2013 Recommended books

The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

The View on the Way Down

Five words from the blurb: brother, died, family, apart, truth

Emma is nine-years-old when her brother Kit dies. Her older brother, Jamie, disappears after the funeral and Emma is suddenly the only child in a grief-stricken household. Emma, Jamie, and their parents take turns to narrate the story, which shows how each individual is affected by Kit’s death. The book looks at depression and suicide and enables the reader to understand what depression feels like for both the sufferer and those around them.

I think the taboo surrounding suicide has finally been lifted as this is the third book I’ve read this year that deals with the subject. It was interesting to get an insight into what motivates people to end their life and by the end of the book I felt I understood the pain they go through:

He did nothing, simply carried on as before. Head down, struggling through the days. Keeping going, getting through. He’d always known, without having to consider it, that there was no chance of recovery. Not for him, not for any of them. The passing years hadn’t changed a thing. There was no getting over this.

The subject was handled with great sensitivity and had clearly been very well researched (if not personally experienced?). It provided a lot of useful information about interacting with those who suffer from depression and it would be wonderful if this book helped to reduce the stigma faced by families who have lost someone to suicide.

The writing was simple, but effective. It was compelling and managed to maintain my interest throughout – mainly because the characters felt so realistic. It is rare to read a book that manages to capture the thoughts and emotions of so many different people and I loved the fact I could understand and empathise with them all, despite their differing viewpoints. The View on the Way Down didn’t quite move me to tears, but it produced the biggest lump my throat has experienced this year – a surprising accolade that I didn’t think could be taken away from the real-life heartbreak of The Son.

I hope that word about this book spreads and everyone reads it quietly, with an open mind. It is very sad, but the world would be a better place if everyone understood the heartache and challenges of living with depression.

Highly recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I don’t use ratings on my blog anymore but if I did this book would get 6 out of 5. Little Reader Library

…(a) spell-binding debut that has completely blown me away. The Unlikely Bookworm

 a stunning novel and one which I’ve been unable to review yet because every time I’ve tried, I start crying. The Bibliomouse

2013 Recommended books

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Kiss Me First

Five words from the blurb: email, facts, identity, why, life

Kiss Me First is one of the most modern books I’ve ever read. Its insights into social media use and online identity are so relevant to today’s society that it will make readers look at their online activity in a whole new light. The book also deals with suicide and asks difficult questions about a person’s right to take their own life.

Kiss Me First revolves around Leila, a young women who is approached by friend from an Internet forum. He asks whether she’d be willing to take over the online identity of Tess, a women who’d like to commit suicide without bringing sadness to her friends and family.  Leila must learn everything she can about Tess so that she is able to convincingly take over her facebook account and all other online communication. This fraud should persuade Tess’ friends and family that she is still alive and enable them to live happily without her.

The premise of this book was very clever and I loved the way it looked at so many different aspects of modern life. I was particularly struck by the way an online presence can so easily become a substitute for face-to-face meetings and I hope that this story might be a wake up call for those who use their computer at the expense of “real life” interaction.

The pacing was perfect and it gripped me throughout. I loved the way that all the characters were flawed and I had sympathy with everyone involved. It is rare to read a book that carries its moral messages so lightly; allowing the reader to make up their own mind on the very difficult issues discussed.

And I must admit that as April 14th approached, I started to feel agitated in a way that isn’t normally in my nature. The realization struck that to know fully the ins and outs of Tess’s life would be a never-ending task, like trying to fill in a hole and realizing that it has no bottom.
Sometimes, during those last days, I felt like this didn’t matter. I wouldn’t actually need that much information to imitate Tess: people were mostly only interested in themselves, and didn’t attend much to others, even their close friends.

I also loved the fact that the central character had Asperger’s syndrome and this was never mentioned. Most people will probably not notice this, but it was refreshing to read a book that included a character on the spectrum without it becoming a big marketing tool – especially one that battered readers round the head with symptoms.

The writing wasn’t literary, but this is mainstream fiction at its thought provoking best.

Highly recommended.



I’d also like to praise the trailer for Kiss Me First. It is the best book trailer I’ve ever seen and if you have a facebook account I highly recommend you take a look at it here.



Indignation – Philip Roth

I loved The Human Stain when I read it a few years ago, so have been wanting to read another one of his books for a while.  When I saw that his latest book had just arrived at my library I decided to take the opportunity to be the first person to borrow the copy.

Indignation is a coming of age story. It is set in the early 1950s, when the possibility of being enlisted as a soldier in the Korean War was on the mind of every teenage boy in America. The central character, Marcus, struggles to cope with an over-protective father, and so leaves the family home to study at a college away from his father’s constant gaze. Once there he encounters all the dangers and temptations he has previously been sheltered from and has to learn to cope in the adult world.

I think it was unfortunate that I read this book so soon after reading The Bell Jar and Norwegian Wood, as all three books share many common themes. Indignation was well written, but I felt it was the weakest of the three books. It seemed to be covering old territory and had nothing new to add. The emotions in Indignation were less intense than Norwegian Wood and the plot was more mundane than that of The Bell Jar.

It was a short, easy read, but this was a negative for me. It felt as though many issues were being skimmed over and the side characters lacked depth.

There were some good sections, but overall it was quite disappointing.


Have you read any Philip Roth books?

Which one is your favourite?

1930s Books in Translation

The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat

Translated from the Persian by D.P. Costello

I was sorting through my bookshop stock when that beautiful picture of an owl caught my attention. I decided that I had to read it when I saw that it was also described as:

a deeply haunting and disturbing gem of world literature.

At only 108 pages it was a very quick read, but I’m not sure that I fully understood what was happening.

The author, Sadegh Hedayat, was born in Iran in 1903, but dedicated his life to the study of Western literature. His books are are now banned in Iran and are coming under increased attack from political Islamists in Europe.  He suffered from drug addiction and alcohol problems and committed suicide in 1951.

I think that an understanding of the author’s situation is key to realising the importance of this novella. It is a dark book, filled with thoughts on violence and death. It has a hallucinatory feel, so I found it difficult to grasp what was happening at all times. The book seemed to float from one scene to another, with no real plot.

The writing was poetic, and there were some beautiful descriptions hidden amongst the dark thoughts:

The sun, sucking with a thousand mouths, was drawing the sweat of my body. The desert plants looked, under the great, blazing sun, like so many patches of turmeric. The sun was like a feverish eye. It poured its burning rays from the depth of the sky over the silent, lifeless landscape. 

I also loved discovering some of the Persian traditions and it has inspired me to find out more about Iranian culture, but I’m afraid that the negatives of this book far outweighed the positives. It was dark, gruesome and impossible to follow. I felt that some of the scenes were there just to cause outrage and controversy, but perhaps they were just an indication of the authors depressive state. Either way this wasn’t an enjoyable read.

Recommended to people who like weird, depressing books with no plot!


Have you heard of The Blind Owl before?

Do you enjoy dark, weird books like this?

Can you recommend a more positive book about Iranian culture?

2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

I love Murakami so much that Kafka on the Shore is in my all time top ten. Norwegian Wood seems to be one of his lesser known books. I had heard very little about it before I started to read, but had been warned that it would be depressing.

Norwegian Wood is primarily set in a Japanese University during the 1960s. It is a coming of age novel that has a strong resemblance to The Bell Jar. In both novels the issue of suicide is prominent, but Norwegian Wood is slightly darker. 

The story focuses on Toru, who has a complex, but touching relationship with Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki, who tragically committed suicide.

People looking for Murakami’s amazing imaginative narrative may be disappointed by this book, as it is a straight, simple story, that many people speculate as being largly autobiographical. As with The Bell Jar, I didn’t find it as depressing as I expected – I was never moved to tears, and I felt that the novel focused on hope, rather than tragedy.

Murakami’s skill for character development is evident, and I found it very easy to empathise with Toru’s difficult situation. I loved the complexity of the emotion present in this book – it more than made up for the simplicity of the story.

Murakami’s wisdom is scattered throughout the book. One quote that particularly stood out for me was:

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

Overall, I felt that this was a well written book, but I prefer the uniqueness of Murakamis’s more imaginative books.



What did you think of Norwegian Wood?

Which is your favourite Murakami book?

2009 Recommended books Short Story

Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

Legend of a Suicide is a book which is hard to classify. It has been described as a collection of short stories and is now being marketed as a novel. I think the truth is that this book is similar to Olive Kitteridge, in that it is a very successful book of interconnected short stories.

The book follows Roy, a young boy whose father commits suicide. The emotion in this book is pitched perfectly. The suicide of the author’s own father enables him to give us an insight into the real, conflicting emotions experienced by a child put into this terrible situation. This book shows us how immersing a child into the dark, adult world is such a bewildering experience – one they don’t have the knowledge to handle.

There was nothing Roy could think of to say, so he didn’t say anything. But he wondered why they were here at all, when everything important to his father was somewhere else. It didn’t make sense to Roy that his father had come out here. It was beginning to seem that maybe he just hadn’t been able to think of any other way of living that might be better. So this was just a big fallback plan, and Roy too, was part of a large despair that lived everywhere his father went.

The first few stories were slightly disjointed, in that I couldn’t follow the narrative, but once I reached the novella of their trip into the Alaskan wilderness I was completely hooked. I found the book impossible to put down and I read the rest in a single sitting.

The writing was vivid, emotionally charged and thought-provoking. I think that this book might help relatives of suicide victims to be able to cope with their loss and it should also be read by anyone who feels that suicide is a good option, as it is the best demonstration of the devastation a suicide brings to a family I have ever seen. The number of issues raised and the power of this story make it perfect for reading groups too.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves books which are packed with emotion.