Tag: Books: Literary


Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

Posted 2 July, 2018 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Lincoln in the Bardo
By: George Saunders
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

Fun fact: I was originally planning on bringing this book with me when I went on holiday to Portugal a few weeks ago but decided to start reading it instead as it was sort of just staring at me balefully (plus, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be too hefty a read on the plane).

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Review: Iceland’s Bell

Posted 2 March, 2018 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Iceland’s Bell
By: Halldór Laxness, Philip Roughton (Translator)
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Sometimes grim, sometimes uproarious, and always captivating, Iceland’s Bell by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness is at once an updating of the traditional Icelandic saga and a caustic social satire. At the close of the 17th century, Iceland is an oppressed Danish colony, suffering under extreme poverty, famine, and plague. A farmer and accused cord-thief named Jon Hreggvidsson makes a bawdy joke about the Danish king and soon after finds himself a fugitive charged with the murder of the king’s hangman.

In the years that follow, the hapless but resilient rogue Hreggvidsson becomes a pawn entangled in political and personal conflicts playing out on a far grander scale. Chief among these is the star-crossed love affair between Snaefridur, known as “Iceland’s Sun,” a beautiful, headstrong young noblewoman, and Arnas Arnaeus, the king’s antiquarian, an aristocrat whose worldly manner conceals a fierce devotion to his downtrodden countrymen. As their personal struggle plays itself out on an international stage, Iceland’s Bell creates a Dickensian canvas of heroism and venality, violence and tragedy, charged with narrative enchantment on every page.

I had been eyeing a book or two from Halldór Laxness for a long time but it wasn’t until I travelled to Iceland last year and seeing his books everywhere that I decided to pick a book of his up. I decided to go with this book because of its expansive scope of 17th century Iceland and its ties to the Danish kingdom at the time (Denmark being the other place I went to last year). So here we are 🙂

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Review: Father’s Day

Posted 27 October, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 1 Comment

Father’s Day
By: Simon Van Booy
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

At the age of six, a little girl named Harvey learns that her parents have died in a car accident. As she struggles to understand, a kindly social worker named Wanda introduces her to her only living relative: her uncle Jason, a disabled felon with a violent past and a criminal record. Despite his limitations—and his resistance—Wanda follows a hunch and cajoles Jason into becoming her legal guardian, convinced that each may be the other’s last chance.

Moving between past and present, Father’s Day weaves together the story of Harvey’s childhood and her life as a young woman in Paris, as she awaits her uncle’s arrival for a Father’s Day visit. To mark the occasion, Harvey has planned a series of gifts for Jason—all leading to a revelation she believes will only deepen their bond.

With extraordinary empathy and emotional impact, the award-winning writer Simon Van Booy has crafted a simple yet luminous novel of loss and transcendence, second chances and forgiveness: a breakthrough work from one of our most gifted chroniclers of the human heart.

The last book on my TBR queue by Simon van Booy. The premise of this book sounded interesting, not to mention I seemed to have picked up books some time ago with similar themes. But anyway, I finally got around to reading it.

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Review: Tales of Accidental Genius

Posted 26 October, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Tales of Accidental Genius
By: Simon Van Booy
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

“She believed it was a gift to never truly know the self. We are not who we think we are, nor how others see us. Long before death, we die a thousand times at the hands of a definition.”

In his first book of short stories since Love Begins in Winter, for which he won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award), bestselling author Simon Van Booy offers a collection of stories highlighting how human genius can emerge through acts of compassion. Through characters including an eccentric film director, an aging Cockney bodyguard, the teenage child of Nigerian immigrants, a divorced amateur magician from New Jersey, and a Beijing street vendor who becomes an overnight billionaire, Tales of Accidental Genius contemplates individuals from different cultures, races—rich and poor, young and old—and reveals how faith and yearning for connection helps us all transcend darkness of fear and misfortune.

Another day, another Simon van Booy novel to review here on the blog 😛 Tales of Accidental Genius is Simon van Booy’s second collection of short stories. Whereas the first collection dealt with love in all forms, this collection has a different angle, which I thought was interesting, not to mention it sounded lie the stories featured characters from all kinds of backgrounds.

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Review: The Secret Lives of People in Love

Posted 23 October, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Secret Lives of People in Love
By: Simon Van Booy
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Since the publication of his critically acclaimed debut collection The Secret Lives of People in Love, Simon Van Booy has been hailed as one of the most exciting and talented short-story writers in Anglo-American fiction. This magnificent collection brings together twenty-four stories by a writer of unparalleled lyricism, generosity and emotional power. Set in a range of locations, from Cornwall, Wales, and New York to Paris and Rome, these stark and beautiful stories are a perfect synthesis of intensity and atmosphere. Love, loss, isolation and the power of memory are Van Booy’s themes, and in spare, economical prose he writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity, and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world.

The two books I’ve read to date by Simon van Booy had been wonderful. He has a way with words that’s very poetic and that touches on those feelings that are difficult to express or to put into words. Some time ago I decided to pick up the remaining books by him that I haven’t read. Aside from full-length novels, he’s also written short stories, which I thought was interesting. This was the first of the two short story collections that I’ve decided to read.

Once again the author’s prose captures much of feelings, fleeting or otherwise, that are often difficult to express–of love and loss, of the sadness and triumph of memory, of resilience and failure. He captures them quite evocatively in those quiet moments when the character isn’t doing much or is in the middle of transition–the moment you wake up, the quiet travel from one location to another. It’s beautiful and quiet and heartbreaking all in its own little way. Some stories were more haunting than others; “Love Begins in Winter” definitely stood out in my mind, not only because it’s a novella compared to the other stories that followed, but just because of the story itself. The only reason this book wasn’t rated any higher was just because some stories didn’t interest me as much or I personally found it boring, my mind wandering.

Nonetheless I’m glad to have read The Secret Lives of People in Love as it once again showcases Simon van Booy’s prose and ability to capture those melancholic emotions and thoughts that are otherwise difficult to describe or express in writing. Definitely worth checking out too if you’re looking to read through his entire bibliography 😀

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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