...something short (but good!)

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Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Glorious on grief

I have no idea why I haven’t picked up this gorgeous little book sooner. It’s the story of a young dad with two boys who loses their wife and mother in a freak accident. As they struggle to digest the loss, enter Crow, a giant black eyed, yes, crow, who stirs up everything, who pecks and shits and who refuses to leave or to be ignored, just like grief itself. Crow, a potent symbol in Ted Hughes’s poems (the dad is a Hughes scholar), is here to stay – ‘I won’t leave until you don’t need me any more’ – but as time moves on, straight-talking Crow becomes less of a nuisance, more of a therapist, helping them overcome their loss. Rarely have I seen grief been described more lyrically.

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The Book of Tea

The Art of Life

Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life.

This is not just a book about tea. It is an exceptional book about life, philosophy and beyond. Japanese philosopher and historian Kakuzo Okakura initially wrote the book 110 years ago, aiming to dispel the Western myths of Japanese barbarianism. He recalls the origins of tea, its philosophical ties to Zen and Taoism and the nuances of tea as an allegory for a philosophy of life. A unique book full of a wit and sagacity that makes it impossible to ignore and one of my favourite discoveries this year.

The Book of Tea is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 54 pages.

 

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Our Souls At Night

A tender, contemplative novel about a late life relationship

This is the first book I have read by Kent Haruf, and it won’t be the last. It’s one of those tender, contemplative books in which nothing much happens but through which you feel your life has been immeasurably enhanced.

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Hygiene and the Assassin

Vitriolic Misanthrope bested by Female Journalist

Although first published in 1992, this English translation was only published 18 years later. It was worth the wait. Such a wonderfully translated piece, it zings and bounces with satisfying accuracy, which alone makes this book a ‘must read’. It centres primarily around an interview of the cantankerous and pernicious Nobel Laureate, Prétextat Tach, by the female journalist, Nina. After a slew of failed (male) attempts, Nina manages to match this obese and postulating intellectual in a war of thought and a battle of rhetoric. I found the philosophising duel of wits wonderfully unique, immensely clever, and absurdly humorous. Although I was a tad lukewarm about the ending, the first half is worth reading twice over and I would urge it on anyone looking for a light, funny, intelligent read.

Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb is published by Europa Editions and translated by Alison Anderson, 167 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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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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Of Mice and Men

A classic worth re-reading

I’d forgotten how good John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men really is. Just re-read it after many years and what a gem of a little story! In a mere 120 pages, Steinbeck dives deep into themes such as loneliness, dreams and loyalty while portraying the nomadic lives of ranch hands in America during the Great Depression. To top it off are the most exquisite descriptions of landscapes and farm life.

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The Days of Abandonment

A 'sudden absence of sense'

How would you react if your partner one day walked out on you? In Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment Olga’s husband Mario announces, out of the blue, while clearing the table that he wants to leave her. Overwhelmed by grief, confusion and anger, Olga descends into madness in this raw, brutally honest story. The Days of Abandonment is explosive stuff – as we have come to expect from Ferrante – and all the better for it.

(This book is not part of the excellent, bestselling Neapolitan Novels series, two of which I have reviewed already (My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name) but it’s just as good.

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Dept. of Speculation

Snapshots of a marriage

Jenny Offill’s little gem of a book Dept. of Speculation was on The New York Times’ list of 10 best books of 2014, and with good reason. It’s an unusual novel, written in snapshots, in much the same fragmented way our memory works. It’s the sum of those memories that create the narrative of our past or, in this case, the story of a relationship. In Dept. of Speculation, Offill tells an age-old tale in a refreshingly new way and creates something truly different.

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The Examined Life: How we lose and find ourselves

Stories from the psychoanalyst's couch, captivating peek into the human mind

Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, a collection of vignettes based on his 25 years as a psychoanalyst, is an unlikely bestseller. Even so, it has been steadily climbing bestseller lists, both in the U.K. and in America, since its publication. Remarkable for a short, non-fiction book on such a narrow topic. Why such a bestseller? There is something completely unpretentious, yet caring and sympathetic about Grosz, his patients and their conversations.

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