The Absolutist by John Boyne – Book Review

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Published by Other Press

It is 1919 and Tristan has survived WWI – at least bodily.

“I may not be buried in a French field but I linger there. My spirit does, anyway. I think I’m just breathing, that’s all. And there’s a difference between breathing and being alive.” -p. 137

Now that he is physically safe and has had some time regain his bearings in life outside of war, Tristan is on a mission to meet with the sister of a man he once served with. Ostensibly he wishes to return to her the letters she sent Will while he was enlisted, but in reality there is more to it than that; Tristan has a secret that he can no longer keep entirely to himself.

I actually believe that it is better not to know too much about The Absolutist going into it. Tristan’s story unfolds gradually, alternating between his trip to see Will’s sister and his time in training and on the battlefield. The Absolutist is about Tristan and Will’s relationship, the horrors of war, and the attempt to recover mentally from what one sees in war.

Boyne’s writing is beautiful, and he drags the reader immediately into Tristan’s world and life. The Absolutist is mesmerizing and difficult to put down, the reader can feel Tristan’s pain and the secret he harbors almost bodily, but Boyne still manages to keep The Absolutist from turning into  a morass of sorrow and pain.

The Absolutist is an absolutely beautiful, painful, and moving novel of war and humanity and I very highly recommend it.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source:Publisher, for BOOK CLUB .
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson- Book Review

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
Published by Other Press

When a young, pregnant woman, Lillie, is found floating dead in Richmond’s reservoir, the cause of death is originally thought to be suicide, but soon the evidence piles up so that murder is suspected. Before too long, the police pick up Lillie’s cousin Tommie, with whom she had been having a fling. As it becomes more and more obvious that Tommie was with Lillie the night she died, he is put on trial for her murder, his own life hanging in the balance.

The Reservoir has just a bit of a slow start. I read about 35 pages and put it down for a week, without ever particularly needing to pick it up again. Once I finally picked it up again, however, I finished the last 300 pages in just two sittings in under 24 hours. Thompson has brought 19th century Richmond to life.

The based-on-a-true-story events of The Reservoir are viewed at somewhat of a remove, with distant language, but it worked in this case. Tommie is removed from his own life, awaiting the outcome of his trial. The narrative distance also contributes to the questions about whether or not Tommie is a reliable narrator in his tales of what happened to Lille, of what really happened.

After a slow start, The Resvoir is a truly engrossing, beautifully-written literary historical mystery.

We will be discussing The Reservoir right here on Tuesday, July 26 as part of BOOK CLUB, all are welcome to attend.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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BOOK CLUB – Galore by Michael Crummey


Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about Galore by Michael Crummey, which was released at the end of March from Other Press (websitetwitterfacebook). For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion is likely to contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

Paradise Deep and Gut are insular, isolated Newfoundland communities. Theirs is a hardscrabble life where nothing much changes, in many of the families one generation seems largely interchangeable with another, a constant cycle of birth and death, and birth again. But then, a whale washes ashore. A beached whale represents a bounty for a community that does not have the resources to catch more than cod, but when they slice open the whale’s stomach, a strangely pale man tumbles out. Named Judah due to a disagreement about whether it was Judas or Jonah who was swallowed by the whale in the Bible, the mute man is s subject of fear and wonder for the community by turns.

It is a bit difficult to say what Galore is about, because, at its heart, it is simply about the people of Gut and Paradise Deep. Even Jonah’s odd appearance – both in how he comes to the community and in how he looks – is not truly at the heart of this novel. Instead it is the people, the community as a whole, even.

Before we get started, here are some of the reviews of readers who will be participating today:

Caribou’s Mom
Devourer of Books

House of the Seven Tails
Indie Reader Houston
Linus’s Blanket
Picky Girl

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option, the second option will subscribe you only to replies of your own comments).  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Judah was seen alternatively as a kind of curse or lucky charm for the community, did how he was seen by others change how you saw or felt towards him? How you felt towards the people around him?
  • It wasn’t until 30 odd pages into Book Two that I knew when Galore was set, when we were told that King-Me died sometime before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The timeline became more clear towards the end of the novel, but until then seemed that it could have taken place almost any time. Do you think this was a conscious decision on the part of Crummey? Did it enhance or detract from the story for you?
  • Newman, the doctor, finds Newfoundland too fantastical to believe in when he is back in the states. Do you agree with his assessment? If so, was the land still believable to you while reading?
  • The end FASCINATED me. Thoughts? Opinions? Theories?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • Do you have any other questions for the group?

Additional questions from Amy:

  • Has anyone read Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Do you think the comparisons between him and Crummey are valid? If so, in what ways?

12 review copies of Galore were provided by Other Press in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you!

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A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow – a woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
http://www.powells.com/biblio/9781590513613?&PID=34002

Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton – Audiobook Review

Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio, Published in print by Other Press

Synopsis:

When Laurie Clow travels to London, distracted as she is by her mother’s dementia and an odd incident with a friend, she finds herself witnessing a horrible traffic accident and spending with Arthur Hayman’s last few moments with him. After his death, she meets his family, including his son, Luke, who is the title character in Arthur’s series, “The Hayseed Chronicles.” Staying with the family through the funeral, Laurie has the opportunity to read all the books and is immediately charmed. When she returns to California, her trumpeting of the books begins to elevate media awareness of both the books and Laurie herself, changing irrevocably the lives of all involved.

Thoughts on the story:

I really enjoyed this book for what it had to say about fame, and the culture of fame: the difficulties, the way people think they own the things they love, how easy it is to suddenly find yourself going off the tracks. Luke narrated the majority of the book, and was a very insightful narrator. My biggest issue with him is that he often felt more like the narrator than like the main character. Part of this is because he was telling this story from his vantage point at the end of the novel, but it still didn’t quite work for me as well as it could have. One reason for this may be that none of the characters were easy to empathize with. Laurie was a great character at the outset, but she was much changed by fame, and that change seemed so sudden, from Luke’s point of view in not having seen her for some time, that it was hard to understand where she was coming from at that point.

My other minor qualm with “Mr. Toppit” was that there seemed to be an awful lot of setup to get to the point where Elton could offer the reader a view of how fame changes people and their lives. That really is the main thrust of the book, but the “Hayseed Chronicles” did not take off until approximately the midpoint of “Mr. Toppit,” and I found that first part somewhat hard to get into, although ultimately worth the wait.

I do want to mention, Arthur died at a point when his series was ultimately unfinished, and I got the cold sweats ‘what if’ing J.K. Rowling dying somewhere in the middle of Harry Potter. Imagine what would have happened! Of course, in “Mr. Toppit” Arthur does not find fame until after his death, but the comparison still nearly gave me nightmares.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Simon Vance was narrating, what else really needs to be said? It was Vance’s usual fabulous narration. Really the audio production was strong overall, there was a complete absence of any noticeable variations in sound quality or problematic moments of narration.

Overall:

A good book, one I can recommend for those interested in a commentary on fame, but not one that will intrigue all readers. I can definitely recommend the audiobook, because Simon Vance helps greatly at moving the reader through the slower portions of the book at the beginning.

Need another opinion? Jennifer from Literate Housewife and I read it together, and her review is up too!

Buy this book from:
Audible
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Audio/Print*

Source: library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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