Karen Joy Fowler’s WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES

9781846689666It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner if it had.

This book ticks a number of boxes for me. It is about a dysfunctional family, it is predominantly set in a college and does both with a very clever twist. It is also told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator (whose unreliability is perfectly understandable). Just like Jeffrey Eugenides did with Middlesex this is also a compelling exploration of nature vs nurture told with an originality that is fascinating, entertaining, tragic and endearing.

The book is told by Rosemary who in her 40s is looking back at her life. While Rosemary is an unreliable narrator she is upfront about it and in recounting her story out-of-order our judgements and sympathies about her are tempered in different lights.

Rosemary’s childhood was far from normal. She and her twin sister Fern were the subject of a social experiment conducted by her father. The experiment seemingly ended when Rosemary turned five and Fern was sent away. This event was the beginning a fracture that slowly tore the family apart. Rosemary and Fern’s old brother Lowell would eventually run away from home, barely staying in contact, and the unspoken blame for both events would erode Rosemary’s relationship with both her parents and make it hard for her to form any new ones through school and into college.

This is a wonderful exploration of families, siblings and growing up and our are ideas about what they are and should be. It is one of those great novels that not only make you think but change the way you think. Full of humour, empathy and sadness it will ultimately reaffirm the power and importance of family, whatever shape or form it comes in.

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ISBN: 9781846689666
ISBN-10: 184668966X
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 21mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Serpent’s Tail
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Jun-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Jeff VanderMeer’s AUTHORITY

9780007553525 (1)The second book in the Southern Reach trilogy turns the story’s perspective around and begins with a couple of awesome twists. The first book, Annihilation, detailed a scientific exploration of Area X where some kind of environmental disaster has occurred. Events took a turn for the worse and now an investigation is underway to try and work out what went wrong and why.

John “Control” Rodriguez has been brought in to replace the previous Director of The Southern Reach who oversaw the previous expeditions. He needs to get up to speed on both the last expedition and what is happening within the clandestine organization which is The Southern Reach. As he begins his investigation and starts conducting interviews he unearths confronting truths about Southern Reach’s work as well as himself. A truth he is not sure he can trust especially when he may not even be able to trust himself.

While the perspective and tone shifts in this second book an ominous sense of dread remains permeating through the text. The hairs on the back of your neck will literally prickle as “Control”gets closer to unravelling, both the truth and figuratively.

While I can’t wait to read the next book I think I need a break to catch my breath and prepare myself for what I can’t only imagine will be a mind-blowing finale.

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ISBN: 9780007553525
ISBN-10: 0007553528
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945) , Science fiction
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 6-May-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Peter Stenson’s FIEND

9780099558835I love a good zombie story especially when it is done with a fresh twist. And this zombie thriller certainly comes from a different angle.

Chase is a meth addict. When he sees a little girl attack a rottweiler he’s pretty sure he is seeing things. But when the little girl then turns on him and his best friend Type he’s knows he’s not hallucinating and that they have both missed the end of the world because of a drug fueled binge. Now they must fight for their survival, which is not that big a stretch for them considering they have had more than enough practice trying to get a fix everyday.

This novel starts off great and has some really wicked humour littered throughout. Unfortunately the schtick gets tired very quickly especially when the methamphetamines they are addicted too seems to also be the only thing keeping them alive. A few more twists would have been nice and a little bit less gratuitous drug use as well as it all becomes a bit glorified halfway through the book.

With zombie stories back in a big way at the moment this needed a little something extra to get it across the line. In the end it felt a little too similar to its tag line of ‘Breaking Bad meets The Walking Dead’ with the originals far, far better. The Girl With All The Gifts was a better zombie story told from a different angle and Zone One did zombie satire way better too. This was good entertainment but possibly had the potential for more.

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ISBN: 9780099558835
ISBN-10: 0099558831
Classification: Horror & ghost stories
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 19mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Windmill Books
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Jeff VanderMeer’s ANNIHILATION

9780007550692I had an early ARC of this book but kept putting off starting it. The blurb intrigued me (which was the reason I asked for an ARC) but just didn’t have the impetus to actually start it. Part of it was dystopian/end of the world fatigue and the other part was there have been so many damn good books this year that it is too easy to miss books or let good ones stagnate in your ‘to be read’ pile.

Annihilation is also the first book in a serial, The Southern Reach Trilogy. So now that the third book has been released (all three were published this year) I finally got the push to start it. And immediately regretted not reading it sooner. Part early Michael Crichton (the good stuff) and part original Alien movie (and part something else but I can’t say because SPOILER!!), I was instantly hooked.

Jeff VanderMeer has written an intriguing science fiction story set in the not-to-distant future. A wide area of land has been cordoned off from the world for thirty years after some kind of environmental catastrophe. Attempts to investigate the area have all been met with disaster. Four scientists; a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist; must journey into this possibly dangerous unknown as part of the twelfth expedition. As they conduct their investigation a wicked sense of foreboding slowly builds with a not quite present horror. Nothing is as it seems as the scientists are slowly influenced by the environment around them but also from within. All of which, of course, makes for addictive reading.

I may have been late to this series but I also have the benefit of not having to wait for book two which I am going to dive straight into.

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ISBN: 9780007550692
ISBN-10: 0007550693
Classification: Science fiction
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 4-Feb-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Naoki Higashida’s THE REASON I JUMP

9781444776775Translated by David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida this is a fascinating look into the world of autism. Written by a 13 year old boy, using an alphabet board, this book is a first hand account of what it is like for somebody with autism.

There is not a lot known about autism and I personally do not know anybody diagnosed with the disorder. The are a lot of myths about autism and assumptions made by people like myself who have no second hand experience with the disorder. A book like this gives an amazing insight and perspective into what the disorder is like and the effects confusion and misunderstanding has on those diagnosed with autism.

The book is set out as a series of common questions about autism that Naoki tries to answer. His answers are clear and empathic. They do not offer solutions or any advice but simply convey what dealing with autism is like for him and an attempt to try an explain the reason behind behaviour and emotional responses. There are no clinical explanations just the thoughts and observations of a thirteen year old boy which ultimately give a unique and brilliant insight into a disorder we still know so little about. Interspersed with Naoki’s answers and observations are short stories he has written that further demonstrate the intelligence, empathy and creativity he possesses.

This is a remarkable book about a remarkable disorder written by a remarkable person.

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ISBN: 9781444776775
ISBN-10: 1444776770
Classification: Autobiography: general , Coping with illness & specific conditions , Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome
Format: Paperback (197mm x 164mm x 15mm)
Pages: 192
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 24-Apr-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Monthly Round Up – September

My blog posts from September

9780434022786Smith Henderson’s FOURTH OF JULY CREEK

With cover quotes from Kevin Power, Philipp Meyer and Jenni Fagan there was no way I was not going to read this.Throw in a rave review from John Harvey describing it as the best novel he’s read since Peter Temple’s Truthand it was practically drop everything to read this book. And everything they said about this book was true and then some. Read more…

9780575134348John Scalzi’s LOCK IN

I’ve been dying to read this since Scalzi published his oral history, teaser novella earlier this year. You don’t have to read the novella before this but I would highly recommend doing so because it shows the true depth of the world building Scalzi has imagined for our near future. Read more…

9780340739754David Mitchell’s GHOSTWRITTEN

For some reason I have been approaching David Mitchell backwards. I started with Cloud Atlas but then went toThe Bone Clocks and have worked backward from there. This wasn’t intentional, normally I’m a stickler for reading in chronological order but The Bone Clockslead me to A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet because of a character crossover,Black Swan Green grabbed me next and then due to stock availability I skippedNumber9dream (for now) and went to Mitchell’s first novel. Read more…

9780349140728Dennis Lehane’s THE DROP

This is absolute vintage Dennis Lehane. Contemporary Boston, working class neighbourhood, crime is not about right or wrong it is about survival and everyone has their own choices to make. Read more…

The+Trail+to+Buddha's+MirrorDon Winslow’s THE TRAIL TO BUDDHA’S MIRROR

The early books of Don Winslow give a fascinating insight into the development of his style but also the stories he wanted to tell. So much of Don Winslow’s recent work has centered around the drug trade, big and small, in San Diego and Mexico. The Neal Carey series however is much more global.A Cool Breeze on the Underground took us to London of the 70s and in the second book in the series we get deeply entrenched in China. Read more…

9781409151340George Pelecanos’s THE MARTINI SHOT

This George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer. Read more…

9781741666700Richard Flanagan’s THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

I recently re-read this by listening to the audiobook read by Richard Flanagan himself. This is one of those rare novels that not only holds up to a second reading but offers even more insight. This should have won this year’s Miles Franklin Award and I will be cheering it on for the Man Booker Prize. Read more…

9780340747971David Mitchell’s NUMBER9DREAM

My David Mitchell reading is complete and I miss him already. This was by far his strangest book (and the one that took me the longest to get into) however once again I was utterly in awe of his inventiveness, imaginative scope and ability to pull it all off. Read more…

David Mitchell’s NUMBER9DREAM

9780340747971My David Mitchell reading is complete and I miss him already. This was by far his strangest book (and the one that took me the longest to get into) however once again I was utterly in awe of his inventiveness, imaginative scope and ability to pull it all off.

The book centres on Eiji Miyake who has freshly arrived in Tokyo to find his father. Tokyo is a dreamlike cityscape full of interesting and banal people, both real and imagined. Eiji’s search for his father is a hunt to find his identity, a quest for the possibly unattainable, an expedition into life’s unknowns. He is thwarted by lawyers, stepmothers and even the Yakuza. He is aided by a lost property office, a video shop owner and a pizza shop. Like all great quests it is not about whether his finds what he was searching for but what and who he finds along the journey.

What impressed me the most about this novel was the way Mitchell captured a dream-like quality. “Dream-like” is a descriptive that has become almost clichéd but David Mitchell actually captures and presents what a dream is like and the way it makes you feel during and afterwards. At first this sensation is incredibly unsettling and off-putting, because like a truly great dream, he gives you no indication of what he is doing. You don’t know what is the “real” story and what is the “dream” part of the story. Sometimes you are convinced you are in the “real” part of the story only to “wake up”. And at other times you are waiting for the story to “wake up” but never do. By the end of the book though you are fully into the flow and interactions of dreams and reality.

And this is a story about dreams. What we make of them. What we learn from them. What they mean. And most importantly what they are trying to tell us.

David Mitchell has been my major book discovery this year and I am so tempted to turn around and start reading him again especially now I have seen how large his world is and all the pieces that join it together.

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ISBN: 9780340747971
ISBN-10: 0340747978
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (196mm x 130mm x 29mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 29-Sep-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom