Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Shortlisted for the booker prize 2009.

Opening in 1930s Czechoslovakia this novel begins with a young newly wed couple looking to build a modern home to raise a family. The couple hire a German architect who builds them a large, open space bounded by glass walls and known as the glass room. Throughout the story many of the most dramatic events take place in the glass room and the house itself is an important part of the book. The family are forced to move as the war begins because the father is Jewish, so the novel then splits to follow the family's emigration as well as the fate of their glass room.

I did really enjoy this book, which is very well written and the historical setting is interesting. There are a lot of inter-connecting characters which at times is slightly too convenient and coincidental, but perhaps that is a bit unfair as it was of course necessary to make this such a good story. Definitely worth reading.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is the prequel to The Shadow of The Wind and tells the story of a Spanish novelist whose talents come to the attention of a mysterious man referred to as 'the boss'. The boss gives the novelist (David Martin) a strange commission but although Martin is compliant to begin with he soon becomes suspicious of the boss' morality and motives. As people around Martin begin to be murdered he comes under suspicion by the police and the identity of the boss is questioned.

I didn't enjoy this book. It is very supernatural and everything is left unexplained. There are just too many things which don't make any sense so instead of being intrigued by the mystery it is just confusing and bizarre. For example, Martin recovers from a terminal illness (a tumor) following a dream involving spiders, the boss constantly eats sugarlumps and Martin discovers a basement of wooden lifesize puppets of himself and all his friends in the basement of the boss' house. None of these things is ever explained, just dropped inexplicably into the narrative.

It is a very quick read but personally I wouldn't bother. Despite all the twists and turns this book is pretty boring because the narrative thread is impossible to follow.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

This novel was first published in 1947. It is written by a German man who lived a colourful life, having killed a schoolfriend in a duel and spent much of his adult life in psychiatric hospitals trying to conquer his various addictions. The novel is much more peaceful than either the subject matter or the author's life might suggest and is based on real life events. It is focused on small acts of resistance and the effect they can have on individuals and the wider public. Following the death of their son in the war, an older German couple (Otto and Anna) start to hand write a postcard a week denouncing the Fuhrer and the Reich's politics. The couple drop those cards in buildings across the city and the novel follows the people who pick them up, the gestapo investigation and the couple themselves. I enjoyed this novel as it did not fall into the usual goodies and baddies trap of war stories. The Gestapo investigator is cruel but not stereotypically so and is quite a likeable character whilst Otto is quite awkward and not particularly kind or charitable. It is also refreshing to read about resistance which did not involve elaborate, heroic gestures because that makes it much easier to imagine the smaller-scale reality of Berlin during the war. The afterword which describes the couple on which Otto and Anna are based was very interesting. I would recommend this as a different take on a theme but I don't think it is outstandingly well written and the dialogue can be a bit clumsy at times (possibly a result of the translation).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block

I loved this book. I found it in a random pile of books in a charity shop and I actually think it is better than some of the Booker prize shortlist (The Quickening Maze for example).

There are two separate narratives - one by Seth, a teenage boy and one by Abel, an elderly man - both of which are distinctive voices and very well written. Seth and Abel both live in Texas and their lives are bound by early onset Alzheimers, a genetic disorder which affects both of their families. The disease is so destructive that it would be easy for this book to be very depressing, but it is actually not only uplifting but also funny (although quite dry). I would definitely recommend this book and it deserves to be better known than it is.

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009

This novel is about an asylum in Epping Forest in the 1840s. A peasant poet (John Clare) is a patient, as is Alfred Tennyson's brother Septimus. The novel describes the interaction between the asylum owner's family and the patients. Although there is some historical analysis of asylums in the 19th century, the book is mainly about personal relationships rather than mental illness.

Personally, I thought this book was really boring and it didn't really spark any reaction in me, good or bad. The writing is quite descriptive and is neither offensive or inspiring. It is a quick read but very forgettable. Distinctly average.