Monthly Archives: June 2012

Look at Me – Jennifer Egan

I read A Visit from the Goon Squad and loved it. So I was keen to read this one.

Here is the blurb …

In her first novel since her widely praised debut, The Invisible Circus, Jennifer Egan demonstrates once again her virtuosity at weaving a spellbinding story with language that dazzles. In this boldly ambitious and symphonic novel, she captures the tenor of our times and offers an unsettling glimpse of the future.

Fashion model Charlotte Swenson returns to Manhattan, having just recovered from a catastrophic car accident in her hometown of Rockford, Illinois. The skin of her face is perfect, but behind it lie eighty titanium screws that hold together the bones that were shattered when she hit the unbreakable windscreen of her car.

Unrecognizable to her peers and colleagues, Charlotte finds it impossible to resume her former life. Instead, she floats invisibly through a world of fashion nightclubs and edgy Internet projects, where image and reality are indistinguishable.

During her recovery in Rockford, she had met another Charlotte, the plain-looking teenage daughter of her former best friend. Young Charlotte, alienated from parents and friends, has come under the sway of two men: her uncle, a mentally unstable scholar of the Industrial Revolution, and an enigmatic high school teacher whom she seduces.

In following these tales to their eerie convergence, Look at Me is both a send-up of image culture in America and a mystery of human identity. Egan illuminates the difficulties of shaping an inner life in a culture obsessed with surfaces and asks whether “truth” can have any meaning in an era when reality itself has become a style.

Written with powerful intelligence and grace, Look at Me clearly establishes Jennifer Egan as one of the most daring and gifted novelists of her generation.In her first novel since her widely praised debut, The Invisible Circus, Jennifer Egan demonstrates once again her virtuosity at weaving a spellbinding story with language that dazzles. In this boldly ambitious and symphonic novel, she captures the tenor of our times and offers an unsettling glimpse of the future.

I really enjoyed this novel in fact I liked it so much I’m going to dig out my husband’s copy of The Keep.

I read a review at The Guardian, which was what I thought, but written so much better than I can ever do I’m just going to link to it.

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The Memory Tree – Tess Evans



I read The Book of Lost Threads and loved it, consequently  I was very keen to read Ms Evans new novel.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I would think very carefully before recommending this novel – mostly because of the content (I don’t want to give anything away, but there is death and mental illness and it might just be too confronting for some people).
Here is the blurb …
 When Paulina dies mid-dance, she leaves 12-year-old Zav and 7-year-old Sealie with their loving but unstable father, Hal. The grieving family decides to plant a tree in her memory – a magnolia which, growing along with the children, offers a special place where secrets are whispered and feelings can be confessed.
But as the memory tree grows, Hal, bereft, and increasingly suspicious of the world, turns to his own brand of salvation to make sense of the voices that bewilder and torment him. Mrs Mac, housekeeper and second mother since Paulina’s death, cooks, cleans, loves and worries about her ‘family’. She is even more concerned when Hal brings a larger-than-life stranger to the house for a beer; but Pastor Moses B. Washbourne, founder of the Church of the Divine Conflagration, ex-sergeant of the US Army, soon becomes part of the family, with surprising and far-reaching consequences.
As the seasons pass, Sealie blossoms into young woman, the apple of Hal’s eye while Zav, having spent his childhood quietly trying to win his father’s lost attention, is conscripted for duty in Vietnam.
And all the while, the voices continue to murmur poisonous words to Hal who knows he must keep them hidden . . . until he is persuaded into the most tragic of acts.
Written with humour and compassion, The Memory Tree is a poignant and compelling story of love, loyalty, grief and forgiveness

It was beautifully written – the characters seemed very real and her portrayal of mental illness superb. We know Hal does something awful, but when we finally come to the event it is still shocking and tragic. But Hal is not the only ‘broken’ character; Zav can’t seem to get on with his life he is both  self absorbed and selfish dooming Sealie to a life of servitude. And Sealie sacrifices her life so easily I wonder if she had any real interest to live her life.

Along with fabulous characters, there was a real feeling of place. Whether it be the house by the river Hal built for Paulina or the j ward of the mental asylum you could picture the environment.  This story is about family, heredity, duty and sacrifice, but it is also about the family we make for ourselves – Mrs Mac, Godown, Will and Scottie.

More reviews … (You might need to scroll down a bit to find this one) 



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The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

I read about this novel somewhere and I can’t remember where – possibly The Australian, but I can’t find a review online. I got into the queue at the library and was pleasantly surprised to get an email last week informing me that it was my turn.

Here’s the blurb …

 At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for the big leagues. Then a routine throw goes disastrously off course and the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s life purpose is called into question. Longtime bachelor Guert Affenlight, the college’s president, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes swept up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish to start a new life after escaping an ill-fated marriage.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets, and help one another to discover their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about the bonds of family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others.

Now let me just say that I know nothing at all about baseball (just what I’ve learnt from Kevin Costner films), but I stilled enjoyed this novel. It’s about relationships – family, friends, team-mates, lovers etc – how we meet people and how we maintain relationships. What we owe to ourselves and the other people in our lives. It is also about fate or at least the unexpected directions our lives can take. For example, Pella is looking at a glittering future – early acceptance to Yale  and then on to a brilliant career – except she falls in love with an older man drops out of school and at 23 she finds herself in an unhappy marriage five years behind her peers. And Henry who thought his last high school baseball game was his last game ever ends up with a College scholarship and scouts and agents sniffing around.

The characters are brilliant – Henry who was only truly himself on a baseball field, Pella the self-involved princess who over thinks everything and the long-suffering Mike who tries to hold everything together, but at what cost? This novel would definitely benefit from a second reading, but alas, I must return it to the library for the next person.

Here are some more reviews … 

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Filed under Fiction, Recommended