Long time no see! Five weeks ago, I had nose surgery and I might even do a little blog post about what it was like. I almost look the same and I can already breathe so much better now!
In those five weeks, I participated in another LovelyBooks reading group. This time, we read Ian McEwan’s latest novel Nutshell.
His home is his mother Trudy’s womb and he has already been in here for about nine months. It is at this point in his life when he notices his mother and her lover Claude making plans to murder someone and his options to interfere are very limited.
Nutshell is told from the perspective of an unborn boy. This young tot spends his time listening. He listens to conversations going on around him and he listens to podcast lectures, self-improving audio books and the BBC World Service. This is why he has an impressive word range that would put most grown-ups to shame. The way he expresses himself, however, isn’t very authentic. To me, this isn’t the voice of an educated unborn, it is the voice of an educated, adult narrator – the voice of Ian McEwan.
The plot of Nutshell is inspired by Hamlet and the plot structure reminds me of Freytag’s Pyramid with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. That does, however, depend on what you think the climax is. In my opinion, it is an outstanding monologue by the baby boy’s father John. After this climax, the plot just takes its course and there isn’t much suspense.
Since I read The Children Act two years ago, I have to say that I think Ian McEwan could have done a better job with Nutshell. Don’t get me wrong, this novel reads well and is written in brilliant prose, but there has to be a way to find an authentic voice for our little baby boy that doesn’t sound like the author himself.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I read Nutshell. This way I had the chance to read this wonderful monologue I was talking about earlier. So if you’re curious about life from the perspective of an unborn infant and a very special monologue, you might as well start reading now.
Helen Sedgwick’s novel The Comet Seekers with its beautiful embroidered cover is published today. I was fortunate enough to receive a proof copy, so I was able to read this special novel before everyone else did 😎
2017: When Róisín andFrançois meet at a research station in the Antarctica, they aren’t aware of the many encounters they had in the past.
20th century: Róisín grows up in a small Irish village, becomes an astronomer and breaks out of her monotonous rural surroundings, while François’ mother Severine learns a family secret from her dying grandmother shortly before her son is born. This secret binds her to Bayeux for the rest of her life, but it is also the reason for François’ and Róisín’s shared passion for comets.
Set between 1066 and 2017, the plot spans almost a thousand years and tells the story of Róisín’s life and Severine’s family history. Severine’s family is closely connected to the Bayeux Tapestry and this valuable work of embroidery is skilfully threaded into the storyline. The chapters alternate between the present and the past, just like a needle repeatedly piercing the fabric to see what lies underneath.
While the blurb suggests that this is a story about Róisín and François, for me it is a story about Róisín and Severine. Not only are the two women close in age, Severine’s character is very well developed and the most fascinating in the whole story. Severine, who has a strong connection to the past, is bound to stay in Bayeux for the rest of her life, whereas Róisín travels the world and shows us more than just France and Ireland. She takes us to Hawaii, to Canada, to the United States and, finally, to the Antarctica.
Helen Sedgwick created a very special story that is so firmly set in this world that I had to Google a couple of things while reading. Its unique plot, likeable characters and references to real-world circumstances make The Comet Seekers a captivating novel that is hard to put down.
A few weeks ago, Paul Hawkins, author of How to Operate a Human (English title available now), sent me a nice e-mail asking if I’d be interested in reading his new book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”, How to Deal with Adulthood. As someone with slight Peter-Pan-syndrome, I was instantly intrigued.
Do you think your life would be better if you were allowed to spend your days catching snowflakes and licking cookie dough off a spoon? Maybe you’ve already reached your thirties and you freak out every time someone calls you ma’am or sir. Do you keep asking yourself when and how you should start to act like an adult? Yes? Good, then read on.
Unfortunately, Paul Hawkins can not tell you when to start acting like an adult, but in his book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger” he shares lots of tricks to facilitate your life among adults. In the main chapters “Wohnen”, “Leben”, “Lieben”, “Arbeiten” and “Etc.” (E: Home, Spare Time, Relationships, Work and Life Admin.), you will find helpful information to guide you through all kinds of difficult situations. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new apartment (have you noticed that you lower your expectations with every rejection?) or trying to find out if you and your partner are compatible sleeping partners (and I’m not talking about sex), there is a solution for your problem and it comes with a laugh.
And laugh I did. More than once, I found myself wondering if there was a slight chance that Paul Hawkins had been studying me when he wrote this book. Did he watch me grocery shopping when I was on holiday – a very important skill to acquire -, or is it simply because we’re very close in age? Anyway, if you just can’t part with your inner child and have to find a way to deal with this cruel world out there, go on and read “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”. It’s laughing-out-loud funny, I swear!
John Wray’sThe Lost Time Accidents is a novel that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately, I had the chance to read it prior to its UK publication day on June 2nd and I really needed all that time, as it took me three weeks to plow my way through the book.
On Monday, at 8:47 EST, Waldemar Tolliver excuses himself from time at his aunts’ apartment in Manhattan to come to terms with his family’s past. Ever since Ottokar Toula’s sudden death in the early 20th century, Waldy’s ancestors have been trying to find the lost pages of his great-grandfather’s scientific work to solve the mystery of the Lost Time Accidents, and in the process becoming obsessed with time themselves.
The novel The Lost Time Accidents counts over 500 pages and spans more than one century. Of all the characters Waldy is the one who stays with us from the beginning until the end, so we might as well call him our main character. The plot meanders between Waldy’s current situation in his aunts’ apartment, his past love affair with a woman called Mrs Haven, and his chronologically recounted family history.
In the first half of the book, I had problems with these sudden changes of setting. This is where you are introduced to a great part of the important characters and as soon as I got a feel for one of the narrative threads, it was cut and the plot continued elsewhere. This way, I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters and soon I had to bring myself to continue reading, because the plot moved so slowly. If I were one to just give up on books, I probably would have done so after 1/4 of the novel, but I like to read until the last page and in this case I’m glad I did.
I don’t know if it’s me, or if The Lost Time Accidents really increases its pacing in the second half. This half reads much better than the first one. Maybe because we already know most of the characters and also, because the pieces finally start to fall into place. It’s also this process of digesting the complex plot in combination with a fitting ending (that I still don’t quite understand) that leaves me satisfied that I finished the novel after all.
As you can see, The Lost Time Accidents isn’t an easy read and it isn’t easy to review. It is a very complex novel with lots of talk about physics and time. You will meet many diverse characters, but you’ll never get to know them very intimately (except for their shared obsession with time). If all this sounds good to you and you aren’t afraid to be challenged by this 500-page tome, then you should have a look at The Lost Time Accidents.
In April I decided to read another book from my TBR pile. This time I chose Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler.
In 1920, Zelda Sayre, a nineteen-year-old girl from Montgomery, Alabama, hops onto a train to New York City to marry F. Scott Fitzgerald. Within months, the couple is widely known among New York City’s society. The two of them stay up all night to drink and party and sleep until afternoon. This lifestyle leaves marks and so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Scott has problems concentrating on his writing.
The couple move to France where Scott is supposed to finish his novel undisturbed. This is where they meet some of the most influential artists and writers of the 20th century and their marriage starts to get complicated.
Therese Anne Fowler is very good at creating a suitable atmosphere. The depiction of surreal 1920s parties, the arty Paris salons and the increasing bleakness Zelda faces in France help to get a better understanding of the world she lives in and what it must be like for her to deal with it.
Z starts out as a cheerful, exciting novel and steadily drifts into a melancholic, desolate mood, which mirrors Zelda’s physical and mental health. This also affects the novel’s pace which slows down after the couple leave for Paris the first time. Reading Z, it becomes clear that you probably wouldn’t want to swap places with Zelda. In the end, she is nothing more than another wife who isn’t able to do what she wants just because her husband says so – and that is a complete understatement.
When Rose, a girl from Deadwood, USA, falls into a pit one evening, she doesn’t realize that this incident is the start of a fascinating discovery she is about to make years later.
Dr Rose Franklin didn’t just fall into a pit, she fell onto a giant hand and where there is a hand, there could be more body parts buried somewhere. But who created that hand and why? Rose only knows that it can’t be man-made.
Dr Rose Franklin is a scientist through and through. She loves her job and finding out about the giant hand is her priority. Nevertheless, she won’t sell her own grandmother to achieve her goals. Rose still has enough conscience to know where to stop and that makes her very likable.
Another important character is the interlocutor. We never really find out who he really is and he doesn’t tell us his name but he tends to evoke all sorts of feelings – positive and negative – through the actions he takes.
As I’ve implied before, the novel consists of written interviews and occasional journal entries. This writing style might not be for everyone, but it does suck you right in and gives you all the details you need. There are, however, instances when characters open up to the interlocutor in a way that isn’t very credible. Would you tell a nameless stranger about your love affairs? The author could have used the journal entries to give us that information.
Sleeping Giants is a science fiction novel that takes on a necessary geopolitical dimension that can get a little tiring in parts. The disturbing plot reminds us that peace often lies in the hands of few people. Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is gripping up until the very last page, and if you don’t mind books ending with a cliffhanger, you’re in for a thought-provoking read.
As you hopefully all know, today is World Book Day. The UNESCO organizes this annual event on April 23rd to “pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors, encouraging everyone […] to discover the pleasure of reading”¹
Blogger Schenken Lesefreude (German for Bloggers Spread the Joy of Reading) has been an integral part of World Book Day here in the German-speaking book-world for years. It is a project organized by Christina, Dagmar and Sonja to help compile a list of all bloggers, companies and organizations who give away books on this special day. This year however, they want participants to think of new ways to spread the joy of reading other than simple blog giveaways.
When Penguin Random House UK contacted me about a book crossing project, I knew this was a perfect match for Blogger Schenken Lesefreude. This is why I will release one copy of Keri Smith’s new book The Wander Society into the wild here in my hometown for some stranger to find. I think it’s a great book not only to spread the joy of reading but also to spread the joy of wandering around, exploring your surroundings.
I will keep you up to date on how the release of the book went. It hasn’t arrived yet, but should be here next week.