Tag Archives: Novel

Unveiling a Parallel

By Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, published 1893.

Once again I find myself adding a book review to my Christian themed blog, before I add it to my book review blog. I add it here because of the comparisons Unveiling A Parallel draws with Christianity.

Unveiling A Parallel is billed as a romance. Some might say it is science fiction, as it is set on the planet Mars. Some would call it feminist literature, if the term “feminist” existed in 1893. I describe Unveiling A Parallel as social-science fiction, that just happens to be set on another planet.

Remember as you continue that Unveiling a Parallel was published more than a century ago. The society in which the protagonist finds himself is still a stratified society, in which there are rich and poor, servants and masters, characteristic of the era in which the story was written.

The reader is not told at any point the protagonist’s name, or how he comes to be on Mars. The story begins at his arrival on the red planet.  It goes on to recount his experiences with the “Marsians” whilst amongst the people.

The Marsian people are humans, who have evolved entirely independently of the humans of our planet Earth. The differences between the peoples are in intellects and social orders, not in any physical aspect that defines a human being.

The traveller’s male pre-conceptions, of how a society should function, based on his patriarchal Earth background in a male dominated society, are challenged from soon after his arrival on Mars.  As he begins to get to know Mars’ people, he finds an egalitarian, equal society where the female of the species is the equal of the male socially and morally, without needing legislation to achieve it.

It is also interesting to see the protagonist’s observations on religion, specifically Christianity, as he begins to come to terms with the “Marsian” society in which he finds himself.

Unveiling A Parallel is not SciFi in the form that readers of such as Asimov, E E Doc Smith or Larry Niven would probably appreciate. It is, to a greater extent, commentary on the differences between societies, that have evolved in different places, under different conditions and traditions.

“You worship the man – the God, if you will, –
instead of that for which he stood.”: – Severnius.

When We Were Orphans

A review of the book by Kazuo Ishiguro.

After reading The Buried Giant, I happened on When We Were Orphans by the same writer in a charity shop, so I thought I’d give it a try too. Most authors I have read tend to have a theme or style running through their books, even when they are not sequels or a series. This was completely a different kind of read to the first of Ishiguro’s books that I read.

Set between the wars, we first meet Christopher Banks a few years after the First World War, about to embark on establishing himself in the world, with ambition to become a detective. In time he will achieve his ambition, but will he solve the mystery that begun in his childhood aged 8, when he lived in Shanghai?

Much of the story is told through Christopher’s memories of his childhood. As children grow, detail fades from childhood memory and Christopher is no exception. This leaves Christopher to try to piece together scraps of his past as he attempts to unravel the mystery of his parents involvement in the opium trade. Don’t worry, this little snippet is not a spoiler as we are informed of it quite early in the story.

Unfortunately, although When We Were Orphans received good reviews and plaudits, I did not find it an easy read. I do not favour stories told in flashback or memory style, and this plot lost me a couple of times. Objectively, it probably deserves its plaudits but I did not enjoy reading it as much as I did The buried Giant.

A Spool Of Blue Thread

A review of the book by Anne Tyler.

A Spool Of blue Thread is the first book by Anne Tyler that I have read, once again a book group choice, not my own. It is a family saga; not a genre I favour or would choose. Judging by the inside back cover, showing twenty books by Tyler, she is quite a prolific author.

The book is in four parts, in addition to the chapters, with the majority of it revolving around Red and Abbey Whitshank and their lives and family in their Baltimore home. In all, the story crosses four generations of the Whitshank family,, from Red and Abbey’s parents to their grandchildren. The last generation Red and Abbey’s grandchildren do not actually have a great impact on the story as it is told.

A well as the people, the house built by Red’s father, Junior Whitshank, has a major presence, becoming almost another player in the cast. It becomes known by the locals as The Porch House, which probably tells you something about it, without giving away any important part of the story.

I’ve already noted that A Spool Of Blue Thread is in four parts, but they are not all roughy the same number of pages. Parts one and two together take up about three quarters of the book, which is unfortunate. At any time in the first two parts I could have put the book down and not picked it up again. Part four is the shortest part of all, and can be whipped through pretty quick, even for a slow reader, like me.

Only part three, about Red’s father and mother, Junior and Linnie Mae, made me want to keep turning the page to see what was coming next. This part although contributing to the book as a whole could, in my opinion, have been told in its own novella that I would really have enjoyed I think.

“It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we
know from earliest childhood how it’s all going to end.” – Abbey Whitshank.

Elizabeth Is Missing

A review of the book by Emma Healey.

Is it a murder mystery? I’m not going to tell you and give the game away. You’ll have to read it to find out.

Maud Horsham is an octogenarian. She is also very, very forgetful about things that happened recently, though she has vivid memories from her childhood. Because of her failing memory, she has to make copious notes about the things she needs to remember. One of the notes that she wrote, a lot were written for her by other people, says “Elizabeth Is Missing”.

Elizabeth had been Maud’s friend for many years and was her only remaining friend. They had worked together in a charity shop. How was a woman who sometimes couldn’t remember her own daughter, find her missing friend?

Elizabeth, though, is not the first person who Maud knew who would go missing. When she was just a young girl, Maud’s sister Sukey had disappeared. Her family spent months, years searching for her. Did the memory of her sister, that kept invading her mind clearly, hamper Maud’s search for her friend, Elizabeth? What had the planting of prize winning marrows have to do with any of this?

It is hard to imagine that this story could be set anywhere other than in England. I know I should probably say Britain, to be politically correct, but I consider myself English so please don’t take me to task over my choice of words.

Elizabeth Is Missing, is the touching story of an ageing woman, probably with dementia, though this is never clearly stated, certainly forgetful. It could easily have become overly sentimental. Emma Healy handles it sensitively, and touchingly whilst avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality. It was an original concept, for me anyway, you might know differently.

I imagine, though I have no personal experience, that anyone who has a relative with dementia would sympathise with the travails of Maud’s daughter, Helen. Especially where there are are siblings and the burden of care falls on one of them to a greater extent.

Elizabeth Is Missing is a tender and touching story, in this debut novel by Emma Healey.

“I wonder what sort of secrets a girl like you would have?”

Stoner

A review of the novel by John Williams.

StonerStoner is not a new novel, having been first published in 1965, 50 years ago at the time I write this and re-issued in 2003. It seems to have been re-discovered in recent years, earning a number of plaudits from reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. A synopsis of the book can be found on Wikipedia here.

William Stoner, the eponymous title character who hails from the village of Boonville, Missouri, leads, in a number of ways, what many might consider to be a rather sheltered life. He was a naive young farm hand when he left home, who for all his intelligence and learning from his university education that certainly increased his knowledge, he remained naive to many of the ways of the world.

The novel takes us through his leaving home to study modern farming, at the university of Columbia, but discovers literature instead. This leads his life in an unanticipated direction, to a career he could not have imagined while still working on his parents’ farm. He becomes competent but undistinguished in his profession and the book focusses on his feelings and emotions as much as his life’s travails.

Stoner and Edith marry to early. He has no experience of other girls before his marriage. She, it seems, is not so much wanting to marry as to escape her seemingly stifling, over protective parents.

Stoner has few true friends and apart from a brief period in his student years, has a difficult life. The nature of the difficulties changing as the years over which the story is set pass by, from being a young man until his retirement, with two wars in between.

It is a novel which some married readers, especially married male readers, might find a little disquieting if their marriage is not perhaps as happy or fulfilling as they would like it to be. Some younger readers, brought up in an era when divorce is now both easy and common, might wonder why Stoner did not separate from his wife.

It is not until Stoner is in his forties that he discovers what many, dare I say most, people discover about love at a younger age, when he realises that “the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end”.

I’m not sure about the originality of the story, which is really quite a simple one, about one man’s life that, I think, could be transplanted to a number of different settings. What keeps the reader engaged is the beauty and quality of the writing with its, sad, poignant and direct style that would keep most readers coming back until the end.

The Buried Giant

A review of the book by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Set in Old England, some years after the reign of King Arthur, Ishiguro takes on a journey through the english countryside with an old couple, Axl and Beartrice, to find their missing son.But did they have a son? And, is Axl what he seems?

In their long lives the Axl and Beartrice have forgotten much. The journey they set out to undertake awakens old memories, long buried. Little by little they piece together images and recollections from their past. Some of the memories bring a little happiness but some might have been better to have remained unawakened. The couple’s journey is as much emotional as it is physical and gruelling.

Amongst the adventure and sword fights, comradeship and treachery of the knights, warriors and dragon slayers, this is at heart a book about life long love between a man and a woman. It is hard to imagine anyone today who could sustain a marriage through the trials they had faced.

Not a great deal is known about the period of English history in which the book is set, so it gave the author relatively free reign of his imagination in constructing this tale which, I must admit, I found the story hard to follow at times. It is written in flashback, a style I do not particularly like, albeit to a scene usually only hours before the current point in the story. This made it hard for me to visualise some aspects of the book.

The Buried Giant is the first book by Kazuo Ishiguro I have read. Would I read another by him? Yes, probably but so far he is not an author I like enough to read his books consecutively.

As for the giant, that I haven’t mentioned, lets just say it is probably not what you might have imagined.