Philosophical, full, curious and only briefly boring: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts

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16-year-old Nao moved from America to Japan, where her Dad can’t find a job and is drinking and her classmates bully her mercilessly. From a French-maid cafe where costumed girls welcome the male guests warmly – and more – she starts writing what she means to be a biography of her amazing Grandmother, but what turns into a diary. Miles away and years later, novelist Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a watch, some letters and a diary inside washed up on the beach of the island they live on off Canada. For Ruth, Nao’s story takes her attention from her book, her partner and their cat and she is determined to find out what happened to Nao and to her family.

So, as you can see from the length of the synopsis, this is a fairly complex set up. The two story lines alternate, us discovering Nao’s story at the same time as Ruth, and taking in the two different things at once – plus a deluge of information and reference to a plethora of different topics. At first, I really really liked this book. Then I got a bit bored, but then towards the end it picked up again. It shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker prize, and with so many thoughtful elements in it I can see why. And on reflection, in writing this review, I think I liked it.

The dark side of humanity, told exceptionally well: All the birds, singing by Evie Wyld.

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended

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Something is killing Jack Whyte’s sheep. She’s placed herself alone in the middle of the foreign English countryside and refuses to associate with her neighbours – but the strange noises and happenings in the darkness force her to face both the darkness outside and the darkness in her past.

This book was a great book. Really interestingly structured, with character, mystery, plot, nature and psychology intriguingly mixed together: but the picture it painted was just so dark that I’m not going to read it again. Also, all the cover art I have seen for this book is truly beautiful.

A symphonic dystopian luxury of a novel – The Chimes by Anna Smaill (out this week!)

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, literary london, London, Recommended

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How did you arrive in London? This question haunts Simon as he remembers snippets, through catches of songs and the old Burberry coat he got from somewhere. As he befriends Lucien, he gradually starts to grasp onto his history in this world where music is meaning, text or meaning is blasphony and what they discover changes everything. He and Lucien must seek to understand the system that traps people in their present moment.

Oh my! I loved this book. I really loved it. From it’s arrival as a beautiful hardback with a stunning cover to finishing the last page and wishing I could go on reading it was a complete pleasure. Original ideas, lovely prose and a wonderful flow to the story that actually felt like music.

The one I’m still thinking about: the prize winning book in two halves How to be both by Ali Smith

Book Reviews, Recommended, Writing

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George’s mum has died, and she’s trying to live life in that reality, balancing her little brother, passionate new friend, father, school and the memories of her mother that portray a complex picture of a person. These tell of the time her mother flew her and her brother to Italy to look at a particular figure fresco in a house in Italy. And she has one question that she keeps asking: can you remember when you’re dead?

Franchescho is dead, but is remembering. An artist responsible for beautiful artwork and frescos on the inside of an Italian house, memories from life, family and love overwhelm the artist as they look upon an unfamiliar world. An unfamiliar world where a teenage girl is collecting pictures of a dead woman.

This book and it’s two completely distinct sections is meant to represent a fresco: two separate pieces set opposite one another. Ready to compare and contrast. A technique that works just ridiculously well. Because you are not here presented only with the meaning, depth and questions of two separate stories (which would have been enough, so deep and intriguing are they both) but challenged again. What can they mean when set against each other? 

Man Booker shortlisted and delightful: We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended

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Rosemary’s life is overshadowed by the disappearance of her unusual sister Fern when she was five years old. Her family was forever changed, her brother ran away a few years later, her mother disappeared into mourning for many months and resentment, blame and mystery surrounds her memory of the past. When she meets a girl at college who reminds her of her sister a series of events begin that start her re-discovery of the events of the past.

This is a marvellous book and a delight to read! As well as exploring the mysteries of human memory and the impact of a distressing event from a young age on a lifetime and family it taught me me things I didn’t know and made me think things I’d never thought. It was a wonderful mix of literary thoughtfulness (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize after all) and real warmth and humanity.