Songs from the Other Side of the Wall – Dan Holloway


Dan Holloway has been a regular commenter on my blog for a long time. I was aware that he’d written a book, but it wasn’t until I heard that it was a hommage to Murakami’s Norwegian Wood that I decided to buy a copy. I hadn’t read Norwegian Wood at the time and so decided to put Songs to one side until I’d completed Murakami’s book. Unfortunately due to its gentle nature Norwegian Wood turned out to be my least favourite Murakami, but I was still keen to see what Dan Holloway’s writing would be like.

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall centres on Szandi, an 18-year-old artist living with her girlfriend, Yang, in Budapest. Szandi’s English mother abandoned her as a baby, leaving her father to raise her on a 300-year-old Hungarian vineyard. This means that Szandi finds herself torn between East and West. The book is basically a coming-of-age story about one young woman trying to decide where she belongs in the world.

I belonged neither in the West nor the East, neither with Mum nor Dad. For a few minutes it felt like I existed not in but alongside the world. I travelled through the space where everyone else lived and breathed and laughed and cried, only I was in a parallel universe, like theirs in every way except I was the only person there. The two worlds spent eternity almost but not quite brushing against each other – hearing the occasional whisper from somewhere they couldn’t quite place; but never leaving even the smallest footprint on each other.

The pace of the book was quite slow, with everything described in beautiful, vivid detail. This was both a positive and a negative for me. At times I was completely immersed in Szandi’s world, loving the details. This was especially true for the sections that took place on her father’s vineyard – my love for wine and good food was rewarded with some of the most mouth-watering descriptions of food I have ever read. Unfortunately I don’t have a real interest in art or music and so these sections were lost on me. Song lyrics, descriptions of concerts and sculptures all failed to interest me, but I can see that art lovers would probably adore them.

For much of the book Szandi is traumatised by the death of a woman called Claire. Claire was crushed during a riot in Romania, her death recorded and distributed on the Internet. The Internet plays a big role in this book, with Szandi’s blog making frequent appearances. I found that I lost interest whenever her blog was shown. It was an accurate reflection of blogging, but when reading a book I just don’t care about the comments of random people and I found that the Internet messaging lacked emotion and ruined the flow of the story for me. If anything can be learned from this it is that we should stop blogging and concentrate on living in the real world! 

Overall I’d say that there are a lot of fantastic sections in this book. It is a complex, literary novel with many layers, but I’d only recommend it to people who enjoy reading about art and music.

If you are interested in reading Songs from the Other Side of the Wall you can download it for free from Dan Holloway’s website. Details of how to buy a paperback copy are also listed there.

Dan Holloway is launching his new book on 7th July in London. Entry is free and the good news is that the first five people to mention my blog will recieve free copies of Songs and his new poetry collection.

Have you read Songs from the Other Side of the Wall?

Have you found a book that makes blogging interesting?

23 replies on “Songs from the Other Side of the Wall – Dan Holloway”

I read Dan’s book last year (although I think it may have been a version before the final edit), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Still waiting for the conclusion of his follow-up, written-on-Facebook novel ‘The Man who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes’ though!

I’m also a big Murakami fan, and I love ‘Norwegian Wood’, perhaps because it evokes nostalgic memories of my own time in Japan. One thing I do know is that I can’t even look at my copy without the first twanging notes of the Beatles song instantly entering my brain 🙂

Tony, I love Japanese books for the same reason. Japan is such a wonderful country – I just love the culture and the fact that you never know what will happen next in their books/films!

I haven’t read his facebook novel – I’ll have to look into that. Hopefully he’ll write the end for you soon.

Hint taken, Tony!! For some reason those last 3 chapters won’t come out. I know what happens. Exactly. But they won’t come – maybe that’s why. I can honestly say that for most chapters I hadn’t a clue where they’d end up when I started them.

Yes, I think that’s the key word – nostalgia. I think norwegian Wood is a book written for people who are a little nostalgic

This sounds like an interesting book, though I have issues with comments and the like in books as well. I find they can ruin the flow of the book. Still, it sounds like a great, slow read.

Jackie, thank you so much for such a thoughtful review. I’m so glad you enjoyed the food and wine passages – I KNOW I write about food too much (and the book started because I wanted to write about Tokaji, one of the most exquisite and extraordinary wines in the world, and utterly unique in the way it’s made, with the very best simply beingg the juice that runs from the bottom of the baskets under the natural weight of the grapes). Recently I loked back at teh very first long story I wrote, when I was 8 or 9, and the one thing that’s there without fail is a description of every meal the characters eat!

Yes, the internet passages perplexed me. The point of them, of course, is exactly what you describe – to show Szandi’s emergence from a world that is somehow unreal into one that is very real. Yet to do that, I had to show just what was wrong with her online community. It was a very hard balance to strike, and it’s the part of the book I feel least that I pitched right.

I do hope to see some of your readers in Kilburn – we have 4 writers giving readings, and 3 super bands, and it’s all free 🙂

Another thing I find interesting is just how many people say Norwegian Wood is their least favourite Murakami novel. I find his works very much split in two, with a series of more contemplative novels such as Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark; and more densely plotted ones like Wind-up Bird Chronicles and Wild Sheep Chase. I definitely prefer the former, but I’m aware I’m in a minority.

Thank you so much 🙂

Dan, Thank you for writing such a thought provoking book. I think it would be perfect for a book club as there is so much to talk about!

I hadn’t heard of Tokaji wine before, but loved learning about it – I’ll have to try some at some point 🙂

I agree that the Internet parts were pitched right. I thought they were the most realistic blogging sections I’d seen in a book, but they irritated me 🙁 It sounds as though that was your intention though – do you think people should give up blogging?

I think you are in the minority in loving Norwegian Wood, but all Murakami is wonderful so I’ll let you off! Kafka on the Shore is my favourite Murakami, followed by Wild Sheep Chase. I’d love it if you wrote a book using Kafka on the Shore as inspiration!

Ooh, there’s a challenge. Kafka is a beautiful book – and the character of Miss Saeki is SO haunting. I thik the character of the old man would be beyond me though – I’m not as drawn to him as I am to characters like Midori in Norwegian Wood and Miu in Sputnik sweetheart, but I think it’s possibly the best piece of characterisation I’ve ever read.

No, I absolutely don’t think people shoukd give up blogging. Nor do I think online communities are less “real” than “real” communities. I’ve drawn so much from te online communities I’m part of, and some of them are more valuable than anything “real”. now that I’ve met so many in real life (my wife & I were working it out over the weekend [we had to do SOMETHING to escape the endless sports coverage!] we’ve probably met over 100 people we first knew on twitter) I can happily say they’re all as lovely in real life as they are online. I think I was trying to get over what can happen in some online communities where there’s the appearance of a community, but actually it’s either a kind of a cult, or the people who pretend to be friends are just there to get themselves noticed – which, of course, is the same in real life too.

I think Szandi is like a lot of us in that the online world feels different, exotic, a place where our “real” worries don’t exist, only of course they still do – our insecurities follow us everywhere – both abroad and online, and we need to confront them and move on from them rather than looking for somewhere else to escape to – I think her exasperation with the online community she’s built around her comes when she realises it’s somewhere people think they’re talking to an ideal of her, rather than a place that accepts her for who she is – whcih, of course, comes from the fact that she first went online to live a fantasy life (just as she wanted to follow her mother to “the west” because it was a fantasy). I think the point of the book is that your life may be messy and complicated and full of contradictions and uncertainties, and nothing like the fantasy but, unlike the fantasy, its yours and no one can take that away.

Dan, I have met many wonderful people from the Internet too. The real world is far better, but finding like-minded people is so much easier/quicker on the Internet.

Thank you for such an eloquent explanation – it is wonderful to have the author explain why their characters did x/y/z – it makes the book more special some how!

I have two of Murakami’s most popular books on my shelves but have yet to read them. I think I have hesitated just because I know they are deep and kind of long. Once I get my challenges under control, I need to just take the plunge.

I saw the book in your sidebar the other day after recognising Dan’s name and had a read of the description. Sometimes I like blogs etc in books, sometimes not, I’m strange like that, but your mention of the art and music descriptions have interested me further (yep, it was definitely worthwhile you adding that bit despite not enjoying it yourself!) Might just be the first ebook I read…

Charlie, I hope that you enjoy your first ebook – I still haven’t got an ereader so will have to wait a while to read my first. If you enjoy descriptions of art and music then you are in for a treat with this book 🙂

Norwegian Wood was the first Murakami I read, and to date it’s my favorite, so I perked right up when I read your intro to this review. I also love art and music (having been an art student many moons ago), so I think I’ll be giving this one a go!

Thanks, Jackie! Very thoughtful review, as always.

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