Saturday, 23 May 2015

Recently Read #3

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

A young man arrives in Ukraine, clutching in his hand a tattered photograph. He is searching for the woman who fifty years ago saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Unfortunately, he is aided in his quest by Alex, a translator with an uncanny ability to mangle English into bizarre new forms; a 'blind' old man haunted by memories of the war; and an undersexed guide dog named Sammy David Jr, Jr. What they are looking for seems elusive - a truth hidden behind veils of time, language and the horrors of war. What they find turns all their worlds upside down...

Since I really enjoyed Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close, I decided to give this one a go, and it didn't disappoint. To be honest I found it a tad slow, but not in an entirely negative way. It's remarkably imaginative, both story-wise and writing-wise. The narrative switches between past and present, slowly revealing the mystery, and little by little you get to know the characters intimately, without fully realising it. It's a beautiful, and at times bizarre, but very touching story, with some very original and distinct characters. Jonathan Safran Foer's writing style is very particular and perhaps not to everyone's taste, but personally I enjoy it. 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. 

Being a bestseller, Station Eleven has been everywhere since it was released. I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype, but I loved it. It's set before and after a pandemic that killed 99% of the world's population and follows a few people who are linked to each other in various ways. It switches been pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, gradually revealing how these individuals are connected, while also presenting the new world. It's very dark, real and sorrowful, yet with moments of hope. There is no hero with a mission; there are only real people with real, complicated lives and stories. It's about people, about humans, and how they handle the situations they're thrown into. Society's collapse just happens to be one of those situations. Emily St. John Mandel is an excellent writer, and her post-pandemic America is palpably real and believable, as are her characters.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks. Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, who I always come back. I've read most of his books, but up until recently I hadn't read Neverwhere... shame on me. It's been in my to-read pile since my sister gave it to me for Christmas and I finally delved into it a couple of weeks ago. It's not a revolutionary novel, but it's highly enjoyable, as always with Gaiman. It feels a lot like a modern Alice in Wonderland; but a bit darker and grimier. It's a quick, easy read, perfect for loosing ourself into when you don't want too much of a challenge. The narrative is well-paced, with quite a lot of action, plenty of colourful characters, clever writing and a that particular Gaiman-humour.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. 

I'm going to be honest... I actually haven't finished this yet. I'm a little bit more than halfway through, but I wanted to include it anyway. Wow, this book is a brick. Although I am enjoying it, I feel like Catton could've condensed it quite a bit. I'm aware that her elaborate writing-style is deliberate it sometimes it feels like she's writing words just for the sake of making the novel longer. That said, her writing really is beautiful, and the story is very interesting and incredibly complex, making me want to read on. So far, everything seems to be woven together so intricately and elegantly, and I really want to find out the truth. I'm not sure if it deserves the hype surrounding it, but I'll get back to you when I've finished.

Have you read any of these novels?

Love, Mimmi.