Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Recent Reads #4

Sometimes you have to read several unsatisfying books before you come across something that you're really absorbed in. I hate not finishing a book, so if I'm not that fussed about something I'm reading, I just tend to read it slowly, get in a rut about it and then resent having to read it. But then you read something that reminds you why you love reading, and it's all better again. So here's what I've read recently: the good and not-so-good. 

The Dust That Falls from Dreams - Louis de Bernières
This was my first Louis de Bernières novel, and I fear that it may be my last. I totally sped-read it prior to seeing him talk about the book at the Kew Literary Festival last month, and hoped that learning about his inspirations and hearing him read the book would make me like it...but it just didn't. For a start, I really didn't like his writing style: it was almost too jovial for too long, and I felt like I was reading the novel in a farcical tone. The novel is set in Eltham, Kent in 1902 and follows the life of Rosie, her sisters and their neighbours. Very quickly the novel jumps from the trivialities of the London suburbs to those of the Western Front, and we follow how Rosie manages her love triangle and devastating wartime. So, on the surface, it sounds really good and I really wanted it to be. I thought the overall message about building a new world and being hopeful amongst an environment experiencing chaos and devastation was a really good one, especially how it paralleled the love story and post-war Britain. Other than that, I really struggled to engage with it: I didn't like the characters, the style of writing and felt like the plot had lots of potential which just didn't deliver. Definitely not my cup of tea! 
1 / 5

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
To begin with, I need to make the point that this is a very 'technically' clever novel. There are lots of characters whose lives we are told about in substantial detail, and a narrative which constantly crosses barriers of space and time. I often found myself thinking 'wait, who is this again?' and 'I thought they were dead, where are we now?' - so, although an intelligently manipulated novel, it was a confusing one. The novel centres around Ursula, a character who experiences the most tragic and bleak events...but Atkinson offers her the chance to live her life again and again (hence the confusion). This opportunity forces the reader to deal with these questions too: would you take a second chance at life? What would change? Would you be able to save the world, and the people you love? It's profound, definitely, and I appreciated it for that. It wasn't the commuting read that I expected it to be, and as most of Atkinson's other novels are, but it was interesting. I can't say I loved it, because I didn't - but I did appreciate it. 
3 / 5

Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami
This book isn't something I'd ever pick up in a bookshop, but I'm so glad I read it. I borrowed it from Simon who'd chosen it as part of the Mr B's Bookshop Reading Spa in the summer, and was hooked from the beginning. It's a really short novel, I read it in under 2 hours, but I felt like it was a really interesting, sensual introduction to Japanese culture and a captivating, observational read. I can't really give a plot summary because very little actually happens, but we follow the lives of two lonely individuals who meet, and connect, in unusual circumstances. The whole book is written in such a removed way that you, paradoxically, want to find out more about the characters but equally don't really care about them. The experience of reading the novel was like a pass the parcel: there's something new on each level, and you're getting deeper and deeper into their lives. I felt really sad to finish this book, really wanting more, but also appreciating that it worked perfectly existing in this very simple, neat little pocket. I'd highly recommend this - a very calming, insightful read leaving you feeling disconnected from everyone and everything in it. 
4 / 5

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