Nina’s Memento Mori … a review

I have been reading Matt Freese’s works for a good few years or so. And I always look forward to delving into his latest work. Freese’s writing is deliberate and honest, it has nothing to prove and I like the essay like forms his chapters take. This latest novella is on a grim subject.

Freese lost his wife of two years a couple of years ago. She suffered greatly in her last days and through this work, Freese tries to reconcile with his memories of her. It reminded me very much of A Year of Magical Thinking, in its tackling of grief head on, and the void the loss of a loved one leaves. And similar to Didion, Freese too does not find much comfort in the younger generation, who are either estranged or indifferent.

Through all his works, the author’s style has become more and more polished. And looking back at his earlier works, it is evident that now, the gel of flashback and present moulds better together. It is a thought provoking read that touches upon many themes – the idea of finding love later on in life, what it means to be married for such little time, and the human bondage of relationships. It is also a reflective book in a sense, as the author freely delves into his past as well as Nina’s.

With the nights drawing in so fast this far north, it is a good time to slow down and reflect. I can’t say this was an easy read, but it was most certainly, a rewarding read. And from the little I could garner of Nina through the pages, I sense that she would deem that a success.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine … a review

When this book had initially come out, it had created a storm. Especially for me, locally it was talked about a lot. The author Gail Honeyman is Scottish and she’d also been awarded a prize by Scottish Book Trust, so naturally, it was all over my feed. I thoroughly recommend the writers back by SBT and they do some fantastic work at supporting new talent. But because of the popularity of this book, I hadn’t managed to grab a library copy back in 2017. But I did a few weeks ago, and was glad for it.

Eleanor is a young girl in her late twenties who is, as explained, absolutely fine. But of course, she isn’t. It is evident from the first page that Eleanor deals with a great deal of darkness in her past and has a strained relationship with her mother. She is also a social recluse and seems to be on the spectrum. The book is like a grown up version of Bridget Jones. While Bridget’s story is presented in a light-hearted and comical fashion, Eleanor’s focuses more on what loneliness is actually like. The insomnia, the alcohol abuse, it is all laid bare through Honeyman’s excellent storytelling.

A chance encounter pits Eleanor against a colleague and her life begins to unravel at that. And while the eventual conclusion is not unexpected, it is still very welcome and well put. It is incredible to think that this is Honeyman’s debut – as her writing is solid, strong and her character arcs very polished. I believe that Eleanor Oliphant is being made into a movie, that should be an interesting watch.

Praise Song for the Butterflies … a review

Here is another book that is shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The author is Bernice L. McFadden, who is American and has written a number of novels. I must confess, I had never heard of her. But now I am glad I have.

Praise Song for the Butterflies is the story of Abeo Kata, a young girl who lives in the fictitious West-African country Ukemby. Life for her is perfectly normal until misfortune befalls her family. Her father is accussed of corruption,  and her Grandmother, a modern day Mrs Danvers, convinces her son, Abeo’s father, that their bad luck is because of his daughter. And to right this wrong, her father takes Abeo in the middle of the night, and unbeknownst to her mother, deposits her as trokosi. Trokosi sounds like a fictitious practice because it is so brutal. But turns out, it is alive and well in certain African countries as the ritual sacrifice of young girls to a ‘shrine’ to atone for the family’s misdeeds.

At the shrine, Abeo is tortured, mistreated, and raped. She is one of many girls in this shrine, but hundreds of such shrines exist. McFadden’s writing is deliberate and sharp, there are no wasted words, no euphemisms. As Abeo’s life takes her all the way to America, eventually, the story comes full circle. The style of prose reminded me of two other books. The first was The Secret Life of Bees, because of the cult-like shrine that Abeo was trapped in. And the second was Of Love and Other Demons, as the damaging effects of bigots. This is a fantastic piece of fiction, with a unique and heartbreaking theme.

Bottled Goods … a review

Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods is written in a serious of flash fiction. This is the perfect plae to start if you are unfamiliar with this style of prose. But basically, it is a series of short sharp chapters that loosely weave a common theme together. They form a novella, a short read. It is the 1970s in Communist Romania, a young woman Alina is in a loveless marriage with her husband Liviu. And when her broth-in-law defects, they both find themselves under the intense scrutiny by the Secret Service.

Llewyn’s style is fluid and reminiscent of Anne Enright’s prose, I though. The book relies on magic realism to present Alina’s escape from the drudgery of her humdrum life. And as she plans it, she must make peace with her mother. She relies on her Aunt’s help, but it isn’t the kind you might be expecting. This book, although a work of fiction, creates a believable world.

And as it build into a climax, it is impossible to put it down. By then, I am too invested in Alina’s fate, I am rooting for her, and I am rooting for her identity. As a young woman’s tale of love, loss, betrayal and magic takes shape, a great candidate for this year’s Man Booker longlist is born.

Quote: Alina stares into her nearly empty cup. The coffee grounds have arranged themselves in a pattern like angel wings, but dark. If she had been as skilled in reading the signs as her aunt, perhaps she would have been able to divine her fall.

Review … Sapiens

This book was all the rage a few years ago. I don’t think it was instantly famous when it came out, it is not that sort of a book. But I believe, a few famous people read it and were blown away by it, and the book picked up steam. The first five pages in, and you can see why…

Harari has a ‘neat’ and ‘orderly’ style of writing, it is focused and does not digress. That lends itself rather well when you are attempting to compress together thousands of years of the history of humankind. Ambitious, to say the least. But while a non-fiction book on such a theme may quickly become dense or onerous, this one doesn’t. The information is presented through a series of scenarios, and all possibilities within reason are considered. The book weaves in and out of speculation and fact, and is thrilling in a way because it seeks to tell us who we are, where we came from. And one could argue, it is the only way for us to evaluate where we want to go. It covers a range of topics, history, geography, archaeology, and even anthropology and sociology.

I will be looking forward to head the sequel. But I must take a break first, while this is an easy read based on the topic. It is still not exactly a summer holiday read, and leaves the reader with a lot to ruminate over. So I feel like my mind needs a bit of a disengage period before I reach out for the next one.

Anatomy of a Scandal … a review

I picked up this book because I was travelling a lot and looking for something fast-paced but also not too taxing to read. This fit the bill perfectly in the form of a travel read. One of the first things that struck me about this book was the number of female characters in it. There’s the protagonist’s wife and ‘the other’ woman, but also the prosecuting and defence attorneys who are both women.

The novel follows the high profile case of a politician, James, who is accused of rape. It turns into a classic ‘her word against his’ type case where as soon as the trial starts, it is easy to see that all fingers are pointed at the victim. Case is reminiscent of the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal which basically destroyed her life and career, but did almost nothing to Clinton. This, event though he was the perpetrator and should have been the more responsible adult.

But back to James, the book does a great job at portraying the ramifications of the trial on his marriage and his relationship with his wife. The prosecuting counsel Kate is our other powerful woman, who is convinced James is guilty and has a single-minded determination to end him and his career. What will happen of James? Will there be justice? And how will his marriage cope with it?

This is a really enjoyable read and I would recommend it if you are looking for something to get you through all your summer travels.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society … a review

I received this book as an early Christmas present from a friend. And because I am impatient with books and I also want to watch the movie, I’ve even finished reading it before Christmas! What an enjoyable read. This story is set on the tiny island of Guernsey in the English Channel in the mid-1940s. After the end of World War II, the German occupation of Guernsey ended and our book’s protagonist Juliet Ashton is touring the UK promoting her book.

Out of the blue, she receives a letter from an unknown man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. One thing leads to another, and instead of ‘settling down’ with her suitor Reynolds, which she never intended to do anyway, Ashton ends up researching her next book about the Occupation of Guernsey. Not least to do with the fact that she is intrigued by the name of the society that Adams is a part of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’.

This is a beautifully written book, based on letters that the characters write to one another. The backdrop of war is very prominent, but because of the time it is set in, the war isn’t central, which I liked. Overall, it is light-hearted in its approach to the life of the characters and has a heart-warming ending. Not that that’s what I go for at Christmastime, but I did enjoy it. Now to get the popcorn and watch the movie!