Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

The World Without You The World Without You
A Novel by Joshua Henkin
Published 2012 
Rating: 4 stars
The World Without You is a book I read for the Opinionless book club.  It is definitely not a book I would have ever picked up to read otherwise - I do not care for books with current political struggles nor do I care for books with family conflict and this one has both.  However, the book is well written with good character development.

The World Without You is about a upper class New England family who lost a brother, son, husband while he was working as a journalist in Iraq.  The book takes place in 2004 or 2005 the few days before the July 4th holiday and the one year anniversary of Leo's death.  The book centers on the struggles the family has dealing with the death; yet, brings up the question, how does the death of a close family member effect the rest of the life of the family?

The book is told primarily from the alternating perspective of mother, Marilyn; sisters  Clarissa,  Lily, and Noelle; and wife/widow Thisbe.  What the author Joshua Henken does so well with this book is the character development of these women.  He wrote in such a way that you were irritated with the mom and sisters, absolutely hating Noelle.  I absolutely loved and sympathized with Thisbe.  His portrayal of sibling rivalry was so spot on it was difficult for me to read as my relationship with my brother is much that of Lily and Noelle.  The anger I felt as I read Noelle was astounding.

Politics has an underlying role in the book and even though the author said he did not want to leave the reader with the impression that he had a political stance one way or the other, the book leaves no question in my mind that Mr. Henkin certainly did not take a tax deduction for a contribution to the Rupblican Party.  A brief mention to the Florida hanging chad "debaucle" was mentioned and brought a smile to my face.

Will I ever read this book again?  No.  Will I recommend it to others - yes, but with caveats  that it is full of family strife and not really a fun book to read.  Personally, I would probably only give the book 2 stars for subject matter, but the fact that the author could rile me and evoke such strong emotions throughout the book I must rate it higher - 4 stars.  Will I read the author again?  Yes - I am adding his book Matrimony to my to read list - however, I will probably need a large buffer as I am not in the mood to read another book anytime soon that might evoke similar strong emotions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2001 Man Booker Winner: The True Story of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

True History of the Kelly GangI listened to the True History of the Kelly Gang on audio.  I chose to read it at this time in preparation of the BookerMarks project.  I have found that I would prefer to read an authors earlier more acclaimed works before reading their newer hyped books as sometimes I think they get accolades for writing crap just because an earlier piece of fiction was fantastic (see Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides - I may never go back to read Middlesex...).

The "Kelly Gang" is a historical fiction novel based on the life of the "folk hero" Ned Kelly. Ned was Australia's Jessie James. He was a bush ranger (outlaw) and bank robber, yet heralded as a Robin Hood.  His story details the reasons that he became who he was and that the corrupt police system at the time drove him to act as he had.  Interestingly, in an interview with author Peter Carey, it is revealed that in Carey's opinion,  Ned is Australia's number one hero.  Whereas the US has Jessie James in a similar background and story, our heros are Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Boon and Crockett and so many many others.  Yet the story of the bush ranger, Ned Kelly, tops the list of heros for Australians.

Ned Kelly was born in Australia into a poor family.  As his father had questionable dealings in his past, the local law enforcement, most of them corrupt themselves harass the Kelly's regularly.  Young Ned was highly influenced by the treatment he and his family received by these constables.  As a young man it was proven that he was a man of integrity trying to live an honest life earning a humble living.  However, circumstances would not allow him to live his life out as a loyal son, brother and simple farmer.

So, as Ned realizes his fate and that he is going to be a father he begins to pen a "letter" to his daughter to tell her the true story of the Kelly Gang.  The narrative is in the first person from Ned's perspective.  The narrator for the audio book is Gianfranco Negroponte, a marvelous voice for Ned with a great Australian accent.  Carey wrote the book as if he were Ned and used the actual manuscript that Ned used along with the newspaper accounts of his exploits.   Interestingly, as the book was written for his daughter, he would use swear words, yet soften them. So when listening all one heard was effing this, s that.  Apparaently, Ned thought that the word bugger was also a swear word and in the manuscript wrote it out as b----r.  However it was read aloud as bugger in the audio version.

In the audio version the word "adjectival"  was used repeatedly.  As I had never heard the word, I had difficultly figuring out exactly what was being said.  So I downloaded the sample version of the ebook to see if I could figure it out.  I was amazed to find that the actual book is written very crudely.  Little capitalization or punctuation.  Apparenly, Carey wrote it very similarly to the original manuscripts.  Seeing this, I realized how much one does miss listening to the audio version of a book.  The actual art, the craft, of this book was lost in the audio production.  However, I never would have been able to work it into my to read list with out the audio.  I also understand that reading the book in its form made it difficult for some to follow and a bit more tedious to read for others.  Oh, and "adjectival" is just a form of the word adjective.  Well, this was some adjectival book!

2008 Man Booker Winner: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Rating: 3.0
The White Tiger
A Novel by Aravind Adiga
2008 / 276 Pages

I don’t even know how to begin to review this book. I listened to it on audio as it is in my Man Booker prize winner reading list and it was buy one get one free on Audible.com.
So, lets just say it is a whack book – slightly off kilter. It is about a man, Balram, from a small village in India becoming a driver for a wealthy man in New Deli. Balram is telling his life story in letter format to the Prime Minister of China. There are parts that are laugh out loud funny and the whole book is very entertaining. I do not know how much of the “background” concerning the customs, politics, and cast system are true. As I listened, I wondered about reading some of the other more popular books based in India for a more accurate description as Balram may not have been the best source for the information.  Interestingly, early on in the book you find that Belram is wanted for murder, but the way the story is written, you really don’t care.  It is just part of the books whacky-ness.

The narrator, John Lee was a fantastic reader.  He read with a very understandable and unmistakable Indian accent.  I honestly thought he was Indian even though he as a very ordinary name.  However, I recently began the 2005 Booker Winner, The Sea, and John Lee narrates it as well, but with a very English accent!
White Tiger was not poetic and beautiful nor a piece of finely crafted literature, but it was a very original, crazy story that I enjoyed listening to while driving…

Monday, July 23, 2012

2009 Man Booker Winner: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

 Wolf Hall: A Novel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was on my to-read list as part my goal to real all of the Man-Booker and National Book Award prize winners for the last decade.  It shot to the top of my to-read list when the members of The Opinionless Book Club all decided to start the http://bookermarks.wordpress.com/ project - a project where 7 bloggers will tackle the Booker long list to read and rate the books choosing our own short list and eventual winner. 
Wolf Hall was the 2009 winner of the Man-Booker and Hilary Mantel released her second novel in the trilogy, Bringing Up The Bodies, this year making it Booker eligible.  This book will surely make the long list and I am certain will also make the short list. So to not start a trilogy with the second book, I tackled the first, first.

As with most historical novels set outside of the revolutionary or civil war, I knew nothing of the story line except very vague details of Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.  These three characters and umpteen thousand more are central to Wolf Hall.  The storyline details the true history of the time but is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell.  Basically, King Henry VIII has been married to Queen Katherine for some 20 years but she has get to give birth to a male heir.  In comes Ann Boleyn who will not give the king any honey without a ring on her finger (or being corinated as queen).  So back in the day, a divorce was much harder to come by and basically a power struggle ensues between the church ( think Roman Catholics and the Pope) vs the King and his minions.

The secondary plot line running through the book is the advent of the protestants (not yet mentioned as such). Key characters to the secondary plot line are Thomas More, William Tyndale who had recently finished translating the Bible into English and mentioned briefly is Martin Luther.

What impressed me about Wolf Hall is the attention Mantel has to detail.  She has long beautiful and flowing descriptions that allow the reader to feel the surroundings and to get a glimpse into exactly what Cromwell is thinking.  I love Mantel's characterizations especially of Cromwell himself.  She is able to show such a grand compassionate side and at the same time show his ruthlessness.  As he is portrayed so deliberately with both personas, I could not help but admire him and all he was able to accomplish - good or bad.  As I write this review, I think of Cromwell as more of a tender man than the tough as nails person he probably was.

My struggles with the book come from my lack of knowledge for this period in history.  I caught myself wanting to  understand the back ground story and so as I read the book I kept my cell phone with my Wikipedia app handy.  I found that after I had researched a person or event, I then felt compelled to re-read the passage that influenced the research.  For the first 200 pages or so I felt as if I was reading the book twice.   My other struggle with the book was unfortunate timing and not related to the book itself.  I have been able to sit down and read consistently for most of the year; however, with the beginning of Wolf Hall, my reading time has diminished.  This is a book more easily read in a few sittings of an hour or more.  For me this book did not work well in 15 minute snippets.  I found myself re-reading any passages that I read in a snippet as I had not read enough to follow and remember what was happening.  The third struggle was with the third person pronoun "He".  Fortunately I was fore-warned that the pronoun was used continuously and that most often it was not accompanied with its reference noun.  Luckily I was told that 95% of the time "he" referred to Thomas Cromwell.  There were many passages though that I had to read and re-read and re-read again to get the proper voice and understanding.  Many times  I still could not be certain to whom a passage was actually referring.

My struggles aside, this was still a very fascinating and thrilling book.  I could not wait to pick it up and was frustrated at my lack of time to sit down and read consistently.  Fortunately this weekend, I had plenty of reading time and was able to read the last 300ish pages in two days.  I can not wait to read Bringing Up the Bodies and I will be shocked if it does not make the long and the short Man Booker lists.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Man Booker Project

I am very pleased to be a part of a group of literary bloggers that will be participating in a project to review all of the Man Booker long listed books! Check out the details at BookerMarks.