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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel (@picadorbooks) (@EmilyMandel) Pandemics, time travel, and gorgeous writing #sci-fi

Hi all:

I am back, and I have a few books to share. This one is by an author I have come to truly treasure. Oh, and it will be published on the 28th of April, so not long to wait.

Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel 

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

https://www.amazon.com/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel/dp/0593556593/

https://www.amazon.es/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

Author Emily St. John Mandel

About the author:

EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL is the author of six novels, including Sea of Tranquility, The Glass Hotel, and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her work has been translated into thirty-two languages. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

https://www.amazon.com/Emily-St-John-Mandel/e/B002BMMGK2/

My review:

I thank Pan Macmillan/Picador and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered Emily St. John Mandel eight years ago thanks to Station Eleven, which I loved, and I was also very impressed by The Glass Hotel, so I had great expectations for this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although it is not necessary to have read the other two novels mentioned to enjoy this one, there are characters and points of commonality between the three, and the way the story is structured (or rather fragmented and then put together, creating interesting and beautiful shapes) is also similar, with jumps back and forth in time (several centuries here), and, in this case, centred on a popular subgenre of science-fiction, time travel.

I don’t read science-fiction often, although I have read some novels in the genre that I’ve enjoyed. This novel is not hard science-fiction. There isn’t a lot of attention paid to how things work and the complex science behind it (the main character knows nothing about it and freely admits to it), nor long explanations and descriptions of the future settings we visit. There are several colonies on the Moon, and also further away, but although we get a feeling of how living there might be (because the characters experiencing it have always lived there, and we perceive things through their eyes. If anything, they are more intrigued by life on Earth than the other way round), there isn’t a deep analysis of every aspect of life in the future, and the mention of metaphysics in the description fits the when trying to describe this novel. It does ask some big questions, about what is important in life, about reality and simulation, about people sometimes living many lives and reinventing themselves, and about circumstances that can make us reconsider our reality, our priorities, and our sense of self.

Because I feel that the way the story is told and the plot are intrinsically linked, and it is difficult to talk about one without unravelling the other, I won’t even try. The blurb provides enough clues for readers to decide if they might want to investigate further. We get snippets of the lives of several characters, who have led completely different lives separated by centuries but are somehow linked. We have men, women, younger and older characters: a female writer famous for writing a dystopian novel set during a pandemic (sharing many similarities with St. John Mandel, in a fascinating exercise in metafiction); a young man exiled by his well-off family to Canada who goes on to fight in WWI; an old violinist who plays at an airport after losing his wife; a woman trying to find a friend whom she thought had betrayed her and discovering something truly disturbing; a listless man trying to find a job that will grip him and help him give meaning to his life… We get to see things from all those characters’ perspectives, narrated in the third person, sometimes in the present tense, but mostly in the past tense, but perhaps because of the fragmented nature of the narrative, and also because of the peculiarities of the characters (who seemed to all be preoccupied with analysing and observing what was happening around them, rather than fully experiencing and living their lives, at least at the beginning), I felt as if I was peering over their shoulders and being a spectator, although with privileged access to their thoughts as well. It wasn’t a problem for me, and as the novel progressed and the whole picture became clearer, I came to change the way I felt about some of the characters and to understand and appreciate them more. Being an avid reader, I really enjoyed the character of Olive Llewellyn, an author from the Moon on a book tour on Earth. The fact that her book has a lot in common with Station Eleven, and also the way her visit coincides with a pandemic on Earth, makes her feel particularly close to us and to our recent experiences, but, as I said, the rest of the characters grew on me, particularly Gaspery, who gains in complexity and interest, and I’m sure I won’t forget him in a hurry.

The author writes beautifully, combining brief and magical descriptions of locations, capturing awe-inducing moments in poetic language, and expressing complex ideas in simple but effective ways. This is a book where plot, characters, structure, and language live in perfect harmony, and despite the jumps in time and the moments of action, the overall tone is contemplative and reflexive. There are moments of telling, due to the nature of the story, but this does not detract from the atmosphere or the flow of the novel, and it does feel like a pretty short read that manages to pack quite a lot of meaning and thought into few pages. Despite the changes in time lineand point of view, the narration is always clearly signposted, and there is no risk of getting lost within its many worlds.

A few samples from the book (although there might have been changes prior to publication):

What if one were to dissolve into the wilderness like salt into water.

Olive here, thinking about the death of one of her characters in her novel, which one of the readers had described as “anticlimactic”:

 ... isn’t that reality? Won’t most of us die in fairly unclimactic ways, our passing unremarked by almost everyone, our deaths becoming plot points in the narratives of the people around us?

The thing with being away from her husband and daughter was that every hotel room was emptier than the one before.

What you have to understand is that bureaucracy is an organism, and the prime goal of every organism is self-protection. Bureaucracy exists to protect itself.

This is the strange lesson of living in a pandemic: life can be tranquil in the face of death.

I enjoyed the ending, and I can’t imagine a more satisfying one. There are twists and plenty of mysteries in the story, but things come together in the end. I am not sure if readers will find the ending surprising or not (it might depend on how much they read about time travel and how closely they follow the clues), but I enjoyed the sense of closure (for all the characters), and also the overall feeling of quiet, calm, and hope that its end brings. We might agree or disagree with the main character’s decisions, but I liked his attitude towards life and towards his fellow human beings.

Do I recommend this book? Definitely. I am sure fans of the author will enjoy it. Readers looking for a hard science-fiction novel or keen on a time travel narrative full of big adventures and thrilling moments might want to look elsewhere. But those who enjoy beautiful writing, don’t mind getting lost in speculation and allowing their minds to wander through a world of possibilities, should try this book. And if they haven’t read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel and enjoy this one, they shouldn’t hesitate and just keep reading St. John Mantel.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling.

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog RUM HIJACK by Phil Motel (@philmotel) A writer for writers of discerning taste #RBRT

Hi all:

I picked up this novel after reading an intriguing and enticing review by fellow reviewer and talented writer Terry Tyler, and as I’ve discovered quite a number of great writers following her recommendations, I had to give this one a go. I’m sure you’ll realise why soon enough.

Rum Hijack by Bill Motel

Rum Hijack by Phil Motel

A frustrated loner and book lover, convinced he is destined to write a best seller and become a literary legend – before even typing a single word – begins taking out his “writer’s block” on the local community.

Depressed and volatile, his explosive outbursts within the privacy of his own home begin to manifest in public as his increasing creative frustrations and disastrous romantic relationships pile up, causing him to become a source of amusement among the regulars at local pubs and bars – but who will have the last laugh?

https://www.amazon.com/Rum-Hijack-Phil-Motel-ebook/dp/B086XL8L3Y/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rum-Hijack-Phil-Motel-ebook/dp/B086XL8L3Y/

https://www.amazon.es/Rum-Hijack-Phil-Motel-ebook/dp/B086XL8L3Y/

Author Phil Motel

About the author:

Phil comes from southern England and now lives in the US. He is a radical, innovative, avant-garde writer whose prose attracts readers every time it is encountered. His influences are many but he has been compared favourably with Rimbaud, Bukowski and Dosteovesky for his dark and earthy tales of outsiders on the edge.

Inkker Hauser Part 1: Rum Hijack, his debut on Amazon, is the darkly comic tale of a frustrated and slightly insane would-be writer who begins taking out his “writers’ block” on the local community. Inkker Hauser Part 2 is the follow up and contains a hysterical, surreal and agonising karaoke sequence, which will probably never be equalled.

Rum Hijack was recently included in a list of the top 50 Best Indie books of the year in 2014.

Phil’s other main interests are music and basketball – and is a fan of the Chicago Bulls. His Bukowskiesque blog, Motel Literastein, about an Englishman living on the fringes of society and sanity in a motel in Philadelphia, is controversial, confrontational and cathartic, but never dull, beautifully written and well worth following.

He will probably never return home.

Follow Phil on Twitter on the address below.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phil-Conquest/e/B00NGQNOBC

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel. It came highly recommended, and it’s one of those books that I’m sure won’t leave anybody indifferent.

This is not a book heavy on plot. It is a novel narrated in the first person by a would-be writer stuck in writers’ block and seemingly unable to unleash the immense and unique talent for literature he believes he has. He uses all the tried and tested methods most readers will be familiar with (drinking heavily, navel-gazing, taking drugs, isolating himself, constantly trying to call the muses…) and some pretty unique ones (he is obsessed with submarines, and a particular Russian submarine disaster; he is also interested in air disasters; he has a penchant for peculiar interior decorating and a unique sense of fashion; he loves his fish and model-making [submarine again]). He adopts a variety of names and identities throughout the book, and seems intent on outraging and destroying things around him in frustration for not being able to create something, although when he dreams of literary fame, it isn’t what most people would think a writer would dream about.

Rather than helping, everything he tries seems to send him down a slippery slope of self-destruction (and a fair deal of vandalism and petty crime as well), and as readers, we are privileged witnesses of this journey towards… Well, if you read it you can decide by yourselves.

Although Bukowski has been mentioned in several reviews, the main character made me think of several books and authors I’ve read as well, some quite recently. He did remind me of the main character in Malibu Motel, who is so self-involved and unrealistic that he keeps digging holes for himself. Inkker (to give him one of his adopted names) has more insight (even if fleeting), and there is something more genuine about him, although he keeps it under wraps and well hidden. It also reminded me of Eileen and other protagonists of Ottessa Moshfegh’s work, but her characters are more extreme and even though less likeable, we normally get more of a background and a better understanding of where they are coming from. And, the way Inkker’s angry simmers and boils until it explodes in outrage, reminded me of a fantastic essay I read many years back by John Waters (the film director) called ‘101 Things I Hate’ published in his collection Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters. What starts like a list of annoying things Waters is sharing with us, gets more and more outrageous as he gets more and more irate, and you can hear him shouting at you from the page by the end. It’s impossible not to nod and agree at many of the items on the list, but there is something at the same time darkly funny and scary in the way his emotions run so raw and close to the surface.

The book is beautifully observed and written, although, of course, it being in the first-person and the narrator a pretty unreliable one, we have to take all his comments and his opinions with a huge pinch of salt, and that goes for his depiction of other characters (and there are a few: an indie writer —of all things— and his girlfriend, an elderly neighbour, the guests at a disastrous dinner party, the locals at a pub, a couple of women, one he had a one-night-stand with and one he goes on a date with…). As you might suspect from the description, he is not particularly skilled in the social graces either and that results in some scenes that feel like watching a train wreck. It’s impossible to look away even when you know it’s going to get ugly, and I’m sure some of them will remain imprinted in the minds of readers for a long time.

Rum Hijack, which was first published in two separate parts, is darkly comedic (his quips at most writers, especially at self-published ones, will be ‘appreciated’ by those in the profession although perhaps not so much by readers not familiar with Twitter or with indie authors’ marketing techniques), and although in the face of it there is nothing particularly endearing about the protagonist, there is such vulnerability, such contradictions (he is reckless but careful, anarchic but worried about getting caught, a self-proclaimed outsider but eager to be admired and loved),  such need, and such self-loathing behind many of his actions that it’s impossible not to keep reading about his adventures and hope that things might take a turn for the better.

This is not a book for readers eager for adventure and action, who love a complex plot and consistent characters. It is not for those who dislike first-person narrations or prefer clean, edifying and inspiring plots and messages. If you enjoy literary fiction, books about writing (or writers’ block), are eager to find new voices, and love your humour very dark, check a sample of this book. You will either love it or hate it (yes, it’s a marmite kind of book). It’s up to you.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and always, keep safe, out there or indoors.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster. Four stories of the man as a young artist. For lovers of experimental literary fiction and New York.

Hi, all.

If you have been following my blog for a while you’ll know I’ve been trying to keep up with the Man-Booker Prize this year. Here is a review of another one of the books that made it into the shortlist.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

LONGLISTED (AND NOW SHORTLISTED) FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plot of each Ferguson’s story rushes on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid twentieth-century America. A boy grows up-again and again and again.

As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written 4 3 2 1 is an unforgettable tour de force, the crowning work of this masterful writer’s extraordinary career.

 

https://www.amazon.com/4-3-2-Paul-Auster-ebook/dp/B01LZPLGUS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/4-3-2-Paul-Auster-ebook/dp/B01LZPLGUS/

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Paul Auster’s 4321 is his first novel in seven years, and it feels extra personal. Details of a life spent growing up in Brooklyn—of loving the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life. Plot points arise—for instance, a person is killed by lightning—which mimic more unique moments from Auster’s own life experience. At nearly 900 pages, it is also a long novel—but a reason for that is 4321 tells the story of its protagonist, Archie Ferguson, four different times. What remains consistent throughout Archie’s life (or lives) is that his father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are starting off points, and if our lives are the sum of our choices, they are the sum of other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter, and what will keep you thinking about this book is the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives. His past propels him, his circumstances form him, and regardless of which life we are reading, time will ultimately take him. –Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review

Editorial Reviews

“[Paul] Auster’s deep understanding of his characters, soothing baritone, and skillful pacing…deliver an immensely satisfying experience overall for listeners”
-AudioFile Magazine

“An epic bildungsroman . . . . Original and complex . . . . It’s impossible not to be impressed – and even a little awed – by what Auster has accomplished. . . . A work of outsize ambition and remarkable craft, a monumental assemblage of competing and complementary fictions, a novel that contains multitudes.”―Tom PerrottaThe New York Times Book Review

“A stunningly ambitious novel, and a pleasure to read. Auster’s writing is joyful even in the book’s darkest moments, and never ponderous or showy. . . . An incredibly moving, true journey.”―NPR

Ingenious . . . . Structurally inventive and surprisingly moving. . . . 4 3 2 1 reads like [a] big social drama . . . while also offering the philosophical exploration of one man’s fate.”―Esquire

Mesmerizing . . . Continues to push the narrative envelope. . . . Four distinct characters whose lives diverge and intersect in devious, rollicking ways, reminiscent of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. . . . Prismatic and rich in period detail4 3 2 1 reflects the high spirits of postwar America as well as the despair coiled, asplike, in its shadows.”―O, the Oprah Magazine

Sharply observed . . . . Reads like a sprawling, 19th-century novel.”―The Wall Street Journal

Ambitious and sprawling . . . . Immersive . . . . Auster has a startling ability to report the world in novel ways.”―USA Today

“The power of [Auster’s] best work is . . . his faithful pursuit of the mission proposed in The Invention of Solitude, to explore the ‘infinite possibilities of a limited space’ . . . . The effect [of 4 3 2 1] is almost cubist in its multidimensionality―that of a single, exceptionally variegated life displayed in the round. . . . [An] impressively ambitious novel.”―Harper’s Magazine

“Auster’s magnificent new novel is reminiscent ofInvisible in that it deals with the impossibility of containing a life in a single story . . . . Undeniably intriguing . . . . A mesmerizing chronicle of one character’s four lives . . . The finest―though one hopes, far from final―act in one of the mightiest writing careers of the last half-century.”―Paste Magazine

Wonderfully clever . . . . 4 3 2 1 is much more than a piece of literary gamesmanship . . . . It is a heartfelt and engaging piece of storytelling that unflinchingly explores the 20thcentury American experience in all its honor and ignominy. This is, without doubt, Auster’s magnum opus. . . . A true revelation . . . One can’t help but admit they are in the presence of a genius.”―Toronto Star

“A multitiered examination of the implications of fate . . . in which the structure of the book reminds us of its own conditionality. . . . A signifier of both possibility and its limitations.”―The Washington Post

“At the heart of this novel is a provocative question: What would have happened if your life had taken a different turn at a critical moment? . Ingenious.”―Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Auster presents four lovingly detailed portrayals of the intensity of youth – of awkwardness and frustration, but also of passion for books, films, sport, politics, and sex. . . . [Trying] to think of comparisons [to the novel] . . . [nothing] is exactly right . . . . What he is driving at is not only the role of contingency and the unexpected but the ‘what-ifs’ that haunt us, the imaginary lives we hold in our minds that run parallel to our actual existence.”―The Guardian

“Draws the reader in from the very first sentence and does not let go until the very end. . . . An absorbing, detailed account – four accounts! – of growing up in the decades following World War II. . . . Auster’sprose is never less than arresting … In addition to being a bildungsroman, “4321” is a “künstlerroman,” a portrait of the artist as a young man whose literary ambition is evident even in childhood. . . . I emerged from . . . this prodigious book eager for more.”―San Francisco Chronicle

“Leaves readers feeling they know every minute detail of [Ferguson’s] inner life as if they were lifelong companions and daily confidants. . . . It’s like an epic game of MASH: Will Ferguson grow up in Montclair or Manhattan? Excel in baseball or basketball? Date girls or love boys too? Live or die? . . A detailed landscape . . . for readers who like taking the scenic route.”―TIME Magazine

“Auster pays tribute to what Rose Ferguson thinks of as a ‘dear, dirty, devouring New York, the capital of human faces, the horizontal Babel of human tongues.’. . . Sprawling . . . occasionally splendid.”―The New Yorker

“A bona fide epic . . . both accessible and formally daring.”―Minneapolis Star Tribune

Inventive, engrossing.”―St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Arresting .. . A hugely accomplished work, a novel unlike any other.”―The National (UAE)

“Brilliantly rendered, intricately plotted . . . a magnum opus.”―Columbia Magazine

“Auster’s first novel in seven years is . . . . an ingenious move . . . . Auster’s sense of possibility, his understanding of what all his Fergusons have in common, with us and one another, is a kind of quiet intensity, a striving to discover who they are. . . . [He] reminds us that not just life, but also narrative is always conditional, that it only appears inevitable after the fact.”―Kirkus (starred review)

“Auster has been turning readers’ heads for three decades, bending the conventions of storytelling . . . . He now presents his most capacious, demanding, eventful, suspenseful, erotic, structurally audacious, funny, and soulful novel to date . . . [a] ravishing opus.”―Booklist (starred review)

Rich and detailed. It’s about accidents of fate, and the people and works of art and experiences that shape our lives even before our birth―what reader doesn’t vibrate at that frequency?”―Lydia Kiesling, Slate

“Auster illuminates how the discrete moments in one’s life form the plot points of a sprawling narrative, rife with possibility.”―Library Journal (starred review)

Mesmerizing . . . . A wonderful work of realist fiction and well worth the time.”―Read it Forward

Frisky and sinuous . . . energetic. . . . A portrait of a cultural era coming into being . . . the era that is our own.”―Tablet magazine

“Almost everything about Auster’s new novel is big. . . Satisfyingly rich in detail . . . . A significant and immersive entry to a genre that stretches back centuries and includes Augie March and Tristram Shandy.”―Publishers Weekly

Author Paul Auster
Author Paul Auster

About the author:

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

https://www.amazon.com/Paul-Auster/e/B000APVFU4/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve been following with interest the Man-Booker Prize this year and realised I had quite a few of the books on my list to be read and decided to try and read in a timely manner and see how my opinion compared to that of the judges. When the shortlist was announced, only one of the books I had read so far had made it, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book I really enjoyed. And then I got the chance to read 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, another one of the novels shortlisted, and I could not resist.

I had read a novel by Paul Auster years back, The Book of Illusions and although I remember I enjoyed it, I had never read another one of his books until now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I had always kept in mind that at some point I should pick up another one of his books but that day hadn’t arrived.

I hadn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading it, other than it had been shortlisted for the Man-Booker, and therefore I was a bit surprised and confused, to begin with.

First, as happens with e-books, I had no idea how long it was. It’s around the 900 pages mark. Second, I didn’t realise it was a fairly experimental novel, or, at least its structure was not standard. The novel starts as if it was going to be a family saga, with the story of a Jewish immigrant arriving in New York, and we follow his story and that of his family for a couple of generations until we get to the birth of a boy, Archibald Ferguson. He doesn’t like his first name that much and for the rest of the novel, he is referred to as Ferguson. When things start getting weird is when at some point you become aware that you are reading four different versions of his life. These are narrated in the third person, although always from the point of view of the character, and yes, they are numbered.  So the first chapter (or part), you would have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and then, the next part would be 2.1… and so on. The story (stories) are told chronologically but chopped up into bits. Some of the reviewers have commented that you need to be a member of MENSA to remember and differentiate the various stories, because yes, there are differences (fate seems to play a big part, as sometimes due to incidents that happen to his family, financial difficulties, relationship issues… the story takes a different turn and deviates from the other versions), but these are not huge, and it is difficult to keep in your mind which one of the versions is which one (at times I would have been reading for a while before I could remember how this version was different to the one I had just been reading). Because the differences are not major (yes, in one version he ends up going to a university and in another to a different one, in one he works at a newspaper and in another starts writing books, in one he goes out with a girl and in another they are only friends…), and the characters are pretty much the same in all versions (although sometimes their behaviour is quite different) it makes the stories very similar. Added to that, all versions of the character are also very similar as if the different circumstances were not earth-shattering and had not affected that much the development of his boy (in the debate of nature, nurture, it’s safe to say Auster supports nature). The devil seems to be in the detail, or perhaps the point is that we might strongly believe that there are moments when our decisions could have sent us down one path or a completely different one (Sliding Doors anyone?), but the truth is that of all the infinite possibilities (and that makes me think of a book I read very recently, Do You Realize?) only one is conducive to life as we know it (the Goldilocks theory of life. Neither too hot nor too cold, just right) and our life was meant to be as it if.

Ferguson loves films and is a bit of a film buff (there are lengthy digressions about Laurel & Hardy, the French New Wave, American Films…), he also loves books and writing, and some versions of the story include his translations of French poets, or his own stories (that sometimes end up being exactly the same as the story we are reading, and others are either full stories or fragments of the books he is writing), and sports, mostly baseball, although also basketball.

Towards the end of the book (well, it’s a long book, so let’s say from the time the characters goes to college), we get much more detailed information about politics and historical events in America. There are lengthy descriptions of reactions to the murders of J.F.K, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Black Power Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, the Columbia University demonstrations, and student political organisations, and also about New York and Paris (more New York than Paris) in the 1960s and early 70s. Although in one of the versions Ferguson is attending Columbia, he is a reporter and even when he is physically there, he narrates the events as an observer rather than as if he was personally involved. His engagement seems to be intellectual above all, no matter what version of Ferguson we read, although the reasons for his attitude might be different.

I don’t want to end up with a review as long as the book itself, and after checking other reviews of the book, I thought I’d share a couple I particularly liked, so you can have a look.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1909935118?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/paul-austers-novel-of-chance

What I thought the book did very well, in all its versions, was to capture the feelings and the thoughts of a teenager and young man (although, as I’m a woman, I might be completely wrong). Although the emphasis is slightly different in each version, that is fairly consistent and rings true. As a writer and film lover, I enjoyed the comments about books and movies, although these could be frustrating to some readers. I also enjoyed the works in progress of the various Fergusons (some more than others) but this could again be annoying to readers who prefer to follow a story and not wander and float in flights of fancy. I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that the latter part of the book is slowed down even more by the endless description of incidents at Columbia that, no matter the version of the story we read, are analytically reported rather than brought to life.

My main problem with the book is that I did not connect that much with the main character. Considering the amount of time readers get to spend with the different versions of Ferguson, we get to know him, but I did not feel for him. Strangely enough, sometimes I felt more connected to some of the other characters in the story (his mother in some versions, some of his friends, a teacher…) than I did to him. I’m not sure if it was because it all felt very artificial, or because none of the versions completely gelled for me. I admired his intellect but did not connect at an emotional level and I did not care for him. I’m aware that readers who know Auster’s oeuvre better have commented on the biographical similarities with his own life, and I’m aware that he has denied it is (or are) his story. There are, for sure, many points of contact. Some readers have compared it to books that have used a somewhat similar format to tell their stories, but as I haven’t read any, I will not comment on that. The ending, metafictional as was to be expected, will probably satisfy more those who enjoy formal literary experiments than those looking for a good story. I do not think many people will find it surprising, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. The writing is good, sometimes deep and challenging, others more perfunctory. And yes, I still intend to read other Auster’s books in the future.

In sum, a fascinating exercise in writing, that will be of interest primarily to followers of Auster’s career, to those who love experimental literary fiction, particularly those interested also in films, literature, the writing process, sports, and New York. Not a book I’d recommend to those who love dynamic stories with exciting plots, or those who prefer to emotionally engage with characters. Ah, and it requires a reasonable memory and a serious investment of time.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and of course, REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE PLANCK FACTOR by Debbi Mack (@debbimack) For readers with a good attention span who enjoy Hitchcockian suspense set within the world of science and books about writers

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that I think will be of interest to a lot of you, especially the writers and those who like suspense thrillers. Another one of the discoveries through Rosie Amber’s Books Review Team (if you’re an author seeking reviews, check here).

The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack
The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack

The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack

“sharp, current and witty” — Terry Tyler (GoodReads Review)

On a dare, grad student Jessica Evans writes a thriller, creating a nightmare scenario based upon the theory that the speed of light is not a constant—one that has a dark application. Her protagonist (the fiancé of a scientist killed in a car crash) is pursued by those who want to use the theory to create the world’s most powerful weapon.
However, Jessica is soon running for her life when events mimic that of her protagonist. She’s threatened by terrorist conspirators who intend to use the knowledge to create an event that causes mass destruction. As the clock ticks down, Jessica must put the pieces together and avert a global catastrophe.

Inspired by a true story about a scientific challenge to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“Thoroughly intriguing! A real page-turner.”
— Zoë Sharp, author of the best-selling Charlie Fox series

“Does art hold a mirror to life? Or does life mirror art? New York Times best-selling author Debbi Mack builds this surprising thriller layer upon layer with an ending that will make you want to read it all over again.”
— Donna Fletcher Crow, author of An All-Consuming Fire, The Monastery Murders

“Mack takes her reader on a roller-coaster ride with science, imagination, and a terrible possibility.”
— Peg Brantley, author of the Aspen Falls Thriller series

“[A] sleek tour-de-force exercise in Hitchcockian suspense about domestic terrorism, in which the McGuffin is a novel-within-the-novel and the novelist and her work intersect in unpredictable ways. Reality and fiction clash and spar for supremacy until the final paragraph.”
— W.D. Gagliani, author of Wolf’s Blind (The Nick Lupo Series) and Savage Nights 

Links: 

https://www.amazon.com/Planck-Factor-Debbi-Mack-ebook/dp/B01M19IP9Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Planck-Factor-Debbi-Mack-ebook/dp/B01M19IP9Q/

Author Debbi Mack
Author Debbi Mack

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbi Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series. She’s also published one young novel. In addition, she’s a Derringer-nominated short story writer, whose work has been published in various anthologies.

 Debbi is also a screenwriter and aspiring indie filmmaker. Her first screenplay, The Enemy Within, made the Second Round in the 2014 Austin Film Festival screenplay contest and semifinals in the 2016 Scriptapalooza contest. 

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies and espresso.

https://www.amazon.com/Debbi-Mack/e/B001K8UGIC/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

This thriller (technothriller according to Amazon) tells a complex story, or rather, tells several not so complex stories in a format that can make readers’ minds spin. A thriller about a student who decides, on a dare, to write a genre book (a thriller) and whose life becomes itself another thriller, one that seems to mix spies, conspiracies, terrorism, the possibility of the end of the world, and it all relates to quantum physics. (Or, as she describes it in the book: “…a suspense story with a hint of science fiction and a touch of espionage at its heart.”) The parallelisms between the story of Jessica Evans (the protagonist) and that of her fictional character, Alexis, become more convoluted and puzzling as the book progresses and the astounding coincidences will ring some alarm bells until we get to the end and… It is a bit difficult to talk about the book in depth without giving away any spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest.

This book will be particularly interesting for writers, not only because of its storytelling technique (talk about metafiction) but also because of the way the main protagonist (a concept difficult to define but Jessica is the one who occupies the most pages in the book and her story is told in the first person) keeps talking (and typing) about books and writing. No matter how difficult and tough things get, she has to keep writing, as it helps her think and it also seems to have a therapeutic effect on her. It is full of insider jokes and comments familiar to all of us who write and read about writing, as it mentions and pokes fun at rules (“Show, don’t tell. Weave in backstory. Truisms, guides, rules, pointers—call them what you will… And adverbs. Never use an adverb.”) and also follows and at the same time subverts genre rules (we have a reluctant heroine, well, two, varied MacGuffins and red herrings, mysteries, secrets, traitors and unexpected villains… and, oh yes, that final twist).

Each one of the chapters starts with the name of the person whose point of view that chapter is told about —apart from Alexis’s story, told in the third person, written in different typography, and usually clearly introduced, there are chapters from the point of view of two men who follow Jessica, so we know more than her, another rule to maintain suspense, and also from the point of view of somebody called Kevin, who sounds pretty suspicious— and apart from Jessica’s, all the rest are in the third person, so although the structure is somewhat complex and the stories have similarities and a certain degree of crossover, there is signposting, although one needs to pay attention. Overall, the book’s structure brought to my mind Heart of Darkness (where several frames envelop the main story) or the Cabinet of Dr Caligary (although it is less dark than either of those).

As you read the story, you’ll probably wonder about things that might not fit in, plot holes, or events that will make you wonder (the usual trope of the amateur who finds information much easier than several highly specialised government agencies is taken to its extremes, and some of the characteristics of the writing can be amusing or annoying at times, although, whose story are we reading?) but the ending will make you reconsider the whole thing. (I noticed how the characters never walked, they: “slid out”, “shimmied out”, “pounded”, “bounded down the steps”, “clamored down”…) As for the final twist, I suspected it, but I had read several reviews by other members of the team and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. I don’t think it will be evident to anybody reading the story totally afresh.

The novel is too short for us to get more than a passing understanding and connection with the main character, especially as a big part of it is devoted to her fictional novel, (although the first person helps) and there are so many twists, secrets and agents and double-agents that we do not truly know any of the secondary characters well enough to care. Action takes precedence over psychological depth and although we might wonder about alliances, betrayals and truths and lies, there are no complex motivations or traumas at play.

Due to the nature of the mystery, the novel will also be of interest to those who enjoy stories with a scientific background, particularly Physics (although I don’t know enough about quantum physics to comment on its accuracy). A detailed knowledge of the subject is not necessary to follow the book but I suspect it will be particularly amusing to those who have a better understanding of the theory behind it. (The author does not claim expertise and thanks those who helped her with the research in her acknowledgements). The book also touches on serious subjects, including moral and ethical issues behind scientific research and the responsibility of individuals versus that of the state regarding public safety. But do not let that put you off. The book is a short, fast and action-driven story that requires a good attention span and will be particularly enjoyed by writers and readers who enjoy complex, puzzle-like mysteries, or more accurately, those who like stories that are like Russian dolls or Chinese boxes.

I enjoyed this book that is clever and knowing, and I’d recommend in particular to readers who are also writers or enjoy books about writers, to those who like conspiracies, spies and mysteries, especially those with a backstory of science and physics, and to people who prefer plot-driven books and who love Hitchcock, Highsmith and Murder She Wrote.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, do leave a review if you read any books!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview A SHINY COIN FOR CAROL PRENTICE by Mark Barry (@GreenWizard62) #RBRT A dark revenge story recommended to readers looking for an author with a distinctive voice and style

Hi all:

Today I have another one of the reviews I’ve written for Rosie’s Book Review Team. Don’t forget to check her blog and if you’re authors or reviewers, you might be even more interested and want to share your books or join the team. I know you’ll love this one.

A Shiny Coin for Carol Prentice by Mark Barry
A Shiny Coin for Carol Prentice by Mark Barry

A Shiny Coin For Carol Prentice by Mark Barry

“I swore that I would never go home,
but in the end, I had no choice.
I had to confront what happened.
And them too.
It was going be icky. And totally scary.”

Carol Prentice left Wheatley Fields to attend university in Manchester and not once did she return in four years. Her beloved father visited her whenever he could, but then he passed away and it was up to her to sort his affairs.

She could have done this from a distance, but a woman can run to the far corners of the earth, but, in the end, she can never escape herself.

She had to come home: There was no other choice.

Taking a job at a bookshop for the duration, she befriends Steve – an older man who looks like a wizard and who knows everything in the world.

Carol quickly encounters the demons that forced her to leave in the first place – including Toby, the raffish local villain, with whom she shares the most horrifying of secrets and whose very existence means evil and mayhem for everyone around. Especially the lovable Steve.

Carol finds herself in the middle of a war between the two men:
A war which can only have one victor.

Soon, she wishes she had never come home.
But by then it was too late.
Much too late.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Shiny-Coin-Carol-Prentice-ebook/dp/B06XQJXQT8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shiny-Coin-Carol-Prentice-ebook/dp/B06XQJXQT8/

Author Mark Barry
Author Mark Barry

Biography

Bio: Mark Barry is a multi-genre writer and novelist. His work includes the minor cult hit Ultra Violence about football hooligans at a small Midlands football club and Carla, a quirky, dark, acclaimed romance with shades of Wuthering Heights.

He is the co-designer of the innovative Brilliant Books project aimed at engaging the many, many reluctant readers amongst young people… He has one son, Matt, on the brink of University, with whom he shares a passion for Notts County Football Club.

Fast food, comics, music, reading, his friends on the Independent scene, and horse racing keep him interested and he detests the English Premier League, selfish, narcissistic people and bullies of all kinds.

https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Barry/e/B008479RWI/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided with an ARC copy of the novel I freely chose to review.

Although I had heard about the author and read quite a few reviews of his previous books, this is the first of his novels I have read so I can’t compare it to his previous work. I know from his comments in the book that it links to another one of his novels, Carla (I won’t mention how, first, because I haven’t read the other novel, so I can’t comment on how well or badly that works, and second, because I’m going to try very hard not to reveal any spoilers) but I can put at rest the minds of all readers who are in the same circumstances as me. This book can be read as a stand-alone, although I suspect you’ll feel as curious as I am about Carla once you finish reading this novel.

This novel is narrated in the first person by the eponymous Carol Prentice of the title. And yes, we get to know what the shiny coin means, but again, I’m not going to tell you. She’s a young woman; she’s just finished her degree at Manchester University and has to go back to her hometown because her father has passed away. She had avoided the town for several years (for good reasons as you’ll learn when you read the book) but she comes back to renovate the house and because the time has finally arrived to put her plan into practice. Of course, we don’t get to know about the plan until much later in the novel, but we have some hints throughout. She gets a job at a bookshop (so there are some interesting discussions about literature, mostly initiated by her boss, Steve, who is a connoisseur, not only of books but also of ales and many other things) and it’s not long before ghosts from her past come knocking. What at first appears to be a snotty and spoilt young man’s tantrum turns into a black hole sucking in everything and everybody. Almost.

The novel has some meta-fictional aspects. I’ve already mentioned the conversations about literature, psychology concepts (like the halo effect, perceptual closure), Steve was an author years ago back but did not make it and has strong opinions about popular literature and bestsellers (if you love James Patterson or Fifty Shades, look away now), and the author of this novel, Mark Barry, also makes a cameo appearance in it. As I said before, I haven’t read any of his other works but from some of the reviews, I get the sense that he has appeared in some others. He does not have a big part, and it reminded me of Hitchcock’s appearances in his movies (although Barry’s is a bit more significant than that).

As the novel is narrated in the first-person, we get a close look into the functioning of Carol’s mind and we get to know her better than other characters. She seems to focus a lot of her attention on how people smell (and it’s not always pleasant), what clothes they wear, and how they look. She has some annoying speech habits. There are plenty of ‘like’, ‘I so’, ‘totally’… Those appear not only when she’s talking to others but also when she’s thinking, despite the fact that she’s fairly articulate and perceptive in other ways. It might be funny for some readers and perhaps somewhat annoying for others, but it keeps her real and the story will hook everybody in and will make you keep reading no matter what. Carol says quite a few times that she cannot feel, that she observes things but does not feel them, and when we’ve gone over half the novel she eventually tells Steve why. I had my suspicions but the truth is worse. From her description of the events (that of course, I won’t reveal either) it becomes clear that she was experiencing them she tried to focus on anything but what was happening. She concentrated and observed objects, smells, décor, and it seems her current focus on describing things is a defence mechanism to keep events and people at bay, a way of remaining in control of what is happening as she felt powerless at the time. After her confession to Steve, the floodgates open and she starts feeling again, including acknowledging her complex feelings for Steve, that is difficult to know if they are projected from her need to have support as he becomes some sort of a father figure, or are genuine. She herself is not so sure.

Steve is the other character we get to know in detail, although of course always from Carol’s point of view and this is biased. She likes him from the beginning and he seems a genuinely nice man, much older than her, who’s tried many things and seems to have settled into a quiet life. He is not one for talking much about his feelings (he talks about everything else, though) and he is a recognisable and multi-dimensional character, with a strong sense of moral, that gets caught in a situation not of his making, but doesn’t seem willing or able to extricate himself from it.

Other than Carol and Steve, there aren’t many characters we get to know through the novel. There’s Toby, the baddy, a handsome and rich young man and a bully who believes rules and laws don’t apply to him; there’s also his father, and some other characters that only appear briefly (like the chief of police) but they aren’t as well developed. They only play a minor part in the drama and don’t hold that much of the narrator’s attention. By contrast, the town becomes quite a recognisable character in its own right, with its social mores, its politics and its royalty (so to speak).

The novel is written in a very colloquial way as pertains to the character narrating it (I’ve already mentioned the characteristics of Carol’s language) and there are plenty of references and words very local that might be a bit obscure to readers from outside the UK (or even the region) but that is part of what makes it so distinctive and vivid.

The novel offers quite a few surprises and reveals them slowly. I think most readers will have a variety of hypothesis about what’s going to happen, what the baddies will do next and what the plan is. I’m not sure many people will guess right and is an interesting and effective twist. This is a novel of revenge and just deserts that highlights the fact that there is always a price to pay. We might feel we need to exact revenge to be at peace but things are never quite as easy. With regards to what sets off what Carol describes as ‘the war’ it is pretty banal but, as she acknowledges, it’s not really about that and unfortunately other people get in the middle and end up becoming ‘collateral damage’. It did make me think of Hannah Arendt and her concept of ‘the banality of evil’. In this case not only about the evil person but about what sets it all off.  It does not take much for some people to ruin a person’s life, just because they can…  I’ve already mentioned the ending but I wanted to add that the ending is also a beginning.

I know I’ve been a bit cryptic about this novel but I had to be. I recommend it to those who like stories with psychologically complex characters, where the how is as important as the what, and to readers who’re looking for an author with a distinctive voice and style.  (There is some violence, some talk about sex and disturbing content but none of it is extremely explicit or gore. It is more what we feel at the time of reading it than what is on the page.)

Thanks so much to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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