Picture of Admont Abbey Library – Austria, from http://www.dandalton.me

Back in January, I wrote about my plans to read my own library in 2017.  I should have known that reality would turn out differently – it always does when I think I have a reading plan.

The majority of books read since my last reading review post back in January have been library books (hurrah for libraries!).  And so my own library currently remains largely unread.  I like looking at books on shelves almost as much as I like reading them, so I am not at all troubled by this.

Here are some thoughts on a few of the books that I have most particularly enjoyed in recent times.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

This is a book that has very firmly been inked into my ‘need to re-read’ list.  My only other Murakami experience has been to listen to the fascinating What I Talk About When I Talk About Running as an audio book.  Reading one of his novels has been completely different, but no less enjoyable and intriguing.

We learn early on that Tsukuru Tazaki has endured a devastating loss – the complete rejection and banishment from his teenage peer group for reasons unknown.  He survives, but only just, and we walk with him in his post-group life as he comes to terms with his new self, and with the advice offered by his girlfriend that he should go back and explore with his former friends what happened.

This is a deep read, intense and challenging – not because it is difficult, but because it is the sort of book that makes you look up from the page and reflect on the words you have just read, and how they might relate to your own situation.  Murakami engages all the senses.  Music plays a key part in the narrative, as does cooking, drinking coffee, swimming and dreaming.  The notion of colour, or its absence, weaves throughout the book, either to illustrate connection, or to highlight differences and gulfs between characters.

It seems that Murakami is a kind of ‘marmite’ author – you either love his work, or don’t get it at all.  That’s fine – we all like different things.  For me, however, this is one of my favourite kinds of read – one without much of a plot, but loaded with thoughtful, careful character experiences, richly drawn, with a compelling pulse that gets under your skin, even when you are away from the book.

 

The Truth about the Harry Quebert AffairJoël Dicker

This is an unusual crime story, about an author, Marcus, who gets caught up in revelations about the involvement of Harry, his mentor, in a cold case murder.  Marcus sets out to prove Harry’s innocence.  So far, so simple.  But not so fast!  This is a narrative which cleverly twists and turns around the lives of Marcus, Harry, their past lives together, and various acquaintances they have encountered along the way.  There is an additional thread about writing, books within books, books about books – perfect for someone like me who loves everything about the written word.

At 624 pages, this book takes a bit of reading and could perhaps have benefitted from being a bit tighter.  But overall, it is an interesting and engaging, multi-layered, page-turning story about people who feel real – what’s not to like?!

 

The Elegance of the HedgehogMuriel Barbery, Alison Anderson (Translator)

I tried to read this book several years ago, when it first came out in paperback.  At that point, I could not get on with it and gave up after 50 pages or so.  When it came up as the monthly choice for my Book Club, I was determined to read it out of duty, not expecting to enjoy it.  How wrong I was!  I absolutely loved it the second time round.  This proves to me that all books have their time to be read.

Set in Paris, we spend alternate chapters with Renée, a concierge, and Paloma, a 12 year old girl, the daughter of one of the bourgeois families living in the apartment block.  Neither character is truly what they appear to be. Renée works hard to cultivate the image of a stereotypical concierge: grumpy, fat, only interested in TV, while harbouring a secret addiction to culture, philosophy and the arts.  Paloma concentrates on being a ‘typical’ young girl, but is really a genius – she plays down any form of success to avoid attention being drawn to her at school.

As the book progresses, we gradually come to understand these characters in more depth, enjoying their relationships with the other inhabitants of the block, and their growing realisation that they might each have something in common, however improbable this may be.

The writing is light, yet profound; both amusing and thought-provoking.  I am so pleased to have come back to this book and am certain I will read it again some time.

 

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

I very much enjoyed Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, and was keen to read more of her work.  Olive Kitteridge did not disappoint.  Each chapter is written as if it is a short story, with the common theme of Olive herself weaving through all the individual narratives.  Sometimes the story is focused on Olive and/or her near relatives; in other cases, she is merely a distant figure.

I am tempted to say that this is another book where nothing much happens.  It would, though, be more accurate to say that it does not have a page-turning, forward-driving pulse.  Instead, the reader gets drawn in to the twists and turns of the characters’ lives, experiencing their highs and lows from multiple viewpoints.

Strout’s approach is very clever, without getting in the way of the reading experience.  We are given delicious peaks behind the net curtains of everyday people – as such, the book plays up beautifully to that innate sense of nosiness that we all surely possess.

Overall, this is a stunning meditation on the challenges and banalities of life.  An insightful portrayal of the differences between our inner selves and the outer selves we choose to show to the world.

 

It is this latter point which, it turns out, connects all these volumes.  We all give different accounts of ourselves, both publicly and privately.  It can sometimes be uncomfortable to be reminded of this, yet rather pleasing to know that we are not alone.  The existence of a gap between internal truth and external appearance is a common aspect of the human condition, and one which bears thinking about from time to time.  Thank heavens we have such great books to help us do so. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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