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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

From the sensual and fully imagined opening paragraphs of this extraordinary work to the intensely personal characterizations of the people who share their stories here, Irish author Joseph O’Connor creates worlds so vibrant that many readers will feel as if they, too, have become part of this novel, its period, and its subjects. O’Connor does not hold back here, creating three artists of the literary and theatrical worlds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose very lives reflect the Gothic intensity of the age with all its private hopes and failures. Henry Irving, world famous actor; Bram Stoker, theatre manager and frustrated writer; and Ellen Terry, highest paid and most beloved actress in England, all speak to the reader so intimately that their often difficult lives, with all the aches and longings one usually holds inside, begin to emerge in what feel like “private” confidences between the characters and the reader. Sharing the characters’ lives from their early adulthood until, in two cases, their deaths when they are in their sixties, the author allows the reader to share even their self-judgments and their judgments of each other when their public lives are at an end, which gives a broader perspective to their stories. Superb.

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Believe all the good things you see, hear, and read about this dramatic, totally involving, and thematically insightful novel about three young people and their families living in and around Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. A huge train fire and its resulting spread to a neighborhood of huts, with over a hundred deaths, described in the opening quotation, is the event around which the novel evolves, with three main characters. Jivan, a young woman living in a slum area near the railway station “ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train.” She is accused of being involved in the terrorism. The second main character, Lovely, is a “hijra,” a transgender person who is taking acting lessons and drawing applause for her performances in class. The third character, PT Sir, a teacher of physical-training at a girls’ school, also knows Jivan because she was once a scholarship student whom he helped. With main characters who are female, male, and transgender, author Megha Majumdar is able to provide broad commentary on the city, its values, the difficulties of finding good work, the lives and decisions made by Jivan’s acquaintances, and Jivan’s own “crime.” Majumdar writes so efficiently, descriptively, and intelligently, that I cannot imagine a reader not becoming caught up in every aspect of this astonishing novel.

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Author Anne Enright, the Irish author of this novel about fictional actress Katherine O’Dell, recreates the “life” that Katherine led publicly as opposed the “real” life she is said to have kept hidden. Enright, a superbly controlled author, faced a daunting task in creating the lives of her characters here without resorting to the sensationalism her main character/author Norah scorns. Throughout her career, Enright has specialized in showing the values and attitudes at play within complex but intimate family dynamics, varying her points of view and time frames to allow the reader to draw conclusions about one character because of events which reflect the lives of other characters in other generations and times. She is often so subtle that readers become lulled into sharing the lives of her characters before they have a chance to evaluate who and what the characters are doing and saying and what this means about life and their attitudes toward it. In Actress, Anne Enright is especially concerned with the fictions people create for their own reasons, including fame. Three generations, reflecting different times and points of view, make this novel a complex study of how people often recreate their own memories to make them more palatable, while drawing conclusions, often false, about the realities of other people

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In his darkest and most “noir” novel yet, Massimo Carlotto continues his “Alligator” series, featuring Marco Buratti, a man haunted by the evil which consumes the society in which he tries to live. In touch with members of organized crime and its violence throughout Europe, he also understands crime on a local scale among the people he knows in his home of Padua, Italy. The local police department knows Buratti well for many reasons, and they sometimes ask him for help on their most challenging cases – some of which feature crimes within their own department and the implication that their request for help is something he must not refuse. With over thirty characters, some of them known by aliases, a complex plot which is developed in Padua, Bern, Vienna, and Munich, and two narrators giving conflicting information regarding crimes and responsibility, this is a challenging novel. The violence is fully described and sometimes shocking, and there are no people here who can be considered true heroes. Buratti occasionally gets twinges of conscience regarding deaths he has witnessed, but he is, he says, very aware of “the difference between justice and vengeance.” His own idea of justice “didn’t involve cops and courts,” especially when he and his parters were “playing multiple tables at a time.”

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“I let myself be guided…by what I write. I create a setting, characters, and themes, then watch them interact. I become a secretary, jotting down what happens in the strange laboratory that is a work of fiction. It’s a bit of role reversal. I become a witness to this world I’ve made, I listen in with an ear for what I’d call the music, I pay attention to echoes, repetitions, the whole system of internal harmonics that I didn’t deliberately put in to begin with, but which I notice in hindsight and then decide whether to not to bring them into sharper relief…”—author Celia Houdart, in Interview introducing the novel.

In this experimental novel by French author Celia Houdart, the action mimics, to some extent, a crime novel, though in keeping with the above quotation, the style of the narrative is unique. Some characters who appear to be power players here turn out to be almost irrelevant, while others prove to be significant players. Ultimately, the MacGuffiins are identified and vanish quietly, and the reader, too, begins to enjoy the new understandings which appear almost without warning, establishing this novel as not only unique but carefully crafted in its literary style. Author Celia Houdart takes some big chances with her approach to this novel, which grows on the reader as s/he spends more time with the author and her perspective.

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