The next book on my list to read was ‘Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng. A brief (if I can be) premise of the book: It is after World War Two and a young Malaysian woman who has been involved in the Japanese war trials and still suffering the aftermath of the concentration camps arrives to the cloud drenched lands of Cameron in search of a man who was Gardener to the Emperor of Japan. She wants him to design a garden in memory of her sister but instead he takes her on as his Apprentice. This book (like Will Self’s Umbrella) spans different timelines.
This book is full of poetry and words which are really affecting – it makes you feel as if you are living inside this story. It is a story of exile – many of the characters are from different parts of the world but feel incredibly passionate and bitter about their homelands and about the people who they were fighting. The author also creates mysteries within the book and as the reader you need to piece it all together.
The only two downsides are that the plot has certain implausibility’s and you sometimes feel that you are being taught ‘things’. Overall though it is a beautiful and haunting book and I’ve learnt about a place and a time in history that I didn’t know about.
Well-known crime author Mark Billingham is visiting Kensington Central Library as part of the launch of Text Tribe, the online reading group for Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries.
The group has begun with Sleepyhead, the first book in Billingham’s successful ‘Thorne’ series, and inspiration for the 2010 TV series.
Mark will be discussing this book and his later publications, including recent standalone title Rush of Blood’.
All are welcome but booking is strongly advised – visit the Text Tribe website to book your place and to join in!!
This is my third year of reading the short-listed six books and one which has to be met with tons of enthusiasm and an open mind. I have really enjoyed the last two years of doing this but was rather gloomy to hear that this year’s judges would be concentrating more on ‘prose’ and less about ‘readability. The deadline is Tuesday 16 October, when they will be announcing the winner.
As already mentioned on previous posts, the shortlisted books are:
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
I am already feeling that this is a mighty struggle as I have not read the precursor to Bring up the Bodies, which is Wolf Hall and that also took the Booker Prize back in 2009. So that makes it 7 books to read!
The biggest task, I felt, was to try and tackle Will Self’s Umbrella. Why? At around 380 pages, it has no paragraphs and no chapters. I was assured that the reader would get something profound from it. 2 pages in and I felt it was a turgid piece of writing, too many italics, repeating words and I grumpily envisaged making a note of every page that I felt needed paragraphs and sending it to him, whilst being very impolite in the process.
By page 7, the Eureka moment hit and I was being sucked into this vortex of the two main characters and into their timelines, and worlds. A psychiatrist (Busner) is reviewing his patient’s life (Audrey Dearth) who was admitted to Friern Hospital in 1910 and has been ‘inside’ for many decades. It also follows the fortunes of Audrey’s two brothers.
This was a challenging novel, you felt you were cycling up a steep hill, but when you got to the top it was all worth it. For a book that is entirely unsentimental, it does elicit some strong emotions from the reader. Yes, it feels blurry, nearly all the time, but the language and the imagination of the book will be difficult to beat by any writer this year.
Brompton Library’s lively reading group has been reading ‘Foreign Bodies’, byCynthia Ozick.
First of all, a brief premise about the book: a middle-aged woman is instructed by her dictatorial brother to fetch back his son who has moved to Paris from the US.
That night, we had a packed out group and a visitor from Japan who has been studying Reading Groups and he wanted to sit-in and listen. (Incidentally, one of the Brompton group, Rheagan Greene has just published her own book ‘Bitter Truths’, about a woman learning the way of the Samurai…)
We had a really lively debate about the characters in ‘Foreign Bodies’: we hated the brother, sympathised with the sister but were almost 90% unimpressed with the rest of the cast. The way they acted reminded us very much of Margaret Atwood’s characters, but somehow Atwood can evoke a certain amount of touching vulnerability in them, which Ozick simply cannot. Although really well written, the story did not really go anywhere and some of us were convinced that the sister/aunt would have some kind of miraculous transformation in her life, like in ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day’. She did though exorcise some of the demons in her own life and the correspondence between brother and sister is very witty and kept the story running along.
Overall, the average score we gave it was 6 out of 10. Next months book under discussion is ‘There but for the’ by Ali Smith. It promises to be a hoot!