Monday, 19 November 2007

The Amnesia Clinic - James Scudamore

" Bewitching...This is a rigorously plotted novel masquerading as a pciaresque romp and highly recommended. Scudamore has talent to burn." Sunday Telegraph.

The Amnesia Clinic is an extraordinary, powerful novel set in Quito, Ecuador. Anti, a quiet English boy, strikes up a friendship with flamboyant local classmate Fabian. Fabian is everything Anti isn't: handsome, athletic and popular. What's more, he lives with his cool, eccentric Uncle Suarez, while Anti is stuck in the dull ex-pat world inhabited by his parents.
Suarez, a storyteller par excellence, infects the boys with his passion for outlandish tales, and , before long, the relationship between them becomes one conducted entirely through the medium of storytelling.
One subject is taboo: Fabian's parents. But when details surrounding their disappearnce begin to emerge, Anti decides to console his friend with a story suggesting that Fabian's mother may be living at a bizarre hospital on the coast for patients with memory loss.
With confused emotions and reality losing its tenuous grip, the boys embark on a quixotic voyage across Ecuador in search of an "Amnesia Clinic" that may or may not exist...

I really enjoyed this novel, and found it exciting and suspenseful, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the reader learns from page 1 that a lead character will die before the story is through. The relationship between Fabian and Anti is touching, and unlikely, and Uncle Suarez is rather mysterious and enigmatic. The boys, both teenagers, seem younger than any teen boys I'm acquainted with, maybe because Anti has asthma, and Fabian is closeted by his uncle following his parent's death. In this way, they would perhaps not be as naive or innocent to find themselves in the circumstances that they do. A clever aspect of the story is that the reader never can be totally sure, what is fact or fiction as far as the boys narratives go.
The Amnesia Clinic is Scudamore's debut novel and won the 2007 Somerset Maugham Award as well as being shorlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, The Commonwealth Writer's Prize, the Glan Dimplex Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

" A polished debut ...turns the tables on both characters and reader as imagination segues into dangerous reality" Guardian.

Just In Case - Meg Rosoff

"Extraordinary and original. Yhisdisturbing blackly comic, sophisticated meditation on death, madness and sexuality is powerful and haunting" Sunday Times book of the Week.

What would you do if you thought fate was out to get you?
If you're fifteen year old David Case, you might decide to change your name and the way you look. You might reinvent yourself as an athlete, try to outrun the terrible things that could happen at any second. You might leave home and find yourself caught up in a series of strange misadventures. You might even fall in love.
But is David Case really in control of his life? And if he isn't, who is?
Meg Rosoff's suprisingly funny and utterly compelling new novel is as daring as her first, the award winning How I Live Now.

One day, David Case's baby brother, Charlie looks out of their top floor window and thinks, "Why not fly?" David reaches him just in time to stop him plunging out, and is suddenly hit by panic. He begins to see all kinds of danger in the world, "Suddenly everywhere he looked he saw complete ctastrophe, bloodshed, the demise of the planet, the ruin of the human race...The weight of it wrapped itself around his ankles and dragged him under."
Believing himself to be doomed, David sets about reinventing himself, changes his name to Justin, (get it?) changes his friends, clothing and acquires a zanily dressed photographer girlfriend and an imaginary greyhound, Dog.
As this occurs, fate looks on mischeiviously, and Charlie with concern.
I really enjoyed this novel, although it is a little strange. I wondered if David /Justin was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), going to extreme measures to prevent catastrophe. I'm not sure if this was the author's intentiom, but Justin certainly exhibits many of the signs. Clearly he is depressed and sees the world as a hostile place.
Fate is personified and given a voice, but it was never clear to me whether the author was playing a game with the reader in the same way the fate is playing games with Justin.
Justin is helped by Peter and his enigmatic and wise young sister Dorothea, who seem to accept and sympathise with Justin's angst.
Peter tells Justin, "...try rethinking your proposition. Check your logic. Are you running because you're being chased? Is something chasing you in order to do you harm? Think of a dog. What if fate is chasing you because you're running?"
Justin has to come to terms with his mortality in order to survive, and his journey of discovery is thought provoking and moving.

"Intelligent, ironic and darkly funny." Time Out

Monday, 8 October 2007

Lorelei's Secret - Carolyn Parkhurst

"A shimmering fictional portrait of love and loss" Scotsman

"Here is what we know, those of us who can speak to tell a story: On the afternoon of October 24th, my wife Lexy Ransome, climbed to the top of the apple tree in our backyard and fell to her death. There were no witnesses save our dog Lorelei..."
From their first date, Lexy swept Paul Iverson off his feet and brought passion and adventure to his previously stable existence. Unable to accept that her death was an accident, Paul sets out to divine Lorelei's secret and, in doing so, he learns things about his wife that he could never have imagined.

This book is stunning, it completley captivated me up until the very last page. Published in America as The Dogs Of Babel, is not only a study of grief and loss, but also a tender and compelling love story.
Linguist, Paul begins to find certain "anomalies" concerning Lexy's death, which lead him to believe that his wife had commited suicide. She had begun to reorganize their bookshelves and Paul believes she has tried to leave him a message somehow, yet he cannot work out what that message might be. He is also confused by the fact that Lexy had cooked Lorelei a twenty pound steak they had planned to barbeque that evening. The only way he can solve the mystery, is to have Lorelei tell him what happened, therefore he must teach her to talk.
Lexy's character is revealed in a series of Paul's memories of her, and she is suprisingly complex. Her fits of sudden, inexplicable rage and destructiveness hint at some deep emotional damge, but Parkhurst does not tell us what. I liked this, it lent a further air of mystery into the connundrum that was Lexy. Her black spells are in sharp contrast to the spontaneous, creative, fun-loving woman Paul falls in love with. I loved the part where they wear masks of the other's face. Their relationship is a delight to read about, and Parkhurst really makes the reader care about both of them.
Lexy has a fascination with Tam Lin, and tells Paul her favourite part, "Had I known but yesterday what I know today, I'd have taken out your two gray eyes and put in eyes of clay. And had I known but yesterday you'd be no more my own, I'd have taken out your heart of flesh and put in one of stone".
This extract proves to be very significant, and makes for extremely moving reading.
Paul's attempts to teach Lorelei to talk provide a lot of humour, but also have a dark side. His colleagues think he is crazy, and he is a little, crazy with grief.
As always, I won't give away the ending, but I can say that it is intensely sad and I cried. A lot.

"Prepare to have your heart smashed into melancholy pieces" Elle

Getting Rid of Matthew - Jane Fallon

"Sparkling and unpredictable, a brilliant first novel" Elle

When Matthew, Helen's lover of the past four years, finally decides to leave his wife Sophie (and their two daughters) and move into Helen's flat, she should be over the moon. The only trouble is, she doesn't want him anymore. Now she has to figure out how to get rid of him...
Plan A
*Stop shaving your armpits. And your bikini line.
*Buy incontinence pads and leave them lying around.
*Stop having sex with him.
Plan B
*Accidentally on purpose bump into his wife Sophie.
*Give yourself a fake name and identity.
*Befriend Sophie and actually begin to really like her.
*Snog Matthew's son (who's the same age as you by the way. You're not a paedophile).
*Befriend Matthew's children. Unsuccessfully.
*Watch your plan go absolutely horribly wrong.
Getting rid of Matthew isn't as aesy as it seems, but along the way Helen will forge an unlikely friendship, find real love and realize that nothing ever goes exactly to plan...

I avoided reading this for a while. It was one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads, but it isn't their greatest pick. It basically chick lit in the vein of Bridgit Jones just as I suspected it would be. Single career girl with best friend and useless boyfriend, who gets herself into a load of humerous scrapes but you love her anyway and it all comes good in the end.
Jane Fallon, creator of Tv shows, This Life and Teachers and girlfriend of the wonderful Ricky Gervais has successfully pulled it of though, and although cliched, Getting Rid of Matthew is actually quite good fun. There are no suprises, indeed the story is very predictable, but it is entertaining none-the-less. I couldn't quite understand why Helen didn't just tell Matthew to go, instead of digging herself into a hole full of trouble, but there we are.
Ideal for anyone who enjoys Marion Keyes.

"A punchy piece of inverted chick-lit" Big Issue

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Pobby and Dingham - Ben Rice

"Intensely moving and brilliantly realised...a pocket masterpiece" Observer

Pobby and Dingan live in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, the opal capital of Australia. They are friends with Kellyanne Williamson, the daughter of a miner: indedd only Kellyanne can see them. Pobby and Dingan are imaginary.
Ashmol Williamson, Kellyanne'sbrother thinks his sister should grow up and stop being such a fruit-loop- until the day that his father is accused of ratting, the worst sin an opal miner can commit.
As Kellyanne, grief-stricken, begins to fade away, Ashmol recruits the whole town in the search for Pobby and Dingan. In the end however, he discovers that he can only find them if he too begins to believe they are real.
Pobby and Dingan will enchant everyone who reads it. It is very funny, moving and told without a wasted word. It introduces a new writer of prodigious gifts.

What a beautiful little book! I adored it.
Ashmol is the narrator, and he moves from being irritated by his sister's imaginary friends to doing all he can to help her find them. Kellyanne is a sensitive soul, who has few real friends and is a cause of worry to her parents. Rex, the father, takes Pobby and Dingan to the mine, in an effort to create some distance between them and Kellyanne, but when he returns to search for them, he is accused of ratting. The arrest and trial run alongside the search for Pobby and Dingan, and young Ashmol changes a lot in the process. He recruits the whole town to help his sister to find her friends, "And I did some explaining about what had happened to my dad and what a mix-up there had been. And how Pobby and Dingan weren't real but Kellyanne thought they were and that's what counts, and how my dad wasn't a ratter but people thought he was and that's what counts too."
Pobby and Dingan has been made into a film called "Opal Dream" directed by The Full Monty's Peter Catteneo, which I shall look forward to viewing.
There is an unexpected twist at the end which I obviously will not give it away, but I believe even the hardest hearted person would ind it difficult not to be moved.

"Undeniably rich: a tale woven around the importance of faith, whether in imaginary friends or undiscovered treasures, and the strength of family." The Times

The Other Side of The Bridge - Mary Lawson

"A beautiful read. on every level" Independent on Sunday

Arthur and Jake: brothers, yet worlds apart. Arthur is older, shy, dutiful and set to inherit his father's farm. Jake is younger and reckless, a dangerous man to know. When Laura arrives in their 1930's rural community, an already uneasy relationship is driven to breaking point...

In case any readers of this blog think I only read what Richard and Judy tell me I should, I would like to make clear that I read this before it appeared on their list of Summer Reads! Just as I savoured Mary Lawson's Crow Lake, I loved this book. The plot synopsis on the back cover I felt was a little misleading, it is not really Laura's arrival in the story that drives the brothers to breaking point, rather than Jake's return to the town, years later. A visit that ultimately ends in a tragedy.
The story switches between past and present and the main character, Ian, son of the local doctor, who works at Arthur's farm in an effort to be near the beautiful Laura, narrates the present. He is unaware of the history between Jake and Arthur and somewhat absorbed in his own troubles, and this somewhat contributes to the ensuing tragedy. Ian is a very likeable character, and his friendships make for some poignant reading. He, like Arthur, is old beyond his years, solid and dependable.
The relationship between the Dunn brothers is told from Arthur's point of view, and I really sympathised with Arthur. Jake is clearly his mother's favourite, and Arthur is assigned to keep Jake out of danger and trouble, a difficult job when Jake is so very reckless. It seems that he has a deep dislike and resentment of Arthur, and it is difficult to see why.
This novel was longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, along with The Testament of Gideon Mack, but did not make the shortlist which M.J Hyland's Carry Me Down did.
I look forward to her next book!

"Evokes beautifully the big joys and sorrows of most people, no matter how small their town" The Times

Bad Monkeys - Matt Ruff

"Fiendishly clever" Booklist

Jane Charlotte: A woman with a serious attitude problem, a drug habit and a licence to kill.
She has been arrested for murder, and during questioning tells police that she is a member of a secret organisation devoted to fighting evil. Her division "The Department For The Final Disposition Of Irredeemable Persons" or "Bad Monkeys" for short- is an execution squad that rids the world of especially evil people. However, the man Jane has been arrested for killing is not on the official target list.
This strange confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor interviews her at length about her supposed career as an assassin. Her tale grows increasingly bizzare, with references to hidden messages in crosswords, dollar bills that can see and scary axe-wielding clowns. The doctor does his best to sort truth from lies, but whenever it seems he's getting to the bottom of things, there's another twist to unravel.
Not until the full, extraordinary story is told will we learn whether Jane is lying, crazy...or playing a different game altogether.

Exciting, intriguing and fantastic, I loved it! I never once thought that Jane was lying, but greedily swallowed her story. There are twists and turns at the end of practically every chapter. The interviewing doctor keeps uncovering evidence that contardicts her story, yet I still kept rooting for Jane. Just when I thought I knew what to believe, what was happening, the story just turned on its head! Secret organizations, not usually my type of book, reminded me somewhat of The Matrix, and all the way through could imagine the story as a film (please?).
The exploration of what it means to be genuinely evil or good is effctive and never too deep, as the reader tries to work out if Jane herself is a "Bad Monkey".
Many of the reviewers drew comparisons with J.D Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and also with Philip K Dick (who has a mention in the author's acknowledgements. The book is sci-fi and could be turned into a computer game as well as a film! The pace of the novel is really fast, and usually this results in a rubbish let down of an ending, but not in this case. I'm a real Matt Ruff fan!
I loved it, just as I loved his last novel Set This House In Order. I intend to read his previous books, The Fool On The Hill, and Sewer, Gas And Electric.

"Buy it, read it, memorise then destroy it. There are eyes everywhere" Christopher Moore