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Category Archive for 'Literary'

Author of eleven novels for adults, several collections of short stories, many novels for children, and numerous screenplays, including the BAFTA Award-winning screenplay for the film of The Commitments, Irish author Roddy Doyle writes what is arguably his most serious novel, the ironically titled Smile. His characteristic light touch and his humor, even during times of financial difficulties for his working-class Dublin characters, are almost totally missing from this novel, a first-person story of Victor Forde, a man who once wrote radio and newspaper stories about entertainment but gradually found himself unable to write anymore. Like his other novels, this one maintains a conversational tone, but here Victor is talking to himself most of the time, as he tries to figure out how he came to be in the circumstances in which he now finds himself – separated from his wife, living in a flat new to him, not far from where he grew up, essentially unemployed and lacking the ability to see his writing projects through to completion. Slowly, Victor’s story begins to develop, and some answers to questions about his life begin to appear. It is at this point in which Doyle reveals some of his genius at characterization through effective dialogue. The surprise at the end comes abruptly – and even awkwardly – with no obvious preparation for the reader – and while others may be able to accept it wholeheartedly, there is an aura of trickery – for me at least – as the author resolves all the aspects of the novel very suddenly.

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Set in an upscale apartment building on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Three Floors Up might well have been called “Three Stories Up,” as each of the three floors in this building features a resident who has a story to tell in novella form. Dramatic and intensely personal, these stories by author Eshkol Nevo have few overlaps among them, but as the author focuses on how each person manages his/her life within an Israeli society which is still growing and evolving, the reader becomes involved in the action, especially the psychological action, in ways quite different from most other fiction. The first story, taking place on the first floor, focuses on Arnon, an aggressive, self-serving head of the household, a designer of successful restaurants, husband of Ayelet, and father of two young daughters, Ofri and Yaeli. His short temper and need to be in charge eventually leads to a family disaster. The second story, taking place on the second floor, involves Hani, who is writing to an old friend, Netta, now living in the US. Hani fears she is about to have another breakdown, like the one she had eighteen years ago, and she is begging for help. The last and best developed story, tells the story of Devora Edelman, a widow and retired judge who writes messages to her deceased husband telling him the local news, including an experience she has had with Hani from the second floor, and some new information about the residents on the first floor. When she meets a new friend and goes out into the desert with him, she begins to open up about her son, with whom she has had no contact for three years. Eventually, she begins to take charge of her life and her participation in political demonstrations. A dramatic and enlightening depiction of life in present day Israel.

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Marcus Conway, a sensitive Irish man in his early fifties, hears the Angelus bell, a call to prayer, upon returning to his house in the Mayo village of Louisburgh, where his family has lived for unnumbered generations. He is “pale and breathless” – confused, even – and notes that “There is something strange about all this, some twitchy energy in the ether which has affected me from the moment those bells began to toll, something flitting through me, a giddiness drawing me.” As Marcus muses about his life and family, and his village “blistered with shrines and grottoes and prayer houses and hermitages,” he sees the whole of County Mayo as a “bordered realm of penance and atonement. Author Mike McCormack, winner of the Best Irish Novel of the Year Award for this novel, recreates the life and the memories, of Marcus Conway as one complete sentence, a brilliant way to recreate the shifting thoughts of a man’s memories, and it really works here, drawing in the reader instead of putting him off with its lack of periods. I found it easy to follow after the first few pages, and I became so involved in Marcus Conway’s life and comments about chaos vs. order in his and the world’s universe that I actually forgot that this was only one sentence.

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On a New Year’s Eve in rural England, one would expect the cold to keep most people inside doing their celebrating, but Becky Shaw, a thirteen-year-old whose family has come to town for the holiday, has decided to go out. Leaving one of the “barn conversions” in the village, where she is staying, she suddenly vanishes. At dusk, her family comes running into town, shouting for help, and by the time the New Year is ushered in, a helicopter has been out searching for hours. The mountain-rescue teams, the cave teams, much of the village, and the police have found nothing, and a “thick band of rain [i]s coming in.” With this dramatic opening, author Jon McGregor paves the way for his primary story – the more internal, domestic activity which accompanies the search for Becky Shaw. The whole town is involved in trying to find her, but as time passes without any clues, her disappearance gradually becomes a backstory to the life which continues within the community, a story which features many characters each of whom is trying to make a living and find happiness, despite sometimes ominous odds. Love stories blossom and glorious descriptions of nature provide both irony and context for the lives of the characters here, as McGregor refuses to elevate humans and their lives above animals and their instincts.

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Most of Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s novels echo with memories of his own early life and his efforts to come to terms with his parents’ virtual abandonment of him before he was even in his teens. This novel is different, however, unique, a stand-alone. Main character Jean is sensitive, observant, and emotionally free to love, as the main characters appear to be in most of Modiano’s other novels, but in this novel, the main character does not feel like a substitute for the author. Instead, Jean is a young, rather naïve young man, caught in circumstances that he regards as more of a mystery than the serious crime that readers may conclude it to be, a conundrum which he does not fully grasp. Jean is almost certainly a pawn in the hands of clever criminals, rather than the victim of childhood traumas which typify Modiano’s main characters in his other novels. The mystery here, which may even include murder. Flashbacks, reminiscences, and overlaps between the events from the past and events in the present take place as Jean and the reader are forced to consider what really happened, especially when some of the earlier characters suddenly reappear in the present.

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