Archive for April, 2016

The Past

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

51n7rWGvpYL._SL75_By Tessa Hadley 

The Short Take:

The lush writing of Hadley’s newest novel is beyond reproach. The story — siblings and their families gathering on holiday in their grandparent’s old home — is sometimes disturbing, sometimes surprising, but sometimes expected.

Why?

There’s much to admire in this novel. The multiple plot lines keep the pace brisk. The prose enhances each paragraph, deepening the often intense atmosphere. The unsettling story line revolving around the young children of one sibling is worthy of Shirley Jackson. Other subplots showcase the complicated relationships within a family, unexpected passions, generational differences, and dawning self-awareness.

Beneath it all lies the concept that even though the past completely shapes the present, it belongs in the past. This is illustrated both through a center section of the book, set at a point when the siblings were small and visited this house with their mother, and through the discovery and reading of decades of old letters.

A Little Plot:

Three sisters (one with two young children, another bringing the college-age son of a former boyfriend) and their brother (accompanied by a very new wife and a teen daughter from a previous marriage) gather at the decaying home of their grandparents for a final holiday.

The children make a gruesome discovery. The sisters are put off by the new wife. The two young adults are attracted to each other. For everyone there is a sense of things ending and beginning, whether good or bad.

A quick search did not reveal a website for the author, but there’s plenty of links to learn more about her.

The Vegetarian

Friday, April 15th, 2016

25489025By Han Kang

The Short Take:

A slim volume packed with unsettling power, Kang’s story of a woman who becomes a vegetarian to end her horrifying dreams is shocking, erotic, and dazzling.

Why?

Control and self-actualization are the dueling powers of this rather terrifying novel. It is not a horror story, but horrifying nonetheless. Yeong-hye’s decision to eat no meat (veganism is very rare in Korea) has profound effects on her entire family. The book is divided into three parts told from the points of view, respectively, of her husband, brother-in-law, and sister.

The husband’s story is one of bafflement, shame and anger. The brother-in-law finds inspiration for his art and intense sexual desire. The sister’s tale focuses on decisions and regrets. The whole is a trifecta of storytelling, a la Kafka.

A Little Plot:

Yeong-Hye’s bloody nightmares convince her not to eat meat, or much of anything else. Her husband if shocked by this rebellion by his usually docile wife. Her brother-in-law sees something new in her. Her sister is torn by feelings of responsibility and envy.

Han Kang is well known in South Korea but this is the first of her novels to come to America. Wikipedia has a pretty full biography you can check out by clicking here.

After Alice

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

51+a-Uro0HL._SL75_By Gregory Maguire

The Short Take:

Both magical and meaningful, Maguire’s reworking of Carroll’s Alice books is enchanting. Ada falls down the rabbit hole and goes in search of her friend, Alice, encountering many of the same madcap characters but with more philosophical (and delightfully witty) exchanges.

Why?

Best known for the broadway musical based on his novel Wicked, Maguire is an expert at taking children’s tales and turning them into intriguing books for adults. After Alice is no exception.

Maguire loses none of the whimsy of his source material but artfully incorporates thoughts on being trapped — whether by the institution of slavery or a metal back brace, the afterlife, family, friendship, and the confusion of adolescence.

Small observations that send my mind spinning into wide orbits are followed by delicious wordplays. Silliness and symbolism go hand in hand. Even the vocabulary is exceptionally rich, as is appropriate for this Oxford setting in the Victorian Era.

Maguire and Carroll fans should both be more than pleased.

A LittlePlot:

Clumsy Ada manages to evade her governess to wander on her own outside. However, while hiding she slips down a rabbit hole not too long after Alice  (hence the title).

Meanwhile, Alice’s older sister, Lydia, must deal with the disappearance of both children, a distraught governess, a party of guests including Charles Darwin, and her own recent bereavement.

Characters from both Carroll books will be encountered, plus another child enters the picture.

While this book had a clear ending, I’m hopeful for a sequel. The seeds are there just waiting to grow.

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