2011 Discussions Other

Were any modern classics published in 2011?

I have read lots of enjoyable books this year, but none stand out as modern day classics. I haven’t awarded my highest five star rating to any book published in 2011 and wonder if I’ve been reading the wrong books – or has it just been a slow year for fiction?

Will any books stand the test of time?

In ten years people will probably still read The Marriage Plot, but only because they loved Middlesex, and I think that Julian Barnes’ vast body of work will ensure that Sense of an Ending will still be read by a few people, but I can’t think of any book that will be remembered on its own merit.

Many years after publication I still push copies of books like Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger into the hands of anyone who hasn’t read them, but in ten years time I can’t see myself being excited by anything published this year.

The entire Booker longlist will slowly drift into obscurity and enthusiasm for the Orange prize winning, The Tiger’s Wife, doesn’t even seem to have made it to the end of the first year. Perhaps we’ll just have to wait for paperback publication next year so that the real gems of 2011 can bubble to the surface through word-of-mouth recommendation?

Do you think any modern classics were published in 2011?

Do you think 2011 produced a lower standard of fiction than usual?




You Deserve Nothing – Alexander Maksik

You Deserve Nothing

Five words from the blurb: Paris, school, morality, students, criminal

I have to admit that the blurb of this book held little appeal. A story about the children of wealthy families attending an international school in Paris didn’t sound that exciting, but as we all know, a talented author can transform the dullest premise into something magical and that is what Maksik has done here.

You Deserve Nothing could be seen as a hybrid of three fantastic books:

  • Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
  • Rupture by Simon Lelic
  • Testimony by Anita Shreve

It uses multiple narrators to question who is to blame when a teacher-pupil relationship occurs and it leaves you feeling sorry for perpetrator of the crime.

It also brings other questions to the table:

  • Should teachers be allowed to encourage children to question their religious beliefs?
  • Should teachers without counselling qualifications be allowed to talk to children about a terrible event they’ve witnessed?
  • What level of friendship/trust is acceptable between a child and a teacher?

On top of these carefully constructed moral dilemmas this well written, tightly plotted book gives an atmospheric portrayal of Paris and what life is like for those living in the insulated bubble of an international school.

The characters are well developed, engaging, but deeply flawed individuals, and the continual switching of viewpoint created a fantastic sense of foreboding.

I used to think, These are my students. I love them. I was often amazed by the closeness I felt, by my desire to protect them, to push them. I wanted to make them proud of me. I wanted never to disappoint them. As much as I loved them in those quiet minutes at the beginning of class, I also wanted them to love me in return.

Literature lovers will enjoy the discussions that take place in the seminars of this international school. Shakespeare, Faulkner and Keats are among the many authors introduced to the students and I ended up longing for an English teacher as passionate.

The ending was perfect and I will be thinking about the issues raised in this book for a very long time.

This is one of my favourite books published in 2011 and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Highly recommended.


2011 Books in Translation

Seven Houses in France – Bernardo Atxaga

Seven Houses in France Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

Five words from the blurb: Congo, fortune, jungle, enslaved, kidnapping

I hadn’t heard of Atxaga before this unsolicited review copy popped through my letter box, but the impressive list of awards he has won (including the Spanish National Literature Prize and a shortlisting for the European Literature Prize) grabbed my attention. The Observer also listed him as one of the top 21 writers of the 21st century, so I was keen to discover why his writing is so highly regarded.

Seven Houses in France is set in 1903 and follows a French Captain who is sent to the Congo to pillage the rain-forest of rubber, mahogany and ivory. He sends a vast amount of wealth back to France, enough to buy the seven houses mentioned in the title.

The quality of the writing was very high, but I hated the actions of the central character so much that I struggled to read it. At one point I almost gave up, but the entire book was a bit like a car crash – you know you are going to witness something horrible, but you are unable to avert your gaze.

The screeches of those vile monkeys was the worst thing about Yangambi, the worst thing about the Congo and about Africa, and he wanted to flay them with his chicotte, to whip them to the bone. He bounded down the first stretch of the path, slithering in the mud, then gradually slowed to a halt.

There were no redeeming scenes – the entire book is about one despicable man who kidnaps young girls from local villages and rapes them; a man who thinks it is entertaining to tie monkeys to posts and use them for target practice – and that is before I even mention the gathering of ivory, the enslavement of local people and all the other shockingly bad things he does without batting an eyelid.

I’m really hoping that Atxaga is being deliberately provocative with his writing; creating an obnoxious character to ensure that we become enraged by his actions. I’m sure some people will love the strong emotions produced by reading this book, but I’m afraid I can’t recommend it to anyone. It is important we know these terrible events happened, but I don’t like the images I now have in my head.


Have you read anything written by Bernardo Atxaga?

Are his other books less disturbing to read?


Three Entertaining Reads

Half Brother

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Five words from the blurb: chimp, boy, scientist, family, trouble

Half Brother is an entertaining YA novel about Ben, a boy who lives with a baby chimp. Ben’s father is a behavioural scientist and he brings the chimp into their family in an effort to teach it sign language. The book follows Ben’s life as it is turned upside-down by the chimp and the media attention it brings.

This is a sweet, entertaining book that introduces many topics to the teen reader. It would be a great discussion point for talks about our relationship with animals, animal experimentation and the definition of family.

As an adult reader I was charmed by this book. It didn’t contain anything particularly new or noteworthy, but was a good old page turner. Perfect for public transport or when you’re in need of a quick, easy read.


The Human Bobby

The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter

Five words from the blurb: beach, gripping, revelation, puzzling, crime

Outstanding reviews from several of my favourite bloggers (most notably: A Reader’s Respite and You’ve Gotta Read This!) persuaded me to import a copy of this book from America. I’m not sure it is worth shipping across the world, but if you stumble across a copy in your local library you should definitely pick it up.

The Human Bobby is a fast paced read that focuses on Bobby, a homeless man living in a tent on the beach. Bobby used to have a good career, a wife and a young son, but he lost them all. The reasons for his downfall are revealed over the course of the book, as are a surprising number of twists and turns.

I read this book in a single sitting – it was impossible to put down! But on finishing it I felt a little deflated. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t have time to appreciate it – the reader is almost forced to skim read, swept up by the fast paced plot.

If you are after a book to captivate you for an evening then ensure you seek it out, but I don’t think this will leave a lasting impression on me.


22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Five words from the blurb: Poland, war, apart, son, England

I first came across this book when investigating the Waterstone’s 11 novels earlier this year. Despite having no interest in the blurb I was captivated by the voice of this little boy arriving in England after escaping atrocities in Poland.

22 Britannia Road is the address in Ipswich where this Polish family find themselves living after WWII. Janusz has not seen his wife or son for six years and the family find it hard to adjust to life together, as well as adapting to the culture of a different country.

This book is easy to read, packed with emotion and contains a few plot twists to keep the reader entertained. My only problem is that I have read similar things many times before and I am beginning to tire of immigration stories. This is one of the best ones I’ve read recently, but it wasn’t original enough to get me really excited. 

Have you read any of these books?

Did you find them as entertaining as I did?


1960s Classics

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Armah

The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (Heinemann African Writers Series)

Five words from the blurb: Ghana, bribes, corruption, temptation, scorn

This week Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week. Keen to join in I went online to research books from Ghana. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born was described as “a cornerstone of African literature” and “as important as Things Fall Apart by Achebe “. I hadn’t heard of it, but with quotes like that I felt I had to read it.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is set in the mid 1960s and confronts the corruption present in the country after its independence. The central character is an unnamed railway clerk who resists bribes. The book explores issues of integrity and shows what life is like for ordinary citizens who have to live with corruption on a daily basis.

Unfortunately this book was so slow and tedious to read that any impact was lost on me.

Crossing over to the side of the main connecting road nearer the sea, the man walked the whole distance to the Essei area, keeping just behind the breakwater that kept the sea from destroying the road. Now and then the headlights of some oncoming vehicle came and blinded him and afterward the darkness of the night was even deeper and more infinite than before, so that a little of the lost comfortable feeling of the man alone in the world outside, so unlike the loneliness of the beloved surrounded by the grieving loved ones, came back to him in little frustrating sweet moments that were gone before they could be grasped. And yet, in some region of his mind, the thought almost rose: that it should not really be possible for the guiltless to feel so beaten down with the accusation of those so near….

The sentence structure was often awkward and difficult to follow and the pace was so slow that it would take him several pages just to get out of his chair. Lots of profound statements were buried in the text, but I had so little connection to the characters that I didn’t care.

Things picked up a bit towards the end and so I managed to complete this short book (180 pages), but it took a lot longer than expected.

I can see why this is an important piece of African literature and I’m sure that much more would be revealed if you were to spend time studying the text, but I’m afraid I found it a frustratingly slow read.


Head over to Kinna Reads to discover more Ghanaian Literature.


House Rules – Jodi Picoult

House Rules

Five words from the blurb: Asperger’s, trouble, police, murder, guilt

My eldest son has Asperger’s syndrome so I am always interested in books that deal with the subject. I was impressed by the research that has gone into this book, but I’m afraid the plot didn’t do much for me.

House Rules is the story of Jacob, an 18-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who has a special interest in forensic science. One day his tutor is found dead and Jacob becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation. The book uses multiple narrators to show how those with autism have a different perspective on events, and also to highlight the thoughts off his mother and brother.

Jacob’s actions were realistic and tactfully described, but I was even more impressed by the descriptions of the emotions felt by his mother and younger brother, Theo. Some of the scenes were heartbreaking for me to read as they could easily relate to my family in ten years time (I also have a younger son without Asperger’s).

Motherhood is a Sisyphean task. You finish sewing one seam shut, and another rips open. I have come to believe that this life I’m wearing will never really fit.
I carry the bowl to the sink and swallow the tears that spring to the back of my throat. Oh, Theo. I’m so sorry.

Unfortunately I found that the plot wasn’t sustained over the 650 pages of this book. There was far too much padding and repetition of the problems faced by those with Asperger’s. Despite being engaged by all the characters in this book, I was bored by large chunks of it; the court room scenes were particularly dull.

The ending was quite clever, but I’m afraid it was too little, too late. The plot wasn’t complex enough to justify the length and the same message could easily have been achieved with half the number of pages.

I applaud Jodi Picoult for bringing autism to the attention of a wider audience, but I think this would work better as a (heavily edited) film.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Although well-researched and presenting a detailed and gripping insight into the realities of life with Asperger’s syndrome, I felt the book was hampered by the legal plot. Life…With Books

The audio book made this story a home run for me. It was fantastic… Bibliophile by the Sea

Overall, this novel didn’t “wow” me, either as literature or as a believable portrayal of life with Asperger’s. But this author has a knack for storytelling and creating interesting characters… Laughing Stars