Weekly Reading List #3 – Kevin, Novels, And An Autobiography

This week I read a few books, but wasn’t in the mood for anything particularly intellectually challenging so most of them were light read novels.

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

A beautifully written very quick read, The Vanishing Act follows life on an island from the perspective of Minou, a young girl whose mother has disappeared. Minou’s father and the other island residents are convinced her mother is dead, but Minou isn’t so sure.

Unlike many books in which a parent disappears, Minou doesn’t spend all her time trying to find out where her mother has gone. She thinks she’s alive, but she’s not absolutely sure, and while she’d like to prove it, she’s enough of a philosopher to realise she probably can’t. Instead the book focuses on Minou’s life, the day-to-day minutiae of the island and its inhabitants, and describes their intertwining lives and relationships.

It’s a lovely little book and certainly recommended if you want a quick, light novel that will make you smile.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I liked the idea of this book because the title is a story in itself. It already tells you what happens: the only things left to fill in are all those pesky details.

But as we all know, the details are what make life so interesting, and centenarian Allan has led a very interesting life indeed. Having woven in and out of some of the most important moments in history, Allan has touched lives all over the world and continues to do so following his escape from the old people’s home where he now lives.

After his escape Allan teams up with a group of unlikely comrades, who end up on the run together in a Woody Allen-esque absurd comedy.

I greatly enjoyed this book. I particularly enjoyed the bits set in the present, while he’s on the run with his newfound friends (and occasionally enemies. Frenemies, perhaps.) To me, the parts set in the past felt a bit contrived – Allan had been so pivotal to so many historical events that it detracted from the story. Whilst it fitted with the absurdity element, in some ways it took away from what could have been a more moving tale about the ways in which the life of the average person can affect those around them – and perhaps even the world on a larger scale.

Having said that, I did enjoy the point the author seemed to be making about people who aren’t interested in politics. Allan isn’t interested in talking or learning about this subject, and yet for this very reason he ends up embroiled in some of the world’s most politically charged conflicts. I thought it was an interesting point: not just that inaction in itself is a type of action, but also that if you’re firmly against thinking about a subject then you might end up contributing to the very problems that make you not want to think about it in the first place.

A book I’d recommend despite not being a huge fan of the historical bits, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is one of those stories you won’t forget in a hurry.

That Day In June by Martina Reilly

You are just dropping into the library to use the toilet, I told myself, You are not allowed to pick up books to read. There are already enough books on your reading pile at home. 

Well, I only picked up three. That counts as moderation, right?

That Day In June is the story of Sandy, who ran away from her mother’s house at age seventeen when being a literal shut-in got too much for her. When her money and the contact details she needed were stolen, she ended up on the streets of Dublin, and after walking for a while ultimately found a home under a bush in a village nearby.

It is also the story of Max, who notices Sandy sitting on a bench and decides to buy her a coffee and a sandwich. They strike up a tentative friendship, but then one day Max disappears.

Will Sandy have the courage to investigate where he’s gone? And if she does, might it make her face up to the demons in her own past?

That Day In June is a good novel, easy to read, with sympathetic characters and a storyline that doesn’t require you to do too much thinking. Martina Reilly wasn’t someone I’d heard of before, but I may keep an eye out for other books of hers now that I’ve read this one. I’d recommend it as a summer read, but since that’s nearly over now, maybe a novel for an autumn evening in front of a fire with a mug of hot chocolate?

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

A while ago I bought a job lot of Mary Higgins Clark novels from a book catalogue, hence the sudden influx of these reviews.

I love MHC because you know what you’re getting. It’ll be a fairly straightforward whodunnit, usually with a twist, sometimes predictable and sometimes not so much. The tension will be high enough to keep you interested but not so high as to uncomfortably raise your blood pressure. The characters will be a little wooden in places but generally relatable, and at the end the bad guys will be found out and the good guys will probably turn out OK, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises along the way.

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting fits this description. It’s about two sisters, Kate and Hannah, and a tragedy that strikes them both in different ways. When the family’s warehouse goes up in flames, Kate is inside, along with a disgruntled former employee. While Kate is in a coma, Hannah must work with the police to uncover the truth about the explosion. Who set it? Why? Who will benefit?

This is a book with a twist in its tail, and it wasn’t one I guessed very early on. Definitely a fun read for a quiet night in, just the kind of thing that will keep you on your toes.

The Nest by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney

This book is about four spoilt children who grow up assuming they’ll come into a small fortune each when the youngest hits forty, and then none of them do because one of them ends up draining the fund beforehand.

As you might imagine, it’s hard to be sympathetic to these characters at times, and yet somehow they’re not so obnoxious as to be unreadable. I thought I should be disliking them much more strongly than I was – as it happened, I felt more like I was just despairing of them, rather than outright hating them.

It’s a story that doesn’t really go anywhere in particular, meandering instead around the lives of the four grown siblings. None of them have ever been particularly close, and the inheritance – which they have nicknamed “the nest” – has the potential either to make them come together once and for all, or to drive an irrevocable wedge between the family.

The Nest is d’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, and it shows. That’s not even a criticism really – most debut novels are a bit lacklustre, and I wouldn’t discount her books as reading fodder in the future. This one was a light easy read, which was just what I was in the mood for last week, and if you’re not looking for anything intellectually challenging then you might enjoy it. I quite enjoyed it, even if I didn’t relate to any of the themes. Probably the nicest thing I can say about it is that reading it is not a waste of time.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

I will admit that I picked this one up because of its title.

Perfect is composed of two stories: one in the past, one in the present.

In the past, we have childhood friends Byron and James growing up surrounded by everything they could possibly want, living in huge houses, privately schooled, but perhaps lacking in love and attention what their parents make up for in financial gains.

Byron’s mother stays at home with him and his sister Lucy, while his father works away during the week and only comes home on weekends. But his mother has been acting strangely recently, ever since a terrible accident which happened on their way to school one day. James and Byron decide to undertake Operation Perfect, aiming to fix everything and make things go back to normal again. Unfortunately, however, trying to make everything better too often has the opposite effect.

In the present, Jim is working at a small café. He lives in a van, having been released from a mental institution. Jim has little rituals that must be done every night when he goes back to his van, otherwise things will not be as they should. Jim’s world is full of danger, the only comfort found in ritual and number… or is it? When he meets the fearsome and wonderful Eileen, it looks like things may be changing. But is change something Jim can deal with?

A touching comment on the nature of friendship, Perfect will make you smile even while you ache a little bit for Jim and his isolation. If you’ve ever tried to fix something and had it all fall down around you; if you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong in your life; if you’ve felt completely alone even though you’re surrounded by other people, you will relate to something in this book.

To Siri, With Love by Judith Newman

When I saw this sitting on the shelf in the library, I thought Oh cool, there’s a book of the film. Then I realised it didn’t say To Sir, With Love (if you’ve never seen the brilliant 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, go do that now. I’ll wait.)

Back? OK.

This book is not about that. Once I’d got over the initial disappointment, I realised the title still sounded familiar, so I picked it up and read the blurb.

It’s an autobiographical account of living with a child who has autism, by the person who wrote this article in the New York Times a few years ago. I’d read the article and enjoyed it, so when I found the book I thought I’d give it a try too.

It was very good. Although the book sprung up from the article about Siri and its potential application as a useful communication method for people with autism, it wasn’t just about that. To Siri, With Love talks about many different aspects of raising an autistic child, and does it in a matter-of-fact, non-judgemental way. Newman tells it like it is while at the same time not hiding her obvious love for both her children. Her desire to help Gus, her son who has autism, shines through every page.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into what it might be like to live with someone who has autism, this is a good place to start. At the back of the book there is a helpful list of resources and places you can go to learn more. Definitely recommended.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I know, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this either.

I saw it on the shelf in the library and I thought, Surely I’ve read that? I must have done.

I know the storyline of course: most people do. Kevin’s mother writes the book as a series of letters to his father. She’s always been suspicious of her child, much as it pains her to admit it, and when he’s responsible for a school shooting as a teenager she tries to come to terms with what he’s done even if that seems impossible. In a heartbreakingly realistic way, Eva describes what it’s like living with a child you don’t trust, and tries to work out her own role, if any, in what happened.

It’s practically impossible to review a book this well-known, really, because it’s so very famous that it’s probably on most people’s reading lists already. If it’s not on yours, I would recommend that you add it. Disturbing in places and thoughtfully provocative, We Need To Talk About Kevin broaches one of those subjects that is unfortunately still relevant to society today.

I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

And finally, one last book from Mary Higgins Clark to round off the week.

I’ll Walk Alone is MHC’s thirtieth novel, and it demonstrates one of the things she’s best at: creepy thrillers involving children. My favourite book of hers has always been Where Are The Children? – it was the one that got me into her books in the first place, and I’ve always felt it was her best.

I’ll Walk Alone is in a similar vein. Zan’s baby has gone missing. No one knows where he is, but he’s been gone for years now and people are giving up hope. Just when it seems like the case will never be solved, new evidence emerges that seems to implicate Zan in the crime. As her life falls apart around her, Zan scrambles to work out what’s happening. Is she going mad? Did she really kidnap her own baby?

A classic from the queen of suspense, I’ll Walk Alone will keep you guessing until the very end.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.