Condemned woman draws in reader
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent - Pbk $24.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1ST edition (April 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0316243922ISBN-13: 978-0316243926
This was such a treat to read. Every time I picked it up, I was transported to this beautiful, cold, stark Icelandic landscape and the tale of a condemned woman, Agnes Magnusdottir.
Based on a true story, Hannah Kent's debut novel narrates the tale of Agnes, who is pronounced guilty of murder and is sent to await the date of her execution with a family who are both wary and outraged to have her in their midst.
As part of the process, a spiritual guardian is appointed to guide her into salvation before her death, and she chooses Reverend Toti, a young assistant reverend.
The lyrical writing of the novel is interspersed with translations of documents from the legal proceedings and letters of the time. This makes a really interesting juxtaposition between the impersonal, black and white view of what happened, and an understanding of the grey areas which inspire empathy with Agnes as we begin to grasp the truth behind it all.
Despite themselves, the family slowly begins to warm to Agnes and Reverend Toti finds that the best approach is not to preach at her, but to be a listening ear as her tale slowly unfolds.
Passion, betrayal and abandonment all feature in Agnes' history and I could not help but become deeply attached to her character, as those around her did.
A book you won't soon forget.
Addicted to Cross Stitch
Cross Stitch, by Diana Gabaldon - Pbk $27.99
I have become completely addicted to this gripping historical saga!
It is narrated from Claire's point of view, a young English nurse who has seen her fair share of horror and gore in WW2. She is re-united with her husband after years apart, and they take a kind of honeymoon period together in Scotland to become reacquainted and explore the local history there. They happen upon an ancient ritual that takes place amongst a circle of huge standing stones. When Claire returns to the site and places her hands on one of the stones, she finds herself jolted through time to 18th century Scotland and the history lessons suddenly feel very real indeed!
Claire is swept immediately into a feud between the Scottish Highlanders and the 'Redcoats', the English who are led by Captain Jack Randall who is the splitting image of her husband (he is his ancestor), but whose character is much darker.
Taken captive by the Highlanders because they suspect her to be an English spy, she soon displays her skills as a healer with Jamie, a young man whom she forms a friendship with over the course of her time at Castle Leoch.
She is kept under a watchful eye, thwarted time and again in her attempts to return to her own century.
Against her wishes, Claire is married off to Jamie and life becomes very complicated indeed when they fall irrevocably in love and she must choose between her two lives, and two very different men.
Jamie, who has been labeled an outlaw and suffered previous abuse at the hands of Captain Randall is always one step away from capture, and as the book nears its finale, some extremely gritty, painful events occur and Gabaldon does not shy away from the details.
I am so involved in their story now that I can not wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!
Brilliant writer turns routine into captivating novel
25 July 2014
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
Imprint: Jonathan Cape
The more I read of McEwan's work, the more thoroughly convinced I am that he could write a shopping list and I would be captivated. He is just brilliant. He takes a seemingly mundane, routine slice of life, and inserts an event, or a person, who alters that life irreversibly and intensely.
This narrative is seen through the eyes of a family court Judge nearing her sixties. From the opening it is obvious that she is an expert in her field, but certain cases have taken an emotional toll, and her marriage is suffering as a result.
In fact, her husband is asking permission to have an affair. She is shocked by the audacity of it and, of course, she is not okay with it, but leave he does.
Fiona finds brief respite in the pressing demands of work, then suddenly a new case comes up - a 17-year-old guy with leukemia is refusing a blood transfusion despite the fact that he will die without one. He is a Jehovah's witness and is backed by his parents and the elders of his religion.
After the court hearing, and before a judgement is made, Fiona uncustomarily decides to visit the youth for herself.
She finds a vivacious, intelligent young man who is bubbling over with enthusiasm at her visit, and eager to share his newfound love of poetry and the violin with her. Able to ascertain that he is confident of his choice to die, she nevertheless overrules the family's wishes and as a result, he lives.
What she does not expect is to hear from him again, or to be followed.
A masterful rendering of intersecting lives and decisions, and the ripple effects of both.
The Enchanted left me awestruck
29 April 2013
by Rene Denfeld
Published by HarperCollines
Rene Denfeld manages to weave beauty and magic in an otherwise oppressive and brutal world, and it is captivating.
Told from the perspective of an anonymous death row inmate, this novel questions the ethics of the death row system in America, as well as our own assumptions regarding the depravity of people who have committed terrible crimes.
The prisoner observes an investigator, referred to as 'The Lady', whose job it is to provide enough evidence to get prisoners off death row.
Denfeld’s web site notes the author is a licensed investigator, specialising in death penalty work. So the novel is well-informed.
The reader is invited to follow The Lady as she researches the background of a serial killer named York, and what she discovers about his upbringing is grim indeed. York doesn't want to be saved.
In between following the case, we are transported into the mind and memories of the unnamed inmate who imagines herds of wild golden horses galloping deep beneath the earth, and small men digging in the walls. He lives for the novels that the prison warden slips through his cell door each week, and he observes as The Lady and the Priest slowly fall in love.
This novel is a glorious intertwining of love, cruelty, death, life, imagination and the magic of stories.
Enchanting - Jemma
The Secret History's grip leaves mark on the reader
27 February 2014
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
No wonder The Secret History is touted as a modern classic. Donna Tartt is an artful, insightful author and her novel is compelling to the very end, leaving a marked impression on the reader.
I finished the book with a deep yearning and sense of nostalgia for where it all began - a place of hopeful beginnings, happier and simpler times, and friendships as yet untarnished.
The narrator of the story is Richard Papen, who escapes his dreary suburban existence with dysfunctional parents to attend Hampden College in New England, which beckons alluringly with glorious countryside and old fashioned grandeur.
Richard wishes to continue his study of Ancient Greek but finds the class to be closed and elitist, a world of its own. The Greek students appear to him through rose-tinted glass - the twins Charles and Camilla, the aloof but brilliant Henry, and the obnoxious yet effervescent Bunny and Francis.
Richard is thrilled to be admitted into their class, led by the enigmatic professor Julian, and then eventually welcomed into their tight knit circle of friendship. The novel starts with a prologue around Bunny's murder. The story describes the how and why through the events leading up to the murder. When a Bacchanal ritual spirals out of control, the tension rapidly mounts between friends. What follows will haunt them all for the rest of their lives.
An utterly gripping and poignant read.
Fact and fiction weave a captivating tale
23 January 2014
The Virgin & The Whale
by Carl Nixon
Based on a true story, this novel weaves fact and fiction together in a beautifully captivating way whilst the author playfully involves the reader in his storytelling process as the book progresses.
Set in post-WW1 New Zealand (though it is never specifically labelled), this story portrays the aftermath of the horrors of war. In this case – a nurse whose husband has been pronounced missing-in-action overseas, her four year old son Jack, and a man being locked away in his own house because he has lost his memory in an explosion.
Elizabeth reluctantly agrees to help rehabilitate this man who has been acting in a primeval way, and who it turns out is being sorely misunderstood by both his wife and supposed experts in the psychological field. Elizabeth forms a special bond with this man who calls himself Lucky, and is the only one who understands that his memory is irretrievable.
Meanwhile at home she has started narrating a tale to her son at bedtime called The Balloonist. The balloonist represents her husband, and the adventures and experiences he goes through in the tale are reflective of Elizabeth's reality at the time of each telling.
When Lucky's wife gets a psychological assessment done, he is (wrongly) diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and admitted to an asylum. Elizabeth knows this will be the death of him and she is anxious to give her budding patient a new chance at life in the world.
I could not help but become deeply involved in their plight, as well as appreciating the power of stories to heal, accept and inspire.
Aptly and insightfully written, this book will appeal to a wide readership.
Island tale an astounding read
16 12 2013
The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
I've found a new book to rave about!
This is a debut novel by a very talented Australian author, who weaves a magical and heart breaking tale that makes you question what would appear on the surface as a black and white situation - a simple moral decision between right and wrong.
This novel deals with the grey area. Tom is a lighthouse keeper haunted by his memories of the war and his absent mother. He has escaped society to live in peaceful solitude at Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia in the 1920s.
Whilst on the mainland in Partageuse, he encounters the bubbly, beautiful character of Isabel and she moves out to the island with him as his wife. Together, their horizon is rose-coloured and full of hope and love.
But Isabel suffers three miscarriages and despair consumes her, so when a dinghy washes up on the shore containing a dead man and a crying infant, she accepts this little girl as a gift from God. For Isabel's sake, Tom uneasily agrees to allow her a day before notifying the authorities and recording the event in his logbook.
A day turns into two, which turns into a week, which turns into years. Isabel appears for the most part unconcerned but this secret is eating away at their relationship, and at Tom's soul. They both adore Lucy, and M L Stedman captures the little girl's speech and childlike character so perfectly that I couldn't help but fall in love with her too!
Meanwhile, a lonely woman in Partageuse goes each day to the authorities for any news of her lost husband and child. The plot thickens, as you can imagine, with this poor little girl trapped in the middle of two desperate mothers and a situation that one cannot possibly have the heart to judge. An astounding read.