In The Spinning Heart, twenty-one inhabitants of a rural Irish town tell us about their lives after Ireland’s financial collapse.
First to tell his story is Bobby Mahon. He was foreman at the local construction firm, its unexpected closing-down having effects on the whole town. Bobby links the twenty other people who follow, but the more stories we get to read, the harder it gets to remember who is who. There are just too many characters and the Irish names I have never heard before make it a guessing game to find out a character’s gender.
The plot is like a puzzle. In the beginning it seems a bit loose, but the further you read, the more the pieces start to fit together. The individual chapters are like short stories that are just connected enough to make The Spinning Heart a novel. This lack of connection makes the book a bit slow to read. Nevertheless, some of the stories make you want to know more and it is a pity that you have to part ways with the characters so soon. Overall, The Spinning Heart is a nice debut, but if you have to choose, I’d recommend you read The Thing About December.
What are your plans for tonight? Are you going trick-or-treating? I’m baking a very spooky cake and in the evening I’ll transform the waiters at a local bar into scary creatures. 🙂
As I’m in a celebratory mood because of Halloween I thought we might as well do a little giveaway. I’ve been talking a lot about this year’s Man Booker Prize and I’ve even read some long- and shortlisted books (you can find the links below), so I thought let’s celebrate Halloween with someone who has something to celebrate: The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2014 Richard Flanagan and his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
I have to admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but I will do so soon. Penguin Random House UK have been so nice as to offer me five copies of Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning novel to give away. Thank you so much!
What is the book about?¹
Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not.
In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.
Hailed as a masterpiece, Richard Flanagan’s epic novel tells the unforgettable story of one man’s reckoning with the truth.
Like I’ve said before, you can win one of five copies of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Please read the Terms & Conditions before entering the giveaway! In the Giveaway Tools form, you will be asked to state what country you come from. I need this information as this is an EU wide giveaway (+ SUI & LIE) with three copies going to winners from German-speaking countries and two copies to winners from any EU countries. The second question will be the very tricky 😉 quiz question. So all you have to do to enter is read the Terms & Conditions and, if you are eligible, do everything Giveaway Tools asks you for. Fingers crossed!
Terms & Conditions:
This giveaway is open to residents of all EU countries, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
You have to be 16 or older to participate.
The giveaway runs from October 31, 2014 until November 7 , 2014.
Be fair! One entry per person/immediate family/household.
Neither Penguin Random House UK nor I are responsible for lost or damaged items. There will be five winners who will each receive one English language copy of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, sponsored by Penguin Random House UK.
Three books are allotted to residents of German-speaking countries (1 book: Austria, 1 book: Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 1 book: Germany). If there is no entry from one of the aforementioned countries, this country’s allotted book will be added to the EU lot.
You have to enter through Giveaway Tools.
The winner will be selected at random and notified via e-mail. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, another winner will be drawn.
The personal information you enter will only be used to contact you in case you win. It will be deleted after the giveaway.
I can amend and interpret these official rules at any time, and terminate, suspend or cancel the giveaway at any time for any reason.
Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.
The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.
In Us, David Nicholls takes us on a trip all over contemporary Central Europe. Due to the author’s vivid descriptions, you get to see the replica of Michelangelo’s David on Piazza della Signoria in Florence and a great selection of paintings, including Velazquez’ The Maids of Honor.
The main character Douglas Petersen is a caring but introvert husband and father. He can’t show his feelings and is therefore often misunderstood by his extrovert wife Connie and his teenage son Albie. The relationship between the three is the novel’s main theme and is depicted so realistically you’ll probably be able to relate to at least one situation.
All in all, Us is a wonderful read for someone who misses the summer. You get to travel quite a bit and I think you will probably find someone to connect with. What I find fascinating is the pacing. Overall, Us reads very comfortably, but at some point during the Petersen’s trip the novel’s pace slows down. I think this is intentional, as the trip becomes strenuous for the reader as well as for Douglas and the slow pacing adds to that feeling of strenuousness. If you’re up for a stirring adventure that could make you shed some tears and rethink your own family, Us will be the book for you.
We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story…
Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, in the margin between this world and the next, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father. To find him, enfolded in the mystery of ancestors, Ruthie must first trace the jutting jaw lines, narrow faces and gleamy skin of the Swains from the restless Reverend Swain, her great-grandfather, to grandfather Abraham, to her father, Virgil – via pole-vaulting, leaping salmon, poetry and the three thousand, nine hundred and fifty eight books piled high beneath the two skylights in her room, beneath the rain.
The stories – of her golden twin brother Aeney, their closeness even as he slips away; of their dogged pursuit of the Swains’ Impossible Standard and forever falling just short; of the wild, rain-sodden history of fourteen acres of the worst farming land in Ireland – pour forth in Ruthie’s still, small, strong, hopeful voice.
History of the Rain is set in a small town in contemporary Ireland. It is very hard to think of the setting as contemporary because the story could as well be set in the early 20th century. The town is a very small rural town and Niall Williams’ writing gives it a vintage touch. It’s quite shocking when suddenly a modern car winds its way up the road.
Our main character is Ruth Swain, who tells us about her ancestors’ lives. She is a young, intelligent woman bedbound in her family’s home. Ruth tells us a lot about her father Virgil, a great thinker born into a world of doers. Virgil turns out to be a very intense character in the second half of the book. He loves writing so much that he starts to forget everything around him.
History of the Rain has two stories to tell. While Ruth recounts the lives of her ancestors, we observe how Ruth leads her own life. These two plotlines are interwoven and alternate just like two fish taking turns jumping out of the water. The novel is beautifully written and some passages are amazing and create very strong feelings. On the whole, however, History of the Rain very often drags on. I was wondering about this, because the story isn’t boring. I think it was the writing (some very long sentences in there) that made the book tedious to read, at least for me. Nevertheless, History of the Rain is a book that you will enjoy if you’re looking for a novel you can analyze (and reread), because I think there is more to it than I had time to discover.
One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .
The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.
The Bone Clocks is set on various continents between the 1980s and the 2040s. Sometimes the story takes you even further into the past. David Mitchell is good at setting different scenes. I really enjoyed my time at an Alpine ski resort and got scared visiting other places and times (I’m being vague, so I don’t spoil anything 😉 ).
Throughout the book we meet a lot of different characters: writers, a war reporter and the members of two old organizations. We actually switch between those characters and that becomes quite confusing at times. The book is written in first person narration and each time the narrator changes you have to find out who you are. The first character we meet is Holly Sykes. She plays a vital role in the Script, which is a sort of prophecy, but she also connects the various characters we meet. Another important character and narrator is Marinus. He is very old and was easier to empathize with than some of the other narrators.
As I’ve already said, The Bone Clocks is divided into sections that each feature a different character. It was easy to find into the story and the first two sections flow wonderfully, but by the third section things slow down and the plot distances itself from the supernatural part of the book and what in my opinion is most gripping about it. Unfortunately, the plot only picks up after about 300 more pages. So, 300 out of 600 pages didn’t really add to the main plot. Not that they weren’t written well, but they just didn’t fit the story and made me want to skip them altogether (which I didn’t do of course). In The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell shows off his talent, so we get to read a little bit of everything, like for example young adult literature, dystopia and fantasy. I would have preferred a condensed version of The Bone Clocks without having the feeling of reading a portfolio. I’ll still read Cloud Atlas though!
Rosemary’s young, just at college, and she’s decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we’re not going to tell you too much either: you’ll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. There’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary’s trouble.
Karen Joy Fowler’s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is set in the contemporary United States, but the book’s focus isn’t on the setting.
Rosie, our main character, is a young woman telling the story of her sister’s disappearance. When Fern vanished, both Rosie and Fern were still small children. Since then, Rosie feels as if half of herself is missing. She is insecure and has a hard time making friends. At college, Rosie meets Harlow, a girl very different from herself. Harlow is outgoing, takes risks, doesn’t think about her actions. Rosie feels drawn to Harlow even though the latter, in my eyes, isn’t a very likeable character. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves lives from characterization and the relationships between characters. Most of the time this works out brilliantly, but Rosie’s & Harlow’s “friendship” just doesn’t work that well for me. I can’t understand why anyone wants to be friends with someone like Harlow.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was quite the surprise. I had no idea what it really was about. So if you don’t know either, you are in for a treat. While the story is very unusual, Ms Fowler still manages to embed it into a perfectly normal environment. I am glad that the novel doesn’t get kitschy at any point because I sometimes feared it would. If you’d like to pick up a gripping novel that stays with you for a long time after reading, I’d recommend We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
Who comes to your mind when you are asked to think about post-colonial British authors? Close your eyes for a few seconds; think hard; then open your eyes and tell me what you came up with. Hmh, let me think …. Kazuo Ishiguro! Does the name ring a bell? Yes? Excellent! I think it’s time to talk about one of Britain’s most eminent writers. He has won the Booker Prize for The Remains of Day in 1989. Even though his last publication was some time ago, in 2009 to be exact, this does not mean that it’s too late to talk about Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall.
With the clarity and precision that have become his trademarks, Kazuo Ishiguro interlocks five short pieces of fiction to create a world that resonates with emotion, heartbreak, and humor. Here is a fragile, once famous singer, turning his back on the one thing he loves; a music junky with little else to offer his friends but opinion; a songwriter who inadvertently breaks up a marriage; a jazz musician who thinks the answer to his career lies in changing his physical appearance; and a young cellist whose tutor has devised a remarkable way to foster his talent. For each, music is a central part of their lives and, in one way or another, delivers them to an epiphany.
Nocturnes is Ishiguro’s first collection of short stories and consists of five parts: “Crooner”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Malvern Hills”, “Nocturne” and “Cellist”. What bind the stories together are recurring themes and characters which are all tightly connected with music, musicians and music lovers. They are all written in prose style and every story has its own delightful and charming twist.
Basically, Nocturnes tells the story of people who have not yet fulfilled their dreams, about people who live ordinary lives and about the sacrifices they have to make every day. We all have a vision of who we are, but very often the world does not allow us to fulfill your dreams. All the characters in Nocturnes struggle with their lives; some get it right, some get it wrong, but they all have to overcome obstacles. I guess this is what makes the book so attractive to us normal ones. It shows that fictional characters are not superheroes after all.
When I got hold of Nocturnes, I expected to really love this collection and I have to admit that I found it wonderful in parts. It would be a lie to claim that Nocturnes is absolutely superb, because there are a few flaws in the novel. But all in all, it’s a nice and entertaining read for everyone who likes humorous, cynical and serious stories.
As I’ve already told you a few days ago, I finished a book that took me a while to read. This book is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which is currently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I had a copy on my bookshelf from my Book Depository win this spring, so I decided to give it a go.
‘Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.’
Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.
In a small cafe in Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.
A Tale for the Time Being is mostly set in the 21st century in Japan and Canada. The dominance of the setting changes with the location. The island where Ruth lives felt very clear to me. However, this could be because I’ve already been to British Columbia and Vancouver Island and know what the landscape looks like. But also the temple in Japan and its surroundings were clear, in contrast to Tokyo, which seemed blurry to me. Ms. Ozeki also uses the weather to create and intensify mood especially in Ruth’s chapters. I really like this concept.
The two main characters are Nao and Ruth. Even though Nao is 16 years old, she often acts like she is 14 or younger but on the other hand, she does things that (in my opinion) don’t fit her childish behavior. Well, let’s say, Nao has problems, which is hardly surprising if you read her story. Nevertheless, Nao’s character wasn’t always very believable throughout the book. I preferred Ruth. Her character seems to lead a steady life, but if you take a closer look, it isn’t all roses. Ruth is fascinated by Nao’s diary and wants to know all about that girl from Japan. I was really able to connect with Ruth, at least until the last few pages. Two other characters that I think were great are Nao’s father Haruki and Nao’s great-grandmother Jiko.
Now on to the hardest part (at least for me). The story. For the first ~125 pages, I had massive problems getting into the book. I was thinking about giving up on reading, because I didn’t care what was going to happen to Nao or to anyone else in the book. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I hardly give up on a book. So I read on and it did get better. I finally wanted to know about Nao’s (and her father’s) fate. Sometimes, I even felt distracted by Ruth’s story between Nao’s passages. But there were still things that I didn’t like. There was too much talk of Zen Buddhism in the book and, unfortunately, the book started to get quite boring again towards the end (even though I like the main idea of the ending). Maybe A Tale for the Time Being just wasn’t meant for a time being like me.