Posts Tagged ‘Literary Fiction’

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Posted in Proofs on May 22nd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Maggie O’Farrell is not one to sit on her laurels nor is she one of those authors who stick to tried and tested formulas because they worked in the past. Open a new Maggie O’Farrell and you will only be assured of one thing, this lady can write beautifully and engagingly but she’s full of surprises.

One of my all-time favourite songs is This Must Be the Place, that absolute gem of a love song by Talking Heads with searingly simple lyrics,
“Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home and,
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead”

It’s about love and finding home with another person and maybe it’s right in front of you and you can’t see it. I don’t even know if this novel has any connection with David Byrne’s lyrics but Maggie O’Farrell’s prose just reaches inside my chest and reproduces the same heartrending effect.

Daniel O’Sullivan is an expert linguist, working with language every day, but he just can’t find the right words to communicate his feelings to those he loves. The author takes us on a journey across oceans and through the experiences of many different characters before Daniel reaches any kind of conclusion…if he ever does! If you don’t have the energy or inclination to focus on multiple characters and time frames then this might not be for you. The narrative requires quite a bit of focus and concentration but if you get on board you’ll have the ride of your life!

A few years ago, I introduced my book group members to Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. Suffice to say, they’re chomping at the bit to get their teeth into this one. Highly recommended.

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The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on March 1st, 2013 by admin – 5 Comments

The Last Runaway

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
New Books Magazine

My Rating - 4.5 stars

Tracy Chevalier is one of  my favourite authors and she has a way of making history come alive in her novels which have subjects as diverse as Vermeer and fossils.  In The Last Runaway she switches her focus to America, in particular 1850s Ohio where the young English Quaker, Honor Bright starts a new life very different to her quiet upbringing in Dorset, England.

It is a time of great upheaval in America as the country inches towards civil war with a variety of runaways, both black slaves and white settlers, trying to forge a better life for themselves.  Honor finds life hard as a single woman unaccustomed to the American way but she is aided by the flamboyant Belle Mills, a milliner, who takes Honor under her wing.  Belle’s brother, Donovan, sets his sights on Honor but his reputation as a dissolute slave hunter makes him an unlikely suitor.

Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, this is a novel with strong female characters who use their wits to survive difficult times.  Those travelling the Underground Railway are not the only runaways in this well-researched and eloquently written novel.

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The Prisoner of Heaven- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Books about Books, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on July 16th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

The Prisoner of Heaven

Published
21/06/2012

Publisher
Weidenfeld & Nicolson

ISBN
9780297868095

My Rating – 4.5 stars

The Prisoner of Heaven is the long awaited third instalment in the Cemetery of Lost Books series.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon is such a talented storyteller I think he could make the phone book unputdownable! I always approach his new books with a mixture of pleasure and dread – I’m always confident they’re going to be good but I know I’ll feel bereft once the final page is turned.

The story begins in 1957, a year after Daniel and Bea Sempere’s wedding and they now have their hands full with a new addition to the family, baby Julian.  All seems peaceful enough apart from the usual pressures of adjusting to parenthood and the need to bring more customers into Sempere and Son’s Bookshop where Daniel and family now live with his father.  Fermin is still working in the bookshop and will soon be married to Bernarda so what could possibly happen to taint this picture of domestic bliss?  Cue the entrance of the mysterious stranger who readily spends a small fortune on a rare copy of The Count of Monte Cristo only to instruct Daniel to pass it onto Fermin.  Thus, a window is opened on the murky past of Fermin Romero de Torres and we are swept back in the mists of time to 1939 when Barcelona fell to General Franco.   Fermin was amongst those unfortunates imprisoned in Montjuic Castle, considered as escape-proof as the Chateau d’If in The Count of Monte Cristo.  Yes, the past has a nasty habit of catching up on folk and Fermin is no exception.

If you enjoyed The Shadow of The Wind and The Angel’s Game you will experience equal delight in this latest episode.  The usual Zafon ingredients are present – the gothic undertones, the inner heart of Barcelona, the love of literature, the sheer joy of creating a vibrant, atmospheric story peopled with characters who feel like old friends. 

The only thing preventing me awarding  a five star rating  (maybe I’m too greedy or too harsh..) is the fact that, at 288 pages,  this novel is almost half the size of its two sister volumes (The Shadow of The Wind 528 pages, The Angel’s Game 544 pages) and it feels more like part one of a two parter a la Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows movie version.  I guess it prolongs the inevitable despair of finishing the series, which will happen with the next novel but it could frustrate those accustomed to the “meatiness” of the previous tomes.  I’ll just have to bide my time waiting on the final course, grazing on less savoury fare to satisfy my literary munchies in the interim…

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Peaches for Monsieur le Curé – Joanne Harris

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction on June 15th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure: Chocolat 3

Published
24/05/2012

Publisher
Doubleday

My Rating – fabulous 5 stars!

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is the perfect antidote for a typically British Summer (wet and dismal!) as you’re immediately swept to the sultry setting of Paris in August.  A voice from the past returns to haunt Vianne Rocher, now living on a houseboat with Roux and her children, Anouk and Rosette.  It is eight years since she left Lansquenet in the South West of France and she “seems” to be settled and happy but something is calling her back and, after all, “What harm could it do?”.

Readers who have shared the trials and tribulations of Vianne’s stormy life from Chocolat to The Lollipop Shoes will be equally enthralled by this latest instalment.   Our story takes place during the month of Ramadan, beginning with the sighting of the new moon and the return of Vianne to Lansquenet.  There are two narrators, Vianne and her arch-enemy, Reynaud, the village curate.  The passing years seem to have mellowed Vianne and she keeps a low profile in the village.  Once she was the threatening newcomer, the one who shook the foundations of this sleepy village but new tensions are emerging with the growth of a Muslim community.  What follows is a thrilling narrative with two communities thriving on their own fear and ignorance.  Reynaud is no longer the golden boy but will Vianne forgive and forget past grievances?

I loved Peaches for Monsieur le Curé and only wish that every book I read had  the same power to transport me elsewhere in the midst of characters so vivid I feel I know them.  Joanne Harris weaves a seductively spellbinding narrative exploring what makes any community tick – our fear of the unknown, how easily prejudices take root spreading unease and tension.   She’s not afraid to tackle  the controversial subject of the niqab, the face veil which was banned by the French government in 2011.  Indeed “Peaches” certainly provides a lot of food for thought!  If you enjoyed Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes you will relish this latest story and we can all live in hope that we haven’t heard the last of Vianne and her family.

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Gold – Chris Cleave

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Prizes, Proofs on April 5th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Published
07/06/2012

Publisher
Sceptre

My Rating – 5 gold stars!

I am not particularly interested in sport, neither as participant nor spectator so if I hadn’t been swept away by Chris Cleave’s previous writing, it is doubtful that I’d have picked up a novel with 3 Olympic cyclists as key characters.  Anyone who passes over Gold for this reason is passing up on the chance of a whirlwind of a reading experience so don’t let those miserable memories of despotic PE teachers put you off and give your brain a gentle work out in the process.

So, let’s set the (Olympic..) record straight, this is not a novel about sporting superhumans, even though they are pretty impressive…we dig deep and discover what makes real people tick when faced with adversary, when illness of a loved one brings you to your knees and you’re powerless to do anything but hope that your child is one of the 9 in 10 who survive.

Gold focuses on the experiences of five main characters – 8 year old Sophie who is fighting leukaemia, her parents Jack and Kate, Olympic cyclists preparing for the London games alongside their friend/rival Zoe and trainer Tom.  All of the adults are nearing the end of their current careers and have one last shot at Olympic Gold whilst Sophie has the hardest fight of all, the battle to stay alive whilst undergoing aggressive treatment which lowers your defences even further.  She uses her imagination and love of Star Wars to harness the Jedi force – anything which encourages a fighting spirit and a positive attitude is going to aid her in the ultimate battle – to stay alive.

From the opening pages, I was fully engaged and committed to this story.  Cleave doesn’t pull on our heartstrings by thrusting sugary-sweet, put upon characters on the reader, they’re all flawed, fully fleshed and make the same mistakes as the rest of us mere mortals.  Sophie’s story is presented in gritty technicolour – there’s no soft focus when she experiences the side effects of chemo or as her last hair falls out.  Kate and Zoe have diametrically opposed public personas when it comes to the media – Kate is the people’s princess,  Zoe, the wicked witch with a touch of glam.  I loved how we are drip-fed snippets of their back stories to explain how they are what they are in the present day.  Tom the trainer has made these cyclists his focus and his family for so many years but now he has to acknowledge the ravages of time and take another path, one which will put less stress on his dodgy knees. Jack seems to be slightly at a loss, a bit piggy in the middle at times.

I was most pleasantly surprised by Gold – my only criticism is to do with the marketing of the novel rather than the novel itself.  The whole device in the blurb about how this is where we normally tell you what the book is about  but we’re not going to tell you because you don’t really need to know.  For goodness sake, tell them what it’s about and stop the superior self-importance. 

Gold is probably the closest I’m going to get to the Olympics but, more importantly, if we all had an ounce of the fighting spirit displayed by young cancer patients like Sophie, we’d all be winners.  Thank you Mr Cleave for a story well told.

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The Roundabout Man – Clare Morrall

Posted in Literary Fiction on November 29th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

The Roundabout Man

Published
02/02/2012

Publisher
Sceptre

I have previously enjoyed other books by Clare Morrall, “The Man who Disappeared”, “The Language of Others” , “Astonishing Splashes of Colour”.  Her characters usually drift around the edges of “normality”, not quite fitting in with the mundanity of daily life.  Quinn Smith, the protagonist of her latest novel, follows this pattern, having elected to opt out of his usual routine and, ironically, achieve tranquillity living in a caravan on a busy roundabout.  Disruption comes with the arrival of a junior reporter for the local rag, trying to sniff out a human interest story and Quinn’s life is literally turned upside down.

 Like the roundabout, the telling of Quinn’s tale takes the reader on a meandering, circuitous route as we gradually learn more about this reclusive character.  The narrative flits between present and past, giving us snippets of Quinn’s rather unusual childhood, son of a prolific children’s author who showed little affection to her own three children or indeed the series of 14 foster children who make brief appearances.  The mother is very reminiscent of Enid Blyton with her predilection for creating stories of a bygone age and a nostalgia for an innocence which perhaps never was.  Ironically, Quinn’s present isolated existence with a narrow circle of acquaintances seems to be his first opportunity to live life to the full, away from the shadows of the past.

 This is a beautifully written story with fully realised and engaging charcters. It’s a slow burner and one which rewards the reader’s time and concentration.   At times I was slightly irritated by the tortuous nature of the narrative but then Quinn certainly didn’t lead a straightforward life!   Fans of Clare Morrall will not be disappointed.

 

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The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Posted in Literary Fiction, Proofs on August 20th, 2011 by admin – 9 Comments

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers.  It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

So our story begins – the circus just appearing out of the ether as did my advance review copy of this debut novel, much to my delight.  The UK edition looks stunning with black edged paper and end papers illustrated with a pattern of bowlers and top hats.   This is a feast for the eyes which is perhaps not surprising as the author is an artist but will the inside match the luxurious facade?

This is an odd review for me as, amid all my oohing and ahhing, I was all too aware of how some of my bookish friends would absolutely hate this book and would be cringing from the opening pages.  So, best to get that elephant out of the room before I go any further!  If you don’t like magical realism, if you’re not a fan of meandering narratives, if you prefer action, if you don’t like novels written in the present tense, if you don’t like fantasy then there’s nothing for you here.  However, if, like me, you do like a bit of escapism, you like to slip into another world, if you enjoy visual stimulation, then step right up!

The story is perhaps the least important element of The Night Circus, that role being reserved for the circus itself but yes, there is an underlying narrative, the story of two gifted young illusionists, Celia and Marco, being pitted against each other in a lengthy battle the rules of which are vague. Le Cirque de Reves (the Circus of Dreams) is the battlefield and it soon attracts a faithful following of “reveurs” (dreamers) who follow its progress from town to town, continent to continent by means of a shadowy underground movement.  There is a secondary storyline involving Bailey, a country boy who becomes linked to the circus and will have a key role in future events.  There is a varied cast of weird and wonderful characters, including Celia’s villainous father, Hector, his rival, Alexander, the man in the great suit as well as the supporting cast who keep the circus going.  These are not characters you expect to empathise with, this is a show after all and they are there to entertain you just as the various tents house a myriad of visually stunning scenes, the Ice Garden, the Cloud Maze, the Labyrinth etc.

Some have compared The Night Circus with Audrey Niffenegger and yes, I can see slight similarities given that both authors are visual artists.  Others mention Alice Hoffman and yes, I can see some elements in common but Erin Morgenstern has created a unique world with the Cirque de Reves and for those who are on the right wavelength she has provided a pathway to a singularly enchanting universe, one in which my inner child revelled.  Highly recommended for all “reveurs”/dreamers.

PS  here’s a link to a short YouTube trailer to tantalise you. http://youtu.be/WZJiW2w1xdc

PPS I noticed that Jim Dale (of Carry On fame and narrator of Harry Potter audio books in the US) is narrating the audio book version.

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The Translation of the Bones – Francesca Kay

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on July 28th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Francesca Kay won the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2009 for her first novel, An Equal Stillness, a fictional biography of a female artist. 

In The Translation of the Bones she explores new territory, setting her story in a quiet Roman Catholic parish in Battersea, London – well, perhaps things are not as they seem and the peace and calm belies a whirlwind of emotions and tumultuous questions about faith, organised religion, relationships especially those between mothers and their offspring.

Mary Margaret O’Reilly is a devout young parishioner, spending most of her time cleaning the Sacred Heart Church.  She is described by the parish priest as a “duine de Dhia” which literally means “child of God” but which used to be the Irish term for a child with special needs.  Whilst cleaning one particular statue of Jesus on the cross, she witnesses a “miracle” and she believes the statue is actually bleeding.  Religious hysteria and frenzy ensue and the church suddenly becomes the focus of manic religious fervour.  Indeed the story reminded me of the many reported sightings of “moving statues” in Irish churches during the mid-80s – folk are always hungry for examples of modern “miracles”.

However, the “miracle” is merely a backdrop to the stories played out by local parishioners including Margaret Mary’s reclusive mother, Fidelma who is confined to her high-rise flat where she reminisces about maltreatment by the “holy” nuns whilst waiting for her daughter to feed her.  Stella Morrison feels the removal of her son to boarding school like the cutting of  the cord, Alice Armitage keeps herself busy tending to the needs of elderly parishioners in an effort to distract herself from the pain of having her son fighting in Afghanistan.  After a decade in the priesthood, Father Diamond, still finds himself questioning his vocation.  One would be forgiven for thinking that the Sacred Heart parish is indeed in a “state of chassis”.

I really enjoyed this novel – there are times when loud and brash does the trick for me but I also appreciate those quiet, unassuming books which gradually reveal little gems of characterisation and exploration of themes, here, the painful nature of motherhood, the role of faith in our lives, the frightening aspects of change.  The lack of chapters, speech marks could sound alarm bells amongst prospective readers but I can assure you that the prose flows so smoothly that I didn’t even notice their absence until I finished reading the novel and flicked through it – she’s that skilful as a writer!  Whilst reading I was reminded of the writing of Brian Moore (The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne) which is another reason I’m looking forward to reading more from the pen of Francesca Kay.

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The Road to Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone

Posted in Literary Fiction on March 28th, 2011 by admin – 9 Comments

This is my first pick from the Orange Prize Long List 2011The Road to Wanting is Wendy Law-Yone’s third novel but my first experience of a novel set in South Eastern Asia, in this case Burma and Thailand.

The “Wanting” of the title is a town on the Chinese/Burmese border where we first encounter our narrator, Naga, a young Burmese girl whose life up until now has been a mixture of poverty, abuse and neglect.   Jiang, the man who is to ensure her safe passage over the border to Burma, has just killed himself and Naga also contemplates suicide as she sits in a hotel room, in a limbo-like situation awaiting her fate.

 The first person narrative reveals a litany of trials and tribulations which have beleaguered Naga from an early age – as a child her parents sold her into slavery.  Later she is “rescued” by an American family living in Rangoon and she leads a relatively comfortable existence as friend/playmate for their daughter.  However, happiness is always in short supply as the family abandon her when the political situation becomes unstable.  Naga finds herself tricked into prostitution in a brothel in Thailand and is later “rescued” again by another American, Will who will, in turn, abandon her when the novelty wears off.  Thus, Naga finds herself at this turning point in her life, facing the possibility of returning to a homeland which probably doesn’t exist anymore.  In the tradition of her tribe, the Wild Lu, each child had a “name-seed” to which their real name was entrusted but Naga never discovers her real name, mirroring the fact that she is displaced, not really belonging anywhere or to anyone.

I loved the way the author captures the sights, sounds and smells of Burma and Thailand, the traditions of Naga’s tribe, the Wild Lu (apparently non-existent but she convinced me!), the seediness of Bangkok, the chasm between the rich and the poor.  Surprisingly there is also humour in the midst of all the tragedy.  This is a very readable novel, lyrical and a very quiet read which somehow reflects the calm, stoic nature of our narrator Naga.   She’s been passed from pillar to post and so dehumanised, always wanting to please and serve so that she’s never really had the opportunity to be her own person.

The Road to Wanting is a  beautifully written, intelligent account of a lost girl at a crossroads in her life; its, at times, matter of fact tone belies a poignancy which deeply affects the reader and you’re left with the hope that Naga will eventually achieve the happiness she so richly deserves.

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Mistaken – Neil Jordan

Posted in Literary Fiction on March 22nd, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Neil Jordan is a man of many talents – director of fantastic films such as The Crying Game and Mona Lisa as well as a successful novelist.  I really enjoyed Shade, his last novel published in 2005 so I’d been eagerly anticipating the appearance of Mistaken. 

Mistaken begins with the funeral of Gerald Spain, once a successful author, who died suddenly in his mid fifties.  Our narrator, Kevin Thunder, was frequently mistaken for Gerald in his younger days, given their strong ressemblance.  Physically similar, the two men come from contrasting backgrounds, Kevin hails from Dublin’s Northside, an only child whose home is also a boarding house; Gerald comes from the more affluent Southside, Palmerston Park.  As Kevin’s story unfolds he gradually realises that he has a doppleganger out there, a situation which can have both pros and cons. 

 The boys move to and fro, with chance encounters, mistaken identities in a type of macabre dance.  Kevin envies Gerald’s money and social class and feels like a shadow-being, perhaps some sort of vampire feeding off his double’s apparent glamour.  It’s quite appropriate then that Kevin lives next door to the house where Bram Stoker spent his childhood.  The notion of a partial existence, of a life half lived, of regrets is echoed in the presence of a shadowy figure who seems to haunt Kevin – is this a figment of his imagination or a real threat?

Mistaken is an intense novel which requires the full concentration of the reader.  Even though it crosses time and continents, it remains a Dublin novel, with many chapter titles referring to different locations in the city.  It’s a novel about loss and regret which makes you wonder about what other lives you might have led, given a second chance.  It’s a very atmospheric and evocative read and one which I highly recommend.

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