Friday 31 December 2021

Book Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Sweet Caress Sweet Caress by William Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Should I have been surprised that I liked this novel? Not really, in that I have read other William Boyd books and enjoyed them, particularly Restless, but on the whole I am not irreversibly and constantly drawn back to them or him and I really don't know why that should be. And so it was that I sat down to read this one, chosen by my in person book group, expecting a good read nothing more, nothing less. In some ways that is exactly what I got, but it surprised me in just how addicted I was to his character. I really liked this woman, Amory Clay, who for all her thoughts about her so called 'mistakes' she had made in her life seemed to me to have had a good and fulfilling life . She went with the flow, experienced what life flung at her and moved on. A woman in control or a woman being buffeted by life's seas? Or perhaps it doesn't matter. She had experiences, good and bad, but it is a life I would not have minded living even though she was born half a century before me. She is a character that will stay with me and that cannot be at all bad for any author to have achieved.

I listened to the audio version, superbly read by Juliet Stevenson.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Review: Dolphin junction

Dolphin junction Dolphin junction by Mick Herron
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Book Review: In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo, trans by John Cullen

In the Company of Men In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't really know what to make of this book. In some ways it wasn't that great, sometimes a bit boring, but at other times what the author tried to do worked well.

Véronique Tadjo is a writer from Côte d'Ivoire of poetry, novels and children's books. One of her children's books is listed in the 100 Best African Writing of the 20th century

Here she has written the story of the 2014 - 2016 Ebola epidemic that scoured West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has been translated from French to English by John Cullen, who also translated Yasmina Khadra's Swallows of Kabul which I read some years ago. I listen to this on the Audible veriosn narrated by Je Nie Fleming and I have to say I did not enjoy this narration, I found her American intonation very off putting.

As for the book itself, it is a strange compilation of essentially first person narratives from various people who experienced the Ebola outbreak including a carrier of the disease, nurse, a person who buries the dead, a survivor, a nurse, the evacuated infected volunteer, the scientist, the adopter of child survivors, the poet who lost his financée. There are also first person narrative chapters by the Baobab tree, the Virus itself and the Bat. For those of us who followed this event on the TV News as it happened from the safety of our homes we will recognise all the stories.

For me the work was a bit too sprawling, and it wasn't until the final chapters that it rose up and she really found her voice, particularly the chapter by the Virus and by the much maligned Bat. She caught the right mood there, decrying Man, our interaction with Nature, raising questions about global aid, how to face similar impending crises, how to rebuild.

I think it was an ambitious structure to attempt and clearly based on research and interviews. It is not a non fiction book and doesn't read like one although other reviewers have mentioned it read as such to them. It is a very creative piece which doesn't on the whole come off as well as it might have, which is a shame considering the parts that do within its short 160 pages .

Sunday 19 December 2021

Book Review: Young Skins by Colin Barrett

Young Skins Young Skins by Colin Barrett
My rating: 4

This debut collection by young Canadian born, Irish writer Colin Barrett is set in the fictional small rural Irish town of Glanbeigh, in County Mayo. It is a left behind sort of place, with left behind and left over people, mainly young, not well educated, whose empty boring going nowhere lives are filled and fuelled by quick fix, no solution drink, drugs and sex. The introduction in my Kindle version says "each story is defined by a youth lived in a crucible of menace and desire" and I think this is spot on.

I can't say I liked any of the characters, but through the grim and grime, flash passages of landscape or character description, often interconnected, that could be from the greats of Irish writing such as John McGahern and Colm Tóibín.
For example, in the story "Diamonds" he writes "The midland skies were huge, drenched in pearlescent light and stacked with enormous chrome confectins of cloud, their wrinkled undersides greyly streaked and mottled, brimming with whatever rain is before it becomes brain"
and later in the same story
" It was easy to pick out the chronic soak-heads from the tourists, the amateur drinkers. It had something to do with the way they conformed themselves to the planes of the bar, the way they agressively propped an elbow and periodically lifted a haunch from their stooll to get the blood flowing back into that leg" - great choice of the verb 'conformed' .

This collection which won The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award (see Award page.html) , The Guardian First Book Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (see ) contains 7 stories,6 shorter and 1 longer one, all about the human condition. I think my favourites might be the final two 'Diamonds' where a recovering addict returns home to try to go straight but find only oblivion looming ever closer, and 'Kindly forget my existence' where two estranged friends are drinking in a pub before the funeral of a young women they both loved.

I'll definitely be reading more by the author.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Short Story Review: Parsnips in Love by Porochista Khapour

Parsnips in Love Parsnips in Love by Porochista Khakpour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tender portrayal of love through the ages in all its forms. You'll never look at 'Wonky veg' without recally this short story in the fable style. How Art's expression of the beauty of form, of shape , of the work of the sculpturer Nature brings out the emotions, the love in all of us.

Monday 13 December 2021

Book Review: Prague Spring by Simon Mawer

Prague Spring Prague Spring by Simon Mawer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having just read and studied my way through the confusing, infuriating and interesting Kazuo Ishiguro book The Unconsoled, I needed a quicker, more straightforward read, something with a plot and a compelling storyline. My face-to-face book group chice for this month provided the answer - Simon Mawer's Prague Spring.

Set in 1968, the year of change when for a brief moment Czechoslovakia need had its legendery Spring. Mawer weaves two threads neatly together, one of British students James and Ellie hitching across Europe, their route chosen with the toos of a coin and the other of diplomat Sam based in Prague and his Czechoslovakian girl friend Lenka. Throughout every relationship is hanging by a thread, the big question is which way will it go, like James and Ellie's coin toss - their 'are they friends/are they lovers' relationship, will Sam forget absent girlfriend Steffie now back in UK and fall for Lenka, will the Russians invade or not, will Czechoslovakia get its dream of Communism with a human face?

Always difficult to cast a plot when answers to some of the major questions are known by readers in advance, but Mawer does this quite well , he does his research and doesn't overpower the reader with the historical background or the occasional foregrounding of characters future histories. His prose sweeps you along, perhaps with the optimism of those tasting freedom for the first time, but lags a bit in the middle third before gathering itself back into a pacey finale. An entertaining , easy read.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Book Review: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Unconsoled The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an infuriating read, the reader is never in empathy with any of the characters. There is so much going on and yet nothing happens. There is very little in the way of storyline, plot, everything is totally fluid - space, time all slip in and out, back and forth, left and right, up and down, through triggers acting as jumping off points for memory shifts, spatial shifts, mood shifts - like a multidimensional maze.

I had once before started to read this book and got 2/3 of the way thorugh before it was packed up with all my goods and transferred to a shipping container to come back to the UK. I got back to reading it only as part of a retrospective on Kazuo Ishuiguro's works. We had some great discussions in the course group about this book, but I think out of the 6 of us only 1 liked it although even that person said she feult anxious all the way through, and the tutor who was on his 3rd read of it.

We discussed its dreamlike qualities, the absurb nature of many of the images within the book, Ishiguro's own commment that is was a metaphor - for what? , we discussed deferred and displaced anxiety, success and failure, domestic v profession lives and personas. We discussed whether the book is dreamlike, whether the various characters are aspects of the main protagonist Ryder's character transposed onto others, or him at various points in his life eg Stephan as the young Ryder, Brodsky as an elder one, whether the book is a metaphor for death/ approaching death, whether Ryder is in panic mode, confused, or mad, whether the town is a psychiatric hospital, the tram car and the electrician a Men's Shed for rehab. We discussed whether this was a backlash by Ishiguro over frustrations at readers (or critics?) lack of understanding of his earlier works seeing the first two A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World as 'Japanese' and The Remains of the Day as an English custom drama mainly because of the interpretation of the book by the movie.

In the end I feel this is a book for the brain, the intellect, not for the heart or the soul. It benefits greatly from a slow, and very close read, but it leaves the reader unsatisfied, unconsoled. (less)

Saturday 4 December 2021

Short Story Review: 2043...A Merman I Should Turn to Be by Nisi Shawl

2043...A Merman I Should Turn to Be 2043...A Merman I Should Turn to Be by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 3 of the Amazon Black Stars series of short speculative fiction stories. Not my favourite of the 4 that I have read so far. I liked the way it created an underwater city to which escaping landers were fleeing, paying for time limited, transit corridor opening licenses through hostile surrounding territory - a bit like a cross between the "40 acres and a mule"  reparations promise to freed slaves and the Underground Railroad. On the other hand I felt it rushed in some parts, the premis requiring a longer piece to do it justice.

Short Story Review: These Alien Skies by C.T. Rwizi

These Alien Skies These Alien Skies by C.T. Rwizi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So many layers packed into a short story! These Alien Skies is Book 4 in the Amazon Series Black Stars.Msizi and Tariro are copiloting a starship through the first ever wormhole when it explodes leaving them with no way home. The injured Msizi is aided back to health by the inhabitants of an alien planet, migrants themselves and alien original residents. The story has themes of love and loss, survival, history, colonisation and diaspora, alien tech and communication issues. I liked the way the writer used the colonisation of Africa by Europeans in the protagonist and migrants own histories, his appropriate use of real African languages, Swahili and Dholuo in the story, although with today's onscreen translation it was a bit strange to have their words written in English. Neat ending bring all three groups together.

Thursday 2 December 2021

Short Story Review: Clap Back by Nalo Hopkinson

Clap Back Clap Back by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

This is the second book I have read in the Black Stars series. Nalo Hopkinson is a new author to me, she has lots of short stories published in the likes of Uncanny and Strange Horizons ezines .
I was impressed by this speculative fiction story about nanites on wearables particularly the first half. Will be reading more of her work