I appear to be attempting to build another wall to my house – with books! I know my bedroom is cold, but this method of insulating is just silly now. The book pile next to my bed is becoming dangerously wobbly, and in fact has multiplied into two piles precariously balanced against the other! It is also quite addictive. Steve also has a to-read pile at the side of his bed now. I love it! It may seem really odd to say so, but I can’t help but smile and become excited when I see a towering pile of unread books. Sometimes, obviously, it feels a little oppressive as if I will never get to the end, but on the whole this in itself is a wonderful thing – how amazing that I could read and read forever and never run out of new and exciting ways to tell a story. It is utterly remarkable and just one of the ways of feeling my place in the universe; a tiny, overwhelmed pin prick among oceans and constellations of words. I feel myself in the image of Matlida, crouched upon a pile of books as waves and waves of pages cascade down around me, never once placing me in danger but filling me with the exhilaration of any white water experience. I could quite happily live within the pages of a book. Or if not that, a room of them!
So, new this week are:
Courtesy of a colleague of Steve’s and World Book Night, I now have The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. Having fallen in love with The Handmaid’s Tale many a year ago (the pages are actually falling out as the spine is pretty much non-existent now) I am very excited to read this, even though I was not quite as fond of Alias Grace.
‘The Blind Assassin’ is the title of Margaret Atwood’s 15th novel; it is also the title of the cult novel written by one of its characters, Laura Chase, posthumously published by her sister Iris. As you might guess from this, Atwood’s novel is about how stories console us, and mislead us. It is also about the crimes wrought, consciously and unconsciously, by Love. Laura’s death is a mystery that keeps us tantalized for over 500 pages – but is it accident, suicide or murder? This rich and marvellous novel is, like Alias Grace, partly a thriller, but its complex layers explore capitalism and communism, sisterhood and betrayal, life and art. Iris the narrator dilates and contracts as she tells us about the Chase family, whose rise and fall is spread out for the better part of a century. The Chase sisters’ girlhood under the care of the redoubtable Reenie is one of the best things Atwood has ever written. Iris is forced into learning the ways of the world, but Laura is the moral touchstone of the novel, at once funny and tragic. Interwoven with Iris’s narrative are hilarious extracts from newspapers of the time, describing the life of the Canadian haute bourgeoisie, and the altogether darker passages from The Blind Assassin, in which a wealthy young woman has a passionate love affair with a Communist man on the run. Their assignations are spiced by the science fiction stories he tells her – which, cruel, crude and exotic, she clings to as hope and sanity collapse. ‘It’s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward,’ Iris tells us – but it’s also Atwood’s sublime prose which transforms the pulp SF story, the thriller and the family saga into art. Reviewed by Amanda Craig. Editor’s Note: Amanda Craig is the author of In a Dark Wood. Marina Warner says of The Blind Assassin: It’s a short three years since Alias Grace, and unbelievably, Atwood has produced another tour de force of psychological insight and storytelling. This novel’s more self-consciously writerly, and, in interesting ways, more challenging: Atwood has cunningly nested a book-within-a book-within-a-book in a flourishing display of styles, and the novel resonates with the evident glee the author had in her dexterity. She’s parodied sci-fi comics of the 1920s, out of Poe via H P Lovecraft, embedded these sinister and hilarious fantasies in an account of a sulphurous love affair (borrowed pink towels, smoke-filled hotel rooms, dodgy parts of town), and at the same created a richly detailed, characteristically tough-minded study of the aspiring bourgeoisie of provincial, colonial Canada and the coming of the new men and the new money. The novel prickles with Atwood’s usual wit (and even malice), but she strikes deep, unexpected notes of empathy and even gentleness as she untangles the lives and rivalrous love of the two sisters at the heart of the book, Iris and Laura Chase. Atwood goes from strength to strength: I liked The Blind Assassin better than any of her books, and I’ve long admired her. (Kirkus UK)
Via Book Mooch, I have recently acquired:
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold – didn’t have to think twice. Loved The Lovely Bones so have high expectations for this one.
(From Green Metropolis) Description:
Helen Knightly has spent a lifetime trying to win the love of a mother who had none to spare. She steps over a boundary she never dreamt she would even approach. But while her act is almost unconscious, it also seems like the fulfilment of a lifetime’s buried desire.
The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas – I have waited a long time to read this book. Better stock up on tissues before I do so!
John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas will no doubt acquire many readers as a result of the subsequent film of the novel, but viewers of the latter would do themselves a favour by going back to the spare and powerfully affecting original book. Bruno is nine years old, and the Nazis’ horrific Final Solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’ means nothing to him. He’s completely unaware of the barbarity of Germany under Hitler, and is more concerned by his move from his well-appointed house in Berlin to a far less salubrious area where he finds himself with nothing to do. Then he meets a boy called Shmuel who lives a very different life from him — a life on the opposite side of a wire fence. And Shmuel is the eponymous boy in the striped pyjamas, as are all the other people on the other side of the fence. The friendship between the two boys begins to grow, but for Bruno it is a journey from blissful ignorance to a painful knowledge. And he will find that this learning process carries, for him, a daunting price.
A legion of books have attempted to evoke the horrors of the Second World War, but in this concise and perfectly honed novel, all of the effects that John Boyne creates are allowed to make a maximum impact in a relatively understated fashion (given the enormity of the situation here). The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is also that rare thing: a novel which can affect both children and adults equally; a worthy successor, in fact, to such masterpieces as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye — both, of course, books, dealing (as does this one) with the loss of innocence.
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave – found by skimming through Amazon’s ‘people who bought this book, also bought . . .’ sections for some of my favorite read books. I sometimes find this quite an entertaining way of wasting ten minutes but also it gives me suggestions that I may not have noticed among the monstrous number of shelves in certain well known book shops! The blurb intrigued me (job done publishers) and led me to want this prettily covered book on my pile!
(From Amazon) Product Description
It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.
The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
And it’s what happens afterwards that is most important.
Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.