Friday 27 January 2023

Book Review: And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, Björg Árnadóttir (translator), Shai Sendik (Translator)

And the Wind Sees All And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read that the title of the English translation has been changed from the original Icelandic The Waltz of the Valeyri which for me would have described this book better. The Valeyri village choir will perform this evening in the village hall, Currently Kata is cycling there and all around her people are preparing and reading themselves for the evenings performance. Everyone different, everyone's life different, everyone with their own story. And each is told for the reader. In many ways the reader feels like a voyeur, eves dropping into each home with each turn of Kata's cycles wheels.

I particularly liked Sveni's story entitled Off sick. He lives with Grimur his "one eyed , yellow striped cat" who is "so old that all you can hear is an occasional creak", rather than a sympathetic purr. And Sveni needs his cat and his telephone call to his sister on days when he goes on a bender and the past comes back to haunt him. I thought this story was really well told - a whole life and its effects in 11 pages - that takes some writing skill. The way Kata's own story is just dropped into the book, as if in passing conversation, but it cuts like a knife.

Later there is a passage which describes the proliferation of houses that has come as the village has expanded beyond the traditional homes - "some of them are comically lopsided but inspired by beautiful thoughts; others are beautiful because of their history. Some or ugly because oft heir lack of maintenance testifies to sloth and apathy; and some are ugly because of something that has happened there. Some of them have been renovated by younger generation, others are derelict or have been demolished and replaced with box-like non-houses." When I read this it seemed to sum up the book for me, as if the passage referred not to houses but to the village's residents. Happy moments,sad moments, dark secrets kept, secrets told, families gone, love stories, wistful memories, and horrors that still haunt the derelict souls they created.

Peirene Press have definitely found a niche in the market with their short, under 200 page, novels in translation, and if you want to try them out and perhaps explore something other than Nordic Noir thrillers then this one may well be a good one to start with. Take a 'Waltz with the Valyeri' and see a whole world of life experiences. I just wish they'd do audiobooks!

Thursday 19 January 2023

Book Review: Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

Girl Meets Boy

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another short novel between longer reads - at 164 pages it can be read in 1-2 sittings. I loved the Ali Smith's use of language, how she seamlessly slipped in words and phrases from old Scots songs, poems and everyday life bringing back memories of my youth. It is a reworking of Ovid but also uses other myths/legends/stories such as Burning Lily Lenton to tackles issues family, gender, commercial values, human rights and needs, eco-wars. Well crafted, intelligent, witty, corny in the right places - Eau Caledonia :) - and with a Shakespearean ending . Loved it.

Saturday 14 January 2023

Book Review: The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth

The Prague Orgy The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I clearly am having a spell of Kafka themed reading (see also my review of Ian McEwan's The Cockroach

This is a short book in Philip Roth's Zuckerman series sees his novelist Nathan Zuckerman off to Prague to recover a handwritten unpublished Yiddish manuscript of stories by the dead father of an exiled writer. Set in the time of the Soviet occupation this is part adventure yarn, part serious commentary on writing and politics. I liked this better than McEwan's Brexit fiasco.

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Book Review: The Cockroach By Ian McEwan, narrated by Bill Nighy

The Cockroach

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I started reading this novella from Ian McEwan I was reminded of the classic The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, but very quickly the notion of a homage was dispelled and we are into the realm of political satire. 

****SPOLIER ALERT****Jim Sams, UK PM has been transformed into a cockroach yet, but he is still PM, in modern day Britain but not quite as we know it, although everything sounds familiar. Reversalism rules, reverse-flow economics is the norm and the traditional money markets preferred by the 'Clockwisers' are no longer in power, now people have to shop to afford to buy their jobs. The previous PM in order to placate the Reversalist wing of the Tory Party had called a Referendum on reversing the money flow. The old and the poor swayed the vote and faced with "Turn the Money Around" upswell he 'resigned immediately and was never heard of again' .

James Sams a clockwiser had emerged as a compromise candidate now had to guide a Reversalist economy in a Clockwise world. ' we will deliver Reversalism for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great 2050... the UK will be the greatest and most prosperous economy in Europe....we will move swiftly to accelerate and extend our trade deals beyond St Kitts and Nevis.... '
Any Brit will hear resounding in her ears echoes of the misjudged Cameron EU Referendum .

James wrestles with his first Tweets, tries to get the US President to adopt Reversalism, there's a fatal fishing dispute with the French, a leak and a Foreign Secretary called Benedict that needs dealing with. A false story is planted by a female colleague with the media to discredit and shame the Foreign Secretary who then has to resign and goes off to lead the rebels.

With the ultimate passing of the Reversalism Bill, James in his speech says "we have come to know the preconditions for such human ruin. War and global warming certainly and, in peacetime, immoveable hierarchies, concentrations of wealth, deep superstition, rumour, division, distrust of science, of intellect, of strangers and of social cooperation."

One can't but feel McEwan enjoyed writing this book, and from a reader's perspective it is short, speedy read which occasional bring sly smiles to one's face, but is it a great piece of creative writing?, I felt McEwan struggled to maintain his PM as cockroach character and Sams reverted to the PM as human in this reader's mind for large parts of this book. Maybe it is a book that inevitably had to be written. Could it have been written with the same of better effect without the cockroach transformation? That I feel that could have been a better book. Sadly, not one of McEwan's better books - for me an interesting idea that didn't quite work.

I listened to the audio version admirably read by Bill Nighy.

Saturday 7 January 2023

Book Review: Interior Chinatown by Charles Wu

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars 

 "All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages....."
                                from As You Like It by William Shakespeare

I think this completely sums up this book. Reading Charles Yu highly experimental fiction mean you step into a world where everyone is an actor and the world itself is the production set. Roles are based on race, age and gender. Everyone is limited Willis Wu dreams of eventually progressing from Generic Asian Guy to Kung Fu Guy. Written as a script, laid out as such on the page this is a novel novel. This is a satirical sociopolitical commentary on the effects of the various political Acts restricting Asians in America through the 1800 to recent times. Well worth a read, it won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction

Wednesday 4 January 2023

AudioBook Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before Christmas I attended a short online course at City Lit, London on Epistolary novels. One of the extracts the tutor used was from this novel. I'd never heard of it, never heard of the author, never watched all the TV shows she has written (eg Arrested Development). A comic novel about a mad cap family based in Seattle, father works at Microsoft, mum a washed up architect frustrated by the parochrial housewives, mothers and assorted figures trying to get her to be part of the community at Galler Street School where her only child, gifted daughter Bea goes to school. Sitting somewhere on the spectrum , Bea has written up the various communiques to and from her mother, antagonistic neighbour Audrey in a fight over brambles and a run over foot, her remote based PA Manjula in India, another Galler Street parent Soo-lin who becomes her husband's admin, the schoolteacher. These open the book. As I read the first few pages I was pleasantly surprised by the flow, indeed the speed of the text, it flew off the page. It is most definitely not a book I would normally have picked up but I borrowed it from our library and wow! One of the best reads in a long time. Not a great book, but a superb read. The audible narration by Kathleen Wilhoite is 5*, she nailed it, her narration captures the character of Bea. Check out her interview where she talk about what it is like to record an audiobook. I was amazed this was her first one, she had met Maria Semple at writing class!
If you want a great read to become immersed in, to laugh, smile and giggle at and lift the spirits during a winter's day as grey as Seattle, then pick up this book now!

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