Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snow in May-Kseniya Melnik

Snow in May-Kseniya Melnik

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 272
gender: female
nationality: Russia
year: 2013
short story collection

Set in Magadan, Siberia-a short story collection focused upon people.

I got chilly reading this book. The prose is so well done and evocative-pared down much like I imagine the tundra does to your dreams. You learn a lot about Magadan, this former work camp, Melnik’s hometown in a way that feels natural-like getting to know someone and hearing about their hometown. You hear the great things, the annoying things, and the things that make you want to leave. The stories blend together and interplay-the struggles of communism, the struggle to survive in such a harsh climate, and the social changes all collide and integrate story by story. The stories vary in length but all of them give you a character. The details are Soviet/Russian but the themes of trying to follow your dreams no matter what are universal.


Absolutely delightful. I usually end short story collections not sure what I will write (some stand outs, many that...blend together) but this one-I recommend wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Precious Thing-Colette McBeth

Precious Thing-Colette McBeth

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 384
gender: female
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

A successful TV news presenter learns on the job that her best friend is missing.


So, this whole thriller is predicated on the issue that you can never know another person like you know yourself. And so, with this timeless dilemma, what happens if the person you trust is the wrong one. These two, Rachel the TV presenter and Clara the disappeared friend,  have a strangely obsessive relationship and I think we can all guess what obsession leads to in novels-bad things. Yes. Secrets and near-hatred. This is well handled, I think. McBeth sprinkles in enough detail to give a sense of atmosphere and the twists and betrayals are never quite baldly stated and so the novel actually gets genuinely creepy at times. The ending in particular was well-handled-a rarity. There is just so much cleverness in this novel overall. The flaws all stem from some pacing issues and the...love interest? the friend with benefits? which I didn’t quite enjoy being suddenly there.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Man: Klaus Klump-Gonçalo M. Tavares

A Man: Klaus Klump-Gonçalo M. Tavares

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 144
gender: male
nationality: Portuguese
year: 2003
novel in translation

A man is in a country at war, conquered, and then the war is over.

Klaus Klump is basically without morals, a man without much engagement with the world, which is okay because he is in a country that is being invaded. There is a chilling spareness to Tavares’s prose that lends much to the imagination as his analogies, non sequitors, and random observations never really tell you what is going on. Except that the country is in turmoil, horrible things are happening, machines are there and it’s all pretty awful. This is a short novel that you have to read in one breath, one long held breath, bludgeoned by impotency against alienation. It’s disorienting and the violent scenes are barely distinguishable from the scenes held in peacetime.


It is a hard read in that you have no idea what's really going on and I despised Klaus Klump. Which is quite remarkable given the sparseness of the entire novel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lives of Others-Neel Mukherjee

Lives of Others-Neel Mukherjee

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 416
gender: male
nationality: India
year: 2014
novel

Family saga/epic set in Calcutta. Told in two threads-that of the Naxalite son and another of the various life stories of the rest of his family.

Dense. Really dense. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of melodrama. Of course, there’s actual drama too-the Naxal subplot is never going to lack that. There is a lot of change happening, to the family as well as to the country and the book definitely focuses on the personal impacts of national events. Each family member serves almost as an allegory for the national problems-drugs, marriage, caste etc.  And it’s all told with detail-lots of detail. For me, too much detail but I won’t deny that it was the details that brought the book alive. It really overall functioned as a constant exploration of class/caste and the inequalities of the society

However, I guess it really just wasn’t for me. I seem to not particularly care about family dramas- I can’t get into characters who are quite so bitter like family dramas require. And while a lot happened in the novel, I finished it with the sensation that not much was resolved or done. Which is a bit ironic. Maybe it was the pacing which was kind of meandering-there’d be moments of fascinating changes and the like and then it’d all slow down. I ended feeling like I was pushing myself to read the novel-like it was a chore only lightened by Mukherjee’s sometimes beautiful prose.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Murder Bag-Tony Parsons

Murder Bag-Tony Parsons

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 384
gender: male
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

Seven public school mates (private school to my American friends) (i.e. there’s money) have begun to be killed in grisly ways. Dectective Max Wolfe is trying to find the killer before all seven end up dead.


A very well done procedural crime thriller. The details are what set this apart from the rest of its genre. The tour of the Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, the murder bag mentioned in the title, and the atmosphere (London, of course) are all in the details. The procedural details are precise and carry the novel forwards. The pacing accelerates which is good since I think most readers can solve the mystery rather quickly. Wolfe is made more interesting as he is a single parent so there is a distinctly human feeling to him. He’s not just a tough guy detective but a sensitive father as well. To be honest, I can’t find much to say about this novel, it’s well done but not too well done and so it proves an entertaining if not entirely memorable read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Like Sand in the Wind-Sonia Raule and Vasken Berberian

Like Sand in the Wind-Sonia Raule & Vasken Berberian

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 503
gender: F & M
nationality: Italy/Armenia
year: 2011
novel in translation

Following the 1988 earthquake in her country (Soviet era Armenia), Lena is forced to go to Italy where she works as a nanny for Alice. Alice is the wife of a prominent Armenian doctor but is staunchly Italian. Despite this, the two form a strong bond.

Predictably I was fascinated by the history of places I’ve never known and by the Soviet issues. That the earthquake clearly exposed the worst of the Soviet rule was fascinating and the authors are clearly critical of the cost-cutting that made the earthquake so devastating. The absolute desperate poverty that made the after effects more devastating are depicted in this sparse way that evoked descriptions of post-bomb Hiroshima in a way.


The story set in Italy is somewhat less unusual. There is the familiar narrative of the picture-picture marriage is actually damaged as well as the tension between immigrant and natives played out on a domestic stage were not unusual. However, both Alice and Lena are developed clearly and so you end up rooting for their relationship and that becomes the most interesting part of the story.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Kept-James Scott

The Kept-James Scott

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 368
gender: male
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Strangers have shot a family to death while the mother is away. The surviving child shoots her when she returns (thinking she’s the shooters come back to finish the job). Revenge and the revealing of secrets kept drive the rest of the novel

What a bleak novel. The opening scene is on a massacre and it is bleak. The landscape is bleak. The characters and their ability to develop is bleak. The ending is bleak.


And that is its strength as a novel. That doesn’t make it easy to read but you do have to be impressed by how much bleakness can be packed into 350 pages without driving a reader to drink. I don’t quite know how Scott managed it-perhaps it was the sparse, precise prose or perhaps it was the pacing-but this was not the most depressing thing I’ve read...though admittedly, it’s up there. There’s a lot of the elements of a traditional Western here-the horror of being in the middle of nowhere, transgressive characters, carving a space for your own, revenge, etc,-but set against the northern winter. So you have the typical gruesome details of the genre within a landscape as brutal as the desert and the usual lack of proper parenting which leads to a showdown kind of scene. I felt like I was reading a wintry Cormac McCarthy actually. Goodness, this novel was brutal but starkly beautiful albeit not for the soft-hearted.