Been a while...
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery
A most surprising book in every possible way, from the intriguing title, the cover, the author, the plot and the way it is told! Firstly the author. Muriel Barbery is not English or American or from an English speaking country as you would imagine, but is French! Google her and she appears to be the epitome of French chicness and refinement. She is a philosopher, and lives in Japan of all places with her husband. She loves Japan and everything Japanese. The story is translated from the French, and that must have been one helluva job for the translator. The sentences are very long, but extremely very well put together and punctuated so you never feel too lost. Her vocabulary is, to say the least, extensive, using words I have never heard of so the dictionary was close by. But don't be put off by all this. Not at all, as I said, everything about this book is surprising, including of course the story and how it unfolds.
Mme Renee Michel is 54, of very lowly poor origins, uneducated in the traditional sense. She has been a widow for ten years and a concierge at a very high-end apartment block in Paris for 27 years. She is 'invisible' to the inhabitants of the building who include amongst others old money, a high ranking politician, self- proclaimed greatest food critic in the world. Also included are the spouses, children, pets etc. But like the book, Mme Renee is also full of surprises being self-taught in art, music, literature, current events, philosophy and so on. The other main character is Paloma, a 12 year old girl, daughter of said high ranking politician who hates her life, everything and everyone in it. She plans to kill herself on her 13th birthday and take the whole building out with her.
These two extreme personalities eventually come together along with a number of others in the building. Through a series of events and encounters their individual views of the world and their places in it change. It surprises all the way to the last sentence. From my own personal point of view there was a bit too much philosophising from the various characters, especially in the middle where I was starting to get a bit fed up with the author's take on the world. The story of course does come back to reality and some action, plus in parts it is exquisitely written (and translated), so naturally I was compelled to continue reading. Glad I did.
FINDING TOM CONNOR by Sarah-Kate Lynch
Molly is trying on her wedding dress, when through the ground level changing room gap she sees a very sexy pair of red high heels standing very close to a pair of very familiar looking men's shoes. With her wedding dreams and her future life of wedded bliss and lots of children in tatters, wearing only her dress and a pair of Doc Martens, she flees from Auckland to Ireland with her very wealthy career woman aunt in the search for a long lost uncle/brother by the name of Tom Connor. Parallel to all this and in alternate chapters is the story of the inhabitants of a small Irish village that finds itself the center of religious fervor as the result of a sighting of the Virgin Mary, who then proceeds to show herself at 4pm every day. You wonder when or even if these two wildly disparate plots will ever join, and eventually in a roundabout protracted sort of journey they do. With some great stories and episodes in the meantime. Thoroughly enjoyable story with the hapless Molly coming to grips with her imploded life, and the aunt also discovering a side of herself she had lost touch with. Excellent book to take on holiday, a good story told with much warmth, affection for the subject and lots of humour.
THE THOUGHTFUL DRESSER by Linda Grant
Linda Grant is an English journalist and author whose book The Clothes on Their Backs was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. It was apparent from reading this book last year that she has a love of clothing and dress, not just for protection or warmth, and not just to show off brands, size of budget and so on. For her dress and clothing are an integral part of one's self-expression, who we are and where we have been. This latest book takes a very personal look at the business of dressing, why we dress the way we do, why females of all ages are seemingly biologically programmed to love clothes and males aren't. She writes about some very interesting people and stages in twentieth century fashion history. The one thing I have really taken away from this book is not to hide a love of clothing or colour, or to be afraid to wear what you really like rather than just what is in the shops or in the fashion pages. She also makes the comment that if you look at old photos of yourself, what you are wearing more than anything else will instantly bring back memories of the person that you were then, how you were feeling and so on. A most enjoyable read that also makes you think.
ALSO BEING READ THIS MONTH
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn - funny story about the world through a dog's eyes. Easy read
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill - story of young girl kidnapped by slave traders, her life as a slave and as a free woman, ultimately ending up back in Africa where she started from. Inspiring.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - first in the recently published trilogy by a Swedish writer, taking the world by storm. People are mad for this book.
The Adventure of English and Son of War by Melvyn Bragg - one of our readers loves Melvyn Bragg so is introducing him to the rest of us. First book is about the history of the English language, and the second one is part of a trilogy about a man, his experiences of the wars, and how they affect his subsequent life.
Between Assainations - by Aravind Adiga - follow up to his Man Booker winner The White Tiger. Not a novel as such, but reads more like short stories. Similar tone and themes to his first book.
The Blue Notebook by J. Levine - more harrowing reading about modern day India, child prostitution in this case. Very moving but also very horrific.
Where Underpants Come From by Joe Bennett - entertaining and interesting read of Joe's journeys to discover where his Made In China underpants actually come from.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - if you spend 10,000 hours doing anything then you too can be as successful as the world's most successful people! A look at what builds success and why some people seem to have it more sorted than the rest of us.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - poignant and beautifully written tale of a young Irish girl and her new life in New York during the 1950s. Mundane subject matter made exquisite.
A December Week by Sebastian Faulks - from the first person to read it, an excellent book by this popular author
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Nieffienger
The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte - apparently not nearly as beautiful as his other books.