novella

Book Review of Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl

raven girlI found this short book in a library sale. Picking it up for our book nooks, I could not resist reading it myself first.  After all, The Time Traveller’s Wife was a pretty great read, I even if I didn’t enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry.

Raven Girl is a lot of things.  Niffenegger says she wanted to create a Fairy Tale for our times, and in many ways she has.  It has the slightly disturbing nature of those real Grimm’s fairy tales – this probably isn’t a tale that Disney will make into a movie.  It’s definitely not for small children either – despite being shaped much like a children’s book and full of illustrations.

It begins with a postman, who falls in love with a Raven.  After some time, they have a child, who is human in shape, but Raven in mind and speech.  As she grows older, she comes to realise that she must take steps – radical ones even – to make the exterior match the interior.

This is an unsettling story in an era of body dysmorphia, But I guess at it’s heart, it is about being different and embracing your differences.  And the illustrations are beautiful.  I’m not sure this is for the younger boys at school, but might be an interesting short read for a more mature student who might find much to ponder in this.

 

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Book Review of Elevation

elevationStephen King’s latest novella, Elevation is a short read or short listen if like me, you’re a fan of audio books.

It’s a touching rather than scary story of a strange affliction – and how it works to actually bring people together.

Scott is a fairly lonely man living in a small town after the break-down of his marriage.  Then he notices something strange – he’s losing weight.  But only on the scales – his large frame remains unchanged.  And even more puzzling – is that no matter what Scott carries on the scale, his weight remains the same as it does when carrying nothing.

But with this lightness also seems to come a lightness of being.  Although concerned about what happens when the scales hit zero, he still takes the time to befriend a gay couple who move into the town and open a restaurant, supporting the two women to be accepted amongst the townsfolk who have fairly traditional views.  His actions change their lives and secure their future.

It’s a beautiful little story and on audio comes with an even shorter story about the power of animals to heal.  Worth a look.

Book Review of The Girl With The Dogs

UnknownI found this little gem in Readings in Carlton – and as I simply cannot get enough of Anna Funder I skipped pretty merrily to the cashier to purchase this charming little read.

The Girl with the Dogs is a snapshot of a marriage at the time when the cracks are beginning to show. Tess had already found her husband chatting on line to grad students, and now, with her father dying and thoughts of the past coming back to her, she too begins to wonder about the path not travelled.

When a chance presents itself to revisit the life not lived, Tess takes it. But will it show her that home is where the heart is, or tear her world apart?

A worthwhile read, although I felt quite unlike Funder’s other work in regards to style and concerns. Still work a look – there is something nice about a novella that you can devour in one sitting.  And this one is both engaging and coherent enough to do just that.

Book Review of Mothering Sunday

CV3JDJIWcAAhuBOThere is something delightful about a novella, and the way it hones in on only the most key moments in the lives of the characters. And the narrator of Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday is a unique one, the type of woman I enjoy reading about.

An orphan and maid, Jane Fairchild quietly defies her status and the morals of her time. We meet her on a particular Mothering Sunday. Where other maids might be visiting their mothers, Jane’s lack of family actually gives her the freedom to engage in her two great passions. The first is her love of books, particularly the kinds of stories not really considering fitting for a young woman. The second is the passionate affair she is having with the son of a local landowner. This will be their last assignation, as he is shortly set to marry a woman closer to his station.

As Jane wanders through the stately home, naked and unashamed by her modern thoughts and attitude, the reader comes to understand the Jane’s life – past, present and future – and the hint of tragedy to come. For this is no ordinary afternoon – it is one Jane will come to look back on in the years to come.

No doubt the reader will think back often on Jane’s afternoon as well. This is a beautiful story and my introduction to Swift’s work. I can’t help but think it will just be the beginning of our affair though.

Book Review of Murakami’s Wind/Pinball

tumblr_nsidhfBxhH1rxrxxxo1_1280Haruki Murakami’s publishing firm is no doubt trying to capitalise on the Japanese author’s incredible success in the English speaking world.  Here, they have taken two of his unpublished novellas from the very beginning of his writing career, and bundled them together in a special edition for fans.  And while I am not complaining – Murakami is a genius – this really is probably for fans only.

Of the two stories, Wind (or Hear the Wind Sing) is the superior.  It focuses on themes of isolation and alienation, exploring the relationship between our unnamed narrator and a women with four fingers on one hand who he continues to run into.  His typical beauty and strangeness runs through the gentle narrative.

Pinball is far more unusual,  where another – or possibly the same – unnamed narrator discusses his relationship with a pair of twins who turn up and move in with him one day, and his fascination with a particular pinball machine.

Through both narratives intersperses events from the life of The Rat, a staple in a few Murakami novels.

Definitely not his best work, although Wind is vintage Murakami and a beautiful read.

 

Book Review of The Noise of Time

Many people rave about Julian Barnes, and indeed winning a Mnoise_cape_150x225an Booker Prize tends to suggest you are brilliant at what you do. But I have at times struggled with his slow pacing and prose. At university I did not enjoy Flaubert’s Parrot, although a few years ago I did enjoy The Sense of an Ending, which admittedly I read on audio, which does tend to disguise or minimise pacing issues.

I was sent a review copy of his new novel – the first since the Booker – The Noise of Time. The concept is fascinating. Set his story in communist Russia, The Noise of Time is a painstaking fictional recreation of the life of real-life composer Dmitri Shostakovich, focussing specifically on the role of the political of the artists of the time.

Shostakovich was not ideological and resented the interference of the government on the lives of artists at the time. However, without political support, an artist was guaranteed obscurity and even in some cases, death. Shostakovich’s life is a series of compromises until he finally does not recognise the man riding around in a town car with political clout and overwhelming success. But it was a hard road, and many times Shostakovich feared for his life.

Despite these wonderful ideas and the human expression of the pressure to become part of the political propaganda machine, I found myself drifting off often during the novel, which failed to hold my interest in the way it really should have. This was hard work. But in the end, it was work worth doing. This is thoughtful and satisfying if you can make it to the end.

Review of The Slow Regard of Silent Things

9781473209329Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of the Patrick Rothfuss series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, but even i found The Slow Regard of Silent Things a struggle.

More of a novella or long short story, The Slow Regard of Silent Things gives insights into one of the series’ more memorable characters – Auri.

Auri is the strange girl Kvothe meets at the university who lives beneath the ground.  The novella gives us an insight into her view of the world – her relationship to the objects she encounters and her need to create a kind of perfection within her environment.  The book recounts several unusual events that demonstrate this – the ruining of a blanket when it falls on the floor, and the deep search and pondering about the right gift for Kvothe.  You will certainly feel a greater connection to and understanding of this character after your reading.

The main issue for me is that there is essentially no plot.  This is pure character exploration, which at times made it difficult to read.  There is little to follow.

Rothfuss explains in his foreword (or if you read the audio like me, the afterword) that this is not a novel for everyone.  And he is right – even as a real fan of his writing, I felt this had a lot of flaws.  The voice is intriguing, but I was looking for greater shape and focus.