‘To the End of the Land’

David Grossman’s To the End of the Land is an utterly absorbing, harrowing and heart-achingly evocative book.

Unlike some books, we are given quite a long synopsis on the back cover which is very useful due to the depth of the narrative.

From the outset, the book takes you off into a completely different world and into an unfamiliar scenario. Immediately we are out of our comfort zones and this is refreshingly brilliant! Our protagonist is Ora and we first encounter her in a medical facility where she, Avram and Ilan were sent as children. Soon into the first few chapters, we realise that we’re on the cusp of a love triangle but are constantly aware that there is much much more to the narrative than that…

OH MY there was SO much more to the narrative than that!

Suddenly, they aren’t children any more and they aren’t sheltered from the outside world and all the terrible things that happen there…they are in the midst of the Israel-Pakistan conflict and torn between right and wrong, fear and bravery and love and hate in a seemingly unending spiral! Not knowing much about the conflict in Israel/Pakistan meant that I actually learned a lot more about the people of the countries than the political backdrop.

It is impossibly hard to write about this book without firstly giving too much away!

So in addition to the three central characters, we become aware that Ora has two sons and they have been directly involved in the conflict, much to her despair, her youngest son Ofer is re-enlisted at the end of his tour and Ora soon convinces herself that he probably won’t come back from this and that she does not want to be there when they come to tell her that he or her ex Ilan…that he has died so she flees to Galilee…with Avram.Yes, you’ve guessed it…there’s a lot more to the unrequited love triangle than first meets the eye…

I absolutely love books that really focus on people rather than tarring them with the brush of the context. To the End of the Land does just that. In a similar vein to A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter, this book shows you the politics, the prejudices, the conflicts etc. predominantly through the people at the heart of the country. It is a wonderful read, difficult at times but it is the strength and realism of Ora as the central character and the focus on the plight of the people in spite of the horrendous ongoing conflicts that make this book so good and so real.

Grossman’s writing is tender, sophisticated and harrowing all in one. This is a wonderful book, which captures the fear, bravery and bloodshed of war whilst keeping love, family and heartache at the forefront.

If you like Khaled Hosseini and Eugenia Kim and if you like reading about strength in the face of adversity, you must read this book, it’s wonderfully and thoughtfully written whilst reminding you that even though all we civilians hear about war is in numbers…there are people behind the numbers, people behind the guns, people with families.

This book is good for rainy days and quiet evenings. You won’t be disappointed.

‘The Leopard’

Holy Moly! Another corker from Jo Nesbo! What I love most of all about these books is that I cannot put them down! I get completely and utterly addicted to them!

Harry Hole returns again to help solve a string of murders, well… supposedly that’s not the reason he returned…his father Olav is sick in hospital. But from reading The Snowman, it becomes apparent that as much as he tries to fight it, he cannot leave his crime-solving days behind…he HAS to stop the bad guys! That is the brilliance of Hole’s character, yes he’s the typical off-the-wall detective but he’s way more complicated and that’s why we come back and why HE comes back time and time again, risking life and limb to stop deadly, psychotic serial killers from striking again.

The Leopard is an exciting, breathtaking, thrill ride of a novel and as well as keeping with The Snowman’s style, Nesbo even brings ‘The Snowman’ into this one! Which, if you’ve read that book…you will get goosebumps on the back of your neck and actually become a little frightened. I think it was a brilliant idea to do that because it reinstated the idea that, just because you’ve caught the bad guys…doesn’t mean they disappear…they continue to have the same thoughts, ideas, emotions that you were aware of before and it brings the initial fear right back to you. But don’t worry, ‘The Snowman’ is still incapacitated…increasingly so, it seems.

I think it’s also interesting that we share a lot of the same fears and feelings as Harry. As soon as Kaja (the attractive female officer who drags him back from Hong Kong…) appears on the scene, we immediately think ‘Oh god, she’s going to be in danger’ and it is apparent that Harry feels the same way, keeping her at a distance for a while…but from our knowledge of Harry’s personality, we know that if he does allow himself to get close to her, he will protect her if it is the last thing he does.

I love Nesbo’s writing! We empathise, sympathise, share the same fear and the same emotions…albeit from the comfort of the tube/sofa/bed. I even felt a bit claustrophobic after the avalanche traps Harry and Kaja up in the mountains! This really is a credit to Nesbo’s style. His descriptions are tangible, the narratives are enthralling and the characters are really believable!

I’m desperate to get my hands on some of the earlier ‘Harry Hole’ books and try to see what has made him into the character he is in The Leopard. I know some people don’t approve of reading the books in the “wrong” order but I don’t think it matters…I love postmodern/disjointed, mixed-up narratives as it is!

If you haven’t read The Snowman yet – shame on  you! Go and read it now! Then read The Leopard maybe not straight away…you’ll be terrified! You won’t sleep! Fortunately, unlike me…you won’t have to read The Snowman when there are ACTUAL snowmen in your street and well, everywhere!

But I urge you to give Jo Nesbo a try…you won’t regret it!

‘Songs of Blue and Gold’

Deborah Lawrenson’s Songs of Blue and Gold is a touching, inquisitive read, which takes you through various intertwining plots, countries and emotions. It tells the story of Melissa, a thirty-something woman whose marriage and life seemingly are falling to pieces. When she is given a book while visiting her  mother, Elizabeth, she discovers that there are secrets in her mother’s past that due Elizabeth’s failing memory, she cannot find out directly.

Upon examining the book, Melissa discovers an inscription by the author, Julian Adie…

To Elizabeth, always remembering Corfu, what could have been and what we must both forget.

I know what you’re thinking…very mysterious!

When Elizabeth dies quite suddenly, Melissa decides to go to Corfu and try and find out more about her mother and unearth some explanation for the inscription…while also escaping from Richard (her charming, adulterous, sleaze of a husband) and also from having to make a decision about whether to forgive and (try to) forget all the things he has done.

In the picturesque village Kalami, where Adie once lived, she finds out more about her mother than she ever knew…although it was quite obvious from the inscription that there must have been something between Julian and Elizabeth, Melissa discovers a much darker secret which explains ‘what we must both forget’…

Songs of Blue and Gold is full of beautiful evocative descriptions, which are so tangible that you feel like you are standing right there! I will admit that I thought I knew what the book would be about after Melissa discovered the inscription but I am so glad that I didn’t judge the book in the first couple of chapters as it really is a brilliant narrative and the mixture of styles was really fascinating. The book swims between texts that she finds on Adie’s life, her own memoir that she adds to throughout…and later, an American academic’s book which uncovers an unexplained death…Reading all of these different sections gave me so much more than a straight novel would as it gave different perspectives and also kept the mystery going as different segments revealed different clues.

This would be a great book to take on holiday because it encourages you to truly appreciate the landscape and the atmosphere and also allows you to be swept along in the emotions, the narratives and the drama…Lawrenson’s writing style is effortlessly and wonderfully descriptive and is definitely worth a read!

‘Generation A’

Oh my! I haven’t blogged in aaaaaaaaaages! Feels good to be back!

After reading Atwood’s Year of the Flood a few months ago, I found myself craving another dystopia! Whether for fun or to make the real world seem slightly better…I found myself picking up Generation A by Douglas Coupland…I say picking up…the reality is that I burrowed through my pile of books that kind publishing companies had given me over the six months rather than coolly perusing the shelves in Waterstones on a lazy afternoon…

 

 

Anyway, it was a good choice! Coupland’s writing just drew me in completely and I found myself forgetting the fact that it was a dystopia and being sucked into the postmodern whirlpool of stories and streams of consciousness quite without realising! I also hadn’t realised, having decided not to research the book before reading (so as not to spoil the plot, not out of laziness…) that Generation A is the sequel to Generation X another novel, similar in narrative and structure it seems…however unlike Generation X where the characters are friends and are discussing their theories on creation…in Generation A, none of the characters have met before though they find themselves drawn together by a freak occurrence only affecting the 6 of them – they get stung by bees! Although this may not sound like a freak occurrence, bees have become extinct in this dystopia…and although those of us who have had the pleasure of being stung by a bee might argue that this sounds great (NB: If you sit on a bee, it shouldn’t sting you. Why? It shouldn’t be there in the first place! Seats are for people!!! Anyway…), like all dystopian novels…there’s a catch. The extinction of the bees scared the human race that they have angered Mother Nature and so they are now backtracking in an attempt to get her back on side…

I know some people aren’t a fan of fragmented narratives and jumpy plot structures but I love them, I love being taken on a journey and not knowing the outcome…of course I still enjoy stories with a clear beginning, middle and end…school drummed that into me! But I also love the unknown…

Ultimately, if you like straight narratives…you might not be a massive fan…but if, like me, you love disjointed post-modern novels, Douglas Coupland’s writing is right up your street! Brilliant!

Oh, and respect the bees.

‘The Snowman’

Oh my! This book is incredible! The main place that I read ‘The Snowman’ was on the train, which unknowingly made me very suspicious of EVERYONE else on the tube! It was literally chilling! (Pardon the pun…) I can’t believe that this is the first of Jo Nesbo’s novels that I’ve read! Where have I been? Fortunately, I have been assured by the lovely people at CCV that there are more to come!

From the start of the novel, it becomes clear that the title represents something a lot more terrifying than Raymond Briggs would have us believe!

One night in Oslo, a young boy wakes up to find his mother missing. When searching for her, he discovers wet footprints on the stairs…he looks outside and is faced with a snowman, glistening in the darkness…wearing his mother’s scarf.

Troubled but brilliant DI Harry Hole is assigned to the case, along with newly appointed Katrine Bratt. A mysterious but efficient woman who is determined not to take any rubbish from anyone! Soon after finding the first snowman, Harry recieves an anonymous letter from ‘The Snowman’, indicating that the woman’s disappearance wasn’t simply an unloved wife running away but something a lot more sinister!

As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that ‘The Snowman’ has a vendetta against married women with children…but also that he has met his match in Harry Hole. This thrilling, disturbing crime novel keeps you guessing right until the end, leading you towards one opinion before smashing it completely and leaving a trail of doubt in your mind. Nesbo’s writing is fantastically gripping, he describes scenes with such tangible details that stay with you, hauntingly for days!

An absolutely fantastic read! But if you’re a scaredy cat (like I am…) I’d recommend reading it before Christmas, when you are faced with snowman, after snowman, after snowman on your way home…or you may become a hermit!