Christmas for Literature Lovers

AmnesiaThere are so many great books published each year. Here are my favourite 2014 literary novels. They’re the best I’ve read, with the exception of The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – which I’ll write about soon. You will have other selections (and we’d love to hear them) but these are my Christmas picks.

(I’ve mentioned some picture books and novels for children in previous posts

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/christmas-collectibles/2014/11;

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/gothic-tales-for-christmas/2014/11)

Peter Carey is in scintillating form with Amnesia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin). Amnesia breaks into brilliant new directions, ingenious and daring like Carey’s exceptional, My Life as a FakeJournalist Felix Moore is writing a book about Gaby Baillieux, who graduated from hacking to cyber-activism and possible terrorism against America. Carey takes us between Melbourne, Sydney, the Hawkesbury River and the 1942 Battle of Brisbane – where Australians fought the Americans in the streets.  His knowledge and insight penetrates and interprets recent Australian history around the White Australia Policy, Pine Gap, politicians Jim Cairns and Gough Whitlam and The Dismissal, as well as America’s ‘murder’ of Australian democracy. Carey crafts this into a fascinating work and even throws in asides about steampunk and artist Sidney Nolan.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre) is structured in the adventurous style that Mitchell used in Cloud Atlas, a roam Bone Clocksthrough a wide period of time, including into the future. The fantastical elements are seeded brilliantly throughout the early chapters of The Bone Clocks. The character of Holly Sykes links the parts, although they may not be told in her voice and she is quite a peripheral character in some sections. There are some Australian characters and some parts are set here: Rottnest Light is compared with the reappearing hill in Through the Looking Glass, for example.

One of my favourite sections profiles the fading writer, Crispin Hershey, a famous and respected literary writer, whose world is imploding because his writing quality and output has dropped. He takes revenge on a critic who pans his latest book with dire results. In one scene someone tells him about his plan to set Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North to music. Holly is feted as an author in this part of the book.

I love novels about writers.

Blazing WorldI also love novels about art and The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) is the best I’ve read this year. Under-recognised artist, New Yorker, Harriet Burden decides to test whether art created by males is valued more highly than art by women so she undertakes an audacious experiment. Over time, she collaborates with three male artists but the resulting works are shown in the males’ names. Recognition seems to be far greater for these works than for her own, even though her artistic stamp is visible. The characterisation, ideas about identity and descriptions of the artworks are phenomenal.

Other ‘types’ of novels that I love are about Japan. David Mitchell wrote a stunner several years ago, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and I reviewed Mark Henshaw’s  2014 The Snow Kimono (Text) here http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-snow-kimono/2014/09

Snow Kimono

I was a little ambivalent about reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) because the marketing and reviews rightly focused on the plot of High Court judge Fiona Maye’s case about ‘almost-man’ (Adam is almost eighteen) from a Jehovah’s Witness background who refuses a blood transfusion to stabilise his rare leukaemia. This certainly is the hub of the novel and McEwan skilfully brings it to life without sentiment but the novel’s elegant writing and insight into Fiona’s life is the exquisite packaging around this important issue, which makes it a fine literary work. It also revolves around music – the other type of novel I love.

Children Act

Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

the-bone-clocksAfter only reading Cloud Atlas I was already in awe of David Mitchell so I dove straight into his new novel at the first available opportunity. And once again was swept away by the storytelling, the language and the imagination.

The book has been described as “his most Cloud Atlas-y novel since the global phenom Cloud Atlas” and I can’t wait to read his other books. The structure is very similar although doesn’t cascade back again like Cloud Atlas did. This book reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman however David Mitchell’s writing writing elevates the novel to a new level. This could easily be classified a genre novel like a Gaiman or Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August but the depth and extent of Mitchell’s writing does separate him and means his books get the literary fiction tag instead of science fiction.

The novel opens in 1984 in England. We meet Holly Sykes, aged 15, who has run away from home. In the process Holly becomes part of a chain events outside her, and our, comprehension. Holly inadvertently makes a promise the consequence of which will have repercussions for many lives.

The story then jumps 7 years and we appear to start again. Like Cloud Atlas it feels like a whole new story until links between them slowly bubble to the surface and a tiny bits of the truth begins emerging. At this stage, hardly even half way through the book I was totally in love with this novel. I knew I didn’t want it to end and just wanted to continue being lost.

Mitchell keeps jumping forward into the future and other people who are a party of Holly’s story. Each piece reveals a tiny bit more of the bigger picture but is also wonderfully self-contained. I would take a single novel from one of these stories any day. To have them all join up together is even more special and indicative of the genius that David Mitchell is. The climax to the novel tests the limits of your belief but in David Mitchell you trust. And just when you think the story may have reached too far past the incredible Mitchell brings you back to a compelling and evocative conclusion.

David Mitchell fans will absolutely love this book and it will definitely create new ones too. There are references and characters from other books tying everything together into the David Mitchell universe. As a new fan of Mitchell I am going to dive straight into another novel because I am just in awe of his writing and need to get back to his universe as soon as I possible can.

Buy the book here…

Review – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

9780340822784Where has David Mitchell been all my reading life? People have raved to me about David Mitchell many times and after seeing the excitement over proof copies of his new novel, The Bone Clocks, (due out in September) I finally decided to find out what all the fuss was about. Cloud Atlas was universally declared as the place to start and David Mitchell immediately blew me away.

On the surface Cloud Atlas appears to be six separate stories and they each work independently of one another. The stories range from  a colonial journal, to  a 1970s political thriller through to post-apocalyptic vision of our world. Each story is a magnificent piece of storytelling. Mitchell’s use of language is staggering in its skill, imagination and breadth. Each story takes his writing to new levels with the sixth story astonishing in its linguistic achievement and storytelling.

But the genius of Cloud Atlas is the way that David Mitchell has joined these stories together. The stories are interlocked in intricate and subtle ways. At first it feels like you are adding layers and when you reach the apex of Mitchell’s timeline you begin peeling them back. But it is even more than that. It is very much a sextet of stories. Each carefully arranged and conducted by an author who is unconfined by time, space or genre and utilizing the limitlessness of his imagination.

Each year I manage to discover a new author who I have missed along the way. This year’s discovery is a goldmine and I cannot wait to devour David Mitchell’s other books.before diving in to The Bone Clocks which has been described as “his most Cloud Atlas-y novel since the global phenomenon Cloud Atlas”. Can’t wait!!

Buy the book here…

Why David Mitchell Makes My Head Hurt (In the Best Way Possible)

Guys, just finished David Mitchell’s newest: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and just had to share my thoughts on it. It is ah-mazing. I don’t know why I haven’t read more of his work, but last year was my first taste of his genius, when I finally worked up the courage to plough my way through Cloud Atlas (it had been sitting on my shelves gathering dust for at least a year previous). So, what did I think of that one? Pretty damn crazy, and also pretty damn good.
Cloud Atlas, if you haven’t had the chance (or the bravery) to read it yet, I warn you now – it gets a little muddy. There are six narrators in all, cursing their way through history with the echoes of each other’s voices at their backs. Your first reaction may be to hit your head against a wall, and that’s ok. You wouldn’t be the first, or the last. But stick with it, and this philosophical map of human power; the way we lust after it, and the way we fall victim to it, makes itself known across the 544 pages. Like I say with all my chunksters, the sense of accomplishment is there, but David Mitchell has this added extra of ‘enlightenment’ for the reader:

“Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks war? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence, is the instrument of this dreadful will… The nation state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be.”

Pg 462, Cloud Atlas.


It appears from fan reviews that he likes a fat splash of sci-fi in his novels: I would liken one of the stories in Cloud Atlas to the Eastern movie 2046 (also highly recommended), or maybe a condensed and not entirely westernised version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. There’s another story in Cloud Atlas that speaks of colonialism and this is perhaps where we first see Mitchell’s talent at writing ‘colonial historical fiction’ , later brought to the fore in his first ever one-man story, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

Think feudal Japan on the brink of revolution (westernisation). The island of Dejima, an island just off the coast of Japan set up for the pure purpose of trade. An island that is open only to a select few foreigners, and Jacob De Zoet – a 20-something Dutchman – is one of them. Like Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns is also about the will to power, the subjugation and replacement of a minority culture by a majority culture. And besides the message it conveys about humanity’s greed, there’s also a rollicking good adventure to be had in reading this book.

Every so often, a book comes along that – through some holy fusion of chance – has a wonderfully stylised viewpoint, a hidden message, a set of brilliantly realised and fatally flawed characters, and an historical storyline that is more fascinating than any fantasy. I’m thinking this is one of them!
I did a bit more of an indepth review on my lifestyle blog, if you’re interested in a few further thoughts on the book. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is released at the end of this month with that stunning cover art (it’s sparkly in the flesh!), and while it may be a bit more exxy than your usual weekly read – believe me, it’s worth it, particularly if you’re already a Mitchell fan. And if you’re not, well, chances are you will be.

What do you think of David Mitchell? Does he deserve the critical praise he receives for his works? Do you have a favourite David Mitchell book? Let me know, so I can make a decision about which to read next!

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?