Bookclub Reads

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My Name is Lucy Barton

Bland New York Times Bestseller

Hmm…not sure about this one. This best-seller (number one on the New York Times list) seemed somewhat tepid to me. My Name is Lucy Barton takes place in a hospital bedroom where our narrator, Lucy, receives a surprise visit from her estranged mother. Not much is said between mother and daughter, in fact, this novel is more about what isn’t said, but we do gather that Lucy has had a rough childhood, growing up in extreme poverty with distant and abusive parents. Despite it’s distressing themes, the characters remained somewhat lifeless, in particular, I struggled to be convinced by the tension between mother and daughter. For me, the best parts were the flashbacks to Lucy’s childhood and the descriptions of poverty and the stigma attached to it, but there weren’t enough of them. I also missed some more context, a better understanding of Lucy’s journey and of her husband who, like a lot of other characters, in this novel remains an enigma.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is published by Penguin, 196 pages.

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The Vegetarian

Weird and wonderful

‘Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her.’ Thus starts the most unusual book I’ve read in a while, and stranger it gets. The Vegetarian by South Korean author Han Kang, is the tragic story of Yeong-hye, told by her husband, the cold Mr Cheong, her brother-in-law, an unsuccessful, manipulative artist and her selfless sister, In-hye.

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Les Blancs

Electrifying play about Africa, racism and white oppression

A gripping, encompassing, little known play ‘about Africa’. Set amongst a violent uprising and liberation of Africans (in fictional Zatembe), still in the throes of casting off the shackles of white rule, Hansberry’s drama wields a extensive cast of characters from each sphere of the debate, confronting self awareness (or indeed lack thereof), culpability, guilt, anger, retribution and the cost of real freedom. Tightly written and constructed, it examines the meaning of sacrifice, guilt, justification and retribution; definitions of race and racism, of well-intentioned but romanticised notions of empowerment and freedom; and the inevitability and immutability of revolt. All of which she manages to weave with consummate skill into a clattering finale – a phenomenal voice that should be heard more often, even today.

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All the Light We Cannot See

A New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I loved this compelling, ambitious novel for several reasons: for Anthony Doerr’s ability to look afresh at this well-trodden period in history (World War II); for his ingenious plot and for his haunting, compelling prose and beautiful imagery. But mostly I loved it because it reminded me of the light and grace we are all capable of embodying. Doerr convinces the reader of the innate good in humanity, even at the most cruel and desolate of times.

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To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig

Passion guised as compassion

A treat for you on Women’s Day!  Austrian author Stefan Zweig  (The Post Office Girl, Beware of Pity and many novellas) was once the world’s most translated author. No wonder. This steaming hot novella about a woman and her whirlwind 24 hour affair with a much younger man is absolutely spellbinding, even more so when you know it was written by a man and almost 90 years ago!

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Mister Pip

A wonderfully intense, gem of a book

Set against the backdrop of the civil war that took place on the Papua New Guinea copper-rich pacific island of Bougainville during the early 1990s, Mister Pip is named after the protagonist of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Indeed, Dickens’ plot shapes the entire novel. Written by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and won the Commonwealth Prize in the same year and rightly so as I found it a lyrical, beguiling read.

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Mend the Living (The Heart)

A question of life and death

I was left speechless by this astounding novel, the story of a young man’s death and the dilemmas around organ donation. It reads like a thriller and had me pinned to the chair. Maylis de Kerangal fast-paced prose is intense and unusual, and, admittedly, took a few pages getting used to, but once you find the rhythm of her writing you’ll be unable to stop. An absolute must-read!

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The Prophets of Eternal Fjord

Compulsively readable novel about arctic hell hole

If you’re at all disgusted by bodily fluids, don’t even think about reading this book. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a firework of a novel by a master storyteller set in a part of the world which I’m willing to bet you’ve never read anything about before. Kim Leine’s novel The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, set in Greenland during Danish colonial rule, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and is finally out in English.

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The Door

Housekeeper from hell?

Over Christmas I’ve been enjoying this very unusual and utterly absorbing (thinly veiled, true) story about a Hungarian writer (the narrator and Magda Szabó herself) and her housekeeper Emerence. It’s a novel about a precarious relationship, mutual respect (and some disrespect), balance of power and the secrets of a remarkable life, all under the magnifying glass.

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A Whole Life

A gentle lesson in living

An absolutely perfect little story about Austrian ‘mountain goat’ Andreas Egger, a salt-of-the-earth type of character whose quiet, lonely alpine village life turns out surprisingly satisfactory. His contentedness is of the old-fashioned kind, derived from a closeness to nature, work and acceptance of one’s destiny. A lesson in living and a heart-warming (but far from syrupy!) read which fans of John Williams’ Stoner will love.

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