariness.  The books he name checks – most noticeably Proust and to a lesser extent Balzac – give a tantalising hint to the man behind the narrative voice and the author himself.

There are the usual slew of new characters introduced and getting to know them counteracts the very real boredom of the war as seen from the backwaters and offices of the UK.  This dullness of duty is offset by Powell’s wonderful prose, it is rich in both depth and message and gives the right amount of balance to delivering bright spots in what is a very downbeat (to say the least) time in history.  Few authors would be able to be as precise and delicate in this depiction. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 02/06/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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The Holiday – Stevie Smith

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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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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Stowaway to Mars – John Wyndham

extraweightFor British pilot Dale Curtance the Keuntz Prize – to be awarded to the first person to take a spaceship to another planet and back – is the ultimate challenge. Not only has he to build a ship to survive the journey, assemble a top-notch crew and choose a destination, he’s also got to beat the Russians and Americans.

Soon the GLORIA MUNDI blasts off from Salisbury Plain, bound for Mars. There’s only one problem – a stowaway called Joan. Not only does her presence wreck calculations and threaten the mission, but her tale suggests that Mars may be a more dangerous destination than they ever expected.

Written in the 30s, this is an early effort by John Wyndham and it shows.  This is not a bad thing though as the book is a fun read and despite its flaws there is plenty here to enjoy.

The story feels like a solid B-movie effort, of which I like to term ‘B-Literature’ and not the Wyndham that I am used to.  This a more speculative effort rather than the ‘logical fantasy’ he later wrote, with much success.  In this case, Britain is Great again at the forefront of exploration and a major contender in the space race and in particular to reach Mars first.

The story flows well, action is mixed up with speculation on the mysteries of the universe and the boredom of floating about in space, as well as the anticipations surrounding arrival to Mars and take off are captured well. The satire of the Press, especially the British is remarkably spot on now as it no doubt was back in the day; as is the Cold War feel he almost presciently managed to summon up a decade before the term was even used.

There are enough signs of the writer the author would become scattered throughout the pages especially when the astronauts speculate on the big questions.  Space always brings out the pertinent existential questions of our place in the universe and what precisely life is and there are some fascinating conversations set up throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2017 in Sci-Fi

 

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