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Category Archive for '0-2018 Reviews'

Keiko Furukura has been working at her local Smile Mart convenience store for half her life, for the eighteen years since she finished school, and she is completely comfortable in her job and in her ability to manage her life. Though she works only part-time because she says she is “not strong,” she knows where everything belongs in the store, how to restock shelves and supplies, how to update displays, and how to avoid conflict with her co-workers and customers. She likes her job, they like her, she never gets angry, and she is as happy as she can be in her role – one which that she regards as “not suitable for men.” It is the other women in her life who eventually begin to question her role at the store and her future there. She is, after all, a woman in her mid-thirties, approaching the age at which she may soon be “unable” to marry and have children, goals her family and friends have already achieved for themselves and which they hold for her for the future. The introduction of a man to her life at the convenience store changes the trajectory of Keiko’s life – but not in the ways the reader expects, a man who believes that society has not changed since the Stone Age. With humor and irony, author Sayaka Murata develops the complications which seem to placate Keiko’s family and friends while complicating Keiko’s own life.

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NOTE: Each year I enjoy checking to see which reviews are getting the most attention on this website, and each year I am always surprised by the number of older books (and reviews) which remain in the Top Ten. For this new list I wanted to see which books published and reviewed in the past five years would be in the Top Ten if I removed the recurrent “old favorites.” Gone from the list as a result of this “purge” of recurrent favorites (books that have been among the Top Ten Favorites for at least five years) are Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel (from Nigeria, 2004), Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer (Norway, 2011), Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors (New Zealand, originally published in 1995), and Kamila Shamsie’s Kartography (Pakistan, 2004), all of which are in the overall list for the Top Ten.

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In her debut novel, just translated and published in English, Norwegian author Gunnhild Oyehaug explores many facets of love among three different women and their lovers, a novel which led in her own country to her involvement with the acclaimed film “Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts” in 2015, based on a repeating theme throughout this novel. Here men believe that women in oversized men’s shirts – and little else – are inherently attractive, and most of the female characters find themselves in oversize men’s shirts or pajama tops at some point in the novel as they search for the perfect love. Gunnhild Oyehaug does not lack for imagination, literary credentials, or intelligence. The book is great fun as often as it is annoying for its extreme self-consciousness. Ironies abound, even including what constitutes a cliché, as seen in the opening quotation of this review and some of the events and descriptions which follow. The never-ending and problematic love stories, all involving women between twelve and twenty years younger than their lovers (for reasons not even hinted at by the author) are strangely off kilter much of the time, though these “intellectual” characters take great delight in analyzing them to death. The academic and literary worlds and those who take them seriously are presented as serious characters here, but I found that I liked the book and the characters much more when I assumed that the whole novel was a wild satire of those who need to “get a life.”

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Marseilles, unlike many other noir settings, has always had a large number of culturally diverse populations within the city, each with its own special characteristics, values, and relationships with the French people, the police, and the political establishment. The cultural variety comes into play in this novel, TOTAL CHAOS, involving French criminals, Italian criminals who have moved to Marseilles, Algerian immigrants who believe they have been driven to crime for economic reasons, and other criminal elements who cross international borders with their influence. As a result, this noir novel feels broader, darker, and more challenging than most other noir novels. Main character Fabio Montale, who grew up in an under-populated seaside area outside of Marseilles, has chosen, ultimately, to avoid the life of an outsider by becoming a Marseilles police detective, a job he has held for twenty years. When Fabio’s two closest friends from childhood are murdered, however, he decides that his own honor demands that he investigate and avenge these deaths himself. He recognizes that he “needed boundaries, rules, codes. Something to hold on to. Every step I was about to take would move me farther away from the law…” Published originally in 1995, this is the first of the Marseilles trilogy.

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In a novel about the French intellectual elite who live confidently and proudly at the very margins of society in the early twentieth century, author Rupert Thomson explores the lives and loves of two women who live on their own terms at the very margin of social acceptance. Avant-garde in their personal beliefs throughout their lives, they become close friends when they first meet in 1909 when Lucie Schwob is fourteen and Suzanne Malherbe is seventeen. Suzanne and Lucie are actually aided in the development of their relationship when Lucie’s father and her institutionalized mother divorce, and he marries Suzanne’s widowed mother. Now stepsisters, the two can to be together all the time, without causing gossip. Traveling frequently between Nantes, Paris, and the island of Jersey, off the coast of France, for summer vacations, they explore their new lives “as sisters.” As they grow up, they become part of the avant-garde artists and philosophers in Paris, eventually being forced to leave for the Channel Islands as World War II breaks out. Following their story from 1920 to 1970, Rupert Thomson creates a fascinating story of two very unusual women.

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