Tag Archives: Waterstones 11

The Son by Michel Rostain

9780755390793It is true that each book can have particular and individual effects on different readers. Michel Rostain’s debut will be a book that leaves each member of its audience with a little something, but each will vary greatly. I’ve always seen reading as a way of escaping our world, but I also see it as a way of connecting with our souls. In order to fully appreciate something we must connect with it at the most basic of levels – emotion.

It is emotion that connects us to artwork, or music, or writing. It doesn’t matter what emotion is experienced as long as you connect. Not everyone can look upon the same painting and feel the same outcome. And so certain stories will resonate with different perspectives. The story within The Son is one of parental bereavement and the foundation of grief is experienced differently from person to person.

Some may see within the startling depictions of loss, similarities between the cast and their own experiences, whether they be a grandparent, parent, or indeed, a child. Michel Rostain gets right to the point with his words, there is no preambling – we are launched directly into his characters misery. Where as so many books can be described as a rollercoaster ride or a journey, The Son is more of a plateau with a small ridge at the edge. This is a story of loss and only that, there can be no “happy ending” to such a story. Grief is almost eternal.

Of course, I speak from experience as a bereaved parent. My daughter didn’t die from disease as Lion, the titular son, did. She died due to an accident, due to a wrong time, wrong place situation. I can relate to nearly every nuance of sadness and madness that Rostain displays. This is, after all, partly autobiographical. His displays of the truth of his and his wife’s emotion is there for you to either relate or learn. Each low is exactly described with such a deft skill that those who haven’t yet lost somebody can open a window into a mind wracked with bewilderment.

I felt connected to Rostain in a way I have never felt with another author, but of course, this may be missed on other readers. But then, the similarities of symptoms are worldwide, we all grieve and so I believe that anyone can walk away from this novel with a connection.

The idea that Lion is narrating the book from beyond the grave is an interesting concept and one that plays the heartstrings with even more gusto. However, at times the emotion seems presumed, after all Lion is dead, he cannot know how his parents feel exactly. But then, we must remember that the writer has lived this tale. In that way, the book doesn’t sit as comfortably as I would like. But, this is a minor issue and one that perhaps I only picked up on due to my own life experience.

It is understandable why Rostain is an author on many lips. Aside from his obvious connection with his story, The Son shines for many other reasons. Most importantly is the writing style that is used and translated wonderfully by Adriana Hunter. Each sentence is generally clipped and staccato giving the underlying emotions that extra punch needed to drive home its message. One aspect that I loved, but may not please all readers, is the lack of separating situations. Many small anecdotes roll into one larger page of text in a stream of consciousness. This adds to the maddening feel of bereavement in how the mind marches back and forth from each tale and from important to the trivial.

On the rear of my proof copy of the book is the tagline “This is not a book about death. It’s a book about life”. To some extent this is true as it follows the living from the view of the deceased. However, it is more a book about what makes us who and what we are. How we are made and how fragile we are, no matter our size, stature or strength. It is a book about people.

Published by Tinder Press. This book was kindly sent by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This was always going to be a book that caused some sort of debate. For many they will want a Dystopian style novel that deals the nuances of humanity and many others will want what it really is – a coming of age tale set to the backdrop of a catastrophe. Therein lays my problem, I didn’t dislike The Age of Miracles, in fact I enjoyed it, however I kind of fell into the first camp.

As one of the Waterstones 11, this is a novel that has a tremendous amount of backing from the retail sector; it has a lot of weight on its shoulders. The premise of the book is wonderful – suddenly the Earth’s rotation is beginning to slow, daylight hangs for longer and the nights are stretching out. The Age of Miracles sets out to explore what would happen to society in such a disaster – how would our bodies function? How would we grow crops with such long days of darkness?

The thing is these issues are a footnote to the story of an 11 year old girl who is struggling with the angst that comes with adolescence. Yes we watch as the nights drag on for 40 hours and society must drain electricity to run lamps that will grow crops, but we focus also on Julia and her crush on Seth… and her need for a real bra as her body begins to develop.

This is where I have to ask why The Age of Miracles isn’t being promoted as a YA novel as, although it is told with an adult reminiscing, it is clearly the voice of an 11 year old girl. This is where it becomes clear that Julia’s story is paramount and the catastrophe is just background noise. To use a slightly tenuous example this book reminded me of the finale to LOST. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but no questions are answered.

When the catastrophe is at its height, society divides between clock timers – those who still live by the clock despite night and day not reflecting the time – and real timers who live by the sun. Here’s the thing, when the days drag out to over 40 hours I wanted to know if the human body could even survive under such a change to its natural body clock. It felt as if the author had a great story about a girl growing up but needed to make it stand out. There’s no science to explain everything or at least lend some credence to the idea.

I think much of the problem comes from the first person narrative. Without giving away spoilers, there are several plot points that are either not resolved fully or left wide open. This can be explained by saying “well, Julia doesn’t know the inner workings of the people who surround her” but that lets the story down for me. I wanted to know why her Dad did X and why we never heard again about Y. It’s all very tenuous and reaching, the author puts a lot of faith in the reader to fill in the gaps. My final rant would be the ending itself which is so anticlimactic that I was left more annoyed than appeased by the dénouement.

But let’s draw a line under the negatives. I honestly liked much of the story and the way it played out but it was like trying to complete a jigsaw with half of the edge pieces missing. It’s a pacy read and I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know more, I wanted to live in the world for longer. This novel is more about Julia and that’s fine for many of the audience in which will read it. Personally I couldn’t relate enough to Julia to enjoy her story, I wanted something else.

Before writing this review I spoke to many other bloggers on Twitter and even staff in my local Waterstones who brought it to my attention. Some people love it. In fact, Emma my trusty blogging friend adored it to the sum of five stars, whereas Robin wasn’t a fan and Ellie dropped in the middle like me. I have to ponder, is this an ideal book for those who don’t often read ‘end of the world’ stuff and Sci-Fi? Should it be marketed more on the coming of age tale, rather than a dystopian end of world story? There are moments of brilliance and there are plot holes. There are passages that are beautifully written and some which seem amateur. It’s good, but it’s not great.

See, I told you it would cause debate.

Published by Simon and Schuster. This book was kindly sent by the publisher for review.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The premise to The Lifeboat is a simple one. We meet Grace who has spent three weeks drifting in the Atlantic ocean with 38 other people in a lifeboat. We join her story as she is on trial for murder after the lifeboat was rescued minus many of the original survivors. Grace has been married for ten weeks and a widow for six as her husband perished on the Empress Alexandra. That’s it, really. But from such a simple idea has blossomed a wondrously detailed and conflicting story.

The first thing that jumps to mind when reading The Lifeboat is comparisons to Lord of the Flies. We see the 39 survivors of a disaster at sea floating around rather amiably to begin with. Grace, as the narrator, tells us about her companions and as the story proceeds things become rather heated between the survivors. Suddenly there are arguments and more tragedy builds leaving the reader asking questions of both the characters and themselves.

To go into great detail about the people in the boat would give away the minutia that builds towards the climax of the book and its overall power. Suffice to say that conflicts break out and suddenly death is knocking at the survivors’ doors. We constantly flit back and forth between the time in the boat and Grace’s past.

Charlotte Rogan’s writing is exquisite and full to bursting with suspense and tension. She manages to create the same sense of suspense as the traditional thrillers of old where nobody can be trusted and everyone is out to get you. The paranoia running through the lifeboat is contagious as the reader never knows what will be revealed next. Rogan also challenges the audience to questions themselves as they read Grace’s story.

The Lifeboat often broaches several subjects that would have been rife in the early 20th century, such as sexism, classism and humanity’s morals and ethics. This would be a perfect book for a book club as there is so much to dissect from rivalries between the female group on the boat as they butt heads with the men as to the best way to survive or the question of how far you would go to survive yourself.

Mr Hardie becomes a natural leader in the lifeboat and this doesn’t sit well with Mrs Grant and her close knit group. Very quickly they are undermining each other and alluding to disaster for others if either person’s ideas are followed. Throughout the novel we have the verbal battles in the lifeboat which mirror those that are taking place in the courtroom, too. This is of course the other side to the story and told in tandem. Both aspects are fantastic and fill in both Grace’s time at sea and her past.

Grace is an awkward character and one whose motives are never entirely clear. She is certainly hard to like but endears herself to the reader nevertheless. By the end of the book I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about her and the decisions she made which, of course, leads me to wonder just what people would do if placed in such a predicament.

I adored ever page of Rogan’s debut and have waited several months to blog about my thoughts. Then when I do I realise that I don’t want to spoil it for anyone and can only really expose small snippets of the plot. Regardless I was bowled over and find myself wanting to read it again to enjoy the world that Rogan created and decide finally whether Grace was who I believed she was. I still can’t believe this is Rogan’s debut, she has written a novel that many long established writers will be a little envious of.

Published by Virago. This book was kindly sent from the publisher. It is also feature in this year’s Waterstones 11.

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

Throughout my entire read of Care of Wooden Floors I couldn’t help but think of the Fawlty Towers episode, The Kipper and the Corpse. Much like any episode of the John Cleese masterpiece the episode starts with a seemingly ordinary situation occurring which drives Basil slightly bonkers. This of course leads into more and more over the top scenarios for the hotel owner and his guests. Will Wiles informed me that as a child he was exposed to plenty of Fawlty Towers which explains my comparisons.

Care of Wooden Floors is just a farcical as the classic 1970’s British sitcom. But if you aren’t a fan, please don’t let that put you off. This novel is a wonderfully constructed dark and almost sinister comedic novel.

Our nameless narrator has been invited to look after his friends flat while said friend, Oskar, is in Los Angeles dealing with his divorce. Oskar, it should also be mentioned, is an absolute control freak, a conductor in the Philharmonic, possibly a little OCD and brutally honest. The narrator has a simple job – look after the flat, Oskar’s two cats and above all, take care of the expensive, beautiful and pristine wooden floors.

Of course it isn’t long before there is a small spillage on Oskar’s floor. This then begins to snowball to more and more ludicrous moments of happenstance and as each situation occurs the laughter builds. Guiltily.

If I’m being honest, at first I felt the book was a little overwritten. Wiles’ writing is without a doubt brilliant, his metaphors and allegories are utterly unique. However, only 50 pages in and I felt a little bogged down by text. There was a lot of text just to depict a small turn of events. Seemingly in my own turn of events, it wasn’t long before I fell in love with Wiles’ skill despite my initial thoughts. Suddenly I was being dragged further in by in his intricate detailing of environs and emotions.

This is of course a literary novel, then, but unlike most literary novels that deal with aching hearts and passages of time, Care of Wooden Floors tracks the movements in life of what could only be described as a moron. The narrator is rather unlikable, particularly as death enters his “incidents”. We never really get to know much about this man with no name, other than his job and a past girlfriend.

We do learn quite a lot about Oskar, though. This is generally through flashbacks, but also through rather obsessive notes left behind in his flat. CD cases are opened and notes flutter out to express enthusiasm over the house guest’s choice. The piano lid is lifted to reveal a warning against playing with the instrument. It is plain to see that Oskar loves control in his life. Oskar is a fascinating character, even if he is only drip fed to us.

There is a constant thought in mind of who to side with. The narrator is not infallible, he is human – accidents occur to everyone. Oskar is condescending and too much of a perfectionist. But then he has a right to be, he has worked hard for his luxuries and our narrator seems to be a slacker of sorts. You begin to wonder why these two are even friends. It’s only when the final pages fall and the remarkable ending is revealed that we can understand fully.

And it is a laugh out loud journey to get to the end. As each pratfall occurs a snigger will escape, even more so as we watch as the main character digs himself even deeper holes. The comedic actions are highlighted by the sparseness of everything around him from the perfection of Oskar’s flat with its white walls and sheets, to the tiny supporting cast which consists of a cleaner and a friend of Oskar. Above all, the novel is incredibly voyeuristic in its closeness. You are made to feel that you should look away as things go from bad to worse to the farfetched. It’s all compounded by the fact that this flat is in a European city that is never disclosed so there is a huge language barrier, too.

This is an impossible character in an impossible situation and it makes for perfect, albeit guilty, entertainment. It’s the literary equivalent of watching somebody fall on their arse and get paid £250 for their displeasure. As mentioned before it is a very dark book and the humour won’t appeal to everyone, much like any form of farce comedy.

Will Wiles has created a wonderful debut novel that is intelligently written, horrifically funny and ponders the minute imperfections of life. Wiles makes creating a great book look effortless and he is certainly a name to keep an eye on. I know I will.

This book was supplied kindly by the publisher.

Waterstones 11

So, Waterstones has announced their choice for the top 11 debut authors to read in 2012. It’s a fantastic list and incredibly varied. One major thing to note is the presence of female authors on the list. Out of the eleven chosen, eight are female which is brilliant for fiction in 2012. Last year there was much debate over the number of men who read female writers, hopefully this list helps show that women are brilliantly strong authors and more will read their novels.

Here’s the list:

 

 

 

 

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and The Land of Decoration.

 

 

 

 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Absolution by Patrick Flanery.

 

 

 

 

Signs of Life by Anna Raverat, The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan and Shelter by Frances Greenslade.

I’ve already read three of the titles on the list. Harold Fry is a charming and sweet account about age and making the most of our lives. The Snow Child is a brilliant story of love both lost and found. The Lifeboat (review coming in March) is a great story of suspense and tension that follows survivors of a shipwreck ad they drift in a lifeboat and a struggle for power ensues.

Personally I have my eye on a few others to read. The Art of Fielding has been on my radar for quite some time… I’m actually quite desperate to read it and have still not picked up a copy. Shelter looks entirely original and interesting. Care of Wooden Floors sounds darkly funny and The land of Decoration has been on my periphery since reading the catalogues at the end of 2011.

This is a great year for fiction and with this list it’s great to see Waterstones leading the charge as usual.

Are there any that you have your eye on?