Alec, Laszlo's translator, has not had sex for 11 months and is still, in his thirties, dependent on his mother's approval. Larry, ex-sportsman, ex-soap actor, coke addict, turns to the porn industry to support himself in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. Alice, their mother, is dying of cancer. And Laszlo, homosexual Hungarian playwright, attempts to come to terms with his role in a friend's death 40 years ago.
Everyone is depressed. Larry drinks, Alec cries, Laszlo forces himself to sit at his desk for a few hours daily. Miller evokes their misery and hopelessness admirably, and to begin with it is powerful and moving. But the plot inches forward and the variety of woes start to feel like identical middle-class angst.
In striving to make a point about courage, this book neglects narrative, and ultimately its failing is the same as Laszlo’s: “condemned to be an intellectual".
Review date: September 2001
"It's called jumping the green," says Zeke, photographer and sadist, "you know, like landing before you actually leap, leaving a room before the door opens, anticipating life before it happens." But for Louise Goldblum, this means embarking on a desperate path towards self-annihilation. Shattered by the murder of her idolised sister, she takes refuge first in alcohol, and then in an abusive and humiliating relationship with Zeke.
Schwartz's expert story-telling fascinates like a car-crash. The reader is horrified yet intrigued by the graphic scenes with Zeke, and drawn inexorably down with Louise as she leaves bills unpaid and work undone. Alternate chapters flash back to her suburban upbringing, providing a convincing and absorbing illumination of her behaviour.
Apart from a trying obsession with cigarettes (someone lights one or takes a drag at least once a page) there is little to fault in this tightly written debut. Disturbing,and very human.
date: September 2001
To purchase this excellent book, click here Jumping the Green
If you like the sound of this, you could also try the gripping and well-written She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
Life of Pi
Patel lives a spiritual life, simultaneously practising Hinduism, Islam
and Christianity and living in a zoo. When he is 16, his parents decide
they no longer trust Mrs Gandhi and are moving from India to Canada, and
along with most of the zoo’s animals, set off by sea. But in the
middle of the Pacific Ocean, their ship sinks and Pi finds himself sole
human passenger of a lifeboat, with an orang-utan, a hyena and a three
year-old Bengal tiger for company. Thus begins a seven-month struggle
to survive the sea and his fellow passenger.
Review date: June 2002
To buy this, click here Life of Pi
If you liked this, you can try his first book, Self
If you've heard the rumour he nicked the plot, you can look at the alleged original Max and the Cats
is a man? What is a woman? How do the two meet?” are some of the essential
questions Yann Martel’s re-released debut novel Self claims
to address. For Martel the differences between men and women are really
not that extreme. In fact, one day our narrator wakes up without his penis
and has become a woman!
For those who have been asleep, Martel’s second novel Life of Pi won the Booker Prize: an outstanding work that recovered admirably from the most pretentious first line ever written. Self does not fare so well. From the opening anecdote, our narrator’s earliest toilet memory – “It was a magnificent log of excrement”, it is not only pretentious but also profoundly tedious. It doesn’t attempt redemption until a hundred pages in, when the aforementioned natural sex-change occurs. Unfortunately little is made of this, and the self-indulgent details of a boy growing up morph seamlessly into some rather mundane details of a girl reaching sexual maturity.
Other people’s backpacking tours and love affairs are two topics that will reliably bore to tears unless told well and, perhaps unwisely, Martel picks these as his main theme. The freshly-minted woman travels around, meets a woman, moves house, meets a man, etc. Experiments like splitting the page for two voices never quite find their mark, and what should be a truly shocking climax is neutralised by our utter lack of sympathy for our protagonist.
Self reads like a practice run. With the benefit of hindsight: it shows potential.
date: April 2003
If, despite Anna's expert opinion, you'd like to buy this, click here Self
If you'd like to try his better Life of Pi click here
you'd like something similar, try:
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf - about the cross-dressing, sex-changing Orlando
inhabits a shady London, peopled by characters avoiding each others’
eyes. Evicted from his squat, he sleeps on a friend’s sofa and begins
work at a gay cycle-courier company. But just under the surface is a world
where people are kicked off the back of buses, or doused with paint-stripper.
When Ian’s friend is found at the bottom of the stairs with a list
of names in his pocket, this world becomes too close for comfort.
Each section is named after the roof over Ian’s head – always somewhere temporary, adding to the sense of rootlessness. No-one actually communicates. And despite the fact that we meet his sister and childhood friend, we have the feeling that no-one really knows Ian, least of all us.
House’s attention to detail evokes life on the periphery. Dark without being bleak, Uninvited is strangely moving, and the mood stays when the book is over.
date: June 2002
If you'd like to buy this, click here Uninvited
Hunt has lost her memory. All she has is a scar under her eye, someone pursuing
her and a briefcase stuffed with hundreds of thousands of pounds. All we
have is the information that this is connected to the theft of a valuable
painting. Anna’s world is peopled by men she thinks are strangers
who actually know a lot more about her than she does, like Kel, a man who
fascinates her utterly, but whose actions are deeply sinister. Can she even
trust the kind man who takes her under his wing?
In her debut novel, Claire Kilroy invokes great emotions like love and loss, and hints at darker passions like incest. But the characters’ motivations are never explored and their behaviour is unconvincing. It is hard to believe in people who will kill for art, and although there are beautiful passages of prose, All Summer is ultimately unrewarding.
date: May 2003
If you'd like to buy this anyway, click here All Summer
is a sickly, teenage runaway, living in a trailer park in North Fork, a
former logging town brought to its knees by environmental legislation. Then
one day Ann has a vision of the Virgin Mary that could spell the end of
hard times. The vision promises to appear six more times and within the
week, there are hundreds of pilgrims flocking to North Fork in order to
petition Our Ann.
Occasionally amusing and sometimes compelling, Our Lady of the Forest is more often clumsy and David Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson’s self-consciously detached style can be irritating. The characters (the unsure priest, the hard-as-nails friend, the traumatised ex-logger) are shallow, and Guterson invites us to stereotype them in a few strokes: ‘Ann and her mother, 15 at Ann’s birth, had lived with Ann’s grandfather, a man with complicated gambling debts, in a series of rental homes’. Predictable and cosy, this is a spoon-fed theological mystery.
Date: November 2003
If you'd like to buy it anyway, click here
If you'd like to try the more popular, but in my view still not incredibly good Snow Falling on Cedars, click here.
date: September 2003
For a fabulous book about New York try The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
For a non-fiction account of terminal cancer, try Before I Say Goodbye by Ruth Picardie, a collection of her columns, letters and emails in the months before she died of breast cancer - strangely uplifting despite the subject matter
All reviews © Anna's Book Corner