Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Lives of Others By Neel Mukherjee

The Lives of Others
By

Neel Mukherjee

ISBN: 978-0-701-18629-6

It’s not beyond the realms of reasonableness, when sitting down to a tale of over 500 pages, to prepare to settle into a tale of depth, complexity and expansiveness. But before you do so with this book, bookmark the family tree in the fly pages; you will need it throughout; I certainly did.

A simple tale of three generations of family, all living under one roof. But not a simple tale at all; there is scheming, there are secrets, and there is a mix of lifestyles, both traditional and contemporary and finally there is a time span that moves from the time just after the World War Two to the 1970’s. Oh, and add blame into the mix too!

The story shifts in your hands. Seamlessly, it moves between each micro family, telling us of the trials and tribulations of each. Some appear to run with an iron rod by the man of the family, but  the reality shows that quietly, the women rule their husbands, parents, in-laws and, of course, the servants. The timeline will also move without any jarring of the brain. When we are transported back to the origins of the family and their history, it is a logical time to do so and relevant rather than just being a page filler.

And then, right in the middle, comes the contra tale. We are taken, still in a seamless fashion to another world, another aspect of Bengal life that is likely to strike a chord with everyone who has witnessed or has knowledge of the struggle of the poorest to better their lot. So, now the story is moving between family, history, and now ideology. As the story progresses to its tumbling somewhat inevitable conclusion, the real character of each of the protagonists comes to the fore, given all manner of emotion when they reach the point where we leave them by the author, but offering no surprise to the reader. I don’t mean that the end has been given away too early, the characters are so under your skin by the end that there seems to be only one logical outcome for each of them; the sign of good writing.

I didn’t like any one of the characters, if fact I could quite happily punch some of them on the nose; some for being ugly in character, some for their naivety. Some, I wanted to shake, to rouse from their apathy. Others I just didn’t understand. But that, I think, was the whole point of the book. I have been transported into a whole way of life that is a world apart from the western world, where life was such a more comfortable place to be. This is not a tale where we are asked to suspend disbelief, more on an insight into a world where we would not necessarily like to be.


Would I read this book again? Probably not. Not because it’s badly written, it is very well written, and not because of its tone; it does have a ‘Pandora’s Box’ feel to it, but because I simply didn’t enjoy having to endure the indignities and pain that this very clever book dragged me into. The only way I can think to remove myself from those difficult times was to turn the last page. Be prepared!    

Sunday, 11 January 2015

We Are Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
ISBN: 9781781254967

Starting a story in the middle is a confusing thing to do; both for the person telling the tale and certainly for the person hearing it for the first time. It requires an immediate concentration of the mind, with an adroitness of imagination to keep up with an explanation of something where you have no idea of context. Then, half way through the tale, the penny drops and everything makes sense. So it is with this story.

We are told at the beginning that the story is not starting at the start, so a certain amount of readiness helps move the story along. However, there is an equal amount of head scratching as you try and keep up. Then, half way down a page, a good way into the book, a single sentence, almost as an aside, makes all that has gone before make logical, reasonable, and above all, understandable. I can imagine audible calls of ‘ahhh’ around the reading rooms of the world as we all reach this point. After that, it should become a straight forward tale. But it isn’t as it tackles a subject that is certainly new to me and a first for the shortlist of the ‘Man Booker’ prize for literature. There is no spoiler in this blog, so I’ll not speak of that revelation but it will become a source of familiarity to lots of English readers of a certain age.

Once the ‘cat is out of the bag’, a different type of interest is invoked, an interest in how the conclusion is reached, if indeed there is a conclusion. Was it a satisfactory end? I don’t think so, but then I’m not sure such an end could ever be suitably imagined.  That is, if it all came from the author’s imagination in the first place. There is an authoritative manner in which the prose is carried forward that suggests more than an imaginative mind; an element of experience in the subject comes through. Either that or a very fertile mind that makes me want to read more from this splendid author.

The book itself is a page turner; well written, at a pace to keep the reader wanting more. Considering the content, there is little political bias, which is a feat in itself. During the course of the tale, we learn to like and dislike each of the characters, and even the main protagonist, writing in the first person, puts herself up for us to judge. During the tale, I changed my mind about her several times, the only constant was that I was fully engaged with what she was trying to do now. Her history, along with other members of her family swing between selfish and caring, ending with...well, you will have to read it to discover what happens, why it happened, and everything in between.

I didn’t think I would enjoy it when I first picked it up, but it did make me late to bed two nights running, and that can only be a good thing. Well worth sticking with, I’ll listen out for your ‘ahhh’! 


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...


Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
by
Clare Morrall
 
ISBN: 0-9541303-2-4
 
The phrase 'never judge a book by its cover' could not be more relevant about this debut novel from Clare Morrall. When I first picked it up and looked at the blurb on the back cover, I was not immediately excited about opening the novel. I must say though, that this book swiftly became a one sitting story.
In the tradition of not giving away any plot lines, I will refrain from telling you all about Kitty Wellington, who is the narrator of the story, but I can fairly confidently predict that she will make you laugh, cry, feel sorry for her and feel sorry for all the people that she comes into contact with. She is very believable, real and the sort of lady we might all bump into during our own lives. The big question is whether you would want her to remain as part of your life, or whether you would prefer her to disappear as quickly as she arrives. I for one, would like her to stay, no I wouldn't, yes I would, no I wouldn't...get the idea? I think the trouble is that if what happens to her happened to a friend of yours, then you would want to offer as much support as possible, but if the damaged lady that is Kitty wandered into your life, I wonder if you would cross the street?
So, how is it written, how readable is it? Clare has written with ease, confidence and a sure knowledge of the subject. There was no time, (unless Clare determined it) that we were left confused about the story so far along with a tingling anticipation of what might happen next. When she meets the child (no plot revealed), then my heart went into my mouth with concern for Kitty, the child, the situation and what would happen if it were to happen to me. Great plot development!
I do wonder, on a slightly down side, if the book is written for a British market rather than an international one; the journey on the bus, for example would make more sense to a reader familiar with the public transport system. But it doesn’t detract from the tale, and certainly don’t make it a reason to not read the book. Just trust the author, when she is describing local systems and processes that she is right. On a particularly personal note, I happen to live in the area where she spends a lot of her escaping time and I can confirm that she has got both the geography and the feel of the area spot on.
BookerBloke verdict: 8out of 10
And I look forward to reading more of the same quality from this author.
 
 
 
 
 


Friday, 24 May 2013

The Doctor's Wife


The Doctor’s Wife

By Brian Moore

Cape Publishing 1976

ISBN: 0 224 01322 X

Well, what a pickle this lady got into! A story of the older, married lady, emotionally abandoned by her husband, who finds love(?) in the arms of a younger man – or boy really.
This story or plot line has been told many times over the years, exploring the real cost of a five minute fling.  In this particular instance, it was over a fortnight, on holiday. I have to say, I began to feel very sorry for the main protagonist, Mrs. Redden. She was digger herself deeper and deeper in trouble, ably assisted by the young man, who seemed to be easing her into his manner of thinking throughout.
It is a very quick book to read in that it is quite a page turner. I found myself thinking for her, on her behalf.  I began to offer her advice. It reads as if you want to shout at her to point her away from what is the inevitable. She is quite a dunderhead for not seeing the most obvious problems with her urge to find emotional and sexual comfort. I must point out here that the part of the book that recounts the young man’s conquests are graphic, and leave nothing to the imagination. It is very explicit. However, once that section is finished with, it doesn’t return to it, and we concentrate on the after events and the conclusion. Bearing in mind this story is over 35 years old; I wonder if the author was stretching the literary boundaries of the day? It made me smile that whilst they couple were down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of the events, the author kept referring to her as Mrs. Redden, where she had been known previously, and subsequently as Sheila. Perhaps a relevant and subliminal point was being made there too.
Anyway, a story that begins at the end, with the following chapters that tell how we get to that conclusion, it is told  in a pithy way, with just the right amount of humour, loads of self pity and a awful lot of anger from Sheila. She is very believable as well; I imagine a difficult thing for a male author to do. But it is carried off well. It will be difficult for you to decide what will happen before you get there, and most of you who do read this book will feel sadness for her, (and him, perhaps), but how many of us will take it as a timely reminder of the results of neglecting your spouse, or the dangers of ‘playing away from home’?

BookerBookBloke Verdict 8/10 (except the naughty bit) 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Room - Emma Donoghue


Room

By Emma Donoghue

Picador 2010

ISBN: 978 0 330 51901 4

In light of the events that are currently hitting the headlines from the United States, it seems prudent to bring this novel to everyone’s attention.
This story is told by Jack, five years old, and lives in Room. Of course the world of Jack is not a complete one; he believes that his room is the complete world and anything he sees on the T.V. is not real. His mother and he are, in fact, incarcerated by a kidnapper, with Jack being born in captivity. He knows no different lifestyle; the life he lives revolves around keeping quiet at difficult times, being scared, and being an ordinary boy who has just left behind the problems of being a toddler. This story recounts the life that he and his mother have and the changes that are all around them both following their freedom.  The different emotions can’t be more polarised, and excellently portrayed.

At the time, it seemed that is could be imagining the events surrounding Jaycee Lee Dugard, from California, who was reunited with her family a year before the publication of this book. She too had lived in a kidnap situation for eighteen years and had children at the hands of her captors. But, this book could equally be exploring the house and events so fresh in the news today.

The book is told in a factual, unsentimental fashion, without emotion from Jack, but please rest assured that the book is full of it from the author. It is a one sitting book, pull up your drawbridges, refuse to be disturbed and have lots of coffee and tissues at hand. Oh, and if you lend the book out afterwards, don’t expect to get it back; no doubt your friends will pass it on, deservedly so, as this book should be read by as many people as possible. What we all see in our daily lives that we think of as strange may well prove to be pivotal for somebody else. What is it that’s said about the random act of kindness from a stranger?

 Anyway, this is a great book in its own right, a worthy shortlisted book for the Booker Prize in 2010. It is a different type of read from those that would normally make this list, which makes it stand out on my shelf at home. As always, I am more than happy to discuss and reply to any comments you may have and I apologise for the literary quality of this blog, I feel the need to get this book into the public domain quickly is paramount, so...

 

BookerBookBloke verdict 8/10

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Utz By Bruce Chatwin

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

Utz

By Bruce Chatwin

Jonathon Cape, 1988

ISBN: 0 224 22608 9

I have been to a whole new country, in a distant time and read about at least two subject matters I knew nothing about. I was either going to love it or hate it; well, I loved it!
A short text, that got straight to the point, as long as you have your wits about you at the start. Set in Czechoslovakia, with a time that spans over many years (but specifically the early 1970’s) we are led through an almost personal tour of Meissen porcelain figures, and their owner, Utz. Or have we? What, exactly, do we get?
We get a brief overview of the politics of the country, with an equally brief look at the history, along with the sinister world of the contemporary country lifestyle; the restaurant menu, the clientele and the decor gives a vivid view of the day to day life of Utz. Or is it?
So, what about Utz? We are introduced to him, and then led to believe, via the title of the work, that he would be the main protagonist. And so he is, isn’t he?
The porcelain figures are the next items of enigmas. They are the main reason for the story if you discount Utz himself. We are introduced to them, given the point of having them in the plot, and then, they determinedly float around the text along with all the other strands that serve to make this text what it is. It drifts along in a floating way as if it is daring you to grab the story and make a rigid plot out of it. As each page turns, you just know that it will all pull together to make something tangible, then you will realise it already is. So, why doesn’t it seem like it is a solid read? Because it is writing at its most skilful – not a word is wasted, there isn’t a word in there that doesn’t count, and the whole text, as short as it is, is the right length to keep the book floating exactly where it should be.
Be ready to be introduced to nondescript characters, ordinary situations in a less than exotic setting and then be prepared to leave behind a completely different setting, situation and character. The work of this international travel writer is as good as it gets. Please don’t look for a goodie or a baddie; a crime or a whodunit, those things are not what this book is about. This is about the obsessive behaviour of people that collect things and why they would want t do that. Why do people want to collect things? You could, I suppose, ask me, as I collect these shortlisted books. Perhaps, after all, I do know what the book is about, I hope you get it too!

I have opened a new blog, reviewing good books that deserve maximum exposure for being good! Have a look at www.brenisthecritic.blogspot.com Thank you for looking, and happy reading...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In A Free State

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

In A Free State
By V.S. Naipaul

Andre Deutsch, 1971

ISBN: 0233 95832 0

What an intriguing book. It is as relevant now as it was in the early 1970’s, when it was written. That timelessness makes it, for me, one of the classic titles that will be around for many years to come. The content, unfortunately, will also probably be around for many years to come. Let me explain...
The book is a series of accounts of people who attempt a life in a country that is not of their birth, in an atmosphere that is foreign to them. Each one believes they are going to, or becoming part of, a free state. Three long accounts, and a couple of shorter ones, all different, but all fundamentally the same, all telling of the struggle of life, looking for something better than they have, trying to create a better place for themselves and the world around them. Their successes and failures are explored in detail, but we are left to ponder the greater issues; just as a great book should leave us to do.
But enough of the plotline! I do try to avoid giving away any of the story itself, so as to retain the integrity of the author’s work, but I can tell you this much. It is tightly written, in as much as it wastes no words. Each sentence has a relevance to the tale and each sentence leads flowingly into the next one. It makes the work easy to read. I, for one, found myself concerned for the wellbeing of each of the protagonists, thus making the book a page turner. One of those tales that make the chores of the day disappear; the bedside light stays on just a little longer, or ‘lunch can wait’ for another half hour.
The descriptive text is, as far as I can tell, accurate and exhaustive. Set in three main locations, the description on England resonated in me as somewhere I recognised, so I have no doubt that quality research or first-hand knowledge was brought to bear with regard to the other locations.  But it doesn’t automatically make it a pleasant read. It is possible to make the reader quite uncomfortable, when he describes some of the things we took as the norm but are, in fact quite alien in our modern society. Or at least I would like to think so!
The book was written more than forty years ago, when the world as we know it was completely different. The great shame is that he could have probably written it in the last twelve months, and the story line would still be just as contemporary. Everything has changed, but absolutely nothing has changed. This is what will make this book important for the next hundred years or so. Perhaps Naipaul’s exposure of human endeavours, frailties, hopes and self belief, along with despair, prejudice and insulation by society will serve to alter the way the world looks at itself. But I wouldn’t bank on it!

BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10

Why not have a look at my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale, taken from a slightly different slant. It can be found at: