Post Script: Too Much Hapiness – Alice Munro

Moving, astute with a subtleness that belies the expert analysis of the human condition.

Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness

Alice Munro

Vintage

Random House

ISBN: 9780099524298

 

Description:

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

 

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

 

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

 

Too Much Happiness is a compelling, provocative—even daring—collection.

 

My View:

These short stories will do many things; they will move you, they will make you think and re think your own assumptions and beliefs and in some you will find optimism and some you will find human failings subtly revealed in what at first appears to be a simple recounting of events or life’s history. These short stories will surprise you.

In particular I thought the first story, Dimensions was a powerful and emotive read with a bleakness that tugged at my heart. I did however think that the villain in the piece was let off too lightly by this author – an insanity verdict to my mind excused the behaviour; the crime was inexcusable. I did however enjoy the ending, the small ray of optimism that shone through.

Something that did indeed surprise me was Child’s Play, what a revelation! (No spoilers here, you need to buy the book).

Alice Munro writes with an ease and a simplicity that belies the deep psychological understanding she has of the human condition; of the foibles and failings that make us human. These short stories will make you think, will open your eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Post Script: Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult

“Death is a natural occurrence, murder is not.” (p.362)

Leaving Time

Leaving Time

Jodi Picoult

Allen and Unwin

ISBN:9781743317211

 

Description Alice Metcalf was a devoted mother, loving wife and accomplished scientist who studied grief among elephants. Yet it’s been a decade since she disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind her small daughter, husband, and the animals to which she devoted her life. All signs point to abandonment – or worse.

 

Still Jenna – now thirteen years old and truly orphaned by a father maddened by grief – steadfastly refuses to believe in her mother’s desertion. So she decides to approach the two people who might still be able to help her find Alice: a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the cynical detective who first investigated her mother’s disappearance and the strange, possibly linked death of one of her mother’s co-workers.

 

Together these three lonely souls will discover truths destined to forever change their lives. Deeply moving and suspenseful, Jodi Picoult’s 21st novel is a radiant exploration of the enduring love between mothers and daughters

 

 

My View:

Leaving Time is one of the most amazing books I have read in a long time. This is a book that defies you to limit it to one specific genre – it is a murder/mystery, it is a romance, it has a psychic, it is a contemporary work of fiction, it is a social commentary, it is a study on elephants and of loss and grief… This book has many themes; about relationships, particularly relationships between mother and child whether they be human or elephant, about loss, grieving, death and memory and forgiving but not forgetting. This can be a casual comfortable read as you sit by the pool, or the in the airport lounge or on the train, it can also be something more serious; words that prick your conscience, words that make your heart quake and words that will make you smile.

 

The setting in the books come alive in front of you – elephant sanctuaries –both in Africa and in Tennessee USA, police stations, seedy neighbourhoods, a haunted derelict house…words paint realistic pictures. And the dialogue – contemporary, natural and flows so well, the humour will make you ‘eye roll’.   Here is just one hilariously example where we get Jenna’s perspective (thirteen years old) of Virgil/Victor trying to talk a lab technician/colleague in to assisting them (p127), Jenna- “I’ve been sitting on an examination table observing the mating behaviour of the Fundamentally Alcoholic, Washed Up Male and the Oversexed, Overblown Cougar.

Here are my scientific field notes:

The Male is uneasy, caged. He sits and taps his foot incessantly, then gets up and paces. He has put a little effort into grooming today, in anticipation of seeing the Cougar, who enters the room.

She wears a white laboratory coat and too much makeup. She smells like the perfume inserts in magazines that are so overwhelming you are tempted to lob the whole issue across the room, even If it means you will never finds out the Ten Things Guys Want in Bed or What Makes Jennifer Lawrence Mad! She is a blond with dark roots, and someone needs to tell her that pencil skirts are not doing her ass any favours.

The Male makes the first move. He uses dimples as a weapon. He says Wow Lulu long time no see.

The Cougar rebuffs his advances…” It just gets funnier.

 

Panoramic settings, realistic dialogue, engaging characters, humour, elephants, love, death, murder and mystery, all these elements make this a momentous read – and did I mention the twist in the tail? Guaranteed to surprise.

 

That’s my view, what’s yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read extract here:

 

 

 

Post Script: A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

This is a great book club read – guaranteed to arouse much discussion and emotion.

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN: 9781406336511

 

Description:

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

 

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

 

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

 

My View:

This is a delight to read – fresh, interesting, heart breaking and engaging and so well written the pages fly by. I really enjoyed this modern day fairy tale and the messages it delivered. This novel speaks to all – young and old, healthy and not so…It speaks of the truths we find so hard to say out loud but should be saying regardless of the discomfit we may feel at the time. It speaks of the strengths we all have, even if sometimes those strengths are hidden deep within us and it speaks of the courage needed to speak the truth – to ourselves and out loud to those who need to listen and finally it speaks of the courage it takes to survive.

 

This is a beautifully written book told from the view point of a young boy – his voice innocent, beguiling and sometimes terrifying…and so so sad. This is a fast paced read, a narrative written with passion and compassion.

 

This book is best read with a box of tissues close by.

 

Post Script: The Removers – Andrew Meredith

A candid and at times brutally honest view of life and death and a child’s struggle to not be like his parents.

The Removers

A Memoir

Andrew Meredith

Scribner

Scribner

ISBN: 9781476761213

Description:

A dark, poignant, and emotionally brave coming-of-age memoir: the story of a young man who, by handling the dead, makes peace with the living.

 

For almost twenty years I mistook my father’s downfall as my own. But it wasn’t. It was not my sister’s either, nor my mother’s.

 

A literature professor at La Salle University, Andrew Meredith’s father was fired after unspecified allegations of sexual misconduct. It’s a transgression Andrew cannot forgive, for it brought about long-lasting familial despair. In the wake of the scandal, Andrew’s parents limp along, trapped in an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Andrew treads water, stuck in a kind of suspended adolescence—falling in and out of school, moving blindly from one half-hearted relationship to the next, slowly killing the nights drinking beer and listening to music with his childhood friends.

 

Broke, Andrew moves back home to his childhood neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia and takes a job alongside his father as a “remover,” the name for those unseen, unsung workers who take away the bodies of those who die at home. He describes, as only a professional can do, the intimate, horrific, poignant, and occasionally morbidly comedic aspects of handling the dead. Just how do you carry a 500-pound corpse down winding stairs? What actually happens to pacemakers, tooth fillings, surgical screws, artificial hips, and anything else that the deceased has within his or her body? Andrew begins to see his father not through the lens of a wronged and resentful child, but as a sympathetic, imperfect man who loves his family despite his flaws. Eventually the chip on his shoulder starts to lose its weight.

 

Poetic without being florid, and with the literary ability to transform the naturally grotesque into the exquisite, The Removers is a searing story of a young man who finds in death a redemptive path toward the forgiveness of the living, including himself.

 

 

My View:

Meredith writes with ease and a lack of self-consciousness that is refreshing and engaging; that he is able to analysis and describe his formative years with such honesty and naturalness is a pleasure to read. Thoughts and actions flow easily onto the page. Meredith survives the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, the discovery that his parents are sexual beings (this seems to gross all adolescents) and his determined efforts to not become like them – which involve many self-destructive behaviours and a void in his life.

 

Work becomes a redemptive therapy – but one that takes many years to achieve the unconscious goal of self-love. It is a strange and unique industry (death) that opens the door to Meredith’s release and allows him to grow and flourish. I think that we will see good things from this author in the future.

Post Script: Surrounded By Water – Stephanie Butland

A remarkably moving read – this review written with silent tears running down my face. I am holding in the sobs.

Surrounded by Water

Stephanie Butland

Random House UK, Transworld Publishers

Bantam Press

ISBN: 9780593071557

 

Description:

Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when her husband dies in a tragic drowning accident.

 

How typical of her kind, generous husband – a respected police officer – to sacrifice his own life saving a complete stranger’s.

 

Or so she thinks.

 

What exactly was her husband doing at the lake that night? And what if his death isn’t the most difficult thing she will have to deal with?

 

Elizabeth must face the consequences of her husband’s actions. As she does so, it seems that the end of Mike’s life is only the beginning of his wife truly getting to know him.

 

My View:

 A remarkably moving read – this review written with silent tears running down my face. I am holding in the sobs.

A book that makes you really feel is unique and wonderful, a book that makes you cry is a gift to be treasured – this is such a book! I loved the way the author has the protagonist write letters to her dead husband…the letters are so moving, poignant and achingly sad and yet at the same time  share with the reader the wonder and marvel of  a true lasting love.

 

However there is an undercurrent of suspicion delicately woven into this narrative – just what was her husband up to on that fateful night and begs the question did he actually know this stranger he died to save? The mystery gently gnaws at your subconscious as you continue reading. This is a wonderful portrait of love, loss, grief and… infertility – I don’t think I have come across grief and grieving so authentically revealed – or love for that matter. The author gives her characters such great voices – I loved listening to them.

 

 

 

Post Script: Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer

Rubbernecker

Belinda Bauer

Transworld

Black Swan

ISBN: 9780552779494

Description

Patrick didn’t care what made people work. He was only interested in what happened when they stopped.

Life is strange for Patrick Fort – being a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t come without its challenges. And that’s before he is faced with solving a possible murder.

Because the body Patrick is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things. And now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery – while he dissects his own evidence…

My View:

This is a unique and quirky crime read. The subject matter deals with many challenging situations –the  death of a parent and the consequences on relationships of those left to cope, the uncomfortable spotlight on mortuary dissection by students on donated cadavers – for learning purposes, a noble gesture that should be gruesome and stomach but strangely isn’t, but is enlightening, a protagonist with Asperger’s who is depicted  respectfully and who because of his unique way of understanding the world becomes the hero and solves a previously unnoticed crime, and a revealing portrait of life/no life of patients in comas or emerging from comas. This narrative was simply fascinating and compelling reading.

I think the strength of this novel  lies in a number of factors; the ability of the narrative to take the reader to previously unexplored terrain – the hospital ward where we are privy to the coma patients thoughts and treatment, the thought processes and behaviours of a young man growing up with Asperger’s  and the in-depth focus of the medical dissection of cadavers – which could be shocking and gory but is handled with sensitivity and honesty, all unique  and illuminating aspects of this novel.

Bauer is able to breathe life into all the characters (no pun intended); they are three dimensional, open, and recognisable – don’t we all know a Meg or a bully and schemer like Tracey? Or the walking wounded like Lexi or Patrick’s mother? Bauer’s characterisations are incredibly realistic.

The plot is complex yet is easy to read and digest. This is an altogether different crime story where the police play a relatively minor role in the case; the spotlight is on the victim before he is murdered and the protagonist on his journey as he seeks answers to the meaning of death. This is a unique and quirky narrative with a hint of black humour to keep the pathos at bay, superb.

Post Script: The Sacrificial Man – Ruth Dugdall

A deeply disturbing psychological thriller, you will not be disappointed.

The Sacrificial Man

Ruth Dugdall

Legend Press

ISBN: 9781908248152

 

Description:

Second novel from the award-winning psychological crime author of The Woman Before Me. 

Blurb

What I want to say is that suicide is my choice. No-one else is to blame. Man seeks beautiful woman for the journey of a lifetime: Will you help me to die?’

When Probation Officer Cate Austin is given her new assignment, she faces the highest-profile case of her career. Alice Mariani is charged with assisted suicide and Cate must recommend a sentence. Alice insists her story is one of misinterpreted love, forcing those around her to analyse their own lives. Who is to decide what is normal and when does loyalty turn to obsession?

Investigating the loophole that lies between murder and euthanasia, Cate must now meet the woman who agreed to comply with her lover’s final request. Shocking revelations expose bitter truths that can no longer be ignored.

 

 

My View:

This is an amazing narrative that will both compel and repulsive you simultaneously;  this is a great piece of fiction that will reverberate in the dark places in your mind. Stunning!

Be warned, this book is not for everyone. The themes in this novel are confronting, uncomfortable, black and ghoulish and ultimately will leave you feeling very sad. In this novel there are no heroes, all the cast are victims to some degree in this complex plot. The writing is superb, the plot intricate and surprising. I have never come across a book quite like this and I know I will not be forgetting this journey for quite awhile.