Category Archives: macmillan

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

GV Title: Goodbye, Vitamin
Author: Rachel Khong
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN: 9781471159480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 196
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Off-late, I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction (as I always do), but have hardly come across books that are both literary and funny. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is one such book. The story is of Ruth (but not just her, you come to know as you go along) who comes back home to her parents, after receiving a call from her mother Annie when her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Don’t get me wrong – the book isn’t funny funny as much as it is full of wry humour and irony, which most certainly worked for me.

Howard Young is a prominent history professor who doesn’t know what is happening to him. He seems to be lost and is mostly isn’t aware of his condition. His wife is of the opinion that almost all food isn’t good for his health, which leaves him with very few options to eat. Ruth is trying to come to terms with a break-up.

This being the plot of the book is not all. The issue of identity, belonging and what happens when a parent faces dementia is heart-breaking. Khong tells the story with such tenderness that as a reader you do nothing but give in. The book is constructed in the form of journal entries and what happens through one year (I think) and how it impacts these characters, day by day.

I love the storytelling style. While it isn’t new, it somehow makes you more engaged as a reader. You want to know more. You feel like you are snooping on someone else’s life and somehow it is alright. This isn’t a feel-good novel but it does have its moments and the balance makes it even better, if you ask me. Added to that, it looks at perspectives of outsiders as well – friends, neighbours, colleagues and that provides another layer to the story.

Khong’s writing is simple. There are no frills. I love when the author is so sure about what he or she is doing that there are no fillers in the book. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is not only that kind of book but it is also the kind of book that is very comforting.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765376466
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been wary of reading fantasy and high-fantasy at that. In my mind, there are so many plots and sub-plots to follow that I lose track of all of them and then the names in these books – almost difficult to remember and recall when needed. I would always have to go back and see where did I encounter a particular character and what happened to them. However, that doesn’t deter me to read fantasy novels, that I want to or the ones I have loved before of a certain author. It takes me time to finish it, or the series but I do get around anyhow. This time though, “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab – the first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy surprised me. I started and finished it in almost a span of three days and that’s saying lot, giving I was reading multiple books at the same time.

“A Darker Shade of Magic” is about multiple Londons and magic. These are parallel Londons – The Grey, The Red, The White and once upon a time, there was The Black London as well. And at the center of all of this is Kell – one of the last Antari – magicians with a rare ability to travel between these Londons. Before I say anything further about the book, let me say something about the author and her writing style. Schwab doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to you. She doesn’t explain anything right at the beginning. You are not served, so to say. You need to figure things as a reader. Now back to the book: Kell is not only a messenger of Red London (belonging to the Royal Family) but he is also a collector of trinkets and often risks bending some rules to collect these. We don’t know much about Kell till of course the plot unfurls and then you cannot wait to know more about him.

By the time you have almost gotten into Kell’s part, you meet Lila Bard – the thief so to say in Grey London and is far more enthusiastic than the greyness and gloom of this London. The story then becomes very interesting when Kell’s and Lila’s path cross (of course that’s a given), given Lila wants an adventure and Kell perhaps needs something else which he isn’t aware of. And before you know it, it is up to them to save all of the worlds from the deadliest enemy of them all.

Schwab’s writing is quick. She doesn’t waste them. You get to know about the characters by their actions, not as much as the author telling you about them. So, there is more showing, which is how it should be. Kell and Lila of course are multi-faceted and layered, and at the same time, you know exactly how they will react at times – you are that comfortable with them as a reader. You come across some really bad-ass villains which you will come to hate and the idea is that they just want to reintroduce vitari magic (you will learn of this as well) in all of Londons, thereby keeping them open to immense destruction. The characters are excellent. The plot is without any loop-holes and brilliantly conceptualized. More than anything, the writing is super. I cannot wait to finish the trilogy.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The Book of Memory Title: The Book of Memory
Author: Petina Gappah
Publisher: Picador
ISBN:9781250117922
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source:Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Memory” is the kind of book that creates ripples in your heart and you will not be able to control how you feel. I think that happens to me the most when I read books that have unreliable narrators. There is this sense of thrill and caution and at the same time, a strange sense of empathy that emerges for such characters. I like books that the central character is so strong and yet doesn’t overpower the entire book. This one is that sort of a read.

Memory is an albino woman who is in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. She has been convicted of murder and as a part of her appeal, she has to write exactly what happened. And this is where the unreliable narrator angle begins (coupled with the wordplay on the name Memory, which as one goes along in the book means and stands for so much more). She has been convicted of murdering her adopted father, Lloyd Hendricks. Why did she kill him? Did she kill him at all? What exactly happened?

Gappah creates a book that might seem repetitive in terms of plot but isn’t when it comes to her writing for sure. And then again, once you are about half-way into the book, the plot also doesn’t seem repetitive or something you have read before. The characters are strongly etched and to me beside all this, it was only the writing that took the cake and more. What is also strange according to me is that Memory’s parents send her away when she is eight years old and that is not brought up again in the entire book. I thought it was oddly weird.

Having said that, “The Book of Memory” sometimes reads like a thriller and sometimes just a literary fiction book which has so much to give. The mutable nature of memory is there throughout the book – that is what makes it so unique and mysterious at the same time. All in all, this one was a hugely satisfying read.

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder.

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo HigashinoTitle: Under the Midnight Sun
Author: Keigo Higashino
Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 978-1250105790
Genre: Literary Thriller
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Literary thrillers are hard to come by. Let me rephrase this: Good literary thrillers are hard to come by and thank God for Keigo Higashino. I was a fan the minute I finished reading “The Devotion of Suspect X” and then when I read “Salvation of a Saint” I knew I would continue reading whatever he would dish, no matter how good or bad. I think it has got to do with the atmosphere that is built in his novels, and that is so important for a good thriller. The right kind of setting – the fog if necessary, the ambience of the hotel maybe or just describing a regular street. He is a master at that, bordering noir, if there could be Japanese noir (given most of their literature is dark anyway) and almost surpasses himself in it.

“Under the Midnight Sun” is a big book at 560 pages. But at no point do you feel overwhelmed or intimidated reading it, because of its size. The story is so gripping that you want to turn the pages no matter how late it is at night or for that matter early morning. In Osaka, in 1973, the body of a murdered man is found in an abandoned building. Detective Sasagaki is unable to find the murderer. In all of this, the lives of two teenagers – Ryo and Yukiho get embroiled which will leave the reader shocking and gasping for breath as the end of the book nears.

Higashino in this one is mainly concentrating on the aftermath of a crime. Twenty years have passed and it is 1993 and how the teenagers then are impacted by the crime that took place. Why must they get impacted you ask? Well because one of them is the child of the one who got killed and the other the child of the killer. The psychological impact then – as they strive to find the truth behind the killing and how Sasagaki gets involved again is spine-chilling.

Higashino doesn’t mince words while writing. Everything is crystal clear and the way it is supposed to be. The plot while threadbare, as you go along keeps getting layers added to it, which doesn’t really let it remain threadbare for long. The characters are etched to accuracy and no one has received more or less print time. “Under the Midnight Sun” is a feast for any lover of pulp fiction.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

25663539-2 Title: Outline
Author: Rachel Cusk
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250081544
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time, I avoided reading Outline. I don’t know why but there was this mental block surrounding it that of course broke the minute I started reading it. From then on I couldn’t turn back. I had to finish this book and yet hope it wouldn’t get over. Having said that, Outline also isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That is just because of the writing – it takes some time to sink into and before you know it, it has already started growing on you.

“Outline” is a story of ten conversations – ten different plot lines, ten lives and a woman at the core of it. The story is of a novelist and the people she meets, the stories she gathers, what people confide in her and tell her – their hopes, regrets, fantasies, anxieties and longings. It is all about life from a vantage point come to think of it. The crux though lies in the novelist’s own life – her losses and gains and how she comes to terms with all of it.

The execution of the book is brilliant. The ideas are stupendous -the fact that all of them find their way and space in the book says a lot about the author’s craft. Cusk’s writing style may seem random at times but it isn’t. Cusk makes you see the world bit by bit, layer by layer, as if an orange is being peeled. She doesn’t jump into incidents or facts of people’s lives. She takes time to introduce them to the reader and the reader is then taking his or her time getting familiar with them. The human details are spread out beautifully over ten lives and the narrator’s of course, that you only end up in awe at the end of this wondrous read.