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In this sequel to THE SECRET DIARY OF HENDRIK GROEN, 83 1/4 YEARS OLD, from two years ago, “Hendrik Groen” continues his iconoclastic, humorous, and irreverent commentary on life in a senior care center outside of Amsterdam. A full year has passed since Groen completed his earlier diary in 2013, and now, in 2015, he has finally decided to start another one. “This diary will give me a sense of purpose again,” he believes. Though this sequel continues the stories of many of the previous characters from Groen’s first book, the mood is a bit different, and the focus is not so sharp. Some international news is inserted here, and this 440-page book about life in a “care home,” told with humor, could have been condensed significantly, and its focus sharpened. Fans of the first novel will enjoy seeing what has happened to characters in the ensuing two years. Newcomers who have not yet “met” Hendrik Groen, however, may find it advantageous to begin with the more focused – and more humorous – first novel, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old.

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How many novels have you seen from the Kamchatka Peninsula? Here Russian scholar Julia Phillips creates an involving and very human story about Kamchatka’s women, while highlighting the various ethnic groups on the peninsula, their past histories, and the life styles they take for granted. Four families and an assortment of local employees, including a customs officer, a major general, a police assistant, and a volcanologist, reflect everyday life in a series of episodes which sometimes overlap. In its isolation and its relatively sparse population, Kamchatka often feels more like an island than a part of greater Russia here, and any dramatic event which occurs is likely to remain within the community in which it occurs, very much in the style of a “closed room” mystery story. Two mysteries involving crimes against women lurk at the heart of this novel, but they are the inspiration for a dramatic portrait of daily life on Kamchatka, developed month by month over the course of a calendar year, and not simply as an end in themselves. Ultimately, author Phillips inspires readers to supply their own interpretations of what is happening within her carefully crafted concluding scenes, thereby creating far more realistic drama than what one finds in the typical suspense novel. Unforgettable!

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One can almost see the wink and the smirk on the face of Italian author Paolo Maurensig as he begins his dark satire of a community in the Swiss mountains where a formidable adversary has established residence, a place where the residents do not even recognize this new resident as an adversary, though he is the devil himself. Telling a story within a story within a story, the author creates the story of the devil incarnate, who inhabits a literary community in the mountains of Switzerland. Only Father Cornelius recognizes how serious the threat is to their society. Maurensig keeps the action moving rapidly, while also raising serious questions about the nature of good and evil. His use of symbolism and lively detail allows the reader to see some issues which are often discussed more abstractly by other writers, and his dark sense of humor keeps the reader from becoming overwhelmed by the serious subject matter. The care with which Maurensig organizes and paces this novel is astonishing – it feels like a thriller in places where serious issues are being presented – and the build-up to the conclusion is so carefully done that the discussions of morality which one usually associates with a parable or an allegory feel natural, instead of turgid or intrusive here.

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French author Catherine Cusset, the author of thirteen novels, several of which have been nominated for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, combines fiction and biography in new ways here as she recreates the life, feelings, thoughts, and conversations of British artist David Hockney, described by some as the world’s “most famous living English painter.” Although I have read a number of such “fictional biographies,” in which the author invents conversations and thoughts for her characters, this is the first time that I have seen such a work in which the subject is someone who is still alive. Hockney, born in 1937, studied art at a time in which nearly all contemporary artists were abstract artists. He, by contrast, does representational art, yet he was able to become a raging success. Handsome, gay, a traveler from London to LA, where lived for much of the time, and an artist who explored many media, David Hockney comes to life here in ways made possible by the author’s point of view.

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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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