Tuesday 11 October 2016

26 Books: A Book with a Blue Cover

This would have been number 18 for Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' by David Mitchell (J):
(read March 2015)

What an excellent book! All the right elements for me:
-compelling story
-characters I wanted to know about
-very good use of language, which only occasionally tipped over into self-indulgence, and when, towards the end, in my opinion it did with a paragraph that was in fact a rhyming list-poem for no reason, I was feeling indulgent. In fact as I write this, I am wondering if David Mitchell's knowledge of Japanese culture gives him a context that makes a rhyming list appropriate.
-information. I like finding out more about the world, and especially the historical world, and now I know more about the Japanese-Dutch relationship during the Shogun period of isolation. I have checked it out on the Netherlands embassy website, and it confirms the happening in the novel in some detail.

So: congratulations David Mitchell, may many more read this wonderful novel! I might even return to Cloud Atlas, which I gave up on some time ago, for reasons I don't recall.


What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

I don't usually go for romance novels, as they all seem a bit too... girly for me? Well, that's certainly bad terminology when reviewing this book.

What We Left Behind is the story of Gretchen and Toni/y, girlfriends, moving into college and discovering their identities to do with sexuality and gender. That's it in a nut-shell. It was really refreshing to see a young adult novel about transgender or gender queer people, rather than just gay people. Not that I'm opposed to LGB books - not at all! Just that this was something a bit more original.

It really made me think a lot more about the nuances of things - I've never thought about the use of pronouns particularly, or the difference between gender queer, gender nonconforming, non binary etc. Toni/y is struggling with all of these things throughout the novel. I liked the way that each chapter alternated the perspective (Toni-Gretchen-Toni-Gretchen), but, unfortunately, Toni was a much more dominant character. Until the end, Gretchen is fairly passive and a sort of vessel for Toni's continued rumination on her problem of labelling. She came into her own a bit by the end, but it was still much more Toni's than Gretchen's story.

Talley captured, I think, the confusion of indecision and identity very well. As a window in to what some people's lives can be like, I think this is a valuable book. But, because of the nature of a lot of the circularity of her ruminations, the book felt like it was also perambulating and repeating itself a lot. Sometimes perfect portrayal of a feeling or experience doesn't actually make for the most scintillating reading. Maybe some more editing wouldn't have gone astray?

Basically, I liked the premise, the story, and sort-of liked the characters, but I felt the writing let it down. It was fantastic and fascinating, though, to have some small insight into this world.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton (A): 
(read May 2015)

This is the story of Nella, set in 1600s Amsterdam and her marriage to a merchant, woven with his odd household involving a black servant and his domineering sister Marie. It's very evocative of place with sounds/smells etc but an odd story with a mystic miniaturist model maker making a kind of 'real dolls' house.' Sad and tragic, but not ultimately depressing. An okay read.

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