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.

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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.

Book Review: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

I met Sulari Gentill at the Emerging Writers Festival held in Melbourne in 2014 when I first commenced my own writing journey. She was on a panel and I was in awe of the amount of work she’d completed in a very short time – five books in five years. I am sorry to say it’s taken this long to read her first book in the Rowland Sinclair series and I’m certainly not disappointed.

Rowland Sinclair is a wealthy young man from a prominent family whose lifestyle as an artist, is at odds with the rest of his family. Unwittingly he becomes embroiled in the political tensions of the early 1930’s when the fear of communism fuelled right wing ideas of revolution. When Rowland’s uncle is murdered, Rowland or Rowly as he is affectionately known, throws himself headlong into danger to find the culprit.

The book starts off slowly as the setting and characters establish themselves. Then, the action and tension begin. Sulari does a great job to transport the reader to a very different time and place. I was fascinated to learn about this tumultuous period of Australia’s history and excerpts from newspapers of the time at the beginning of each chapter is a clever way to provide the reader with extra information. It’s a well written first novel and I’m keen to read more from this author – there’s seven more in the series.

My second crime novel by an Australian in a month and I’m beginning to like this genre.

Who’s Reading My Book?

 

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Pedal faster – I’ve got to get home to read.

There are many people reading, ” Climbing the Coconut Tree.” Two readers  decided the readership needed expansion, and they took the book on tour.  Check out the responses below.

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My fellow Americans, reading this book will be the first thing I do when I hand over to Hilary.
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I’ll read it only if you get away from me.

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Yeah, I’ll give it a go. I’ve got nothing else to do.
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We are not amused. Get off my throne!
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Does this book make the world a better place?

 

Thank you to Mark and Lynette Hoyne for the fabulous pics taken at Madame Tussauds in Singapore.