Winter treats.

I have been quiet for a few months but be reassured… I am back.

I have been quite busy with my readings during the past few months. Here’s a little preview of the books I’ve read, reread, loved, liked, will never open again.

Ѵ Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The summary on the back cover of the book suggests that the story you’re about to read is the story of the author BUT as the subtitle subtly corrects that false first impression, this book is well and truly a novel. The inconsistencies and incredible (as in you can NOT believe it) twists and turns will remind it to you constantly. None of the characters is real and its a shame because some of them are just adorable. You will tell me, it’s a work of fiction…of course the characters are not real..and I will answer…well I’ve been duped by the back of the book summary and believed it was a true story until half way through the book. The plot is inspired by what Roberts experienced during his trip to India. During the first 500 pages, I really enjoyed the book. I adored the painting the narrator was giving of India, its color, its savors, its so numerous different cultures coexisting more or  less pacifically, the cultural incomprehension between the Australian narrator and the Indians he was meeting and learning to love. It made me smiled, even laughed. Something was bothering me though. One of the recurrent themes seemed to be the narrator’s complaint about his past. He committed armed robberies. He was arrested and sent to jail. He escaped, first to New Zeland then to India. He never takes full responsibility for his actions, he doesn’t stop to really think about the consequences of his actions but keep blaming the system for having taken away his freedom. On and on the narrator whinges and complains about the feelings he felts in prison, how unfair it was, how nothing he had done was justifying the rapt of his freedom. After 600 pages, the story starts to become highly unrealistic. After living in a slum, opening a free clinic there, becoming the “son” of one of the Mafia Godfathers, the narrator is now in Afghanistan fighting the Holy war against the Russians. He gets shot at, bombed etc and he’s barely injured (it felt a bit like a Rambo movie). It literally makes you roll your eyes and say “yeah right”. I kept reading thought until the very last page (963) and I have to say,  I have mixed feelings about it. I’m quite sure this one won’t be reread anytime soon, or ever, but I’m glad I read this Australian best seller.

Ѵ The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman was a pure delight. The style is flowing, spellbinding and it’s a real page turner. The two central characters are total opposites but both walk the same path towards the reconstruction of their broken lives. 

Lamont Williams, recently released from jail ( for a crime he didn’t commit) works as a janitor in a Cancer Hospital. He needs to go through the six months probation period if he wants to have a chance to see his daughter again. He meets there an old man, Holocaust survivor. Not only will the man tell his story to Lamont but he makes him memorize the names, the dates in order to repeat it, as often as possible, so it will never be forgotten.

In parallel, the Australian/ American Historian Adam Zignelik, son of  well known Civil Rights lawyer, teacher at Columbia is about to lose his job after he lost his girlfriend. His world is crumbling, he seems to head toward alcoholism until one of his father’s friends asks him to investigate about the role of the black soldiers in the liberation of the death camps, including Auschwitz. This book is a must read, something that will leave you changed in some way. It made me want to read more about that historical period. Since one of my book clubs had it on its monthly selection, I also read…

Ѵ A Train in Winter by Caroline Morehead. Fabulous book about 50 women taken from different  French regions and sent to Auschwitz, most of them for being part of the Resistance. Amazing story about courage, resistance, surviving and friendship.

Ѵ Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie was a reread. I read the English translation and didn’t like it when I absolutely adored it in its original version (French).

Ѵ Carrie by Stephen King was also a reread. Nothing better than a very familiar, all time favorite read for the 10th times. Everybody heard of the horrific, deep, fascinating story of the teenager Carrie White, her incredible power and her bottomless pain. If you’re looking for something that will kidnap your heart and haunt your nights, look no more, you’ve found it.

Ѵ The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was a recommendation from a very close friend of mine.Since she has good taste, I sometimes listen to her and follow her advises. It was an easy read. I’ve heard of Neil Gaiman (who hasn’t ?)but I had never read anything of his before. I enjoyed it very much but I can not say I was much impressed by it. It left me lighthearted and smiling but it didn’t rock my world. A couple of very subjects are evoked but not developed (child abuse for example). In my opinion it lacks of deepness.

Ѵ A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  by Tennessee Williams. a pleasure fron the first word to the last. A very deep and sensitive painting of the root of personal and collective misery. It shows how misery comes from frustration, impossibility to communicate with the one you love and dissimulation. Williams’s style is absolutely enchanting.

As I said…quite a busy winter !

Joyland by Stephen King, 2013

A new Stephen King is always an event in my house. The lack of a real bookshop in my town transformed the mail man in some sort of messiah…he’s the holder of the precious books… he’s the one who tortured me for days ! To be really honest with you, it’s pretty must the only thing I’m missing since I’ve moved to Australia. It seems that if you don’t leave in one of the capital cities you can not find a decent bookshop, Amazon delivers here of course (if you’re ready to pay 15 dollars postage by book which makes them ridiculously expensive) so my only book dealer is The Book Depository, no postage but delivery is very slow. Anyway, last Wednesday, the mail man finally brought me mu new Stephen King and made me the happiest chick of Earth. I dived in it, devoured it and just like with The Stand, I ended up sad that the book wasn’t longer.

Devin Jones, old man in his 60’s, remembers the year 1973. The year he was madly in love with Wendy and she broke his heart, the year he decided to work  in a beachside carnival in North Carolina during summer, the year he met a fantastic young boy and his mother. On the day he’s hired, he hears about the traditional ghost story about the House of Horrors. A young lady, Linda Gray, has been murdered four years before and her killer was never arrested. Dev doesn’t do much of this story. He’s more preoccupied  by his girlfriend who will break up with him during the simmer. Dev, Erin and Tom, all living at the same boarding house, all working in the same team, lean everything about the carnival, its rules, its linguo etc. At the end of the summer, the decide to visit the House of Horrors, looking for the ghost. Tom, the more sceptical of all, actually sees it.

Dev feels more and more connected with the carnival and is fighting depression. He decides to take a year off school and stays at Joyland for the winter. Meanwhile, Erin and Tom, now a couple, go back to school. Erin investigates Linda’s death and other similar deaths in carnivals. Dev meets Mike and Annie Ross. Mike is a 10 years old kid who has muscular dystrophy. He’s very conscious of this health issue, very mature about it. He’s also a psychic. Friendship between Mike and Devin builds up, both learning a lot from each other. I’ll stop the summary here because, this novel, even if it has supernatural components, is a crime story and I will not reveal who the killer is ( I would never have thought it was that character though).

As usual Stephen King has the power to just grab you and not let you go until you’re finished. It really doesn’t matter what pseudo intellectuals and serious critics (you know the ones with velvet jackets, big glasses, a pipe and snobbish opinions) say, someone who can keep you reading until the early hours of the morning, make the book being your first thought when you wake up, has talent. Stephen King tells us here a story about growing up and dying, about love and death.

I give it a 9/1 (not a 10/10 because it. is. too. damn. short !!)

Clock Without Hands by Carson McCullers, 1961

Like I told you last time, I have been very lazy with my reviewing lately so today, double treat.

First, Carson McCullers. I stumbled on this small novel at the library and remembered my last year in High School when my Advanced English teacher made us read The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe (all in English, I still have it, in its greenish blue Penguin edition, incredibly difficult to find in France, 20 something years ago). I don’t remember the story very well (which is my cue for an urgent rereading) but I remembered how much I loved it. It might have to do with my English teacher too, she was awesome.

This short novel has been written between 1951 and 1961 by the talented Carson McCullers. She was afflicted by a very painful and disabling disease, she had a very short and dramatic life (involving a suicide attempt, a husband who tried to make her follow him in a suicide  pact and who killed himself in a Paris hotel room after she refused. ). She also was Tennessee Williams’s friend and worked with him on the adaptation of one of her novels for theatre.

The Clock Without Hands starts with this powerful sentence : “Death is always the same, but each man dies in his own way. For J.T. Malone it began in such a simple ordinary way that for a time he confused the end of his life with the beginning of a new season” J.T. Malone is a 40 years old pharmacist who is suddenly diagnosed with leukaemia. At first, the reader thinks that the novel is about Malone’s death and his attempts to redeem his sins until the character of the Old Judge appears. He’s an 80 years old segregationist, nostalgic of the pre Secession War time, who thinks he’ll be able to turn back History. The Judge also has his personal tragedies to deal with. His own son  killed himself 17 years old ago and he’s now taking care of his grandson Jester. Jester soon takes some importance in the story, especially in his relationship with Sherman, a black man with blue eyes that the Judge hired as his assistant.

The plot thickens around those four men until the final catastrophe. In few pages, Carson McCullers deals with racism, death, family bounds, intergeneration relationships. For those character, who all have a very close bound with death the issue is how to interact with the living. Malone is trapped  in a loveless, humdrum marriage. The Old Judge has to deal with his son’s death guilt while watching his grandson growing up against every values he ever believed in. Jester is in search of his own identity, both his parents died and he knows very little about them, he’s also confused about his own sexuality until he meets Sherman. Sherman is something altogether, he’s also an orphan but he doesn’t even know the name of his parents, he’s a pathological liar who doesn’t trust or like anyone.

This is a MUST read.

9/10

Walk through the Rainforest…

I received the new Stephen King last night and I started reading it immediately…until 1:30am. I picked it up as soon as I woke up but got interrupted by my better half who wanted to have a walk and get some sun. Reluctantly I followed him…for once he was right.

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, 1814

I’m soooo behind in my reviews because I have been a lazy little bug !

Anyway, my second trip in the world of Jane Austen wasn’t as good as I wished it would be.

Mansfield Park starts like a fairy tale. You have the little orphan (semi orphan but that’s just a technicality), the horrible Aunt, the scary Uncle and the completely out of the reality other Aunt. Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas decide to help Lady B’s sister, Mrs Price, who has more children than you can think of and did a very bad marriage. Out of generosity, they help her by taking the eldest daughter to educate her and teach how to be a nice servant. Lady Bertram has no clue whatsoever of what happens around her and Sir Thomas is only preoccupied by the cost of the operation since his business isn’t going so well. The Bertram girls, Maria and Julia, are so selfish, light headed and too busy to look for a husband or to seduce the neighbour to even notice Fanny, our little orphan. Only Edmund, the Bertram’s second son, is an angel of mercy for the little girl. He takes her under his wing, teaches her everything a lady should know and acts as her best friend. Mrs Norris, Lady B’s second sister, is there to remind Fanny of her right place in the family, which is, according to her, just above the cook but a notch below the family dog. Sir Thomas and his eldest son, Tom, have to go to Antigua to straighten Sir Thomas’s business. Mrs Norris has a free hand in dictating her views and arranges Maria’s wedding with Mr Rushworth, a rich but very dull man. Maria, attracted but so much money and prestige, agrees. The new occupants of the Parsonage, Dr Grant and Mrs Grant, will soon be included in the daily life of Mansfield Park, especially after Mrs Grant’s brother, Henry Crawford, and sister, Mary Crawford, establish their residence there. Edmund falls in love immediately with Ms Crawford and forgets all about Fanny. Mr Crawford seduces Maria, but just for fun… As soon as she seems to be interested in him to the point where she could cancel her wedding, off he goes. He comes back after the wedding and decides that he has now to seduce Fanny.

Half way through  the book, I had the feeling that the story hadn’t start yet, that Austen was still introducing the characters to me. Fanny is too pale, unassuming to be a interesting heroine. I wasn’t really interested in knowing what could happen to her. The whole Bertram family is a gallery of hypocritical, lazy, dull characters, even Edmund. He’s so fiddle and easily manipulated that you feel sorry for him. Henry Crawford reminds me of Valmont, minus the charm, the vulnerability or the personality.

I don’t often do that but I didn’t finished it, I stopped after chapter 26 ( and someone is probably going to tell me that after chapter 27 everything gets SO interesting)

I give it a 2/10