Six Degrees of Separation – From Kingsolver to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I haven’t read it but it’s been sitting on my TBR since 2015, so maybe I’ll get to it soon! The blurb tells me…

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Another book set in the Congo, though this time in what was once the French Congo, is…

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar. I loved this book, with its themes of the pursuit of scientific fame, evolution, war and, on a more personal level, the breakdown of a marriage.

I stopped and filled my lungs, smelling Africa – smelling dust, woodsmoke, a perfume from a flower, something musty, something decaying.

I also loved it for its observations of the lives of the chimps, which seems like an excellent cue to reprise one of my favourite gifs…

I can’t ever think of chimps now without being reminded of another wonderful book…

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – this is a beautifully written novel in three parts, each of which relates to a small town in the mountains of the title. Again it has a theme of evolution running through it, this time the old debate of faith versus science, and the chimps appear as both real and symbolic throughout. But that aside, the sheer quality of the writing along with the more overt themes of grief and love make it a wonderful read. It gets my highest recommendation – one that has left some indelible images in my mind.

If a job was left unfinished at the end of a day – the coop not repaired, a row of vegetables not weeded – we knew that one of us had sat down and wept. That’s the nature of grief: it’s a creature with many arms but few legs, and it staggers about, searching for support. Frayed chicken wire and a profusion of weeds became expressions of our loss. I can’t look at chicken wire now without thinking of my lost son. There’s something about the warp and weft of it, so thin yet strong, so porous yet solid, that reminds me of how we loved him. Later, because of our neglect, chickens died at the jaws of a fox that slipped into the coop, and the crop of vegetables was not so bountiful – but so it goes: a son dies and the earth becomes barren.

Another book where the stories in it all link back to a mountain is…

Fujisan by Randy Taguchi. This rather strange but very moving collection of four stories is centred round the iconic Mount Fuji. There is a spiritual feel to the book; these characters are seeking something that will enable them to explain themselves to themselves and their searches take them in strange and surprising directions. ‘Blue Summit’ tells of an ex-cult member now working in a convenience store and learning how to live outside the cult. ‘Sea of Trees’ is a disturbing tale of three boys confronting death while spending a night in the woods of Mount Fuji. ‘Jamilla’ is a compulsive hoarder and this is the tale of the social worker detailed to clear her house. And lastly, in ‘Child of Night’ a walk up the mountain becomes a journey of self-discovery for a nurse who is struggling with the ethics of her job. Stories that have stayed in my mind in the five or six years since I read them.

The story ‘Sea of Trees’ in this collection tells a strange and disturbing story of young people in a wood, and so does…

In the Woods by Tana French. In 1984, three children went into the woods in Knocknaree. Only one returned, with blood – not his own – in his shoes, so traumatised he is never able to remember what happened. The other two children have never been found. That traumatised child is now a detective on the Murder Squad, Rob Ryan. And when another child is found murdered in Knocknaree, he and his partner Cassie are given the case. I enjoyed this début in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, with a few reservations as to overwriting and over-padding, and really must read more of her books someday

A book set in Dublin that I enjoyed with no reservations at all is…

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan. This novella is an early, previously unpublished work of Maeve Brennan’s, discovered in a University archive after her death. It is a wonderful study of loneliness, self-absorption and selfishness, of thwarted love, both romantic and familial, and of a longing for that nebulous thing we call ‘home’, and is beautifully written.

She walked out along the shallow path. At the gate she turned to look up at Miss Kilbride’s window. It was blind and closed, like a person sleeping. Like Miss Kilbride, lying on her back in difficult slumber. And later, waking to dream of a doubtful deathly union with her long-lost hero, with whom she had once struggled in valiant, well-dressed immodesty on a small settee, for love’s sake.

Regulars will know I always try to find an author pic for my reviews, and the picture of Maeve Brennan is one of my favourites. I want to be on the other side of that table, listening…

Maeve Brennan

Another of my favourite author pics is this one…

So my final book will be…

Docherty by William McIlvanney. On a December night in 1903, Tam Docherty lifts his new-born son and declares that this one will never go down the pits – this child Conn, his youngest, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.” A beautiful book, written mostly in standard English, but with some excellent Scottish dialect…

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

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So Kingsolver to McIlvanney, via the Congo, chimps, mountains, woods, Dublin and author photographs!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad 1) by Tana French

A good debut…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

in the woodsIn 1984, three children went into the woods in Knocknaree. Only one returned, with blood – not his own – in his shoes, so traumatised he is never able to remember what happened. The other two children have never been found. That traumatised child is now a detective on the Murder Squad, Rob Ryan. And when another child is found murdered in Knocknaree, he and his partner Cassie are given the case.

I’ve heard so many people rave about Tana French that my expectations were very high going into this, and to some degree they were met. I freely admit that I might have given up within a few pages though, if I had heard nothing about the book. The prologue is one of the most overblown, over-written pieces of pure purple I’ve come across in crime writing, and I barely made it through. Happily, however, having got that out of her system, her writing settles down for the most part to a consistently high standard, only occasionally reverting to purple.

The plot is complex, with several possible motives for why Katy Devlin was murdered. Something about the family seems a bit off, leading the detectives to wonder if there are hidden secrets there. Katy’s father is leading a protest movement against a new road and has been threatened by unknown people if he continues, so it looks like there may be a thread of political corruption there. Katy seems to have left her house in the middle of the night, so there’s a question of whether she knew her murderer and if so how. Or is it possible that the crime is somehow linked back to the earlier tragedy in the woods? Rob knows he should make his boss aware of his links to the earlier crime and step down from the investigation, but he is desperate to be involved, hoping that somehow his memories will return and he will finally know the truth about what happened back then.

begorrathon 2016

The characterisation is excellent on the whole, not just of the main players, but of the team around Rob and Cassie, and of the various people they come across during the investigation. The one exception, and it’s an important one, is the character of Rob himself. Unfortunately, his voice sounded irredeemably feminine to me, not just in his constant focus on emotions and poetic descriptions of his partner Cassie’s many perfections, but in actual use of words. (The thought of a straight male Dublin police officer describing one of his straight male colleagues as looking ‘adorable’ actually made me laugh out loud.) However, the quality of the writing and plotting was high enough to mostly carry me over this weakness.

Tana French
Tana French

A more serious weakness is the sheer length of the book in relation to its content. At over 600 pages (according to Amazon – I had the unnumbered Kindle version myself), the book is seriously overpadded. I reckon it could have lost 200-300 pages and been the better for it. While the story of Rob’s attempts to regain his lost memories is intriguing, it becomes repetitive after a while, with great swathes of the book devoted to discussing the same event again and again with very little, if anything, being added each time. No matter how well written these digressions may be, they merely serve to make the thing go at a snail’s pace – an elderly snail, at that. Even when the main solution is revealed, the book goes on for a further nearly hundred pages tying everything up, or not, as the case may be. And, as many reviewers have pointed out with varying degrees of dissatisfaction, the resolution is partial, with a bit of spooky woo-woo not really providing a satisfactory reward for 600 pages worth of reader perseverance.

However, the strengths – quality of writing, plotting, characterisation – undoubtedly outweigh the weaknesses – excessive padding, occasional drifts into purple prose, failure to resolve a major plot line. As a debut it is good, and I look forward to reading more of her work to see how her style develops as she progresses.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 75…

The Begorrathon special…

 

A dramatic drop in the TBR this week! Down two to 160!! At that rate, I’ll have run out of things to read in less than two years!*

*(Later that same day… 2 approved by NetGalley. Back up to 162. Hurrah! My fears of running out were premature!)

begorrathon 2016

March is Begorrathon time (posh name: Reading Ireland Month 2016) – an event celebrating all things Irish, run jointly by Cathy at 746 Books and Raging Fluff. Though books are a big part of it, posts are also welcome on anything Irish – music, film, restaurants, recipes, your personal shillelagh collection, etc. For all the details, please pop over to Cathy’s blog – here’s the link – where you’ll find it’s the best sort of challenge – very relaxed, minimum rules, maximum fun!

So I’ve trawled through the TBR and boosted all the Irish books up the list in preparation. Here are the ones I hope to read and review during the Begorrathon… might not get through them all, what with review books and GAN Quests and New Year’s Resolutions and all, but we’ll see…

Fiction

 

the heather blazingI already included this in last week’s TBR Thursday, but when Cathy reminded me about The Begorrathon, I put it back to March.

The Blurb – The sea is slowly eating into the land, and the hill with the old watchtower has completely disappeared. The nearest house has crumbled and fallen into the sea. It is Ireland in the late twentieth century. Eamon Redmond is a judge in the Irish High Court. Obsessed all his life by the letter and spirit of the law, he is just beginning to discover how painfully unconnected he is from other human beings. With effortless fluency, Colm Tóibín reconstructs the history of Eamon’s relationships – with his father, his first “girl”, his wife, and the children who barely know him. He gives us a family as minutely realized as any of John McGahern’s, and he writes about Eamon’s affection for the landscape of his childhood on the east coast of Ireland with such skill that the land itself becomes a character. The result is a novel that ensnares us with its emotional intensity and dazzles with its crystalline prose.

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the dublinersOK, I’ve been putting it off long enough – time for some Joyce! Jilanne recommended this one to me so long ago it’s embarrassing – she says The Dead is, perhaps, her favourite story of all time…

The BlurbAlthough James Joyce began these stories of Dublin life in 1904, when he was 22, and had completed them by the end of 1907, they remained unpublished until 1914 — victims of Edwardian squeamishness. Their vivid, tightly focused observations of the life of Dublin’s poorer classes, their unconventional themes, coarse language, and mention of actual people and places made publishers of the day reluctant to undertake sponsorship. Today, however, the stories are admired for their intense and masterly dissection of “dear dirty Dublin,” and for the economy and grace with which Joyce invested this youthful fiction.

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let the great world spinThis should really be in with the GAN Quest books, but I didn’t include it in the current batch and I’m tired of waiting. But I’ll still be reading it with an eye on whether it shapes up as a Great American Novel. It sneaks into The Begorrathon too, though, since McCann is Irish. DesertDweller has recommended it to me twice, so it must be good!

The Blurb says: New York, August 1974. A man is walking the sky. The city stands still in awe. Between the newly built Twin Towers the man is striding, twirling and showboating his way through the air. One hundred and ten stories below him, the lives of eight strangers spin towards each other…

Set against a time of sweeping political and social change, from the backlash to the Vietnam War and the lingering sceptre of the oil crisis to the beginnings of the Internet – a time that hauntingly mirrors the present time – these disparate lives will collide in the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, and be transformed for ever.

Weaving together themes of love, loss, belonging, duty and human striving, Let the Great World Spin celebrates the effervescent spirit of an age and the small beauties of everyday life. At once intimate and magnificent, elegant and astonishing, it is a lyrical masterpiece from a storyteller who continues to use the wide world as his canvas.

* * * * *

Crime

 

the cold cold groundJust about every crime blogger has recommended Adrian McKinty at one time or another – most recently Carol at Reading Writing and Riesling. This one’s been sitting on my Kindle since August 2013 – better read it before it biodegrades…

The Blurb says: Featuring Catholic cop Sean Duffy whose outsider status in the mostly Protestant RUC makes it as hard to do his job as the criminals he’s fighting, this is the start of a new series set in Troubles-era Belfast. A body is found in a burnt out car. Another is discovered hanging from a tree. Could this be Northern Ireland’s first serial killer, or another paramilitary feud?

 

* * * * *

.

in the woodsAnother one that’s been recommended by loads of people, but it was Lady Fancifull that persuaded me in the end…

The Blurb says: ‘You’re twelve years old. It’s the summer holiday. You’re playing in the woods with your two best friends. Something happens. Something terrible. And the other two are never seen again.’

Twenty years on, Rob Ryan – the child who came back – is a detective in the Dublin police force. He’s changed his name. No one knows about his past. Even he has no memory of what happened that day.

Then a little girl’s body is found at the site of the old tragedy and Rob is drawn back into the mystery. For him and his DI partner, Cassie, every lead comes with its own sinister undercurrents. The victim’s apparently normal family is hiding layers of secrets. Rob’s own private enquiries are taking a toll on his mind. And every trail leads inexorably back . . . into the woods.

* * * * *

Film

 

brooklynLoved the book – how will the movie compare? I’ve heard only good things about this, and it comes out on DVD at the end of Feb – they must have heard about The Begorrathon…

The Blurb says: Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson star in this romantic drama adapted from the novel by Colm Tóibín. Set in the 1950s, the story follows young Irish woman Ellis Lacey (Ronan) as she travels to New York City in search of a better life. Initially homesick, she begins to adjust to her new surroundings with the help of Italian-American Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) with whom she becomes romantically involved. After news of a family crisis, Ellis returns to Ireland where she enjoys spending time back in her hometown and becomes acquainted with a young man, Jim Farrell (Gleeson), finding herself torn between two very different paths. The cast also includes Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture.

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

Are you joining in The Begorrathon? You know you want to…