This short science fiction novel takes a simple concept – what if your dreams could affect and alter reality – and spins it into a riveting and imaginative blend of psychological thriller and philosophical musings.
I don’t often buy books I’ve never heard of by the unfamiliar authors purely on a whim, let alone for a full price, but this novel by a Korean-American writer, a spontaneous pick while milling around a bookstore, totally justified the gamble (also, I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to buy anything when it’s in red). It’s a sign of a great book when, after spending time with its characters for over 600 pages, you’re sad to say goodbye as you turn over the last page.
I absolutely loved Kate Atkinson’s brilliant and inventive Life After Life from a few years back, a genre-defying novel that portrayed the many parallel lives of its heroine Ursula Todd in the first half of the 20th century. It also introduced the readers to the rest of the Todd family, among them Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy who becomes a bomber pilot in World War II. In the final “life” of the novel, Teddy gets a miraculous reprieve: presumed dead by everyone, he survives the war and comes back after having spent time as a POW. A God in Ruins takes that ending and runs with it, exploring Teddy’s war as well as his post-war life, a life that he never really expected to have.
“Holding this soft, small living creature in my lap this way, though, and seeing how it slept with complete trust in me, I felt a warm rush in my chest. I put my hand on the cat’s chest and felt his heart beating. The pulse was faint and fast, but his heart, like mine, was ticking off the time allotted to his small body with all the restless earnestness of my own.”
I’m a sort of reader who doesn’t like to give up on books easily, but this latest book club read, an acclaimed debut novel from a Serbian-born Australian writer, really tested my patience for a good hundred pages before I finally started to find it somewhat rewarding.
Time for some classic French literature! I first read Guy de Maupassant while still in Russia, and the worn-out collection of his short stories was one of the few books I took with us when we emigrated to Australia. In addition to being one of the greatest short story writers of all time, during his tragically brief time on earth (42 years to be exact) Maupassant also penned a few novels, which I never got around to reading in either language. Published in 1885, Bel-Ami is his second novel. I still think that Maupassant’s short stories are the best display of his strengths as a writer, but I very much enjoyed this book.
Our latest book club reading was this extraordinary, beautifully written memoir about growing up in rural Idaho in a family of Mormon survivalists.
One frequent comment in the discussions I had was that to many Educated felt like reading fiction rather than a memoir. This is in no way a swipe at its credibility, but rather a compliment to the quality of Westover’s writing, which is a few notches above your typical memoir or autobiography. The impression could also be partly due to the voice of the narrator, which is rather distanced, matter-of-fact and remarkably perceptive. Perhaps it comes from looking back at a life that feels like a different life altogether. In many ways, this memoir is a book about memory and its fragility, and trying to piece together a portrait of the family from the often contradictory recollections.
I’ve always been fascinated by what if scenarios in fiction, and the one explored by this Norwegian author is devastatingly simple: what would happen to the human society if the bees went extinct? Spread across almost 250 years and three stories, all involving bees to some degree, Lunde’s book finishes with a tentative note of optimism but not before taking the reader on a dark ride of dashed hopes and bleak prospects for our world.
Other than a cautionary tale, the major thread of the novel is the bond between parents and children, the joy and heartbreak it brings, and the different legacies we leave behind. While Lunde doesn’t experiment with style to the degree of, say, Cloud Atlas, the novel is a mix of historical, modern and speculative fiction, only spelling out the direct connections between the three narratives at the very end.
I’ve always been fond of the “how well can you really know even your closest loved ones” theme, and I quite enjoyed this quick and easy read, which doesn’t waste any time instantly pulling you into the story with the opening paragraph. I wasn’t all that impressed with another Anita Shreve book I’ve read a while ago, but she sure knows how to write a gripping beginning.
It begins with a late-night knock on the door that awakens Kathryn, the titular wife married to Jack, a pilot whose plane went down off the coast of Ireland after an explosion, with no survivors. From the moment Kathryn receives this terrible news, her life turns into a rollercoaster of grief, media whirlwind, and slow unravelling of who she had thought her husband was.
More book club reading. This one was an interesting experience – the author’s intent became obvious to me only after I finished the novel and read the acknowledgements at the back, which recast the whole thing in a very different light. If I remembered my classic Greek literature better, I’d probably have realised sooner that Home Fire is a modern-day retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. This made me understand the author’s story choices better, while also making it easier to pinpoint why, overall, the book didn’t quite work for me. There’s still a lot to like about it – the prose is simple and lucid, it explores the timely topics like terrorism and anti-Muslim attitudes with insight and intelligence, most characters are well-drawn and their wildly different life choices are easy to understand and empathise with. But in the end, it did feel less than the sum of its parts.