Tag Archives: death

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott Title: Dandelion Clocks
Author: Rebecca Westcott
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0141348995
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Product Manager
Rating: 4/5

The age of “sick-literature” is on. Almost all young adult books have that element in them after “The Fault in Our Stars” and I am not surprised. It can get a bit annoying though. I would rather be back in the time and place when literature for children and teens was simple and reality-free. Or maybe it is the times when they already know so much; that this cannot hurt all that much or maybe I am just thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I read “Dandelion Clocks” by Rebecca Westcott on the fifth of July. I finished it in a day. The premise was nice. The characters were well-etched (some of them though lacked some depth but I am sure, the author will take care of that in the sequel Violet Ink). The book could have been longer, according to me and that is only because I liked it and wanted to know more. All in all, “Dandelion Clocks” was a good read. It also choked me up (as usual) and that is only because, no matter what age one is at, the idea of losing a parent or being away from home (in my case) and thinking about Mom (this book is based on children-mother relationship) can get you all teary-eyed.

“Dandelion Clocks” is about Olivia, an eleven year old and six months in her life, knowing her mother is going to not be there. She will die soon. It is also about Isaac, her older brother with Asperger’s syndrome and how she deals with it. It is about friendship, love, death and identity as you grow up. Olivia loves clicking pictures. She finds her solace and comfort in them. And that again is the crux of the story, as she wants to keep memories alive through them.

On the other hand, it is about her mother trying to teach her how to be a better human being, as she no longer will be around and this she wants to through her diaries written when she was a teenager. It is also about Olivia’s aunt, brother and Dad and how they feel (well that will again be brought up in the sequel in a more detailed manner, I hope). As far as the title goes, let me tell you that you have to read the book to figure that one out.

Like I said, the premise is excellent. The narrative moves at a brisk pace. I just wanted more of it. The book is so taut in some places and somehow loses some steam in others. Having said that, I am still eagerly waiting for the sequel to know what happens in Olivia’s life and how she copes with loss of a loved one. “Dandelion Clocks” is a story that will captivate (in its own way), it will hurt (again in its own way) and will make you want to read the sequel, and I only hope that the sequel is longer.

Here is also the book trailer:

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Book Review: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Title: The Grief of Others
Author: Leah Hager Cohen
Publisher: Riverhead Books, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-59448-612-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is not easy to read a book about grief. I am certain that it is not easy to write about grief as well. I am sure the process is excruciating – mentally, physically and emotionally. More so, it is not easy to deal with grief once it strikes you and you relate to it through a book that you are reading and will eventually review.

I lost a parent at the age of twenty-one. This is personal and yet while reading, “The Grief of Others” by Leah Hager Cohen, I kept thinking of my father and the times spent with him. Maybe that is what grief does – it reminds you of stuff and it connects with you and others at a deeper level, even if it is a writer and her work.

“The Grief of Others” is about The Ryries and the loss they have suffered: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. John and Ricky, in the wake of this tragedy, try to return to their lives. They want normalcy and want to make things the way they were. However, nothing works out the same way. Their children, ten-year old Biscuit and thirteen-year old Paul, respond to the unnamed tensions in the air around them and act out their lives with grace and eccentricity. The couple cannot understand their children and they cannot understand themselves anymore.

The story further moves on when a stranger arrives at their doorstep and they deal with their loss and pain and unite once more as a family, in surprising ways.

The plot of the book is basic and may have also been written about in the past. But the way Cohen writes is different. There is this starkness, almost raw quality to her writing. A spade is a spade and there is no sugar-coating for the emotions and the way her characters feel. Secrets tumble out the closet and things happen along the way, but the eternal question that remains in the readers’ minds while reading this book is: Will this family be able to cope what they are going through?

For me, the book touched a chord somewhere as I mentioned earlier and maybe that is why, I am of the firm belief that there is nothing more universal than grief as an emotion. It somehow connects people in a very different manner. The writing in the book is thankfully not sentimental. It is emotional and makes you think and at the same time makes you wonder about your relationships with people.

“The Grief of Others” is about fragile people, who are trying to patch themselves after a disaster. It is about people who do not know best when tragedy strikes and wait in the wings for things to become alright. They try, they fail and they try once more, with the help of a stranger. Sometimes for all that you endure; you finally last at the end of it all. “The Grief of Others” is emotional and it is heartfelt. Read it only if it appeals to your senses.

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Book Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Title: Tell The Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-1447202134
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt cannot be classified as a Young Adult novel. It is not that for sure. It is haunting and adult in more ways than one. It is a beautiful human story that I was expecting on reading the synopsis and it delivers at every level.

The premise is simple: Fourteen-year old June Elbus loses her beloved uncle Finn Weiss to AIDS. Finn, who was a reclusive artist and spent the last months of his life painting a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. After Finn’s death, June chances upon another side to her uncle – an almost other life and she leads to the road of discovering her uncle and stitching the fragments in her mind and heart.

June learns that her uncle had a secret boyfriend, Toby. She is jealous of Toby. She is told by her family that her uncle died because of Toby as he was responsible for Finn’s disease. She hates him passionately at the beginning, but begins to learn more about her uncle through him, and eventually warms up to him, and grows to love him immensely. At the same time June misses her uncle in ways unimaginable and that is also at the core of the story, which sometimes is heartbreaking.

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home” is about acute grief and how does one deal with it. It is about growing up and how does one feel like an outsider – be it June, or Toby or Finn for that matter. Told from June’s perspective, the book is not easy to begin with – a lot of past and present scenes are muddled, but I somehow liked the time shifts as they added to the overall narrative.

The book has its own set of twists and turns. The good part is that there aren’t too much to handle at any point. Every character has his or her own story to tell and Carol has done justice to each of them.

Carol Rifka Brunt’s characters are flawed. No one is perfect. That is why I enjoyed reading this book the way I did. The title of the book is as unique as the plot. You need to read the book to figure, why this title was used.

My favourite character in the entire book has to be Toby. He is a great combination of tenderness, sentimentality and an outcast that only needs to be understood. In more than one way, the similarities between June and Toby are striking and maybe that was intentional.

The urgency in the writing is apparent. Words flow effortlessly and that style appealed to me as a reader. It kept taking me to a place that reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird in some ways and that is very special to me. Tell the Wolves I’m Home definitely has to be one of the best reads this year. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Devil’s Disciple by Hamao Shiro

Title: The Devil’s Disciple
Author: Hamao Shiro
Publisher: Hesperus Press
ISBN: 9781843918578
Genre: Crime
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Most Japanese fiction has an element of suicide attached to it and almost every Japanese writer has explored it. Besides suicide, their favourite topic is Death and it is with this topic, The Devil’s Disciple begins.
The Devil’s Disciple written by Shiro Hamao is a decadent, quirky, druggy and kinky sort of a book. The Devil’s Disciple published by Hesperus Press consists of two short novels – the title novel and “Did He Kill Them?”. Both these novels feature pulp fiction crime like no other Japanese crime books I’ve read in the past.

The Devil’s Disciple is a story of a man called Eizo charged with and facing a trial for murder. The story starts with Eizo writing a letter to his once school friend, mentor and lover Tsuchida Hachiro. The two met in their school days and Eizo quickly fell under the spell of Tsuchida. Eizo sets forth his case in the letter, telling him that although someone did die, he isn’t the cause of it and neither is it murder. What unravels in the letter is also that Eizo blames Tsuchida for his life and philosophy, hence generating the title of the story.

The second story, “Did He Kill Them?” is a twisted and gory tale of a couple killed in their own home. There is only one possible suspect on the scene – Otera Ichiro, who is arrested for the crime and refuses to speak about it, even though he is sentenced to death. After the death of the suspect, the barrister finds a manuscript he wrote in jail, explaining what really happened and why he kept his silence.

I don’t think a lot has been written in this genre, Japanese Crime Fiction that is, however I consider myself lucky to have read these two stories. They are dark and build the atmosphere to perfection. The psychological elements are in place and they do depress you for a while. The translation is done to the last detail, which is required in a book like this. Hamao’s writing is not only powerful, but also contemplative. Besides this, I am only too happy that Hesperus Press has published this work. I would recommend this book to all lovers of crime fiction.

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Book Review: Quilt by Nicholas Royle

Title: Quilt
Author: Nicholas Royle
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: 9780956251541
PP: 144 Pages
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Price: £7.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

From the very beginning of this book the reader embarks on a fictional journey that feels distinctly different from any they may have had before. Language in all its strangeness and beauty comes to the fore, whilst at the same time the very human story is movingly conveyed. The tale is about the profound nature of the everyday, about emotional events that every reader will experience at some time in their lives. But it is also funny and intellectual. It engages the reader’s thoughts, challenges them, calls for them to think about the very language they read and speak and inhabit. This is an inventive, risky piece of writing, which succeeds because of the way in which it combines flights of imagination with the sense of a powerful emotional reality.

I suppose Quilt qualifies loosely as a novel, in the sense that it has characters (really just the two), time more-or-less flows forward in linear fashion, and the author shows a grudging nod to such plot niceties as beginning, middle, and end. However, it’s also free-association stream-of-consciousness poesis, in which the writer gives full rein to his obvious infatuation with ontological wordplay.

The book starts out as a reasonably coherent if lyrical tale about a man dealing with his father’s demise, but quickly develops a Kafka-esque quality as the protagonist waxes weird on the philosophical and theological import of…wait for it…stingrays. As it happens, I have a thing for sharks and their compressed cousins myself, so was delighted by the professor’s unexpected dive into the philological murk of our subconscious substrate; however, crafty readers hoping for allusions to actual quilting will be much surprised, as mantuas are masked by mantas, and purls passed over for pearls.

The brief Afterword suggests some very interesting ways of thinking about fiction today, what it can do and what it might do. It also prompts a rethinking about Quilt itself.

Royle’s critical work is justly famous and has always had a kind of inventiveness more usually associated with literary writing. In Quilt he takes this creative energy to the level,as Helene Cixous comments on the back cover, of mythmaking. It’s an exciting development for English novel-readers.

Four stars, for reminding us that syntax is our servant, not master, and that words were created expressly to share thoughts, feelings and dreams which could not otherwise be communicated simply by pointing to rock, and grunting.

Book Review: The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Sandman: Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes 

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Vertigo
PP: 240 Pages
Genre: Graphic Novel
ISBN: 9781401225759
Source: Library
Price: $19.99
Rating: 5/5

This review is directed mainly at those of you who are not widely experienced with modern (one can hardly use the word `adult’ without erotica coming to mind) comics, because I do not know many comics aficionados who are not familiar with the Sandman saga – the Citizen Kane of comics, or the Sgt. Pepper, or the War and Peace – and have not read, at the very least, this first instalment in the series.

So – you haven’t read comics in a long time, have you? Sure, you read it when you were a kid, like everyone else, but then you outgrew them. You went on to read real books with no pictures. But suddenly a couple of people tell you that there have been some interesting things going on in comics in the last twenty years, and you should check it out. You decide to give the ol’ funny books a chance.

In that case, this book right here is one of the half-dozen masterworks you should start with to get a general idea of what comics are capable of, at least in the English speaking regions of the world (there are some fascinating things going on in Japan and France that I won’t even begin to discuss).

The Sandman, the ENTIRE Sandman saga, altogether ten books long – collected from magazine-form comics that were published regularly throughout most of the 90s – is one of the truly glorious, shining, perfect creations of, I’ll say it, adult comics. That Preludes & Nocturnes, the first story-arch in the series, is the only one that can stand rightly by its own right, other than being a convenience for new readers which may make it easier for them to deal with the size of this saga, is a sure sign of the wisdom of the creator, the brilliant Mr. Neil Gaiman.

While completely revolutionizing what people thought about comics, Neil started doing so in small doses to make it easier to swallow for audiences and editors alike. Thus, he started here with a story that is a classic folk tale, of a dethroned monarch who goes through a series of quests and challenges in order to earn back his rightful place in power. More help is given by cameo appearances of old and popular characters from the DC Comics universe – such as the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, the Scarecrow and John Constantine. Such appearances will become quite rare as the series continues, and the story becomes, rather than a folk tale, a mythology as grim as any Greek tragedy – which, doubtlessly, was in the author’s mind from the very beginning. However, though the storyline of Preludes & Nocturnes is schematic and the drawings are often bland, Gaiman’s already famous storytelling skills are fully developed, and the books is one of the most fantastic stories he had penned.

The hero of the series is, simply, Dream. His identity is a rather philosophical matter, as he is not so much a god of dream, but rather, the embodiment of the very concept of dream itself. At the beginning of the story, Dream is summoned by a human mystic, and caged. Seventy years later, when he escapes from his prison, he finds his kingdom in ruins, and must return to himself the symbolic garments of his reign to rebuild it. Along the way we have the pleasure to meet some of the most fantastic and fascinating characters in any literary creation, and also some characters who, small though their part may be now, will be crucial in the complete creation of the saga, such as Lucifer Morningstar, Cain and Abel, and the three Furies (also known as the Graces, the Fates, or the Kindly Ones). Though much more fascinating as part of the whole, Preludes & Nocturnes by itself is a perfect piece of fantastic storytelling.

“Preludes and Nocturnes” is not this book. It is a very, very good book, but it is not what solidified The Sandman as one of the greatest comics ever written. The early comics in Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus do not have the same extended narrative focus as the later issues, and it is more of a horror comic than it is a poetic tribute to the human imagination. Nevertheless, “Preludes and Nocturnes” is highly imaginative, scary, and at times poignant.

“Sleep of the Just,” issue 1, is a bit confusing, giving us a somewhat bizarre story that, in a roundabout way, introduces us to Dream of the Endless and the main conflict of the story – he is imprisoned by a group of occult magicians who seek to capture death, and they steal his tools. It also serves to set up events in future books.

Issue 2, “Imperfect Hosts,” has Dream returning to his realm, which has fallen into a state of disrepair. The last page, I feel, is one of the books highlights.

“Dream a Little Dream of Me” brings us a crossover with John Constantine, of “Swamp Thing” and “Hellblazer” fame (two other famous Vertigo series). Having never read a John Constantine story, I feel his character was somewhat underutilized here.

“A Hope in Hell” is far more interesting than the previous issue, and introduces us to Lucifer, setting up the aforementioned spin-off comic. It contains one of the books other highlights, being a battle of wits between Dream and the demon who has his helmet. This book also introduces us to another plot element that is further explored in “The Doll’s House” and “Season of Mists.”

“Passengers” is a more bizarre case. It sets up the primary antagonist of the next few issues, Dr. Destiny, an old and somewhat silly supervillain of the DCU. He is no longer silly. This issue is odd because of how much it stakes in the DC Universe. It features appearances from not only Dr. Destiny, but also Jonathan Crane (the “Scarecrow” of Batman fame), Scott Free (“Mister Miracle”), and the Martian Manhunter. Fans of DC will no doubt appreciate the references.

It’s the last three issues where I feel this book really hits its stride – “24 Hours,” which is a work of pure horror, is one of the most disturbing things in this book’s entire run, and one of the few works that Neil Gaiman said genuinely horrified him.

The next, “Sound and Fury,” gives us the climactic final showdown between Dr. Destiny and Dream. It wraps up the story arc and gives a satisfying conclusion. In earlier editions of the volume, this ended the book, but there has since been a change for the better.

However, it is the final magazine issue in this collection, titled `The Sound Of Her Wings’, that gives it more worth than the rest of it put together. Sam Keith’s surreal, deformed image of Dream and dark, heavy, brooding lines move over to make place for Mike Dringenberg’s realistic backgrounds, light-hearted lines and recognizable human faces. Dream’s flowing black robes make way for a t-shirt and a black jacket; the dark and towering Sandman is given a whole new perspective. He now seems like a depressed, bored teenager, sulking in the park and feeding the pigeons. He is then granted a visit by none other than his sister – Death, which is the single most brilliant creation in Gaiman’s universe. Death is a perky, cheerful, beautiful, wise, mature goth-girl who confronts Dream and show to him his own pettiness.

Completely without any action or suspense, it is this story that paved the way for the revolution that the Sandman series began. And this story alone remains one of the handful true perfect masterpieces of the medium. It is this story alone that makes this book a milestone in modern comics – and literature – and essential reading for everyone interested in the medium.

And, oh, I said half dozen masterworks, right? So, to complete the list, let’s say: Alan Moore’s `Watchmen’, Art Spiegelman’s `Maus’, Scott McCloud’s `Understanding Comics’, Frank Miller’s `The Dark Knight Returns’ and Kurt Busiek’s `Marvels’. Or, to make it a top ten, let’s add Peter Kuper’s `The System’, Garth Ennis’s `Preacher’, Grant Morrison’s `Arkham Asylum’, and anything by Robert Crumb. Enjoy!

Book Review: Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki

Title: Next World Novella
Author: Matthias Politycki
Publisher: Peirene Press
PP: 138
ISBN: 9780956284037
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This latest publication from Peirene is a fascinating dissection of misunderstandings and failure to communicate that can lead to the failure of a marriage. But Hinrich Schepp doesn’t realise any of this until after the death of his beloved Doro, when it is too late.

`Being dead, he thought, means first and foremost that you can’t apologize, can’t forgive and be reconciled, there’s nothing left to be forgiven, only to be forgotten. Or rather, there’s nothing to be forgotten, only forgiven.’

It’s short, a novella rather than a novel, as implied in the title, but its 138 pages contain a depth of miscommunication and loss. The book begins after Doro has died, when Schepp discovers her sitting at an awkward angle in her chair, as if she had fallen asleep while editing the manuscript that lay on her desk. His sense of shock and disbelief as the realisation dawns is beautifully and sensitively described:

`I don’t understand, thought Schepp, understanding.

`It’s not true, Schepp decided.

`Everything will be all right again, Schepp assured himself, and at the same time he was overcome by the certainty that he was choking.

“At least say something,’ he whispered finally. `Just one word.”

The story is a mere snapshot, one day in the life of Schepp, an academic in an arcane field of ancient Chinese language. It is through Schepp’s recollections and the notes on the manuscript Doro was editing before she died that we experience the depth of feeling and misunderstandings, and how they had arisen. The details of pertinent points in their relationship are portrayed in detail such that there is no need for more, no need to know what happened during the intervening years, and it is exquisitely translated from the German, occasionally wry, occasionally with a light touch of humour. For instance, in the early days Schepp habitually took Doro a pot of green tea in her room at the university, .

So the story is told through his reading of the manuscript and Doro’s notes on it about the marriage and sometimes about the lives they lead. What I loved is the story within the story so to say. The man who has a crush on the waitress is her husband as she is editing the manuscript. As he reads Doro’s notes and corrections, he understands that she knew all about the things he thought he had kept secret.

At one and the same time he dissects the narrative of the putrefying corpse of a failed marriage and clinically examines the role of the writer and reader in making texts. He interweaves three story strands to explore where writing comes from and who makes and owns meanings. The uber- narrative of the unfolding of Hinrich Schepp’s and Doro’s disintegrating relationship is interrupted by a story Schepp wrote decades previously, before his marriage. It portrays a semi-erotic fantasy of unrequited lust, which is dramatically realised in more recent years, yet unrequited in real life, apparently. Politycki’s main protagonists interface only in writing and rewriting. Fact, fiction and memory seem ironically unstable. Doro, in the shifting course of events has moved from editing Schepp’s work to correcting it and ultimately rewriting and continuing the story, making it her story, her version.

Perhaps the authorial choice to provide two endings to the novella can be seen as an assertion of writerly authority. Yet again all we have are versions of events and some readers, disrupted and unsettled by what they may perceive as an intrusion of a second ending may choose to privilege ending number one. Of course, some readers will prefer the second ending’s less macabre implications and seek some readerly solace in a more fantastical return to the radiant beginning of Hinrich and Doro’s love. Before the rot set in.

Readers will not feel neutral at this point of the book. In the end, Politycki shows himself equally to be a reader’s writer. For what more could we wish for? A page-turning twister of a tale, playing with versions of reality, whilst its literary tentacles wrap us around in this fantastical and stylish twenty-first century exploration of nothing less than our own Momento Mori.

`Next World Novella’ is a great two hour read. And an even better two hour re-read.

And last but not least, I would like to celebrate Anthea Bell’s remarkable translation of this wry, poignant and very telling tale. I felt the intense pathos when two people in a marriage are not able to tell each of their feelings, when a marriage breaks apart due to it and changes forever.