Friday, 22 April 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

I had never heard of this book. It’s a Swedish translation first released in the UK sometime last year. Apparently it made its way to Sainsburys last summer where someone in the group picked it up and as they had just started to read it last month put it forward as a suggestion. The pressure to choose a good book was great as we have had a couple of stinkers recently so the first page was read with as much tension as a Wimbledon Andy Murray final.

I clicked with this book immediately which quite a few of the group didn’t. It took them a few chapters to get into it and appreciate Ove and his ways. Someone mentioned that they found the writing style quite abrupt but I liked it as I felt it mirrored how Ove was – he wasn’t a man for putting spin on things or waxing lyrical about sunny mornings.

I guessed very very early on about his wife and as I was reading I thought I knew how it was going to end – he was going to die surrounded by all these friends that he had made along the way. I didn’t mind this as I really enjoyed reading the journey but in the end it didn’t end quite how I thought it would and for that reason I liked it even more.

There were many laugh out loud moments and some brilliant one liners. I loved Ove’s description about runners. I’m paraphrasing but it was loosely ‘they jog about demonstrating to the world that they can neither walk properly nor run properly and feel the need to dress up like a member of a bobsled team whilst doing it’

In addition to the laughs there were also tears, I think from pretty much everyone in the group. The ‘grandad’ moment particularly got to me but there were moments littered throughout the book. I really really felt for Ove – when his house burnt down and the insurance man in the white shirt came, when the guy at work (was it Tom?) accused him of stealing, when the bus crashed. I loved him when he travelled for hours in the wrong direction just to sit next to Sonja and the reason behind why he bought the I-pad.

I could practically re-write the book by mentioning all the parts I loved. What are your favourites? I won’t though, I will try to give more opinions instead of just saying what about when the whole SAAB v Volvo debate and all the glorious moments with Rune or where he expected the cat to sit on a newspaper in the car?

Ove was just such a brilliant character but there was a great supportive cast. Special mention must go to ‘That Cat Annoyance’ I loved him. I also liked how Parvenah was with Sonja – taking her flowers and thanking her for letting Parvenah borrow him.

We talked about how Sonja would have coped if the roles had been reversed. The group was split between thinking she would have had to go into a home as it was Ove who carried her up the stairs every day and drove her to the shops however she seemed to be the much more sociable of the two and I can imagine Parvenah invading her life just as much as she did Ove’s.

I was reminded of The Rosie Project and whilst there was no suggestion that Ove had any sort of autistic tendencies I could certainly liken the two characters set in their ways but pushed out of their comfort zones by women. Nobody else in the group saw this connection so it may have just been me. Anyone else pick up on this?

The book got a very high 8.6 with quite a few 9s handed out making it easily our best book of the year so far.

Question of the month – nice and easy one – what was the last book that made you cry?

Next book is The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It’s been knocking around as a suggestion for a few months now so if you have already read it let me know your marks out of ten.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith #inbetweeny

So time for another inbetweeny before my review of our book of the month A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. This time I'd chosen to read Career of Evil by Robert (JK) Galbraith (Rowling).

I've read both previous Strike novels and whilst I loved the character's I was slightly dubious on Rowlings ability to write excellent crime novels. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the books but had definitely read more edge of the seat stuff. This one came highly recommended and as I had enjoyed the other two I was looking forward to a change from the not so good books we had chosen at book club so far in 2016 (no pressure Ove!)

I really enjoyed it - I tried to write that all fancy but couldn't think of a better way to put it.

I loved the character's and think the story between Strike and Robin did move forward (although I do question how long the will they won't they can be kept going).I loved the journey round northern England/Scotland and the Royal Wedding and that band who came third on the X Factor. Rowling just has a way of capturing things that reads so well.

We've always known that about Rowling though and the crunch with a detective novel is in the detecting and this time I think she upped her game. It was grizzly, gritty stuff (biting frozen fingers for sexual pleasure springs to mind) and although the reader could have become confused with 3 similar suspects Rowling was aware of this and gave each a sufficient backstory and enough reminders to keep the reader on track - massive tick for that.

In short I just really enjoyed it and will look forward to reading any new installment. When does the tv series start?

Oh and a special request to Rowling - please can we have more of Shanker - totally loved him. She really does write some stonking characters.

#wouldstayontheshelfbutitsonloan #inbetweeny

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Well I’m not sure what to make of the book and really unsure what score to give it. I haven’t read anything by Ishiguro before and avoided reviews or opinions about the book so really went into it blindfolded.

At first I found the book enjoyable and was very surprised when reference to ogres and dragons popped up. These are not words that historically have gone down well with our book club (read the review on The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett) so it was with interest I read on wondering how many of the group would fall away by chapter 5 and who would hate it on the spot as soon as the word pixie appeared on a page.

I found it very Tolkein-esque – the two main characters although human live underground in warren like rooms connected by passages. They set off on a long journey and end up embroiled in destroying a mysterious mist threatening all mankind.

The storey in itself was quite simplistic but I as a reader felt the whole time there was a hidden meaning, the characters merely symbolic to portray some higher message which although I couldn’t work out what it was, would become clear by the end of the book. The boatman was totally going to reappear.

I liked how the book illustrated how one persons version of events or memory of an event differs to anothers and how memory isn’t always accurate. It was also an interesting point to develop – how memory makes us what we are and what happens when those memories disappear.

So here I was enjoying the book. The characters were a little annoying – Beatrice with her repetitive pleas to Axl not to leave her and Axl with his repetitive referring to Beatrice as his Princess and overall the book was a little slow but I went with it and as I say enjoyed it. Until I realised I had finished the book and still didn’t have a clue about what the hidden meaning/analogy/allegory/metaphor/whatever the hell it was that I was supposed to have got by now but hadn’t was. I had read it all (and checked for an epilogue) but still felt like I had missed the whole point of the book.

So I googled (I swear those guys should give me shares considering the amount of googling I do) and it seems like I was not alone in the ‘ok so what was it all about then?’ category.

I found reference to Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem about the nephew of King Arthur who was undertaking a mysterious quest. I found some vague notion about how it was vague and shadowy deliberately to reflect the knowledge we have around the time the book was set – the Dark Ages where myth and legend are whispered and we have only scraps to rely upon. I found some half interesting discussion about whether it is best to remember and learn from our mistakes ‘those who forget the past are bound to repeat it’ (George Santayana) or whether it’s better to forget and move on untainted by our mistakes but equally unpunished. I learnt that Axl is Scandinavian for ‘father of peace’ which he seemed to be in his earlier years and that Beatrice was Dante’s great love who embodied all that is best in the world (I just found her annoying) but I didn’t find THE explanation. The one that made me go ‘ah I get it now’ the one that made me think ‘wow that’s such a clever book’. I remember reading Animal Farm by George Orwell at face value and then having it taught to me by my Theatre Studies teacher and being astounded that a book could on the face of it be a childs farmyard story yet actually represent the Russian Revolution. I remember I was totally blown away and have looked for hidden meanings in books ever since. I was desperate to find such a thing here but just couldn’t.

I started to think what if Ishiguro really wasn’t that clever and there wasn’t really any hidden meaning? You would then be left with a simplistic, slightly slow, fantasy tale that was just ok?

Some have argued that it is deliberately ambiguous so you can give your own interpretation, I think that is perhaps people being kind. So my question of the month is this - If you have read it how do you interpret it? What’s it all about? What is the buried giant, is it memory? Who does Edwin and the Warrior and Gawain and Axl and Beatrice and the dragon and hell even the giant represent? What happened at the end? Give me your thoughts so I can have my ‘ah I get it now’ moment otherwise for me I’m afraid I can only say it was a nice tale but I am small and its depth went totally over my head.

I give it a flexible 6 – I’m willing to upgrade should the ‘ah’ moment occur. The group gave it a 5.5

Next book is A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman