Monday, 30 January 2012

Thoughts: The Rain before it Falls by Jonathan Coe

I've had this book sitting on my shelf for ages, a beautiful hardcover still wrapped in cellophane. I'm glad I finally cracked its spine.

A family secret finally revealed in some beautiful prose is sometimes all a good books needs. Rosamond records a story for Imogen, her missing grand-niece, because she is the only one who can still tell Imogen's story, which reaches back till second world war, when Beatrix, Imogen's grandmother and Rosamond were still children. Beatrix didn't experience motherly love, which soon led her in the arms of the first available men she met and made her emotionally cold towards her own daughter, too. This paved the way for an awful incident which took Imogen's eyesight. Rosamond lifts the family secret with great empathy, also describing wonderful moments of Imogen's life, trying to rouse apprehension for an incomprehensible deed.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. I picked it up whenever I had a spare minute. I liked the way the story is told. Rosamond describes photographs of long-forgotten events and people to blind Imogen and reminisces in memories that come up looking at the pictures. The story develops along the succession of the photographs, adding details with every picture. The mood is melancholic and calm and very personal. The family secret is not that shocking rather than sad, but this did not lessen the reading experience for me. It was more the motivations behind it, that keeps the reader reading.

I'd recommend the book to people who liked Atonement by Ian McEwan or The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Thoughts: The Gathering by Anne Enright

The plot of this book is a simple thing. Veronica Hegarty is under shock because her alcoholic brother Liam died. He went into the sea with stones in his pockets. His funeral gathers the remaining Hegarty children and embraces Veronica in the arms of her rambling sisters and brothers. Meanwhile a lot of dark and melancholic observations of past times and past places are intertwined in the story, which go back to the get-to-know of Veronica's grandparents Ada and Charly. Veronica does not know much about this get-to-know but her thoughts strive back to it again and again, each time making up a new detail about it. Her apparently normal life, which includes a husband and children, seems to get more distant with each thought. Veronica is haunted by her brothers ghost and the reasons for his miserable life, seeking refuge in alcohol. Soon it dawns her that she might know what the reasons for it were, what happened to her brother. But does it change anything now?

The Gathering is not about a preceding plot, it is rather about the complicated emotional life of the protagonist Veronica. While reading I came to understand that sometimes the action is interior, that means the change or movement inside a person, when someone beloved passes away or leaves. Though I understand that this kind of writing makes some of us uncomfortable, too much feelings and not enough storyline.

Anne Enright has a most singular voice. I thought it was remarkable how everything came to live once Enright wrote about it. And this is why the book is not a simple thing at all. It attempts to analyze the essentials of love and death and their particular fears, pains and pleasures.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Thoughts: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is one of the books that gripped me already from the start. I read Room in two sessions, second time anxiously awaiting my free time to read on.

The book is narrated by Jack, who is a five year old living in Room with his Mom. And though five-year-olds experience the world different than adults, the reader instantly recognizes that Jack's situation is odd. This is because he and his Mom are captured in Room, but Jack doesn't really know. For him, everything happening in Room is his reality, with Old Nick visiting in the evenings, clearing the trash and delivering food. Jack's ignorance of the outside world is a desperate attempt of his mother to protect him, because Old Nick would never let them go. But now that Jack is five, his mother begins to form a plan of escape, in which Jack is going to have a leading role.

To read about the routine Jack and his mother kept in Room was shocking and amazing at the same time. Them playing rhyme games to build Jack's linguistic talents, running track on a C-round next to the bed for physical education or building a snake from egg shells, because there were not many other toys. And again I have to mention that all this was described in rich detail in the voice of a five-year-old.

I also think that Jack's mother is a great character. Her love for Jack and the way she tried to keep him safe from Old Nick but also from the world she could not offer him and how she tried to promote him though her means were restricted is just remarkable.

And though the circumstances of the Room itself must have been confined, I feel like the world has expansed a bit by looking at it with Jack's eyes. A five star read, of course!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Thoughts: Cain by José Saramgo

Much more a novella than a book, in his final piece of work Saramago sends out Cain to witness the deeds of an ever quarreling mankind and the punishments of a vengeful god.

After murdering his brother Abel, Cain is touring the Old Testament, cursed by God to wander endlessly. He is there with Lilith in her bed, building the Ark with Noah, watching Abraham almost killing Isaac and witnessing Sodom and Gomorrah as well as he Tower of Babel fall.

I think the book could hurt the feelings of serious Christian people, because Saramgao indicates that even God is not always right and is mocking the biblical stories. I am an atheist and for me it was funny, because I felt like Saramago blew the dust from those old stories, retelling them in an entertaining way. Especially in the beginning, the part about Adam and Eve, I often had to laugh out loud because of the ignorance of the earliest people on earth. My BF asked me to read aloud and we had some good laughs together, admiring Saramago's writing style which is unlike anyone else's, though I had to get used to his punctuation.

And though the book is funny, it could not keep my interest till the end and that is why I only give it three stars. For people who want to read a fun interpretation of Jesus' life, I recommend The Gospel according to Biff by Christopher Moore.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Monday, 9 January 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Since my last Monday post a couple of weeks ago I read:
Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith - All in all it was not really my cup of tea as I would have hoped for more plot and mystery, be it strange or not.

Child 44 and The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith - Child 44 is a thriller unlike any I have read so far, because of the very different setting, where every move you make is overseen which is nightmarish in its own.

Cain by José Saramago (yet to be reviewed) - An irascible God sends Cain out in the world to witness the heavenly punishments. Mostly witty and entertaining.

Now I am reading:
The Gathering by Anne Enright - When a brother and son dies, an Irish family gathers to, mourn the dead. Life comes apart at the seams and perspective might change. Not always for the better.

I'm listening to:
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - my first audiobook and me likes it.

Coming up:
I still have Faithful place by Tana French and Room by Emma Donoghue high on my list. But as always those are subject to change. Becuase I am a moody reader. I like to make plans but nearly never am I able to stick to them.

It's Monday is hosted by Book Journey.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Thoughts: Child 44 & The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

I am not much of a series reader but my BF's mother lend me those two books and as I wanted to return them, I decided to give them a shot. Surprise, surprise I ended up liking the Leo Demidow series quite a bit.

Child 44

There is no crime in Stalin's Soviet Union and it is a paradise for it's dutiful citizens, it's hard workers. No one needs to live in fear of criminals but nearly everybody lives in fear of the State. An ideologically disloyal opinion or contact with suspicious people can send people into Gulags or their own execution. When Leo Demidow, a war hero and courageous MGB agent, becomes aware of a serial killer who murders innocent children, he has to be careful. The state arrests the wrong people, because they need to present the cases solved but the real murderer is still at large, killing at will. Leo must not challenge the state's way to come by the crimes but needs to find the killer on his own and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.

The books was better than expected. Child 44 is a page-turner and brims with information about the repression and fear people lived in in a Stalin reigned Soviet Union. I myself felt the anguish. And I certainly liked the character of Leo. He is not perfect, first devoted to the state, pursuing innocent people, arresting them and delivering them to torture, he soon becomes aware of the wrongness of it all and wants to change. But he too only is a puppet and has to play his designated role, because everybody who questions the system is exposed to the state's cruelty. That is why Leo soon finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. And Leo has to think of his family too, his parents and wife Raisa, who becomes a true companion for Leo and is a remarkable character herself.

Child 44 is a thriller unlike any I have read so far, because of the very different setting, where every move you make is overseen which is nightmarish in its own.

After finishing this one I instantly grabbed the second book of the series.

The Secret Speech

The Soviet Union in 1956 is a country where Stalin is dead and due to Khrushchev's secret speech some kind of reformation is going on. Suddenly the police, who forced repression and torture on people, are identified as criminals and the criminals are the innocent. The hunters become the hunted. Leo Demidow's adoptive daughter is kidnapped by a gang of criminals whose head is a woman Leo once betrayed. She wants him to get her husband out of a Gulag in Kolyma, a cold and dark Siberian region, where the forced laborers mine gold. Leo is channeled in the gulag as prisoner but already on the first day he is found out to be a Checkists, an agent working for the state. Now not only the life of his daughter but his own is in danger.

The second book in the series turns out to be as entertaining and fast-paced as the first book. The life in gulags, which played an important role in the punishment and conversion of dissidents, is focused in the middle part of the book. The conditions in those prisoner camps were horrible and the people that died in them are estimated about the same number as people died in second world war. But I think that Leo might have acted a little naive given what his experiences were in the first book, which makes Child 44 a slightly better read for me.

The next book in the series is Agent 6 which I might read some time in the future, too.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

My 2011 reading stats.

In 2011 I read 45 books out of 50 books, which was my set goal for the year. I didn't reach it but I read some great books this year and will attempt to crack those 50 this year again.

I already did a post about my favorite books of 2011, which you can find here.

As my native language is German I certainly read books in German. Out of 45 books I read 21 in German and 24 in English. I hope to keep reading books in both languages in balance for 2012, too.

I read 10 of those books on my e-reader.

13 books were written by men and 32 books I read were written by women.

Only 5 of the books were non-fiction. That is why I hope to read some more non-fiction this year.

Only 10 books I read were from the library and though I am happy to own many books I sure want to support my local library and would be happy to read more books from the library this year.

Of the 45 books I read, 32 books were written by authors new to me.

I am not sure exactly how many pages I managed to read in 2011 but my shelfari account told me that I read more than 15,000 pages and reached my goal for 2011.

All in all I am happy with my reading year 2011. As I already mentioned I'd like to read more non-fiction and more books from the library in 2012. Also I hope to explore some more new great authors this year, but also to revisited some "old friends and favorite auhtors".