Category Archives: Peirene Books

Book Review: Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

Cat Sense by John Bradshaw Title: Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed
Author: John Bradshaw
Publisher: Allen Lane
ISBN: 9781846145940
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There is always this sort of competition between dog and cat lovers. Who are better creatures? What are their characteristics and how sometimes they grow to define their owners is also very interesting to note. We want to know more about the pets we own and yet somehow we do not have the time to get to know more about them and why they behave the way they do.

“Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed” by John Bradshaw is an insightful book into cats and how they have come to me from ages ago. Cats have always been under-researched. This topic has always intrigued me (though I am a dog-lover throughout) and I have always wanted to know more about these enigmatic creatures and their behaviour. “Cat Sense” is also not surprisingly a BBC series, which must be watched after you finish reading this wondrous book.

“Cat Sense” speaks of cats right from the beginning. From the history of domestication of cats, to how their senses are different and what makes them act the way they do, to drawing on the social life of cats – which to me was the most interesting part in the entire book.

What John also does is let some mysteries about cats be and not delve too much into them. Bradshaw also tackles his subject as being a certified Anthrozoologist for over thirty years. He writes sharply and draws from his experience with cats which adds that much needed personal touch to the book.

The snippets of information and trivia are worth noting more so if you are a cat lover. Bradshaw also touches on the most misconceived notion of cats being selfish creatures and demystifies it for the reader. I have a lot of friends who are cat lovers and I know for one that I would be telling them to read this book, which they will cherish and love as much as I did.

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Book Review: The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke Title: The Mussel Feast
Author: Birgit Vanderbeke
Translator: Jamie Bulloch
Publisher: Periene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670083
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Dysfunctional families have always got it going in literature. I have always loved families that are bad, slightly not okay in the head and always not prone to doing the right things. Relationships play a vital role in any book. I think that is the base of a plot, well more or less so. So this time when I finished a book on relationships and family, I began thinking of the eccentric ways of my family and how do we behave in situations as a unit or rather when thrown into situations just as the family is in this book.

A mother and her two teenage children are sitting around the dinner table, waiting for their father to make an appearance. The feast is ready – the mussel feast – for their father’s promotion. The father is delayed. As the night turns on, the wait extends itself. The father is late and the family’s secrets and dirty laundry is out to the readers. That in short, is the plot of the story, and it cannot end here. There is more – the family has moved to West Germany, escaping the East, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is almost representative of the controlling attitude of the father and the way the entire family is affected by his behaviour.

What I loved about this book is the way it is written but of course. The sentences almost merge into one another and sometimes the transition between the past and the present is too quick and yet as a reader I did not feel lost or disconnected at any point. In fact, at most times while reading the book I wished it were longer than one hundred and twelve pages. Birgit’s book was a rage in Germany when published – almost became a classic and I could see why. The writing is funny and dark at the same time, which is something I haven’t read in a while, so the read was refreshing and contemplative. One more thing that struck me and I again connect to the political angle of the book is that the characters are nameless, almost again reflective of the state of the household and the country.

The characters were outlined superbly throughout the book and what hit the most was the surprise element at the end and how each character comes to their own. The book is narrated by the daughter and yet all of them get their due. I would have however loved to also read the story from the others’ perspective, more so from the “missing” father’s point of view. He is not present and yet looms large, almost like Godot. I cannot end the review without mentioning the fantastic effort of the translator Jamie Bulloch, who also translated Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman and flawlessly so. The Mussel Feast is an engaging read, which will make you think long after you have finished reading the book. A gem of a read which should not be missed.

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Book Review: Artful by Ali Smith

Artful by Ali Smith Title: Artful
Author: Ali Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780241145418
Genre: Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The more I read interesting and different forms of the novel, the more I am convinced that the book cannot die. It shouldn’t and it will not. Reading will never go out of style, and Ali Smith is one of those authors that keep proving this time and again. I started reading her when I was about twenty four or so and haven’t stopped since then. All her books are quirky and have this mischief sense about them. This is what attracts me most to her books and her writing. If a writer can make me want to read his or her books without stopping, then that writer has done me in.

“Artful” is unlike anything which Smith has written before. It is based on four lectures given by Ali Smith at Oxford University. “Artful” is all about books and the love of reading and what reading can do to readers. The essays are on four themes: Time, Edge, Offer and Reflection. The lectures were then delivered in the format – as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by a former lover who haunts you. So partly, the book seems to read like a novel and at times like a work of non-fiction, which is a very unique way to write or compile a book.

The narrative and form of the book will instantly get to the reader, such is its power. I had to read the book in parts – could not finish it in one sitting because come to think of it, because of the structure, it is a difficult read in parts. One has to get used to the way it is written and only then can the reader be at ease. What attracted me the most to this book was that it was about art and more so about the love of books and fiction.

“Artful” while is a challenging book; it also lets you explore your imagination and ideas. It sort of blends your ideas with the books’ thoughts and that is something which I haven’t come across in many books. At the same time, it is quite a challenging book to read, if as a reader you are up to the challenge. Smith’s literary references are all over the place and it takes a reader some time to make sense of it, however once that happens, it is breezy read. I would recommend it to you, only if you are interested in books and fiction and art being talked about in another book.

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Book Review: The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul Title: The Murder of Halland
Author: Pia Juul
Translator: Martin Aitken
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-0-9562840-7-5
Genre: Small Epic Series, Crime Fiction, Novella
Pages: 167
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have suddenly taken a liking to murder mysteries. More so to the ones that are written tautly and impeccably. Off late, the publishing history has witnessed a lot of thriller writers from the Scandinavian region. I have enjoyed most of these novelists’ works. The one that I recently read was of a Danish writer, Pia Juul, who I hadn’t heard of earlier. The book that I read was, “The Murder of Halland” and here is my review.

Bess and Halland are a couple. They live in a town where everyone knows them. The town is Danish and is not mentioned in the book. One fine day, Halland is found dead during dawn and close to him. No one knows how he died. A neighbour tells the police that Halland informed him that Bess killed him. Bess denies it. The story continues about Bess’s grief. The way her past tumbles through the pages and more so Halland’s past as well. That is the crux of the story.

What makes this book so different is that this is not your traditional crime novel. There are the police and detectives investigating for sure, however they are not at the core of the book. The story is a love story and at the same time there are so many layers to it. At times, I found myself confused considering the pace at which things were happening – the appearance of Bess’s ex-husband, Halland’s pregnant so-called niece, the neighbours – it almost become difficult to string everything together and that is when I began enjoying the book a lot more.

The translation by Martin Aitken is flawless only because I could imagine the places and the scenery just the way I am sure Ms. Juul intends her readers to. The words are direct, the sentences sometimes feel sparse and the narrative might also seem slow to some, however what makes the book so wonderful is precisely all of those qualities. Ms. Juul does not spoon-feed her readers. There is always more to what meets the eye and that is the beauty of this book and the writing. I finished the book in one sitting and that is how I am sure most of the people who want to read this one will read it. For me, it was a great way to start December.

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Book Review: Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

Title: Sea of Ink
Author: Richard Weihe
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-0-9562840-8-2
Genre: Short Fiction, Novella
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Some say novellas are sometimes the easiest to read. They are generally one hundred and twenty pages long, sometimes even shorter than that. Yet when I picked up the novella, “Sea of Ink” by Richard Weihe and sat down with it, I didn’t realize that it would be difficult for me to get through it, only because I did not want it to end and also because at some places it was a complex read.

“Sea of Ink” is a novella of 50 short chapters and 10 sketches. It is about the life of Bada Shanren, one of the most influential Chinese painters of all time. Richard Weihe combines fact and fiction seamlessly in this novella, only to enchant and mesmerize readers. That was the highlight of this novella for me.

Bada Shanren is but obviously an artist and like most artists, he needs his space and time to create. What Richard Weihe does through the book is give the artist that. He almost creates a world through Shanren’s 10 selected ink drawings and weaves the story through art. He merges the two art forms and keeps words minimal.

The plot of the book is about Shanren, a 17th Century Chinese painter, who starts his life as a member of aristocracy, but takes on many guises and names, just so he can keep his art alive in the world. Shanren was a part of the time when the Ming Dynasty crumbles and that is when he goes into hiding so he can be alive and safe. He took on on several roles – of a father, a husband, a madman, and a monk, just so he could paint, and only because the hunger of the artist was unrelenting. The most beautiful part about his artwork is that he wants to capture nature with a single brushstroke. This is beautifully seen in his works that form a part of the book. What will astound you as you go further into the book is that all of this had actually happened (or at least most of it).

Now, let me tell you about the writing. I loved it because it was clear and not beating around the bush. Maybe that is why novellas can actually bring out the most of what a writer has to say. The novella speaks almost in poetic prose – describing the life of the painter – the way he feels, what he does and how can alienation feel, with the taking of so many guises and names. At some level, you need not be an artist to relate to Shanren’s life and perspective. That is the beauty of Weihe’s writing.

There were times in the book, when I had to go back to the sketches and then correlate them with the prose. It seemed a bit cumbersome however that is the idea of the writing (if it is). Besides this, for me the book has been a delight. The translation by Jamie Bulloch from German has been superbly done – so much so that it didn’t feel like a translated work. November could not have started any better than it did with this small gem of a book.

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