BOOK REVIEWS

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye is an unflinching and deeply harrowing examination of race, colorism, gender, and trauma. Throughout the course of her narrative Toni Morrison captures with painful lucidity the damage inflicted on a black child by a society that equates whiteness with beauty and goodness, and blackness with ugliness and evil.
In her introduction to her novel Morrison explains her inspiration of the novel. Like Morrison’s own friend, the central character in The Bluest Eye, Pecola, is a black girl who yearns for ‘blue eyes’. Similarly to Sula in the eponymous novel, Pecola becomes her community’s scapegoat, but, whereas Sula embraces who she is, Pecola’s self-hatred is compounded by her community’s demonisation of her. The more people speak of her with contempt, the stronger her desire for blue eyes becomes.

Rather than making us experience Pecola’s anguish first-hand, Morrison makes readers into complicit onlookers. We hear the venomous gossip that is exchanged between the various members of Pecola’s community, we witness the horrifying sexual abuse Pecola’s father inflicts on her—from his point of view, not hers—and the good-hearted, if ultimately inadequate, attempts that two other young girls, Claudia and Frieda, make to try and help Pecola.
The adults in this novel are color-struck and condemn Pecola for her parents’ actions, suggesting that she herself is to blame for the violence committed against her. The story is partly narrated by Claudia, whose childhood naïveté limits her comprehension of Pecola’s experiences. We are also given extensive flashbacks in which we learn more about Pecola’s parents (their youth, their eventual romance, and their extremely fraught marriage). There are also scenes focused on characters that belong to Pecola’s community and who either use or abuse her
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Throughout the course of the narrative, regardless whose point of view we are following, it is clear that Pecola is suffering, and that her home-life and environment are fuelling her self-loathing.
This is by no means an easy read. There is a nauseatingly graphic rape scene, incest, and domestic violence. Pecola is bullied, maltreated, and abused. The few moments of reprieve are offered by Claudia and Frieda, who unlike Pecola can still cling to their childhood innocence.
Pecola’s story is jarring and sobering, and at times reading The Bluest Eye was ‘too much’. Nevertheless, I was hypnotised by Morrison’s cogent style. She effortlessly switches from voice to voice, vividly rendering the intensity or urgency of her characters’ inner monologues. In her portrayal of Pecola’s descent into madness Morrison is challenging racist ideals of beauty, binary thinking, and the labelling of races and individuals as being either good or evil. Pecola’s family, her community, even the reader, all stand by as Pecola becomes increasingly detached from her reality. This a tragic story, one that is bound to upset readers. Still, the issues Morrison addresses in this novel are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.

MY RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

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THE LOST MAN: BOOK REVIEW

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The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
★★★★★ 5 of 5 stars

“What happened to him?”
“Usual story out here.” Nathan made himself keep his voice even. “Wandered the wrong way and got lost.”

To call The Lost Man a crime/mystery novel seems somewhat reductive. I guess that at its heart this is a story about a family, but even writing that doesn’t do this novel justice.
From its opening pages until the very last line we are made aware of—what seemed to me—the characters’ surreal surroundings: the sheer scope their land is mind-boggling. Living in the Australian outbacks is a real challenge, even if you were grown&bred there.
Harper gives her setting an almost palpable quality: the red sand, the unforgiving and oppressing heat, the treacherous terrain. All of these elements affect the story, making each scene all the more evocative.

It was the stillness that scared him. They did not see another car or person the whole drive home, Nathan remembered clearly. That wasn’t unusual, but that day he had noticed. There was no-one else around.

I would go as far as to say write that the setting functions as one of the players in the story.
For Nathan survival is hard enough, given the unyielding nature of his land, and his troubled relationship with his former community. After the death of one of his brothers, Nathan finds himself staying in his childhood home. The fraught relationship he has with his remaining family is apparent and the reasons behind his isolation are given to us…eventually. Piece by piece we start to gain the picture of Nathan’s past and of his current circumstances. There isn’t a big and unbelievable twist (hurray!), but rather Harper slowly provides us with the right information at the right time.

Nathan felt an unpleasant sensation creep through him and he had the sudden urge to check over his shoulder. There was nothing there but cattle and stubby grass and the horizon. All was quiet.

Soon enough I found myself almost moved to tears by Nathan’s past and present experiences. His uneasy reconciliation with his actions and behaviours was painfully believable. The other characters are just as nuanced and realistically ambivalent as Nathan. His relationship to his youngest brother, Bub, his son, Xander, and his dead brother’s wife, Ilse, are truly compelling. Kudos to Harper who, unlike other authors, is able to 1) depict abuse without recurring to cliched banalities and attributing this abusive behaviour to cartoonishly villainous characters 2) create believable teenagers and children.

Lo gave him a look that could kill a cow. “Not Santa.” She left the dickhead implied.

There is a perpetual sense of suspense, given by the unknowns in our characters’ past, the outbacks, and the legends surrounding the stockman’s grave.
Nathan, as well as some of the other characters, finds himself wanting to know exactly what made his brother, Cameron, abandon his car and wander to his death. Nathan’s unease is increased by his estrangement from his family (and others in general).

“I’m afraid, all right? That the property, and all this—” he gestured at the void outside the window,—all this bloody outback—is going to get to you”

I could easily go on and on about how fantastic this book is…but I will stop. The less you known, the better.
ps: Jackaroo is my favourite new word.
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THE SILENT PATIENT: BOOK REVIEW


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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
★★✰✰✰ 1.5 of 5 stars  (rounded up because this is a debut so…)

“Please don’t let’s get dramatic.”

    

I’ve been a bit hesitant about writing this review since the majority of readers really enjoyed this debut. However, since Goodreads allows us to express and respect our different opinions I don’t see any harm in being honest. I didn’t hate The Silent Patient but I did find this novel both ridiculous and incompetent.

Just because The Silent Patient has a “twist” that doesn’t mean it should be labelled as being a psychological thriller. There is no suspense, no mystery, no tension, none whatsoever, zilch! The psychology in this one is…well, the depiction of psychiatrist and psychotherapists is at best, laughable, at worst, ignorant.
The book hinges completely on its “twist”, a twist that (view spoiler)
This book seems to me yet another weak attempt of jumping on the domestic thriller bandwagon.

In short: Calling this a novel seems somewhat misleading. This reads more like a incredibly unbelievable script.

LONG RANT REVIEW AHEAD:

The Silent Patient is a really flawed piece of work. I will try to tackle what I personally thought were the major problems this book had (for me, personally):

THE WRITING (idiotic dialogues + inane monologues + ham-handed metamorphoses + a complete lack of a sense of place)

✖ I like Agatha Christie and she has what I would call a ‘dry’ style of writing. Her mysteries are heavy on dialogue. The many conversations that her characters have are witty, amusing and or entertaining. The descriptions she provides perfectly render the characters’ mannerisms and surroundings. Michaelides’ writing mostly consisted in a series of dialogues between two characters and it reads like a script. It would work if what they spoke like actual people rather than this:

~“Perhaps I’m imagining it. But I’m sensing something… Keep an eye on it. Any aggression or competitiveness interferes with the work. You two need to work with each other, not against each other.
~“But remember, with greater feeling comes greater danger.

The dialogues/monologues came across as being incredibly silly and they make the characters sound like children.
✖ These characters do not sound British. They talk like Americans (or what Americans sound like in a CSI episode). There are no British cultural references and or British expressions. This book could be set anywhere.
✖ There were plenty of dramatic and over-the-top statements and or phrases that really ruined potentially significant scenes and or somber moments of contemplation:

~“Her silence was like a mirror—reflecting yourself back at you.”
~“Now I saw the truth. [She] hadn’t saved me—she wasn’t capable of saving anyone. She was no heroines to be admired—just a frightened, fucked-up girl, a cheating liar. This whole mythology of us that I had built up […] now collapsed in seconds—like a house of cards in a gust of wind.”
~“How was this possible? Had she been acting the whole time? Had she ever loved me?”;
~“Why did she do it? How could she?”

Jeez. Talk about melodramatic angst.


✖ Theo’s narrative was filled with painfully overdone monologues that have little purpose since they don’t make Theo into a realistic and nuanced character and most of the time they do not even further the plot. Alicia’s narrative (that is, her diary) makes no sense but more on that when I tackle her character. It’s safe to say that, given that her diary entries included things such as “It took me a moment to speak. I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say” and “I feel joyous. I feel full of hope”, I had a hard time ‘immersing’ myself or ‘buying’ into her narrative.
Since this book is a ‘domestic thriller’ both Theo and Alicia don’t have sex they ‘fuck’. Because writing ‘we fucked’ makes the story gritty and ‘dark’ [insert laughter here].
The Greek ‘connection’. Done properly, I usually love it when contemporary books draw parallels from Greek myths and or classics. Done properly. Comparing people to Greek statues and having your main characters referring to themselves as being a ‘Greek hero/heroine’ is the opposite of subtle:

~“She was a statue; a Greek goddess come to life in my hands.” ~“He looked like a Greek statue” ~“the actress playing Alcestis looked like a Greek statue” ~“my fate was already decided—like in a Greek tragedy” ~“Casting herself as a tragic heroine”.

We have Diomedes who comes from “a long line of Greek shepherds” (and tells Theo that “every Greek knows his tragedies”). And finally we have Alicia’s painting which is entitled Alcestis. Both the painting and Euripides play had potential. They would have been enough. We didn’t need the constant reminder that The Silent Patient wants to be a ‘tragic play’. Like many other things in this book, the blatant symbolism managed to ruin a potentially good analogy.
✖ The story is set supposedly in the UK. But really, there is 0 sense of place. Who cares about giving your characters a backdrop? Why bother rendering a neighbourhood or an area of London? Who gives a fork about what a room or place looks like? Let’s remember: this story could be set anywhere (or nowhere given how realistic it is).

✖ You could say that the focus on dialogues and flat scenery are reminiscent of a play…which is fine but it doesn’t come across as such. This book just reminds me of a ‘B-movie’ script. There is no tragedy, no pathos , no wit. A 2nd grade play is closer to a ‘classic’ play than this book is.
There is this attempt to make the two ‘main’ women ethereal which did provides a few laughs:

~“Her white dress glowed ghostlike in the torchlight” ~ “I remember so much white everywhere: […] the white of her eyes, her teeth, her skin. I’d never known that skin could be so luminous, so translucent ; ivory white with occasional blue veins visible just beneath the surface, like threads of color in white marble. She was a statue.” ~ “strands of long red hair falling across bony shoulders, blue veins beneath the translucent skin”.

THE CHARACTERS
✖ Theo. Our wannabe (view spoiler). Within a few pages we know that he is obsessed with Alicia (which makes him incredibly unprofessional) and he for the most part he is just soooo dull and whiny. He moans about his childhood, (view spoiler), and his attempt(s) to self-fashion himself as some sort of tragic hero fail epically. After (view spoiler)
His dramatic monologues, constant whinging, and complete lack of awareness (I’ve said it before this man is thick) reminded me a bit of Derek Zoolander:


Alicia…she is beautiful. She loves having sex with her husband and painting. That’s about it. We are told that she was ‘charming’…but how can she have gained this reputation since she has 0 friends and her only real relationship is the one she has with Gabriel (her partner or whatever). Jean-Felix is the owner of a gallery but they don’t spend time together or are on friendly terms. Who is she charming to? She is a complete recluse! She lives in London and is good enough painter and yet…she has managed to make 0 connections. Her diary entries make her sound at best guileless and at worst like a demented child. Her character is just an object. She is there to look beautiful and tragic. She has a few basic reactions (she just “looks up” or “looks down”) or she does the good ol’ ‘banshee’ act, flinging herself in a sudden ‘rage’ towards Theo or another patient. Wow. Such a deep and complex portrait of a (view spoiler).

The cast of characters consists in cardboard cutouts. Going back to Christie, sometimes exaggerated character can be entertaining. Especially if they are a parodying a certain type of person (the writer, the artist, the gossipy old lady and so forth). Here we have mere ‘sketches’ of people.
We have Christian, who doesn’t like Theo because he is a massive bellend bully: “Christian glared at me.” “Christian looked irritated.” “Christian rolled his eyes at me.” “Christian laughed that annoying laugh of his.
We have Professor Diomedes who is Greek and is “an unorthodox man’that’s it folks. That’s his character. Also, (view spoiler) Yuri is another pointless and unbelievable addition to the story. He is the head psychiatric nurse and comes from Latvia so he obviously has to be weird about women. Makes perfect sense. Then we have Stephanie who has very little page time or importance Theo having never even know of her existence knows immediately, before she even speaks, that she is Caribbean). We also have the “jolly Caribbean dinner ladies” (who, surprise surprise, are only mentioned once).

We have a few ‘ugly’ characters who are either ‘mad’ and or violent (Elif, a ‘massive’ Turkish woman, who spends her time shouting or grunting because she is a patient and that’s how ‘ugly’ and mentally ill people behave. Lydia, Alicia’s mean aunt. She is grotesquely ‘fat’ and has lots of cats. She basically just glares, scorns, and spits at people). Paul, Alicia’s cousin, still lives with his mother so he looks like ‘virgin’ and in spite his size he seems ‘stunted’. Kathy and Gabriel are the antithesis of credible (actors and fashion photographers manage to be self-engrossed and 1 dimensional). We have Gabriel’s brother…who is the typical chip-on-my-shoulder character (he has acne, he is balding, he is just a ‘lawyer’, boohoo). Jean-Felix owns a gallery so he is the embodiment of some sort of art-vampire.

THE NONSENSICAL PLOT
✖ Nothing much happens. It’s quite clear that the words that exist before the ‘twist’ serve as filler. Theo moans about this and that. That’s about 70% of the novel.
✖ There are a series of stupid things happening for no apparent reason. (view spoiler)
✖ The Grove is not a forensic unit. I am sure that Theo should be doing a bit of paperwork to cover his 1 to 1s with Alicia. And everything that (view spoiler)
✖ The ‘big twist’ (view spoiler)

IN CONCLUSION

The Silent Patient might not be the worst novel I’ve read but—in my humble opinion— it’s a badly written, poorly developed book. Worse still, The Silent Patient comes across as being ‘soulless’.
A ‘twist’ needs—demands—a story. I want to read characters who vaguely resemble or talk like real people. If you want to play with stereotypes (a la Christie) don’t make your characters take themselves so seriously. A parody of a certain ‘personality’ should at least be funny and or amusing. Adding a strong setting and a coherent storyline wouldn’t do any harm either. The Silent Patient is a messy, flat, painfully dull, ‘Hollywood-type’ of book.

Pre-review:
I’m not sure what’s up with these hyped so-called thrillers but…

If you liked Verity, An Anonymous Girl, The Last Time I Lied or the unintentionally hilarious Jane Doe…chances are you will like The Silent Patient.

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THE FAR FIELD: BOOK REVIEW

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The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
★★★★✰ 4.5 of 5 stars

The Far Field is an exceptional debut novel. Madhuri Vijay has written a quietly intense tale that both conjures and conveys feelings of uncertainty.

After her mother’s death Shalini becomes detached from her daily existence. Increasingly alienated from others she makes the impulsive decision to travel to a remote Himalayan village in Kashmir where Bashir Ahmed —an old friend of her mother’s— lives.
In an interview Vijay describes Shalini as being “remote and closed-off, so hamstrung by doubt and suspicion, that even [she], as the writer, occasionally felt suffocated by her voice”. Well, I agree 100% with her. Shalini is a cypher. She is hesitant to demonstrate her feelings or to simply share her thoughts with the people who could potentially become her friends. Vijay has depicted her in this way quite intentionally. To me, Shalini’s inability to act was yes frustrating but it also created tension. Would she finally unwind? Could she be able to really live in the present? Connect with others?

Her journey does not follow the classic ‘coming of age’ that often occurs in similar novels (where a character travels somewhere to ‘find themselves’ or to come ‘to terms with their past). Shalini’s experiences in Kashmir are far more realistic. An ingrained distrust still dictates a lot of what she does. I was really saddened and frustrated by her half-hearted attempt at a friendship with Zoya and Amina. Shalini seems desperate to fill in the hole left by her mother’s death but she is also very reticent about revealing her innermost self.
Shalini was also utterly naive and rather self-centred. The few times she actually ‘acts’ or says something important she usually ends up doing or saying the wrong thing. She seems unable to read other people or to take in account what they too might be hiding/protecting their true emotions.
Given that Shalini is recounting her journey to Kashmir years after it, she often expresses the wish to have acted differently, and there are a lot of ‘if onlys‘ which furthered the tension of her story.
Having lived a life of comfort Shalini doesn’t seem to realise that not everyone knows those same comforts (which she has taken for granted).
There are chapters that focus on Shalini’s childhood and on her intense relationship with her fiery mother. It is perhaps because she is so young (and sheltered) that Shalini does not notice how trapped and unhappy her seemingly strong mother was. Their strained relationship takes its toll on both mother and daughter.

This novel depicts Shalini’s desperate attempts to belong and to reconcile herself with the way in which she treated (and was in turn treated by) her mother. Sadly, Shalini often acts under the wrong impression, and she either misunderstands others and or ends up being misunderstood by the ones she claims she cares for.
Vijay renders the way in which language can betray one’s intention or the way in which words often are not often.
This novel has a lot to wrestle with but it does so in a paced manner. This story is one of ambivalence and dissolution; the plot rests on the novel’s setting(s) and on Shalini’s interactions with mainly two other families. While the author does not shy away from portraying the religious conflict occurring in Kashmir, she focuses more on the experiences of various individual characters — the way in which they themselves are affected by dispute between India and Pakistan — rather than offering a dumbed down ‘overview’ of Kashmir’s long history of violence. Having Shalini as the narrator allows readers to glimpse Kashmir through the eyes of an ‘outsider’.
This is a story about privilege, guilt, grief, and isolation. Amidst the novel’s bleak realism there are some heart-rendering moments, and Vijay’s writing lyrical writing often allowed me to forget of the unease created by her story. I kept hoping against hope that the ending would provide some sort of not quite magical solution but that it could at least give me some closure…but I’m afraid to say that the ending is what makes this a 4 star read rather than a 5 one. WHY?!

Anyhow, I will definitely keep my eyes open for more of Vijay’s stunning and heartbreaking writing.

PS: I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Sneha Mathan. Mathan does an incredibly job. Her voice is 1)beautiful 2)capable of making me feel a wide range of emotions 3)simply captivating

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Night Film by Marisha Pessl

 

Review of Night Film by Marisha Pessl
★★★★★  5 of 5 starsnightfilm

“As much as some people would like to believe, for their own peace of mind, that the appearance of evil in this world had a clean cause, the truth was never that simple.”

Sometimes, if we are lucky enough, we ‘bump’ into one of those novels. Those novels that make us stay up late, be late for work, and ignore our friends. Night Film is one of those novels (for me at least). I didn’t merely ‘read’ this book, I lived it. I was thrust into an increasingly alluring and almost labyrinthine storyline, and the more I read the more I forgot my own surroundings. I was desperate to know the truth behind Cordova but I was also weary of what this truth was. I could hardly hazard guesses of my own because I was so swept away by the narrative . The closer I came to the end the more nervous I became.
This is the type of book that tests the boundaries between real and unreal, providing an incredibly atmospheric setting and a breath-taking plot. The use of different medias (journal articles, police reports, interviews, websites, photos) makes the reading experience all the richer.

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The premise of the story is intriguing enough: the apparent suicide of the young daughter of a reclusive and mysterious film director sets in motion the investigation of a disgraced journalist. Did Ashley Cordova really kill herself? And if so, why?
Scott McGrath and Ashley’s father have some history. So, Scott’s search is initially sparked by a vindictive desire to shed some truth on Cordova. But what this truth is, it is hard to say.
Joining his investigation – and to his own displeasure – are Hopper, a drug-dealer who’d met Ashley years before, and Nora, a wannabe actress who ends up in possession of Ashley’s distinctive red coat.
The friendship between Scott and Nora is perhaps one of only wholly uplifting things of this novel. They have starkly different views and come from incredibly different places but they simply had that spark that made each of their interactions so entertaining and affective.
The people they encounter are rendered vividly trough both their dialogue and Marisha Pessl’s striking descriptions..
Another aspect of this novel that I really appreciated is its protagonist. Scott is hardly an all-round-good-guy. He is obsessed on Cordova, tends to disregard other’s opinions, and often considers others in rather stereotypical terms but, I think he does so because he is a writer, so he enjoys dramatizing what he see and observes. While his motivations are not selfless, he shows that he can be caring and capable of questioning his own assumptions.
The last section of this novel is almost delirious trip (to where nightmares are made). There is a crescendo of confusion and strangeness that is stressed by the narration itself. While I found the ending infuriatingly abrupt I also feel that it was the only way this novel could end. As much as I craved for a neat ending that would tie all loose ends, it was inevitable that Night Film would end the way it did.

A stunning novel that will remain with me for a long time (hopefully Cordova won’t make a cameo in my dreams…)

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The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

★★★★✰ 4 of 5 stars

“I actually had the idea, when you asked me for a subject for a painting, of giving you a subject: to paint the face of a condemned man a minute before the guillotine falls, while he is still standing on the scaffold and before he lies down on the plank.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky is often remembered in terms of his illness, his gambling, his radicalism – which would lead to his Siberian exile – as well as of his near-death experience, which intensified his already devout religious belief. All these themes can be found in his labyrinthine epic The Idiot which focuses on Prince Myshkin, a Christ-like holy fool who suffers from epilepsy, and on the secondary characters surrounding him.

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This often mystifying novel delves into complex political and philosophical issues, without offering any direct approach or reaching a simple solution. Arguments, misunderstandings, and disputes abound within these pages.

Dostoyevski’s characters offer contradictory yet wholly believable portrayals of different types of people. His ideas of guilt and punishment are very interesting, and I enjoyed the fact that most of his characters are the embodiment of a ‘grey morality’. And of course, Myshkin. The Prince is naive to a fault yet he can be particularly perceptive about others (eg. usually by reading their faces), he seems to understand the nature and character of others, even if he often finds himself at a loss for words. I read a review stating that he was useless and selfish. I couldn’t disagree more. His incredible empathy is the driving force his character. His ability to identify himself in others, and his immediate forgiveness of others make him anything but pathetic. Yes, he was too kind, and his kindness doesn’t not do him favour, but, others are also to blame for the events that lead to his ‘unbecoming’: they use him or don’t understand him, and when they call him an ‘idiot’, he believes them.

A flawed masterpiece that often looses itself along the way (eg. a character reading his ‘will’ takes up 40 pages). In spite of the byzantine plot, Dostoyevsky has an eye for people, and Freud was quite right in calling Dostoyevsky a psychologist.

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The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine

“I want to be in love. I want to be possessed and obsessed by it, I want the sky to change colour and the sun to shine all the time. I want to long for the phone to ring and pace the room when it doesn’t. I want to be breathless at the sound of her voice and tongue-tied when I first see her.”

A layered and complex character driven novel, one that from start to finish thrums with suspense.
Guilt, lost chances, secretive relationships and desires are explored throughout this novel.

After the death of her husband, renown writer Gerald Candless, Ursula considers her loveless marriage and the freedom she has gained as a widow. Her daughters, unlike her, loved Gerald. It is hinted, from the very beginning, that Gerald marries solely to become a father: his desire, during the 60s and the 70s is made to make him unusual, different. Yet, he takes control of his daughters, pushing Ursula out of the family picture. Sarah, the eldest daughter, is charged with writing a memoir in his memory. Grief stricken, she agrees, only to then discover than her mythical father is not who he claimed to be.
A perusal of the past brings to life Ursula’s unhappy marriage as well as the lives of the families surrounding the mystery of Gerald’s true identity. Identity, love, freedom, all play a large role in the story’s narrative. The richly detailed backdrop provides a wistful portrayal of 20th century (from the 40s to the 90s) England. Characters who actively challenge themselves and one another make the narrative utterly engaging. Barbara Vine doesn’t shy away from depicting the most unnerving and uncomfortable aspects of her society: personal vices, poverty, depression, repression, and various injustices abound.
Also, Vine doesn’t provide clear cut answers or universal truths. Her story and her characters do no fit in neat little boxes. She explores the actions of different types of people without any sentimentalist moral lessons.
Vine allows us to know what is coming – that is the ‘mystery’ at the core of this novel – however she doesn’t let the details, the particulars, of that mystery known to us: she keeps us guessing, even when we are fairly certain of what exactly happened, we are only provided with fragmented glimpses of the fuller ‘picture’.
With a beautiful and richly descriptive prose, characters who are both sensual and finicky, a plot that relies on the art of writing itself (so many books are mentioned!) , well, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy is a truly remarkable read.

My rating: 5 stars

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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

How can I have ‘enjoyed’ or ‘liked’ this novel?
Well…I did find myself flinching away from it a few times…

Well, what can be said about Lolita that hasn’t been said? Who hasn’t heard of it? The influence this work has had on modern culture is astounding: just think that the meaning of the name Lolita has changed because of this novel. The reputation this novel has gained however doesn’t really do it justice. It is almost viewed as a perverse work of fiction. And in some ways, it is that. Humbert Humbert is sick. His fantasies, his romanticising his own inclination and actions, well…there can be no doubt that Humber is indeed a perverse individual. Yet, the novel is so much more than this. Humbert’s role as a narrator makes us question ourselves. How can someone so monstrous be amusing? How can he be anything other than a pedophile?
Vladimir Nabokov achieves wonders in this novel. I ‘might have been disgusted and repulsed, but I was also completely taken by Nabokov’s style. The way he plays with different languages (English, Russian, French), the incredible attention he pays to someone’s intonation, the cadence of certain words or the rhythm created by others. I was so in awe of the way in which Nabokov’s works with words that I almost didn’t take in the horrific things that make up the majority of Humbert’s narrative.
I do understand why some readers might be read this and feel nothing but disgust, but, lets remember that Nabokov is not Humbert. Nor is he condemning Humbert. What Nabokov seemed to be doing was to create a narrative that reflects Humbert’s distorted mind. Nabokov is clever, so very clever. The self-aware and dynamic narrative is filled by vivid imagery: sounds, colours, smells, textures…Nabokov offers all.
My only ‘con’ is that the storyline lost a bit of its drive towards the end of the novel. Lolita is an uneasy read that will – no doubt – make you feel uncomfortable. However, the subject itself shouldn’t hide the Nabokov’s prolific style.

My rating: 3.5 stars

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

While this might not be Lehane’s best novel, it is one of his most suspenseful ones.
Having watched the screen adaptation years ago, I was worried that I would not be able to find the twist as shocking…well, I shouldn’t have worried. Lehane is always able to shock his readers.
A story that thrums with tension, Shutter Island constantly questions its own narrative and characters. A mounting uncertainty accompanies readers – and the story’s protagonist– in what soon reveals to be a puzzling – and inexplicable – mystery. The disappearance of a patient in a hospital for the criminally insane brings U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule, to Shutter Island. Teddy’s investigation is further complicated by the island’s uncooperative staff and an incoming hurricane. In the midst of these adversatives Teddy is forced to confront his own past. A confined setting and plenty of suspicious characters add more fuel this mystery.
Lehane’s ability to flesh out different characters is as good as ever. Through a few sharp observations, or a word or two, he is able to bring characters to life: they are all remarkably vivid. Teddy, Chuck, the orderlies, the doctors, they all strike an impression in the reader.
Lehane’s very immediate style intensifies the emotional charge of his scenes. Also, his narration reflects the protagonist’s state of mind, causing an instantaneous reaction in the reader.
This a story if violence, denial, and trauma. While it may be upsetting (*ahem*…devastating…) it is also incredibly engaging novel, one that poses plenty of challenging questions.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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BOOK REVIEWS

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Thrumming with suspense Mystic River is a gritty crime novel, one that focuses more on the psychology of its characters rather than the crime itself.
On the one hand, the story follows the violent death of a young girl, Katie, on the other, we have three young boys, boys who used to be friends until one of them is kidnapped. Lehane portrays grief in a vivid manner: we see how much Katie’s death affects those who loved her. Characters are fleshed out: they act in such a genuine way that they feel real. There is Jimmy who we know has had troubles with the law, and is hiding something, then there is Sean, someone who seemingly seems as if he’s doing rather well but really isn’t, and finally there is Dave, a complex and very confused man that has never really recovered from his kidnapping. An array of equally well-developed characters serve as friends, enemies, families of these three men. I was particularly aware of the way Lehane portrays masculinity, Jimmy, Dave and Sean showcase and battle with their emotions in a way that challenges ideals of men having to ‘bottle up’.
An engaging and challenging novel that is fueled by a solid plot. Lehane’s noir is one that combines tough scenes and edgy dialogues with more introspective moments, all of which are rendered beautifully by his dynamic prose.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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