May 2015 archive

Reading The Year – March & April

 

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So I have fallen a little behind in my reading posts – but my reading has been going great guns, fuelled by my participation in this reading challenge. You can see my earlier reading wrap ups here and here but for now read on and see what has been floating my reading boat these past two months…

Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood – Atwood is one my favourite authors, she’s definitely in my top 5 and maybe even top 3… So it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will be reading one of her new books as soon as it comes out (MaddAddam is an exception to this rule…). I’ve also quite recently discovered the joy of short stories (although Atwood refers to the stories as “tales” in this collection) and find I can get just as connected to the characters and stories in the shorter form of fiction. Stone Mattress has some hits and misses for me – some stories, sorry “tales”, bordered on the too surreal for me but the first three in the collection, the title story and the final one were all pure Atwood brilliance.

The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee – I love novels set in India, A Suitable Boy and A Fine Balance are two of my favourite novels of all time. The Lives of Others is another wonderful, painful and complex family drama set in India during the 1960’s. It is a powerful book – that has one of the most shocking and impactful openings I think I have ever read. This novel was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize and it’s easy to see why – this one stays with you long after you have finished it.

The Golden Age – Joan London – I’m ashamed to say that I don’t actually read a lot of Australian fiction – something that I am trying to remedy. London’s book is set in Perth, Western Australia during the 1950’s and centres around a rehabilitation home for children with polio. The book’s main character, Frank, and his family have come to Australia as refugees from Hungary following WW2 and the echo of the trauma they experienced is still being felt in their lives in Australia. This book is so simple in some ways but the language and the characterisation are sharp and beautiful. I loved the book despite the sadness that hung to it.

The Bees – Laline Paull – This is one of the most original and imaginative books I have ever read. The book is set in a hive of bees and it’s narrator is one of the bees, Flora 717, a lowly sanitation bee who rises among the ranks due to her tenacity, skill and strength. It sounds like an “out there” concept I know but it really works. Paull has created the hive in minute detail – you really do feel as though you are living through the eyes of the bees. It is incredibly detailed and yet exciting reading at the same time. Just amazing!

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – I had been eagerly waiting to read this one. It has been touted as the next “Gone Girl” (which I loved) and has been getting rave reviews so I thought it was a pretty safe bet for me. I was wrong. I found this book contrived, boring, predictable and poorly written. I know I am going against the majority with my thoughts on this one but it just didn’t work for me I’m afraid.

Outline – Rachel Cusk – I LOVE Rachel Cusk’s non-fiction writing, especially in regards to motherhood/parenting, but her fiction often leaves me a little confused. This one was no exception unfortunately. The premise of the book is that a woman travels to Athens to teach a writing class and the book is about the people she meets during this trip . The book is full of their stories (and none of them are all that interesting if you ask me!) and you learn little to nothing about the “main” character herself. I get this was a technique that Cusk was meaning to employ but it just left me cold and wanting much, much more.

A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley – This was my first Smiley read but it will not be my last – wow! The fact that this book won the Pulitzer Prize should have tipped me off to it being brilliant maybe but I often find I’m not such a fan of books that win major prizes (I’ll admit a lot of them go over my head!). Smiley captures the microsystem of a family so perfectly it’s scary. You feel so in tune with all of these characters because she has formed and written them so brilliantly. A totally engaging and absorbing book.

H if for Hawk – Helen Macdonald – Before I tell you what I thought about this book I have to say that I do not like birds. At all. They scare me. You can’t cuddle them and they have beaks. So, the idea of reading a book which is all about the story of a woman living with and training a hawk is not my usual “go to’ read. But I had read so many amazing reviews of this one that I thought I had to at least give it a go. I could not put it down. I told my family to leave me alone so that I could finish it while at the same time I wanted to store it away somewhere I couldn’t find it so I would never finish it. It was that good. The book is a memoir of the time following the sudden death of the author’s father. Her grief is played out in the training of the hawk – a bird she has held a passion for since she was a young child. This book is simply amazing – the most awe inspiring writing you will read anywhere. I have a new respect for birds.

Life after Life – Kate Atkinson – One of my reading passions is anything set in England during or after the World Wars. Life after Life fits this description perfectly – with a little twist. I love one of the descriptions for the book:

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

The book follows the main character Ursula as she lives her life, and lives it again, and again… It sounds like a difficult concept to pull off but Atkinson writes it perfectly – you never feel thrown around or manipulated.

So there you have it – my reads for the past two months. How about you? Have you read anything great you can recommend??

 

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