How Saints Die – Carmen Marcus (Book Review)

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Discovering the release of this book was happy accident – the cover caught my attention, followed by the plot, followed by the discovery that the author and I share a hometown(!):

Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation.

Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all her own, Ellie begins to learn – in these sudden, strange circumstances – who she is and what she can become. By the time the first snowdrops show, her innocence has been shed, but at great cost.

The story is set in a quickly changing fishing village on the coast of the North Sea. Peter, a fisherman suffering from vertigo, makes a living mending nets and supporting fishermen to support his small family – his wife who is now in hospital, and his young daughter, Ellie.

Ellie is unaware what the state of her mother is, but the whole school know her mum is ‘mad’. As Robin, a new boy joins, a friendship sparks despite the current against them.

The story is interesting in the sense of it’s atmosphere – it all seems very dimly lit, but captivating. My curiosity kept me reading, despite aspects that often put me off – namely magical realism (though granted allowing for metaphor).

Allowing for the time the novel is set, I would have expected further consequences for the actions of some characters, though perhaps, not being born then, I am interpreting past situational circumstances in the light of modern time.

The characters are certainly intriguing and I quickly felt strongly about them when the novel began, and this developed well throughout.

It was great to read a book set in a location I am familiar with, and will certainly encourage me to read more ‘local’ fiction in the future.

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Beren and Luthien – J.R.R. Tolkien (Book Review)

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I’ve been following this books release since early 2017, with the prospect of reading more Tolkien, and furthermore illustrated by Alan Lee, being a hopeful one:

Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

The book is essentially a collection of writings from Tolkien showing the story of Beren and Luthien, a story which foreshadows Aragorn and Arwen’s love in Lord of the Rings: a mortal man and an immortal elf.

This is done through a mixture of poetry and narrative, all illustrated by Alan Lee; the original illustrator of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Overall the tale is well written and very high fantasy – I would say that anyone who has not read Tolkien, however, may find themselves a it lost as to what is happening.

I try not to sound harsh when saying this, but I feel like I would have enjoyed this book more with less interruptions by Christopher Tolkien talking about the text – to some this is likely very interesting, but to myself it meant I could barely keep immersed for long enough.

Necessary for any Tolkien fan to add to their collection, and something which was clearly very dear to the authors heart. As an introduction though perhaps stick with The Hobbit for a more narrative structure than curious one.

The Postman’s Fiancée – Denis Théirault (Book Review)

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I mentioned a little while back in a post titled Five Book Tags that I recommend a book called “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman” to everyone – well I found out the author was writing a sequel, and after some waiting, it has arrived!

Twenty-two-year-old Tania has moved to Montreal to study, fine-tune her French and fall in love. Finding work as a waitress in an unpretentious down-town restaurant, she meets Bilodo, a shy postman who spends his days perfecting his calligraphy and writing haiku. The two hit it off. But then one stormy day their lives take a dramatic turn, and as their destinies become entwined Tania and Bilodo are led into a world where nothing is as it seems.

The book is a sequel I never expected with the ending of the previous being so rounded perfectly – so I was a bit curious to how this would fit in:

This sequel fits into the first in an unexpected way, which though works, felt a bit like forcing an almost-correct jigsaw piece next to another.

The characters are almost equally creepy in their approach to romance – Tania taking advantage of Bilodo’s amnesia to trick him into thinking he once lover her is a little bit strange to call a romance – though that’s how many have classified the book.

There is humour throughout too which fits perfectly, and the writing style is indescribably surreal, giving a weird atmosphere to the book so unlike your typical novel.

I’m afraid to say though that following the first one, this one is a bit less perfectly rounded – it leads some unanswered questions that the prequel didn’t, and though it was a good read – it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped!

The ending relied too much on Bilodo being somewhat blind to the obvious, with the haiku of Granpré, the mysterious English professor, being such a giveaway, he’d have to almost never have read them to not see the clues throughout – which frankly, I don’t believe he would have done.

Still, they are both worth reading – and I am glad I have done so.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders (Book Review)

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I heard about the release of this book at the beginning of the year, and it was my most anticipated to date:

February 1862. The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a strange purgatory – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – invisible to his father, bowed at the tomb. Within this transitional realm, where ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

Having read some of Saunders’ short-stories, I was quite eager to see how he would approach writing a full length novel.

The whole story is set over one night in the graveyard in which Willie Lincoln was buried. He joins other spirits in the bardo, each reflecting on the lives they lived before they were left, forgotten in this place.

The characters all now live exaggerated realities of their desires in life, refusing to move on from that which characterised them before they were “sick”.  The book is written from the point of view of many of these characters in a very unique way, characteristic of Saunders. Many pages contain little more than 5 lines, and often these are quotes from sources around when Lincoln buried his son. The contrast between fiction and reality merging seamlessly in the writing.

The book has moments of stark honesty about the nature of life and the denial of death; the unity in suffering and the clinging to dissatisfaction. It was written in a unique way which garners interest in and of itself – I appreciate authors who are willing to take risks with what they write about and how they present it, and Saunders definetely pays off in this regard.

Worth a read if you get a chance, or have read his other stuff before. Otherwise it may seem a bit pricey for the time being until the paperback is released! With the line-spacing and the short chapters, this could easily be read very quickly, despite being around 350 pages long.