The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Give me strength…

😦

An old man in Penang, the half-English/half-Chinese Philip Hutton, is visited by a woman who once loved Endo-san, Hutton’s one-time friend, martial arts teacher and platonic lover. At her request, Hutton tells the woman the story of his friendship with Endo-san, back in the 1930s.

She must have regretted asking. I started this utterly tedious bore-fest on 25th May and by 9th June had made it through just 33%, with every word a penance – clearly I committed some horrible sin in a past life and am being forced to pay for it in this one by reading overlong plotless contemporary fiction. Perhaps a plot develops later – I understood the book was going to be about the Japanese invasion of Malaya during WW2 but there was still very little sign of this at the point I abandoned it, except for some clumsy foreshadowing usually based on fortune-tellers’ hints and warnings.

The younger version of Hutton has all the ingredients to be interesting, and yet isn’t. Mixed race in a society where this was rare and frowned upon, he is something of an outsider even in his own family. But then he meets, as if by accident, a middle-aged man who offers, out of the blue, to become his sensei – a teacher in martial arts and a kind of spiritual guru. Not thinking this in any way odd, Hutton within a few weeks is pretty much an expert both at fighting and at all the mental discipline that comes with it. Who knew it was all so easy? I always thought it took years to master these skills. I think I might spend the rest of June becoming a master of aikido myself. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.

Tan Twan Eng

Along the way we are bored to death by treated to endless descriptions of fights – all stylised, of course, not real ones. This comes amidst the even more endless descriptions of every physical object or bit of landscape we come across, not to mention the historical factlets which are presented as just that – like extracts from a guide book to Penang.

What can I say? This book was longlisted for the Booker in 2007 and has thousands of 5-star reviews on Goodreads, with only 123 1-stars. Make that 124. Clearly it must be me, but I’ve suffered enough. I regret that I’m so old-fashioned as to expect stories to contain an actual story, but so it goes. One day I too may be enlightened enough to be able to appreciate hundreds of pages of nothingness – once I’ve mastered Zen in July perhaps. I believe one of the skills of Zen is being able to empty one’s mind completely. This book has given me a head start…

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*coughs embarrassedly* This was the second winner of the People’s Choice poll, and the second I’ve abandoned. It’s not you, though, People – it’s me! I’m sure I’ll love the next one… 😉

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….That I still “funked” Michael Bristow was certainly no fault of Hilda’s, who has never funked anything in her life.
….For I fear that “funk” is the true description of my attitude. I funked him as one may begin to funk an acquaintance who shows signs of becoming a criminal or a lunatic, or of developing some loathsome disease. I thought about him and his peculiarity and his affairs as little as I possibly could. I do not like oddities. And I could no longer conceal from myself that he was definitely an oddity. I even feared secretly that, as Hilda thought, he might be a momentous sort of oddity, though this I would never admit even to myself. In spite of Hilda, I avoided witnessing any systematic demonstrations of his power; yet I was always coming up against little differences, odd scraps of knowledge and intuition in him, which disturbed me more than I would acknowledge.
….There was the evening when Hilda made him detect a new cigarette-case in my pocket from several yards’ distance. I never liked to see his moving, groping, hesitating fingers, as it were, pick up the scent.

~The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger

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….Memories – they are all the aged have. The young have hopes and dreams, while the old hold the remains of them in their hands and wonder what has happened to their lives. I looked back hard on my life that night, from the moments of my reckless youth, through the painful and tragic years of the war, to the solitary decades after. Yes, I could say that I had lived my life, if not to the full then at least almost to the brim. What more could one ask? Rare is the person whose life overflows. I have lived, I have travelled the world, and now, like a worn out clock, my life is winding down, the hands slowing, stepping out of the flow of time. If one steps out of time what does one have? Why, the past of course, gradually being worn away by the years as a pebble halted on a riverbed is eroded by the passage of water.

~The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

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….“She’s suffered a great deal in her life. A large part of the suffering has been her own fault, but some of it hasn’t. None of her marriages has been happy except, I’d say, this last one. She’s married to a man now who loves her dearly and who’s loved her for years. She’s sheltering in that love, and she’s happy in it. At least, at the moment she’s happy in it. One can’t say how long all that will last. The trouble with her is that either she thinks that at last she’s got to that spot or place or that moment in her life where everything’s like a fairy tale come true, that nothing can go wrong, that she’ll never be unhappy again; or else she’s down in the dumps, a woman whose life is ruined, who’s never known love and happiness and who never will again.”
….He added dryly, “If she could only stop halfway between the two it’d be wonderful for her, and the world would lose a fine actress.”

~The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie narrated by Joan Hickson

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….It is in the nature of revolutions to throw up moments when all the more brilliant dreams of the human race seem about to be realized, and the Catalans with their expansive and self-dramatizing character were not behind other peoples in this respect. Visitors to Barcelona in the autumn of 1936 will never forget the moving and uplifting experience and, as the resistance to the military rebellion stiffened, the impressions they brought back with them spread to wider and wider circles. Spain became the scene of a drama in which it seemed as if the fortunes of the civilized world were being played out in miniature. As in a crystal, those people who had eyes for the future looked, expecting to read there their own fate.

~The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan

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….The up-and-at-’em start time was all for show. For humanity divided into two mutually hostile camps: bounders out of bed and burners of the midnight oil. The distinction went way beyond schedule. The late nighter was synonymous with mischief, imagination, rebellion, transgression, anarchy, and excess, not to mention drugs, alcohol, and sex. The early riser evoked traditional Protestant values like obedience, industry, discipline, and thrift, but also, in this gladness to greet the day, a militant, even fascistic determination to look on the bright side. In short, rise-and-shiners were revolting, and being flapped by so many birds getting the worm felt like getting trapped in an Alfred Hitchcock remake. These bouncy, boisterous, bubbly people loved their seven thirty start, which shouted earnestness and asceticism, and any attempt to move the time to noon for the next year would trigger a riot.

~The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 233…

Episode 233

A massive drop of 5 in the TBR since I last posted two weeks ago – down to 208! I’ve been far too busy stockpiling chocolate and cat treats to acquire books! However, now that I have been sentenced to solitary confinement either I’ll be racing through the books on my TBR or I’ll be spending way too much time browsing the bookshelves on Amazon…

Here are a few that will reach the top of the heap soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

An excellent choice, people! Mind you, this whole thing is reminding me of how many seriously tempting books are lingering unread on my TBR so any of the four would have been excellent. The other three contenders all scored pretty evenly in the end, but this one took a clear lead from the beginning and never faltered as it sped towards the finish line.  I plan to read and review it by the end of June. 

The Blurb says: Penang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.

With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

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Historical Fiction

Serena by Ron Rash

Although Serena didn’t win the previous People’s Choice poll, MarinaSofia mentioned that she had a copy in her TBR too, so we decided to read it and co-ordinate our reviews for the week beginning 13th April. Regular commenter Christine (who doesn’t blog… yet) is going to read it too and share her view in the comments. Anyone else who has a copy fishing about, or feels like acquiring one, is more than welcome to join us!

The Blurb says: The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Rash’s masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

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Vintage Crime

Settling Scores edited by Martin Edwards

Courtesy of the British Library. A new anthology from the BL is always a treat and I vastly prefer reading about sport than participating in it! And look! I’m sure that’s Centre Court at Wimbledon on the cover! Plus, I’m always a sucker for the word ‘skulduggery’…

The Blurb says: ‘The detective story is a game between two players, the author… and the reader.’ – Ronald Knox

From the squash court to the golf links, the football pitch to the swimming pool and the race course to the cricket square, no court, grounds, stadium or stand is safe from skulduggery. Entering the arena where sport clashes with crime, this spirited medley of short stories showcases the greatest deadly plays and criminal gambits of the mystery genre.

With contenders by some of the finest writers in the field, including Celia Fremlin, Michael Gilbert, Gladys Mitchell and Leo Bruce, this new anthology offers a ringside view of the darker side of sports and proves that crime, naturally, is a game for all seasons.

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Thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Another of the little batch of contemporary thrillers and crime novels that HP kindly sent me, with perfect timing as it turns out since I’m not in the mood for heavyweight fiction at the moment. This isn’t one I’d have picked for myself necessarily, but it’s getting great reviews and there’s nothing like a murder or two to make the day seem a little brighter… 😉

The Blurb says: On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favours, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?