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Category Archive for 'England'

Kate Atkinson has rightfully developed a huge following with her impeccably crafted novels filled with ingenious plots, mysteries, and themes highlighted by unexpected ironies and dark humor. This, her twelfth novel, is the fifth in which she features Jackson Brodie, a detective who never seems to get his life together personally. The book requires patience, well rewarded at the end. The first plot, and Atkinson’s whole approach, is exemplified by the ironies involved with the arrival of two girls from Poland to work for a seemingly honest company, which is really a front for the sex trade operating from a small Yorkshire village. Jackson Brodie is busy with his son and working another case as a private eye and has little to do with this one until late in the novel. Many characters and complications illustrate life in this village, as murder and other horrors take place, but Atkinson plans and resolves every question, and the conclusion is a spectacular grand finale.

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Those who love fantasy, dystopian fiction, sci-fi, and mythical characters will find much to love in this novel, which maintains its own otherworldly style as the novel progresses. The “rules” of fiction and its long history of development are challenged here, as author Max Porter tries his hand at bending, breaking, and ignoring many old traditions regarding the author and his relationship with his readers. Lanny’s story is neither quiet nor reflective. Instead, it explodes with coarse energy, opening with the lead description of Dead Papa Toothwort, an unusual earth spirit who has been hiding below ground for an unknown number of years, waiting for the best moment to reappear on earth. When Toothwort hears the voice of Lanny, a young child, he becomes fascinated with his life, and begins to take some actions, and when Lanny eventually disappears, the community is frantic to find him. The involvement of Toothwort is a question, as the community begins to fall apart analyzing what is happening.

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Throw Me to the Wolves is a book which inevitably will be called a “murder mystery,” though that so underestimates McGuinness’s literary performance that it is almost an insult to limit it that way. Here the author uses the real murder of a young woman and its aftermath in the small British community in which she and the suspect both live as the starting point for a comprehensive study of the town’s various social groups, their values, their history, and the extent to which the citizens will force their wills on others to protect their own vision of what a community is and should be. What begins as a “detective story” quickly becomes an enthralling story of social interaction and reaction, a story of deep conflicts and divides, one which, ultimately, treads that narrow line between protecting social values and protecting one’s own sense of self. The novel, set in the 1980s, is based on a real murder and the teacher who becomes a suspect. A brilliant and lively study of the power of rumor and the press, and the state of the news media today. A big favorite for the year so far.

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Returning to Prague for the location of this novel, after setting The Glass Room there in 2009, author Simon Mawer uses his familiarity with Prague, and his obvious love for it, to create this stirring novel of political history and intrigue. Set during the almost magical Prague Spring of 1968, a time in which Russian influence had waned and a broader view of socialism and some new freedoms were being celebrated by students and political writers in Prague, Mawer focuses on “the fleeting nature of presence” as the Prague Spring is cancelled by the sudden arrival of half a million Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union, which went on to occupy the country for the next twenty-three years. A writer who focuses primarily on people and their lives, rather than on politics or cultural movements, Mawer brings the Prague Spring to life by focusing on two couples who come together in Prague, live and love, engage in adventure, and find their lives permanently changed by the arrival of the Soviet-led troops. The couples represent different backgrounds, and they experience the Prague Spring in different ways. Each has connections with people from Prague who help them during the danger which evolves, providing a broader picture of the events as they affect all the people of Prague, instead of the more limited focus which might have occurred with fewer main characters. This is a carefully developed novel, filled with fascinating history and sidelights involving literature, music, and popular culture, a fine addition to Mawer’s bibliography.

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Can’t say much about this one without spoiling some of the incredibly dramatic action, but I really enjoyed it. Irish author John Boyne creates several plot lines within a novel that is both gripping for the stories within the story and wildly satiric for its depictions of the writing life. As he reveals the life of loathsome author Maurice Swift from his young adulthood until his fifties, Boyne clearly relishes the opportunity to focus on the writing profession from a new point of view, one in which dreams can become nightmares, and no subject is barred. As he develops some of these nightmares, he mitigates the shock by writing with his tongue held so firmly in cheek that the reader is constantly aware of the satire and dark ironies involved. The result is a novel which, according to the reviews on Amazon and other public sites, appeals to a wide audience, to many critics, and to book prize committees, though it is controversial among a few critics, who have criticized its overly dramatized sentiments and its sometimes wandering plot lines. For me, Boyne shows the remarkable ability to control every aspect of the reader’s attitude toward main character Maurice Swift, an antihero and narcissist, and he does this naturally and efficiently by highlighting those qualities which make the reader want to identify on some level with this struggling writer, even while recognizing that he is a loathsome individual.

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