The Teleportation Accident
By: Ned Beauman
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER
When you haven’t had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that is happening to anyone anywhere. If you’re living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn’t. But that’s no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can’t, just once in a while, get himself laid.
From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.
LET’S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT
I’ve been curious about this book since I first heard it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. A bit of sci-fi, set as a historical fiction, what’s not to like about this novel? So I was quite excited to get my hands on it back in April but I only got around to reading the book now xP
Bring Up the Bodies
By: Hilary Mantel
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, and its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a truth that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.
After re-reading the first novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall (commentary), and learning that it had won the Man Booker for 2012, I had been itching to get my hands on this book. I recently did and yeah, it was difficult to put this book down once I had started =P
The Glass Room
By: Simon Mawer
Format: Paperback; my copy
Honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer are filled with the optimism and cultural vibrancy of central Europe of the 1920s when they meet modernist architect Rainer von Abt. He builds for them a home to embody their exuberant faith in the future, and the Landauer House becomes an instant masterpiece. Viktor and Liesel, a rich Jewish mogul married to a thoughtful, modern gentile, pour all of their hopes for their marriage and budding family into their stunning new home, filling it with children, friends, and a generation of artists and thinkers eager to abandon old-world European style in favor of the new and the avant-garde. But as life intervenes, their new home also brings out their most passionate desires and darkest secrets. As Viktor searches for a warmer, less challenging comfort in the arms of another woman, and Liesel turns to her wild, mischievous friend Hana for excitement, the marriage begins to show signs of strain. The radiant honesty and idealism of 1930 quickly evaporate beneath the storm clouds of World War II. As Nazi troops enter the country, the family must leave their old life behind and attempt to escape to America before Viktor’s Jewish roots draw Nazi attention, and before the family itself dissolves.
As the Landauers struggle for survival abroad, their home slips from hand to hand, from Czech to Nazi to Soviet possession and finally back to the Czechoslovak state, with new inhabitants always falling under the fervent and unrelenting influence of the Glass Room. Its crystalline perfection exerts a gravitational pull on those who know it, inspiring them, freeing them, calling them back, until the Landauers themselves are finally drawn home to where their story began.
I mentioned it here and there but for the past few years I’ve been trying to keep track of the longlists and shortlists of some of the major book prizes. The 2009 shortlist for the Man Booker Prize seemed like an interesting year; I enjoyed reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (been meaning to re-read it) and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (commentary). The premise of this novel caught my attention so I decided to check it out. Contains some minor spoilers ahead!
By: Hilary Mantel
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
I read the book for the first time two years ago and I was honestly left feeling underwhelmed. I think this was because this book was not what I expected it to be and my expectations for it were too high, which was a pity because it really felt well-researched. Hilary Mantel went on to win her second Man Booker prize for its follow-up, Bring Up the Bodies so I decided it was time to re-visit the first novel. It’s funny what re-reads can do, really. Contains some spoilers ahead!
The Sense of an Ending
By: Julian Barnes
The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes’s new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world’s most distinguished writers.
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian’s life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.
Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?
This book had been on my radar since it won the Man Booker Prize for 2011. I’m slowly making my way with reading the winners and those short-listed (emphasis on slowly) but the premise of this novel caught my attention. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. I want to lay out my thoughts about this novel so this entry is more a commentary than a review; as such, major spoilers if you haven’t read the book at all. I will do my best to avoid mentioning in detail the major plot points but I am discussing the themes so feel free to skip to the end of the entry to know my overall recommendation for it ^_~