Tag Archives: Harvill Secker

Book Review: Ten by Andrej Longo

Ten by Andrej Longo Title: Ten
Author: Andrej Longo
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1846556173
Genre: Crime, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Now to talk about a very unusual book which I finished reading a couple of days ago. It was full of impact, full of horror, and anticipation and at the same time, struck the right chords. It is also quite hard hitting in most bits and pieces. After all, “Ten” by Andrej Longo is a mix of the Ten Commandments and the Mafia. The action takes place in Naples, where the ten stories are centered.

Each story is based on one commandment and of course the Mafia is a part of each of them, which is the basis of this book. The stories are interlinked which again is what happens in most books of this nature. Naples is central to every story, which only helps the reader in understanding the landscape of the place and its nuances and culture. The stories are about regular people who are just caught in their lives and want better – for which they will go to any lengths.

The stories are different and yet at the core of it – the savagery of humans and the humanity as well shines through. So on one hand, there is a son who has to make a tough choice when he comes to terms with his mother’s illness to a teenager who wants to grow to become an adult a little too soon and gets caught on the wrong side to an abused girl who finds comfort in a stuffed toy. Each story is different and linked and at the same time makes you wonder about the fragility of human life.

What I loved about the stories is that the stories do not lose their essence from translation. Howard Curtis has done it again with this one. I remember reading “Lovers” by Daniel Arsand and “The Threads of the Heart” by Carole Martinez with same enthusiasm as I lapped this one, and of course those two were also translated by him. Andrej Longo as it is clear from the translation writes brutally and almost makes you jump from your seat in anticipation of what is going to happen next. The element of thrill and literary fiction is difficult to find at times, but he does it effortlessly. At times all I wanted was the stories to be a little longer; however each story hit the right spot. I would definitely recommend this to readers who want to read a short and yet full-of-life collection of stories.

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Book Review: The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee Title: The Childhood of Jesus
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846557262
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

J.M. Coetzee’s books are not easy to read. His writing is not easy to comprehend either at times. It takes a while for the reader to figure where he is going with the plot, but once the reader gets the hang of it, it is a cakewalk from thereon. Every time I pick up a Coetzee, I am a little apprehensive of how is it going to turn out. I know for a fact that the book will not be a happy one. His books generally are not. That is another supposition I kept in mind when I started reading his latest book, “The Childhood of Jesus”.

Do not go by the title of the book. While the book is allegorical in nature, it is quite different from the childhood of Jesus. I think most readers would be tempted to read this one because of the title, however it is very different. The novel is very elusive. It is mysterious in so many ways and that is why to me in most places, it was a complex read. The book takes place in an alternate reality (see what I mean about the complex nature of the book), following a man named Simon and a boy named David, who have come to a place called Novilla. They aren’t related. Simon has appointed himself as David’s guardian and he wants to search for David’s real mother, going only by his instincts and nothing else. They do not know how she looks or what her name is. This is how the book begins and this in short is the plot of the book.

The book is vast and sometimes as a reader I stopped looking for any similarities with the birth and the childhood of Jesus. The city or country that Simon and David are in is quite difficult to explain. There is almost no sense of time there or sometimes sense of place. There is a dock where Simon works and meets new people and in the course of the book meets some more new people, however the associations are kind of vague and on loop for some time.

The themes that emerge from the book are vague as well and yet so strong at times: the search for meaning in a person’s life, strife, disengagement, passion, the sense of the self and a whole lot of objectivity in a literary novel of this nature and scope. While the plot is ingenious and also intriguing to a great extent, my only fear was that of getting lost in this book of vast proportions (and this has got nothing to do with the number of pages). Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It was vague in parts, but the writing was first-class and just because of this I had to give it five stars.

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Book Review: How Should A Person Be? By Sheila Heti

How Should A Person Be By Sheila Heti Title: How Should A Person Be?
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1-846-55754-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Meta-Novel
Pages: 306
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

How should a person be? Maybe this is one of those questions that cannot be answered that easily. There is always contemplation and then there is giving up on the answer. There are perceptions and opinions and more speculations, but never an answer and maybe there shouldn’t be one. When I read Sheila Heti’s book, “How Should a Person Be?” I immediately knew one thing: She sure is not talking about how a person should be; she is maybe in fact talking about how a person should be given other people and situations that surround us. However, I also believe that each reader has his or her thoughts about the book, so maybe we can agree to disagree at some point.

“How Should A Person Be?” reads like a meta-novel and at the same time it reads like literary fiction. The book draws from life and also evokes life to draw from it in most places. The inlay says that it is a novel from life and yes it is exactly that, which is why I loved it so much. The book is a fictionalized memoir – Sheila is reeling from a divorce, she is a playwright and is unsure of how to live and create. Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist enter her life and life is never the same.

The book is written sometimes as a personal document and sometimes as a novel, which is what makes it so difficult to follow at times and at the same time it makes you ponder so much on the basic questions of love and life. Margaux and Israel are characters that exist so Sheila can make her decisions, so she can learn what she wants to do and unlearn at the same time.

The writing is like that of a painter painting his masterpiece in deft and swift strokes. The good thing according to me in the book is that there aren’t any conclusions and it shouldn’t be the case as well. Everything is not laid out for the reader to see meaning into or interpret. The book is like life – playing itself out without any meanings. There aren’t any answers, though the questions put are way too many – how does one love? Is there a way to live this life? Can one live in a manner better than this? The idea is to keep turning the pages – to read through the words, carefully, and then figuring it out for yourself. I will recommend this book to people who can stomach a story told differently. This book is not for people who are used to the traditional form of storytelling. You might want to give this a shot to read something different.

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Book Review: The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell

Title: The Shadow Girls
Author: Henning Mankell
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1843430599
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is very difficult to disassociate oneself from how one feels about a certain writer and his or her works and look at a new title, without any judgment. I was going through this predicament when I started reading Henning Mankell’s latest book, “The Shadow Girls”. This book by Mankell is unlike his crime novels featuring Wallander, which I have read in the past. This came as a surprise to me as it was a non-crime fiction novel. Having said that, I must also say that I did not expect anything out of it and was pleasantly surprised

“The Shadow Girls” as the title suggests is about girls and three girls at that who are at the center of the book. The book gives Sweden a new perspective, other than the crime angle that has been covered till now in literature. “The Shadow Girls” is about three girls from around the world and their encounter with a poet, each facing different challenges in their lives.

Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has come to Sweden fleeing a refugee camp in Spain, wanting a better life. Tania has escaped from the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. At the heart of them is a celebrated poet, Jesper Humlin, who is harrowed by his mother and girlfriend, whose publisher is not by his side and luck essentially is not in his favour. A chance meeting with Tea-Bag changes his life and perspective on the immigration experience in Sweden. He gets to know the girls and from there on, the book takes on a different turn.

The writing is essentially Mankell, albeit without the crime or thriller angle attached to it. There is wit in this book to Humlin’s parts which is refreshing. The book is different and therefore the quintessential Mankell fan may not be able to relate to it. However, if the reader carries on in the first couple of pages, then the read is definitely worth it. I liked the read. It was not a drag, and neither was it too fast. The pace was just right. The characters were well-etched and the immigration experience resonated with me, maybe because of my grandparents’ experience of moving home to a new nation. I liked the book to a great extent and it was a pleasant read. A very different read from the regular Mankells.

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Book Review: The Elephant Keepers Children by Peter HØeg

Title: The Elephant Keepers’ Children
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1-846-55585-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 392
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Danish writer, Peter HØeg is well known for his book, “Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow” which has also been made to a critically acclaimed film. I have read the book twice and could not wait for his new book to release. “The Elephant Keeper’s Children” is nothing like Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow and that is what I loved about the writer when it came to this book. The book has everything – drama, humour, mystery, faith, odd-ball characters and coming-of-age plot as well.

Peter and Tilte are two kids who are trying to track down their parents, who are going to be a part of a big criminal activity. The problem is that their parents are already two criminals. They are the pastor and the organist of the only church on the tiny island of FinØ (fictional but of course). Their parents are known to fabricate miracles through science and engineering (ironical, isn’t it?), however this time the mischief is of a far greater scale. Their parents are a part of a huge conference to be taking place in Copenhagen – of which scientists and religious leaders are both a part. This is where the kids will find their parents. I will not give away the rest of the plot, as the title also is quite misleading and wraps itself towards the end of the book.

Amidst all the action are the secondary characters – that make up for most of the book and its excitement. There is an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat, and many more along the way.

The book is eccentric, and not only when it comes to naming characters such as Svend Sewerman to Alexander Flounderblood, but also where the plot is concerned. There are so many twists and turns in the book that keep you hanging and wanting more, and that is what worked with me the most about the book.

The voice of Peter on the other hand is the star of the book. It reminded me of, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”. Peter’s voice takes into account his perspective when he is growing up and adjusting to the world around him and at the same time trying to understand adults and their behaviour.

Peter HØeg’s writing has it all. This of course I say from experience, considering that I have read one book written by him. It is funny and dramatic in parts. The kids’ character sketches are drawn masterfully. The book is serene and moves at its own pace, evoking and pulling the reader inside. There is magical realism as well. So all in all, this book has everything in it. It is indeed magical to the core. I will recommend this book to one and all. A great place to start reading HØeg.

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