kjuliff’s up and down year of reading 2023

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kjuliff’s up and down year of reading 2023

Editado: Jun 10, 10:02 pm

I got of to a roaring start in 2023 and til May was logging my reads in the 75 book challenge group. But since my readers’ block I’ve decided to post here as I’ve been unable to immerse myself into a novel for six weeks.

I have the following books waiting - eithe not started or in slow progres. I normally read only one novel at a time.
Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood
Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter
Benjamin Black’s The Lock-up
Penelope Lively’s Consequences
Plus others - I am going to try Birnam Wood after hearing Catton’s interview at the Hay Festival. It’s a god interview, giving he motivation for writing the novel, and the effect the Adern government (NZ) had on it. Unexpected. A different image of NZ than what we ar used to, and the disadvantages of having a Prime Minister with the Ministry of Tourism as her portfolio.
The interview can be heard in the TLS podcast here -
For my pre June books click HERE

Jun 14, 12:51 pm

I’m reading Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier for the first time, though of course I’ve sen the movie.

So far I’m impressed with how well Hitchcock transformed the novel; I can almost se the novel unfold in my mind.
And yes it’s a bit soupy and ful of stereotypes, but les Mils and Bonish than I had re judge de it. Hopefully it will get me over my readers’ block.

Jun 16, 12:44 pm

Still plodding through Rebecca. I’m starting to find Rebeca’s humility a tad annoying. And Maxim - he’s a Darcy-ish creature without the spark.

But I’m still enjoying it. I’m reminded of a friend I’ve lost touch with, who wrote a Mils and Boon book and got it published. I asked her about how it felt writing it and she said it was comparatively easy. Tall dark brooding English gentleman misunderstood as being proud. Sharp-witted young woman a class below him on the English class system. Yes, Pride and Prejudice with a pinch of humor. Made a fortune but it was a one-of. She couldn’t repeat it.

I suspect AI will take over the writing of such clichéd stories. But back to Rebeca. Are there any othe formula-driven books that have become virtual classics?

Jun 20, 8:01 am

>3 kjuliff: I haven't read Rebecca though I think I have a copy floating around here somewhere...

Jun 21, 10:58 pm

>4 labfs39: it’s a good read. I’d seen the film a few times, and was impressed at how well Hitchcock adapted the book. I’d put off reading it as I thought it sounded a bit too Mills and Boon-ish, but it’s well written, though the stereotypes of the silent brooding wealthy man and the ingenue are a bit over the top in this century. You have to suspend any feminist beliefs while reading.

Jun 27, 1:47 pm

Just finished What Lies in the Woods by Kate Alice Marshall. A crime novel as is obvious from the title; there are so many crime novels set in woods.

It’s well-written, full of the expected twists and turns. I think there are a few holes in the story, but it gets so convoluted towards the last third that it’s a bit hard to work back in the story-line to be sure.

I read the audio and it’s well-narrated; an easy read and I think now my reading block is cured. My rating - 3.5

Editado: Jun 30, 11:59 am

I ended up not finishing any of the books I listed in my first message in this thread, though I will come back to Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter. I liked Time Shelter but needed a more standard narrative style to keep me focused. As for Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood, I’m a little turned off activists right now, though in the past I’ve been one. Not liking current methods.

I’m now reading and enjoying Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger. In the last decade I’ve been put of reading books about infirm and dying women going over their past lives. But I liked the sound of Clara and the way Lively uses her memories to “document” Clara’s history of the world. I liked Clara, her unconventional ways and acerbic wit.

The novel is in a way, a history of world though it ends in the late twentieth century. I can’t help wondering what Clara’s take would be of the twentieth century. Somewhat like mine I expect. 4 stars

Jul 1, 10:11 am

Like you, I've been struggling with a reading slump. Not exactly sure what's going on, but I only read three books in June, and all three were practically novellas. Finding a strong plot also helps me at times like this.

Editado: Jul 1, 4:28 pm

I’m so looking forward to reading Claire Keegan’s new collection of short stories, named after one of the short stories So Late in the Day which is to be published in November this year.

I just finished listening the short story So Late in the Day, read by the author herself in the New Yorker Fiction podcast (July 1 2023).

The story was chosen to be read by George Saunders but he backed out because he couldn’t say the C word that occurs twice late in the story.

I was blown away by So Late in the Day - it’s character development and unfolding, its understanding of and definition of misogyny. Its cleverness, the reader not knowing where it is going till the end, when you are drawn back to re-reading earlier passages, which are subtle yet now obvious give-always. The depiction on a certain type of Irishmen, so like Australian men - a culture I am so familiar with.

It’s worth listening to the podcast as a large chunk is a conversation between presenter Deborah Treisman and George Saunders.

Two of my favorite writers one reading, the other discussing, in the one podcast.

Editado: Jul 4, 8:16 pm

I just finished reading Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. It’s a bit of a depressing read to put it mildly, but how I came to read it is perhaps the most interesting part of my journey to this book.
I’d just finished Claire Keegan’s short story So Late in the Day which I wrote about above >9 kjuliff: ; and was interested in an encounter between the MC and an overweight woman on a bus. It’s an important part of the short story as it builds up on the MC’s misogamy. The woman happens to be reading a book (not relevant to the story itself). The title is mentioned so I just had to look it up. It was Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked into Walls. So I immediately borrowed it. I’m a fan of Doyle’s. Plus a review on LT mentions it is a favorite of J. K.Rowlings.

So we have two good writers leading me to Doyle’s book. But wait. There’s a third.

As I mentioned earlier in this thread, George Saunders was unable to read So Late in the Day aloud because of the two uses of the ‘C’ word. (I can’t say it either). Definitely Saunders would have a problem with The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

As for the book itself - I had a problem with the domestic violent parts. They seemed to take up the latter third of the book. Though I can see why it was chosen for the woman on the bus in Keegan’s short story.

Jul 7, 6:39 am

>9 kjuliff: I have already bought Keegan's latest ahead of publication. Since reading Antarctica I've chased down all her books to date. Finishing now the collection from 2007/8 Walk the Blue Fields. Will come back and read your reviews when I finish :-)

Editado: Jul 8, 12:56 am

>11 avaland: sadly I haven’t yet reviewed So Late in the Day or Antarctica. Íve been very unwell these past months …On a brighter note, I just discovered David Mean. I’m really just discovering American writers. I listened to a short story of his “Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother” on a New Yorker podcast and was blown away. I immediately bought his Instructions for a Funeral collection. I love his meandering ways of crossing through hinged thoughts and imaginings, an his ability to convey humor in a situation that is inherently tragic.

There’s an interesting discussion on his homeless brother story in the New Yorker Fiction podcast - the source of my discovering this amazing writer. Worth a listen.

Editado: Jul 8, 11:21 pm

Can’t wait for Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos to come out in audio.
There’s a discussion on this book with Erpenbeck on BBC’s podcast “Books and Authors” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/books-and-authors/id331296649?i=1000618252...
I’m also interested to get hold of a recently translated work by GDR writer Brigitte Reimann’s newly translated novel Siblings, which is also discussed in this podcast.

Ago 15, 7:56 pm

I will have to get back to Time Shelter now that it’s shortlisted for the Booker AND Fatelessness has broken my readers’s block. But I’m really interested in getting Standing Heavy when it eventually comes out in audio.

I was really enjoying Time Shelter till I was interrupted due to illness halfway through. All I can remember is that the writing was truly beautiful and the ideas fascinating.

Ago 16, 10:59 am

Yay for a broken reader's block! Fatelessness is different, isn't it? I hit a slow spot in Time Shelter but overall I too found it interesting with strong writing.

Ago 16, 12:23 pm

>15 labfs39: Fatelessness is certainly different. I will probably read the reviews when I’ve finished to see if anyone else sees the novel as French existentialist as I do, so far.

Ago 17, 11:40 am

Started Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry. Shortlisted for the Booker irs so far a little hard to get into, which is often the case with stream of consciousness novels in audio.

Usually I like to re-read excellently crafted pieces, but though possible it’s not the same with audio.

I think I’ll be able to stick with this novel and that Fatelessness really has broken my readers’ block.

Editado: Ago 17, 5:26 pm

Review of Fatelessness
The Crux of it: I am Here
1942 - a French orderly gives out sugar cubes to French children every day in the Buchenwald concentration camp hospital. The main character György a Hungarian teenager, notices that the French speakers get two, while he only ever gets one. To György this behavior illustrates the advantage of learning a second.language.

This is typical György who is sent first to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald where he endures the horrors of the camps as we know them. He analyses events by rationalizing them in a matter of fact way, sans morality or resentment, his only emotion coming midway in the book when he starts to experience “irritability” and even then, never moral outrage.

The story is autobiographical and was written years after Kertész‘s imprisonment, when he was on the cusp of forgetting. Hence the many details of inmates’ facial structures and camp hierarchy uniforms. He’s putting it alll out there, in plain and simple terms; making it hard for the modern reader to understand the eerie detachment.

The story is told in chronological order, with the young boy unaware of what lies ahead as he passes from one horror to the next. Each event is told using backshadowing, with György taking and justifying each horror step by step without the knowledge of the modern reader. This of course is how the inmates experienced the ordeal, and reading it in this way has the efffect of making the experience more real. We are centered in György‘s life. But we can never fully accept the detachment shown in the justifications, the peak and most horrific being when Köves seems to “understand” the crematoria of Auschwitz,

I became used to György’s way of using reason to justify what happens to him without ethical considerations. But the question remains why? Is it that it’s a story told by a teenager? Or that the writer lacks Faith and is, being a non-practicing Jew, an outcast amongst outcasts? Or is it for effect? Or has the concept of morality been beaten out of him?

I prefer to think it’s an older person’s way of trying to remember what has of necessity been repressed. The writer is trying to remember, step by step, the events of his imprisonment, along with how he managed to cope with those events,as a young male thrust into the horror of the Holocaust without any adult experience or faith to guide him. Thus as with the sugar cube episode recounted in a matter-of-fact way, without rancor or moral overtone, I started to see into Kertész’s memory.

Editado: Ago 18, 4:53 pm

So excited to come across Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos available on Audible. I now have two good books in my currently reading list, though I’m finding Old God’s Time a bit hard to concentrate on.

Ago 21, 12:36 pm

>18 kjuliff: I enjoyed your review, Kate, and your final take away. I hadn't thought about the novel in terms of where the author was in his life and memories. I found the tenor so unnerving. I remember one part where he's on work detail outside and commenting on what a beautiful day it is. The juxtaposition of the details of grass and butterflies or whatever and his emaciated beaten self are almost incomprehensible. I wondered if the protagonist were simple. In the end I think of it as along the lines of Life is Beautiful, an attempt to break out of the stereotypical Holocaust survivor story in a way that emphasizes the horror by not acknowledging it head on.

Ago 22, 8:41 pm

>20 labfs39: I need to read more of the writer’s life. Apparently he went from the horror of the camps to persecution under Stalin. Apparently the book is autobiographical. I didn’t want to put to much of this in my review as it could spoil the mystery of the detachment and the unnerving juxtaposition of the horror and the observations of examples of beauty of nature in the camps.

I’m wondering what Dan will make of it.

Ago 23, 8:51 am

I just finished Fatelessness last night. Like you, it broke a block and i got deeply into it. But, goodness, what to make of it? I enjoyed your review and I’m admiring that you had some good coherent stuff to say. I maybe need a few days before I can attach words.

>20 labfs39: I’m taking a moment to process the idea of “the stereotypical Holocaust survivor story”. I had the same thought too, and found it strange in my head. Certainly this is different than Night, or Maus or If This Is a Man, or Shindler’s List (or, what else have i read?) but also a variation of them.

Ago 23, 1:05 pm

>22 dchaikin: By stereotypical, I didn't mean anything denigrating. But many of the memoirs and novels I've read follow a similar trajectory (ignorance, growing awareness, too late to emigrate, round-up, ghetto, camps, liberation). Everyone's experience is individual and important, but the basic outline is similar for many. Also most express moral indignation, horror, anger, and great sadness. Rarely have I read a survivor memoir/novel that instead was so detached and so morally ambiguous. Maybe Scheisshaus luck : surviving the unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora by Pierre Berg (a gentile) or I'm No Hero: Journeys of a Holocaust Survivor by Henry Friedman. Fatelessness challenges my preconceptions and made me highly uncomfortable as a reader.

Ago 23, 2:11 pm

>23 labfs39: I have a purely logical side that thinks “stereotypical” is the right word. That it might better to rephrase without the negative implication of that word, but while maintaining the same meaning. Anyway, my less logical side can’t help feeling it’s an odd perspective.

I think Kertész’s work does fit in this general Holocaust-survivor-tale feel, but also tries to have its own unique take. I don’t think he breaks free from that trend. But he’s doing a lot more than just telling an experience, and this does come through.

Did it challenge my preconceptions? Hmm. There were things I learned, and also things new that I didn’t understand. But I’m not sure it did anything like truly challenging my preconceptions. Once i figured out the books direction (after the bus), it all seemed very laid out to me what would happen next. The only thing was how would this mind respond. I found myself more into the mc’s response than the actual external stuff. That, I think, might be part of the art of the book. We get the canvas, but we aren’t even shocked by it. We’re just really focused in on our narrator. Or i was, anyway.

Editado: Ago 24, 10:58 pm

>23 labfs39: >24 dchaikin:
I think my take on Fatelessness was partly influenced by reading a little of Kertész’s life after liberation from the camp, and the fact that he apparently wrote it when he was on the cusp of forgetting. This had the effect of softening my understanding of the detachment. I read about Kertész when I was about 2/3 through the book and didn’t go very far into researching his life as I could see it influencing my attitude to book as I wanted to read it unencumbered..

The book wasn’t published till the 1970s but my understanding is that he didn’t write anything at all about the camps till 1955.

I think it worth noting that Kertész was only 14 when he was interned and that perhaps he’s more concerned with his inner feeling than documenting his physical experiences.

Right now my mind is full of old God’s Time which I only just finished, so I can’t dissect my own views on Fatelessness, though I do have some more thoughts after reading Dan and Lisa’s views.

Ago 24, 10:35 pm

>23 labfs39: >24 dchaikin:
Came across this that sheds some light -
Fatelessness is written in a peculiar ironic-sarcastic tone that differentiates it from common Holocaust representations. The experience of the concentration camps has remained a central topic for Kertész in his subsequent works. Without questioning the singularity of the Holocaust, Kertész considers the postwar communist dictatorship in Hungary to be a “continuation” of the Nazi horrors. Having experienced several dictatorships, Kertész uses his oeuvre to find responses for the position of the individual within totalitarian systems and generally in the face of history.

Ago 24, 11:47 pm

>26 kjuliff: it’s a great summary. Still, all of me wants to nuance the idea of “ironic/sarcastic”, which is entirely accurate, but just seems to also be a little off the mark. It’s not simply ironic, the tone is actually dead serious. It just leaves the reader a little unsure what to rest our thoughts against as we work them out.

Editado: Ago 25, 11:25 am

I agree that “ironic” is a little off as the writing is as you say “dead serious”. Perhaps this this irony/detachment could be a result of it being written by a man remembering his 14 year old self and trying I think to be accurate. He was about to hit puberty when he was sent to Auschwitz- - remember the scene with the girl in his neighborhood. So the memories are really those of a child written by a mature man - I only just discovered Fatelessness was written between 1969 and 1973.

I tried to do a mental trick of imagining how I would write about a traumatic incident that lasted some days when I was about to enter puberty; to see if I would write about it as if I was the girl of 13, and if that would be different than if I wrote about it now. I only imagined two sentences for each period and they were entirely different. Without doubt I saw the same events differently.

Another idea hit me. The writer is Hungarian and there may be feelings that cannot be accurately translated into English. There may be subtleties we have missed. But perhaps I am over-thinking here.

Ago 25, 1:42 pm

>28 kjuliff: probably there are subtleties we can’t catch in English, but I suspect (and hope) the general tone is right. There is definitely irony, heavy. But it’s mainly between the lines. Our narrator never acknowledges this.

Editado: Ago 28, 10:19 am

Yes, I never got the irony. I suppose, had I been looking for it …

I am now reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos which I’m glued to. Part is set during and shortly after the unification of Germany from the point of view of a young women who grew up in the GDR. And in between this and Fatelessness I read Old God’s Time which blew me away.

So my readers’s block seems to be well and truly over.

Ago 27, 6:12 pm

>30 kjuliff: my readers’s block seems to be well and truly over

Yay! That's great news. I too seem to be settling back into my reading groove. Perhaps because fall is on it's way?

Ago 28, 9:58 pm

On Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos
Like NY times reviewer Dwight Garner, I am going to have to read it a second time.
Best explained in the reviews’ s words.

“Kairos” left me with an itch I needed to scratch, after the absolved and the condemned begin to flow west though the Brandenburg Gate, after all certainties are shattered. About German history, we read, “Whose job is it to go down into the underworld and tell the dead that they died for nothing?” .

Yes it’s about it East Germany, WW2, love, jealousy, totalitarianism and so much more.

Read it and cry.

Editado: Ago 30, 11:57 pm

For Claire Keegan readers, Claire Keegan’s So Late in the Day has recently been released in audio. It came out in the New Yorker February 2022 - both the short story narrated by Keegan along with other relevant info. It well worth both a read and listening. Plus as it’s on the New Yorker Fiction podcast, it’s free - bother the narration and the information that comes along with it.

Set 3, 11:51 pm

Almost finished A Separation by Katy Kitamura. The narrator’s tone is quite eerie and I’m not sure if it’s meant that way, to make the novel appear mysterious, or if it’s Kitamura’s style of writing. Every movement and feeling of the characters is described minutely and it can take 30 minutes of listening time for a character to walk from one room to the next.

There is a Sisyphus quality to the book and I’m a bit worried about how it will end.

Set 4, 8:15 am

>32 kjuliff: I loved Erpenbeck's Go, Went, Gone. I hadn't heard about Kairos, so I'm excited to read it.

Set 4, 12:40 pm

>35 japaul22: I will be interested in what you think of Kairos. It’s unlike. Her earlier novels of which I’ve all that have been translated. I loved Go, Went, Gone too. I think that was the first book of hers that I read and then, as is my way when I find. A new writer that I like, I read all of her other works.

Editado: Out 14, 7:21 pm

A Book of Nuance

A Separation by Katy Kitamura
Media: Audio
I managed to listen to the end of this extremely well written novel, but I have to say, at times it was like watching paint dry, a beautiful paint nevertheless.

It’s a story of a married couples separation and it takes place on a beautiful Greek island. Every characters is described minutely - their facial characteristics, their moods, their in-the-moment actions, imagined thoughts, the opposite of those imagined thoughts, their imagined future actions, their imagined motives nuanced to a literature nanosecond. All from the point of view if the wife, the narrator.

There is a mystery that kept me reading, but it was really the quality of the writing that saw me through to the end.

Honestly, it took me 10 minutes of listening time round about chapter 13, for one of the characters to walk from one room to the next.

Still it was a good read. The audio narrator’s voice had a softly eerie quality, but it was I think in her imagined spirit of the novel.

If you are into reading newspaper reviews, ignore The NY Times on this one. The Guardian’s is more on point.
Overall a good read.

Editado: Set 4, 6:31 pm

>37 kjuliff: I will have to look into this book. I had read Intimacies last year and I had mixed reaction to that book.

Your statement about the mystery keeping you reading is what I always say when I am asked about what I read. Unfortunately, a mystery usually means crime to most people.

I find that even if a book is very good overall, there has to be a mystery to keep me going.

Set 4, 6:41 pm

>38 JoeB1934: well there is certainly a mystery in A Separation and The NY Times reviewer headlined it as a mystery novel. But it’s more about the separation of the marriage and the people involved. It really is well-written, but with every thought described in minute detail and the long passages of stream of consciousness, it’s a long read.

But the mystery does keep the interest and I found the writing to be exquisite.

Editado: Set 9, 7:28 am

Plowing Through a Dreamlike Landscape

Reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. As NY Times’ reviewer Sloane Crosley put it, it is a “weird and fablelike mystery.

I think it must be good, but I’m plowing through it. Will write more if I ever finish this dreamily narrated novel.

Set 9, 8:11 am

>40 kjuliff: I read the book last year and had to struggle along but, in the end learned a lot about that society.

Set 9, 8:50 am

>37 kjuliff:it was like watching paint dry, a beautiful paint nevertheless.” - great description. 🙂

Set 12, 8:51 am

>37 kjuliff:"Honestly, it took me 10 minutes of listening time round about chapter 13, for one of the characters to walk from one room to the next."

So of interest to fans of Henry James, then. :)

Seriously, though, your description makes A Separation sound intriguing indeed.

Editado: Set 13, 12:10 am

>43 rocketjk: Nope, though I get why you say this re the detail and state of mind meanderings. It’s hard to explain the style. It is an intriguing book. Once I got into not expecting anything to happen in real time I became to enjoy the book

Here is a quote from a Kate Clanchy (Guardian) review. I’m trying to both mystify and to tempt you.

{the} alienation is very much of the literary moment. As the narrator wanders musingly around the portent-stuffed resort, you sometimes wonder if she is a pastiche of Lydia Davis taking a nasty holiday in a Deborah Levy novel.

Set 12, 5:21 pm

>44 kjuliff: "Nope . . . "

Well, I'm relieved, then, as I've never enjoyed reading James' novels. And, yes, you've intrigued me.

Editado: Set 12, 11:39 pm

A Novel in Search of a Genre

Just finished Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and I’m so stunned that I will need some days to review it. As of right now, I’m with thorold

Probably not a book you will want to read if you have venison in your freezer, but very enjoyable - in a slightly disturbing way - for the rest of us. Lots of unexpected little bits of observation.

One can’t really say much more.

Set 15, 12:07 pm

Drifting back into my reader’s block. I tried The Troubled Man I think you need to read Henning Markell’s earlier Wallander novels in order for it to make much sense.

I also am unfamiliar with Swedish, and reading it in audio I couldn’t easily work out which characters belonged to which names.

Some of the character’s names sounded very similar. With print one wouldn’t have this problem.

But re books that have the same detective throw out, I’ve never gone for them. I dont know why, but I always find them annoying.

So now I’m in need of a good psychological mystery - suggestions welcome.

Set 15, 1:57 pm

>47 kjuliff: I have read many Henning Markell's and I didn't have any issues like you mentioned. My main focus on him was his Alzheimers and the relationship with his daughter.

Set 16, 7:49 am

>48 JoeB1934: yes I can see as you’ve read more of Henning Markell’s novels you’d have more of an idea of Wallender and his daughter coming in to A Troubled Man. I liked the writing and might try an earlier novel.

Set 16, 7:49 am

>47 kjuliff: I haven't read any of these but they are ranked highly in my system. No guarantees for you!!

Little Secrets Jennifer Hillier
The Night She Disappeared Lisa Jewell
Exiles Jane Harper
The Golden Couple Greer Hendricks
Rock Paper Scissors Alice Feeney
Juliet Anne Fortier
We Spread Iain Reid
The Grave Tattoo Val McDermid
What Happened to the Bennetts Lisa Scottoline
Elizabeth is missing Emma Healey
Turn of Mind Alice LaPlante
Italian Shoes Henning Mankell
Red Road Denise Mina

Editado: Set 16, 5:21 pm

>50 JoeB1934: Thanks. It is an interesting list.
I’d forgotten I’d read Henning Markell’s Italian Shoes which I really enjoyed. I remember now looking for more Mankell books but at the time I was avoiding crime stories. Didn’t he write another similar novel after Italian Shoes?

I checked out Italian Shoes in my LT library and see that I read it in May this year! And gave it 4 stars. I remember it made a big impression on me at the time. So embarrassing to have forgotten.

Set 16, 7:42 pm

>51 kjuliff: I only read his crime books. Don't feel bad about memory issues. I have great problems with that also.

Editado: Set 17, 3:46 pm

Love and Betrayal, NYC to Ischia

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
Media: Audio
Rating: 4
While waiting for a number of books to come off hold at the NYPL (Manhattan ) I borrowed The Singer’s Gun. Not expecting a great deal as I had believed Station Eleven and her later novels were what she was known for, and therefore were her best. Sometimes I think I’m guided too much by reviewers.

The Singer’s Gun is part crime, part love story. But the theme behind the well-executed plot is deception.

It is a deep look at the people behind the forging of documents enabling immigrants to stay in countries illegally. But what starts as a relatively harmless forgery enterprise run from an Italian family business, turns to the horror of human trafficking.

We see the conflicts of family loyalty and marital deception. We get to know the main characters, the criminals - their lives and loves, their whys and ways. The villains are humanized.

The writing is crisp and the reader, Morgan Hallett, manages to make you forget someone else is reading. It’s all book, no obvious performance. A female, Hallett simply “reads” male conversations instead of trying to sound masculine.

Overall a good read. Recommended.

Set 18, 7:48 pm

The Singer’s Gun put me in the mood for a thriller so I chose a fictional detective book (outside of my preferred genres), Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell. I liked his Italian Shoes but haven’t read any of his crime novels.

I don’t really get the popularity of detective crime novels. I’m never interested in the same character popping up time and time again. They are usually flawed middle-aged white men whose wives have left them. Let’s see how Markell’s Wallander turns out.

Editado: Set 22, 5:38 pm

Clueless in Sweden

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Media: Audio
Rating: 3

As I posted in >54 kjuliff:, I was in need of a Henning Mankell detective story. I’m not a fan of the detective crime genre, but having enjoyed Markell’s Italian Shoes I thought to branch out, and hopefully be able to read his The Troubled Man which I’d discarded, finding it difficult to keep track of Detective Wallender, his loves, his family and his cohorts.

It a fairly typical plot - brutal murders that prove difficult to solve with a cast of supporting characters. Sidelines are cameos of Wallender’s loves, the troubles of his mates, his fear of getting overweight - the usual concerns of middle-aged middle-income maless in the West.

Theres a contemporary slant, concerning illegal immigration and the problems it brings to western countries. Though the mass migration of this century is nothing like the small level experienced in the late eighties; the book was published in 1991.

I spent most of the book imagining its “foreigners” to be black or Hispanic - Somalis or Venezuelans - when’s in fact “foreign”, the last word of one of the victims, referred to Eastern Europeans .

This introduction of 1980s refugees in the novel tends to date it rather than give it an historical or modern vibe. You just can’t win with the rate and pace of 21st century socio-political change. Austen had it easy.

I found the build-up to be rather slow. There’s a sub-plot about the murder of an immigrant, but it fails to generate enough interest, occurring around the middle of the book, when Wallender is having his personal crises.

Around the two-thirds mark, Detective Wallender comes into his own, and the search for the killers gains momentum.

I enjoyed the book well enough. It was a medium to light read. I was turned off by Wallender as I found him to be a bit of a misogynist. His cringe-worthy attempt to seduce the beautiful and highly intelligent state prosecutor was a turn-off. The other characters were farming folks. There’s lots of mud and horses and run-down farms. Sort of an Ireland without the humor.

Set 22, 4:25 pm

I like your title Clueless in Sweden

Set 22, 5:04 pm

I am not confident that my reading list will appeal to your needs, but I have just posted the top 43 books I have found to be Most Memorable to me for 2023.

You can scan the list at


Editado: Set 24, 7:40 pm

>57 JoeB1934: Thanks, I’ve read quite a few in your list. Notice you listed The Remains of Day. Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors.

Editado: Set 24, 7:51 pm

I really wanted to read Booker longlisted Prophet Song but it’s not available in audio. I am not familiar with Paul Lynch’s novels, so looked him up and decided to try his The Black Snow. I’m about 20% in and so excited to have discovered yet another brilliant Irish writer. What is it about the Irish?

Set 25, 3:09 am

>59 kjuliff: They’re fookin’ brilliant 😀

Editado: Set 27, 5:11 pm

Sorrow in Ireland

The Black Snow by Paul Lynch
Media: Audio
Rating: 4.5

I am so glad I chose to read The Black Snow when I was unable to get Paul Lynch’s longlisted Prophet Song.

The Black Snow has everything a good Irish novelcan be expected. Good story-telling , lyrical writing, stories of struggle, small-town suspicion, tenderness and rugged beauty.

A young couple Barnabas and Escra with son Billy , very much in love, emigrate to Ireland from New York. Yes, that’s right, they wanted to go back to their roots in Carnarvan, to use their money saved from Bañabas’s work on the skyscrapers of New York, to build a farm.

They become relatively successful, but are resented by the locals, partly for their comparative wealth, but also as they are seen as foreigners though the couple were born in Ireland.

When their cow-barn burns down, killing all the cattle and one of the locals, their hope of a good life begins its downward path. Suspicion lies everywhere and Barnabas is intent, against all odds, on rebuilding the barn, using old stones from the “famine cottages” and unintentionally doing everything to further isolate the family from the community.

As misery months on misery we know things will not end well.

All the good things of village life get tainted as Barnabas chops down a 2,000 oak tree, pushes his sick horse to haul stones, and takes offense when offered help by friendly neighbors. He’s oblivious to the effect of his pillaging of the stones of the famine cottages (deserted during the potato famine of the mid 1900s), which are regarded as part of the towns history, as almost holy relics.

Nature itself seems to be offended, and there is a magnificent blurring of human, animal and environmental existence in Lynch’s lyrical writing.

I was transfixed by this novel, completely immersed. Spellbound,

Highly recommended.

Editado: Out 2, 5:07 pm

High in New York

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Medís: Audio
Rating: 5

The novel is set in New York in the seventies, and is centered on August 7 1974 when at 1,350 feet above ground in the South Tower high above the streets of New York, a man walked the 131 feet between the Twin Towers with no net.. There’s references to a lot of 70s stuff, to Nixon and PDP 11’s!!! PDP 11s - at first the name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember what it was. Then it came to me - they were an early family of computers and though I had never worked on one, we’d been shown one at Deakin University in Australia when I first embarked on my study of computer science.

Beautifully constructed, Let the Great World Spin should particularly interest anyone interested in the culture of the seventies, particularly that of NYC. And also for those who remember fondly the days when the Twin Towers dominated the NYC skyline, no matter where they were on that blue spring day of 11th September 2001.

Set 30, 12:48 am

>62 kjuliff: I’ve read two books by McCann and rated them both 5. Don’t know why I haven’t read more. Need to do that.

Editado: Out 13, 12:11 am

Palestine in Israel

Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Media: Audio
Rating: 5

I’m about halfway through Apeirogon by Colum McCann and am posting about it before finishing because I don’t think I’ll be able to review it. It’s just so good, so complex, so nuanced, and as it turned out, so timely in terms of me reading it,now. I just don’t have words.

Like it’s title it is infinitely faceted, as is any explanation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Instead of attempting to review Apeirogon I point to an excellent review from one of our members - Alan.M which you can read HERE

Out 9, 7:36 am

>64 kjuliff: Wow, this sounds amazing. A definite book bullet for me. How's the audio? Would you recommend it or the book form?

>63 dianeham: I haven't read anything by him, Diane. Sounds like I need to rectify that.

Editado: Out 10, 12:13 am

>65 labfs39: I haven’t seen the book form but the narrator does a great job. If you like audio generally I’d go for audio on this one.

Out 11, 10:35 am

>66 kjuliff: I added it to my audible wishlist.

Out 13, 12:10 am

>67 labfs39: just finished Apeirogon. I’d borrowed it before last weekend and started reading it the day before the Hamas arrack on Israeli civilians. The attack and the aftermath dominating to news cycle this week (and no doubt beyond) made the book even more intense and relevant.

Still hold the same opinion as I expressed >64 kjuliff:

Out 13, 7:27 am

>68 kjuliff: I'm currently listening to Horse for my book club, but then I'll start this one. Thanks

Editado: Out 18, 1:14 pm

When I can’t get hold of the Booker book, I look at a new (for me) writer’s other works.

So I’m now starting to read Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Stay With Me A world away from The Secret Scripture which I just finished but have to give some thought before reviewing.

Out 18, 7:17 pm

Insanity in Ireland

The Secret Scriptures
By Sebastian Barry
Rating 3.5

I enjoyed this book but rated it below my normal rating for such a well-written novel. The reason being is that I got sick of the plot.

It’s set in Ireland from the nineteen twenties till the early 21st century, so that the background is one of factional fighting - the days of the IRA and the Garda etc. The religious conflict impacts the life of a young woman, the MC Roseanne who ends up in a mental hospital for around 70 years.

My interest was held by figuring out the mystery behind the MC’s unjust incarceration; we are given clues from characters’ alternating diary. entries. One set being Roseanne’s which she keeps hidden under a loose floorboard in her room, the other her most recent psychiatrist early this century. Both Roseanne and the psychiatrist are examining what actually happened pre-incarceration as well as commenting on life in general.

I kept interest because I wanted to find out why Roseanne had been interned. The characters and past events held clues and were interesting. But not enough to hold my attention.

I found the ending was rather trite, verging on “Holleyward”.

I have to give credit to the narrator Wanda McCaddon. It’s always difficult for aa woman to read a whole chapter in a man’s voice, but McCaddon does it well, residing it straight without trying to copy the male timbre. Of course it helped that the psychiatrist does not have an Irish accent, and the chapters are interleaved between the psychiatrist’s English and Roseanne’s Irish brogue.

Out 22, 7:08 pm

I just couldn’t finish Stay With Me. Partly because of the narration . The book’s chapters alternate between the voices of “first wife” and the husband’s. They are thinking about their marriage that has become polygamous, much to the displeasure of the first wife.

There are multiple side characters, most being the numbered wives of relatives expanding recursively backwards.

Trying to distinguish between the different characters, male and female, old and young, is made more difficult by the reader, British-born actress Adjos Andoh’s “Nigerian” accent.

I needed to get out of Africa, so am currently re-reading Therese Raquin, this time in English. My French has degenerated due to lack of use, and a trip to Paris.

I also have In Ascension ready to read. Been v slow on going through this year’s Booker…

Out 22, 9:20 pm

>72 kjuliff: Thanks for the review of Stay with Me. Disappointing, but I’m glad to know. Too much on the TBR not to be selective.

Editado: Out 23, 1:19 am

>73 dianelouise100: It might be better in the print version; it couldn’t be worse. It was the narration that finally turned me off. It’s always difficult to listen to a book where the same narrator attempts long chunks of diverse voices when the names are of an unfamiliar ethnic group and the accent is heavy. I was becoming confused with two generations of different numbered wives with Nigerian names read in accent by an English actress, albeit one of West African ancestry.

But looking back, it wasn’t only the narration. The novel begins with the MC, an apparently educated young woman, attempting to get pregnant, in order to stop her husband from taking a second wife by undertaking a primitive ritual. The ritual involved, amongst other things, climbing a rocky hill and being given a baby goat to suckle. All a bit much for me, I’m afraid, and only made worse by the wife believing her goat ritual to have been effective, experiences pseudocyesis (phantom pregnancy). Swollen breasts, vomiting daily, pre-natal classes. I gave up.

Out 23, 8:10 am

>74 kjuliff: “All a bit much for me…” Indeed! But now I’m wondering how it ends, thinking about the outcome of the abusive relationship in A Spell of Good Things. I’ve put it back on the list, though I won’t get to it this year. Still I’m curious …

Out 23, 2:48 pm

>75 dianelouise100: Yes, how it ends… I read somewhere that there is a surprise twist at the end. That sparked my interest again. I hope you get to read it. I’d like to know the twist but I can’t cope with the narrator.

Editado: Out 24, 10:09 pm

I was disappointed to miss out on an evening with Australian writer Helen Garner at the 92Y two weeks ago.

I wonder how well she’s known in America. Garner was several years ahead of me at university, and I lived around the corner from her in Melbourne. She’s smart, clever and witty. You can read a little of her at The Torque of Consciousness: Merve Emre on Helen Garner

Merve Emre recommends The Children’s Bach to newcomers to Garner’s work. I recommend, in light of today’s cancel culture her The First Stone, published in 1995 before cancel culture was a thing. The book has its faults; it’s dated and not as polished as her later work. But for those of us interested in the interactions and gray areas of sex and power, it’s an interesting and prescient read.

The Guardian Review though itself outdated gives an excellent account of this controversial work

Out 24, 10:02 pm

>77 kjuliff: huh. Very interesting. I skimmed a bit if the Guardian article too.

Editado: Nov 3, 9:26 pm

Validation in Virginia

Happiness Falls
By Angie Kim
Media: Audio
Rating 3

I had this book in my tbr list but cannot remember why I put it there. I think I must have heard it mentioned on a NY Times podcast as I see now that it was on the NY Times “best seller list” - a list whose books I normally avoid.

I’d down with the flu so I needed what I thought would be an easy read. It was, except it’s just too long with too many threads and themes. Plus, the author has used numerous lengthy footnotes as a device to explain concepts, the narrator’s thoughts and experiences, and family dynamics. I don’t know how these footnotes are presented in the print versions, but they are included in the narrative throughout the chapters preceded by the announcement of “footnote”. Minus the footnotes, you have the mystery. Was there a crime or wasn’t there?

The book covers the teaching of non-verbal people how to communicate by pushing, without guidance, a pen through one of the printed characters on a board in order to spell out sentences.

It is not till the end of the novel in the author’s end-notes that she explains that this method is fictional. But while you are reading, the footnotes make it appear that the method is real.This is relevant as the communication with one of the main characters is of prime importance in solving what might be a missing person or a murdered one. The need to validate the teaching method needs to be validated if the suspect is to be redeemed.

Another thread is about the possibility of assigning a quotient to happiness. Are lottery winners happier after a year, than people who became paraplegic a year after the accident that caused their plight? Great detail is gone into the statistics of various comparisons - to the level of different degrees of difference. If you tell your kids you are taking them to a good restaurant and then take them to a bad one, will they be happier when you eventually take them to a good one, than if you didn’t? The are footnotes after footnotes of such examples.

The immigrant experience of learning a new language and racial stereotyping also threads their way though Happiness Falls. As is computer literacy and the use of devices and modes of computer communication. The misinterpretation of how emails are read and SMS chats play a role. The computer engineer in me spotted some mistakes which sort of threw me off as I started watching out for more.

There’s a black man who is falsely accused by police, a lesbian couple, sexual stereotyping, the downside of the adversarial method of judgement, the voice of the voiceless … the list goes on.

Oh, and all takes place during Covid-19 lockdown.

Add in the missing person mystery, and there you have it.

A lengthy but an easy read of a well-researched novel.

I used the Happing Quotient ranking method to give it a three, with a low-ish standard deviation.

Nov 3, 11:42 pm

>79 kjuliff: Huh. Not sure I'm in for this one despite being interested in the language aspect.

I'm sorry you have the flu. I hope you can kick it soon.

Nov 3, 11:56 pm

>80 labfs39: I agree, it’s not a book I think you’d like. But it’s got a lot about language that I found interesting.

Re flu, thanks. I’d had this winter’s flu shot last month, so my flu was comparatively mild. Still it was hard to concentrate on In Ascension which was next on my list.

Nov 4, 8:56 am

>79 kjuliff: I’m almost interested in this one just to see how it’s possible to shoe-horn all those things you mention into one (understandably long) novel, but no, I’ll let this one go.

Nov 4, 12:15 pm

>82 rachbxl: >80 labfs39: I’ve started Lily King’s Euphoria and am enjoying it. I think Happiness Falls was just too ambitious - impossible to cover all the disparate issues in one novel.
>80 labfs39: I think having the flu might also have influenced my negative experience of Happiness Falls. Euphoria is more suitable for me in tone, style and subject matter.

Re Margaret Mead - I was such a fan of hers when I was younger. After she died there was a lot of negative press about her research. It was suggested that her interpretation of the different tribal cultures was heavily influenced by whichever man was her lover at the time. That the different tribes male-female cultural structures motored her current lover’s attitude to her.

I put the bad press - largely written by men - down to misogyny, and am hoping Euphoria will shed some

Nov 4, 10:02 pm

>83 kjuliff: I'm looking forward to finding out what you make of Euphoria since Lily King is an author I like very much and I have a copy of Euphoria on my tbr.

Nov 6, 4:19 pm

Struggling to get to the end of Euphoria where sexual confess is starting to trump anthropology.

Editado: Nov 6, 8:12 pm

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Editado: Nov 20, 10:41 pm

Sex on the Sepik

By Lily King
Rating: 3

Loosely based on the life of American anthropologist Margaret Mead during her New Guinea studies of tribes on the Sepik River in New Guinea, this book was a slow read.

Although it includes some parts of Mead’s life, only one other real life character makes an appearance - fictionalized “Gregory Bateson” who whose name is that old Mead’s real-life second husband, but who is her lover in the book.

There is a third major character in the book - a seedy Australian who is the fictional husband. The blending of two men into one is confusing, but eventually I suspended belief and just went with it.

The novel draws on the views held by skeptics, that Mead imagined and depicted various tribal rituals according to her love life at the time. rather than by objective observation.

There are a couple of weird episodes that don’t ring true in Euphoria. One is that Mead (Nell in the novel) collaborates with her husband to form a grid depicting cultural norms by geographic regions. This supposed grid is used in WW2 by the allied and also by the Nazis. During the collaboration the lover (her husband in real life) muses that if they had known that WW2 was about to break out in Europe, maybe the war could have been averted. All a bit too much to take seriously.

The other was the description of the threesome’s trip to Sydney pre WW2. I was born in Australia post WW2 and King’s description is way off - a Sydney of the 1970s.

Yes it’s a piece of fiction, but in order to go with fiction based on historical events, the knowledgeable reader needs to be able to believe while reading.

I did enjoy Simon Vance reading in an Australian accent - the lover is an Aussie. Not a bad job, Mr Vance!

The book cover many, too many areas I think. Some of them are -
- transvestitism as a ritual to humiliate men
- lost love
- male chauvinism
- hints of domestic violence
- colonialism
- sociology
- threesomes
- gender
- linguistics
- romance
- grief
- New Guinea (now Papúa New Guinea)
and more.

Editado: Nov 9, 10:15 am

Surviving in Shame

Study for Obedience
By Sarah Bernstein
Rating: 5

This is a gem of a book. I listened to it on audio, narrated by the author.

A young woman (unnamed) leaves home to help her brother who has returned to the village his ancestors fled last century. He’s a successful businessman, but needs the help of his youngest sister as his wife has left him.

The mood in the is haunting, foreboding. There is an ever-present sense of doom. Indeed the book opens with the sentence It was the year sow eradicated her piglets, and I was reminded of the horses eating each other on the eve of Duncan’s murder by Macbeth.

The brother leaves on business and while he is away the woman is other-red, indeed reviled by the villagers.

Strange happenings occur. A dog has a phantom pregnancy, a ewe and her lamb die on a fence. Chickens behave weirdly. Cows die. The locals are eerie, suspicious folk. They are silent in her presence, have thinning hair and eat bacon. They blame her for the strange happenings. She practices her own ancient craft making amulets and deposits them on neighbors’ doors.

Yet she is so fearful and shamed that on entering a hardware store she seeks out the owner so that she will not appear to have a negative motive for entering.

She is an outsider, has no citizenship in this place, and sees her own people as survivors who have whose only raison d’être is survival. She is shamed by this and talks of young people silencing free speech. Asking is this not the equivalent of book-burning? The Holocaust hovers, ever-present, ghostly, unspoken.

Her whole life has been one of servitude and submission. It’s as if she’s trying to be invisible. She spends much of her time on menial housework duties and making artifacts using crafts of her ancestors who were “put into pits”. She believes herself unworthy, taking her low self-esteem to the level of the absurd.

In the monologue that comprises the book she asks, does a society need a person or object to exclude for the sake of societal cohesion?

Obedience is exquisitely written, a sheer delight. It needs more than one reading. I found myself too often trying to work out the main characters geographic location, instead of just listening to the prose.

Nov 9, 12:46 am

>88 kjuliff: sounds lovely

>87 kjuliff: Very interesting about Margaret Mead. I'm curious about Euphoria now.

Nov 9, 2:31 am

>87 kjuliff: I enjoyed Euphoria more than you did, perhaps because I didn’t know much about Margaret Mead (though she seems to be popping up everywhere since I read it) so had no issues with separating fact from fiction. I agree with you about the grid though - I thought that part could happily have been left out.

Study for Obedience sounds interesting.

Editado: Nov 9, 4:20 am

>90 rachbxl: Agreed, I do think my understanding of Mead’s life spoiled Euphoria for me. I followed Mead’s life for many years. She played an important role in elevating women in roles of sociological inquiry, and the effect of environment on gender roles.

I was also aware of the skepticism about the objectivity of her research techniques.

The romance with her lover/husband dynamics didn’t make sense to me, but post-review I researched and think I became confused because of the storyline. Mea culpa, but in my defense, the Australian second husband didn’t disappear mysteriously but died in the UK in 1975.

The book ending with a scene of her ex-husband getting all misty-eyed when accepting an award for her after her death, and noticing under a glass case in the Museum, a blue thread from a top she’d been wearing when her seduced her decades before, was just too soppy, and in any case, she’d received the award in person.

Topping it off with the weird description of Australia pre-WW2 reinforced the negativity I felt toward the book. It was just so far-off. And unnecessary.

It just didn’t ring true for me, as I’m a bit of a stickler of the truth, too much so in this case I think.

I think the reason Mead may be “popping up everywhere” because of the current trans debate, and her stand on gender roles - men acting as women and the acceptance of what she termed “transvestitism” being normal in primitive societies.

Nov 9, 7:35 am

I'm torn about Euphoria as I have a hard time with inaccurate historical fiction too, especially when it's not done for a specific reason but due to sloppy research. (Not sure if this was the case with King's book.)

>88 kjuliff: Study for Obedience on the other hand, sounds like a book I would like. Enticing review.

Nov 9, 3:23 pm

>88 kjuliff: Oh, I love how we took different things from Study for Obedience. I kept seeing the little asides in which she indicated that she was less blameless than she represented herself as being like in how she left the strange straw things on her neighbor's porches or when she nailed plants to the wall of the barn. I thought her protestations of submission were belied by that ending. You certainly make me want to reread it.

Editado: Nov 9, 4:01 pm

>93 RidgewayGirl: Oh yes, I completely agree with you on the spoiler. Is she trying to make the villagers fear her? She holds herself responsible for their revulsion of her. Unreliable narrator, deliberate ambiguity, justification of survivor’s guilt, or extreme nuance?

I need to reread it too.

Nov 9, 4:17 pm

I was about to read House of Doors as I have been slowly working my way through this year’s Booker lists. And then, Oh No! Another fictionalized account of a famous person. This time of Somerset Maugham.

I’d recently finished Euphoria - where anthropologist Margaret Mead ’s life in New Guinea is fictionalized, and as well the underlying themes are too similar, early 20th century, war, failing marriage, exotic setting - - it was all to much. I’m no glutton for punishment.

In any case, I’ve never read any Maugham so decided to leave House of Doors for now, and experience the real thing. The Doors can wait.

Nov 9, 4:30 pm

>95 kjuliff: yeah, understand. Ignorance was bliss for me. I didn’t know anything about Maugham, so everything seemed plausible. But after listening to THoD, I’m very interested in reading Maugham.

Editado: Nov 11, 8:16 pm

I had wanted to read a Somerset Maugham novel before reading The House of Doors, and started rather ambitiously with Of Human Bondage. It wasn’t the right time for me. I’ve been unwell, and Of Human Bondage is too slow. And very very à la Evelyn Waugh English. The names the English upper crust gave their kids pre-hippie, when ordinary children were given names like John and Peter. Somerset, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel. I perceive it as upper-class arrogance.

I will get back to Maugham, but I’ve just started Welsh writer Sarah Waters’s , The Paying Guest while waiting for some TBRs to come off hold. I have high hopes as I’ve enjoyed her earlier books.

Nov 11, 9:36 pm

I'm sorry to hear you haven't been feeling well. I hope you feel better soon, and that you find the right book for your reading mood.

Nov 12, 1:03 am

>97 kjuliff: Of Human Bondage is a chunk of a book. I’ve wondered if it would also be slow. Hmmm. Hope you feel better.

Nov 12, 8:55 am

>97 kjuliff: & >99 dchaikin: fwiw, I read Of Human Bondage around 15 years ago and thought it was very good. I didn't have any trouble getting through it, length notwithstanding. That's just one person's experience, of course. And, certainly, there are times one doesn't feel like wading through a long book regardless of that book's quality.

Editado: Nov 12, 10:43 am

>100 rocketjk: thanks for that additional comment. Just not a book to pick up on a whim.

Eta - oh, that was Jerry, not Kate. ☺️ Anyway, thanks Jerry!

Nov 12, 11:30 am

>100 rocketjk: Yes, the latter was my case. It was a good book at the wrong time!

Editado: Nov 12, 3:09 pm

>99 dchaikin: Thank you Dan. have a couple of long term health problems, so a minor illness can knock me out. I think I’m on the improve now..

Nov 12, 3:13 pm

>98 labfs39: Thank you Lisa. I’m on the mend and have started Sarah Waters The Paying Guests. I hadn’t realised it was so long, so will probably stop at the end of part 1, when hopefully some of my on hold books ant the NYPL become available.

Nov 14, 7:47 pm

I’m taking a while in my reading of The Paying Guests and my NYPL on-hold books have weeks to go. So I started looking for something short.

I found a Claire Keegan that seemed new to me. I thought I’d read all her books but I have no recollection of reading So Late in the Day although it’s in my LT library. It’s a short read so I don’t want to waste an Audible point on it. I think I’ll buy it. Maybe I forgot to mark it TBR as it’s very recent.

Health issues still dominate. Life goes on.

Nov 15, 7:33 am

>105 kjuliff: Hope you start feeling better soon. I've gotten accustomed in the last couple of years to coughing all winter. It's a minor health issue (reactive airway), but does make me a pariah among strangers who avoid me like the plague.

Nov 15, 12:26 pm

>106 labfs39: Thans Lisa. I’m a lot better now, but never 100%. Getting the new Covid shot today. I’m a glutton for punishment.

Editado: Nov 15, 10:33 pm

Edgy in Éire

So Late in the Day
By Claire Keegan
Media: Audio
Rating 4.5

I had intended to buy So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan, when I came across one of the three stories in the collection in The New Yorker, and realized that I had in fact read the other two in the collection in Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields.

The short story whose name in the title of the book, can be listened to in New Yorker, February 2022. So Late in the Day is a near-perfectly written story about a few hours in the life on a man whose misogyny and lack of empathy is slowly revealed as he goes about his life on the day his marriage didn’t happen. Every feeling, thought and action is exquisitely drawn; the pace is almost unbearably slow, as the full extent of the man’s poverty of personality is revealed.

A Long and Painful Death is published in Walk the Blue Fields. A female writer has a residency in the seaside home of Heinrich Böll. Her peace is disrupted by an unwelcome male visitor.

In Antarctica published in Antarctica a married woman who spends the night with a stranger in order to see what it feels like ends up in a spoiler alert. The less said about this the better.

All three stories are about men and what’s wrong with them. Seriously, there’s no other way to say it.

Nov 16, 3:33 pm

>108 kjuliff: Disappointing that two of the stories are reprinted from other collections.

Editado: Nov 18, 5:35 pm

Love in London

The Paying Guests
By Sarah Waters
Rating: 4

Set like many other social novels shortly after WW1, the firsts half of this rather long novel reads like a Kate Atkinson. We are introduced to the main characters, a mother and daughter Frances down on their heels, barely able to maintain the stately London house, forced to bring in lodgers, a married couple, Lilian and Leonard.

Frances is 28 and calls herself a spinster. She’s had one lesbian affair with an off-beat artist, Christina, that ended when she was unable to fully and openly commit. Having lost her only siblings during the war, she took the conservative road of staying with her elderly mother rather than with Christina.

The lodgers are a class or three below that of the owners, and reading about the difficulties of the blending of two very different couples has its inevitable difficulties. Lilian appears to be unhappy with her husband, but puts on a happy face to the outside world.

For a while nothing much happens. The daughter, Frances and the lodger Lilian embark on a secret lesbian relationship. But other than that, life goes on. There’s a Downton Abbey vibe to the blended household, with the mother bemoaning the impossibility of affording servants, and Frances spending evenings playing boring card games with her mother’s ancient friends.

One evening, instead of playing cards with her mother and her elderly friends Frances “condescends” à la Austen and plays Snakes and Ladders with the lower class paying guests. The husband makes leering jokes about snakes and it is after that, that Frances and Lilly become friends and eventually lovers.

Halfway through the novel the genre, though not the writing style changes. There is a crime, a few Mister Plods, a mystery and to say more would spoil the novel.

Overall it’s a good read. Sarah Waters is such a skilled writer and narrator Juliet Stevenson does a wonderful job on the different London accents.

Editado: Nov 21, 8:51 pm

Morality in Morocco

Sex and Lies
Leila Slimani
Rating: 3.5

I read this short non-fiction book while taking breaks from the 24 hour audio marathon of Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests (reviewed above).

The full title Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women's Intimate Lives in the Arab World just about sums it up, but there’s more to this book than the stories. Over twelve minutes of this short book is taken up with informative and incisive commentary.

The accounts of women’s private lives are moving, though most of us will know something of the restrictions on women who live under Islam. Much of the restrictions in Morocco are driven by society, though backed by the current government.

Apart from her own views, again to be expected, Slimani quotes from a number of Arab journalists and writers.

Abdellah Tourabi, a Moroccan journalist, describes the Moroccan men known for their post football brawls, as taking out their anger on the two things that they want and cannot not posses- cars and women.

Kamel Daoud, Algerian journalist and novelist was accused of feeding Islamophobia for seeing sex behind the Cologne 2018 New Year’s Eve riots. But by far the greater part of Daoud’s anger was directed at the "naive" political left, who in his view deliberately ignore the cultural gulf separating the Arab-Muslim world from Europe.

Slimani comments, What Cologne showed is how sex is "the greatest misery in the world of Allah”.

Many of us have read Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, a favorite of mine. Daoud gave up journalism because of the attacks made against him by the Algerian political left. He’s now concentrating on writing.

Sex and Lies is a good read. The stories are important as we hear first-hand, the effects of the restrictions so many women are forced both by government and society to live under

You can read more of Leila Slimani at the Observer article Leïla Slimani: ‘This book is a mirror to make the elite look reality in the face’.

Nov 21, 10:44 am

>110 kjuliff: her fingersmith is one of my all time fav reads. Never read any of her others but this one looks like one to try

Nov 21, 1:01 pm

>112 cindydavid4: Yes I liked Fingersmith too. I also liked Tipping the Velvet. Sarah Waters is a safe bet.

Nov 21, 1:08 pm

>111 kjuliff: interesting. And weird about the riots.

Nov 21, 1:55 pm

>114 dchaikin: How so Dan? I’m not sure what you mean. A contemporary BBC report on the riots can be seen at
Germany shocked by Cologne New Year gang assaults on women
Many in Germany as well in the Arab world disputed that sex was a motive in the attacks on women, and saw the riots as a reaction of the disadvantaged.

Nov 21, 4:08 pm

>115 kjuliff: sorry, that all just seems weird to me. A weird riot or whatever it was.

Editado: Nov 21, 4:11 pm

>116 dchaikin: Dan! I can assure you it wasn’t weird for the raped and otherwise sexually molested women! I think men are weird. ;-)

Nov 21, 4:40 pm

>117 kjuliff: i certainly didn’t mean any disrespect to the victims. Apologies if my comments came across as downplaying what they went through,
or were disrespectful to them in any other way.

Nov 21, 5:11 pm

>118 dchaikin: I was being wry. No need to apologize. I just couldn’t understand what you meant. But the issue of the Muslim/non-Muslim divide is a big one now and it’s sometimes hard to understand the point of view of Daoud’s critics.

Editado: Nov 21, 9:27 pm

At last I’m reading House of Doors. I’m enjoying it so far, but cannot see yet why it was nominated for the Booker.

The first thing that struck me is how well Tan Twan Eng shows the English treatment of the locals. The English treat the local staff like serfs. That's what colonialists do, but when it’s put so matter-of-factly it’s hard to take. Calling men in their fifties “boy” and expecting them to bring you a book they left on the other side of the room, brings the everyday life of early twentieth century Malaya to the forefront of this novel.

Tan Twan Eng is doing this subtly with punch.

Nov 21, 10:01 pm

Been thinking about HoD. Glad you’re enjoying.

Nov 22, 10:59 am

>121 dchaikin: Still enjoying it. It’s nice for me to read books set in places I’ve been and understand. Penang, KL are such familiar names to me. With books set in the US the names of towns and cities don’t resonate with me at all. Except for New York of course.

Nov 22, 1:30 pm

>122 kjuliff: my two days in Penang in ~2015 didn’t help me much. I still had to look up Armenian Street. 🙂

Editado: Nov 22, 7:50 pm

>123 dchaikin: I love the street names in SE Asia, especially when they are referred to by the locals as “Street”. Melasti Street in Bali for example. And Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. So much more appealing than High Street or Main Street.

— And now as I near the end of HoD I’m deciding on what to read next. Elizabeth Finch or Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. Both have come off hold at my library. I loved Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead but I have been a fan of Julian Barnes forever, and have a sense of loyalty to this great writer, though the Elizabeth French reviews are off-putting.

Editado: Nov 24, 9:44 pm

Maugham in Malaya

The House of Doors
By Tan Tran Eng
Media: Audio

We could always sell the Gauguin.
This is story of interweaving lives converging on two weeks in Penang in 1910. There are several tales told and retold in the book, tales which Lesley, one of the main characters, describes as “factionalized fiction”.

House of Doors pivots on the two week period. Robert and his wife Lesley have invited Willie (Maugham) and his partner Gerald to stay in their house in Penang. The book is divided into chapters that tell the stories over two time periods by Leslie’s and Willie.

Robert is gay as are Willie and Gerald, but Willie is somehow unaware of this shared sexual preference between himself and his host even though they have known each other for some years. I think this ignorance is necessary as otherwise- what with the secret lovers and cross-cultural affaires it could all seem a bit messy. I can see no reason for it plot-wise.

Lesley takes a Chinese lover after finding out that Robert is having a secret affair with a Chinese guy.

An aside - throughout the book Chinese men are refered to as Chinamen. I know this word is coming from the mouth of a 1920s woman, but I found it offputing nevertheless.

There’s betrayal. A murder, the planning of the Chinese revolution that overthrew the Quin Dynasty. A lot of detail about Sun Yat Sen, the architecture of Armenian Street and the couture of the Chinese women. There’s even a courtroom drama based upon and actual crime which inspired Maugham's story “The Letter”.

There’s a lot to pack in, and a lot to keep the reader’s interest. Which it does.

The beauty of the novel lies in the way it brings to life the island city of Penang early last century, and the upper-crust British who ruled it.

With their dressing for dinner, their gossipings and betrayals, the British women accept their lives of privilege. The downside is that they are forced to put up with their husbands’ affaires. There’s a constant “If you do this I’ll do that” blackmail by the husbands. The women are utterly dependent on their men and live in cloistered luxury with their “head boys” and “cookies”.

I love the way. Tan Twang Eng describes the insensitive Brits, almost as asides. ‘They could never hang an English woman” remarks one of in-crowd after the sentencing of Ethel Proudlock, a real person who is a peripheral character in the The House of Doors but a central in Maugham’s “The Letter”.

How much is true and how much is fiction doesn’t matter. “The years blurs fiction. Fiction becomes memory and memory fiction”, muses Lesley in 1947 now living in South Africa where she moved to be with Robert for his health concerns. Still living the colonial life. One of the children is at Oxford as was to be expected. They had taken the dog with them. Claudius. A few Latin quotes and something about Verlaine. The upper-crust way of life and thought persist.

Oh, and there’s the bit about the homosexual ostriches. But I think I’ll leave it there. And dream about the city of Penang and times past.

Nov 23, 2:03 pm

Enjoyed your review of The House of Doors. I have read The Garden of Evening mists and although I loved the bits about the garden, I was a bit surprised by the violence.

Nov 23, 2:18 pm

>125 kjuliff: Fun reviee and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Any thoughts of going back to Maugham?

Nov 23, 4:19 pm

>126 baswood: I haven’t read Garden of Evening Mists but intend to do so. The Japanese were particularly harsh in WW2, to their own people as well as to the POWs.

One of my favorite novels is Australian writer Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North about the attempt by the Japanese to build a road from Thailand to China using POW labour. It’s not so much violent as excruciating.

I used to be an avid garden - a garden is such a place of peace. So its hard to imagine a garden in the middle of war.

Nov 23, 4:23 pm

>127 dchaikin: Not yet. See my comment on Sebastian and his teddy bear in my response to you on your thread. Maugham can keep, to use an ambiguous Australian phrase.

Nov 23, 4:52 pm

>128 kjuliff: The Garden of Evening Mists was my first audiobook that wasn't nonfiction. I think it's really well done on audio.

Nov 23, 6:03 pm

>130 dchaikin: Thanks Dan. It’s always good to know how books translate on audio. I’ve put it on my list. Meanwhile I’m pondering what to read next. I started Elizabeth Finch but can’t get into it. I liked Julian Barnes early novels better than his later ones. Like some wines, he hasn’t aged well.

Nov 24, 3:00 pm

>127 dchaikin: For some strange reason Maugham keeps cropping up. I’m currently reading The Other Side of Silence by Philip Ker which was recommended by rocketjk. I’d added it to my list but had forgotten why it was recommended. Looking back it was because of Maugham who plays a part. I can’t seem to get away from the fellow whom I knew nothing about - though I knew of him - till a few weeks ago.

I’m enjoying it so far. A lot of wisecracking talk by the stereotypical hardened ex-cop. Set on the Riviera in the Fifties. It’s a really fun read for me. I’m not a reader of that genre. Looks like I’ve been missing out.

Nov 24, 10:05 pm

Thoroughly enjoying The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr. It’s outside of my usual reading zones in genre - the hardened detective/spy and crime, but I remember years ago being a John Le Carré junkie.

I’m enjoying the humor and the campish description of Maugham. The narrator (John Lee) is excellent. The description of Monte Carlo in the fifties reminds me of Hitchcock movies and Cary Grant being debonair.

I’ll review it when I’ve finished; right now I’m taking it slowly and savoring it.

Editado: Nov 26, 11:45 pm

Just finished The Other Side of Silence which I will review soon.

Meanwhile reading it has peaked my interest in broadening the types of books I’ve been reading lately. So I’m now currently reading -

Robert Heinlein’s All You Zombies
For a bit of Sci-Fi and nostalgia.

Janete Turner Hospital’s Due Preparations for the Plague
For some scary airline stuff and to listen to an Australian novel by one of my old favorite Australian writers.

Nov 27, 7:54 am

>134 kjuliff: The only JTH that I've read is Orpheus Lost. Do you have a favorite you would recommend?

Editado: Nov 27, 3:48 pm

>135 labfs39: Yes, without a doubt, Charades. It’s my favorite, second is Tiger in a Tiger Pit.

Nov 27, 9:45 am

>134 kjuliff: >135 labfs39: Janette Turner Hospital is on my LT list of favourite authors. Due Preparations for the Plague is probably my favourite of hers, but Orpheus Lost is up there too. She also excels at short stories.

>134 kjuliff: While I would classify her as Australian, she seems to be one of those authors whom multiple countries try to claim, as she moves around.

Nov 27, 10:16 am

>137 SassyLassy: Janette Turner Hospital was born in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, and her undergrad education was in Queensland. Many of her early novels were set in Australia. As they say “You can take the girl out of Australia but you can’t take Australia out of the girl.”. 😊🇦🇺😊

Editado: Nov 27, 7:18 pm

Mystery in Monte Carlo

The Other Side of Silence
By Philip Kerr
Media: Audio
Rating: 3.5

I listened to this book in black and white since this is the way I see the first half of the 20th century in books of this genre mix of spy fiction and thriller.

The hardened detective/spy/policeman meets the aging gay writer whose mansion’s walls are adorned with fine art. Why, and what comes next; that is the question. There’s a “broad” as the Americans of a certain social status used to calf blonde women of a certain social status. Add the conniving MI5 and MI6, the slimy STASI, the killer KGB and the gruesome Gestapo, and we almost have the cast.

The Cambridge Five hover menacingly in the background, their dastardly deads continuing to stir both the pot and the plot. It’s a case cherchez l’argent rather than cherchez la femme. Find the blackmailer and you’ll find the money. The problem is - which one of the characters is the blackmailer? Could it be all of them?

None of the members of this band of brothers like each other, in fact in some cases it’s a matter of pure hatred going back decades. The only good person is the non-blonde true love of the hero, and her fate is to die while pregnant with our hero’s child in the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy along with 9,400 others - the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history. Luck is not on our hero’s side.

Did I mention that the gay guy in the mansion was Somerset Maugham? I think not. He’s one of the few likable characters in the book, though he’s approaching the end of life and is as good at blackmailing as the rest of them. But he has a certain gay charm, a charm that has lead him into a heap of trouble, especially in swimming pools with men of like-minded sensibilities one of whom has a camera.

The camera and a tape recorder play their parts on this stage of intrigue, betrayal and sex. I’m not mentioning names apart from Maugham as the main characters change names almost as frequently as they change careers.

In all, it’s a good read and I thoroughly enjoyed the The Other Side of Silence. Needless to say, will be reading more of Philip Kerr’s canny tales in the future.

Nov 27, 6:47 pm

>139 kjuliff: A wonderful, fun review. I'm happy you enjoyed the book so well.

Nov 28, 6:37 pm

Listening to Due Preparations for the Plague and finding it very different than the Turner Hospital books I’ve read before. I haven’t been well these last few days, so it’s probably me, but I keep getting confused with the time jumps.

Also it’s audio, and though I bookmark when I start a session, sometimes I’ve fallen asleep and have trouble finding where I left off. One of thee problems with audio.

Editado: Nov 29, 10:03 pm

A Mishmash of Mayhem

Due Preparations for the Plague
Janette Turner Hospital
Rating: 2.5

If I had to sum up this book in one word, the word would be messy.

Central to the plot is the nerve-gas hijacking' by Muslim fundamentalists of Air France Flight 64 from Paris to New York in the 1980s There are several interlocking stories set over two periods told by different voices, during the hijack and its twelfth year anniversary.

The actual hijack is told in excruciating and harrowing detail. That this is perhaps the clearest and most readable part of the book, should tell you something.

During the hijacking 22 children were released and around the anniversary things come to a head as one of the children Samantha, now an adult tries to work out who was really behind the hijacking, and why the children, now adult, appear to be dying off in unusual circumstances. Was it all a conspiracy theory?

Meanwhile a high-ranking CIA operative dies and leaves a key to his son Lowell, whose mother perished on the flight. Lowell’s mother was leaving her husband for a Jewish violinist, also a flight victim. Nothing is simple here. Lowell is instructed by his dad’s psychiatrist, to not only work out what it is for, but is ordered to keep the contents safe.

Lowell links up with Samantha who has been hounding him for years. He has been ignoring her, but now on the anniversary decides to listen to her. He works out the key from his father is the key to locker #64 (Flight 64, get it?) at the terminal for the ill-fated flight. The locker contains binders of notes and documents as will as tapes.He tries to keep it safe but only half succeeds and shares what is left of his findings (his house has been ransacked) with Samantha. They travel in a row boat to a secret place and sleep the night in a fisherman’s hut lobster netting. Anything for secrecy.

As for the adult hostages, after the children are freed, the plane, now in Iraq, is blown to smithereens. Ten men are still alive and are placed in a sarin-laced bunker, facing death when their protective gear will inevitably fail. They face a slow death, or by removing their protective head gear, a faster one. They choose the latter. With ten minutes to speak before the Saran gets them they remove their protective head-gear and tell. A Yiddish writer does a Hasidic dance, a philosopher delivers a wry deconstructive analysis, two lovers embrace, a diva sings Orlando Gibbons's metaphoric The Silver Swan. Is this meant to be poignant, to be showing the human spirit cannot be squashed? I cannot be sure. And by this time - it was near the end of the book - I didn’t care.

Editado: Nov 29, 10:24 pm

>137 SassyLassy: I just reviewed Due Preparations here. I didn’t like the book at all. I did like her earlier novels, but couldn’t, though I tried, like this one.

Ontem, 8:12 pm

I’m now reading The Bee Sting. I hadn’t realised it was available in Audio.

In my order of merit, the 2023 Booker long and shortlists from what I’ve been able to read to date (not taking into account long or short lists) are :-
Study for Obedience
God’s Old Time
The House of Doors

I don’t like the chances of Prophet Song coming to audio any time soon. I understand that the verdict was not unanimous, and it was thought to be picked partly for its relevance to the current world experience, so I can afford to wait without too much angst,

Hoje, 10:43 am

Very interesting about the vote on Prophet Song. I liked This Other Eden better and thought it should win. On the Booker website, I read that Bee Sting and This Other Eden were the three that were the front runners among betting people. I’ll be very interested in your response to The Bee Sting.

Hoje, 11:02 am

>145 dianelouise100: I live-streamed the presentation ceremony and many in the cyber audience were commenting that Bee String should have won.