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May Summary and Plans for June

May was a slow month reading-wise. This was mainly caused by reading several average books in a row. I didn’t want to inundate you with negative reviews so will spread them out over the coming weeks. The good news is that my run of unenjoyable books seems to have come to an end – first with the wonderful  Anatomy of a Disappearance and then with Night Waking (review coming soon). I’ll keep my fingers crossed that my June reading will be more to my liking.

Book of the Month

Anatomy of a Disappearance

Books Reviewed in May

Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar 

The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier 

Piercing – Ryu Murakami 

Empire of the Sun – JG Ballard 

Monster Love by Carol Topolski 

The Periodic Table – Primo Levi 

Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman 

The Whisperer – Donato Carrisi 

King of the Badgers – Philip Hensher 

Plans for June

Gormenghast

The Gormenghast Trilogy

My Gormenghast read-along starts at the beginning of June and I’m really looking forward to discussing it all with you. I have to admit that I couldn’t wait and read the first 50 pages over the weekend. The first few pages were hard going, but after about 5 pages I was hooked. The imagery is fantastic and it is quickly becoming one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read. It isn’t too late to join in. I’m sure your library has a copy – go and grab it and read along with us!

I’m hoping to get several guest posts from Gormenghast fans who have a deeper insight into the book than me – it should be really interesting.

Shantaram

Shantaram

I don’t do a read-along for months and then suddenly two come along at once! I have been wanting to read Shantaram for ages and so couldn’t resist when I saw Aths from Reading on a Rainy Day  and Helen from Helen’s Book Blog were planning to read it.

These two chunksters will occupy the majority of my reading time for the next few months, so I won’t be able to read as many other books as usual. The good news is that I have a backlog of six books that I haven’t reviewed yet so hopefully I’ll be able to continue reviewing books at the same pace as usual.

In between the read-alongs I also hope to read some of these books:

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
When the Killing’s Done by TC Boyle
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

Have a wonderful June!

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2011

Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English

Pigeon English was selected as one of the Waterstone’s 11 and I loved the sample section that I tried.

The book is set in London where 11-year-old Harri has recently arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister. A boy is stabbed to death on their estate, but police enquiries meet a wall of silence so Harri decides to start his own investigation into the murder.

Pigeon English has been compared to Room, but the only similarity is that they both have a child narrator. The difference between the innocence of a five-year-old and the insecurities of a pre-teen means that the two narrators are worlds apart.

Harri was an engaing character and I loved some of his observations about our society, but unfortunately the writing style began to grate on me as I progressed further into the book. The play-like layout of the text ruined the flow of the narrative for me, giving it a jumpy feel.

I also found that the mind of an eleven-year-old boy held little interest for me. I’m sure that it is all very realistic, but the immature banter made me cringe.

Connor Green: ‘Have you got happiness?’
Me: ‘Yes.’
Connor Green: ‘But are you really sure?’
Me: ‘I think so.’ He kept asking me if I had happiness. He wouldn’t stop. In the end it just vexed me. Then I wasn’t sure. Connor Green was laughing, I didn’t even know why. Then Manik told me it was a trick.
Manik: ‘He’s not asking if you’ve got happiness, he’s asking if you’ve got a penis. He says it to everyone. It’s just a trick.’
It only sounds like happiness but really it means a penis.
Ha-penis.
Connor Green: ‘Got ya! Hook, line and sinker!’
Connor Green is always making tricks. He’s just a confusionist. That’s the first thing you learn about him. At least I didn’t lose. I do have a penis. The trick doesn’t work if it’s true.

I’m afraid that the book went even further downhill with the introduction of the talking pigeon. I’m sure that fans of magical realism will love this touch, but I’m afraid that it didn’t work for me.

Pigeon English is a realistic portrayal of a confused young boy learning to live in a new country. It’s an original take on the usual tales of immigration and I loved some of the comic elements, but I’m afraid that the negatives outweighed the positives on this occasion.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a decent, contemporary and original report on innocence and its loss. Asylum

…as the story advanced it became more confused, and it became difficult to pick out the important things from the more mundane. Fleur Fisher in her World

I just found it unrealistic for him to be so repetitive, simple-minded and was often frustrated by the lack of direction in the story. Monniblog

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2011

The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination

Five words from the blurb: pain, manifesting, light, human, phenomenon

The Illumination has a fantastically original premise: What would happen if we could see pain? Would our interactions with other people change if we could see exactly how painful our colleague’s toothache was, spot tumors inside strangers on the street, or see the continual suffering of the elderly?

The book is set in the present day, but the world has been changed by the arrival of a new phenomenon in which all pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, manifests itself as light.

A moment later, when she saw the light shining out of her incision, she thought she was hallucinating. It was steady and uniform, a silvery-white disk that showed even through her thumbnail, as bright and finely edged as the light in a Hopper painting. Through the haze of drugs, it seemed to her that the light was not falling over her wound or even infusing it from the inside but radiating through it from another world.

This simple change alters many aspects of life and I found myself thinking about the way our society tends to hide its suffering, particularly the emotional kind. It made me wish that we could see the pain of others, and be able to offer support and help to those who need it.

My only problem with this book was that it didn’t contain a compelling plot. It was more like a series of short stories, moving from one character the next in a random, unpredictable fashion. It was impossible to know whether the character you’d just been introduced to would appear again, or would go on to play a more dominant role in the next chapter. Questions were left unanswered and wonderful plot snippets were left dangling without any conclusion. This fractured style frustrated me on one level, but on another it allowed me to think clearly about attitudes to pain without being distracted by character and plot.

The writing quality was excellent and I’m sure I’ll remember scenes from this book for a long time to come. It is a wonderfully unique novel. Recommended.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

… a beautifully rendered and deeply touching meditation on pain. The Book Lady’s Blog

…it was uneven and there were times when I just wanted to put the book down and walk away. Amy’s Book Obsession

 It is one of those novels with a simple concept like Saramago’s Blindness where a universal change to human experience suddenly appears and alters perception. Just William’s Luck

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Triple Choice Tuesday

Today I’m featured on Triple Choice Tuesday over at Reading Matters.

Each week Kim asks bloggers, writers and readers to pick a favourite book, a book that changed their world and a book that deserves a wider audience.

Head over to Kim’s blog to see which books I selected.

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2011

Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar

Anatomy of a Disappearance

Five words from the blurb: boy, mother, dies, father, disappears

I have had a run of disappointing books recently and so I was craving something special. Anatomy of a Disappearance had everything I was looking for and so I’m pleased to report that my reading slump is now officially over.

The book grabbed my attention from the very first line:

There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest. Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in an old envelope in the drawer of my bedside table. There has not been a day since his sudden and mysterious vanishing that I have not been searching for him, looking in the most unlikely places. 

The central character, Nuri, was a young boy when his mother died, but his father failed to adequately fill the gap created by her death. This book could be described as a coming-of-age story, showing the difficulties Nuri faced growing up without his mother, but it is so much more than that – there is a touching love story and compelling mystery contained in this book too.

The plot is further complicated by the fact that his father is a political activist in constant fear for his life. One day all their fears come true when he vanishes in the middle of the night. The book is based upon the author’s own experiences (Hisham Matar’s father was abducted by Egyptian secret service agents in 1990) and this creates a realistic narrative, filled with subtle emotion.  It also gives an insight in the life of families living in limbo, not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive.

Anatomy of a Disappearance is short and easy to read. I finished it in a single sitting, compelled to continue by the engaging plot. I was impressed by the number of different issues convincingly covered in such a small number of pages. The simplicity of the prose means that this book will have broad appeal, but it also has a subtle depth that will keep fans of literary fiction happy too.

Highly recommended.

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Gormenghast Read-along Schedule

The Gormenghast Trilogy

Wednesday is Gormenghast Day!

For the next few months this blog will celebrate Gormenghast every Wednesday. The schedule for the read-along is detailed below. It would be great if different people could lead the discussion each week so that you don’t just get my opinion (and I don’t get Gormenghast post burnout!). If you’d like to volunteer to write a Gormenghast post at some point during the read-along then please leave a comment below. You don’t have to have a blog – I’d love non-bloggers to take part too. :-)

Titus Groan – June 2011

The Hall of the Bright Carvings – Near and Far (p1 – p100) 8th June

Dust and Ivy – Preparations for Arson (p101 – p194) 15th June

The Grotto – The Bloody Cheekbone (p194 – p277) 22nd June

The Twins Again – Mr Rottcodd Again (p277 -p361) 29th June

Gormenghast – July 2011

One – Eighteen  (p373 – p467) 6th July

Nineteen – Thirty-Seven (p467 – p565) 13th July

Thirty-Eight – Fitft-Eight (p565 – p659) 20th July

Fifty-Nine – Eighty  (p659 – p752) 27th July

Titus Alone – August 2011

One – Fifty-Eight (p759 -p854) 10th August

Fifty-Nine – One Hundred and Twenty-Two (p855 – p953) 17th August

Titus Awakes – September 2011

This book is 288 pages long – Ill update this post with the exact page numbers for this read-along once I have a copy and can check for appropriate chapter breaks.

Note: All page numbers for the Gormenghast Trilogy come from my Vintage Classics copy (ISBN: 0099288893), but if you have a different edition the page numbers may vary slightly.

I look forward to reading Gormenghast with you!