literary fiction

‘The Pursuit of Ordinary’ by Nigel Jay Cooper #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Waterstones   Amazon

After witnessing a fatal car accident, a homeless man wanders the streets of Brighton, trying to ignore the new, incessant voice inside his head. But he can’t forget the crash, can’t get the face of the woman cradling her dying husband out of his mind. She stared into his eyes, his soul. He has to find her. Is Dan ill or has he really been possessed by the spirit of Natalie’s dead husband, Joe? If he hasn’t, why does she let him into her home so easily? Does she have secrets of her own? The Pursuit of Ordinary is a twisting tale of modern life and mental health where nothing is what it seems… Following the success of debut novel Beat the Rain, Roundfire introduces the second book from bestselling author Nigel Jay Cooper.

This is such an interesting premise. Natalie appears to be grieving – but there is more her relationship with deceased husband Joe than first meets the eye. And homeless man Dan is a complex and conflicted character – is he ill or actually possessed? At first, the reader really doesn’t know, and this adds depth and interest to the novel.

The storyline around Natalie’s marriage and how she got to the point at which she’d arrived at the opening of the novel has so much potential, as do the issues around Dan’s mental health and the failings that have led him to where he is when the two meet. But I felt that these things were overshadowed by the structure of the novel.

I really didn’t like the way the same events were relayed by different characters. This can really work and can give a different perspective to those events, but here there was far too much repetition. The same scenes were rewritten from different points of view – the same things happening and exactly the same dialogue. This became very tedious and repetitive to read, unfortunately, and spoiled, at least for me, what could have been an excellent book.

3.5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

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‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ by David Grossman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

horse

 

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance.

 

This has some mixed reviews, and I can understand why, to an extent. It’s very unusual, very dark and is difficult to read at times. But it’s brilliant.

Stand-up comedian Dovaleh G is giving a performance in a small Israeli town. A childhood friend has been asked to attend – he doesn’t know why, and as the evening progresses, he feels more and more uncomfortable, as do the audience, who realise that this isn’t the show they were expecting.

Dovaleh is telling his own story, and it isn’t very funny at all. It’s heart-breaking, and he tells it unflinchingly. From the performance, we learn about Dovaleh, his life, his tragedies, and we learn about betrayals, about loss.

It’s an unusual structure, but it really works, allowing for Dovaleh’s character to come through so authentically – which is where it is sometimes hard to read. As a reader, it’s as if you’re there in the audience at times, witnessing Dovaleh falling apart. And you really feel for the child that he was, and the pain that he felt, and you understand how that has made him the man he is. It’s about more than one man though. Dovaleh’s mother is still suffering from what she experienced in the holocaust. His father loves him, but, like many men of his generation, he finds it hard to show that love. And Dovaleh, who has the potential to be so much, who is intelligent and funny and shows flashes of kindness, has no real chance of meeting that potential – his individuality sets him firmly outside and he suffers for that.

Like the audience in the little club in Netanya, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. This is an unsettling novel, but it is beautifully crafted, and highly recommended.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy

‘All the Tomorrows’ by @nillunasser #tuesdaybookblog #RBRT #bookreview

 

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘All the Tomorrows’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

tomorrows

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sometimes we can’t escape the webs we are born into. Sometimes we are the architects of our own fall.

Akash Choudry wants a love for all time, not an arranged marriage. Still, under the weight of parental hopes, he agrees to one. He and Jaya marry in a cloud of colour and spice in Bombay. Their marriage has barely begun when Akash embarks on an affair.

Jaya can’t contemplate sharing her husband with another woman, or looking past his indiscretions as her mother suggests. Cornered by sexual politics, she takes her fate into her own hands in the form of a lit match.

Nothing endures fire. As shards of their past threaten their future, will Jaya ever bloom into the woman she can be, and will redemption be within Akash’s reach?

Jaya is trying to make her arranged marriage to Akash work. She loves him, but he is cold towards her. When she discovers his affair, her reaction is horrific and extreme. Her recovery sees her grow in strength and she discovers her own mind, though she is haunted by her past and restricted by the constraints society places on women. Akash, however, is sent on a downward spiral, into the depths of the city, experiencing degradation, cruelty and shame.

This is an exceptional story; it covers so many human emotions – betrayal, loss, friendship, love, redemption. Jaya and Akash are beautifully drawn and it is easy to sympathise with them both. The other characters are realistic and three-dimensional, Jaya’s sister Ruhi, and Akash’s friend Tariq, in particular. And the settings are described so eloquently, so authentically, that it is easy to picture each scene.

The author is certainly a talented story teller and a skilled writer. Some of the writing is beautiful and there were parts of this book that were really page-turning. However, I do feel that it is too long. There are elements of the story that could have been condensed and other parts that could have done with more detail. It is a fine balance in a story with so much going on, and covering such a long period of time, but I did feel that there were places where things needed tightening up. That said, this is a lovely book, and I’ll certainly read more by this author.

4.5 out of 5

‘Starlings’ by @mirandagold999 #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Starlings’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

starlings

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘But I suppose Steven and I knew something about broken things–that sometimes you just couldn’t mend them. Never stopped trying though. Because you can’t-until you do: stop and leave the broken thing behind.’Struggling to bear the legacy of her grandparents’ experience of the Holocaust and her mother’s desperate fragility, Sally seeks to reconnect with her brother Steven. Once close, Steven seems a stranger to her now that he has left London for Brighton. The echoes of their history once bound them–but it is an inheritance Steven can no longer share. Starlings reaches back through three generations of inherited trauma, exploring how the impact of untold stories ricochets down the years. As Sally winds her way back to catch the moment when Steven slipped away, she collects the fractured words and sliding memories that might piece together her grandparents’ journeys. Having always looked through the eyes of ghosts she cannot appease, she at last comes to hear what speechless mouths might have said: perhaps Before may be somewhere we can never truly leave behind and After simply the place we must try to make our home.In delicate brushstrokes, this extraordinary first novel captures a family unravelling as the unspeakable finds a voice. It is by turns sad, hopeful, and deeply compelling.

Sometimes book reviews are really hard to write. There were aspects of this book that I absolutely adored. The writing is clever, beautiful at times, and the way the author uses her writing to so accurately portray the chaos going on in Sally, the narrator’s, head is so very clever. And it works, for the most part. The repetitions replicate the way we have of going over and over a problem, and give a real rhythm to the prose, and the language is poetic at times. Sometimes I stopped and re-read a sentence, or a whole paragraph, because something was so well-written that I just had to read it again.

The story of Sally, and her troubled relationship with her brother Steven, who she adores, and her guilt and mixed feelings about her parents with who she lives, is interesting and thoughtful. The back story about Sally’s grandparents, who escaped the holocaust, is so well done, drip-fed almost, intriguing and sorrowful and poignant and a real strength of the novel.

But the strength of really good poetry is that it’s concise. Every single word matters. It requires precision. And that’s what I felt was somewhat lacking here. Sometimes an image, a feeling, the description of a moment, was taken too far, stretched too thinly, repeated too much. And reading then became a chore rather than a pleasure.

It’s not an easy novel to read. It requires patience and the prose does take a bit of getting used to. It is too dense in places, the story lost under the prose, rather than shown through it. I wish an editor had used a restraining hand, and allowed the really good bits to shine the way they deserve.

So do I recommend it? Yes. If only because there are moments in the writing that are truly brilliant, and it’s worth it for that. And for the passages that sweep over you with their rhythm, when it is like reading really fantastic poetry. And because Sally, is, at times, compelling and her story is a powerful one.

4 stars

‘Whispers in the Alders’ by @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Whispers in the Alders’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

whispers

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Alder Ferry would have been just another nondescript suburb living in the shadow of its urban parent if not for one detail: the mysterious stand of alder trees anchoring the town to its past and standing as a reminder to the wilderness that once stood in its place.
In the shadows of the alders a boy named Tommy found refuge. There, an eclectic book collection was his only companion through a tumultuous childhood, serving as his escape from the brutal realities of his life. That was, until Aubrey appeared.
Born of different worlds, the alders become their escape while their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love that few people ever come to understand or enjoy—proving that true friendship is a romantic pursuit in its purest form.
Together they come of age in a town hostile to their friendship—a friendship that challenges the intersecting boundaries of class, gender and sexuality. Prejudice and privilege masquerade to destroy their dreams while class, gender and faith collide. All are tested as Tommy and Aubrey carry each other through their teen years and into adulthood. Whispers in the Alders is an impassioned experience that will test the emotions and is a story that will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

This is a beautifully-written novel by a very talented writer.

The story centres on the relationship between Aubrey and Tommy – both living in the small town of Alder Ferry and both trying to survive adolescence.

Aubrey is wealthy, but her privilege doesn’t bring her happiness. She is taken from pillar to post by her cold, uninterested and self-centred parents. Her father is responsible for takeovers of local firms, resulting in the dismissal of the employees, something that makes it incredibly difficult for Aubrey to fit into whatever school she has to attend. Tommy is poor, unwanted, his life brutal and cruel. They find comfort and companionship in each other, and they develop an intense relationship that helps them to cope.

The alders provide a sanctuary where the two of them can breathe, where they can be teenagers, away from the hostility and hate they are both subjected to in their small town.

The narrative here is dense, intelligent, poetic in places. This is an author who can really write, who has a detailed and complex knowledge of words and how to use them. This doesn’t make for an easy read at times, but some of the prose was astounding. That said, there were times when the writing overtook the story and I did feel that the narrative could have done with some trimming in places. The writing is beautiful – but sometimes it is too much, and for me this lessened the impact somewhat.  It is a skill to write like this, but there is also a skill in knowing when to cut some of those beautifully composed lines – when the story needs to be allowed to come through. Aubrey and Tommy are complex, interesting characters and they need to be at the fore – a brave and honest edit would help to make this book really shine, and to be the story it deserves to be.

4 stars