The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Cheesy, boring, poorly executed. While there is indeed a murder and the identity behind the culprit is, supposedly, a ‘mystery’, The Widows of Malabar Hill struck me as something in the realms of a third-rate period drama. The first part of the novel introduces us to Perveen Mistry, our protagonist, and works to establish the setting, which is 1920s Bombay. While the author succeeds in depicting the realities of colonialism, of being female in India at this time in history, and in providing her readers with some degree of insight into Zoroastrian and Muslim traditions, the setting wasn’t particularly vivid. There are some info-dumpings now and again which read like something straight out of a textbook (aimed at younger audiences due to the dumbing down of certain facts). Anyway, Perveen’s family is Zoroastrian and has begun working at her father’s law firm. Being the only, or one of the first, female lawyers in India comes with many challenges but thanks to her father’s endless belief in her capabilities and her law degree from Oxford Perveen feels ready for what’s in store. She becomes involved with the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a well-off Muslim man who had three wives. As these recently widowed women reside in a purdah, a secluded and strictly, children aside, strictly female space, Perveen is the ideal go-between. Perveen is worried that they are being taken advantage of as they seemed to have signed over their inheritance. We also read of Perveen’s British friend Alice who has returned to India after spending time abroad.
The flat if occasionally ridiculous writing (at one point Perveen is telling someone not to touch her briefcase and instead of having her ‘shout’, to indicate her panic, this happens: “It’s mine!” she bleated. what is she? a goat?!) was bearable but the slow-moving plot was a chore to get through. When the murder finally happens we get a flashback related to Perveen’s past lasting 50+ pages or so that bares little revelance to what had so far happened. The author paints a sloppy picture of an abusive marriage which seemed very much soap opera material. The abusive husband is one of the most one-dimensional characters that I’ve come across in a while, and that’s saying something.

Perveen is portrayed as Not Like Other Girls because she’s smart and interested in the law. The murder mystery is a mere blip in this melodrama-driven narrative. We don’t even get to spend that much time with the widows and their characters suffer because of it. The last scene was pure cheese (“To the power of women!” Alice toasted. “To the power of women” Perveen answered as their glasses clinked.).
I was hoping that this would be something in the realms of Agatha Christie or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries but this book was anything but. It was more focused on Perveen’s married life and it wasted a lot of page-time in rehashing how it started and how it ended. As I found the author’s general delivery to be dry I had a hard time caring about anything that was happening or that was being recounted. Perveen grated on my nerves as she acted without thinking and did not strike me as particularly clever or caring. Alice’s personality was being English and gay. Perveen’s mother plays barely a role in the story, her father is largely overlooked, and her uni friends we briefly meet in that first flashback, well, they were mere background figures.
If you are interested in reading this I recommend you check out more positive reviews. I, for one, will be giving its sequels a large berth.

my rating: ★★☆☆☆

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Given its abysmal overall rating, it should not come as a surprise that A Separation is not the type of novel that will/to have a large appeal. While it bears many of the same elements and stylistic qualities as Intimacies, Katie Kitamura’s latest novel which I happen not to like, here, well, they kind of work. Similarly to Intimacies, A Separation is narrated by a nameless and nondescript female character. We never learn anything substantial about their backstories and their personalities remain blank. For some reason, in A Separation, this narrating choice works. Whereas reading Intimacies felt to me like an utter waste of my time, A Separation proved to be a much more thought-provoking novel.

A Separation follows a woman who is separated from her husband, a serial cheater. They have not officialized their separation and not only are they legally still married but his parents still believe they are together. When he goes missing on a research trip in Greece his mother pressures our narrator to go find him. Our narrator, who is now in a new relationship, acquiesces hoping that she will be able to get her husband to agree to a divorce. Once there however she realizes that he has truly vanished. She obverses the staff in the hotel, speculating on the whereabouts of her husband, wondering how and why he has seemingly disappeared, leaving his possessions behind.
I was transfixed by the descriptions of the landscapes and people encountered by our main character. The uneasy scenario our mc is in resulted in a taut atmosphere. Her ambiguous narration proved hypnotic and I felt transported alongside her to this remote region in Greece. While the uncertain nature of her journey and her husband’s unknown whereabouts resulted in a gripping storyline, this was not a fast-paced or plot-driven story. This is a very introspective and reflective work that explores themes of unity and separation, absence and presence, longing and loss, foreignness and belonging, deception and clarity.
I loved the mood of this story. The drawn-out waiting for our mc does may bore some but I found this wait to be enthralling. The tension between her and the other characters (the employees, the husband, her mother-in-law) captivated me. Her piercing narration was particularly rewarding. Not only does she express herself in such an adroit, articulate, and alert way but I found her speculations and observations to be razor-sharp. The author juxtaposes her clarity of vision with her intrinsic vagueness. We learn virtually nothing about her history or who she is. Her crystal-clear narration is in fact rather deceptive as all the while she keeps herself hidden. This ambivalence certainly complemented the precarious atmosphere of her stay in Greece.
While I did find much to be admired in this novel it is not the type of reading that will leave a long-lasting impression on me. It did succeed in making me a fan of this author even if I did not care for her latest novel. I can see why many gave A Separation a low rating. Nothing much happens and for all her navel-gazing the narrator remains a stranger to us. It is the type of novel that at the end may very well make you say “what was the point of all that?”. But, if you are in the right mood for a more muggy exploration of a fractured marriage and the limits of language, that succeeds in being both elusive and incisive, well, look no further. Subtle, erudite, and meditative, A Separation will certainly appeal to fans of psychological fiction.

my rating: ★★★½

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Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes by Alexa Martin

Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes is an exceedingly average chick-lit novel. While I appreciated that it was very much a novel about friendship, as opposed to romance, and that the author does incorporate more serious issues within her otherwise light-hearted story, I found many scenes to be cringey (unintentionally so) and towards the end, things take a soap-opera turn.
This book follows best friends Jude and Lauren. Jude is an influencer who is all about pilates and clean eating. Jude’s mother is a narcissistic former reality-tv star who habitually guilt trips Jude into giving her money and taking part in publicity stunts she’s not keen on doing.

Lauren, who wanted to be a surgeon, works at and has a 5-year-old daughter. After splitting with the father she’s more or less had to raise her daughter on her own. When her ex starts acting like more of a parent, Lauren is initially happy for her daughter. Things change when he decides to file for custody.
Due to their finances, these two bffs decide to move in together, eventually starting a podcast on motherhood.
For the most part, the tone of this novel is cheesy/silly. Our leads have their troubles but the drama affecting their lives never struck me as heavy-going (even when it should have been). Lauren has to deal with her ex trying to get full custody of her daughter, while Jude is trying her hardest to pretend that everything is hunky-dory and that her mother isn’t toxic af.
It just so happens that I found their jargon, hobbies, and interests to be…low-key annoying. We have an overuse of the word mansplaining and feminism as well as a lot of scenes going on about the ‘mommy’ life or wine dates or exercise classes. I just felt wholly disconnected from Jude and Lauren. They were meant to be 28 but boy they could have been in their late thirties and I would have believed it. This novel is very much intended for an American millennial audience, not moi. Scenes that were meant to be cute were in fact cringe. Alexa Martin doesn’t offer any new insights into the realities of being an influencer nor do her mother-daughter relationship feel particularly complex. The ‘mommy culture’ also just…nope. I do not care for it one bit (i also hated reading about it in Such a Fun Age and Big Little Lies).

Anyway, while I did find much of the story to be somewhat grating (tone-wise), it still managed to be now and again mildly entertaining…and then we near the end and the melodrama commences. I found the author’s portrayal of alcoholism to be surface-level. And it annoyed me that because Jude likes to party and isn’t as straight-laced as Lauren she has to be ‘punished’. I swear that last plot point would have been more suited to a soap-opera. Here it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The author just throws this in and goes over it quite superficially so that things are more or less resolved within a couple of pages. There was something moralistic about this last portion of the story that didn’t sit right with me (not that things like this ever happen…but really? it just had to happen in this story?).
My overall verdict is ‘meh’. I liked the focus on friendship and that the story highlights how the American healthcare system treats Black mothers and just how insidious toxic relationships are. However, as I said above, its attempts at pandering to a millennial audience resulted in some very cringey scenes and the author treats serious issues, such as alcoholism, in a theatrical way. I guess if you are a fan of authors such as Emily Henry you might find this novel more enjoyable than I did.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray

The Human Zoo will appeal to readers who prefer their books to focus on setting and social commentary more than say plot or character development. Sabina Murray writes with confidence and at first, I found myself quite immersed in her storytelling. The novel is narrated by Tin, a Filipino-American journalist whose marriage is close to collapse. Ting travels to Manila, both to escape her current predicament and to research Timicheg, an Igorot man who in the early 20th century was displayed in one of the last ‘human zoos’ in America. Since her last visit Procopio Gumboc has become the country’s president and his rule is bloody indeed.

Ting returns to her family home where she easily slips back into a comfortable existence with the house staff taking care of her every need and with evenings spent with other socialites. Ting is reunited with her close friends and her former lover Chet, a rich businessman now married to someone else and with ties to Gumboc’s regime.
Ting is also meant to keep an eye on Laird, the American fiance of one of her cousin’s. But when Laird begins showing up at every event and family occasion Ting attends and asking a lot of questions. Ting grows suspicious of Laird and, when he seemingly vanishes, fears the worst.
This novel is certainly informative. Through Ting’s narration, we learn about the Philippines’ history, its fraught political past and present, as well as its contemporary class dynamics. While we do witness just how oppressing its regime is, we also hear the perspective of those who regard it as the lesser evil or even as a solution to the issues affecting their society. Ting is very much opposed and critical of Gumboc’s rein, but not many are willing to listen to her concerns.
Towards the end, the story changes track slightly, in a way that wasn’t entirely seamless. I found some of the events that happen to be rushed and not entirely credible. I also found myself growing bored by how exposition-heavy the narrative was. Ting tells us all of these things about her country and its history and its present but, personally, I would have preferred to have less telling and more showing.

The characters themselves never truly feel like actual people. Ting is a vehicle through which the Philippines can be ‘explained’ to, I’ll hazard, a predominantly non-Filipino audience and she lacked both history and motivations. Her relationship with the characters around them was similarly satisfying and seemed to exist only in order to illustrate a certain type of person who is part of Manila’s upper crust. Her romance with Chet, for instance, was flat and strangely artificial.
I wanted more of Ting’s family and more of her actual research on Timicheg, and less about Gumboc, Laird, or Chet.

Lastly, I found it weird that Ting kept describing Inchoy, her friend, as being gay when he seems to be in a loving relationship with a transwoman. Inchoy, as far as I recall, does not describe himself as lgbtq+. He’s a cis man who is in love with a woman. Yet, because the woman he is in love with is trans Ting claims more than once that he’s gay.

While this novel certainly paints a detailed picture of contemporary Manila, in particular the lifestyle of the upper classes, it failed to leave a strong impression on me. In-depth examination and discussion of politics aside, The Human Zoo doesn’t have much to offer. Ting is a blank page of a protagonist and so are the characters around her. The story ambles on in a fairly predictable and uneventful fashion, but it lacked direction and urgency.
If you are interested in reading this novel I recommend you check out more positive reviews.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo

A poignant novel exploring a complicated father-daughter relationship is ultimately weighed down by unnecessary side-characters and by a superficial approach to serious issues. While I appreciate the themes the author touches upon in Sankofa, I found this novel to lack cohesiveness. The story begins with Anna, daughter of a white Welsh mother and a Black father from a fictional country in West Africa, who is in her late forties and in the process of separating from her husband. Not only Anna is grieving her marriage but her mother, who died months previously. Anna chances upon her estranged father’s old journals. Her mother revealed very little of his identity, giving Anna a name, Francis Aggrey, and not much else. Through her father’s entries, Anna glimpses for the first time in her life her father’s character. These journals relate his time in England, the racism he experienced, the friends he made, his politics, as well as his brief relationship with Anna’s mother.
Anna is amazed to discover the role her father played in his country’s liberation from colonial rule and shaken to learn that many went on to speak of his time as Bamana’s Prime Minister as resembling a dictatorship. In a rather conventional way, the novel sees Anna traveling to Bamana to meet her father who is unaware of her existence.
The story is at its best when it focuses on Anna time with her now an elderly father. His entries were certainly compelling but, as Anna herself notes, some of what he does is questionable indeed. I also found that Anna’s analysis of his entries detracted from the entries themselves. She would simply go on to reiterate what had just happened in the actual entry so that most of her observations came across as banal and or obvious. And why in the world did she have to keep on repeating his name and surname every time she mentioned/thought of him?
Anna’s experience at Bamana had its interesting moments. For example, she quickly realizes that to the locals she is white and that her view of African countries such as Bamana betrays her Westerner gaze (she takes for granted certain things, acts rashly without considering the repercussion of her actions, and applies her anglicized views on certain events and or encounters). Although few, Anna’s recollections of her childhood and her mother were also compelling. Anna’s mother seemed unwilling to admit that her daughter could be treated differently because of being Black, often downplaying Anna’s experiences of racism or using the ‘I see no color’ card
Most of the secondary characters, with perhaps the exception of Anna’s ‘new’ siblings, were rather one-dimensional or played bizarre roles in Anna’s story. For instance, she meets this man and most of their interactions have this quality of unease, a certain something that made me think he was a danger to her, but no, his terrible attempts at flirting and creepy behavior are all of a sudden brushed away (?).
Anna’s husband remains a nondescript figure while her daughter, who is in her twenties, comes across as a teenager more often than not, practically bullying her mother into divorcing her dad. The daughter has an eating disorder and this is something that is used to create tension between her and Anna. And I, for one, did not care for it. Why include this issue if you are just using it to add some ‘drama’?
The most eventful part of the story happens in the last portion of the novel. Here Anna and her relationship with her father and his country come to the forefront of the story (coincidentally it is here that her daughter, husband, weirdo guy are pushed to the sidelines).
As I said, I appreciate most of the themes incorporated in this novel and the author’s discussion on race, colonialism, poverty, and cultural differences. However, her characters often came across as little more than names on a page, Anna more so than her father. She was a housewife so the story addresses how that decision affected her life but still, even without a career/job one can have a personality, and Anna did not. She functions as a vehicle, someone who is there to move the story along and to make the most basic of observations. There was a lot of repetition, most of these were Anna reiterating something that has just been said (such her thinking ‘Anna is an anagram of Nana’ just after someone had told her that if you move the letters in Anna you get Nana and vice-versa). I also cared little for the present-tense of her narration.
Overall, this was a somewhat patchy novel and although I did not particularly care for it I would probably read something else by this author and I recommend prospective readers to check out some more positive reviews.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

my rating: ★★★☆☆


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Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen

 

In Soy Sauce for Beginners Kirstin Chen explores the dichotomy between tradition and modernity. When her marriage collapses our narrator and protagonist, Gretchen Lin, leaves San Francisco behind and returns to her family home in Singapore. Gretchen begins working at her family’s artisanal soy sauce business—hence the title—which was recently embroiled in a food-poising scandal thanks to her cousin’s shortcuts. Her father clearly wants Gretchen to take her cousin’s place as the future head of the company but Gretchen plans on returning to San Francisco, hoping that she can still salvage her crumbling marriage. Soon her mind is occupied by her mother’s health, in particular, her excessive drinking.
Chen’s writing flows easily and the drama between the various characters makes for some entertaining reading material. Without resorting to long descriptions Chen manages to render Singapore, from its customs to its nightlife, so that this setting becomes the most vibrant aspect of her story. What lets the story down somewhat is its narrator. Gretchen spends most of the novel angsting over her husband—who is a dick—and making jabs about the young woman he involved himself with. She is not particularly involved in her job at her family’s company, avoids spending time with her friends, and hangs out with a boring guy she does not particularly care for. I also really hated the whole subplot involving her American friend who is no longer ‘dumpy’ but has transformed into a ‘babe’ everyone loves. She actually works hard, she is respected in a way that Gretchen isn’t, and she ‘steals’ her friends away. And, instead of showing that Gretchen was being jealous over nothing, the story makes this friend into kind of a ‘snake’. Gretchen gave me some strong judgy vibes, especially when it comes to the women around her (I am tired of reading about women ‘bitching’ about each other…we can do better than that).
I wish the narrative had focused less on Gretchen moping about her husband and life, and more time on her interacting with her family and friends. Still, the food descriptions were mouth-watering and I liked the glitzy lifestyle Gretchen and those around her enjoy.

Throughout the course of the story, Gretchen has to reconcile her desires with her father and mother’s expectations of her. An easy read that ultimately manages to have a satisfying ending and that does not surprisingly focus on romance.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

 

 

 

Though mostly comprising of short chapters, some shorter than a page, What We Lose is a poignant novel that succeeds on many different levels: it captures the narrator’s inner feelings, it gives a crystal-clear understanding of her circumstances, and it provides us with insights into questions of love, race, illness, grief, and motherhood. Thandi, our narrator, is a light-skinned Black woman who although raised in America feels both close and not to South Africa, her mother’s country. Clemmons marries a coming-of-age story—self-fulfilment, love, friendships, career, finding a place to which you can fully belong—with a piercing commentary on race, class, cancer (providing sobering evidence showing the disproportionate death rate among Black people, regardless of class), gender, and love. The narrative hones in on Thandi’s grief over the death of her mother. She recalls those excruciating months in which her mother was bedridden and in atrocious pain. There are portions of the narrative that relate to the still ongoing aftermath of apartheid and Clemmons initiates some thoughtful discussion about South Africa’s history and current socioeconomic.
Clemmons prose is restrained yet startling for its preciseness. With just a few words Clemmons manages to explore with authenticity and nuance complex feelings and scenarios. It is not a happy tale, as it brings to the forefront some sad yet real truths. Still, here and there, we are given glimpses of hope and genuine love (especially between Thandi and her best friend). Part of me did wish that the novel could have been a bit longer but I also recognize that the ending did not feel abrupt nor hurried.

my rating: ★★★½

Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima

Territory of Light is a sparsely written novel divided into twelve chapters, each one capturing a specific moment or period of its unnamed narrator’s life. Our narrator, the mother to a three-year-old, has recently moved into a new apartment as her husband, the father of her daughter, left her for another woman. Territory of Light details through a series of fragmented snapshots the way our narrator’s everyday life has been affected by her husband’s decision. Tsushima shows how a single-mother is viewed by Japanese society, and of the pressure, she feels to be a good and capable mother. Her three-year-old has temper tantrums, she acts out, she creates problems with their neighbors and at her preschool, in short, she does not make things easy for the narrator. At times her husband reappears to recriminate her, accusing her of being a bad mother, alcoholic and refuses to concede her a divorce. The narrator also receives unwelcome advice from her colleagues and other people around her, who often warn her that to divorce her husband would be a huge mistake.

While I cannot comment on the author’s prose as I read a translation of it, I can’t say that I was drawn in by either the characters or their stories. I found the narrator’s passivity frustrating and her flashes of temper to be a bit too melodramatic. Her daughter was annoying to the extreme. She was spoilt, rude, and so very annoying. Her presence in a given scene would be detrimental to my engagement in said scene. The husband was pathetic and one-dimensional while many of the dialogues seemed to exist only to emphasize how hard life as a single-mother is for the narrator.
While I did not necessarily dislike the novel, I did not particularly care for it either. This is the kind of novel that once ‘digested’ is soon to be forgotten.

my rating: ★★☆☆☆

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett — book review

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“I was still at a point in my life when the house was the hero of every story, our lost and beloved country.”

Not Quite a Review, More of an Ode to Ann Patchett:

Usually I tend to post my reviews a couple of days after I’ve finished reading a book. With The Dutch House it took me nearly two weeks to work up the ‘courage’ to review it. The fact is that I loved The Dutch House so much that I find hard to see it as a ‘mere’ work of fiction.
This is the eight novel that I’ve read by Ann Patchett and she has yet to disappoint. It is difficult to ‘pick’ a favourite, even if I can see that throughout the course of her writing career she has really honed her craft. Yet, I wholeheartedly loved her early books (especially her unjustly underrated 1997 novel, The Magician’s Assistant), so to imply that she ‘keeps getting better’ would be doing her a disservice. Regardless of the scope of her stories (whether they take place in a short period of time in a particular city, such as in Run, or move us between two ‘extremes’, in The Magician’s Assistant we move between Los Angeles and Nebraska, or take us on even longer journey, for instance in State of Wonder we follow Dr. Marina Singh’s as she leaves Minnesota for the Amazon Rainforest) Patchett tends to explore the same themes: there is a focus on familial relationships, especially between siblings, and these established dynamics are often changed due to some ‘major’ event (often the death of a loved one/relative/colleague). Although The Dutch House is written in Patchett’s signature prose, which can be described as being deceptively simple it features a first-person perspective, which is a departure from her usual third-person point of view. Being inside Danny Conroy’s head makes for an immersive experience and within the first pages I was captivated by his story.
Through an act of retrospection Danny looks back to the past and what follows is a narrative that could be described as a bildungsroman. Danny’s childhood in the Dutch House—a large, if not incongruous, mansion in a prosperous suburb of Philadelphia—is clouded by the absence of his mother (a woman he cannot clearly recall but whose absence he nonetheless feels) and by his relationship with his remote father. It is Maeve, Danny’s older sister, who takes on the role of ‘parental’ figure, and their relationship is very much the underlying thread of the story.

The Dutch House, weighed down by its history, inspires fascination in Andrea, the woman who will go on to become Danny and Maeve’s step-mother. The novel begins in fact with Danny’s memory of his first meeting with Andrea, one that seems to have almost a fairy-tale-esque quality in that it was the day where ‘everything’ seemed to change.
Throughout Danny’s narrative we will also see the way in which the Conroy siblings remain drawn to the house, a house which seems to acquire an emblematic role in the lives of those who have lived in: it represents their childhoods, their father—his career, his marriage(s)—and the rather unfortunate VanHoebeeks. Patchett renders this house without loosing herself in extensive architectural descriptions, rather she brings to the foreground some of its features (Maeve’s windowseat) and some of its objects. The paintings within the house (Maeve’s portrait and those of the VanHoebeeks) also seem to hold a certain function in Danny’s recollection of his past.

“Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts. The house, complete with mantels, had been finished in 1922.”

In his remembrance Danny frequently makes vague, if not downright oblique, allusions to later events or revelations, which in turn creates tension between his past and present. Also framing Danny’s recollection of his youth are a series of scenes in which alongside Maeve, he sits in her car outside the Dutch House.
Danny also questions the veracity of his memories: “But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.” He reassess certain moments and figures of his past, finding hidden complexities in what had at first appeared to be seemingly unremarkable occurrences.

“Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?”

While the novel is narrated by Danny he never paints himself as the ‘hero’ of his own story. He often wonders whether he should have acted in a different way towards someone or something, trying to understand why things unfurled the way that they did. While the motivations of other characters might escape him, and possibly us, they are never reduced to a certain role/function. The each have a story even if we are not always made privy to it. An although there is an awareness of the limitations provided by Danny’s narration, the story never feels restricted to his experiences and worldview.

“Whatever romantic notions I might have harbored, whatever excuses or allowances my heart had ever made on her behalf, blew out like a match.”

My edition of this novel includes an essay in which Ann Patchett says that “for a long time I had planned to call the book Maeve as it was her story.” The novel, in fact, very much pivots around Maeve but it is her brother who is telling her tale.
We see the way in which their experiences in the Dutch House makes them determined to fulfil their desires or to take a certain path in their life: for Danny that is to become, as his father before him, a real-estate developer, while Maeve wants to carry on working a job she loves even if many consider her to be overqualified to do. While to some degree Danny’s vision of Maeve influences our perception of her, we are always aware that she may have hidden qualities. What is certainly undeniable is her love for her brother. Their bond is portrayed with such frankness and poignancy as to become vividly real in the reader’s mind.
This a story full of beauty and sorrow. There are regrets, wonderful reflections on memory, moments that are brimming with love or sadness…Patchett spins a tale in which families fall apart or come together. It is an intimate depiction of the bond between two siblings. Time and again Danny draws strength from his relationship to his sister, and even when he begins to feel unmoored from his own life, and as he struggles trying to reconcile himself with his past, Maeve provides him with a sense of belonging.
Patchett’s sense of place is as detailed and evocative as ever. She seamlessly renders midcentury America through Danny’s narration, evoking within me a sense of nostalgia for a country I’ve never even been to. And while Danny’s story spans decades, it maintains its focus on the same group of people, painting an intimate portrait of Danny’s friends and family.
…to put it simply I fell in love with it. Patchett’s harmonious prose made the experience all the more beautiful, and I was so enthralled by her story and her characters that to I struggled to think of them as works of fiction.
What more can I say? I think this is a masterpiece.

“We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it. I was sickened to realize we’d kept it going for so long, not that we had decided to stop.”

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane – book review

{BCDD7B8F-9FFC-4D64-A58A-5C4F6BC77B70}Img100.jpgDennis Lehane has written many superb novels, and while Since We Fell demonstrates many of his strengths, the story seems a lot less focused than his usual ones.

The intriguing prologue leads into a story which follows Rachel Childs. In the first 1/4 of the novel we follow her quest for her father. I found this part interesting and I believed that it would relate somehow to the prologue or to later events…it did not. This whole section seems to belong to a different novel altogether, and this ‘disjointed’ impression became stronger as the story ends up becoming close to an action-film.
There are many things that I enjoyed. Lehane’s writing style is propelling enough so that even in the the slower chapters I remained interested in the storyline. He can create nuanced and memorable characters with just a few sentences, and his ability to capture different personalities is, as per usual, amazing. Rachel’s character arch was compulsive and Lehane manages to trace and contextualise many of her weakness and traumas back to her childhood and to one fateful trip she took as a news reporter to Haiti.
What didn’t ‘grab’ me was the romance. The relationship between Rachel and her husband…so much remains unexplained that I found the ending to be hugely underwhelming. So many pages are wasted on things that have little to no bearing to the story and then in the last act of the novel things just ‘kick-off’ in a mad series of action and chase scenes.
Overall, this novel was less than the sum of its part. There were some brilliant moments that brimmed with suspense, but there were also many scenes which felt silly and over the top.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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