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The Book Trail: From ‘Here I Am’ to ‘My October’

I am beginning today’s Book Trail with Jonathan Safran Foer’s newest (and wonderful) third novel, Here I Am.  We move through a host of (relatively) new and exciting releases as we make our way through the Goodreads ‘Readers also enjoyed…’ pages.

 

1. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer 9780241146170
‘A monumental new novel about modern family lives from the bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Abraham replied obediently, ‘Here I am’. This is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. Over the course of three weeks in present-day Washington DC, three sons watch their parents’ marriage falter and their family home fall apart. Meanwhile, a larger catastrophe is engulfing another part of the world: a massive earthquake devastates the Middle East, sparking a pan-Arab invasion of Israel. With global upheaval in the background and domestic collapse in the foreground, Jonathan Safran Foer asks us – what is the true meaning of home? Can one man ever reconcile the conflicting duties of his many roles – husband, father, son? And how much of life can a person bear?’

 

2. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
‘An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.’

 

97805713278503. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
‘From the writer of one of the most memorable debuts of recent years. An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story. The Lesser Bohemians is about sexual passion. It is about innocence and the loss of it. At once epic and exquisitely intimate, it is a celebration of the dark and the light in love.’

 

4. The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
‘dam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter’s school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn’t dare to look, and the result is riveting – unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.’

 

5. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien 9781783782666
‘In Canada in 1990, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie. Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.’

 

6. We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones
‘A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown — life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.  Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel — a feat captured on a video that goes viral — it’s Kate’s family who tumbles into chaos under the spotlight. Her prodigal daughter returns to town. Her 16-year-old granddaughter gets caught up in an online relationship with a man she has never met. Her husband sifts through their marriage to search for what sent his wife over the falls. Her adopted son fears losing the only family he’s ever known. Then there is Kate, who once made a life-changing choice and now fears her advancing dementia will rob her of memories from when she was most herself.   Set over the course of four calamitous days, Amy Jones’s big-hearted first novel follows the Parkers’ misadventures as catastrophe forces them to do something they never thought possible – act like a family.’

 

231650917. Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott
‘Close to Hugh is a glorious, exuberant, poignant comic novel about youth and age, art and life, love and death–and about losing your mind and finding your heart’s desire over the course of seven days one September. As the week opens, fifty-something Hugh Argylle, owner of the Argylle Art Gallery, has a jarring fall from a ladder–a fall that leaves him with a fractured off-kilter vision of his own life and the lives of his friends, who are going through crises (dying parents; disheveled marriages; wilting businesses) that leave them despairing, afraid, one half-step from going under emotionally or financially. Someone’s going to have to fix all that, thinks Hugh- and it will probably be him.  Meanwhile, beneath the adult orbit, bright young lives are taking form: these are the sons and daughters of Hugh’s friends, about to graduate from high school and already separating from the gravitational pull of their parents. As bonds knit and unravel on cellphones and iPads and Tumblr and Twitter, the desires and terrors and sudden revelations of adolescence are mirrored in the second adolescence of the soon-to-be childless adults.   With exquisite insight and surefooted mastery, Endicott manages something surprising: to show us, with an unerring ear for the different cadences and concerns of both generations, two sets of friends on the cusp of simultaneous reinvention. And, as always in Endicott’s wonderful fictional worlds, underpinning the sharp comedy and keenly observed drama is something more profound: a rare and rich perspective on what it means to rise and fall and rise again, and what in the end we owe those we love.’

 

8. My October by Claire Holden Rothman
‘Luc Lévesque is a celebrated Quebec novelist and the anointed Voice of a Generation. In his hometown of Montreal, he is revered as much for his novels about the working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri as for his separatist views. But this is 2001. The dreams of a new nation are dying, and Luc himself is increasingly dissatisfied with his life.  Hannah is Luc’s wife. She is also the daughter of a man who served as a special prosecutor during the October Crisis. For years, Hannah has worked faithfully as Luc’s English translator. She has also spent her adult life distancing herself from her English- speaking family. But at what cost?  Hugo is their troubled fourteen-year-old son. Living in the shadow of a larger-than-life father, Hugo is struggling with his own identity. In confusion and anger, he commits a reckless act that puts everyone around him on a collision course with the past.  Weaving together three unique voices, My October is a masterful tale of a modern family torn apart by the power of language and the weight of history. Spare and insightful, Claire Holden Rothman’s new novel explores the fascinating and sometimes shocking consequences of words left unsaid.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which would you recommend?  Which are you inspired to pick up?

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Five Great… Novels (E-F)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
“The year is 1794 and Fritz, passionate, idealistic and brilliant, is seeking his father’s permission to announce his engagement to his heart’s desire: twelve-year-old Sophie. His astounded family and friends are amused and disturbed by his betrothal. What can he be thinking? Tracing the dramatic early years of the young German who was to become the great romantic poet and philosopher Novalis, ‘The Blue Flower’ is a masterpiece of invention, evoking the past with a reality that we can almost feel.”

2. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
“James Frey wakes up on a plane, with no memory of the preceding two weeks. His face is cut and his body is covered with bruises. He has no wallet and no idea of his destination. He has abused alcohol and every drug he can lay his hands on for a decade – and he is aged only twenty-three. What happens next is one of the most powerful and extreme stories ever told. His family takes him to a rehabilitation centre. And James Frey starts his perilous journey back to the world of the drug and alcohol-free living. His lack of self-pity is unflinching and searing. A Million Little Pieces is a dazzling account of a life destroyed and a life reconstructed. It is also the introduction of a bold and talented literary voice.”

3. Middlemarch by George Eliot
“George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial English community prior to the Reform Bill of 1832. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamund and pioneering medical methods threaten to undermine his career; passionate, idealistic and penniless artist Will Ladislaw; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories interweave, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama.”

4. The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
“”The Little Shadows” tells the story of three sisters making their way in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War. Setting off to make their fortune as a singing act after the untimely death of their father, the girls, Aurora, Clover and Bella, are overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama. The girls begin with little besides youth and hope but evolve into artists as they navigate their way to adulthood among a cast of extraordinary characters – charming charlatans, unpredictable eccentrics, and some who seem ordinary but have magical gifts. Marina Endicott lures us onto the brightly lit stage and into the little shadows that lurk behind the curtain, and reveals how the art of vaudeville – In all its variety, madness, melodrama, hilarity and sorrow – echoes the art of life itself.”

5. Maurice by E.M. Forster
“Maurice Hall is a young man who grows up confident in his privileged status and well aware of his role in society. Modest and generally conformist, he nevertheless finds himself increasingly attracted to his own sex. Through Clive, whom he encounters at Cambridge, and through Alec, the gamekeeper on Clive’s country estate, Maurice gradually experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening. A tale of passion, bravery and defiance, this intensely personal novel was completed in 1914 but remained unpublished until after Forster’s death in 1970. Compellingly honest and beautifully written, it offers a powerful condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society, and is at once a moving love story and an intimate tale of one man’s erotic and political self-discovery.”

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Flash Reviews (19th August 2013)

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
My favourite aspect of Eliot’s writing is the way in which she crafts places.  She does so incredibly deftly, and she weaves her settings and scenes into beautiful views which come to life in front of your eyes.  I also love her writing style.  Despite this, I do not feel that novellas really suit her authorship.  She is far better, in my opinion, when she is filling a novel and crafting her beautiful words without any kind of restriction upon them.  It feels as though her creative spirit has been suppressed a little in this form, and it is a real shame.  The Lifted Veil is rather a quite novella – a nice enough story, but not a memorable one, unfortunately.

'The Luckiest Girl in the School' by Angela Brazil

‘The Luckiest Girl in the School’ by Angela Brazil

The Luckiest Girl in the School by Angela BrazilI still can’t resist a good school story, and it’s quite a few years since I left education.  I hadn’t read anything of Brazil’s before, and so I was intrigued to see how The Luckiest Girl in the School would compare to my favourite school stories – the St. Clare’s and Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton.  The book is incredibly well written, and doesn’t dumb itself down to a child or teenage audience, which I think goes in its favour.  The characters are all rather sweet.  Unlike in Enid Blyton’s school stories, there is nobody who really stands out that much, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it matters particularly here.  I loved the ‘jolly hockey sticks’ atmosphere woven throughout – all the nature rambles and the school spirit, for example.  There was a little too much focus upon games and hockey for my liking, however, so for that reason I don’t feel too bothered about carrying on with the series.  Still, a very enjoyable story, and one which lends itself well to be read in the summer.

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
I have been looking forward to this novel since it came out and I first read its blurb, and despite requesting several review copies, I had to wait until it was given to me as a birthday present back in June. What I found when I opened its pages was a marvellous novel.  I am so interested in vaudeville, and this story is such a great one.  I love the way in which the story is split up into sections pertaining to the theatre – ‘Ouverture’, ‘Act 1/Act 2’, ‘Intermission’, ‘Act 3/Act 4’ and ‘Finale’.  Endicott’s descriptions are sublime, particularly those which relate to the theatre.  Her words weave a vivid picture.  I loved the relationship which she built between the Avery sisters, and their care of one another was very sweet.  The many strands of story which come together and then separate again have been well realised, and make for a very rich and unforgettable plot.  True to its content, The Little Shadows is a novel which sweeps you up and takes you on tour with it, and I for one cannot wait to read more of Endicott’s books.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
The atmosphere and setting which Yates builds in Revolutionary Road builds are truly stunning.  He writes with such assertiveness, understanding and power.  The strength of this novel – and there are many strengths, believe you me – describes the fragility of life with such clarity and sadness, and he portrays the damaged elements of his protagonists in the same way.  The intricacies of the relationships which exist between characters here, some of them unexpected, are described with such knowledge that in consequence, everything feels so very realistic.  This is a novel which I have nothing but praise for.