Book Review: Lion by Saroo Brierley

I saw the movie first and was blown away by this amazing story. I then read the book and it was no less powerful.

This is the story of five-year-old Saroo, who accidentally becomes trapped on a train which travels half way across India. When the train eventually stops, he finds himself in Calcutta lost and alone. He dodges disaster and with luck on his side ends up in an orphanage where he is adopted by a caring Australian family. Growing up in Tasmania, he wonders where he has come from and his nagging memories stir him into action to find out. It takes years of dogged patience and with encouragement from friends he uses technology to methodically trace his footsteps back to his family.

It’s an engrossing story despite the fact I’d seen the movie which by the way, does a remarkable job with the adaptation. The vulnerability you feel for this five-year-old keeps you on edge and it is incredibly brave of the author to reveal it all on the written page. It’s well written enough although with a matter of fact approach. Although we’re not privy to every one of Saroo’s emotions, we nevertheless feel his every agonising step of what was a difficult journey.

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Book Review: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

Beautifully written and almost lyrical in composition, we are transported to another time and place.

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat is arrested and sentenced to house arrest at his residence in the Hotel Metropole in Moscow. Trapped within the confines of a small attic room, Rostov learns to master his circumstances and we, as the reader are taken on a journey with him for the next thirty years.

We are pulled into the daily rituals of the Count’s life: squats and stretches upon waking, a breakfast of biscuits and fruit, downstairs to read the papers, lunch in the hotel’s Piazza and his weekly appointment at the hotel’s barber. We are slowly and delightfully swept along with all that happens. We grow to love not just the Count and the Metropole itself but the characters within: the infamous grumpy Chef Emile at the Boyarsky restaurant; the dependable seamstress, Marina; the beautiful Anna; the tortured poet, Mischa and the refreshing nine-year-old child, Nina who shows Rostov the surprises of life in the bustling hotel frequented by the Party’s hierarchy, foreign correspondents and famous actresses.

Exquisitely prepared food and good wine is a central theme as is philosophical points around what it is to be Russian and we are treated to an array of views on politics, art, music, mathematics and literature. After all, a gentleman must be well educated to be a good conversationalist. We are privy to it all as we meander through the years of hardship, war, collectives and famine. Then in the last quarter of the book the tension builds to a captivating twist filled with espionage, a cat and mouse chase and a nod to Humphrey Bogart which will leave you laughing.

It is a long book (753 pages) and while it may seem daunting, you barely notice. There is so much to love about this book and it will stay with you long after the last page is turned. In fact, a second reading would no doubt reveal even more. What an engaging and enlightening read it is.

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

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I read the first page late at night and although barely more than a paragraph, I put it down in fright. Not because it was bad but because it was so horrifying, I was scared to read more. A few days later, I picked it up again, moved past that first haunting page and read the next fifty pages in one sitting. I’m glad I did as there was a crowd of characters to keep track of and I knew then, this was not a book where you read a couple of pages a night. I reserved two to three hour reading sessions to remember who was dead, who was alive and what they all had to do with each other.

Nel Abbot is found dead in the Drowning Pool with a suspicion of suicide. It so happens that Katie, the teenage friend, of her daughter Lena was found dead, months earlier in the same spot which had been a place of many a woman’s death through the century’s, hence the name of the spot. Nel’s sister, Jules (who, we are repeatedly told doesn’t like being called by her correct name Julia) hasn’t spoken to her sister since she was a young teenager and is called back to her old home to look after Lena. The mystery of the deaths unravels from the point of view of ten characters and it becomes very clear that there is a vault of secrets and lies in the town.

There were moments of suspense which fell away as the clues came together. Some of the characters had little depth and I found it difficult to believe their behaviour in particular, Sean Townsend, the Detective Inspector and his wife Helen and even Katie. The inclusion of the mystic, Nicki, seemed to be a red herring which we could have done without. Jules seemed remote reflecting on her broken relationship with her sister and we learn very little else about this thirty something woman. Her reactions were self-centred enough to lose some credibility. I wonder if this book would have been better had there been less characters and a concentration of effort on Nel, Jules and Lena?

Was it on par with Girl on a Train? It wasn’t as good but perhaps my expectation was heightened because of the first book. However, it was a compelling enough read and a page turner, perhaps because I wanted it to end. It held my interest but it wasn’t brilliant.

Book Review: The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo

It feels good to go back in time and read a classic. I read The Godfather by Mario Puzo many years ago and indeed it is a classic. The Fortunate Pilgrim, written before The Godfather and published in 1965 is no less so. But unlike The Godfather, The Last Don and many of Puzo’s legendary novels centred around men, this book is about an uneducated, peasant woman, Lucia Santa, plonked into New York’s Hell’s Kitchen from Italy.

It is said that Lucia Santa is Puzo’s mother and what a woman she must have been. Her life as you can expect, is not easy with six children, one dead husband and another husband with mental illness. Lucia Santa, has the strength of several men, ruling her family with an iron fist through the Depression and War. Like so many women past and present around the world, she can’t afford to succumb to self-pity and has no choice than to work hard to protect and nurture her brood in order to survive.

Puzo captures summer in New York in the Tenements with the community of Italian women whose lives were governed by poverty yet pioneers in their own right. … ‘they moved in a sadder wilderness, where the language was strange, where their children became members of a different race.’

The language is almost poetic as we are introduced to Lucia’s seventeen-year-old son Lorenzo, riding his black horse through the streets of New York in 1928. One by one, Puzo allows us into the lives of the older children, giving tantalising glimpses of other families on the street and takes us on a journey of struggle, despair, and joy until the second World War.

The characters are well drawn and we learn of the petty small mindedness of the community in which Lucia Santa lives. ‘What cronies they were. How they ran to each other’s apartments, up and down the stairs, into the adjoining tenements… taste this special dish. After the initial pity and condolences, the true face of the world showed itself to Lucia Santa.’

The writing is inspirational and is truly a wonderful chronical of a matriarch and the immigrant’s life.

Book Review : Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

 

I’d heard about this book and closed the final page last night. It did not disappoint. What began as a slow boil exploded in the last quarter of the book and I was unable to put it down.

Eleanor is a thirty-year-old woman who lives on the fringe of society. She is a creature of habit, working at an office during the week, doing cross words, eating pizza and drinking vodka on the weekend by herself in her tiny flat. She cocoons herself away and you know there is something not quite right. She’s never known the warm touch of love and wonders what it might be like. Her observations of the world around her are comical, sad and poignant. What social interactions she has, is extremely awkward and naïve until she meets Raymond who works at the same company and takes the time to try to understand her.

To reveal too much would spoil it, but this novel is a study on loneliness and isolation which we often associate with the elderly, not someone of this age. Eleanor’s awkwardness and naiveté makes for some very funny moments. If you think the story sounds a bit morbid, it isn’t. Eleanor is a survivor and to watch her grow is glorious. The author cleverly hints about her childhood and builds on it until the explosive reveal toward the end, when we discover why Eleanor is the way she is.

It’s memorable and heart-warming. I really enjoyed it.

Reviews for Out of Nowhere: a collection of short stories

Goodreads is a community of book lovers. Readers and writers come together to share thoughts and feelings about books. As a reader, I’ve loved reading what others think of books. I’ve also taken the time to share my relections.

As an author, it can be a place of trepidation as readers tell you what they think of your book. Not every book can be liked by everyone. I generally write for myself and when others appreciate what I’ve written, it’s an added bonus.

I am therefore very humbled by everyone who left a review for my short story collection, Out Of Nowhere.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35152873-out-of-nowhere

Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk about it.

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Every so often a book comes along to shake up storytelling. This seems to be one such book.

The premise is relatively simple. Set in a cemetery at night, a grieving Abraham Lincoln visits his eleven-year-old dead son who is caught in a nasty and unpleasant realm called a Bardo.

Ghosts, who for some reason think they’re not dead, roam freely around the cemetery. This was a bit of a stretch, but then, this is the fantasy part. The reader is bombarded with a cacophony of ghostly characters (said to be more than 150) each voicing their thoughts and anguish as lost spirits caught in between worlds. The reason is not altogether apparent to them (or the reader), but it seems they’ve done something bad somewhere in their lives. Most of the narration is dominated by three men and female spirits are few. Perhaps, I like to think, they are generally good souls who have gone straight to the afterlife, while the rest are not.

I’d heard about this Booker Prize winning novel and thought the premise had merit. Not being terribly familiar with American history of the Civil War, I expected to learn a lot. From the first few pages, I became hopelessly confused with the one or two-line dialogue per character. I read a review which explained the book and then I re-read the beginning again. Maybe it’s me, but should I be confused about what’s happening and have to resort to someone else to explain?

Other sections of the book were excerpts from essays, books or newspapers of the time. This was interesting and clever of Saunders as it gave an insight of how history is interpreted depending on what side you’re on.

There’s not much of a plot or development of characters and none that you really warm to. Although I did feel something for Willie Lincoln, the son. But I guess this was not the intention, after all, this is not a book like any other. The reader must work at it and read carefully even when some parts make no sense or may seem superfluous. I confess to skimming sections yet being thoroughly absorbed in other parts.

The writing is good and reads almost like a play, poetry and encyclopaedia all rolled into one. There’s humour, amazement, frustration and boredom. The reader is provoked and prodded but I’ll admit, I almost gave up.

Yes, it’s not like any other book I’ve read before. I know this book is acclaimed and lauded by many others who loved it. Did I enjoy it? I can’t say I did. It was adequate enough for me to have finished it. Maybe I should re-read it again. It probably warrants it. But there are too many other books more worthy of my time. A word of advice – try and read it in one sitting. I think it might work better than a few pages a day.