‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett
“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka
Monday 17 September 2018
Saturday 14 April 2018
Beartown is a small town in a large Swedish forest.
For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together - or pulls them apart.
Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. Change is in the air and a bright new future is just around the corner.
Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who'll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.
No one can stand by or stay silent. You're on one side or another.
'So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe - comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.'
The enclosed, limited, cold and bleak world of this small town in Sweden, Beartown, is really successfully conveyed by Backman, I think the reader gets a full sense of the claustrophobia and limitations that many of the characters experience, the isolation in this rural place surrounded by forest. This is the backdrop against which the story builds. There seems little to celebrate or shout about there, and what matters to the majority of the people there is ice-hockey and the possibility of renewed success of their team would bring about such a lift in spirits, as it did in the past. That's why, when something absolutely terrible happens, so many of the inhabitants are thrown into a moral conflict and the way they emerge from it will show their true colours.
It's a difficult read at times, with the criminal act of rape that is the turning point of the story being very upsetting and shocking. But I found it a very convincing portrayal of a community and of so many different characters, young, middle-aged and older, all drawn so vividly and roundly, all with their own problems, anxieties and passions. The narration jumps around a fair bit to show different reactions and points of view to the unfolding events, and I really liked the variety of characters we come to know. I admit to knowing little about ice-hockey before reading, and although it is intrinsic to the life of the town and the backdrop of the plot, it doesn't matter if it doesn't overly interest you as it is the characters - their actions and motivations, thoughts and secrets - and the themes - friendship, loyalty, honesty, being a parent, bereavement - that really stand out in this tale.
These characters in The Scandal felt so alive to me as I read, and I kept thinking about some of them whilst I wasn't reading, as well as after I had finished the book. It was certainly a thought-provoking read, and caused a bit of a 'book hangover' for me afterwards, as it didn't feel like anything else was going to capture my thoughts as this had. I borrowed this book from the library so must get a keeper copy one day.
I was excited to see that there is another novel coming out from the author with the same setting, Us Against You, (Beartown Two) - the title of The Scandal in some versions is Beartown, a direct translation of the original Swedish title I believe.
Saturday 10 March 2018
Friday 23 February 2018
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead
The Unseen World - Liz Moore
How to Stop Time - Matt Haig
Shelter - Jung Yun
The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss
The Museum of You - Carys Bray
What a lovely book.
The Son - Phillip Meyer
The Past - Tessa Hadley
The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan
The Heart’s Invisible Furies - John Boyne
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
The House by the Lake - John Harding
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
I absolutely loved this book, superb. Moving, stunning, had me in tears. Highly recommended.
A compelling, powerful portrait of a marriage, of two lives.
I was intrigued by this novel for a while, and I saw great reviews for it by people who loved it, and I also saw reviews where people were not so keen. I kept thinking shall I, shan't I, read it, and eventually I did give in to the temptation because it wouldn't go away. Well this time I was right to trust that little voice in me that said read this book. I thought it was brilliant.
Lauren Groff writes her story in two halves, first couple of hundred pages tell Lotto's side, under Fates, and the second half of similar length, Furies, gives Mathilde's story. They married at just 22 years old, and the way the novel shines a light on their marriage is superbly done.
I feel that in creating Lotto and Mathilde, in the way she portrays them, Lauren Groff demonstrates that she can brilliantly capture people in all their complexity, and show the intense joys and the immense sadnesses of life.
She has a beautiful writing style, this is intelligent literary fiction, plus she has written a compelling narrative that made this book a real page-turner too. I was drawn in early on and it was fascinating to discover what would happen over the course of their lives together, how their hopes and dreams and expectations would play out as they aged, and to see these lives from both perspectives too.
I'm not very well versed in the aspects of Greek drama that I believe may be in play here, but I understand that the comments in brackets littered in the novel are like a Greek chorus commenting on events/telling us the truth? Anyway, this aspect worked for me too.
Whilst I wouldn't say this was an absolutely perfect novel, I thought it was very good indeed for all the reasons mentioned above - the use of language, the storytelling, the compelling characters. Lotto and Mathilde weren't people I loved, perhaps at times I liked something about them but for the most part I didn't, but they were convincing, and felt real and flawed, and I was invested in their story, wanting to know more, wanting to know what would happen, what was hiding underneath the surface.
I hope this review goes some way to conveying why I really enjoyed this novel. It's the first novel I've read by Lauren Groff, though I've had The Monsters of Templeton sitting on my to be read pile for years, and still plan to read it. After reading Fates and Furies, I'm looking forward to it even more.
Loved it. So many reminders of the eighties too. Another successful step outside my reading 'comfort zone'.