April In Reading

With April being the month of my birthday I tend to spend the majority of my kindly given pennies on books. This year was no exception as I  purchased eight in total but these will have to wait for a future blog as the ManBooker International Long List was announced in mid March, and as I have a soft spot for this particular award I wanted to read some of them immediately – so I picked the one I thought was going to win and also few more that I liked the look of.

As luck would have it the shortlist was announced just as I started this post and I’m happy to say that all the ManBooker related books in this month’s post all made it onto the shortlist. Wonder if they need anymore judges?

I Am Radar by Reif Larsen  (Review Copy)

The story begins with birth of the main character Radar who is born black, usually this would be of no real relevance or consequence but this is the 1970’s and both his parents are white.

This is obviously a difficult situation for the new parents who are shocked by the initial appearance of Radar. His father Kermin, who gives Radar his name due to interest in radio’s, shakes off his paternity doubts and accepts the boy as his son and believes him to be perfect. His mother, Charlene can not cope with his appearance and also complains that Radar smells like sulphur/burning and begins a frantic search to find some kind of medical diagnosis for his condition which results in countless blood tests and skin pigmentation tests. She gets so desperate that on one occasion she even scrubs Radar with a peroxide solution which she immediately regrets and causes her even more distress.

She finally manages to find a bizarre group of scientists and performance artists in Norway who convince her they can cure her son – this is really where the story begins as the book is composed of several stories such as Kermin’s escape from war torn Yugoslavia, a French family in Cambodia and Scandinavian puppeteers as well as Radar’s.

It’s no great surprise to learn with all these elements that even in paperback this comes in at over 700 pages  and does get a little a sluggish at times and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain focus on some of the characters and stories and some are more interesting and developed better than others.

The Four Books by Yan Lianke (Review Copy)

The first of thre books in this post to be shortlisted for the ManBooker International Prize 2016. The Four Books was a finalist of the same prize back in 2013 and the author has been described as “China’s most controversial and most censored author.” The book still remains largely inaccessible in his own country.

The Four Books takes place on a re-education compound, known as the ninety-ninth district which is a place for intellectuals who have been accused of being rightists. All the characters are referred to by their former roles: such as the Author, the Musician and so on. The district is overseen by a young boy – the Child who rules the accused with his own implemented reward and punishment system, he recruits the Author to keep a journal of the actions of the others on the compound for which he, the Author, is promised that he will return home. The result is a collection called Criminal Records.

Whilst undertaking this the Author secretly begins to takes notes for a novel he plans to write after he is released under the title Old Course, in addition The Four Books incorporates two other works Heaven’s Child – a retelling of the compound and a philosophical manuscript A New Myth of Sisyphus.

This is the first book I’ve  read by Yan Lianke and it really is a wonderful piece of translated fiction and has a great insight into the Great Leap Forward and labour camps of the 1950’s.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Review Copy)

The second book on the shortlist is The Vegetarian. I have to come out and say it straight away, for me this should not only be the winner hands down but is already is the running for one of my top 5 books of 2016.

Told in three parts The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye who after a disturbing and vivid dream decides to give up meat, this decision is taken very suddenly much to the dismay of her husband who finds out when Yeong-hye throws out all meat and animal related produce in their home.

Not only does her husband not support this decision but she is belittled by her family when they find out the reason, they feel that that she has lost her mind and do everything they can to try and persuade her to change her mind. When that fails they resort to trickery by adding meat to soup and on one occasion they hold her down and try to make eat raw meat. She is also ostracised at functions she attends with her husband as people treat vegetarianism with a high level of disdain as they feel you can’t be complete or sane if you are not a meateater.

During this change all of her relationships become fractured as people distance themselves from Yeong-hye when is becomes apparent that she doesn’t just have a plant based diet but is also leading a plant based life. Although very withdrawn she seems to become animated and more like the person everyone knows when she takes part in a life drawing class for her brother-in-law where she has flowers painted all over her body, the flowers almost awaken something in Yeong-hye and she becomes less detached but yet is unaware of her brother-in-law’s erotic motives.

Towards the end of book even though Yeong-hye is close to death she is very much in control of her own fate which is maintained until the end.

I could really write an entire essay on how much I loved this book, the layers, the deeper meanings etc but I will say it’s a book that I feel everyone should read once as it’s much more than one woman’s decision to change her diet.

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

The last of booker books for this month, Strangeness in My Mind is told over a for decade period and is life story of Melvut Karatas.

Set in Istanbul over four decades (1969-2012) Melvut has worked a number of jobs mostly street trading and he has watched his city demolished and rebuilt, seen migrants make a fortune, witnessed political clashes and military coups. One thing he never does is stop selling Boza (a traditional drink made with fermented wheat) whilst he reflects on the love letters he wrote to woman over a three year period and how different his life could have been.

Through Melvut the book very much looks at the decisions we make and whether choices that we make dictate our happiness, where our fate lies or whether it’s all beyond our control.

The Girls by Emma Cline (Review Copy) NetGalley

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

I’ve only recently discovered NetGalley and this the first review copy I have received.

There are a lot of people raving about this book. I have to be perfectly honest it was just ok, it’s obviously written by someone who is familiar with the The Manson family and I think this was the reason I didn’t get on with it too well as I’m so familiar with the history also. To me it was obvious who the characters were supposed to be and even though some of crimes and events were entirely fictional the ones that took place in real life were interpreted slightly differently. I suppose that you could really argue that it was all fictional but when you undertake a subject as Infamous as The Manson family I suppose you will get the Marmite effect you are going to love it or hate it.

Set in the late sixties, Evie is fourteen and her parents have recently divorced. Longing for attention and affection and on the verge of being sent to boarding school she befriends a group of girls at the start of the summer holidays. The girls belong to a cult and Evie jealous of their freedom and having a romantic interpretation of their commune style existence decides to start spending all of her time at the ranch in the Californian hills and becomes infatuated with one of the members. Evie is desperate for a sense of belonging and even when she sees things spiralling out of control and witnesses things she really doesn’t understand she is compelled to stay.

The book is told both in the present day and Evie’s life in the sixties and I think for me that is the only aspect of of the book I enjoyed as Evie is reflecting on everything that happened to her and the commune itself and this was the only part I was able to separate the comparison to The Manson family that I had from the start.

So that’s it for another month….

Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them ?

Let me know in the comments below

I’m off to do boring adult things now, the washing won’t hang itself unfortunately



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