The Noise of Time

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The Noise of Time

“But you had to admire his understanding of power, at that, he was second to none.”

The Noise of Time ~ Julian Barnes

Shoot me, but the truth is that there wasn’t much I liked about this book. I know, I know how this sounds.

Especially since Julian Barnes is a personal favourite, also because everyone else seems to think this is a smashing work of art, also because he’s done this thing where he’s taken a real life historical character and written a semi-fictional tale about him. All those things are true, but to me, this book was just, just boring.

I liked the beginning, this idea of the greatest Soviet composer, waiting by the elevator at the dead of night; dressed and chain smoking cigarettes, waiting to be carried away by Stalin’s men. Once that was done with, the rest of the book seemed just too repetitive. I’ve been told that Barnes here has achieved a clever trick of composing the book in the form of Shostakovich’s music itself and perhaps if I understood his music better, I might have appreciated this book better.

However, all is not lost however…

Why you should read the book:

  • To gain insight into the life of a celebrated personality in Soviet Russia
  • The story is human and seemingly very close to the truth
  • For Barnes’ way with words

Why you might not want to read the book:

  • If you aren’t already acquainted with Shostakovich, then the story might not interest you
  • The narrative is missing drama, tension and might not induce you to turn the page
  • The many numbers of times, the phrase “Noise of Time” was used in the story

Shameless promotion

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Hello my lovelies,

This is a bit of shameless self-promotion of my new Instagram account. I promise I won’t do this often.

If you would be so kind as to follow me @coatsandcrackers

This account is mostly for my watercolour illustrations, although I do share some illustrations of bookstores and libraries as well. I’m hoping to do a few giveaways in the future for bookmarks and postcards etc.

Thank you very much if you decide to follow me.

 

How to be both

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How to be both

“This will be the first year her mother hasn’t been alive since the year her mother was born.”

How to be both ~ Ali Smith

This book needs to sink in before you can safely set it aside and move on to your next read. As with all of Ali Smith’s writing, I was injected with an instant dose of happiness, from the very first sentence. It could have something to do with the manner of her writing; which reads a lot like a friend telling me a ridiculously made-up story while cradling a mug of hot chocolate and with a pair of colourful socks on.

I am wary of recommending this book too enthusiastically because it is delightfully experimental and sometimes verging on frustrating. It could all just pass you by in a blur – or it could engross you in its time warping, gender-defying, a sepulchral narrative that stretches across generations and continents.

The first section is set in contemporary times, where sixteen-year-old George (Georgina) is coping with the loss of her fiery feminist mother. Among her fondest memories, is a recent trip she took to Italy with her mother where they went to see this low-key exhibition of frescoes painted by a Renaissance painter Franchescho del Cossa, who the world knows practically nothing about.

The second section is a stream of consciousness monologue by the ghost of Franchescho, who tells us his story (her story), but I’m only over-simplifying matters here. Nothing is as easy as it sounds.

I wish I knew beforehand that this book is printed in two versions. One version begins with George’s story, and the other begins with Franchescho. I read the former.

Why you should read it:

  • This is a reflective novel and insightful in its study of art and themes of loss and love
  • There is method in its structural madness

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • It is a struggle to read and I will admit that I dipped in and out of it, instead of reading it in one go
  • Ali Smith must be mad in her method

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

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A short history of tractors in Ukranian

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian ~ Marina Lewycka

Other than that my boyfriend thought I was finally developing an interest in farming, there was absolutely nothing funny about this book. And the only reason I’m pointing this out is because it won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic writing. Not to mention that it was long-listed for the Booker too.

It had potential though – a gold-digging big-breasted satin-underwear loving Ukrainian hussy has latched on to the narrator’s elderly widower father. She is now out to take his money, his house and is refusing to grant him a divorce. The father is an old Ukrainian engineer, writing a book about the history of tractors and is probably funny on occasion, but everything about this book is cliched and every time I nearly laughed, I didn’t. 

For instance, it drove me nuts to read (a book), with so many asides in parentheses (by the narrator) as though she was trying to nudge me (in the ribs) constantly to get me to laugh (because she knew the jokes weren’t funny).

And also, of course, there was the matter of the family’s dark past, during the end of the second World War. Which might have served the story well if it was written as a dark comedy, instead of slapstick humor which just left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Why you should read it –

  • Interestingly, I learned a good bit about Ukraine’s history and, to my boyfriend’s great pleasure…a good bit about tractors too
  • You might also read it if you’re looking for cheap thrills. Someone point Sia in this direction.

Why you shouldn’t read it –

  • If you don’t want to read a gimmicky story with some maudlin attempts at humor

The Long Gaze Back

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The Long Gaze Back

The Long Gaze Back ~ Sinead Gleeson

A refreshing selection of short stories by Irish female writers.

A gem of an anthology, which I could tell the editor, Sinead Gleeson, laboured over. Not only is this a collection of stories by an all-female cast but it is a clever reflection on the evolution of the short story itself.

I can’t be certain, but as far as I could tell, the stories were all arranged by sequence of the ages of their authors. So, you begin by reading a short story written by an Irish female author, which is some three decades old and you end with one written by the youngest contemporary. I found this transition and variety in the telling of a short tale rather interesting, not to take away from the fact that all the stories are excellent.

There is a common theme of course that binds them all together – tragedy, I suppose.

If I had to pick, which I can easily do, since I cannot claim that I enjoyed all the stories equally; Eimer Ryan, Mary Costello and Bernie McGill’s were the strongest. Some of the earlier ones didn’t quite appeal to me, but that is perhaps because my taste in short stories has evolved into a more modern structure.

Why you should read it:

  • For the reader of short stories, this book is a gem
  • There is something for every kind of reader

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • This is a collection consisting of a variety of styles, so you may not enjoy every story

Purity

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Purity

“Everyone should be told this about fame before they start pursuing it: you will never trust anyone again. You will be a kind of damned person.”

Purity ~ Jonathan Franzen

Luckily for me, I dipped into this book without a full realization of all the things people have to say about Franzen, the author, and not necessarily his books. There are two distinct camps apparently; of Franzen lovers and Franzen haters, because of his highly publicized public persona. I, on the other hand, will backtrack indeed and read his other books. Despite how disappointed I was with this one’s ending.

Purity is the name of one of the main characters, or rather Pip, as she is more commonly known by. Was this a purposeful Dickensian reference? Both Dickens’ Pip and Franzen’s Pip have daddy issues, believe money and fortune can solve a lot of their world’s problems and have secret inheritance lurking around the corner.

Without going into more detail; Pip is a young girl who has never known her father and has a staggering student loan to pay off. Her mother is a middle-aged hippie-ish character and is guarding the secret of her father’s identity like the grail. Franzen writes this book, which is essentially a tale of two families, through the perspective of three main characters.

Why you should read it:

  • For Franzen’s easy to read contemporary-literary prose
  • His maze-like psychologising which is heart racing at junctures
  • For the drama of family dysfunction

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • Franzen’s strange view of women. This book is strikingly evidently written by a man
  • For the lack of sympathetic characters
  • For the sheer size of it!

His Bloody Project

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His Bloody Project ~ Graeme Macrae Burnet

Excellent. Hooked from the start.

In the late 1800’s, in the remote Highlands of Scotland, a brutal triple-murder takes place and there is no shred of doubt who the killer is. It is nice natured seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. How could this have happened? In a small village of a handful of inhabitants, where the gravest of crimes till date were nothing more than petty thievery.

My first impression of the book was reminiscent of sentiments I had when I watched the first episode of Fargo. Graeme Macrae Burnet is a clever writer. He insists that the book is based on real events, on an ancestor of his. Which is furthermore believable given that the protagonist shares the writer’s name. Very clever indeed, because I spent some time initially just trying to figure out if this was true crime or not. I’ll save you the research – it is not. This is entirely a fictional piece of work.

In its historical setting, the book is masterful. The tone is somber and the events unfolding are narrated with forensic precision, devouring you into Roderick’s plight. That is what any writer wants from their book is it not? For the reader to root for the protagonist, despite knowing what they are ultimately capable of.

I am not usually a reader of genre crime fiction, and I commend Burnet and his publishers for marketing the book as that – but it is very far from it. It is very much a literary piece of work, if you are not opposed to using that term.

Why you should read it –

  • For the admirably artistic way that crime can be written
  • I wasn’t once bored as I read the book
  • For the thrill of loving a villain

Why you shouldn’t read it –

  • If you’re looking for a classic whodunnit
  • If you don’t like unresolved bits in the books that you read

Claudine in Paris

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Claudine in Paris ~ Colette 

Those who read my review of Claudine at School know by now just how delighted I was with it. I was quick to get my hands on the whole series and, Claudine in Paris is the second book while continuing to be a sheer joy to read.

Here, Claudine is seventeen and still ruthless and has moved from her sheltered life in Montigny to Paris. Colette’s prose is witty and sparkling, and there wasn’t a single page I didn’t turn without arching my eyebrows. Only in France could this book have been published way back in 1901, although I believe it still did cause quite the stir.

This second book follows a similar theme; with Claudine observing human nature as best she can. Like the first part, this one too is open about homosexuality, while also touching on other such scandalous subjects as sadomasochism and mistresses. I will say however that some parts of the book may be offensive to us modern readers, but what undoubtedly kept me going was how absolutely hilarious Claudine is.

Why you should read it:

  • To peek inside the mind of an early twentieth-century French teenager (the books are partly auto-biographical for that matter)
  • For a quick-witted and breezy read
  • Much juicier than reading mindless clickbait articles online!

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • If political incorrectness might offend you
  • There are some instances in the book that describe abuse in a (sadly) lighthearted way

A Parisian Affair

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A Parisian Affair ~ Guy de Maupassant 

After a rather long interlude, I decided to go back to the classic short story at the start of this new year. As a teenager, I remember thinking nobody does it better than Maupassant, and so I picked up this collection of thirty-four of his finest.

What struck me most as I re-read these stories, was how much has changed since I read them first. Changed in me, that is. I didn’t finish the stories now feeling entertained. Instead, to my detriment, I kept thinking how some of our modern storytellers would have written them differently. Which didn’t help matters at all. Neither did I enjoy these wonderful stories to the extent I should have nor could I come up with a satisfactory conclusion for their possible improvement.

These stories are fairly short, humorous and strikingly daring for the time they were written in. I know Maupassant, along with others of his time paved the way for the modern short story and these stories no doubt made readers think. Think about changing their thoughts and made them look at the world differently. He wrote psychological thrillers, stories bordering on science fiction, romances and those of profound thought. So to that end, his stories do their job and cannot be faulted.

Why you should read this

  • If you haven’t read any of his stories, this is a good collection to start with
  • The themes are far reaching and cover a range of topics
  • Ultimately, these are excellent stories. Some of the classical best.

Why you shouldn’t read them

  • If you’re looking to be shocked/surprised/affected
  • If you want a page turner

The Sea

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“Perhaps all of life is a long preparation of the leaving of it.”

The Sea ~ John Banville 

This new year, I’ve set a brand new target of reading 50 books which I hope to surpass, and as of now; things are looking good. ‘The Sea’ was a good start to the year and was strangely inspiring for my own writing. I love it when books do that.

I will, however, be doing my followers a disservice if I don’t forewarn that ‘The Sea’ is not for everybody. Banville has received enough criticism already, the internet is awash with it, and I agree; the man is a show-off. However, I do believe that he is a capable one.

‘The Sea’ is a story about an aging man, who, upon the death of his wife, returns to a seaside holiday spot where in his childhood he experienced a tragedy which he now wishes to re-examine. The voice, the pace and the story itself; they all belong to the category of literary fiction which might appeal to readers of such writers as Julian Barnes.

Banville writes calm sentences, very beautifully put together and one can tell that he’s laboured hard at them. He plays interestingly with time, works hard at making the narrator unreliable, stresses less on drama and pays attention to the craft of writing, to making minute observations, using the hardest synonyms in the dictionary…but to my reading tastes, this suits. Despite having predicted the ending.

I’d suggest this book as the perfect Winter-Read.

Why you should read it:

  • If you like slow paced, calm books with strong characters
  • If you’re a fan of Julian Barnes or Graham Swift
  • To strengthen your vocabulary (cheeky)

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • If you’re in need of a quick holiday read
  • If you don’t want to keep running to the dictionary while reading a book