Monday, 30 June 2014

Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove should come with clear instructions for the reader....

#1 To be read only whilst laying by the pool/sea and only whilst the sun is shining

#2 Drink three Margaritas before you even turn the first page

#3 Pack at least a couple of other reads as this is a very short novel indeed

Adhere to these instructions and The Lemon Grove may just be the scorching hot summer holiday romp that the publicity promises - and there's nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, reading this (very short) novel in climes any cooler than Mediterranean and you're in for a less than sizzling read.

The story concerns a married couple holidaying in Majorca whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the couples' Daughter (actually the protagonist Jenn's step-daughter) and her bit of rough boyfriend Nathan. From the off Jenn is consumed by an obsession for Nathan that, whilst not totally far-fetched, is actually quite far fetched.

The novel careers towards an inevitable 'climax' that sees Jenn come face to face with the reality of an illicit affair and her own closest family relationships. 

Other than Jenn's carnal passions for Nathan, and her fondness for local craft markets, we learn little more about her which is one of the novel's weaknesses. More frustrating is the portrayal of the male characters. Greg, Jenn's Husband, is inexplicably boring and Nathan's supposed irresistible charm is essentially conjured as a sexy body and Northern accent. But perhaps this critique of sketchy characters and thin plots is actually missing the point?

The Lemon Grove will certainly deliver as a raunchy holiday poolside read and will probably be recommended and shared until the chilly Autumn!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Strange weather in Tokyo

This is as much a story about two lost souls as it is a modern fable to sake and ramen. Hiromi Kawakami's off beat love story was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literature Prize and has gone on to strengthen Kawakami's position as one of the most popular writers of Japanese fiction today.

The novel is first person narrated by Tsukiko, a late thirties single girl, who meets 'Sensei', an older gentleman and her former school teacher in a traditional local bar. Both Tsukiko and Sensei are alone in the city. Their essentially solitary social life is interrupted only by their late night encounters with each other. They find common ground more in the shared silence of each other's company more than in profound discussion however, they begin converse more and more freely as the sake flows.

As with Banana Yoshimoto's The Lake the prose is always succinct and precise as Kawakami uses language sparingly to bring Tsukiko to life. Their loneliness is never desperate and Kawakami expertly and gently brings them together in a number of set pieces, such as mushroom picking in the autumn or at a spa hotel in the summer, in which the relationship plays out against the changing seasons.

A reluctant romance inevitably develops between the unlikely couple but the tentative and reserved nature of the relationship is at once both strikingly contemporary and plainly old-fashioned.   

Strange Weather in Tokyo is not as kooky as Murakami but for a sense of modern 'japaneseness' this is as authentic as sashimi dipped in soy.  

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Not as provocative as The Talented Mr Ripley or as dangerously sinister as Strangers on a Train.

Part murder mystery and part mid 20th century travelogue Patricia Highsmith's The Two Faces of January (1964) is a ideal poolside companion. Sun drenched locations, from Athens and the Corinth Canal to Crete and the Temple of Knossos, whisk you away to the romance (and danger) of a more exotic Europe of the past.

The novel follows three key characters whose lives become tangled in the kind of personality crisis which Highsmith delivers so well. Evading the police in the USA Chester MacFarland and his wife Collette travel to Europe only to become embroiled in a further police hunt once they meet fellow con-artist Rydal Keener. Rydal is immediately drawn to Chester, who reminds him of his late father, and to Collette who bears a resemblance to Agnes; Rydal's first love.

The two mens' strangely symbiotic relationship is strained by the claustrophobic love triangle which develops in the sweltering Greek heat between themselves and Collette.

The novel is at its best as the boundaries in relationships between the three friends blur. The two anti-hero leads are hard to understand at times but work as psychotic loners from the same mould as Highsmith's own Tom Ripley.  

The Two Faces of January is not as provocative as The Talented Mr Ripley or as dangerously sinister as Strangers on a Train but in this novel Highsmith packs a dramatic punch of murder, blackmail and violence.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

This beautifully simple novella deserves a suitably succinct review..

Banana Yoshimoto's The Lake is, like much in Japan, simple and straight forward but never austere. Prose is precise with not a single word wasted (unlike much literature on the shelves!)

The Lake is a reluctant love story, between recently bereaved Chihiro and her neighbour Nakajima, who share a Tokyo apartment block. Both find themselves in the city having moved away from another life in the country. For Chihiro the move followed the death of her 'mama san' mother. The truth about Nakajimi's former life lies in the Lake itself.

Very little actually happens in the story and yet as the reader we feel strangely drawn to these lonely characters as their relationship slowly develops. 

Looking for plot twists and turns? Then this is not the book for you but for a haunting and alternative love story between two remarkable characters this is a stunning read. 

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Sunday, 8 June 2014

On the bookshelf this month.....

The Two Faces of January - Patricia Highsmith

Strange Weather in Tokyo - Horomi Kawakami

The Lemon Grove - Helen Walsh

The Lake - Banana Yoshimoto

Akira (Book1) - Katsuhiro Otomo

For reviews, news and recommendations follow:

twitter: @wordsshortlist

instagram: your_next_read  

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pack in your hand luggage as you'll want to get started as soon as you arrive at the airport!

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair - Joel Dicker

What the media say….

'A global phenomenon' Le Monde.

'All the ingredients of a world bestseller' Die Zeit.

'A great noir' Corriere della Sera

What The Word’s Shortlist says….

Joel Dicker’s novel is a slick literary crime thriller that brilliantly weaves together two story lines. The novel was so successful in French language markets that not only was it lauded with awards but can even claim to have knocked Fifty Shades off the best seller list!

Celebrated writer Harry Quebert is the only suspect in the murder, some 33 years earlier, of Nola Kellergan. There are echoes of Nobokov's Lolita in both the nature of the relationship between the two and the New England setting. Central to the plot, and the case against Quebert, is that the body of the 15 year old Nola is found buried in his own garden along with a manuscript copy of the novel he was to become famous for.

Marcus Goldman is Quebert’s protégé and a successful young novelist living in New York. Suffering from serious second novel writer’s block Goldman commits to travelling to New England to help clear his mentor’s name. Both characters are hugely self-absorbed and indulgent but the perfect ingredients for a crime fiction page turner!

The novel is fast paced with enough twists and turns to keep you reading to the end and finely plotted throughout. The story is packed full of insight into the writing process and the angst of living up to the expectation of being a critically successful literary genius. Whilst this might border on pretentious in places it certainly makes a great read for bibliophiles.

Characterisation is good and the dialogue is natural and believable, with the possible exception of Mrs Goldman who is drawn from every Jewish matriarchal stereotype you’ve ever come across. We can forgive however, given that the character of Marcus is so well penned.

The plot isn’t as gritty as Steig Larsson or monumental as Roth, although the promotion around the novel suggests otherwise, but the story does end with the brilliant twist you’d hope for. 

This isn’t a masterpiece but the idea of a famous and much loved work of fiction being linked to a real life (fictional) murder is brilliantly compelling. Well worth a holiday read, pack in your hand luggage as you’ll want to get started as soon as you arrive at the airport!