Darragh McKeon’s ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR

9780241003312One of my favourite books of 2013 was A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra so when he reviewed this book in the New York Times I took notice.

Set in Russia in 1986 the book follows the events surrounding the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl. The story doesn’t deal with the accident directly but instead on what it means for four characters who are caught up in the inescapable events in different ways.

We follow a gifted surgeon, Grigory, who is sent to the site of the accident to help coordinate efforts and his ex-wife, Maria, who is trying to survive the breakdown of their marriage. We also follow two young boys. Yevgeni, Maria’s nephew, is a 9-year-old piano prodigy who is trying to come to terms with his gifts amongst a miserable existence in a Moscow slum. And Artyom who lives on a farm inside the Chernobyl hotzone. Whose whole life is literally evaporated piece by piece.

Central to the novel though is the end of the Soviet Union. The Chernobyl Meltdown is the tipping point for the end of the empire. No safety or evacuation plans were in place. Nor was there adequate medical aid on hand as to prepare for an accident was to admit weakness in the Soviet regime. The accident and the Soviet Union’s response was the catalyst for the people of the Soviet Union to stop believing in the regime. Three years later the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that the Soviet Union was no more.

Through his characters Darragh McKeon explores the many impacts this has on individual lives. The humanity that some try to cling to and the utter disregard the Soviet regime has for human life. What makes this novel even more relevant and poignant today is the fact that Chernobyl is situated in Ukraine (there is even references to a Korean Commercial Airline that Russia shot down three years before). A moving novel that gives a unique insight into a catastrophic event that still reverberates in the world today.

 

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ISBN: 9780241003312
ISBN-10: 0241003318
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (230mm x 152mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 23-Apr-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIAN’S LAND

9780670015672The third and final volume in an absolutely brilliant series is a truly fitting finale. It is everything you want from the final book in a series. Loose ends are tied up, the gang gets back together for one last, possibly world ending, epic quest. Grossman throws you straight back into the world of Quentin Coldwater without missing a beat and five pages in your already start to dread that this is going to be the last book, the last adventure with these great characters.

Things aren’t looking too good for Quentin. He’s been kicked out of the fantastical land he has always dreamed about being a part of and is on his own back in the ‘real’ world. After a failed attempt to go straight (as straight as a trained magician can go – teaching magic of course) Quentin find himself drafted into a makeshift band of would be magical criminals who have been hired to retrieve a mysterious, and highly sort after, object. Meanwhile the end of Fillory is nigh and High King Elliot is determined not to let it happen.

One of the things I really loved about this last book was the perspective Grossman tells it from. We are introduced to a new character, Plum, and much of Quentin’s story is told from her perspective. This is a wonderful change as you are allowed to see Quentin in a new light, as the adult he has become over the course of the three books. Quentin has been far from the perfect hero. He has been selfish, self-absorbed and obsessed. The power he has gained from learning to become a magician made him (more) arrogant and privileged. Yet he has paid the price for his flaws and grown as a person which is one of the most enjoyable parts of this highly enjoyable series. To see a character grow, not always in a good way, but to be part of that journey. It is just brilliant.

We also get parts of the story told from Elliot and Janet’s perspectives which hasn’t happened in the previous two books. We get to know them a bit more this way too by being privy to their inner thoughts and motivations and again this allows Grossman to shed to new light on other familiar characters. In fact most of Quentin’s story in this book is told from others’ perspectives which just adds another layer of enjoyment.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable trilogy which I will definitely be revisiting. A satisfying end but with room for possibilities…

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ISBN: 9780670015672
ISBN-10: 0670015679
Classification: Fantasy
Format: Hardback Pages: 416
Imprint: Viking Books
Publisher: Viking Books
Publish Date: 5-Aug-2014
Country of Publication: United States

David Mitchell’s BLACK SWAN GREEN

9780340822807This is an absolutely wonderful coming-of-age novel by a writer who cannot put a foot wrong. David Mitchell doesn’t just get inside the head of a thirteen year old boy but brings teenage adolescence to life like I have never read before. David Mitchell captures the innocence, the naivety, the pain and the joy so acutely that you are transported back to your own time as a teenager.

Jason Taylor is navigating the thirteenth year of his life and it is of course a tumultuous one. It is 1982 and Britain is about to go to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. At home something is happening between Jason’s parents and his sister is about to leave for university. Meanwhile at school Jason tries, fails and tries again to fit in with the other boys.

The novel brilliantly captures and portrays the inner battle everybody goes through over who we are and who we want to be. Jason is desperate to fit in with the other boys and stave of the bullies. He suppresses parts of himself to fit in; his bookishness, his poetry, his stammer. His loyalty to true friends is tested by their relative popularity. Everyday is a constant tightrope where one false move could see him become the class laughing-stock. David Mitchell mixes this all in with the ups and downs of life as seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.

I’m loving how all of David Mitchell’s novels are interconnected no matter how unrelated they appear. I could seriously live off nothing but David Mitchell books but with only two more books to read I’m also dreading running out of new material.

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ISBN: 9780340822807
ISBN-10: 0340822805
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (197mm x 130mm x 28mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 18-May-2006
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Lauren Beukes’ BROKEN MONSTERS

9780732295547This book needs to come with a warning that if you don’t have time to read it the rest of the day don’t start it! Lauren Beukes takes her writing and her dark imagination to another level following the utterly amazing The Shining Girls.

Beukes has chosen Detroit for the setting of this novel, the perfect place for broken things. Detroit is a broken city and is literally broke (bankrupt to be exact). Once an industrial heartland its industry is now broken and run down. Families are broken and so is any sense of community.

Detective Gabi Versado is trying to make sense of the small horrors she sees everyday. Her daughter Layla tries to make sense of a teenage world where social media is more of a social weapon. Johnno is a broken journalist who has gravitated to Detroit to try to find a story no one else is looking at. And TK is a man who is slowly putting his broken life back together and trying to help those around him do the same. When a brutal murder occurs and the victim is found in a bizarre, possibly ritualistic, fashion the whole city threatens to explode.

Beukes alternates between her characters with expert precision, unfolding the story and their connections to it with subtlety and skill. At the same time she explores a broken city and the places where it is trying to grow back. There is a supernatural theme to the killings and like True Detective the lines between imagery and an actual otherworld are so entwined and blurred that the truth is almost lost and everyone with it.

There are so many elements Beukes has combined in this totally absorbing and addictive thriller confirming her as one of the most original and exciting writers of the crime genre (and other genres) at the moment.

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ISBN: 9780732295547
ISBN-10: 0732295548
Classification: Thriller / suspense , Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback Pages: 528
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Aug-2014
Country of Publication: Australia

Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO

9780571258093I’ve been on a bit of backlist bender lately and with one of my favourite books of 2014 being compared to this I thought I’d give it ago. This is one of the most haunting coming of age novels I have ever read. Set in England in an alternative late 1990s the story is narrated by Kathy who is a carer for a series of donors. Kathy is looking back on her life which brings her back to her most formative years at the exclusive Havisham School.

At first Havisham appears to be an elite school for the brightest and gifted. But as we slowly learn more about the school and its students we discover what their gifts really are and what they are being prepared for. Central to the story is the friendship of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. Each of whom is struggling to come to terms with what is expected of them and what their future holds. The naivety of the three main characters is slowly eroded as they age however there is always acceptance of what their role in life is meant to be.

Ishiguro underplays his hand perfectly making any revelations seem normal and familiar. And in doing so makes the story even more tragic. A morally complex look at the value of life that acutely captures the fragility, despair and uncertainty of growing up.

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ISBN: 9780571258093
ISBN-10: 0571258093
Classification: Religious & spiritual fiction
Format: Paperback (198mm x 126mm x 19mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 25-Feb-2010
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Monthly Round Up – July

My blog posts from July

9781447235910Megan Abbott’s THE FEVER

I have been meaning to ready Megan Abbott for ages. I’ve only heard good things, in particular her latest books, so thought I’d begin with her brand new novel. Abbott’s last few novels have all been set in the world of teenage girls, a world she has been exploring because ‘Noir suits a 13-year-old girl’s mind’ Read More…

9780099464983Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG

I remember first reading this book and it absolutely blew me away. With news that Don Winslow has written a sequel (due out next year) and that a movie is on its way (still think a mini-series would be better) I thought it was time I revisited the book. Read more…

Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIAN KING9780434020805

I think I loved this even more than The Magicians(which if you haven’t read beware spoilers ahead). The first half of The Magicianswas like an adult Harry Potter and full of the wonder of discovering magic was real. The second half was an exploration of what happens to people who discover a new power. It was much darker, which I really liked, and you really got to know the negative sides of the books characters which is not something many books of this genre do. Read more…

9780224101998Ian McEwan’s THE CHILDREN ACT

I was really looking forward to this book. The premise sounded amazing; a High Court judge who must decide if a teenage boy is competent enough to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds. Plus the book was a 212 page novella that I hoped was going to pack a punch like On Chesil Beach. Read more…

Don Winslow’s A COOL BREEZE ON THE UNDERGROUNDA+Cool+Breeze+on+the+Underground

After revisiting Don Winslow’sThe Power Of The Dog I thought it was time to read the Neal Carey series. My first Don Winslow experience wasA Cool Breeze On The Underground. I really enjoyed and managed to pick up most of the rest of the series before they went out of print. However I was then given The Power Of The Dog which sent me on a mass Don Winslow binge which sadly never saw me go back to Neal Carey. Read more…

9780340921586David Mitchell’s THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET

My obsession with David Mitchell continues and is getting more intense. There are books you devour. There are books you savour and never want to end. And then there are David Mitchell books which are both. Read more…

David Mitchell’s THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET

9780340921586My obsession with David Mitchell continues and is getting more intense. There are books you devour. There are books you savour and never want to end. And then there are David Mitchell books which are both.

I went with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet because there was a reference and crossover with The Bone Clocks. It is the most linear chronologically of David Mitchell that I have read so far but in no means does this curb his imaginative scope. It is a love story, a historical novel of the highest class, it is a Japanese story of intrigue, honour and betrayal. It is quietly simply one of the most beautifully books I have ever read.

Set at the turn of the 19th century in Nagasaki the book focuses on a Dutch East Indies trading outpost, Dejima. Foreigners are not allowed on Japanese soil so the Dutch instead have created an artificial island from which they are allowed to trade. Jacob De Zoet is a new arrival tasked with the inevitable job of cleaning up the outpost’s highly corrupted books. De Zoet becomes not only enchanted and intrigued by the tightly closed and controlled feudal Japanese society but also a young midwife who is determined to learn the best of Dutch and European medical practices.

David Mitchell plots his story magnificently. Slowly placing all his pieces on his rich board before scattering things in ways only his imagination could conjuror. Rich in historical detail, deep in cultural complexities and with the perfect mix of tragedy and intrigue. David Mitchell is an absolute genius and I have to read everything he has written.

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ISBN: 9780340921586
ISBN-10: 0340921587
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (198mm x 130mm x 36mm)
Pages: 576
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 17-Mar-2011
Country of Publication: United Kingdom