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Category Archive for 'M – N'

“Dawn breaks over the horizon. It moves across the sea, soaring over the empty beach….It reaches the top of the hill and lingers there, gray and hazy for a moment, before suddenly plunging down the far side. It sweeps over houses, streets, trees, and flowers asleep on balconies. Down in the valleys it seems to dance, lightly, discreetly. It seeps into the forest and spills across the lake where no one ventures now since Adele drowned there four years, five months, and thirteen days ago.”—from the opening paragraph. In approximately six hundred words in the first two pages of this novel, author Nathacha Appanah provides the entire conclusion of the novel, telling of three additional personal disasters, taking the chance that the reader will become more interested in the circumstances which caused these disasters for her characters than in the ultimate results. It is a big chance. It does, however, give the author the opportunity to develop the characters – and interest in them – in what might otherwise appear to be a melodrama. The drama here is powerful and moving in its effects, as the reader cannot help but revisit the action to see if, or how, the details of the conclusion could have been avoided. Nathacha Appanah writes with passion and concern for her characters, and she develops that same concern in the reader as the characters meet their fates.

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Winner of innumerable prizes in both Ireland, where he grew up and went to college, and Scotland, to which he moved permanently with his family during the Irish Troubles in 1975, Bernard MacLaverty has always had a special place in my heart. His writing is unpretentious, realistic, and often filled with ironic humor, even when he is dealing with the complexities of relationships and the honest feelings of his sometimes quirky characters. This novel, his first in sixteen years, is worth waiting for – a novel about an older, retired couple, Gerry and Stella, married for decades, who have pursued their own goals separately, while living together, and have now reached a point at which they must consider whether they are still truly in love. Wanting a brief vacation away from Scotland, to which they, like the author and family have moved permanently from Northern Ireland, they have decided to spend a few days in Amsterdam – or rather, the wife, Stella, has suggested the location because there is a special place there that she wishes to see. Her genuinely caring husband Gerry is amenable to whatever she wants, but he has been living recently in an alcoholic haze, and his primary concern has been hiding the physical evidence of his consumption from her. MacLaverty, combining both subtlety and sometimes outrageous honesty, reveals the inner hearts and minds of both of these characters at a variety of times in their long relationship, from courtship through early marriage, beginning careers, heartbreaks, and on up to the present. The future of their marriage is at stake on this “break.”

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In her startling, futuristic title story, debut author Lesley Nneka Arimah wakes up her reader and signifies that this is no “ordinary” collection. The stories in this book make so many creative leaps into new worlds that in many ways the author actually defies the limits of her genre. Born in the UK, Arimah grew up in Nigeria, following her father in his work abroad and acquiring such varied experiences of life that she has escaped the cultural limitations which so often root a writer’s work firmly in one place. The multicultural Arimah finds, appreciates, and focuses on the elements which make people from different places and times react differently to seemingly similar sets of circumstances, creating stories which are full of surprises and unexpected twists. Within these stories, however, she also recognizes the seemingly universal problems and habits which can often limit and determine a character’s personal outcomes. As she explores life from many points of view, her own vision, often dark, creates in the reader the urge to re-read, re-explore, and re-imagine both her work and the settings in which her characters live, to come to know them better and, perhaps, understand what makes many of her conclusions so surprising. An original and brilliant first collection.

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Set in the aftermath of World War II in the southwestern countryside outside of Oslo, Gaute Heivoll’s emotionally engrossing novel involves big themes, a sense of involvement by the reader, and some lingering questions at the end. The novel draws its action from life in an extended family, where both the mother and father, parents of the unnamed young narrator, once worked as nurses and caregivers at a psychiatric hospital for eleven years. When the father’s old family home in the country burned to the ground before the war, the parents looked on the bright side and decided to rebuild, creating “their own little asylum in the midst of the parish where Papa was born and grew up.” Starting with three adults, they later add five disabled children from the same family. The five Olsen children range in age from Lilly, age seventeen, to Sverre, age four, and all live together in one spacious upstairs room of the home asylum. The writing is remarkably simple in style and often lacks elaboration. As the reader fills in the blanks, his/her involvement with the novel becomes even stronger. The book has little real plot, other than the daily lives of these people, yet I could hardly put it down, wanting to know whether the characters will find happiness, despite some of the complications and tragedies in their lives. Ultimately, the reader cannot help but be drawn in by the force of the writing and the emotions the author creates on the subject of what it means to be human.

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Hendrik Groen, age 83 ¼, a resident of an assisted living facility in the Netherlands, decides on New Year’s Day, 2013, that he still doesn’t like old people. “Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching.” He regards himself, however, as “civil, ingratiating, courteous, polite and helpful. Not because I really am all those things, but because I don’t have the balls to act differently.” In order to keep himself from spiraling into depression in the home, he has decided to give the world “an uncensored expose: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam.” An international bestseller when it was published in Europe last year, Groen’s diary is written by an anonymous author (newly revealed, see Note at end), and it concerns itself with some of the same issues as were raised in the best-selling December 2012 book, Mother, When Will You Finally Die?” by Martina Rosenberg, a memoir published in Germany. Despite the real information and the statistics which make this book both a fascinating and important study of old age in a different country, the book’s primary purpose is to depict real life in this one care home, and the choice of recording it in a daily diary provides the reader with a plethora of insights and its many humorous episodes.

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