Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

"The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill was a fantastic read, so fluid I read it all in practically one sitting. As deliciously eerie as an Edgar Allan Poe, gothic and dark, told in a language that brilliantly captures the tone of a late 19th novel (although written in 1983!)

The story is told by Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor sent by his firm to the funeral of their client Mrs Drablow, and instructed to go through all her documents to bring back those related to her estate. Mrs Drablow was a widow with no children who lived in a large house on the marshes outside the village. It is in the house that brave Kipps is going to spend the two nights that will change his life forever.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis is a novel described as a satire of academic life and of academics, and that's very much the axis on which the narrative revolves. Beyond that though, it is as much the story of a young man who tries to fit in and to make do with the only opportunities he feels are before him, both in his private life and in his working life and slowly, despite his efforts, finds himself suffocated by conformity and let's his (good humoured) nature take over. 

The story is set in the head of the main character, Jim, who describes everything he sees and hears with a joke. Initially, this is a bit tiresome for the reader as you might imagine. It took me a good one hundred pages to get used to this style and to fully see that beyond the jokes lay intelligent and deeply honest remarks about society's expectations, and about a rigid class system now beginning to break open within academia in 1950s.

Once I got used to the flow and figured out where all his jokes where heading to, I really enjoyed the story. One element did stick out throughout the novel though: every woman is portrayed as neurotic, irrational, or eccentric. The only redeeming quality in the woman Jim ends up falling for is her youthful beauty and self-righteousness (and she's loaded). Perhaps it was a comment on the author's part of how men were programmed to see women, or perhaps that is just how the author wanted them. All the same, as a woman I found it was an issue for me.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Record of a night to brief by Hiromi Kawakami

"I could see the moon, high up in the sky, and I could feel the breeze gently caressing my skin, but nothing of what I was expecting might happen was happening."

That's exactly how I feel about "Record of a night to brief" by Hiromi Kawakami, and not in a good way.

This was one of the most frustrating set of short stories I've read in a while. Why? Because the story line was as nonsensical as the writing was beautiful.

Kawakami uses magic realism, and folktales to slowly open a nightmarish-dream world but stops there. And she doesn't 'take' you there, she dumps you there, hence the frustration.

In the first story "Record of a night too brief", there was no narrative. It was a series of sentences stating events totally unrelated and left unexplained. A narrator moves from one vision to another in an 'Alice in Wonderland' style. The series of visions never ends, it contradicts itself endlessly too. There was no end, no beginning, no middle even. .

The second short, "Missing" was lovely however. A family is about to marry their son but in their family people can become invisible and even disappear from everyone's memory if gone too long. His sister tries her hardest to not forget him and observes the event that follow his 'disappearance'.

The third and last short "A snake stepped on" started great but then became as nonsensical as the first. A woman steps on a snake by accident and this means that a snake will come and inhabit her home until she agrees to become a snake too. A seduction and struggle follow between these two, and the woman realises she's not the only one struggling, everyone around her has had a run-into snakes taking human forms too. As the story progresses, it looses its narrative grip and again goes into what I can only describe as a series of hermetic and cryptic sentences.

Despite this strange read, I'll still try to read Kawakami's novels though, but she's just not my thing in short story form.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

My previous read - the japanese crime fiction "Out" - was pulp fiction (not the movie) at its tastiest. Totally improbable odds, intense suspense, combined with blood thirsty violence and revenge. I loved it. But Keigo Higashino's world of crime is quite different. The Devotion of Suspect X is a classic whodunnit with a twist. Thoroughly logical with a superbly crafted focus on clues - real and fake - with old school justice at its core. It was like a fencing match: two awesome minds face each other at opposite ends of a murder. One has created a puzzle, the other will attempt to unscramble it. Higashino had me guessing until the last page, and managed to keep up the suspense on a high note throughout. Delicious read!

The story: Ishigami is one of the cleverest mathematician of his generation. He has given up on academia to dedicate himself to his life long project: solving one of the most famous problems in mathematics without a computer. Ishigami happens to be Yasuko's next door neighbour. Yasuko is kind, beautiful, and has a charged past. Her ex-husband, a bully and a thief who has horrible designs on her daughter, has been stalking her for years. She thought she finally escaped him but she was wrong.... Ishigami will be here to help her when tragedy strikes, but he could not have foreseen that Yukawa, his former university pal and Ishigami's equal in mathematics, would turn out to be Detective Kusanagi's assistant. And the duel begins!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

"Out" by Natsuo Kirino

I finished "Out" by Natsuo Kirino and it was 😍😱😨😵🌋😘💜 ! What a novel. To prepare for reading it, I'd suggest you first (re)watch Kill Bill, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown & Matador!

Out is a must read for anyone interested in Japanese crime fiction. It's a gore, bloody, violent, insightful, philosophical, dark story that reflects on fate, and whether we can ever escape the consequences of the choices we make.

The story: four women work night shifts at a food factory. They're of different ages, of different backgrounds but all struggle in their family lives and men are mostly at the root of their problems. When young and pretty Yayoi, mother of two young boys, hears from her husband that he's gambled all their savings and spends all his wage on Anna, a high class prostitute, she is more than heart broken. She is enraged. When her husband beats her for good measure, she kills him then calls Masako, one of the girls at work to get some help. Masako takes the body to her house, calls her colleague Yoshie and they cut him into small pieces. Now what should they do with the body parts? When Kuniko, their fourth colleague unexpectedly turns up at Masako's house, they decide to divide the bags between themselves and throw them in various places around the city, hoping he'll never be found and if they are, that the body will never be identified. But Kuniko is sloppy and her lots of bags are found. The body parts are quickly identified as Kenji's, Yayoi's husband. Anna's protector, Satake, is quickly suspected of the murder because he is known to have committed a horrendous crime 17 years ago. Held in jail until released for lack of proof, he looses his business and all the life he's built for the last 10 years. Once out, Satake is furious, and he's decided to find and hunt Kenji's real murderer. And the chase begins!

Out was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.