The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists: The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Five words from the blurb: fortune-teller, predicts, death, live, knowledge

The Immortalists is an interesting book which raises questions about how people live their lives. It begins with a group of siblings meeting a fortune-teller who reveals the date on which each will die. The knowledge of their death-date affects them in different ways – some follow their dreams at every opportunity, taking risky decisions in the knowledge they’ll be safe; whilst others try to ignore their death date and carry on as normal. It all boils down to the question of whether it is better to have a short, amazing life or a longer more ordinary one.

Much of the book is rich in period detail; showing life in the 1980s Los Angeles gay community; the glitzy glamour of Las Vegas performers; and the technical studies of a scientific researcher. Unfortunately, Chloe Benjamin seems much more capable of capturing the emotions of the LGBT community than the scientific one. I found that the scientific sections lacked the strength of the others. Luckily, the vibrant scenes were in the majority and I’m sure that non-scientists will not detect the issues with the other sections.

The writing reminded me of Hanya Yanagihara and I’m sure that anyone who loved A Little Life will enjoy The Immortalists. There was a simplicity to the writing that heightened its power:

All the while, something loomed larger, closer, until Simon was forced to see it in all its terrible majesty: his future.

Unfortunately, the plot falls down as the book continues. Much of it felt contrived and the last third lost the momentum and intrigue of the earlier sections. This doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading – the range of characters and personalities were impressive.

The Immortalists has an amazing premise and its faults actually make it better for book club discussions. It’s not perfect, but I’ll be thinking about this group of siblings for a long time to come.

.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Of Human Bondage (Vintage Classics)

Five words from the blurb: orphan, London, study, relationships, life

It took me nearly 18 months to read this book, but I loved every page. It is so rich and detailed that I found myself regularly re-reading sections; enjoying the feeling of being immersed in a world which no longer exists.

Of Human Bondage was published in 1915 and follows Philip Carey, an orphan, as he makes his difficult journey through life. It begins with his torturous time at boarding school and progresses through his adulthood; showing us both the joy and the pain of his complex life. The plot is so wide-ranging that I won’t even attempt to summarise it – it’s easier to state that it contains snippets of all humanity.

Philip Carey is one of the most vivid characters in literature. I loved the honesty of his experiences – his love, work, and friendship were all written with an insight that is rarely seen.

The writing is outstanding throughout, with insightful passages on almost every page:

It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideals that other people, by their words or their writings, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart. Always his course had been swayed by what he thought he should do and never by what he wanted with his whole soul to do. He put that all aside now with a gesture of impatience.

My only criticism is that some of the art sections did nothing for me. I’m afraid that his time in Paris bored me – I much preferred hearing about his relationships and his time spent studying medicine. I’m sure I’m being harsh in only rating this book 4.5 stars – with time I will probably forget the dull sections and it will grow to become an all-time favourite.

This 700-page tome isn’t a quick read, but I highly recommend it to anyone willing to put the effort into this rich, detailed book.

.

Monthly Summary and Plans for the Future

It’s been a long time since I did a monthly summary post so this is a nice reminder of all the fantastic books I’ve read over the last few months. I’m sorry that I haven’t been blogging much recently – I’ve been busy embracing my new life in the countryside.

Holly, my Pyrenean Mountain Dog puppy, has grown a lot since I last posted a picture. She’s now 10 months old and is maturing into a gentle giant. Here she is “sitting” at the table!

I’m also very proud of my chickens – especially my Barbezieux cockerel as this breed of chicken is very rare in the UK. Barbezieux are supposed to produce the tastiest roast chicken in the world. I’m hoping to breed them next year, so will let you know if that is the case!

Books I’ve Reviewed:

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold 
The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère 
Miss Jane by Brad Watson 
Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant 
The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson 
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman 
The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins 
The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis 
Mr Eternity by Aaron Thier 
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey 
Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti 
Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón 
Breathing Into Marble by Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite 
The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker 

Plans For the Future

I plan to continue blogging, but at a much slower pace than I did previously. I’m no longer reviewing every book I read; instead, I’ll concentrate on those I really love – or ones which are interesting to discuss.

Many thanks for continuing to follow my blog. I hope I can introduce you to more fantastic books over the coming years!

Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti

 Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt

Five words from the blurb: abandoned, children, surviving, worst, spirit  

I accepted a review copy of Anna because I really enjoyed reading I’m Not Scared, one of Ammaniti’s earlier books. This latest novella shares the beautiful evocative writing style but, unfortunately, I thought the story lacked originality.

Anna is set in the near future, four years after a virus has spread around the world, killing every adult on Earth. The children are learning to survive on their own; dealing with the loss of their families, whilst fighting amongst themselves for the dwindling resources.

I enjoyed the initial section of this book – it set up the apocalyptic world with a horrific vividness.

A hundred metres further on, she entered the cool shade of an oak wood. Anna thought this wood must be magical; the fire hadn’t succeeded in burning it, but had merely licked at its edges before giving up.

Anna is a strong, resourceful girl looking after her younger brother.  I loved her character and the way she struggles to balance protecting him from the harsh reality of their life, whilst ensuring he is able to cope with what they must do in order to survive.

I also loved the introduction of the Maremma sheepdog – a breed not commonly known in this country, but one very similar to the Pyrenean Mountain Dog I own. The way this beautiful giant dog won the children’s heart was probably the best part of this book for me. It is rare to see the relationship between dogs and children described so well.

Maremma Sheepdog

Unfortunately, as the book progressed I began to lose interest. I felt as though I’d read variations of this plot many times before, with books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Blindness by José Saramago covering similar scenarios with greater power. It didn’t add any new thoughts to the genre and I was able to predict the direction of the plot.

If you’re a massive fan of apocalyptic fiction then this is a quick, enjoyable read but I’ll probably have forgotten about most of it in a few months time.

.

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 Source: Personal copy

Five words from the blurb: change, courage, darkness, kindness, life

Eleanor Oliphant seems to be the most talked about book on Twitter this year, so I bought a copy in order to join in the conversation. I can see why everyone wants to talk about it, but I’m afraid I didn’t fall in love with Eleanor as much as everyone else seems to have done.

Eleanor Oliphant is a grumpy recluse who never sees anyone socially and reacts angrily to the ordinary suggestions of those she encounters. I initially hated reading about her life – I found it uncomfortable to read about such an antagonistic person. As the book progressed I was gripped by the story but became increasingly unconvinced by Eleanor’s behaviour – and that of those around her. Many of Eleanor’s behaviours were autistic traits, but these were muddled with ones from a wide range of different conditions/situations. Many readers talk of the humour in this book but, unlike The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, I failed to find anything amusing. Perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter?

But, by careful observation from the sidelines, I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, or do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo. It was safer that way. Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.

Throughout the book, Eleanor slowly warms as she accepts her childhood problems and begins to engage with those around her. The ease with which Eleanor changed her lifestyle didn’t ring true and I found many scenes unconvincing. The way others welcomed her back into their lives after years of rudeness also seemed unrealistic. It’s a lovely story, but I’m afraid real life isn’t like that.

On a more positive note, the writing in this book is very good – it flows effortlessly but frequently contains beautiful, insightful thoughts. I suspect this will be a strong contender for many book prizes this year.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an engaging book and is a perfect book club choice, but the reader must be able to suspend their disbelief and cope with reading about one of the most obnoxious characters in literature. I found rating it really difficult, but although I wasn’t convinced by much of it, I will remember Eleanor for a long time to come – and isn’t that the sign of a good book?

.

 

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère

 Source: Free review copy received from the publisher

Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

Five words from the blurb: murder, lies, family, exploration, suspense

The Adversary is an investigation into what caused Jean-Claude Romand, a seemingly happy and successful man, to murder his entire family in 1993. The author, Emmanuel Carrère, interviewed all the people involved in this horrible crime and discovered how one small lie escalated and led to Romand leading a secret double life for over 20 years. This fascinating insight into the eyes of the killer shows how easily ordinary people can become trapped and feel as though their only way out is through a terrible act of violence.

I was enthralled throughout this book. The structure was perfect – giving the reader new details at exactly the right point and keeping tension and intrigue all the way through.

The murders were described briefly but were not sensationalised. Instead, the book focused on the life of Jean-Claude and those who knew him. His friends described their shock at discovering what he’d done, but also how clues to his problems could be seen with hindsight. The book enabled the reader to form an empathy with the murderer – a rare achievement that makes this uncomfortable read all the more special.

He would rather have suffered from a real cancer than from a lie – because lying was a disease, with its risks of metastasis, its guarded prognosis – but he had been fated to come down with a lie and it wasn’t his fault he had.

My only wish is that the book had been updated with what happened to Jean-Claude in the years that have elapsed since the murders. Hopefully, another chapter or two can be added to this book at a later date. Otherwise, I have no complaints. The Adversary joins People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry and A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold as one of the best pieces of true-crime I’ve read.

Highly recommended.

.