Monthly Archives: December 2013

Thrillers!

ImageI’ve read two thrillers over the last few days and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I discovered that my parents have a residents’ library in their building’s basement and I raided it last week, thrilled (no pun intended) to discover some new authors and a few golden oldies that I am looking very forward to reading!

The Attorney by Steve Martini was unexpectedly gripping. I was intrigued by the characters and their relationships and I definitely didn’t predict the twist at the novel’s end. I won’t say that this was the best thriller I have ever read, but it was certainly worth reading and I’m glad I discovered Martini and will be following up on some of his other novels. I assume that he has a courtroom drama formula but I’m not particularly bothered by that as Summer Reading sometimes calls for predictability!

 

 

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I expected absolutely nothing from this book. Martini at least I’d heard of, but Brockmann was an unknown entity for me. I started reading it last night and managed to seclude myself enough today to finish it, barely looking up to prepare the relevant meals for the hungry members of my family who had to wait until an appropriate break in the narrative. I was positively hooked by this book – strung out and desperate to finish reading, to find out how things were resolved and to see whether the hunk and his maiden managed to make a real connection. I wasn’t disappointed and I am now off to find more of Brockmann’s thrillers to devour!

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The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, John Boyne


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“This is the story of Barnaby Brocket, and to understand Barnaby, first you have to understand his parents; two people who were so afraid of anyone who was different that they did a terrible thing that would have the most appalling consequences for everyone they loved.”

 

And so begins the story of The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket. 

Barnaby’s parents pride themselves on being ‘normal’. They are so normal, in fact, that they abhor anything that is slightly out of the ordinary. They live in Kirribilli, have normal jobs and do only normal things. Their lives unfold in a perfectly normal way. That is, until Barnaby is born.

“And now there was a terrific sensation of relief and the sound of a baby crying. Eleanor (that’s Barnaby’s mother) collapsed back on the bed and groaned, glad that this horrible torture was over at last.

‘Or dear me,’ said Dr Snow a moment later, and Eleanor lifted her head off the pillow in surprise.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘It’s the most extraordinary thing,’ he said as Eleanor sat up, despite the pain she was in to get a better look at hte baby who was provoking such an abnormal response.

‘But where is he? she asked, for he wasn’t being cradled in Dr Snow’s hands, nor was he lying at the end of the bed. And that was when she noticed that both doctor and nurse were not looking at her any more, but were staring with open mouths up towards the ceiling, where a new-born baby – her new-born baby – was pressed flat against the white rectangular tiles, looking down at the three of them with a cheeky smile on his face.

‘He’s up there,’ said Dr Snow in amazement, and it was true: he was. For Barnaby Brocket, the third child of the most normal family who had ever lived in the southern hemisphere, was already proving himself to be anything but normal by refusing to obey the most fundamental rule of all.

The law of gravity.”

I could cite entire pages from this book, whole chapters in fact, so beautifully crafted in this prose and so brilliant is this tale. Boyne has brilliantly constructed a book which celebrates difference while at the same time appealing to readers of all ages – I read this book first and then read it to my three children (ages 8,8 and 10) and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It is filled with the most delightful cast of characters, each one more intriguing than the next and it takes readers on a thrilling journey across the earth and into space, literally.

I can’t begin to recommend this book enough. It is one of my favourite books of the decade and it has left me with so much to ponder and so many valuable lessons.

Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman

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I confess that I came upon this book through Oprah and, of course, it was one of those visible books because of its subject matter: the incredible insight into a largely closed and private community and the flagrant rejection of everything that that community represents.

As an observant Jew I was intrigued to read this book for so many reasons: I was looking forward to the insight into the Chassidic community, to reading about how an individual deals with the cultural pressures that come with such a traditional upbringing and to understand better how we can all balance our heritage with the need to belong in the modern world.

In many ways, I wasn’t entirely disappointed by what I read. Feldman’s book clearly provides an insight into the Chassidic community, she grapples with the expectations which her family have of her and she tries to find a way to merge her desire to belong in the modern world with her connection to her family. That said, there were many things which did not sit well with me in this book. Perhaps I am too critical, it’s hard to know whether my bias and my expectations are too tied up with my own religiosity. Nonetheless, here goes:

1. The protagonist’s mother is too absent and there is no real explanation of her absence, how it came about – how a mother could possibly leave a child in a place which she did not feel she herself could make a home? Despite the fact that the mother is so central to the story which begins with an interview with, I didn’t feel that there was any proper engagement with the trauma that her absence surely caused.

2. What amazing grandparents this woman had and how overlooked they are in this book! How incredible that grandparents would stand in for parents? That they would raise their granddaughter as their own child without questioning for a moment, that they would provide her with so many opportunities and try to do for what they thought was best – all of this was overlooked as the criticism of the community took front and centre in this text. How sad for these selfless people.

3. Feldman’s father. What can we say. He is so marginalised in this text and despite the fact that there are several observations (perhaps criticisms) about how the Chassidic community deals with mental illness, Feldman herself makes no attempt to recognise her father or bring him into her narrative. She maligns him as much as everyone else does and this felt extremely hypocritical to me.

Mostly, I found this book extremely disturbing. The entire structure of the family lives of the people we encountered was so distressing on so many levels that I can’t even begin to say what it was exactly that disturbed me most. All I could think was: what a sad individual, what a sad life, what sad people. And this runs contrary to what my personal experience has shown me. So, I think that this is a interesting book to read because it certainly raises a number of valuable questions about families and the choices individuals make. However, I think that much like all memoirs or autobiographies, it should be read with an alert eye and not taken as entirely truthful. It is one person’s perception of events and therefore it is clearly slanted.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

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I’ve had this book sitting on my e-reader for quite some time. I think I must’ve seen it reviewed somewhere and liked the sound of it so I bought it and then it sat … and sat … and sat … waiting until I picked it up. I think I might have even tried to read it once quite some time ago and then abandoned it because life took over and I can’t for the life of me work out what it was that made me pick it up again. The time just seemed right.

And how glad I was that I dived into this book! It is one of the few books that I have read that is not only well written, well constructed and developed while at the same time being intellectually stimulating – allow me to explain: this is a true story, but it is not told in straight narrative form, rather it is composed of interviews, medical records and information and the actual story of how the author came to write this book. The mix of these elements was simply fascinating.

Now, I’m not at all scientifically minded. I am a humanities student through and through and the very thought of medical terms normally sends me into some sort of comatose trance like state from which I struggle to emerge. But this book, filled as it was with medical “stuff” had me by the proverbials and I simply couldn’t put it down. I found myself intrigued by the description of cell culturing and the experiments that led to major medical break throughs which we now overlook as ‘the norm’. I was gripped by the political aspect that lay behind all this medical lingo – the treatment of African Americans in America in the 1950s and the legal aspects of medical research in various different contexts. And over all of this, the enigma of Henrietta herself and her sister Deborah’s striking voice and the various other members of the extended family who crop up throughout this book were simply some of the most endearing characters I have ever encountered.

I loved this book. I was sad when it ended. I was sad for Henrietta’s family and indeed for the lost narrative of so many others who have contributed to science without so much as a mention. Mostly though, I have enormous respect for Skloot who has done such a wonderful job of representing Henrietta and bringing her to life in this text.