Book 885 Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides

I read The Virgin Suicides back in 2000, I read that there was a film adaptation and I can’t watch the film version before I read the book  and I was lucky enough to find the novel on the shelves of  the local bookstore (back then there were only two indie booksellers now they’ve been taken up by chain stores) and I finished it in a couple of blissful sunny summer days.

What I found interesting about the books was that it’s set in present and a narrator is collecting items dealing with the elusive Lisbon family who have moved away. We then flashback to the time when the five Lisbon girls were the object of the neighborhood males and the novel takes place from the past on to the present day again (with the odd interjection on some  artifact from the Lisbons).

Throughout the novel we see how the Lisbon girls try to interact with society and attempt to break free from their over protective parents but it seems that it always ends up as a disaster as none of the girls can really cope – the prom scene being one of the highlights. By the end the girls find their own way of escaping American suburban life and it affects their parents (and neighbourhood males) drastically.

Leaving the social commentary aside, The Virgin Suicides contains many evocative descriptions which heighten the reading experience, my favourite one being  a stream of blood creating a pattern a toilet. The flashfowards are cleverly done as well.

A perfect novel? in every way and to be honest I don’t think that Eugenides as really managed to top it as yet. Sure Middlesex was great but did it make you emote as much as this book?


Book 886 Carol Shields – The Stone Diaries

Carol Shields is one of those authors who I’ve come across dozens of times but never had a chance to read.  To be honest I’m kind of wondering why I have checked out any of her novels before.

In essence The Stone Diaries is a family saga. It’s the story of the birth, life and death of Daisy Fleet. During her 80 (1905 – 199?)  or so years on earth she experiences two marriages (her first husband commits suicide) three children, a slew of grand children, some career ups and downs, the changes that take place in Canadian culture, a trip to the Orkney islands and a semi peaceful end in a hospital. The thing is that Shields tackles Daisy’s life from different angles – with the exception of Daisy herself – be it through newspaper articles or conversation snippets.  In it’s was you could say it’s a feminist novel as there is a huge focus on the strength and power of the woman throughout time but maybe I’m over interpreting it.

The Stone Diaries is a surprisingly quick read as Shields prose flows and absorbs you completely and at this point, with the exception of Bruce Chatwin’s  On the Black Hill and Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, is the best ‘family saga’ novel i’ve read.

Book 887 Vikram Seth – A Suitable Boy

Vikram’s Seths A Suitable Boy is an example of how a thick book should not put a person off reading. Indeed it is the thickest book written in the English language but it is flowing and takes no time to finish. I read the book in 2003 thinking that it would take me two months to finish off and within two weeks I was ready from it.

As the title states the book revolves around Lata and her mother’s search for a suitable husband. However this is just one plotline. The book is not akin to a plate of spaghetti where there are many different strands and they need a fork to twirl them together. You could say that Lata’s choice for the right husband serves this purpose.

A Suitable boy is THE indian novel. Seth goes into details about traditions, social classes religion and history of India. The book is also set after the partitioning and we see how the four main families mentioned in this book face this change.

Ironically enough I’m finding it difficult to actually write a lot about such a thick book but if I do it will spoil the depth that this novel carries. A beautiful panoramic novel like this needs to be read and experienced and you’ll feel more learned afterwards.

Book 888 Jonathan Coe – What a Carve up!

Back in 1997 ,  I was hooked to Radiohead’s OK Computer, an album which focused on society’s fixation with computer technology , pre-millennial angst and the changing political system of Britain. I was 18 at the time and Thom Yorke’s lyrics meant a lot to me during that time. However there’s one song called Fitter, Happier where a computerized voice is detailing a sort of horrific future wasteland and I was always puzzled about the words. (Fitter, Happier)

Upon some research I found out that Fitter Happier was influenced by the book What a Carve up!.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and I’m in a used bookstore stocking up (back then I’d buy about ten novels and they’d last a few weeks) and I come across the book What a Carve up!. I momentarily drift back to 1997 and buy the book.

I read it in a couple of days, I am amazed and it becomes my favourite book of all time.

I also have reread it twice and both times I felt just as satisfied so it definitely is number one.

Michael Owen has to write a biography about a corrupt politically connected family called the Winshaws. In the process of unearthing the family’s secrets he comes across a sinister world of soft porn, brutal agricultural practices, illegal arms trade, and filthy political dealings. To top it off there’s also a murder and the culprit is one of the family members!

Eventually Michael starts to unhealthily become obsessed by this biography and ends up going completely  insane as he becomes unable to distinguish his own life and the Winshaws plus he discovers some unhealthy secrets about his own family and their connection to this nasty lot . Oh yes there’s an ending straight out of a looney tunes cartoon and it’s brilliantly executed.

What I liked about this book is that Coe stuffs every single genre he can think of and make it accessible. Writing wise you would say that the style is no different from Nick Hornby, even the romantic bits could have been written by Hornby.  Within these 500 pages the reader experiences a lot genre styles ranging from murder mystery , thriller, the aforementioned pulpy romance, bawdy comedy, schlocky horror and the ever-present knife sharp (no pun intended) satire.

This is what the novel is about, Coe has attempted to attack everything that was wrong about Thatcher’s Britain and he succeeds fully and despite all the gruesome bits it is a genuinely funny novel.

Reading What a Carve up! is nothing short of the ultimate literary experience. All of your senses will be attacked and many images planted in your brain. It is a book that resonates for a long time, and yes do read it before you die!.

Book 889 Alain de Botton – On Love

I have encountered Alain de Botton’s name quite a bit. During my student years his novel ‘How Proust can Change your Life’ was a common sight in  student’s hands, especially Philosophy undergrads. I have to admit that at the time I felt that I’d rather delve into the world of fiction as I was studying Philosophy, Theology and Anthropology and I needed a form of escape. The de Botton was seen as a ‘future read’

Well now the time has arrived.

Superficially On Love is a clichéd love story. The narrator of the book  meets a girl, they go through some very good times together, they break up and when the narrator faces the fact that he is over the relationship falls in love with another girl.

However this is Alain de Botton and he treats every aspect of love with a Philosophical outlook. Whether he is analysing the first steps of infatuation or the Jesus Complex which occurs after a break up, de Botton has some kind of explanation.

Personally I found this novel fascinating. I wouldn’t say that it changed my life as I did disagree with some of the theories proposed but the whole book is incredibly readable and devoid of the stuffiness that accompanies texts like this. De Botton clearly wants to educate his reader but remembers that he is writing a novel in the process. As long as you don’t treat it as a handbook of love then you have a very entertaining treatise on your hands!

Book 890 Tessa De Loo – The Twins

Although I must admit that the 1001 guide does tend to list down way too many war novels for its own good, I can at least say that there’s always a different perspective and in The Twins there’s definitely an interesting one.

Lotte and Anna are identical twins who are separated when they are six years old (it is the 1930’s) and other than one disastrous chance encounter in their teens they never remained in contact with each other.

That is until they meet at a spa in Belgium over 50 years later.

Naturally this gives the twins a chance to catch up on what has happened during their separation and each has a unique story.

Lotte went off to live in the Netherlands , which was a supposedly neutral country during the war, although the Jewish persecution takes place. Despite the fact that her lover is arrested and killed in Auschwitz, Lotte herself leads a comfortable life with few restrictions and her family smuggle  Jews into their house. However she is angry at Germany for the loss of her boyfriend and lack of freedom.

Anna, on the other hand stays in Germany and goes through many disappointments. Her foster family treat her badly. Hitler’s reign is preventing her to express herself and when she finally does meet and marry a soldier (who joins the SS so he can stay close to her) he dies in a bombing and Anna devotes the rest of the war period to helping injured soldiers. Although she has suffered she makes it clear that not all Germans were cruel heartless killing machines as history tells us. Lotte refuses to believe this, until the last few pages when she accepts her sister’s personal history.

De Loo did do her research on this novel about wartime Germany and she does mention the horrors but through Anna we see that Germans were had a hard time living a normal life during the war and despite being the Aryan race, still were no different from other Europeans during this tumultuous period.

Personally I liked the novel but I did find it a bit dragging at times and the passages dealing with the American ‘invasion’ of post-war Germany a bit exaggerated ( Although Lotte does bring things back down to Earth a wee bit) Still though The Twins does pose a lot of ethical questions and sheds light on some of history’s misconception’s.  What do you out there think?

Book 891 A.L. Kennedy – Looking for the Possible Dance

If I can say one thing about Looking for the Possible Dance, that it is definitely not a summer read. It’s bleak, sad with one uplifting moment. However if you put this aside and let the novel take over you then you’ll find that it is a marvellous piece of writing.

Margaret is on a train from Scotland to London and she spends the rest of the novel (with some very brief  chapters on the present)  gathering all the events which brought her on this train. The main culprit – if I can say that – lies within relationships.

At first she dissects the relationship with her father, then to her boyfriend Colin and then her boss Mr. Lawrence and all of them end in some type of failure. Her father dies , Colin leaves her cause Margaret doesn’t want to devote herself fully to him and Mr. Lawrence fires her due to some frame up and his neuroticisms.   As the novel progresses Colin puts Margaret in an ethical dilemma, which could be seen as a sly nod to politics. By the end of the novel Margaret receives the redemption she has been seeking and this is the only uplifting section of the whole book.

This is my first A.L. Kennedy and I’ve noticed that the writing style is not dissimilar to Patrick McCabe. Both have that storytelling air and both fuse in politics while doing this.  Kennedy is more realistic and in a funny way more human in her portrayal of characters.

If I can say this I notice that Scottish writers have a tendency to depict reality in a harsh way – James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Alasdair Gray (well two parts of Lanark anyways) and so on. So I guess it would be safe to say that Looking for .. is a Scottish novel through and through.