Archive > December 2009

We Need To Talk About Kevin

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"We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver“We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver, winner of the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction, has to be one of the best – and most provocative – books I have read in years. It is both a literary feat and an excoriating account of American society, modern parenting, and the phenomenon of Columbine-style school shootings. “Kevin” is shocking in two ways; firstly in its controversial perspective on parenting, and motherhood in particular, and secondly in that this book has as its subject Eva Khatchadourian, a woman who is coming to terms with the murderous actions of her teenage son whilst internally debating the extent of her own culpability for his actions. So shocking is this book that when initially presented with it, Shriver’s agent refused to send it out to publishers,

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How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

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“How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone”  – Saša Staniši? Aleksandar Krsmanovic, the young hero of “How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone“, doesn’t know why it matters what name you have, only that he has the right name. He enjoys an idyllic childhood in Bosnia until the sudden death of his grandfather, which happens at precisely the same time as Carl Lewis sets a new world record on television. Close to his grandfather, Aleksandar struggles to come to terms with his death, realising for the first time that life is finite, a discovery that inspires him to paint of a series of pictures of “unfinished things”.

Then the ethnic wars, which have already visited neighbouring countries, start to creep towards Višegrad.

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Five Queen’s Road

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Five Queen's Road by Sorayya KhanIn 1947 Earl Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, signed on the dotted line to give independence to the nation of India and like so many of the British living there, he prepared to pack his bags and head home. The transition from the old administration to the new was not simple. The large red ‘blob’ on the world map which represented the India of Empire days was torn apart by two new lines forming the boundaries between Hindu-majority India and her newly-formed Muslim neighbours, East and West Pakistan. In just a couple of sweeps of a pen, the face of India lost her ‘ears’ in the Partition and tens of millions of people found themselves on the wrong side of the line. Chaos and carnage ensued with millions left dead and many millions more made homeless as they left behind everything they’d built over many generations. The Partition is a strong and oft reworked theme of the literature of the sub-continent but in Sorayya Khan’s novel, Five Queen’s Road, the more typical tale of leaving is replaced with one of the determination of a stubborn man to stay behind in a hostile country.

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The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter By Kim EdwardsThe Memory Keeper’s Daughter” was not a book I had initially set out to read; my local bookshop was offering best-selling paperbacks on a “buy one, get one half price offer”, and after choosing the one I really did want to read, this was my choice for the half price book. I was swayed by the fact that it was written by an assistant Professor of English, Kim Edwards, and was suggested by the booksellers to be literary fiction. It was also billed as a multi-million copy US number 1 bestseller, and books don’t achieve that without an awful lot people thinking it was very good (or at least one hell of a marketing campaign behind it). It certainly looked worth a try.

The book opens in 1964, with newlywed couple David and Norah Henry expecting their first child in the small town of Lexington, Kentucky. When Norah goes into labour late one night in the middle of a freak snowstorm, David decides the safest course of action is to drive his wife to the local clinic where he is a doctor, rather than risk taking her further to the hospital in such bad weather.

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Guernica

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Guernica – Dave BolingJust a few years before the Second World War the Germans practiced and perfected their use of aerial bombardment of the civilian population during the Spanish Civil War, when the fascist governments in Italy and Germany provided help to Franco’s rebels in overthrowing the government.

Picasso’s giant mural “Guernica” depicts the atrocity but it is true to say that even within Spain (at least in the south), there are many who are unaware of the horrific bombing raids that virtually annihilated the town of Guernica, the historic heart of Spain’s Basque country. The Basques had been granted autonomy within a Spanish state but it was no part of Franco’s plan to allow this to continue; it was in Guernica that generations of Basques had gathered around an ancient tree to debate the laws and elect their leaders and so Wolfram von Richthofen, commander of the aerial attacks on Spanish targets, chose Guernica for what was to become one of the bloodiest attacks on a civilian population in history. As Guernica embodied the Basque spirit and history, then Guernica had to be destroyed.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is the story of Henry, a librarian, and Clare, an artist. They have known each other since Clare was 6 and Henry was 30, and were married when Clare was 22 and Henry was 30. At this time Henry had known Clare for two years, but Clare has known Henry for most of her life.
Confused yet?

This scenario sounds impossible, but has come about because Henry is the first person in the World to be diagnosed with a genetic condition called Chrono-Displacement Disorder. In other words, he is a time traveller. Time travel is a premise that has been used before in countless books, usually with the protagonist travelling through large chunks of time, back into the past or into the distant future, through some magical or technological means.

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Arabian Nights from Yugoslavia

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“A Partisan’s Daughter” – Louis de Bernieres Stuck in a boring and loveless marriage to a wife he now calls “The Great White Loaf”, medical rep, Chris, finally decides – after years thinking about it – to pick up a prostitute. As he drives around North London one night, he spots Roza ands pulls up along side the pavement. Roza isn’t a working girl but something about Chris and his sincere apology makes her get in the car anyway and ask Chris to drive her home. Touched by Chris’s embarrassment Roza decides that he’s not like other men and as she gets out of the car she makes an open invitation for Chris to drop by for coffee, but not before telling him that he couldn’t have afforded her anyway – when she WAS a prostitute she used to charge £500.

A few weeks later (having started hiding a fiver away here and there behind his wife’s back) Chris knocks at the door of the ramshackle house that Roza shares with a bunch of drop-outs, hippies and would-be actors.

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The Librarian’s Daughter and her Favourite Books

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I have always been a big, if not a fast, reader if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Books play an important role in my life, and not just because I was a student for a full 7.5 years (and therefore theoretically read them from time to time), but also because they are also a hobby. My mum was a librarian for most of her working life, so I grew up with books around me all the time; not only is my parent’s house permanently overflowing with books, but also there are always two large of library offerings (one to be read and one to go back). My own place is scarily similar – between me and the Other Half, three large and two small bookcases have been filled beyond capacity, and there are various piles and deposits of books dotted around the place. And guess what I did during my fundraising gap year before starting my MA?


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Alternative History of Fatherland

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Fatherland by Robert HarrisI remember once asking an English teacher of mine what he thought constituted a good book. He replied that it was a book where getting to the end of it was not enough – you wanted to know what happened to the characters beyond the last page, for the rest of their lives. I have always found this explanation to be a simple, yet satisfying one. With so many books you get to the end, put it down, and never think of it ever again; they were entertaining enough, but instantly forgettable. With others, though, you find yourself reaching the end of the story and desperately wanting to know more. “Fatherland”, for me, certainly falls into this second category. It may not be the most accomplished or the most original literature I have ever read, but it had that X factor that compelled me to read on, and to try and work out what happened after the book had finished. I have been left with the story hovering around my mind since I finished reading it; I can’t help but wonder about the futures of the people I have been reading about.
Fatherland” opens as all good crime thrillers do, with the discovery of a body. In this case, it is of an elderly man who is washed up on the lake shore near one of Berlin’s most exclusive areas,

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The Cook, the Judge, his grandaughter and her lover

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Inheritance of Loss by Kiren DesaiThe Man Booker Prize is surely one of the most influential of literary awards but also one of the most controversial. On a good year, the panel of judges will line up six cracking good reads and generate lively debate about the merits and standards of contemporary writing. In a bad year they’ll give the prize to some utterly incomprehensible twaddle like John Banville’s stinker ‘The Sea’ and leave baffled readers switched off for another year. So which camp does Kiran Desai’s ‘The Inheritance of Loss’, the winner of the 2007 prize fall into? It is a readable classic or just another dust gatherer? For me it’s a definite thumbs up but given with the reservation that it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.

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Dinner for Two

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Dinner for Two by Mike GayleI have loved every book of Mike Gayle’s books that I have read and ‘Dinner for Two’ is absolutely no exception. From the moment that I started reading the book I felt that an old friend was chatting to me and I just wanted to keep on reading – so much so that I finished the book in just three days which is quite a feat for me (having two young daughters and a part time job!)

Dinner for Two tells the story of journalist Mike Harding and his wife Izzy. They both work in magazines and have busy successful careers so the last thing on either of their minds is about starting a family. That is until Izzy suddenly discovers that she is pregnant but then sadly loses the baby. This could either throw their relationship into turmoil or make their relationship stronger.

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Mary Bor’s favourite books

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Let me introduce a keen traveler and a very curious book fan Mary Bor through her five favourite books. I hope you’ll find interest in all of them…

“Portrait of a Turkish Family” – Irfan Orga

“Portrait of a Turkish Family” – Irfan OrgaAn autobiographical work that tells the story of one Ottoman family from the turn of the twentieth century through the First World War and the establishment of Turkey as a republic. The book was recommended to me by an assistant in a bookshop in Istanbul as I embarked on a three month trip around the Black Sea. When I got home I found a scrap of paper with the name of the book and the author and ordered it. It’s a charming story, beautifully told, that excels in recounting the trials and tribulations of a well to do family at a great time of upheaval.


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