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2008 Books in Translation

Voice Over – Celine Curiol

Translated from the French by Sam Richard

Voice Over was the latest choice for our book group, but while there was a lot to discuss, it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.

The central character in the book is an unnamed woman who announces the train times at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The main theme appears to be her struggle to be noticed:

Her voice fills the entire station, soaring over the platforms, the halls, sailing into corners, crashing into glass walls. She is present everywhere, and yet no one recognises her.

She lacks self esteem, and so, in an effort to bring meaning to her life, she ends up in a series of difficult situations.

I felt little empathy for the woman; she seemed to bring all the misery on her self, and the majority of her problems could easily have been avoided with a little forethought. Despite the subject matter of the book, there is very little emotion. I felt distanced from the characters and so never connected with them.

The writing style makes this a difficult book to read. There is no speech and little to break up the writing, so you are often confronted with an entire page of words, which means a great deal of concentration is required. With effort, some insightful passages could be discovered:

Whenever she is in a park, she is always faced with the same dilemma. All those orderly paths overwhelm her. A park should be explored instinctively, without markers. But the walkways impose their fixed itineraries and lead to artificial crossings, which force one to choose different sections of the park over others. The only way to get to know the place is to follow the layout of paths, to explore them all without exceptions. At each fork, however, one of the paths has to be abandoned and might never be found again.

The pace of the book is slow and rambling. It is only 200 pages long, but feels twice that length. I would not have finished this book had I not been reading it for the book group. There are a lot of people who will love this book though – literary fiction fans will enjoy analysing the many layers contained in this book and, due to the number of things left unresolved, it makes a great discussion point.

Overall, I found this to be a skillfully written debut novel, but the lack of a strong plot meant it wasn’t for me.

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Categories
2008 Audio Book

Testimony – Anita Shreve (Audio Book)

I sometimes struggle to find good audio books, so when Sandy recommended Testimony I bought a copy straight away. Sandy is right – this book is perfect for listening to.

The book begins with the headmaster of a school discovering a tape of three 18-year-old boys having sex with a 14-year-old girl. The story then unfolds via the ‘testimonies’ of  various people affected by the incident. Each person reveals how they experienced the events in the first person, something which I don’t like when reading a book, but this worked really well when listening to the story. I felt like each character was just explaining things to me, so I connected really well with them and it seemed very realistic.

There are a large number of characters, but the different voices helped me to identify with each one, so I didn’t get confused at any point. Had I been reading the book I think I would have become confused by the number of characters, irritated by the first person voice and possibly given up on it.

The book raises many thought-provoking questions, including who is to blame when teenagers mis-behave? Is it possible for a 14-year-old to seduce an 18-year-old, or is it always rape? Should a single action be held against someone for the rest of their lives?

The narrator held my attention throughout, encouraging me to continue listening to the extent that I listened to this faster than any other audio book in the past.

I highly recommend the audio book version of Testimony, and think it would make an interesting book club choice.

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What is the most gripping audio book you have ever listened to?

This is the first Anita Shreve book I have tried. Are any of her others really good?

Categories
Other Recommended books

The best book club reads…..on parenting

I keep finding myself ending reviews with the words “this would be a really good book club choice”. So I have decided to start a new series of posts about books which are a good starting point for a discussion.

This week I’m going to concentrate on books which raise parenting issues. These books may appeal slightly more to woman who have had children, but I’m sure everyone will enjoy the books and be able to bring their own opinions to the table.

My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult

 
Issues Raised
Should another child be brought into the world to save an older sibling’s life? Is the happiness of one child worth sacrificing to improve the life of another? Who has the ownership of a child’s body parts?

Positives

Easy to read, and gripping all the way through.

Negatives

It has been around a while, so many people might have already read it. The film has just been released, so they might have seen that too!
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We Need to Talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Issues Raised

Are children born bad, or is a naughty child a result of poor parenting? Is the parent at fault if a teenager commits a crime? The cause of high school shootings.

Positives

Well written and thought provoking.

Negatives

It is a bit long.

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The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

Issues Raised

Are children born bad? Is it right to concentrate on the ‘bad’ child at the expense of the other siblings.

Positives

Short book.

Negatives

Slightly dated.

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The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

Issues Raised

Is slapping ever justifiable? Who is responsible for disciplining a child?

Positives

Gives a male view of the world. Controversial and thought provoking. This will start a debate!

Negatives
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Has not been released in all countries yet.

Is a bit long.

Contains graphic sex and abusive language.

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The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

Issues Raised

Difficult mother – daughter relationships. Cultural identity.

Positives

Easy to read.

Negatives

I can’t think of any!

  

Can you think of any more great books to start a discussion on parenting?

Have you read any of these for a book club? Did they go down well?

 

Coming soon – The best book club reads … on old age.