Station Eleven, Emily St.John Mandel


‘Hell is the absence of the people you long for.’

Station Eleven is at once devastatingly tragic and surprisingly hopeful. I already know that I’ll think about this book for a long time, and come back to again and again.

The post-apocalyptic novel revolves largely around the life and relations of Arthur Leander, the actor whose sudden on-stage death is the first chapter, preparing us for the speed and ruthlessness of the flu-epidemic that is to follow.

Every single character in this book is meticulously thought through, well-rounded, and entirely believable and engrossing. Finishing this was hard because I didn’t want to leave their lives behind. I can only hope for a sequel, although I’m not sure if it actually needs one (except to satisfy my own desires).

As well as discovering the links between all the characters and Leander, the plot of the novel follows the Travelling Symphony, a nomadic group of musicians and actors, whose existence in this post-epidemic world is to entertain, educate and keep culture and The Arts alive. ‘Survival‘, to the Travelling Symphony, ‘is insufficient’.

Shakespeare, science-fiction graphic novels, affairs, love and death, alongside some of the best and most evocative writing I have ever come across make this book a definite five out of five stars for me.

This has quickly become my new favourite book and I will recommend it to anyone. I’m definitely going to be reading the author’s other novels, and keeping my eyes peeled for anything new from Emily St.John Mandel.

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

elizabeth-is-missing

Maud can’t remember the last time she saw Elizabeth. She doesn’t know why she has dirt under her fingernails or how she got to the bandstand in the park. But she knows that Elizabeth is missing. She knows that. The note in her pocket tells her so.

This book is an interesting look into the mind of an elderly lady with (assumed) dementia, who’s desperately trying to remember what she knows she needs to remember.

Following in the footsteps of many contemporary novels, it to-and-fros between past and present time, concentrating on twin mysteries – the disappearances of her sister and of Elizabeth. As the novel goes on, the two begin to merge, both in plot and in Maud’s confused mind.

It’s touching and sad and well-written, but I’m afraid it’s yet another book for me, in terms of plot and character, which didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it.

It’s probably to do with the fact that Maud is, understandably, such an unreliable narrator. However, I don’t think that this is a good enough excuse for there to still be unanswered questions at the end of the novel.

I found myself much more engaged with the postwar story line which followed a young Maud and the suspicious disappearance of her older sister, Sukey. I felt thoroughly emerged in Healey’s 1940s London, and since the narrator is a lot more reliable in these sections, I felt a more solid attachment to the plot and a more emotive relationship to the characters.

If the feeling of loss and misunderstanding around the present day story of Maud and Elizabeth is intentionally meant to reflect the confusion and chaos in the mind of the protagonist, then Healey has done a thorough and good job.

If you like intentionally unreliable narrators and literary fiction then this is the book for you.

Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright

Nocturnal Animals.jpg

Love. Death. Retribution.

Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield divorced fifteen years ago. Now a house-wife and mother in Chicago, married to Doctor Arnold Morrow, she one day receives a letter and a manuscript from her ex-husband, asking would she like to read his first book?

A compulsive worrier, Susan assumes that Edward’s getting back in touch means that there will be some hidden meaning in his story: “a new twist in their dead romance”. She’s surprised, intrigued and hesitant, but finally sits down to read the manuscript over a three day period.

The manuscript, Nocturnal Animals, is a thriller which follows Tony Hastings’ journey after a highway ambush, and the kidnapping of his wife and daughter.

Susan reads, as we all do, with the hope of taking herself out of and away from her own reality, so she’s unpleasantly surprised to find more of herself in this novel than she would have liked.

 

I really enjoyed most of this book and appreciated Wright’s consideration of the interconnection between real and invented worlds, and the relationship between the reader and the writer.

However, I wouldn’t call the book a thriller.

It didn’t have the expected or anticipated twist that a thriller needs. Even in the manuscript, I was waiting for something to happen. Some big twist that makes you throw your hands to your mouth and shout “OH!” in shock and realisation.

But, I don’t think that this is the author’s fault.

My expectations were founded on the way the book has been recently advertised. For me, it’s definitely more literary fiction, focused on Susan’s compulsion to read and her fear of reading, and this is the part that, in my opinion, is done really well.

The conceit at the heart of this book is intellectual and stimulating: reading the book alongside Susan, even if she is neurotic and passive, means that our reactions are her reactions, our thoughts are her thoughts. We are the reader.

It’s also a book about revenge. The manuscript itself seems enveloped in it, as well as the strange relationship between Edward and Susan. However, I think that their relationship was left unexplored and the focus on the eventually pretty average novel that Edward wrote, meant that their complicated past (and indeed complicated present) was unfortunately left behind, to the detriment of this novel.

Overall, although I felt slightly disappointed when I had finished this book (because it was missing the cheap thrill I expected), I really enjoyed reading it. It’s given me a lot to think about, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

 

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book review: Only Daughter, Anna Snoekstra

29095402

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I joined a book club! A real one with real people where you can go to a bar once a month and drink gin and talk about the thing you all love to do (read, obviously… and drink gin).

So, I went to my first proper meeting tonight and it was great, and so good to talk to people who enjoy the same things as I do. I also won next month’s book in the raffle – woohoo! Good start.

Anyway, January’s book was Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra, and I hated it. Not such a good start.

But hear me out. Bear in mind when I read it, I had just finished the BBC series The Missing, so this might have skewed my judgement, and the premises are very similar: girl goes missing, girl comes back years later, but is it really her? Nope.

Sorry! But that’s not a spoiler. You learn that pretty much immediately in the book. The plot line is more about what happened to the real daughter, why, and by whom?

The story is told from both the girls’ perspectives, alternating back and forth from 2003 when the real Rebecca went missing, and 2014 when the posing Rebecca appears.

This was definitely enough to get me intrigued, my attention was successfully caught by the blurb and I was ready for a juicy new thriller.

The story itself was good, but the actual writing was a bit of a let down. It was really easy to read but I felt like the sub-plots were predictable, disappointing and boring. If this was written better, and the plots and characters were more fleshed out, I really think I would have loved it.

The last thirty or so pages were filled with suspense and plot but sadly I felt like the rest of the book lacked this, and so many threads were left loose at the end! I imagine that this is so that Snoekstra can easily write up and sell a sequel but I just feel like it’s a bit of a cop out really, and I don’t think it’s fair on the reader to be left with so many unanswered questions.

The book is apparently being turned into a film, so it’ll be interesting to see if the how the characters and plot come across for that. I don’t think I’ll be rushing to see it though…

Have any of you read this book? What did you think? I know some people in the book club really liked it so would be interested in your opinions!

Bookish New Year Resolutions, and other ramblings

bookish

I don’t do New Year resolutions for the same reason as most other people – I can’t keep them. They’re hard, and usually unrealistic, and I’m a bit crap at keeping promises to myself.

But this year I’ve kind of unintentionally set myself one with the help of goodreads. I’m doing the Reading Challenge, which isn’t at all daunting.

It’s just simply: How many books do you want to read this year? Okay, do it.

I’ve set myself 20. I’m not sure if that’s too many or too little, I’ve never really logged what I’ve read. I’d be really interested actually in seeing how many books I’ve read over my 22 years, so it’ll be a cool way to see how ridiculous I am, and also a good exercise in thinking about what I’ve read, and rating what I have and haven’t liked. Expect plenty of blog reviews, naturally.

I’m on my 4th book of the year so far. I’ve read Margaret Atwood’s new book The Heart Goes Last, David Mitchell’s Slade House and Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. I’m now a couple of chapters into After You, the sequel. So I’d say that’s a pretty good and varied start!

I’ve also started listening to some GREAT fiction podcasts: The Bright Sessions and Alice isn’t Dead. These are brilliant because when I’m tired on the morning commute and my eyes still aren’t 100% awake, I can just plug in and zone out. It’s also introducing me to new genres of fiction that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up in book form.

I’ve joined a book club which I’m very excited about, and one of my coolest Christmas gifts this year was being signed up to a ‘Tea and Vintage Book Club’ with Bookishly!

Some of the books on my ‘to read list’ this year so far are:

  • Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  • Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright
  • The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
  • The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

Have you set any bookish resolutions? And what are you planning on reading this year? Know any good podcasts? Let me know in the comments, I’d love some recommendations!

And you can follow me on goodreads here if things like that tickle your fancy.