If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
If you were looking for a slightly confusing, low-key frustrating page turner to occupy you on a rainy day then boy oh boy do I have the book for you! Okay, maybe I didn’t sell it so well like that, because it is a great read and very interesting in the way it’s written – I was just so unfamiliar with its format and quite frankly, unsuspecting of its nature that I felt exactly as the main character felt. Frustrated.
I actually picked this up because my Italian friend sent a copy to me, and I trust her taste in books 100% – we have the same interests and enjoy the same styles of writing, so the last thing I was expecting was a weirdly challenging read. I’m not saying it as a bad thing though, because I found myself immersed from page one and could not put it down no matter how much I wanted to throw the book against the wall and ask ‘why?!’
So, the whole premise of the book (yes, I am finally getting to that part, sorry for whining) is that the story itself never quite finishes. The main character, just like us, is reading a novel when all of a sudden he realises the next chapter is a completely new story and has nothing to do with the one he has previously read. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but basically I got to fully dive into a story and just when it was getting juicy – it stops. And this happens…multiple times. The story (or sub stories) were all individually so interesting, and that was the reason why I was mad I couldn’t ‘finish’ any of them.
Maybe that’s what makes this book so good. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of a novel anyway? To make you feel something? Because I for sure felt frustrated, and eventually started laughing at myself and at the book. It’s obviously not meant to be taken too seriously, and all in all it was very entertaining.
So yeah – give it a try. It has definitely made an impression on me, and probably will on you too.
Human Acts by Han Kang
“Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke.”
South Korean poet and author Han Kang explores ideas of trauma and revelation in her exceptional novel Human Acts. The story takes place after the real life massacre of South Korean students in 1980. The book follows five different characters throughout their journeys, both during and years after the massacre. Kang has the incredible capacity to shock and disturb readers using beautifully poetic language. At its heart, Human Acts emphasises the multifaceted nature of human behaviour, from extreme aggression to unconditional loyalty. The novel is a study in empathy, causing you to realise that every single person, regardless of their acts, share similar hopes and fears. In saying this, the retrospective and introspective nature of the book diminishes the rising action of the story, making it hard going at times. The use of language and imagery, whether angelic or visceral, has the power to impact people. Awed or harrowed, this novel is as unforgettable as it is human.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
I’ve been reading all of the Kurt Vonnegut I own over the past month to my father when he sits out the back with a coffee after work. We started with Slaughterhouse Five, continued with Breakfast of Champions, now we’re reading Cat’s Cradle, and I plan on reading Timequake (my favourite) to him in April. Cat’s Cradle is the only Vonnegut book in my house that I haven’t yet read and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. It focuses on an unnamed journalist who decides to write a book about the fictitious “father of the atom bomb” Felix Hoenikker and his three children: Angela, Franklin, and Newton. His investigation eventually takes him to the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, a thinly veiled (if a little insensitive) pastiche of South American dictatorships extant at the time of the book’s publication in 1963. In San Lorenzo, the journalist encounters Bokononism, a kind of bizzaro irreverant Christianity based upon “harmless untruths” and founded by a kind of swindler saint. The journalist also encounters “Ice-9” a potential doomsday weapon which could freeze all the water on Earth, a kind of pun on the Cold War. This book teems with Cold War cynicism, as does all of Vonnegut’s fiction, if you haven’t yet given his fiction a shot, Cat’s Cradle is a perfect place to start.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
“He never seemed to grasp the immense mutability of human nature, nor to appreciate that behind every nondescript face lay a wild and unique hinterland like his own.”
The Casual Vacancy is Rowling’s self-proclaimed first voyage into adult fiction, though many would argue that Harry Potter appeals to all ages. The Casual Vacancy centres on the fictional British town of Pagford, and chronicles the twisted and at times confronting lives of its residents. Rowling takes a critical look at family dynamics, analysing and humanising heroin addicts, school bullies and highly strung GPs. The novel is a poignant commentary on contemporary life, and focuses on the politics following the sudden death of a town councilman. Pagford is a town divided, and with the death of Barry Fairbrother, the two sides squabble and undermine each other, desperately wanting to have the upper hand before the next council meeting. After writing Harry Potter, a series filled with happy teenage role-models, Rowling takes a more serious, arguably more accurate, look at Pagford teens. The teenagers are either bullies, vain, or suicidal; there isn’t much of a middle ground. The book is nothing short of immersive, within a few short chapters I was completely enraptured in the characters, the setting, and the unique writing style and insight Rowling possesses.