Boomerang Book Bites: Slade House by David Mitchell

What a bonus it is to have a new David Mitchell book only a year after the incredible The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell started this story on twitter but became obsessed with the story he had started and needed to see it through. The result is a ghost story in the hands and imagination of David Mitchell with is scary, compelling and amazing.
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Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Time is,
Time was,
Time is not

11221460_889655257754156_5258152833153975201_nWhat a bonus it is to have a new David Mitchell book only a year after the incredible The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell started this story on twitter but became obsessed with the story he had started and needed to see it through. The result is a ghost story in the hands and imagination of David Mitchell with is scary, compelling and amazing.

Some authors when they right shorter fiction can dilute themselves but with David Mitchell it is the opposite. Instead everything you love about David Mitchell is distilled into a story you will have to try very hard not to read in one go. Regardless of this book being a third of the length of The Bone Clocks or Cloud Atlas all the elements that make a David Mitchell novel something outstanding are all here. The four parts of the novel each have four distinct narrators and styles. Each part is set nine years apart and David Mitchell captures each different time as only he can. And despite there only being 233 pages David Mitchell’s imagination still soars.

Slade House is both a classic ghost story and a reinterpretation for the 21st century. Firmly set within the David Mitchell universe fans will love spotting all the different connections and there is even a hint of where David Mitchell will go next. If you haven’t read him before this is the perfect starter. All the wondrous flavours and tastes are here to relish and enjoy. I promise you you will be addicted in no time.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

9781444776775Translated by David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida this is a fascinating look into the world of autism. Written by a 13 year old boy, using an alphabet board, this book is a first hand account of what it is like for somebody with autism.

There is not a lot known about autism and I personally do not know anybody diagnosed with the disorder. The are a lot of myths about autism and assumptions made by people like myself who have no second hand experience with the disorder. A book like this gives an amazing insight and perspective into what the disorder is like and the effects confusion and misunderstanding has on those diagnosed with autism.

The book is set out as a series of common questions about autism that Naoki tries to answer. His answers are clear and empathic. They do not offer solutions or any advice but simply convey what dealing with autism is like for him and an attempt to try an explain the reason behind behaviour and emotional responses. There are no clinical explanations just the thoughts and observations of a thirteen year old boy which ultimately give a unique and brilliant insight into a disorder we still know so little about. Interspersed with Naoki’s answers and observations are short stories he has written that further demonstrate the intelligence, empathy and creativity he possesses.

This is a remarkable book about a remarkable disorder written by a remarkable person.

Buy the book here…

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 – Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

9780340822807This is an absolutely wonderful coming-of-age novel by a writer who cannot put a foot wrong. David Mitchell doesn’t just get inside the head of a thirteen year old boy but brings teenage adolescence to life like I have never read before. David Mitchell captures the innocence, the naivety, the pain and the joy so acutely that you are transported back to your own time as a teenager.

Jason Taylor is navigating the thirteenth year of his life and it is of course a tumultuous one. It is 1982 and Britain is about to go to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. At home something is happening between Jason’s parents and his sister is about to leave for university. Meanwhile at school Jason tries, fails and tries again to fit in with the other boys.

The novel brilliantly captures and portrays the inner battle everybody goes through over who we are and who we want to be. Jason is desperate to fit in with the other boys and stave of the bullies. He suppresses parts of himself to fit in; his bookishness, his poetry, his stammer. His loyalty to true friends is tested by their relative popularity. Everyday is a constant tightrope where one false move could see him become the class laughing-stock. David Mitchell mixes this all in with the ups and downs of life as seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.

I’m loving how all of David Mitchell’s novels are interconnected no matter how unrelated they appear. I could seriously live off nothing but David Mitchell books but with only two more books to read I’m also dreading running out of new material.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

9780340921586My obsession with David Mitchell continues and is getting more intense. There are books you devour. There are books you savour and never want to end. And then there are David Mitchell books which are both.

I went with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet because there was a reference and crossover with The Bone Clocks. It is the most linear chronologically of David Mitchell that I have read so far but in no means does this curb his imaginative scope. It is a love story, a historical novel of the highest class, it is a Japanese story of intrigue, honour and betrayal. It is quietly simply one of the most beautifully books I have ever read.

Set at the turn of the 19th century in Nagasaki the book focuses on a Dutch East Indies trading outpost, Dejima. Foreigners are not allowed on Japanese soil so the Dutch instead have created an artificial island from which they are allowed to trade. Jacob De Zoet is a new arrival tasked with the inevitable job of cleaning up the outpost’s highly corrupted books. De Zoet becomes not only enchanted and intrigued by the tightly closed and controlled feudal Japanese society but also a young midwife who is determined to learn the best of Dutch and European medical practices.

David Mitchell plots his story magnificently. Slowly placing all his pieces on his rich board before scattering things in ways only his imagination could conjuror. Rich in historical detail, deep in cultural complexities and with the perfect mix of tragedy and intrigue. David Mitchell is an absolute genius and I have to read everything he has written.

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…

How The Booker Was Won

Imagine me, swaggering out of the saloon doors into the dusty cross-section of town, whisky firing my gut. The unwelcome sun beats and blinds me for a moment – then I see in the middle of the dirt-lined street, a little way down the road: a gunslinger stands at ease, fingers playing invisible piano keys by each slim hip, its shadow a stretched twin, right down to the same arrogant ‘tude.

This ‘cowboy’ goes by the name of Man Booker, and he hasn’t been welcome in this part of town for years.

I don’t when me and this Booker’s feud started exactly. Chock it up to a number of run-ins on opposite sides of the law: The Line of Beauty too pretentious; The Gatheringdeathly boring. The White Tiger and The God of Small Things? Well. You know what mother says. Keep your meanest thoughts to yourself.

And now its time to blast this rattlesnake for good.


As we take 3 paces, backs to each other and ready to swivel for our lives, I remember that pretty little sweetheart Possession. You know the type: big blue eyes, characters in love, writin’ you could grow old with. And then rememberin’ all of a sudden, like old friends, Life of Pi, with his crazy eye-deers, and The Blind Assassin. What a beyootiful book.

And I gets to-thinkin: Hey, maybe this fella aint too bad after all.

The long list is out for the 2010 Booker, and he has a chance to make things right with me; just about square. There’s only room for one horse in this town. Goes by the name of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. And what’s more? According to The Guardian, ol’ man Mitchell has a fightin’ chance. I ain’t a bettin’ man, but…

[A tumbleweed skips, stumbles and stutters away through the middle of our stand-off…]

So here, right now, me and Booker – we’re at an uneasy truce. And so, pistols untouched, we suddenly find ourselves more in the mood for a hearty saloon-served meal than a bloody battle and a death, possibly a double, in a dead-end town.

A final spit in the dirt serves as his warning and we make our fragile peace.

***

The sun drops like a drunken head finding a pillow. Our star-spurred boots scuff lazily under the swinging saloon doors, Man Booker keepin’ his distance behind me, of course.

A little later: a saucy wench on each lap, and we have a real man’s fight, via a well-played four-hand poker. But not before I let my feelings be known: this town’s a one-horse type of town, cowboy. You better live up to your promise this year. Or else.

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?