Sunday, October 26, 2008

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

I've enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson's books immensely, and this one was no different. She writes of people who are often disconnected from society for some reason, or facing problems. The plot meanders but ends up tightly tying all the plotlines together.
This book focuses on lost souls. There is Reggie whose mother drowned on vacation leaving her to make her way at sixteen. Reggie finds a job as a nanny with Joanna Hunter, a doctor. Who could be more normal than a doctor? But it turns out that Dr. Hunter is the sole survivor of a family massacre that occurred when she was six, leaving her to rebuild her world. Louise Monroe is a police inspector, who is questioning her marriage to a surgeon. Then there is Jackson Brodie. A former policeman and then private detective, Jackson is newly married. He takes a train home and is involved in a train derailment which lands him in the hospital after he dies and is revived.
All of these individuals interact as the book unfolds. Dr. Hunter goes missing the same week that her family's murderer is finally released from prison. Reggie is frantic, trying to make Inspector Monroe take Dr. Hunter's disappearance seriously. As she waits, she gets involved in the train derailment, which occurs outside her home. In fact, she is the person who revives Jackson Brodie, and then recruits him to help in the search for Joanna Hunter. This doesn't sit well with Inspector Monroe, who knows Brodie from his former occupations.
Those who have enjoyed Atkinson's other books will find this one enjoyable. Brodie is a recurring character from an earlier book. Those who haven't read Atkinson have a great treat in store for them. I'll definately be waiting for her next book, and thank her for this one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Sight For Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell

Francine has had a rough start to life. When she is seven, her mother is murdered by a man who comes to the house, and Francine escapes by hiding under her bed. Teddy has had a rough childhood also. His parents were shocked to have him, and were too self-centered to pay him any attention at all. In Ruth Rendell's A Sight For Sore Eyes, Francine and Teddy find each other and form a relationship.

Characterization and plotting are hallmarks of Rendell's style. In addition to the two main characters, there are several other women who play large parts in the plotlines. Julia is Francine's stepmother, and tries to keep her a baby because of her early trauma. Harriett is a rich woman, married to a man who no longer loves her and going through a series of young lovers. Both these women share the self-centeredness that seems to move the book forward.

I can't remember ever reading a Ruth Rendell that I didn't enjoy, and this one was no different. Rendell's plotlines are tight and the evil that happens seems inevitable with the characters involved. For fans, this one is highly recommended.

Make A Joyful Noise by Chariss Walker

Chariss Walker has written a book to give hope and help to individuals facing various life issues, through a Christian filter. She divides the book into three sections.

The first section is titled Understanding Spiritual Laws. In this section, Ms. Walker tells her story and how she came to believe in these ideas. She talks about concepts such as how we come to understand truth, that we are led to those who can help when we are ready for such help. She discusses the power of words, and how having the right attitude can change the way a life unfolds.

The second section is titled The Spiritual Laws. Ms. Walker devotes a chapter to the following laws: The Law of Oneness, The Law of Vibration, The Law Of Attraction, The Law of Polarity, the Law Of Action, The Law of Rhythm, The Law of Cause and Effect, The Law of Asking and Receiving, The Law Of Increase,The Law of Compensation, The Law of Transmutation, The Law Of Relativity, The Law of Reciprocation and The Law of Forgiveness. Each law is interpreted through the filter of Christian concepts and Bible verses are used throughout to illustrate the principals. Each chapter ends with various affirmations the reader can use when practising the law.

The last section is titled Putting Spiritual Laws Into Practice. It covers topics such as prayer, meditation, thanksgiving, praise, affirmations, visualization, dreams, miracles, light of the world, and angels. The same format is used; each topic is explained with either a short parable or Bible verses or both. I found the indexing of angels into various groups very interesting. The book ends with recommended reading and a glossary of terms.

The audience for this book would be either a reader who is interested in the Christian faith, or one who is searching for answers to make sense of their life. Readers in those categories will find this book informative and helpful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
This is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's biography in which she details how she went from being a typical Muslim woman to rejecting the Muslim religion and her native country. Ali was raised as a strict Muslim, which meant that she was raised as a second class citizen. Every aspect of her life was ruled by religion and by her family's lifestyle, which was based on generations of adherence to strict religion tenets. Ali went through periods when she was very compliant, and periods when she questioned all that she saw around her, and especially the treatment of women. She was excised, the term for female circumsion, at an early age along with her sister.
The final blow came when her father, who didn't live with the family for many years, arranged a marriage for Ayaan with a man she had not met and who she did not want to marry. He was a Muslim living in Canada, so in order to join him, she had to emigrate through Germany. When she got to Germany, she found the strength to go instead to Holland, where she was granted refugee status.
Ali spent several years getting a college education, then becoming a strong advocate for Muslim women. Her work led to her being elected to the Dutch Parliment. As her work progressed, she gained a reputation for speaking out against the Muslim religion and the second-class status of women in that religion. Her views led to death threats against her, and when Theo Van Gogh, a direct descendant of the painter and a film maker who lived in Holland, was murdered, the murderer stabbed a note into his chest. The note was a threat against Ali. Her life now consists of bodyguards and constant vigilence against those who would kill her for her views.
The most interesting issue she brought up was the dichotomy between two ideals in the West. One ideal is multiculturism. In most Western countries, it is considered a "good" or civilized thing to support the right of other cultures to express themselves without having to change their values, religion, etc. to that of the dominant group. However, another ideal is that each citizen should be treated equally. So what are Western countries to do as increasing numbers of immigrants from other cultures arrive? Should their values be supported, even if those values treat women, for example, as chattel with no rights? Should women be beaten because the religion supports this, or separate schools established so that the children of the minority don't have to be exposed to other values? I found this conflict between ideals very thought provoking.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I believe I'll be thinking about it for quite a while. I admire the strength that Ayann Hirsi Ali found within herself to create a life so different from that assigned to her by her culture. This book is highly recommended.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino does not write about pleasant people or situations. A few months ago, I read her book, Out, that takes as it's subject matter three factory women who band together to commit a murder. She explores this territory further in her latest book, Grotesque.

Kirino explores the relationship between two sisters, and their classmates at an exclusive girl's school. Yuriko is the most beautiful girl in the school by far, so beautiful that she is considered almost monstrous, as no one can relate to her. Her older sister, intelligent but average looking, chooses to distinguish herself by becoming the most malicious girl in the school. Her main target is Kazue Sato. Kazue is intelligent but hopelessly awkward, and is teased and humiliated by the others. The top ranked girl, Mitsuri, drifts between cliques, but befriends the older sister.

Years later, these women have turned out differently than might have been expected. Mitsuri, after becoming a doctor, gets involved in a religious cult and is imprisoned for crimes she committed out of devotion to the leader. The older sister lives a life of quiet desperation, stuck in a dead end job and with no human contact or warmth. Both Yuriko and Kazue become prostitutes, and both end up murdered by the same man.

This is not an uplifting book. There are no characters that I'd like to know better, and the book is very bleak. I was left wondering if Japanese society is really as depressing for women as the book portrays. In particular, the prostitutes were willing to degrade themselves in any way requested, without even knowing themselves why they did so. I'm not sure I would recommend this book to others.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Music And Silence by Rose Tremain

This book entranced me from the very first page. It is easily the best book I've read in months, perhaps the entire year. Music and Silence, winner of the Whitbread Award in 1999, is Rose Tremain's seventh novel.
The book is set in Denmark, at King Christian's court in the 1630's. The King is troubled, beset by financial ruin for the country and an unfaithful wife, Kristin, that he still loves. His only solace is music, and he has an orchestra on call at all times. One new member, Peter Claire, is a lutist, and so handsome that the King calls him his "angel" and calls on him to play for him whenever he is especially troubled. Claire, in turn, falls in love with Emilia, who is the king's wife's companion. Emilia has come to court to escape her home after her mother has died and her father has remarried.
The lives of these characters, and many others, are intertwined in a delicious mix of love and hate, strategies and failed plans, music and philosophy. Relationships between men and women are explored and the strengths of both men and women in the time period are displayed. The reader also learns some Danish history, and how life at court was for various individuals.
I can't remember a book with better character portrayals. Each character, whether major or minor, was finely drawn, so that the reader felt she could recognize them if she happened upon them in the street. Kristin, the king's wife, is a villian that I'll remember for quite a while; a more self-centered woman cannot be found in literature. I couldn't wait to get home each day to read more of the these characters and the lives they lived. This book is very highly recommended.

Massacre River by Rene Philoctete

Massacre River by Rene Philoctete is a stream of consciousness novel about the repression and dictatorship of life in the Dominican Republic during the reign of Trujillo, and the massacre of Haitian workers and families on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The book centers around the lives of Pedro Brito, a labor worker organizer and his wife Adele. It showcases the banality of torture and death, how the common people attempting to live their lives were constantly exposed to humiliation and death, never knowing exactly what would cause their tormentors to kill them.
The contrast between the lyrical language and the depressing topic constantly jars the reader, drawing them along the path of the story even as they resist. While this book evokes emotions, I can't say I enjoyed reading it. One reason was that I had just recently finished The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao, which also takes the Dominican Republic and the events of Trujillo's reign as its focus. This book was just too soon after that one.