Friday, September 27, 2013
There are certain words that are presumed to be associated with virtually any review of an Edward Rutherfurd novel: “Epic.” “Sweeping.” “Vast.” “Spectacular.” Readers presume, picking up one of his books, that they will be immersed in a comprehensive historical exploration of the social, political, and historical influences of whatever geographical region is the target of his current focus. Readers of Paris will not be disappointed.
That said, there are departures from Rutherfurd's traditional approach that some may find disconcerting but that I felt were entirely welcome given the context and the subject. Rutherfurd is known for his historical fiction, weaving meticulously researched facts together with compelling characterizations that explore what it truly meant to experience, navigate, and strive to succeed in a particular place and time. In Paris, Rutherfurd explores the growth and evolution of the City of Light through the eyes of six families. In doing so, the book moves in a non-linear fashion over a period of nearly 700 years as the narratives of each family unfold, intersect, and evolve.
The breadth and detail of the book are nothing short of spectacular. I have long loved the city that inspired it, and yet I learned a significant amount about how the structure, environment, and politics of Paris as a city evolved. Significant events that influence the development of Paris are explored in detail, and Rutherfurd is a master of explaining historical and political nuance through natural-sounding dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the book, while grounded in fact, does not get bogged down in explication and description. The pace of the book is fast, the scope is breath-taking, and the ambition is extraordinary. Although a sizeable book to contemplate, the writing is crisp. Rutherfurd does a spectacular job of developing a complex narrative that explores how political forces, social influence, and practical expediency all conspired to make the Paris of today a reality.
Any current fan of Rutherfurd is bound to enjoy this book; while it departs from employing a linear timeline, doing so helps to demonstrate the degree to which a number of complex influences are inextricably tied together. Those who love the city itself are bound to discover new perspectives and previously unknown facts of how Paris as a city evolved. And any reader who appreciates a complex and intriguing drama is bound to delight in the complex characterizations and compelling narrative that underlie this extraordinary book. While Paris is by no means light reading, it is a spectacular book that will distract and delight over many days. At no point will this time feel like a wasted investment.
- Mark Mullaly
Friday, September 20, 2013
Worst. Person. Ever.
First of all, yes, he is. It's hard to imagine anyone more foul, in every sense of the word, than Raymond Gunt, the main character in Douglas Coupland's surprising new book. Raymond is selfish, uncouth, grossly misogynistic, and frequently covered in refuse. He is not, as the book jacket claims, "oddly likable." His adventures, however, are a great deal of campy fun. Yes, campy. This is black humour with bubbles. It's full of quips, arch dialogue, bright wordplay. There's no other word for it: it's a romp. Raymond, along with a fizzy mix of colorful secondary characters (almost all despicable) gaily bounce from unrepentant hit-and-runs to utterly debauched sexcapades, all loosely arranged around the plot device of getting to a remote island to film a reality TV series. Make no mistake: almost everything that anyone says or does in this book is offensive. It really, truly is. I kind of feel guilty for laughing so much.
- Melissa Pound
Monday, September 16, 2013
The April Poems
"It is a lie that beautiful words have disappeared. I have myself a trunkful in the attic, and thousands more buried underground," says Leon Rooke in his latest book of poetry, The April Poems, and I believe him. Though he may not have intended those words for himself, they are true of him, as this little book of poems more than amply proves. It tells the shared life of April and Sam in verses that move without warning or hesitation, as relationships do, between desire ("I licked blue plates in cheap diners, thinking of her"), humour ("Love needs new shoes/but is out of work"), and sorrow:
My own voiceIn these and other ways, Rooke takes the everyday happenings of a domestic relationship and makes them wonderful, not by elevating or magnifying them, but by insisting on them just as they are—squalid and splendid, banal and profound, playful and earnest.
Is an ache in the heart,
The soft mew of the cat
Before she falls dead
What impresses me most about The April Poems, however, is that they go a long way toward resolving a tension that I have always found in Rooke's work. I first discovered Rooke when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, attending my first Eden Mills Writers' Festival, where he immediately won my imagination by arriving in a canoe and then delivering a wildly engaging and humorous performance. I spent every dime I had to buy his book, The Good Baby, and I began reading it right there by the Eramosa River as I waited for my parents to pick me up, only to discover that although Rooke's writing is often very good, it can never quite manage to meet the expectations set by his performances. Everything he writes, especially his dialogue, seems to be waiting for him to come and speak it aloud and give it a true voice.
All of this is to say that the greatest compliment I can offer The April Poems is that it feels almost as if Rooke himself is reading it, as if he has given the poems something of his own vitality and audacity. As he says himself, "There's a way of getting a poem to the page/without utilizing words," and The April Poems has this kind of wordless poetry, a poetry of relationship and voice and character, a poetry that makes The April Poems more than just a trunkful of words, however beautiful.
- Luke Hill
How Should a Person Be?
Sheila Heti’s semi-autobiographical novel addresses questions of morality, ethics, art, and the nature of being in a crisply simple and refreshingly minimalistic manner. Her story conveys the bleakly humorous and at times cynical perceptions of Sheila, a young playwright, as she attempts to wend her way through both the jungle of Toronto’s literary landscape and her own internal entanglements. Heti’s blunt and forthright prose neatly and impactfully captures the essential questions (and the deceptively straightforward answers) that both she and her narrator posit within the narrative: What does it mean to “be”? Can our essence of being adequately and accurately be captured in art? What is art? And how do we go about comfortably living a life with no intrinsic value? Traversing the terrain of these queries, Heti confronts our human limitations with a literary style that simultaneously questions and answers—a style reminiscent of the human experience.
I’m the kind of person who has trouble starting new books. I’ll buy them, and plan to read them. But somehow there’s never time. My dad told me I should try reading Haze, so I started it on the spot. I got to page twenty-seven before we had even left the Bookshelf. On the way home, my dad tried to talk to me, but I had my nose in the book. I did not put it down once that day. I read it in the bath, I read it while I was walking downstairs, and I read it until I finished it. In other words, it was amazing.
I guess you could call me a mystery fan. I read pretty much any genre, but lately I’ve been on a mystery streak. So this was really perfect for me, being a young adult novel and all. I’m going into high school next year, so I connected that way as well. Haze is about a boy named Bram, who is in grade ten. He’s joining a swim team that seems to have some shady hidden politics around it. One of the members of the swim team, Jeremy, is Bram’s friend. He seems about to reveal a secret. Then he’s hit with a car and put in the hospital. The book follows Bram as he tries to figure out the secrets of the swim team, accompanied by the book’s love interest, Jeremy’s sister. The love interest is kind of clichéd, but it wouldn’t be a young adult novel without it.
I’m not exactly an expert on this, but I think the book gave an interesting view into the world of guys. The ways they talked, operated, and thought were all familiar to a girl going into grade nine. I laughed a few times at how male they all were. The other thing that was amazingly accurate was the swimming. I’m no Olympic swimmer, but I took my courses. All the swim strokes, and the emotions connected with the pool, brought to mind the laps we had to do when we misbehaved in swim class. It helped me connect to Bram.
And lastly, I found it nice to have a strong girl character in there. I mean, sure it was clichéd that she was the love interest, but she wasn’t really the basic weak girl. She carries a Swiss Army knife! Come on, that’s a cool girl. She was great, and she’s a good role model. So I think the book appeals to both boys and girls. Maybe she can teach a couple of lessons to some idiot boys.
I didn’t think the end solution lived up to the rest of the book, but it was good anyways. I guess I can’t say too much about that. But even then, it was better than a lot of other books I’ve read.
So in the end, I recommend Haze to all of you. It’s probably a book for readers aged twelve to fifteen, in my opinion. But I’m sure a lot of other people would enjoy it. It’s a great book for teens who don’t want to read adult mysteries because they want to read something about people their age. So read it! It’s short, and I promise you won’t regret it.
- Zosha Matheson Dadey
Monday, September 9, 2013
River of Stars
Guy Gavriel Kay
It must be said that River Of Stars is one of the most unusual fantasies I have ever read—mainly because it's partly not a fantasy. And it is that very aspect which makes it such a fun book.
Most fantasies that become popular nowadays are Westernized—the characters have Western habits, eat Western food, dress in Western clothes. In his latest novel, Kay shies away from this trope to create an Easternized world based heavily on Chinese history.
Chinese history itself is almost a fantasy novel. It's full of dramatic wars and stern kings, lyrical folktales and absolutely stunning artwork. It fascinates because it's so different from what the average Westerner knows of his or her own history.
In River Of Stars, Kay creates his own world, the realm of Kitai, and fills it with Eastern superstitions and idiosyncrasies. Much time is spent dwelling on the importance of calligraphy, poetry, music, and other high arts. Clothes are intricately described as well--far from the typical tunic and cloak, Kay's characters wear elegant robes woven of the finest fabrics. Eastern beliefs are incorporated as well, from spirit trees to the capricious fox folk. A memorable encounter between a character and a fox woman is one of the high points in the novel.
Though the book does drag at times, it still remains a wonderful introduction to Eastern culture and history for those who have never read about either; those who have will recognize representations of particular ceremonies and events.
In short, River of Stars is an unusual novel that happily demonstrates that fantasy is still capable of challenging the accepted strictures of the genre, and that going outside the box is not only acceptable, but positively embraced.
- Robert Green
Escape from Camp 14 is a raw, remarkable, eye-opening biography about one boy’s escape from a secret North Korean prison camp.
Biographer Blaine Harden spent many years having to pry Shin Dong-hyuk’s story from him because of Shin’s lack of trust. However, the final story is a masterpiece. Shin was born and lived in a prison camp in North Korea until his early twenties, when he finally escaped by sheer luck. Shin was told he was to remain in prison throughout his life to pay for the sins of his uncles, and Shin believed his guards. Shin never once questioned why he was in the camps until certain events and individuals caused him to plan his escape. He was taught to steal, lie, hit, and hurt anyone for self-preservation. He did not understand love, forgiveness, or trust. Shin is the only person to be born in a North Korean prison camp and to then escape. His story is a courageous tale that helps us to understand the inequality and hatred that still exist in the twenty-first century.
Shin’s story of imprisonment is one many thousands of people share. Escape from Camp 14 is an educational, enticing book.
- Katie Lowe
Gripping, exhilarating, and a real page-turner, Crash will leave you wanting more. Jules, an ordinary seventeen-year-old girl, lives a fairly normal life until the visions take over. On every billboard, magazine, and TV screen she passes by, she glimpses an explosion and nine body bags in the snow. Her only problem is that she’s the only one who can see them. But it’s not until the vision reveals a victim, someone she’s been in love with for as long as she can remember, that she takes notice. Will Jules be able to save Sawyer, the one person who matters to her the most?
When the first chapter of the book that you’re reading leaves you wanting more, you know it’s going to be good. McMann does an excellent job of entertaining the reader from beginning to end. She leaves you breathless and enraptured by the connection that Jules and Sawyer have, from the little looks between classes to the secret rendezvous at night. And what makes it even more exciting is that they are part of something bigger, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Jules’s visions test the limits of their relationship to each other and to their families. Jules is part of Sawyer’s life, whether as a romantic partner or a guardian angel. Crash definitely left me on my toes, and I’m looking forward to the next work in the trilogy.
- Christina Marchese