Tag Archives: coming of age

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

DATE FINISHED: June 22nd, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Orphaned Silver is apprenticed to lighthousekeeper Pew, and in the darkness of the lighthouse she finds stories hang in the air like seaspray. From Pew she learns about Babel Dark, the minister son of the man who built the lighthouse, and his own haunted tale of love and duality. And eventually Silver follows the trail to find a love of her own.

THOUGHTS:  Winterson’s musical prose weaves back and forth through time, painting vivid pictures of darkness and light, past and present but avoiding extraneous detail: a watercolour wash of dreamlike images. Read more of this post

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The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

DATE FINISHED: June 21st, 2012 

RATED: *****

SYNOPSIS:  Ludo is a child prodigy with a voracious thirst for knowledge; his mother, Sybilla (equally gifted), is trying to earn enough money for them to get by through mind-numbing, soul-destroying work, whilst finding the energy and inspiration to feed both of their appetites for language and literature. Sybilla tries to fill the father-shaped gap in Ludo’s life with a video of the Japanese classic, The Seven Samurai. But Ludo just wants a father, and as soon as he is old enough, determines to find one.

THOUGHTS:  At first told from Sybilla’s perspective, a torrent of thoughts and ideas are unleashed resulting in a slightly fragmented narrative mirroring the distracted concentration one imagines the harried mother of a (maddeningly voracious) child might experience. Sometimes sentences are left hanging mid-flow Read more of this post

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane

DATE FINISHED: June 18th, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Eve is a charming, untameable, sexually liberated wild child, with sociopathic tendencies and a psychiatrist who has utterly fallen for her charms. But Eve bears a child to an earthy, grounded gardener, who takes on the responsibility of tending to the young Josiah along with his plants, while Eve continues to float about happily, perhaps manically, upsetting their care workers. Plucked from their care at the age of 7, Josiah is tumbled from foster home to foster home to residential care home, until at the age of 14 he meets classical scholar Thomas and a world of love he has not known opens up to him. This is the story of a boy who has fallen through too many gaps in ‘the system’.

THOUGHTS:  Eve is a wonderfully drawn, extraordinarily vivid and spirited character – perhaps on the cusp of insanity, but perhaps just ‘different’. Thomas’ introspection and academia are equally well realised, although the nature of his love for Josiah makes reading from his perspective a more uncomfortable experience. Read more of this post

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: June 16th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  At the tender age of 5, Sam accidentally sees the Tooth Fairy when he wakes in the middle of the night. From that moment on, Sam sees the Tooth Fairy’s malign hand in everything that goes wrong for the people closest to him while he grows up, like a shadow hanging over him. Sam and his two best friends Terry and Clive are growing up in the sixties, with a world that’s changing around them, but from the safety of their suburban family units. But when the three join in with a scouting game that goes horribly wrong, they live in fear of the moment it will catch up with them throughout their adolescence. And Sam’s visits from the Tooth Fairy ensure he is never at risk of forgetting…

THOUGHTS:  Apparently, this novel is officially categorised as ‘horror’, but I read it as a classic and original coming of age story Read more of this post

The Adventures of Vaclav the Magnificent & His Lovely Assistant Lena by Haley Tanner

DATE FINISHED: May 12th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Both children of Russian immigrants to Brooklyn, Vaclav and Lena have been inseparable since the first day they met and saw the magic act at a Coney Island sideshow. Vaclav becomes magician-in-training (with his lovely assistant Lena), and nobody questions why Lena barely eats and spends all of her time at Vaclav’s house or why he should do her homework. One night, Lena disappears from 10 year old Vaclav’s life with no explanation, leaving a gaping wound where VacLena has been separated. It is only when Lena re-finds Vaclav on her 17th birthday that the missing pieces are slotted back together…

THOUGHTS:  The third person, present tense narrative reflects Vaclav and Lena’s growing grasp of the English language, which did initially grate on me, but became less grating as they grew older. Read more of this post

Rhumba by Elaine Proctor

DATE FINISHED: May 10th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Ten year old Flambeau has been smuggled out of the Congo to live with his mother’s family in London. His mother, Bijou, is to follow – so he waits. Bijou never arrives… Flambeau meets the sapeur, Knight, through his beautiful neighbour Eleanor; and is convinced that Knight will be able to help him find his missing mother. However, helping Flambeau may be more than Knight’s carefully constructed life can bear…

THOUGHTS:  From the beginning, Proctor builds her story with imagery that is simple and direct, and introduces her fragile characters, who – trapped behind their defences – are all yearning for different kinds of love and acceptance. Read more of this post

The Voices by Susan Elderkin

DATE FINISHED: May 6th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  As an adolescent, Billy is most at home out in the bush, watching the kangaroos or collecting stones or – a little later – adventuring with the mysterious Maisie. As an adult, he is admitted to hospital bearing injuries more usually unique to the aboriginals, and in his delirium, explains to a doctor about the voices he has not heard since he was much younger – until recently. The spirits are lethargic, and the wind is restless, but what is Billy to them, anyway?

THOUGHTS:   This original novel, begins with a captivating story, narrated by spirits who are all but invisible to those around them, and a playful, attention-seeking breeze. Read more of this post

Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital

DATE FINISHED: April 26th, 2012

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Outer Maroo is a town on the edge of nowhere, not found on any map.  Outer Maroo is suspicious of strangers, and holds a secret beneath its suffocating, rainless sky. One stranger, Oyster, one day found his way beyond the town’s defences, and Oyster’s Reef brought even more strangers into the fold. But the secrets grew, too, and eventually the strangers grew fewer again.

THOUGHTS:   Despite the vast openness of the Australian outback, Oyster projects an intense claustrophobia. Read more of this post

Was by Geoff Ryman

DATE FINISHED: April 23rd, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Orphaned Dorothy Gael is raised by her Aunt and Uncle in a bleak Kansas farmhouse of the 1870s.  Her unhappy life is filled with thankless chores, society visits with Aunty Em, the long trek to school, and the unwanted attentions of Uncle Henry.  Only substitute teacher Frank offers any hope of salvation, through the power of imagination.  Interwoven with Dorothy’s story is that of young Frances Gumm, later to become Judy Garland immortalising Dorothy in glorious technicolour, as well as that of a young man called Jonathan who becomes obsessed with Dorothy as his own life slips away.

THOUGHTS:   This novel is at its strongest when focusing on the past, the land of Was.   Read more of this post

The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: October 14th, 2011             

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Fern has been raised by the village midwife, Mammy, assisting at births since her early teens and catching glimpses of Mammy’s magic as she prepares folk remedies for those who don’t quite trust the NHS. But when a young girl who has visited Mammy for help dies soon afterwards, scandal and gossip runs rife in the village, and Mammy’s own health goes into rapid decline. Fern is left to cope with her grief over Mammy, the prospect of eviction, and the discovery of her own gifts and calling; but who can she trust to help her through?

THOUGHTS:  Although it sounds trite in synopsis, The Limits of Enchantment is surprisingly engaging and thought-provoking in the telling. Read more of this post