Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

evemist

I read this book as part of my global reading challenge.  Tan Twan Eng is a Malaysian author who writes in English.  The Garden of Evening Mists was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012.

Set mainly on a tea estate in the Malaysian jungle but told through flashbacks and memories, this book is very atmospheric and beautifully descriptive.  Tan Twan Eng’s writing is wonderfully evocative and lyrical – in stark contrast to some of the subject matters covered.  I became totally immersed in this world through his writing which conjured up beautiful pictures of a place I have never visited and knew little about.  Here’s one of my favourite passages:

Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds.  Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadow again.

There are many contrasting themes within the pages of this book – love, hate and forgiving, beauty and horror, war and peace, memory and forgetting.  I learnt about a period of history I knew little of and about which I am now keen to know more.

If you like slow burning stories (although actually these are generally not my favourite!) set in different cultures, and studies of memory, I think you would enjoy this book.  It is not a fast paced thrill read.  The story reveals itself slowly and quite gently; it feels quite meditative in fact.  4 stars

4stars

 

Review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Chimes**Dear Readers, remember this is just my opinion – we are all entitled to one and not everyone can like (or dislike) the same books.  How boring life would be, etc. **

I received a copy of The Chimes from the publisher via bookbridgr for honest review several months ago, before it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  I always try to read books I receive for review as soon as I can, otherwise I end up with the guilts, so I started reading this right away.  I couldn’t get beyond page 26.  I gave up.  Then the book was longlisted and I started wondering what I was missing.  I thought about picking it up again but just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.  And THEN I decided to participate in the #bookbuddyathon (see my post here!) and my buddy Charlotte and I decided to buddy read this one.  I thought reading with a buddy would spur me on to finish the book, and anyway I’d heard the book becomes more engaging as you read on.  So there was a mild flicker of excitement about giving it another go.

Hmmm.  I’m sorry to say this book just did not do it for me.  First of all, let’s talk about the present tense writing.  Please can we send a memo round to bring a swift halt to this trend!  I hate it so much.  In the case of The Chimes, I totally get why Smaill used this style – the whole no memories thing, so everything is happening is in the now.  I get it.  I’ll forgive her this.  But everyone else?  Please stop it!  It is alienating and jarring and I DON’T LIKE IT!

The first half of The Chimes  is extremely confusing with all that musical terminology and whatever the hell she’s talking about.  The plot takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to reveal itself (and actually I had to go and read the press release that bookbridgr sent me to have some inkling of wtf the point was!).  The world building is slow and confusing, yet never truly reveals itself.  It’s hard to develop any kind of feeling for the characters because they don’t know anything about themselves, so how can we know anything about them?  Sure, I felt empathy towards these poor souls with no memories, but it was all pretty bland.  Every now and then I’d think ‘woohoo, things are picking up’ but then it would descend into the interminables again and drag on for another 15 pages without anything happening.  Eventually around page 120 things picked up a little and I became interested enough to stay up past my bedtime to finish the goddamned thing (in all honesty, I just couldn’t face having to pick it up again another day!) and then it all becomes very rushed and she wrapsupthestorysoquicklyyoudon’tknowwhathityou!

Anna Smaill is clearly a very intelligent woman.  I guess I can understand why this has been longlisted – it IS creative; Smaill can certainly turn a phrase.  She tries very hard (too hard?) to make this book unique and original.  But for all that uniqueness and originality, there was at least one screamingly obvious turn to the plot which I saw coming a mile off.  I’m sure many people with musical knowledge will find the prose as lyrical and beautiful as it is touted to be.  But I think she alienates quite a large section of the reading population who have no musical knowledge at all (I can’t be the only one, right? RIGHT?).  But the musical stuff is not the only thing I have against this book.  It’s the pacing.  The lack of real explanation.  The random elements that seem manufactured to appeal to the YA audience.  The way a certain something seems to conveniently wax and wane whenever an easy option is needed (sorry, that’s me trying to be non-spoiler there).  Would I have enjoyed it more without all that music WTFness?  Maybe a little.  Maybe it would’ve made more sense in my brain.  But if this book wins the Man Booker Prize I will eat my hat. In the end I was left with more questions than answers – never a satisfying way to leave a story.  Thoroughly disappointing.  2 stars (because I actually finished it and the third quarter was ok).

**

Review: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark


Publisher: Penguin Classics (2006)


First Published: 1970


From Goodreads:
Described as ‘a metaphysical shocker’ at the time of its release, Muriel Sparks’ The Driver’s Seat is a taut psychological thriller, published with an introduction by John Lanchester in Penguin Modern Classics.

Lise has been driven to distraction by working in the same accountants’ office for sixteen years. So she leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime. But her search for adventure, sex and new experiences takes on a far darker significance as she heads on a journey of self-destruction. Infinity and eternity attend Lise’s last terrible day in an unnamed southern city, as she meets her fate. 

One of six novels to be nominated for a ‘Lost Man Booker Prize’, The Driver’s Seat was adapted into a 1974 film, Identikit, starring Elizabeth Taylor.



It is quite hard to review this novella without giving anything away, but I will try!  At just over 100 pages, I flew through this in a couple of hours.  It is a cleverly woven tale of a woman bored to death by her mundane life, and is a dark and compelling tale.  The reader knows from the first couple of pages what the outcome will be for Lise, and the journey to the conclusion is at times as funny as it is tense.  And then you feel awful for laughing at this poor woman who clearly has issues.  A very clever tale, told so succinctly and tightly with not a single wasted word!

This was my first read of Muriel Spark’s work and I will definitely be seeking out something else by her.  This was was shortlisted for the ‘Lost Man Booker Prize’ in 2010 and anyone who likes a tense psychological thriller would love it.

Review (ish!): The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton


Publisher: Granta (2013)


First Published: 2013


Winner: Man Booker Prize 2013

From Goodreads:
It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bus, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

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I received this book for Christmas, in that bundle from The Book People that I’ve spoken about before.  As it won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and it was sitting on my shelf, I felt obliged to read it so decided to take the plunge during my 6 week summer holiday, when I knew I would have the time needed to tackle this tome!

I really enjoyed the setting of the story.  The town described in the novel sounded bleak, grim and depressing and the backdrop of the gold mines was very interesting to me.  Unfortunately this was only a small part of the book, and I would have liked to read more about this aspect (I will be looking out for other books about this era).  

The characters were numerous and many were quite similar so it was a little tricky to differentiate between them and follow who was who throughout the meandering tale.  The plot is very convoluted and confusing and really slow paced – Part 1 seemed to drag on interminably, but I was looking forward to subsequent parts as I believed that the pace would pick up a little.  Sadly this was not really the case, and the whole thing was just a drag.  Additionally, the whole astronomy angle that I’d heard much talk of was completely lost on me!  I nearly gave up several times, but willed myself to carry on.

The writing is, of course, beautiful, and I can completely understand why Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize with this novel.  It reads like a classic and will undoubtedly be viewed as one in years to come.  Unfortunately I just did not connect with the characters or plot line in the story, resulting in a bored 2 star rating.  I do have Ms Catton’s other novel, The Rehearsal, on my self, which is of a much friendlier size, so I will definitely give that a go at some point.

Great writing, just not for me!

Review: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


Publisher: Canongate (2013)


First Published: 2013

From Goodreads:


Ruth Ozeki’s third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013. 
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

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*sigh*  I’m not sure how to review this book.  I seem to find it more difficult to talk about books I love than books I didn’t enjoy so much, and I really loved this book.  

A Tale for The Time Being is a novel that sweeps through time and place, across generations and across subject matter.  Within its’ pages we learn a little about Proust, Zen Buddhism, quantum physics, modern Japanese culture, environmentalism … just little touches that whet your appetite and leave you yearning for more.  The dual narrative works so well here, as we follow the typically teenage Nao with her teenage angst, her mood swings and teenage strops, and the adult Ruth, struggling with her own issues within her marriage, family and work.  

Perhaps the novel’s only downfall for me was that I wanted to know more about my favourite character, Nao’s grandmother, the 104 year old buddhist nun Jiko.  I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t want to read an entire novel about a 104 year old Japanese buddhist nun named Jiko?!  I wanted more!  

This novel gained Ruth Ozeki a Man Booker Prize shortlist spot in 2013.  Having also read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton which won the Man Booker Prize that year, I know which one is my favourite!  Ruth Ozeki is an author I had not heard of before this novel, but I will absolutely be seeking out more of her work.

(Just as a side note, I received a set of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books for Christmas.  They came from The Book People and cost just £25 for the six books.  I was so excited to discover that I had a first edition of A Tale For The Time Being! Happiness is! :))

It goes without saying, this was a rare 5 star read for me!