Monthly Archives: April 2015

April 2015

Read:

The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill – 3.5 

Not sure what to say about this. I did quite enjoy reading it and the diversionary style sometimes reminded me of the fantastic Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt, but ultimately felt like something was missing. Interesting, and well-written, but didn’t quite hit the spot and therefore a little disappointing.  On the other hand, definitely not put off the author, and her previous novel, Last Things, sounds very much like my kind of thing.

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – 5 

An artist who feels her work has been marginalised/overlooked sets out to prove a point to the art world by using 3 different male artists as ‘masks’ to present her work.  The results are not necessarily as anticipated.  Told posthumously through Harriet’s notebooks combined with interviews and statements from gallery owners, art critics, and the people who knew the artists involved, a far more complex story emerges.

I was slightly worried that there would be too feminist a perspective on this story for my taste, but in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it, from beginning to end (to the point at which I was initially determined to read slowly and savour the reading experience, followed by giving this up and reading the latter half in sizeable chunks to finish within a couple of days).  There are probably some more academic points that went over my head, but I loved the way the characters were drawn, and the stories slotted together, yet some questions are asked but never answered, and some ‘truths’ will remain elusive or at least open to interpretation.  Yes, like a work of art.

On a par with two of my other favourite reads, The Bone People by Keri Hulme and The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt.  Must now dig out my long-overlooked copy of What I Loved, which is suddenly a lot more appealing.

 

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March 2015

Read:

Academy Street by Mary Costello – 3 

A novel spanning a woman’s life, including all the seminal rites of passage which shape it – births, deaths, love, motherhood – yet somehow remaining utterly distant and characterless.  It all felt very pedestrian, very ordinary.  The writing is praised highly on the cover, but it did nothing to engage me.

The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour – 3.5

With its roots in Persian myth, this is the story of a boy who is rescued from a life being raised as a bird in a cage. He must then learn to live like a ‘normal’ human, fighting his habits and instincts, making friends, working a job, trying to please and defy the expectations of his guardian, trying to satisfy his own secret desires.

It’s an interesting idea, but it was hard to believe in the characters/caricatures, from the uber-supportive/understanding father figure, to the self-obsessed stage magician, to the cusp-of-crazy artist-girlfriend, predicting 9/11.  It’s actually very readable, but ultimately a little too obvious/over-simplified, and far more of a standard coming-of-age story than I anticipated.

February 2015

Read:

Rustication by Charles Palliser – 3

A mostly disappointing read. Uses language that is clearly designed to shock, but simply jars for the period of the story. The plot is not as mysterious or tense as it appears to think it is, and seems to suffer from a quite heavy-handed manipulation of characters in order to force a ‘logical’ sequence of events.  The characters are neither clever nor likeable.  It’s a couple of months since I read this book, but this hasn’t done my opinion of it any favours.  Although I haven’t read Palliser’s Quincunx I have only heard good things.  I probably should have read that one, instead…

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – 4

Revisiting characters from my favourite novel of last year, Life After Life, this is a ‘companion’ rather than a sequel.  Following on from Teddy’s role as a pilot in the war (one of Ursula’s brothers), it spans his life, and those of his wife, dysfunctional daughter and long-suffering grandchildren.

Fantastic, fully rounded, and (in some cases unhappily) believable characters, this is a wonderful and far-reaching story of the ties that bind and the repercussions of decisions long after they are made.  This is not another episode of Life After Life, with events relived over and over, but Atkinson does save a twist of perspective for the final pages.  Although I don’t think it hit quite the same peak as LAL, I liked it a lot.  I thought about it for days afterwards, and am certain I will re-read (and continue to make discoveries) in the future.

I won’t be surprised if another ‘companion’ novel does not appear at some point, as I felt there were some things left noticeably unsaid about some of the peripheral characters (eg Sylvie, Maurice).  While A God in Ruins was complete in itself, there are so many strong characters, it feels like there is a lot of story still to tell…