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One From the Archive: Two Favourite Contemporary Novels

First published in January 2017.

I have linked my relatively short reviews of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons (2016) and Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (2015) for two reasons – firstly, I adored them both, and secondly, there is a very thin and tenuous thematic thread which links the two.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller *****
“Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years. A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?”
9780241252154
I very much enjoyed Fuller’s first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, and was very much looking forward to her second effort, Swimming Lessons.  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it even more than her debut.  The plot very much appealed to me, and it was compelling from the outset.

Ingrid’s voice is rich and distinct; she has such agency.  The inclusion of her letters allows her to be present within the story despite not being visible in the physical world.  Each of the backstories which Fuller has created for her characters are just as vivid as their present; there is a wonderful sense of realism here.  The structure perfectly matches the plot, and the presence of the landscape is exquisite; it is always there, affecting the characters and, in part, being affected by them.  There is so much depth and emotion within Swimming Lessons, and so much to adore.

 

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida *****
In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. While checking into her hotel, the woman is robbed of her wallet and passport all of her money and identification. Stripped of her identity, she feels burdened by the crime yet strangely liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone she wants to be.  Told with vibrant, lush detail and a wicked sense of humor, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller an unforgettable novel that explores free will, power, and a woman s right to choose not her past, perhaps not her present, but certainly her future.9780062110916

I have very much enjoyed Vendela Vida’s previous novels; they provide fantastic, intelligent escapism, which grips one from the beginning through to the end, and give realistic glimpses into vivid and vibrant places.  Her most recent effort, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is no different, and the fact that Morocco is high on my travel list made me look forward to reading it even more.

The second person perspective was used masterfully throughout, and worked incredibly well.  The story itself is relatively simple on the whole, but it has a complexity all of its own.  The sense of unease which creeps in is almost unrecognisable at first, but – in part due to the narrative voice used – the reader becomes so invested within the story that its tension soon heightens.  Vida plays with the concepts of identity and loss in her tautly written novel, which has been extremely well paced.  Little clues are left along the way, but one never quite guesses what will happen next.  The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a whirlwind of a novel, which begs for compulsive reading, and which deserves a far wider readership than it seems to have currently.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Two Favourite Contemporary Novels: ‘Swimming Lessons’ and ‘The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty’

I have linked my relatively short reviews of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons (2016) and Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (2015) for two reasons – firstly, I adored them both, and secondly, there is a very thin and tenuous thematic thread which links the two.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller *****
“Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years. A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?”
9780241252154
I very much enjoyed Fuller’s first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, and was very much looking forward to her second effort, Swimming Lessons.  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it even more than her debut.  The plot very much appealed to me, and it was compelling from the outset.

Ingrid’s voice is rich and distinct; she has such agency.  The inclusion of her letters allows her to be present within the story despite not being visible in the physical world.  Each of the backstories which Fuller has created for her characters are just as vivid as their present; there is a wonderful sense of realism here.  The structure perfectly matches the plot, and the presence of the landscape is exquisite; it is always there, affecting the characters and, in part, being affected by them.  There is so much depth and emotion within Swimming Lessons, and so much to adore.

 

 

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida *****
In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. While checking into her hotel, the woman is robbed of her wallet and passport all of her money and identification. Stripped of her identity, she feels burdened by the crime yet strangely liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone she wants to be.  Told with vibrant, lush detail and a wicked sense of humor, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller an unforgettable novel that explores free will, power, and a woman s right to choose not her past, perhaps not her present, but certainly her future.9780062110916

I have very much enjoyed Vendela Vida’s previous novels; they provide fantastic, intelligent escapism, which grips one from the beginning through to the end, and give realistic glimpses into vivid and vibrant places.  Her most recent effort, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is no different, and the fact that Morocco is high on my travel list made me look forward to reading it even more.

The second person perspective was used masterfully throughout, and worked incredibly well.  The story itself is relatively simple on the whole, but it has a complexity all of its own.  The sense of unease which creeps in is almost unrecognisable at first, but – in part due to the narrative voice used – the reader becomes so invested within the story that its tension soon heightens.  Vida plays with the concepts of identity and loss in her tautly written novel, which has been extremely well paced.  Little clues are left along the way, but one never quite guesses what will happen next.  The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a whirlwind of a novel, which begs for compulsive reading, and which deserves a far wider readership than it seems to have currently.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Five Great… Novels (T-Z)

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. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
“During summer games of hide and seek Harriet falls in love with Vesey and his elusive, teasing ways. When he goes to Oxford she cherishes his photograph and waits for the letter that never comes. Years pass, and Harriet stifles her imaginings; with a husband and daughter, she excels at respectability. But then Vesey reappears, and her marriage seems to melt away. Harriet is older, it is much too late, but she is still in love with him.”

2. N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto
“A powerful story of passion and friendship, the nature of love and the taboos surrounding it. “N.P.” is the last collection of stories by a celebrated Japanese writer, written in English while she was living in Boston.”

3. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
“Taking its title from T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Waste Land”, Evelyn Waugh’s “A Handful of Dust” is a chronicle of Britain’s decadence and social disintegration between the First and Second World Wars. This “Penguin Modern Classics” edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Murray Davis. After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, “A Handful of Dust” captures the irresponsible mood of the ‘crazy and sterile generation’ between the wars. This breakdown of the Last marriage is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh’s own divorce, and a symbol of the disintegration of society.”

4. Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin
“A novel about love, married love, and the love of literature, Summer in Baden-Baden is set partly in the present as the narrator crosses Russia in wintertime on a train to Leningrad (the once and future St. Petersburg) and partly in the past as he reimagines the passionate summer of 1867 when Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife Anna travelled across Europe towards Baden-Baden. Dostoyevsky’s reckless passions for gambling, for his literary vocation, for his wife, are matched by her all-forgiving love, which is in turn reflected by the love of Leonid Tsypkin for Dostoyevsky.”

5. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
“When Clarissa Iverton was fourteen years old, her mother disappeared leaving Clarissa to be raised by her father. Upon his death, Clarissa, now twenty-eight, discovers he wasn’t her father at all. Abandoning her fiance, Clarissa travels from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle – to Lapland. There, under the northern lights, Clarissa not only unearths her family’s secrets, but also the truth about herself.”

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Flash Reviews (1st October 2013)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green ****
(Kindly sent to me by April – thank you!)
I always look forward to a new John Green novel, and whilst this is one of his earlier works, it is one which I’ve strangely never been able to locate in bookshops.  The more I learnt about Colin, this book’s protagonist, the more baffled I was that he was able to have one girlfriend, let alone nineteen of them.  That sounds very mean, I know, but he was very self-important and wallowed in self-pity for the majority of the novel.  His antithesis for me came in the guise of his best friend, Hassan, with whom Colin sets off on a roadtrip with no destination in mind.  Hassan reminded me of one of my friends with regard to his speech and mannerisms, and so I liked him immediately.  I enjoyed the structure, which included scenes involving many of Colin’s past girlfriends – all Katherines – at the end of every chapter.  There were perhaps a few too many graphs and instances of ‘fugging’ in An Abundance of Katherines, but the novel is well written and rather amusing.  It is not incredibly sweet and sad like Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, nor as heartwarming as Paper Towns, but I still very much enjoyed it.

The Lovers by Vendela Vida ****
I so enjoyed Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and have been wanting to read more of her fiction ever since.  Turkey’s landscape was set out beautifully throughout The Lovers, and I found that Vida built up the sense of uneasiness in rather a marvellous way.  She is one of the few authors I can think of whose use of the third person perspective does not detract at all from the story which she writes.  Throughout, she captured the protagonist Yvonne’s loneliness perfectly.  I liked the way in which she describes Yvonne being both married and widowed, weaving the memories together in order to create a full picture.  The characters were all believable and felt real, as did the relationships which Vida built up between them.  The Lovers is a great novel, and one which I struggled to put down.

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare ****
Troilus and Cressida followed on marvellously from my reading of The Iliad.  I found it most interesting that critics find it difficult to place this play into only one genre, as elements of it cross over somewhat.  I very much liked Shakespeare’s inclusion of a prologue, which set the scene marvellously.  I am often blown away by the conversations Shakespeare crafts between his characters, and this play was no exception.  The insults particularly are rather marvellous; Ajax and Thersites call one another ‘You whoreson cur’, ‘thou sodden-witted Lord’ and ‘thou scurry-valiant ass’, amongst other things.  The plot in Troilus and Cressida moves along marvellously, and whilst it is most enjoyable, it does pale rather against the stunning epic poem that is The Iliad.