Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"The Coma" by Alex Garland

This was a very short, super-fast read. It's a dream-like string of 42 very brief "chapters," interspersed with atmospheric black and white woodcut illustrations--nothing like the cover, in case you were wondering--by the author's father, and divided into 3 parts. It tells the story of a man who was badly beaten and slipped into a coma as a result. The majority of the text describes his experience during his almost sleep-like state. 

I couldn't help but wonder if being in a coma is actually anything like the way it's portrayed in this book. I guess I've never heard or read an account from anyone who has woken from a coma. (And obvs it goes without saying that I hope I can never answer that question personally, whether from my own account or that of anyone I know.) I would be surprised, though, if anyone waking from a coma could actually remember what it was like. It's rare enough that I remember my dreams after a normal night of sleep.

Anyway, back to the book . . . I have a confession to make. I didn't understand the ending. I was left feeling like everything was ambiguous. So I cheated, and asked Sam what it meant, and he showed me that there was a trick that explained everything. (Too bad the explanation was kind of a grade-school cop out.) And then I was able to go back to the two other tricksy parts of the book and crack the codes (whereas before this I hadn't even realized there was a code). Kind of wish I'd figured it out myself! But simultaneously glad I'm not still ignorant of the solution.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell

I really loved this book. From the very first page, right up until page 402. But . . . it's 624 pages long . . .

David Mitchell's style of writing is flawless. And the characters in the first four sections were really engaging. As the second section started and an entirely new cast of characters was introduced I feared that the links between sections would be too tenuous and enigmatic, as with Cloud Atlas, and that thought bothered me--not because I couldn't appreciate that kind of plot (I did, in Cloud Atlas!) but because I wanted to hear more about Holly Sykes from the first section. (And also a little bit because a repetition of such a device might make Mitchell seem like a bit of a one-trick pony, which surely he's not.) So it was gratifying to see how Holly's story was later woven into the second section, just as in the two following sections.

Each of the first four sections portrays a very human, very flawed character (and when I describe them this way, what I mean is that they were brilliantly realistic, not that they were not well-written) whose stories fascinated me. There's a paranormal element running through each story, but not in such a way that I couldn't swallow it. Instead, I welcomed the bit of mystery it added. We start with the aforementioned Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old English girl running away from home. Next we move on to the despicably-scheming-but-somehow-still-almost-likeable Hugo Lamb, then war reporter Ed Brubeck who is torn between his home life and the adrenaline rush of his job, and finally Crispin Hershey, former bad-boy author extraordinaire who has mostly just become a loser in recent years.

But then . . .
THIS happened.
The fifth section was NOT from the perspective of a "bone clock", and I think this is where the book began to go wrong. It was too "out there" compared to the rest of the book, it showed a little too much of the man behind of the curtain, and it actually seemed like a bit of an info dump at times. AND THEN there was the sixth section, where we get back to Holly Sykes, but she doesn't even really seem like Holly Sykes anymore, and more characters are introduced who I'm pretty sure I was supposed to care about very, very much but I just didn't, and then the last twelve pages happened. Mitchell may as well have had Holly saying she was going to get on this spaceship and go to Blargon 7 in search of alternative fuels--it might have worked better for me.

Kinda nifty, though, that this book was a tangentially-related prequel to Slade House (which I really, really enjoyed and didn't have any complaints about).

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Strangers" by Taichi Yamada

An odd little book. It was clear from the beginning (actually from before the beginning, as it was mentioned on both the front and back covers) that this was a ghost story, and I think I might have appreciated it more if I'd come to that realization myself as I read. Despite praise by David Mitchell and Bret Easton Ellis, the writing did not blow me away; however, the story was compelling enough to be enjoyable.

Narrated by Hideo Harada, a middle-aged, recently divorced screenwriter in Tokyo, the story begins by underlining his isolation. He lives in an apartment building that is mainly rented out as office space, so the majority of it is uninhabited at night. He meets one of the only other twenty-four hour residents, a woman named Kai, and begins to build a relationship with her, but one day he is drawn back to the place of his childhood, Asakusa. And there he sees his mother and father, which would be lovely, except for the fact that they died when he was twelve years old . . .

Friday, June 3, 2016

"The Last Time They Met" by Anita Shreve

This was a re-read from my First Saturday Book Club years (which, if I had to guess, were 2001 through 2006, but I could be off a bit). I picked it up again recently because I hoped to flip through it and find a specific passage that I remembered, but I could NOT find it, no matter how much flipping I did. Which led me to contemplate my memory (or lack thereof), and to reminisce about other times my memory of literature failed me (I was sure Sylvia Plath wrote a poem that contained the phrase "tiny starfish hands"; apparently not. I just KNEW Elie Wiesel wrote a scene with the repeated phrase "it was not a bird" in Night, but I've never been able to find it again).

I did not re-shelve Shreve's book, and after a few days of allowing it to silently mock me and my miserable memory, I realized what I really wanted to do was to read the entire thing again, so that is what I did. 

And I enjoyed it very much. The quality of writing surprised me--not that it was bad in my memory, but I didn't remember that it was actually quite good. The story works its way backwards through the relationship between Thomas Janes and Linda Fallon, whose lives intersected when they were 52, 26 and 17. That's a really vague synopsis, I know, but I don't want to give anything away.

So after I finished this book today, I decided to read my old blog post about it... only to discover there wasn't one. So of course I am compelled to make one. Though I neither have the desire nor the energy to make it very detailed or interesting. 

Oh, and by the way--that passage I'd tried to find (but failed)? I happily succeeded in finding it during my re-read: