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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

Stories both new and old surround the often wild river which flows through North Yorkshire, exerting an almost incalculable force on the lives of the residents of the village of Starome. Good and evil, happiness and sadness, all begin and end with the unnamed river, which becomes almost a character in The River Within by Karen Power. A body is floating near the village, and it belongs to a resident and recent army recruit, on vacation, who has been friends with three other late teens in the village. Telling the story from three points of view – the victim, a female friend, and the mother of another teen – the relationships among these characters become clear. Dramatic events occur, and some critics have pointed out similarities between some of the plot and Hamlet. Those who love romances, dark melodrama, and psychological studies will have great fun reading this one, which celebrates the emotions, feelings, and self-focused behavior of many of its characters.

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Author Eshkol Nevo, a highly skilled and very popular Israeli author, takes a unique approach to this novel, simply answering typical interview questions without connecting them thematically – “What motivates you to write?” “What is your earliest memory?” “Do you have a recurring dream?” In the course of almost five hundred pages, his true purpose and his underlying themes emerge, especially regarding a writer’s connections with friends, family, and his own memories. The author soon discovers, however, that answering the interview questions unexpectedly raises additional questions within the author himself. Determined to be completely honest, while also creating “fiction,” Nevo obviously feels the inherent conflict between those two approaches to describing life, and as he slowly edges into some serious self-examination, his skills as a writer get a real workout. Ultimately, his scenes from a writer’s life, including, almost certainly, episodes from his own life, challenge him to maintain the true honesty he has promised himself and the reader, while also recognizing the hurt that such honesty can sometimes bring to those he loves and admires. Filled with insights into life in Israel, life within his family, and life within himself, the author has created a unique look at the writing life and what it means to at least one author, what he has given up for it, and what he hopes to regain from taking it back. Truly unique.

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Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by developing her novel in fifteen overlapping stories, narrated by an unusual assortment of people. The book also comes with its own style, and a set of themes and characters which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation. A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but the narrator leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at “Mt. Sinai.” The “elephant in the room,” throughout, is a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book. Some of the poems which introduce the chapters refer to a French bulldog, but the narratives soon stop mentioning it. As readers approach the end of the book, they may even question why the French bulldog is part of the title at all. Then, suddenly, it all makes sense, as a bulldog sets the characters and their lives into perspective. Unique.

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Friendship has always played an important role in author Roddy Doyle’s work, and this novel, his thirteenth for adults, is his most intimate in its portrayal of two long-time friends who get together to talk, every now and then, and share their lives. Friends since childhood, Davy and Joe have moved in different directions, with Davy now living in England and coming to Ireland periodically to visit his father in Dublin, and Joe still living in Dublin, where he has worked since high school and raised a family. As the novel opens, the two, now approaching sixty, are meeting in a Dublin pub, and a long night of conversation between them forms the structure of this novel-in-dialogue as they share memories of the past, with most of the memories coming from Joe. Of primary importance to him, is an experience that took place exactly a year ago when Joe saw, for the first time in thirty-seven years, a woman he and Davy had both been in love with when they were twenty-one. With Joe doing most of the “talking,” this novel-in-dialogue tells the story of their marriages and the role this beautiful woman played in Joe’s early dreams and now, surprisingly, in his later life. The many shades of love and the obligations and pleasures associated with it are seen though the vibrant conversations here, as once again, Roddy Doyle brings aspects of Dublin and its people fully to life and shares them with an empathetic world.

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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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