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Posts tagged ‘contemporary fiction’

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: 1001 Book Review


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
First published: 2011
Reviewed by: Jen & Book Worm
Find it here: The Marriage Plot

Synopsis (from Amazon): Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce?

It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned. Jeffrey Eugenides creates a new kind of contemporary love story in “his most powerful novel yet” (Newsweek

Jen’s Review: 5 stars
I loved this book for a variety of reasons. It was well-written with a blend of humor, empathy, and psychological insight that I found impressive. What Eugenides has done with this novel is perfectly capture the atmosphere of an Ivy League school and it’s alums in the 1980s. In some ways Eugenides mocks the pretentiousness of the Ivy league college environment and forces his characters to face up to the reality of life outside of books.

“College wasn’t like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity.”

The book is rife with both well-known and obscure literary references. Fiction and literature often blends with the realities of the characters’ lives. Madeline, the protagonist is a romantic with visions of love colored by the books she is studying for her senior thesis. When she leaves the comfort of Brown University, she learns that true love isn’t really the way it is depicted in her books. All the young people featured in the book face similar challenges as they learn to reconcile the ideals of college with the possibilities of the real world. The Marriage Plot is intelligent, fun to read, and covers a variety of themes including relationships, mental illness, and growing up.

“She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.”

Book Worm’s Review: 3 stars
I liked this book, however, unlike Jen, I didn’t love it. I liked the characters, I liked the storyline, and I liked the ending, despite it being a bit abrupt. The writing is solid and there are some serious issues that are handled well and in heartbreaking detail. The 3 central characters learn about themselves, about life in the real world (the world outside of college), and how life is not what you expect it to be especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a romance story, as well as to those who enjoy classic literature. It is fun playing spot the literary references.

As you can see, I liked the book. So why only 3 stars? As you probably already know, sometimes it’s the timing of when you read a book that influences how you feel about it. I read this during a stressful period  – in the midst of a home construction project — the first timing problem. The second timing problem was that I read it straight after reading my favourite book of the year and compared to that I found this average, hence the rating.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Which one of us do you agree with? Have you read any of his other books? Which ones do you recommend?

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy it here: The Marriage Plot

Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín

heather blazing

Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín
Published: 1992
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Jen
Format: Audio narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Find it/buy it here: The Heather Blazing

I think Colm Tóibín may be on his way to become one of my new favorite authors. There is something about his writing style that I find very comforting and beautiful. I first discovered him while working my way through the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list. I loved The Master — a fictionalized portrait of Henry James that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004. I became equally enamored with my latest selection: Heather Blazing. Read more

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman


The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Published in: 1994
Literary Awards: Finalist for the 1994 National Book Award
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: The Bird Artist: A Novel

Set in Witless Bay in Newfoundland, a remote community, this is the story of how love and passion can end in murder.

Fabian Vas is a bird artist: He draws and paints the birds of Witless Bay, his remote Newfoundland coastal village home.  In the first sentence of the novel Fabian confesses to having killed the lighthouse keeper, Botho August. The rest of the narrative works backwards showing what events lead to the murder and how Fabian escaped hanging to tell his story.

The book is studded with detailed descriptions of the bird life in Witless bay and indeed the bay itself is a character, with its isolation allowing certain events to take place and for community justice to take the place of the law.

I gave this book 3 stars because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. They were all unlikeable in some way and I really find it hard to like a book where you can’t connect with a single character. What I did enjoy were the descriptions of nature, of the bird species, and of the harsh landscape of the island — landscape that made the inhabitants the kind of remote, cold people they were.

After finishing this book I discovered it was the first in a trilogy which seems rather strange to me since this book seemed to provide the complete story of Fabian, albeit it possibly a slightly surface view. This was not a book that ended on a cliffhanger or that left me with any burning unanswered questions. Instead, everything was all tied up nicely and in such a way that I don’t feel compelled to read the next 2 books — which probably says it all.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Bird Artist: A Novel

We want to hear from you. Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you want to read it?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Published: 2007
Awards:Pulitzer Prize for fiction (2008)
Reviewed by Jen and Book Worm
Find it here: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

We recently featured this book on our Love it or Hate it post and since neither of us had read it.  We both felt that we should review it and weigh in on the debate with our opinions. Check out whether we loved or hated this book. Read more

Americanah by Adichie


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published in: 2013
Awards: National Book Critics Award for Fiction (2013); International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it here: Americanah

Adichie has become one of my favorite authors. I loved Half of a Yellow Sun (reviewed earlier in the year here), Purple Hibiscus, and We Should All be Feminists. Her writing is always strongly intellectual but easily accessible. Adichie doesn’t just write good stories. She writes good stories with powerful socio-political and cultural messages. So, I guess it is no surprise that I really enjoyed Americanah. Find out why Americanah makes into my list of favorite books read in 2015 (thus far)… Read more

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

among the ten thousand

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Pre-order your copy here:Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among Ten Thousand Things is about the events, big and small, that lead to the eventual breakdown of a family. When Jack Shanley’s mistress tries to expose their affair to his wife by mailing her a package with their sexually explicit correspondence, his young daughter intercepts the package and both children read it. The remainder of the book centers around what happens to all members of the family after this event. Each member of the family responds in their own way leading to the eventual breakdown of their family unit. Read more

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi

color of our sky

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi
Publisher: Bloomhill Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Pre-Order the book here: The Color of our Sky

This ARC was provided by Bloomhill Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

The Color of Our Sky is a beautifully rendered and emotionally powerful book. Set primarily in Mumbai, India, the novel tells the stories of Tara and Mukta, two childhood friends from vastly different social backgrounds whose lives are forever changed by a series of tragic events in their childhood. Mukta is a lower caste girl, the daughter of a temple prostitute, who is destined to the same fate as her mother. When her mother dies, Tara’s father rescues her from her fate by bringing her home to live with his family. The two girls become close until tragedy strikes again and Mukta is stolen from their house and seemingly lost forever. Tara and her father move to America and she grows up believing that Mukta is dead, carrying guilt for her role Mukta’s abduction. After her father’s death, Tara discovers that her father had lied to her about Mukta. Vowing to return to India and find Mukta, Tara embarks on a journey that takes her deep into the world of human sex trafficking.

The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Tara and Mukta and the narratives weave back and forth in time spanning from the 1980s through present day. As the stories shift back and forth, we learn the fate of Mukta and the truth about the events that led up to her abduction. Heart-breaking but also inspiring, the novel highlights the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of human connection (friendship and family) to overcome unspeakable adversity.
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1001 Book Review: The Sea by John Banville


The Sea by John Bangle
Awards:  Booker Prize 2005
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4.5 stars
Find it here:The Sea

Every once in a while you encounter a book with writing so beautiful that it makes you never want to return to the world of “ordinary” writing. The Sea was one of those books.

The Sea is a seemingly simple, but in essence rather complicated novel about loss, grief, memory, and regret. The protagonist is an aging man who, after losing his wife to cancer, rents a room at a boardinghouse that played a significant role in his childhood. Banville takes his time in letting the reader discover what happened to Banville during his childhood. He glides back and forth in time, weaving in two significant life events. The reliability of the narrator is brought into question as memory is unreliable and impacted by the experience of loss and grief.

I make myself think of her, I do it as an exercise. She is lodged in me like a knife and yet I am beginning to forget her. Already the image of her that I hold in my head is fraying, bits of pigments, flakes of gold leaf, are chipping off. Will the entire canvas be empty one day? I have come to realize how little I knew her, I mean how shallowly I knew her, how ineptly. I do not blame myself for this. Perhaps I should. Was I too lazy, too inattentive, too self-absorbed? Yes, all of those things, and yet I cannot think it is a matter of blame, this forgetting, this not-having-known. I fancy, rather, that I expected too much, in the way of knowing. I know so little of myself, how should I think to know another?

This was my first introduction to Banville’s writing and it blew me away. I loved the beautiful prose and exquisitely crafted sentences. The story is slow and at times meandering and directionless. The narrator skips around in time and the shifts in time make it difficult to follow. I can see why some people were bored (as indicated by goodreads reviews for this book) by the slow pace of the book and the confusing shifts in time, but I found the writing so beautiful and captivating that I remained engaged throughout. As a psychologist, I was also captivated by the way the author made memories blend to provide a more complete understanding of the narrator’s “current” emotional state. The Sea is a psychologically and emotionally complex book that is brought to greater heights by the truly gorgeous albeit highly dense writing.

The book is not for everyone. There is no fast-moving plot and the language and sentence construction is complex. I admittedly had to pull out the dictionary on several occasions. Serious, literary fiction readers will appreciate this book for the beauty and complexity of the writing. That is not to say that the casual reader won’t enjoy this book, but that it is a book that requires a certain degree of investment – a willingness to dig a little deeper below the surface of plot line and think more deeply about the themes and issues raised by the author. Banville also references numerous literary works (both directly and indirectly) and while you can still appreciate the book without this background knowledge, the book is more enjoyable if you are able to recognize these references. I highly recommend this book!

Quotes I enjoyed:

Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things – new experiences, new emotions – and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvelously finished pavilion of the self.

Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long Indian summer, a state of tranquility, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus.”

Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world’s wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for coziness. This is a surprising, not to say shocking, realization. Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion. To be concealed, protected, guarded, that is all I have ever truly ever wanted, to burrow down into a place of womby warmth and cower there, hidden from the sky’s indifferent gaze and the air’s harsh damagings. That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.”

There are times, they occur with increasing frequency nowadays, when I seem to know nothing, when everything I know seems to have fallen out of my mind like a shower of rain, and I am gripped for a moment in paralyzed dismay, waiting for it all to come back but with no certainty that it will.

Want to try it out for yourself? You can find it here:The Sea

In 2013 the book was made into a movie. You can see the trailer below.

We want to hear from you! Have you seen the movie or read the book? What did you think?

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway


The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Published in: 2008
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating:4 stars
Find it here:The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo was inspired by events during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. When a mortar round kills twenty-two people waiting in line for bread, a cellist in the symphony orchestra engages in an act of defiance against the perpetrators: he vows to play Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor every day for 22 days to honor the victims. This moment sets the backdrop for a novel in which Galloway weaves the primary stories of three people living in Sarajevo at the time of the siege. Arrow is a woman whose decision to accept an assignment as a sniper killing soldiers starts to change her in numerous ways, questioning her ultimate humanity. Kegan is a young family man whose frequent trips to gather clean water for his family puts him in harm’s way on a regular basis. Degan is an older man with a wife and child who moved to Italy before the city was closed off.  He encounters an old friend who forces him to question his life before the war.
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Featured Author: Philip Roth


American author, Philip Roth seems to be an author that people either love or hate. My feelings are more mixed. I disliked Portnoy’s complaint, liked American Pastoral, and loved Nemesis. Read more