Monday, 21 March 2016

On human frailty

The book that changed the way I read was 'We need to talk about Kevin' by Lionel Shriver. Before this book I tried to read positive, feel-good books with strong, likable characters that I would often give up on before I was half way through. After reading about Kevin I realised that it was the negative books with the more unlikable, fallible and fragile characters that I really liked reading. These are the latest reads concerning human weakness that I have enjoyed in the last few months.

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

I found this a sweet, deep story about an agoraphobic mother, Adele, her precocious young teenage son, Henry, and the unusual and close relationship that develops between them and an escaped convict, Frank, who hides with them over one long Labor Day weekend. The story is detailed and complicated. You could dismiss Adele as weak and Frank as bad, but I grew to have a soft spot for both of them and the love they manage to find for one another, despite the unlucky cards life has dealt them.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This novel was certainly a puzzling mystery. It leads you down several different paths and I often found myself being confounded and surprised by the twists and turns the plot was taking. It is an immensely readable book and I found myself absorbed and swept along with it despite hardly liking any of the characters, excepting Nick's sister Go. Amazing Amy is a tremendously complex character who I found very difficult to relate to, but I was still deeply interested in how her story would unfold.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The girl on the train is Rachael. At the beginning of the book we have her thoughts and feelings in the morning on the way to work and in the evening on her way home. While she is doing her daily commute her thoughts and feelings drift to the house she used to share with her ex-husband, that she still sees twice a day, as the view of it has become part of her journey. However her main view is of another house nearby and the attractive couple who live there, who she is soon obsessing over. Rachael's life at first appears fairly humdrum but it doesn't take long for things to unravel. We are introduced to the voices of two other girls, not on the train, Anna and Megan, and soon everything has gone sideways, if not upside-down. I really enjoyed this book, even though I had worked out the ending about two thirds of the way through.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

What I loved about this book is that the different sections of it are named after the different parts of a dinner you would get in a fancy restaurant. The different sections are Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and Digestif. I suppose you could think its quite boring to read about people eating, but there's much more to this story than that. Two couples have met in the fancy restaurant to discuss a terrible thing their sons have done. Over the course of the evening we find out that the couples themselves are not entirely blameless and the methods they are prepared to use to resolve the situation are quite shocking. The last time I encountered a couple having dinner in a fancy Dutch restaurant was in 'The Fault in our Stars', I found this book to be quite an unexpectedly nasty antidote to that romantic interlude.

To read more of my book reviews please visit my Goodreads reader page which you can find here.

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