Sightseeing

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Read 18/06/2017-21/06/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read as part of the Reader’s Room Read Around the World challenge.

I’m only loosely doing the current challenge on the Reader’s Room. I still have too many books on my pile to commit fully to tracking down books from far flung corners of the world. June is Thailand, though, and I thought some Thai literature might make for good summer reading.

My library has a copy of Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing. This is a collection of short stories set in Thailand, that shines a light on local life, both away from the tourist industry and where it butts up to it. Continue reading

Fantastic Night

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Read 13/03/2017-21/03/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Over on Brontë’s Page Turners not so long ago was a review of a novella by Stefan Zweig. I hadn’t heard of Zweig, but Brontë’s review made me want to read something by him.

Last week I went to the library to borrow one specific book. The library staff had done that thing of getting a table out and putting books on it to entice people to borrow them. One of the books was The Portable Veblen, which I’ve already read. But it pulled my irresolute eye towards the table and then Stefan Zweig’s Fantastic Night winked at me. There and then, I couldn’t recall why I knew his name, but I borrowed it anyway. Continue reading

Travelling Light

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Read 06/03/2017-08/03/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge.

I’m a big fan of Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories. I have been from childhood, when I borrowed Comet in Moominland from my primary school library. I love the way they deal with serious matters and reflect the best and worst of human nature through the curious inhabitants of Moomin Valley. I’m also a fan of Jansson’s fiction for adults, which is steadily being translated into English. Continue reading

The Miracle Shed

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Read 14/02/2017-19/02/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge.

My husband bought me this book, before I became his wife. He had read it and liked it, and wanted to share it with me. I didn’t get around to reading it at the time. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because there are always other books making their way to the crest of my book pile, pushing short story collections further down.

MacCann was apparently one to watch when this, his debut work, came out. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t published any other books. He’s been more focused on journalism. I read an article he wrote about being an alumnus of Malcolm Bradbury’s Creative Writing course at UEA. MacCann doesn’t seem to be a satisfied customer.

This collection of stories is filled with outsiders, people who internalise their dissatisfaction with life, or who try to numb it in some way. They are almost abstract as characters. MacCann plunges you straight into the heart of a story, without context or exposition. I felt like a voyeur, given a glimpse of these characters’ lives through a crack in a door, or a moment’s eavesdropping on a conversation. Continue reading

Leaving the Sea: Stories

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Read 07/11/2016-13/11/2016

Rating: 4 stars

So many books these days have endless quotes from reviews that prepare you for what you’re about to read. Especially books that are classed as different, difficult, uncomfortable, and extraordinary. Such is the case with Ben Marcus’s collection of stories, Leaving the Sea.

I own this book because Jen at The Reader’s Room reviewed it earlier in the year. She disliked it so passionately that I was intrigued. I’d read The Age of Wire and String, which is a very odd book but one that I loved wholeheartedly. I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I can only tell you that it made me feel light headed, light hearted, confused and delighted.

Jen very generously sent me the book. I’ve been waiting for a moment when it felt right to read it. Continue reading

Other Carnivals: New Stories from Brazil

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Read 31/08/2016-02/09/2016

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Olympic Challenge

I like short stories. In the right hands, they are mini masterpieces, giving you just enough to feel satisfied but not outstaying their welcome. Some short stories give the impression that they want to be something more, but the author has run out of steam. My favourite short story writers are Margaret Atwood, who has the best grasp of the form, and Haruki Murakami, who offers up interrupted insights into his ongoing world, like snatches of conversation overheard on the bus.

Other Carnivals is a collection of a dozen short stories put together to coincide with a South American literary festival in 2013. Some of the stories are better than others, but as an introduction to Brazilian writers, it works well. I’ll certainly be looking for more by Tatiana Salem Levy, Adriana Lisboa and Bernardo Carvalho. Continue reading

Stone Mattress: nine wicked tales

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Read 02/05/2016-06/05/2016

Rating: 4 stars

I love Margaret Atwood. She is my literary goddess. Although I blithely say that Haruki Murakami is my favourite author, and that’s true because he’s the only author whose works I will buy immediately because I can’t bear waiting for the paperback release, it’s a close-run thing with Ms Atwood. She has been in my life since I was a teenager, and read The Edible Woman. I have read almost all of her novels, and a handful of her short story collections. I wrote an essay about her for a booklet published by my local library service in 1999 for International Women’s Week. I’m shameless, so I’ll add it at the end of this review.

It’s almost a year since I read anything by Ms Atwood, and I saw Stone Mattress on the shelf in my local library, where I was carrying out a random hit and run selection on the As (that garnered me The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, someone I’ve never read before).

What I like about Margaret Atwood’s short stories is that she understands the format. She knows that it’s not for throwaway ideas that might or might not be worked into novels. She understands that the reader still needs to feel drawn in by the story, and satisfied by its ending. Not all writers have the skill to craft a truly good short story, but Margaret Atwood does. Whether it’s 50 pages or 10, she gives you everything you need to know to make the story real.
Continue reading