No 626 The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

Adobe Spark (6)

As usual with my 20 Books of Summer challenge, the reading isn’t the problem, it’s the reviewing. I’m actually nearly finished my 7th book, but am only at review number 3. I’ll be playing review catch up for the next while, but at least I’m on course to actually read all my books, for a change!

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I’ve been a fan of Yoko Ogawa’s exquisite controlled prose since reading Revenge, The Housekeeper and the Professor and Hotel Iris. The Diving Pool, written when she was in her twenties, is a collection of three novellas, all intuitively exploring emotionally displaced female psychologies.

As with all Ogawa’s work, the stories are written in a simple prose style that belies a profound emotional depth. A sense of unease permeates all these stories, which have an eerie dream-like quality despite their realistic settings. A lingering feeling of dread follows each of these tales, as if the reader awakens from a nightmare and is unable to shake the unease that comes in its wake.

The first two novellas in this mesmerising collection feature isolated female characters who are at an emotional distance from those around them, and try to poison people in a warped attempt at intimacy.

In The Diving Pool, Aya lives in the ‘Lighthouse’ an orphanage run by her parents.

My father and mother are the leaders of a church, a place they say mediates between the faithful and their god. They also run the Lighthouse, which is an orphanage where I am the only child who is not an orphan, a fact that has disfigured my family.

Aya has developed obsessive feelings for an orphan Jun, with whom she has lived since childhood and every day she watches him in secret at his diving practice. Unable to express her feelings for Jun, she internalises her need for comfort and connection and gives in to cruelty instead. She begins to torment a small child called Rie in the orphanage, finding excitement and power in her ability to hurt.

My desires seemed simple and terribly complicated at the same time: to gaze at Jun’s wet body and to make Rie cry. These were the only things that gave me comfort.

When Rie becomes dangerously ill and Aya still feels no remorse, Ogawa cleverly subverts our expectations and shows us how cruelty and kindness can be intermingled when our natural feelings have become twisted through childhood neglect.

The award winning Pregnancy Diary features another emotionally detached young woman. The diary of the title is not that of her own pregnancy, but of her sister’s. As each detail of the pregnancy is logged in the diary, a sense growing revulsion creeps into the narrative as the focus is not on the baby, but on bodily changes and on the consumption of food.

I feel a little disorientated every time I see her like this. Her while body is swelling before my eyes like a giant tumour.

As her sister suffers first from extreme morning sickness, then from a need to eat constantly, the narrator makes vat after vat of possibly toxic grapefruit jam to feed to her insatiable sister.

Like Aya in The Diving Pool, the narrator of Pregnancy Diary is essentially impassive, seeking power through cruelty with an almost disconcerting lack of awareness. Their roles in life are indistinct and their response to this is to create a position of power where they can. Ogawa’s characters seem unaware of the consequences of their actions and the cool, detached tone adds to a sense of alienation not only from those around them, but from themselves.

The protagonist of the final story Dormitory channels her sense of isolation towards misplaced kindness rather than misplaced cruelty. While she waits for her husband to summon her to live with him in Sweden where he is working, the narrator fills her day with patchwork quilting and television, unable to focus on anything more substantial.

My life, too, seemed to be drifting in circles, as if caught in the listless season….I never went out to meet people and had no deadlines or projects of any sort. Formless days passed one after the other, as if swollen into an indistinguishable mass by the damp weather.

Into this limbo comes her cousin, who is moving to Tokyo to go to University. He asks her to help him find accommodation and she finds him a place in her old college dormitory, run by a man who is missing both arms and a leg. Of all the stories in this collection, Dormitory is the one that most resembles the horror/ thriller genre. A student from the dormitory has gone missing in strange circumstances and as the narrator attempts to visit her cousin after he has moved in, she becomes a carer for the deformed manager. As she is drawn into his isolated world, she loses her grip on everyday life, ignoring her husband’s letters and feeling incapable of completing the simplest of tasks

Somehow I couldn’t really understand what he was trying to say. The words – ‘market’…’passport’, ‘moving company’ – were like obscure philosophical terms.

Where has her cousin gone? What is the steady humming sound in the dormitory and where is the growing stain in the ceiling coming from? Ogawa once again subverts expectation and the story ends on a symbolic rather than a sinister note.
As with all Ogawa’s books, there is not a word wasted, yet her prose evokes a dream-like, even surreal pull, distancing the reader before bringing them close again. There is a sense of beautiful unease in her stories that haunt long after they have been read. The cool brilliance of her narratives suggests a universality to her work and the translation by Stephen Snyder maintains this smooth, eerie magic.

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This is one of my Diverse reads for #ReadDiverse2016

Read on: Book
20 Books of Summer: 3/20
Number Read: 121
Number Remaining: 625

20 Books of Summer is back! Who’s in?

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Oh I’m a glutton for punishment….

The temperature is rising (slightly), the kids will be getting out of school soon and I’ve done my Great Wardrobe Changeover (I’m not the only one who does that, am I?) so it must be nearly summer time, which means another attempt at completing my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

I have to admit, I don’t have the greatest track record with this one.

2014 – 16.5 books

2015 – 18 books

Improvement? Yes. Completion? No.

This has to be my year. I am DETERMINED to complete this one. The 746 hasn’t been decreasing as much as I’d like – probably due to the fact that I can’t stay away from Netgalley and at the start of the year one of my goals was to get into the 500s –  so this challenge is the push I need.

From 1 June to 5 September, I’m going to attempt to read my 20 Books of Summer. That’s 7 books a month, which is pretty daunting, but I think I can do it. This year I’ve decided to go for 20 books by women and I must admit, I had great fun putting this list together, but I’m going to need your help completing it. I’ve tried to go for a broad range of genres, eras and styles so that there is always something I’m going to want to read! You can click on the titles to get through to their description on Goodreads.

 

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  1. The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

I have adored The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived at the Castle so I’m looking forward to this highly regarded collection

2 . Small Island by Andrea Levy

I’m trying to keep up with my #ReadDiverse goal this year too, so I’m looking forward to reading this, a mere 12 years after it won the Orange Prize for Fiction

3. Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

This one came to my attention thanks to Melanie’s great review at Grab the Lapels so I was delighted to find it lurking in the 746. Melanie’s subsequent attempts to have it win last month’s reading Roulette meant I couldn’t not include it in the summer list!

4. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

I love Dunmore’s writing and it’s been a few years since I’ve read any of her novels. A Spell of Winter sounds fantastic, although not very summery!

5. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love was on my 20 Books of Summer list in 2014 and was one of the books I didn’t get round to. I’ve been meaning to read it for so long, and given Dunn’s recent death, I felt it was time to finally read it.

6. My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell

One of the major problems with taking on a book-buying ban is the inability to immediately purchase new books by my favourite authors. As I can’t read This Must Be The Place I decided to put this earlier work in my list.

7. The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

This is another book for my Diverse Reads goal and I am a big fan of Ogawa’s quiet, powerful style. Plus it’s three short novellas. Which helps. Believe me.

8. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

I always seem to miss the buzz books when the buzz is actually happening! This book was causing a stir when I started blogging a few years back and I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriller

9. Blue Nights by Joan Didion

This could be a tough read, emotionally as Didion explores the death of her daughter Quintana, but I loved The Year of Magical Thinking and think this will be equally moving.

10. The Keep by Jennifer Egan

I don’t know too much about this one, but enjoyed Look At Me and A Visit From the Goon Squad and the promise of a novel within a novel is always tempting for me!

11.  I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will be aware of my love for JCO. Rather than go for one of her big novels, I’ve gone for a collection of short stories at which I think she excels.

12.  A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne

This is another Orange Prize shortlisted novel that I missed at the time but the 1970s setting and coming-of-age theme really appeals.

13. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

When I heard about the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week hosted by Annabel, Ali and Simon in June, I was keen to take part. This is the only Bainbridge I have in the 746 and will be my first experience with her work

14. The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

About 15 years ago I read, and loved, The Stone Diaries and bought quite a few of Shields books because of it. Did I get round to reading them? Of course not. But I will now!

15. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Why did I let Edith languish on my shelves for so long? I hadn’t read any of her work until a few years ago, but have caught up with Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth. I’m really looking forward to reading this one, Edith hasn’t let me down yet!

16. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

This is a bit of a cheat. Eagle eyes will spot that this was only published last year. No, I didn’t break my book-buying ban on the sly, I bought it for my husband. And now I’m going to borrow it! It’s not officially one of the 746, I just really want to read it and continue the trend for reading a rock memoir every summer!

17. Sister by Rosamund Lupton

This is another thriller I don’t really remember buying but have seen a lot of praise for. Comparisons to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell? Can’t really go wrong there!

18. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I adored the skill and verve of Marisha Pessl’s second novel Night Film and Special Topics is billed as a mix of The Secret History and The Virgin Suicides which sounds just weird enough for me!

Now this is where I need your help. I’ve struggled to pick my final 20, and have four other possibilities I can’t decide on. They are:

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1. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

I had an English teacher once who told us that anyone who loved literature needed to read this book. I was 18. I went out and bought it and…..never got round to reading it!

2. Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I have read so many amazing reviews of Boy, Snow, Bird that I’m thinking this one could be a great read too.

3. This is How by MJ Hyland

This one is a bit of a mystery to me as I don’t remember buying it at all. It sounds pretty intriguing though. Can anyone enlighten me?

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A quick poll on Twitter over the weekend would suggest that this is amazing. But it’s big. So very big.

 

Are there any of these four you think I should absolutely put in the summer pile? Any I should avoid? I’ll make my final choices on 1 June, but you guys always seem to guide me towards some excellent reads, so any advice would be greatly appreciated!

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me?

Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10, 15 or 20 books you’d like to read and link back to my Master post so I know you’re taking part.  I’d love your support and as anyone who has taken part before will know, I am wonderfully slack with my rules!

 

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I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hashtag #20booksofsummer.

So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

 

Reading Roulette for May!

 

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So, it’s been a full 6 months since I last did a Reading Roulette, which means it’s time once again to put my literary fate in your capable hands and ask you to pick one of my May reads from the 746!

You’ve picked me some great winners in the past – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt and Eventide by Kent Haruf. Who will join them this time round? I’ve got six possibilities for you to choose from so have a look at the options and cast your vote.

Maybe you’ll choose a book because you loved it? Or because you still have to read it too? Or even because you hated it?!

I don’t really mind. I’m in your hands! Let’s see if you can pick me my new favourite book….

Reading Roulette April

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I only came to Wharton a few years ago and she hasn’t let me down yet. I doubt she will.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

She may not have been shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize, but can she be the big winner in Reading Roulette?

Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

I don’t remember buying this. I don’t know what it’s about. I read something positive about it recently. Vague, I know but it could be a hidden gem…

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

The New York Times calls him ‘one of the best novelists around’ and he’s won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad. Plus there’s a movie adaptation. With Aidan Quinn. AIDAN QUINN. Why did I not know this before??*

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Ogawa, so I think this collection of three novellas will have that same quiet power that I love in her work.

White Noise by Don DeLillo

I call myself a DeLillo fan and I haven’t read White Noise? Shame on me.

*

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You’re very welcome.

I’ve linked the titles to their Goodreads page just in case you want some more details on the books and I’ll keep the voting open until April 20th.

I’m not quite sure why these books have lingered on the TBR as I’d be quite happy for any of them to win. As a consolation prize, the losers might just find themselves on my 20 Books of Summer pile (once I double check the word count!).

So, have you read any of these? Which do you think will win? I have no idea! Get voting

A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance edited by Belinda McKeon

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Tramp Press a new independent publishing house based in Dublin was founded by Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen to encourage, support and maintain Ireland’s literary talent. Their aim to publish books for readers and to bring great writing in from the cold seems to be paying off as Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither was recently nominated for the Guardian First Book Award 2015.

A Kind of Compass is the latest release from Tramp Press and is a selection of short stories on the theme of distance, edited by Irish writer Belinda McKeon (author of novels Solace and Tender). With stories from some of the best writers across the globe writing today, A Kind of Compass takes the reader to places unexpected and often unnerving – from outer space to the inner mind. The writers, who include Sam Lipsyte, Yoko Ogawa, Kevin Barry, Sara Baume, Niven Govinden and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne all explore the notion of distance in a unique way, from the literal to the metaphorical, the distance of space and the distance of the mind.

A Kind of Compass editor Belinda McKeon

A Kind of Compass editor Belinda McKeon

In her enthralling introduction to this collection, Belinda McKeon confesses her obsession with the notion of distance,

With the spaces – the acres – between people, between places, between parts and versions of the self

Distance here is not just a physical thing and the contributors have taken the notion of distance to fascinating places. Given the international range and background of writers in the anthology, the stories are set all over the world from the Indian Ocean to Ireland and from the present day to the future. The collection opens and closes with two stories dealing with travel to outer space– the ultimate distance – both the dream of it and the reality of it. In Elske Rahill and Maria Takolander’s stories, the female protagonists are using this ultimate distance to try and make sense of their respective childhoods and their relationships with their fathers.

Other fictional travellers in the collection come to realise that bridging the physical distance between places does not necessarily bridge the emotional distance; that the journey of the body is not always enough. Stella, in Francesca Marciano’s Big Island Small Island flies to an island in the Indian Ocean to visit an ex- lover only to find her expectations thwarted and her old friend a stranger. She thinks

I need to say something that will shorten the distance, make us close again

This is true of several of the stories, including Sam Lipsyte’s witty yet moving The Naturals, where Caperton, a ‘free-range cultural consultant’ is travelling home to visit his dying father and says what he has always wanted to say only for his father to respond with a recommendation for a TV show. Other travellers include Yoko Ogawa’s Kotoko, whose dream trip to Vienna is derailed by a visit to a nursing home, where she ends up learning more than any museum trip or guided tours could teach.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither author Sara Baume

Spill Simmer Falter Wither author Sara Baume

In Finishing Lines Sara Baume explores the journey of the racing pigeon and how

It was the only race in the world….with a single starting gate but a thousand different finishing lines

Like a thousand finishing lines, the needle of the compass pulls us as humans in many ways. We can end up literally lost, like Kevin Barry’s protagonist in the moving Extremadura or just lost in the place we thought we wanted to be. Several of these stories examine the distance between our hopes and our realities. In City Inside, a Kafka-esque tale from Porochista Khakpour, Henry who is nervous after a move to a ‘famous city’ tries to avoid contact with other people, only to find that contact literally comes in his window. In the futuristic Distant Song, Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s young people cling to hope in a world where it has become currency, even though they know that hope is gone. The distance travelled is often irrelevant, understanding can come within the shortest space of time. Niven Govinden’s Animal Heart is a mere two pages long, but packs an emotional punch that many novels would envy.

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In his book The Lonely Voice, short story master Frank O’Connor explains that

there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not find in the novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness

Many, if not all of the characters in these stories are lonely. At a distance not just from other people but from themselves, trying to come to terms with the space between thought and action, hope and reality. In New Zealand Flax, the stand out story in this collection, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne shows us Frida, a woman who is well aware of the devastating distance that has opened up in her life, but will not accept it and instead turns it in to something she can bear. It is a beautiful ode to the power of the imagination and the resilience of love.

While reading this exciting and thought-provoking collection of stories, I was reminded of the phrase ‘wherever you go, there you are’. At turns funny, unnerving and insightful, the collection reminds us that a compass can help us find the way, but we still have to make the journey ourselves and the destination my not be what we imagined.

 

With thanks to Tramp Press who provided me with a review copy. A Kind of Compass was published on 17 September 2015.

You can find out more about the great work they are publishing here and you can also read Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s story from the collection which was published on the Irish Times website here. I urge you to read it!

Belinda McKeon is the author of Solace (2011), which won the Geoffrey Faber Prize and was also voted Irish Book of the Year 2011, and Tender (2015). McKeon’s essays and non-fiction have been published in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Paris Review and the Irish Times. Born in Longford, she now lives in Brooklyn and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Rutgers University.

 

 

No 671 The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

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The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a beautiful, deceptively simple book that made me remember why I love reading. I tend to read in fits and starts nowadays, but this book had a flow and a smoothness to it, that took me away from daily life for just a few hours and was completely immersive.

The book features a brilliant mathematics professor who has lost his long-term memory following a car accident in 1975. He can only form new memories for 80 minutes before his memory is lost again and he finds solace and the ability to cope through his love of baseball and mathematics. He pins reminder notes about his life on his suit and he greets his housekeeper anew each day unaware of the relationship that has built up slowly between them and her son Root – nicknamed because this shape of his head resembles the sign for a square root.

Using the housekeeper as a narrator, Ogawa unfolds a gentle, elegant story about loss, relationships, memory and the magic of mathematics.

By conventional standards, nothing much happens. The main characters, with the exception of Root, are never named. The housekeeper brings her son to work each day and a tentative friendship builds between the three, even though they will ultimately remain strangers to the Professor. He goes for a haircut. They take him to a baseball game and also to the dentist. There is an issue with his over protective sister-in-law which is resolved. The Professor wins a maths competition and grows older.

Nothing seems to happen and yet everything does.

The book is a tale of delicate understatement, which feels light as the cherry blossoms on the tree outside the Professors window, or as esoteric as the complex mathematics problems he enthuses over. The theory of numbers and their relationships to one another echoes quietly the growing relationship between the housekeeper and the professor and as she becomes more interested in the mathematics he loves so dearly – that one thing that grounds him and that he can never forget – so too does she become closer to this old man. The book explores the strange equations that occur to link people together, that create families.

The nameless characters suggest they are part of a myth, a larger signifier of an eternal truth

Eternal truths are ultimately invisible, and you won’t find them in material things or natural phenomena, or even in human emotions. Mathematics however, can illuminate them, can give them expression – in fact, nothing can prevent it from doing so.

That eternal truth, of needing to belong and to be understood is the core exploration of this slight, yet forceful book. Just as the Professor needs his mathematics and his baseball to be the rock he leans on to get him through the moments when his condition is too much, so too do Root and the Housekeeper need to know that they are part of something more despite their difficult life.

I needed the sense that this invisible world was somehow propping up the visible one, that this one, true line, extended infinitely, without width or area, confidently piercing through the shadows. Somehow, this line would help me find peace.

Yoko Ogawa (AP Photo/Picador, Masaaki Toyoura)

Yoko Ogawa (AP Photo/Picador, Masaaki Toyoura)

The story however, is not all theory and abstraction. While the Professor is firmly ensconced in the world of the mind, the Housekeeper is firmly placed within the physical – caring for his needs by cleaning, nursing and clothing him. The wonderful depictions of food preparation ground the novel, hold on to its kite like properties and stop it from sailing away.

I looked at the food I had just finished preparing and then at my hands. Sautéed pork garnished with lemon, a salad, and a soft yellow omelette. I studied the dishes one by one. They were all perfectly ordinary, but they looked delicious – satisfying food at the end of a long day. I looked at my palms again, filled suddenly with an absurd sense of satisfaction, as though I had just solved Fermat’s Last Theorem

Through the Professor, Ogawa shows us the magical within the ordinary – how we must appreciate the simple things because that is where the truth of life lies. There are a few hints that life is not as simple as a solvable equation however, what was the exact relationship between the Professor and his sister-in-law who looks after him? Where is Root’s father? Ogawa is confident enough to leave these questions with the reader and not let them disturb the calm, soothing waters of this lovely book.

The centrality of mathematics to the story may put some readers off, but Ogawa’s prose is both delicate and solid, whether describing a baseball game, a salad or Euler’s theory, the narrative voice (ably translated by Stephen Snyder) remains focused and measured throughout. There is a beautiful physicality to some of the descriptive passages that creates places as well as emotion

The curtains billowed in the breeze, letting the rain pour in on our bare feet. It was cool and refreshing, just as the Professor had said. The sun had vanished and the only light in the garden was the faint glow from the lamp above the kitchen sink. Small birds flitted among the dropping, tangled branches of the trees, and then the rain obscured everything. The smell of fresh garden soil filled the air as the thunder drew closer.

Certainly if you were to look at the Professor’s condition a little closer, there could be some issues with plausibility. Would his ‘reset’ every 80 minutes not cause greater emotional distress? But minor quibbles aside, this is a beautiful, sustained and enchanting story about the need to belong and the joy of living in the present.

Some housekeeping: 5 read, 15 to go

Some housekeeping: 5 read, 15 to go

20 Books of Summer: 5/20

Number Read: 76

Number Remaining: 670

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20 Books of Summer 2015!

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It’s hard to believe a year has passed, but there are hints of a change in the weather here in Ireland and I’ve decided to challenge myself again this year to read my 20 Books of Summer!

Last year I managed a mere 16 ½ books, so hopefully I can beat that record this time round.

When I started trying to decide on my 20 Books, I had an idea. At the start of 746 Books, the aim was to read what I had, save some money by not buying books and clear some space by reading what was in the house. And I have managed to read what I have and save some money but over the last 18 months though, I’ve come to realise that I mostly read on my iPad, so the piles in the house are still there, mocking me.

So, this summer, I will only read physical books. It’s a bit daunting, because it removes the opportunity to read on my phone, but it will be nice to spend some time reconnecting with some real, actual books for a change! Plus, I might have a clear shelf by September!

So, starting from 1 June and running until 4 September, I’m hoping to read 20 actual books. 7 a month, I can do that, right? Like last year I’ve gone for as broad a range of genres and books as I can and like last year I have included a rock star memoir, a trashy 70s classic, and some sneaky short plays, poetry collections and short stories!

Photo: drbimages

Photo: drbimages

I won’t be reading in any particular order and be warned, reviews may be shorter than usual – I’ve still a job and a couple of twins to look after you know!

So, here are my 20 Books of Summer, click on the titles for a link to their Goodreads description:

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me? Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10 or 20 books you’d like to read and link below.  I’d love your support and I’ve provided a 10 Books image in case 20 seems too daunting! I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hastag #20booksofsummer.

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So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.

March Madness Ends and normal madness is resumed…

March Madness may well be over, but all that reading has left me way behind on reviews! I did manage to start all my 10 books in March, but unfortunately didn’t manage to finish Point Omega by Don DeLillo. I really pushed myself to read as much as possible this month and I’m delighted to be down into the 720’s already. Many thanks to the wonderful Cedar Station for all the support! I’m quite looking forward to reading at a more leisurely pace and choosing books as and when I feel like reading them. I’m also looking forward to reading some more pleasant books, given the high level of rapes, murders, child abuse, death and in the case of Tampa, several crimes against literature.

So, to round up, here are books 8 and 9 and the madness will spill in to April when I finish 10.

 

No 727 Race by David Mamet

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8/10 of March Madness

In Race, a wealthy white man, accused of raping a black woman, turns to a law firm comprised of two male partners (one white, one black) and a young female, African-American junior associate. Although wary about taking Charles’s case, their hand is forced when their junior associate Susan, who is African American, makes two elementary legal errors. But the action shifts from questions of Charles’s guilt or innocence to internal politics and the issue of whether Susan is a victim of discrimination or the dubious product of affirmative action.

Race feels a bit like the younger sibling of Mamet’s superior Speed-the-Plow with the pair of legal eagles replacing the cynical fast-talking Hollywood producers and a characteristic female neophyte who they really should be keeping a closer eye on before she puts a spoke in these very masculine wheels.

This feels like a play of two halves and the opening scenes which examine the ducking and diving and intellectual power play in the legal profession are much more successful than the attempts to question the audience’s assumptions about race. Mamet does make a good attempt at turning our preconceptions on their head. “Do you know what you can say to a black man on the subject of race?” the apparently affable black lawyer asks the white defendant, a question to which we learn the only correct answer is “nothing”.

But while admiring Mamet’s panache in taking on so fraught a subject, the play does often feel mechanical. Mamet is in danger of seeming provoking rather than provocative. The characters are little more than points of view in this dramatic discussion where the theme is all and though the dialogue is as edgy and compelling as ever, featuring Mamet’s trademark overlaps, backtrackings and repetitions.

Again, I would imagine the play comes to life more in the performance, this video of the original Broadway production starring James Spader and Kerry Washington certainly suggests there were more laughs on stage than on page but for me, this is a play of ideas that never really engages the heart.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 20

Number Remaining: 726

 

No 726 Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

March Madness 9/10

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What is it with me and books you feel like reading with one eye closed?

Hotel Iris is the story of Mari, a 17-year-old young woman who works for her tyrannical mother in a hotel by the sea. She meets an older man, a translator of Russian novels, who lives on an island and is rumoured to have murdered his wife. They start a relationship based on dominance and sado-masochistic violence yet they love each other.

“It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” Mari thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”

Hotel Iris is reluctantly compelling. Ogawa is skilled at writing beautifully even about ugly, violent things and is a master at creating mood. The story is outside of time and using spare strokes and ingenious, often macabre detail, Ogawa creates a dreamlike narrative that, challenges our sense of security. There is a profound unease in this study of dependency with Mari ruled by an uncaring, tyrannical mother at home, and a domineering, sadistic lover in secret. Mari trades one form of servitude for another. She is a wisp of a girl, seeking her true self through pain and her lack of self awareness is both what draws the reader in and holds us strangely at arm’s length.

The book is as cool as the ocean breeze by the Hotel Iris, giving up no easy answers for why these characters do what they do. It is a story in a beautiful, tender and disturbing world all of its own.

 

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