Tokyo Ueno Station

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Read 17/10/2019-20/10/2019

Rating 4 stars

Tokyo Ueno Station is a ghost story, an alternative history of Japan and a critique of Japanese society. Beginning among the homeless community who live in and around the busy commuter station near Ueno Park, it reaches back through time to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the post-war economic boom, the migration of workers to Tokyo to help build the Olympic park in 1964, and the devastating tsunami of 2011.

The narrator of the tale is called Kazu. Through him, we see a different Japan to the one portrayed in travel programmes and newspaper articles. It’s a harrowing story of loss and abandonment. Continue reading

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A Chancer

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Read 06/10/2019-16/10/2019

Rating 3 stars

First published in 1985, A Chancer is James Kelman’s second novel. It’s an examination of working class Glasgow life through the eyes of Tammas, a young man of twenty.

We meet Tammas at the end of an unproductive factory night shift, playing cards and winning money from a co-worker that the co-worker doesn’t have. The factory is short on orders and it looks like redundancies are imminent.

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This Way to Departures

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Read 04/10/2019-06/10/2019

Rating 5 stars

This Way to Departures is Linda Mannheim’s second collection of short stories for Influx Press. It’s the follow up to Above Sugar Hill, which I loved.

This Way to Departures spreads its net wider than NYC, both geographically and emotionally. If Above Sugar Hill is about the identity of a particular place and its influence on those who are entwined in its arms, then Departures is about the nomads who have no place of their own and find it impossible to become entwined, no matter where they go.

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The Grey Man

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Read 20/09/2019-01/10/2019

Rating 4 stars

The Grey Man is an historical adventure novel set in South Ayrshire around the villages of Maybole, Girvan and Ballantrae and across the moorlands of Carrick and Kyle. Narrated by Launcelot Kennedy, it concerns the warring factions of the Kennedy clan, divided between the Earl of Cassillis and the Laird of Bargany, during the 17th century. Launcelot is of the clan that supports Cassillis.

I bought this book because we have holidayed a few times in the area, and I wanted to read a novel that revealed something about the history of the region. I couldn’t have chosen better. Continue reading

I Who Have Never Known Men

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Read 13/09/2019-20/09/2019

Rating 5 stars

Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men is filed under Sci-Fi at my local library. I’m not entirely sure why. There’s a vague hint that the characters, who are incarcerated in an underground bunker for the first part of the novel, are no longer on Earth. It felt more dystopian than Sci-Fi to me, more akin to The Handmaid’s Tale, futuristic and speculative.

The novel was first published in French in 1995. An English translation followed in 1997. Vintage has reissued Ros Schwartz’s translation this year with an excellent introduction to the novel by Sophie Mackintosh. She, too, suggests that it’s a Sci-Fi work, but also relates it to Herland. Mackintosh’s intro draws out the key strands of the story and makes a case for the significance of Harpman’s book far better than I can. We are agreed that it’s a masterpiece. Continue reading

Crimson

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Read 10/09/2019-12/09/2019

Rating 4 stars

Niviaq Korneliussen’s Crimson is a novel about a group of friends in their twenties. It’s set in Greenland and it explores themes of love, anger and betrayal against a backdrop of sexual liberty, gender politics, self discovery and the effects of child abuse.

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The Diary of a Bookseller

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Read 06/09/2019-08/09/2019

Rating 5 stars

Weezelle at Words and Leaves recommended Shaun Bythell’s memoir of running The Book Shop in Wigtown before I’d been to Wigtown or knew The Book Shop existed. Indeed, when I visited by accident in 2018 on the way home from a holiday the other side of the Galloway Forest, diverted by the Misogynist in Chief sojourning at his gaudy golf shack, I didn’t even realise that the book Weezelle had recommended was about that shop. Continue reading